Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Future Lovecraft Contest

I have two copies of Future Lovecraft to give away. It contains my story Deep Blue Dreams, which is my first Real Book publication. (Not to sneer at my Real Internet publication, which was quite lovely.)

So a contest! A contest!

Right now, I really should be promoting myself. But it's the winter, and I'm too fucking miserable to make a convincing case. I'm at a stage where I need to start establishing a presence on Amazon (I've decided not to fight gravity), and I need to get a professional website up, get cards printed, get a mailing list going -- in other words, begin actually establishing a professional persona in a conscious fashion.

So.

There will be two prizes, consisting of a signed copy of Future Lovecraft, inside of which will be tucked a small piece of signed original art. Possibly a pencil sketch, possibly a linoleum print or ink drawing, it will be a) old, b) shabby, and c) actually a decent piece of work suitable for framing. Which makes it a lottery ticket that pays off if I am successful in the arts. Whee!

One prize will be given to the person who provides me with the best bit of promotion on Amazon, whether it's a review, a posted link, or some other action beyond my primitive imagining. Either post a link in the comments or send me an email at craven dot sean at gmail dot com. Here is my Amazon page. And here is where you can read Tourists for free -- but that's not to discourage you from throwing me (and Macmillan and Amazon) money.

(And reviews of Future Lovecraft should be based on the Kindle edition or lie to me or ask me to send you my story or something. Here is a possible and legitimate 'or something.' It's the middle of the winter and I'm stupid. You figure it out.)

The other prize will be given to the person who gives me the best advice on building my public persona. This advice may take the form of a link to information, a book recommendation, etc. Anything actually useful is game. Again, leave your advice in the comments, or email me at craven dot sean at gmail dot com.

This contest will run through January 10, and I will announce the winners as soon afterward as possible, and maybe even before if I lose my damned mind.

Let me tell you a story, folks. (clutches hat to chest; his expression would be pathetic were it not for a touch of sly humor in his squinty little eyes)

When I was a kid, my favorite TV preacher was Doctor Scott, because we hadn't graduated to Robert Tilton yet. I loved the way Doctor Scott would refer to the idiots who sent him money as his 'King's Houses.' It was basically a term of abuse, I suppose, but it still thrilled me when he'd hear how the contributions were rolling in and he'd leap to his feet in rage and point his finger at the ceiling.

"What kind of lousy numbers is that? What kind of King's Houses have I got, anyway? If I don't get five thousand more dollars in the next five minutes, I'm putting the damned singers back on again and see how you like that."

Doctor Scott looms large in my consciousness, and right now he's rising up inside me, looking at you -- YOU! -- my friends, relatives, and readers, and he's asking a question. He is thinking of this contest, and of how my poor old Amazon items have no reviews and precious few sales and he knows you -- YOU! -- can do something about this and he wants to know.

What kind of King's Houses have I got, anyway?

Plus, the prizes! Cool prizes!

Stay tuned to find out what art will be shipped out!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Watch Me Destroy Good News! or Up The Amazon Without A Paddle


Well. Here it is, on sale at this very moment. My first hard-copy publication outside the underground.

It hasn't really gotten to me. I noticed a typo, and a bad word choice. What kind of crawling scum would write, 'bubbled furiously' instead of 'seethed?' That's six syllables to one! That's a terrible fucking score! What the hell was wrong with me? I will be made to suffer for this transgression against Our Lady Language...

Aside from that, though, it hasn't really gotten to me.

But it's led to a situation. I mean, it turns out.

Well, there's this fucking thing.

I mean, what the fuck? Was somebody drunk? Isn't there some kind of firewall in place to keep this shit from happening?

Let's be honest. I see Amazon as a fundamental bad. It concentrates wealth and power in ways I distrust, it adds to the environmental impact of consumer culture, it treats art as an economic commodity, thus training people to undervalue culture and be unwilling to give it legitimate economic support. Life for fiction writers has gotten shittier and shittier since Amazon came on the scene. When you tell me thus-and-such a percentage of writers get thus-and-such a percentage of their income from Amazon, I think of all the Macmillan writers who lost income when Amazon refused to sell their books for weeks after the dispute with Macmillan was settled. That was harm done to innocent parties for spite, and that is Amazon. Amazon also publicly defended their passive support of predatory child molestation with the good old, "We're not censors," bullshit.

So, yeah, I hate Amazon, I hate Bezos, and I hate what they stand for. My fucking story in Future Lovecraft is predicated on Amazon's collapse. And you pretty much have to buy it from Amazon. That is my situation, right there.

Unfortunately, for a writer in the twenty-first century to hate Amazon is like a farmer hating dirt. And I noticed on my way in to my author's page? Amazon made big deal out of how they have no connection with me, made me sign a statement that they provide me with no support, have no responsibility for their distribution of my information.

As grownups, we understand this is bullshit, right? You can't dispel an onus with that kind of protective phrase, no matter how well it might hold up in court. But hey. They're admitting up-front they don't like me any more than I like them. For some reason, that makes me feel more at ease.

So. Maybe it's time for me to set aside my need for ethical (by my twisted standards) purity, and make a compromise. The simple fact of the matter is that unless you exist at the top or outside the system, your work goes to benefit horrible, horrible entities of one kind or another. Otherwise, they wouldn't send you a check.

I don't know. I'm going to reflect on it. But it looks as if I'm going to be in bed with Amazon no matter what, and it would be shrewdest to cooperate.

I don't know, he said, looking at the paw and the trap, trying to figure out what is morality, what is self-denial, and what is pure finickiness. I just do not know.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

This Winter Sucks Less


I'm having a much easier time this winter than I usually do, knock wood. While my symptoms of depression are fairly acute -- loss of appetite and weight (a bit of a mixed curse), insomnia, lack of ability to function, and so on and so forth, it's not actually bothering me that much.

Here's why.

I'm eschewing a great deal of typical self-destructive behavior now that I'm coming to value myself. And I'm coming to value myself because the world is validating me relentlessly.

It is difficult to walk around feeling like a loser when every few days a person beloved, admired, respected, makes a point of telling me how fucking brilliant I am. It will take a long time for me to get tired of that.

I've crossed a threshold, gathered a certain amount of critical mass -- even if I fall into a state of semi-collapse, folks want me to be with them and they want me to do art for and with them. The world has started to notice me, and it's saying, "Hey! I want to play!"

Almost better? If I ask myself, "What did you do today?" and answer, "Looked at musical instruments online, fucked up the vegetables for lunch and then spent six hours staring into a corner while feeling sad," I then congratulate myself on a job well-done, and go tell the missus how wonderful she's being with me.

See, I'm a registered, official crazy person now -- so when I display clear signs of mental illness, I'm not going to shit all over myself. I wouldn't do it to someone else. Doesn't make sense to do it to myself.

My counselor pointed out to me how much I'd actually done this fall. "Winter is a time to lie fallow. To rest. Maybe you're just hibernating."

And that's easy for me to accept -- I can look back at four years worth of blogs now, and see the shape of my year delineated as if it were outlined on graph paper. There is no reason for me to expect that discipline can overcome neurochemistry.

I get more done in the fall than a lot of people get done in a year, and then I do it again in the spring. I do what I do because I do it, and viciously accusing myself of lack of discipline and praiseworthy zeal strenuously exerted just uses up energy that I'd otherwise devote to my work. Wish I'd figured that one out earlier.

So I'm getting a lot more done than I usually do this time of year, with a lot less accompanying drama. I'm down to about six vertical inches of line-edits, from a high of nine. Things are coming along. When I look at the novel, see how excited the readers are? Again, it's hard to feel like a loser.

And when I remember, I've finally found a creative activity that I can engage in when emotionally distraught. Music, of course. I don't discuss it on the blog to any great degree, but I love playing music. A friend showed me some scales and made me practice them -- which I now know I did very, very poorly -- but aside from that, I'm pretty much self-taught. Bass, ukulele and baritone ukulele, now I'm starting to mess with open tunings on guitars. Drum programming, synthesizer music, singing... I'm not good, but I enjoy myself.

It's the ukulele and the baritone uke that are saving me. Unlike the bass, I can play them in bed, on the couch, in my recliner. And unlike the bass, when I play by myself it sounds like fucking music. I'm starting to be able to pick up chord progressions and hooks by ear, I'm getting some calluses.

And when I play music? It's like running a comb through my thoughts. Definitely soothing. A serious stress reliever. Playing music creates extremely complex patterns of neurological activity, requiring much of the brain to interact harmoniously. It's got serious and solidly-proven health benefits. And I play well enough to reap those benefits. To actually have a little fun and wring a little expression out of the fretboard.

Finally, the missus has been wonderfully supportive. We've had a few spats, but for the most part things have gone smoothly. She's going to visit her family in Ohio soon. I'll miss her, but I'll survive.

I don't have swine flu. I'm not vomiting blood.

This might be my best winter ever!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Cover for Ghost Rock


Yes, this looks like a stoned fourteen-year old did it in study. They're called roughs for a reason...

First, it needs colors that spang across the room. So primaries for the most part -- yellow for the background, then the big lettering in red, white, and blue with black outlines, and a full-color, painterly illustration in the center.

The center image will be given a decorative frame based on those found around guitar soundholes; it's also intended to bring to mind such obsolete, rock-age music media such as CDs and LPs.



I'm looking forward to the next stage of the project -- the lettering. I've done hand-lettering for cartoon and comic work before, but this will be my first shot at decorative lettering. For the title, I'll be using sixties/seventies psychedelic posters and album covers as a jumping-off point -- I want something that's both legible and a little hard to read.

Bright colors grab the eye, while a small fully-rendered image and elaborate lettering request further inspection. Pick it up and take a closer look...

Anyway. I'll be rendering the title lettering in pencil on tracing vellum, using a print of the above template as a design, then importing it into Illustrator and autotracing it to get a scalable version. The goal is to have the separate elements of the cover ready to resize and reconfigure to easily, tastefully, legibly inhabit various sizes and formats of cover.

The letters themselves will be eccentrically shaped, full of color and detail. Ugly as sin, in an appealing way.

The lettering for my name and the subtitle will be done in brush pen. I'll do ten or fifteen versions of each letter to be used, select the most attractive and harmonious, and then autotrace and arrange them in Illustrator, making whatever adjustments to size and weight are necessary to make them read properly.

Why does my name go on top? Well. Name on top indicates that the author is more important than the work. But usually, name-on-top authors are a draw for readers -- your Kings and Tans and Krantzes and Koontses. So their names are in big fat easily visible slabs of non-serif solid-color type. This time? I ain't a name. So my name is in modest type. But I'm designing the damned cover, and I wrote the damned book. So my name goes on top.

As for An American Folktale. One of the major subtexts in the book is the integration of personal, national, world, and archetypal mythology. I regard popular fiction, and especially the genres of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, as being in many instances a naive or folk form, and I've tried to bring as many of those virtues to the work as I can -- I think that if someone comes to this book wanting nothing more than a good slam-bang adventure, they will be perfectly satisfied at the end of the book.

But I've put a lot more effort into undermining and examining the assumptions behind those kinds of stories, not so much out of an intent to subvert as an attempt to see if anything of worth can be reclaimed from what seems to be cultural detritus. If anything can be profitably applied to real life.

And while not overtly political, and not historical fiction -- it is set very much in a Never-Never Narnia version of the US -- it does speak of history and our national origins and how these still define our lives in a very subtle way.

Look, it's a little puffed-up and douchey to have a subtitle like that. It says, 'There is more here than meets the eye.' But in this case it's fucking true, and I think a lot of readers will get more out of the book if they go in wondering, "Well, what makes this shit an American folktale anyway?"

So why the fuck am I doing the cover, you may well ask? Writers don't do their own covers! They don't even have much say in the covers, right? And don't you have better things to do? Like Swill and the book itself?

Well.

Here's the thing.

I'm inching along. And breaking up my work with something like this helps me inch.

I'm going to give copies of the novel to a number of friends and cohorts, and I want a nice cover for that. And the bit about how publishers aren't into author input on covers? I might be wasting my time, but I suspect it applies more to people who aren't actual designers than to me, he said arrogantly.

If there's a strong cover attached to the project from the beginning? Even if it doesn't get used in the end, it's still a useful way of drawing attention. And my time with Swill -- which also has a cover in the works -- has taught me that there's a certain emotional response I get when a project gets to the point where you do the cover. "Yep, that's it, it's almost out of my hands now." I want that feeling with the damned novel.

Plus, you know. I've never done anything like this before, and it's got my Stanley Mouse/Roger Dean vibe on the rise. Hand lettering! That's going to be fun.

Monday, December 5, 2011

I Am A Proud Patriot!

This is Violet Oakley's painting of George Fox, from The Founding of the State of Liberty Spiritual frieze cycle in the Governor's Reception Room, Pennsylvania State Capitol, 1902-06. Taken from The Rose Red Girls, by Alice A. Carter, published 2000 by Harry N. Abrams.

You can keep old George Washington; that vicious grifter did my kind no favors. Give me a lunatic idealist like George Fox any day of the week!

And when
a gay Christian Scientist paints a Quaker? That's my America, right there.

So when I do a post complaining about US cultural, social, or political mores, I always come away with the little couplet from the Mikado dancing through my mind -- "And the idiot who praises in enthusiastic tones/every century but this and every country but his own." Makes me feel kind of shitty.

Well. My family has been on this fucking continent for twice as long as the US has been here, and while some of us have been ardent patriots, there have always been a few who have no damned use for nations. We hated it in Olduvai, then we hated it in Scandinavia, then we hated it in France, then we spent so much time bitching in England that they shipped our preachy asses overseas.

When we got to America? We hit the ground running, trying to get the fuck away from the assholes. One branch of my family has been in California for more than two hundred years, and the only reason I don't live in the goddamned Pacific is I'm too broke to afford a fucking inner tube.

My Quaker ancestors helped with the underground railroad -- fuck the law, thank you very kindly -- and militated for Native American rights when that cause was very unpopular indeed. My dad is one of the founders of the letter carrier's union, and as a child I nailed picket signs together.

So when I bitch about America, I do so from a certain fucking position. I am as American as you can get, and hating the government and the robber barons that employ it is part of that tradition.

As an institution? I hate America.

But this is my place, and these are my people, and I am sick of having my sense of connection determined by how offended I am at our national excesses -- or to put it another way, it doesn't look good to run around screaming, "I hate America!" at the top of my lungs every so often. Just because I track the history of our nation from the first smallpox virus through Michele Bachman doesn't mean I shouldn't avail myself of the privileges attendant to patriotism.

Of course I'm a proud patriot. It just took me a while to figure out how everybody else does it -- they inspect the history of the US, take what they like, figure out how much of the shitty stuff they can stand thinking about, choke down as many lies as they can believe, and then put together an imaginary nation they can worship wholeheartedly.

I write fantasy and science fiction. I can do that. I can do that easy.

First off, I'm going to have to pick some sides. The two biggest teams in America (apologies to my fancy international friends, but as a patriot I'm afraid I must refer to my nation of birth as America rather than the US or the USA -- according to playground rules, I have to stick with the nickname) are the Utopians and the Grifters. The Utopians are, for the most part, fuzzy-minded losers entirely too prone to getting all hopped up on Jesus, but the Grifters are the vilest, most pernicious pack of predators the planet has ever seen -- the air we breath is thick with the stink of their venomous words and deeds, and we labor and suffer under their yoke, our skins blistered by the radiance of their self-satisfied grins.

So I'm a Utopian!

Patriots worship the Constitution. For a lot of folks, it's a secular Bible. I can dig it -- there is some very stirring rhetoric there. My two favorite passages 0f writing are the Preamble -- thanks to Schoolhouse rock, I have the damned thing memorized -- and Martin Luther King's letter from the Birmingham jail. And the Bill of Rights is solid.

The rest of it is pretty much concerned with creating and maintaining the privileges of the monied classes, and you can insert the Declaration of Independence into the founding father of your choice (mine's Hamilton -- I hate everything I know about that bastard, and would like to bring him back to life so I could shoot him myself). That piece of shit was basically a bunch of rich guys writing a check they cashed with poor guy's asses. Shall we discuss the issue of scrip?

Right, right. Patriotic and proud, let's stay on fucking target, you lout.

I'll claim a bunch of cultural stuff. I am aligned with the great American tradition of outsider artists from Walt Whitman and Emily 'Doo-Da' Dickinson through Harry Partch to Henry Darger, and also with that great refuge of outsiders, popular culture.

Let's go for a bit of genuine pride -- while their America is oppressing people? The resistance is listening to my America's music. Ask the Soviet bloc countries if rock and roll has power, if it can change the world. Go look at the fucking statue of Zappa in Lithuania -- he meant freedom to someone.

My America gave them that.

Let's go further. The civil rights and egalitarianism that we see as essentially American -- and this is in fact the case in my fucking America -- were not handed down to us by a cabal of Deist sots in periwigs. That creep Jefferson had enough grandeur in his soul to give us the words, but it was resistance on the part of the populace that made those words come to life. The people who gave us the right to vote? The right to protest? The right to strike?

Those rights were never given. Those rights were taken by my Americans, one protest and one rebellion at a time. And it appears that America is still willing to protest and rebel.

I've mentioned that my thoughts on the Occupy movement have been shifting. I've spent my whole fucking life bitching about the need for a populist movement to come along, and when one does? I send it back because it isn't the kind I like. Fuck that; the Occupy movement is part of my America, and hopefully, more functional movements will grow out of it.

There we go. That's a start. It's rough, but it's enough to work with.

I suppose I should learn to like sports next. Or cars or telephones.

Church might be interesting...

Friday, December 2, 2011

Fear And Loathing In A Pupating Police State

I am making this post because I am frightened and angry, and if I do not speak in public because of my vulnerability, I will feel like a coward.

The defense budget currently in legislation is one with provisions that would make the US into a police state -- civil courts would remain in existence, sure, but at the discretion of the authorities, any individual could be placed into the military justice system, and civil rights would no longer apply.

Look this up. Do a web search. You will find it much, much easier to find this covered in the international press. I am frightened and angry -- is the American media failing us accidentally or intentionally?

Right now the US has the highest percentage of its population imprisoned of any culture in the history of the world. This is true. America has long since abandoned any right to describe itself as the land of the free. So they decide that the problem is that we need more ways to get people behind bars.

Warrentless wiretapping -- and now this.

They are justifying their position by describing our nation as a battlefield. We have not had any active conflict with the terrorists on our soil for quite some time -- but it seems as if there is a conflict brewing at home.

The conjunction of this with the occupy movement makes me feel paranoid. Nutty.

Terrified.

I will say this much. If this bill makes it all the way through, if President Obama signs it? I will no longer be able to take pride in having voted for him -- and I just might lose faith in the process entirely.

I am seeing America as a literal police state, run by corporate interests, with universal wiretapping taken for granted, and the right to imprison without cause. This is not fiction. This is actually happening.

Every person who supports this bill is actively and effectively militating against liberty and democracy, plain and simple. They have declared themselves the enemies of all that is decent in our national soul, and intend to turn this country into something far closer to Maoist China, the USSR of Stalin, or Nazi Germany than I had ever imagined. The monstrous arrogance on display here has robbed me of the capacity for hyperbole.

I do not say that lightly, and I would say it to any of their faces.

Fear and loathing have come full upon me.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

November: The Gateway Month

One of the interesting side-benefits of the blog is that I have a sort of fossil record of my behavior and mental states to which I can refer. When I boarded the bummer train a few weeks back, I told my dad that it felt as though my winter depression had started.

"Isn't it a little early for that?" he asked. "It isn't even Thanksgiving."

On Thanksgiving, his question resurfaced in my head, and I realized that there was a way to research the issue.

So I went back and looked up what I was posting around that time for the last three years. Well. It turns out that I suffered a catastrophic failure during the first two weeks of November for at least four years in a row.

Last year it was a trip to the hospital after a stress-induced three-day bout of blood puking. The year before? A shattering fight with the missus followed by a swine-flu enhanced trip to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art had me destroyed all winter. The year before that? Exactly the kind of flat semi-unmiserable yet thoroughly non-functional depression I was bitching about a few posts ago.

I don't think these four years are aberrant. I think I need to start planning for November. It seems as if I'm vulnerable then.

And that means that I need to buckle down and find better ways of accommodating my seasonal depression. Now that I can look at the record and say that yes, for about a third of the year I am of extremely limited utility. How do I get the best use out of myself under these conditions?

Or perhaps I should look at it another way. When I was experiencing my fall hypomania, once I recognized what it was, I decided to treat it as an endogenous drug experience rather than a dangerous mental state. Set and setting, as they say. By doing so, I was able to re-invent my writing style and rewrite the novel in less than two months, in addition to two short stories, spoken word pieces, art, a fairly heavy web presence, etc, etc.

Essentially, I said, "Free endogenous cocaine? Well, for the next while I'm going to sleep less, eat less, talk too much, work compulsively, be brilliant, be obnoxiously aware of my brilliance, and exhibit a curiously exhilarating magnetism that suggests my state is communicable."

So. How can I make depression less of a bummer? I am experiencing it, I will experience it, but there are degrees and qualities, you know? Right now, the missus and dogs are snuggled warm in the bed downstairs, it's foggy out and the last few leaves are wet and drooping from the fig tree outside my window, and an old friend has come back into my life with his life in glorious turmoil, and it is all mist and shadows, we dance like flames and then vanish...

This is pretty good, so far as depression goes. I've always scorned the whole romantic Goth ("Okay, from sacking Rome to skinny nudes to the Castle of Otranto to the Sisters of Mercy to Hot Topic -- make the connection.") relish for the weeping soul, but fuck it. If it's a biological condition, why not have fun with it? Style might not be a bad approach -- a different persona for different seasons. Now I enter my October Country/Adam's Family persona, stark, grim, poetic, and yet not devoid of a sense of fun. Maybe -- just maybe -- I'll consider becoming an all-black clothing person during the cool months. "I'm not evangelical about depression, but sometimes gloom suits me."

Not a bad start, if I do say so. Take one of my standard prejudices, invert it, turn it into a joke, and there you go. A playful approach to the situation, one which defuses some of the threat. I'll need a couple of pairs of black pants, maybe a non-T-shirt or two. I do have the hat for it.

Okay, that's good. I can use that.

Winter hibernation isn't a bad one either. Last year, when Karen was gone, I simply gave up on everything but laying around with the dogs reading and watching monster movies. As a creative type, it is important for me to absorb information and the creative works of others; perhaps this is also a receptive season.

I believe I shall set out a program of study -- Nabakov's Lectures on Literature and the novels he covers are calling to me from across the waves, and actually reading an entire dictionary of literary terms would do me no serious harm.

And speaking of study. I need to work more on music. It is good for the brain, good for the mood.

Mostly, I need to focus more on taking care of the details. Eating. Sleeping. Exercise. The missus suggested keeping a diary. I think I should. Not a blog, just a simple journal that would let me track my moods and behavior over time. It would seem shrewd to put the observation of my habits on a scientific basis.

Thankfully, this year I have the greatest Christmas present a depressed writer could ask for -- a manuscript line-edited by five different people to worry into shape. It is a task vast, rapid, and immensely gratifying, and it has to be done in bed.

And finally. Finally! There will be a payoff when I'm done. It will be time to start nudzhing agents and editors, and I'm actually looking forward to that.

So despite my complaints, I've actually been having a much better time of it than I did during the last two Novembers, and circumstances favor me for the remainder of the season. The missus and I are getting along fine, despite my irritability and odd sensitivity. Is not so bad.

Bear up, Oafboy. Never say die.

And get back to work on Swill!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Of Course I'm Thankful



I'm working on a bit of line-editing for a friend right now, and I've gotten enough of it done so that even if I get no further, I've made a legitimate contribution. So I'm taking a quick break to make a post. That's right, posting on the blog is my idea of recreation. I'm lame that way.

So what I'm I thankful for? Loads and oodles of things.

Number one would be the missus. Of course. She's gone again, culting it up with Ama the Huggin' Guru. I miss her, but I've got the project and let me be honest. She always comes back from the cult filled with positive love vibrations, and that makes her a hell of a lot easier to live with.

I'm also grateful for the other components of our household, the dogs. Roxie and Laszlo are good pals and good company. Even if Laszlo has taken to sleeping with his face mashed against me so I can feel it when he grinds his teeth and Roxie won't shut the fuck up.

And last night's puke -- look, when you break an involuntary stress-fast with wine and gravy the results are predictable -- was easy, delicious, and blood-free, and when it was over? It was over. No extended nausea, no 'do you need to go to the hospital' -- it was beautiful. Like a dream.

I'm thankful for my mental illnesses. You call it mixed-state bipolar, I call it an artistic nature. You call it post-traumatic stress syndrome, I call it common sense and keen observation. You call it obsessive compulsive disorder, I call it stick-to-it-iveness and attention to detail. You call it fetal alcohol syndrome, but I call it ADVENTURE!

(For the uninitiated? There is a direct cause-and-effect relationship between an impaired ability to make appropriate decisions and ADVENTURE!)

I'm thankful that the keys of C and G are interchangable on the ukulele and baritone ukulele -- if you play a ukulele G-chord on a baritone, it's a C, vice versa, and that goes for the other chords in the keys as well. So it's easy to drop the key of ukulele songs to fit my voice, sort of an anti-capo, and once you learn a song on one instrument, you've got it on the other. Since I don't have an intuitive grasp of fretboard math, this actually scares me a little. But I like it! I like it! Learning about music is really helping me through this round of depression.

(Just learned Only a Paper Moon, which is perfect depression music -- sad enough not to repel, not so sad that it makes things worse. Maybe I should do some Dylan, who occupies a similar emotional space and is so fucking musically backass that even I have an easy time figuring his shit out.)

Being good at stuff. I can do things that are important to me, and do them very well indeed. This is a recent development, and a welcome one. These days, when I work on writing or art my competence is a tangible, welcome, positive presence. I can feel it, and I think this feeling is that pride thing people have been giving me shit about my entire life.

I'm grateful that my old man has finally started coughing up some wisdom and guidance. The last few months he's been laying one piece of solid, useful information on me just about every time we get together. "You may not know this, but just about everything people do is based on hierarchy." I did not know that! What an eye-opener! "You don't want to impress people who are impressed by scars." That's totally correct! Those people suck!

I'm grateful that Andrewsarchus might be an entelodont. I mean, that would so totally rock. First off, it would make it possible for me to fake an Andrewsarchus reconstruction. But more than that, it would mean that the largest mammalian predator was an entelodont, which would mean four points for my side. 'My side' being weird, ugly, obscure predators.

(Again, for the uninitiated. Andrewsarchus is regarded as the largest fossilized predatory mammal. It's only known from one skull, so it's a frustrating mystery. Entelodonts were piglike predators, something like giant carnivorous peccaries with legs like racehorses. I have an inordinate fondness for them. They give every evidence of having been awful.)

I'm grateful that I'm a cheap pet. The song goes, "No kids, no car, no money -- shit!" But if you don't have kids or a car, you need a fuck of a lot less money. There is a certain pleasure in shaving one's life to the bone. If everyone thought the way I do, the whole world would grind to a pleasant halt.

Of course, I am a grubby materialist at heart. I'm grateful for my Thai mortar-and-pestle, my fifty-year-old umbrella with a reinforced stainless-steel frame, my musical instruments, Breaking Free! featuring Genuinely Vicious Anarchist Tintin, shelf after shelf of high-end books, and all the other goodies that university-town yardsales have dropped at my feet.

And fuck it. My attitude toward the Occupy movement has been adjusting. If I don't make any further statements on the subject? My attitude until now has been influenced by defensiveness, jealousy, and guilt. It is ridiculous to spend decades bitching about class consciousness in America, and then turn up my nose at the first populist movement that comes along. I stand by my prior statements, but I am now officially thankful for the Occupy movement. It is to be devoutly hoped that some purposeful, functional movements find their roots here.

I'm grateful that I don't have a fucking turkey carcass sitting in the refrigerator. The problem with turkey is that I don't like it, but I don't dislike it. That means that if there's an obligation to eat it, I don't really feel I have the right to say no to it. Which sucks. Fuck a bunch of turkey, you know?

But most of all, I'm grateful for the simple pleasure of not being doomed. A seriously mentally ill person with a bad back does not have as many options in life as most people do; thankfully, my options are the ones I would have chosen for myself if given the chance. These days, when I feel that there is no place in the world for me, that life is a game I lost a long time ago, that the possibility of joy is banned to me, that I am a person of no value or consequence, I have to examine the evidence and say, "Dude, you are full of shit."

Believe me. I'm grateful.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Stars Are Right For Kindle



The anthology Future Lovecraft is now available for discount pre-order!

It's also on the Kindle format from Amazon -- here is the link, god damn it. It is loaded with with the work of edgy writers, including my pal Nick Mamatas. If you use the fucking Kindle, give Amazon some money and help strip-mine the culture.

Because then you get to read my story Deep Blue Dreams. It is typical of my work in that it is weird, dense, bleak, and tricky -- and since its premise is based on the demise of Amazon, you can have a lovely lick of schadenfreude at no extra cost!

Plus, there are drugs and it's kind of gross and dirty. How can you go wrong?

And if you're buying Kindle stuff, why not cough up a buck for my story Tourists? Unless you'd rather read it for free.

For concerned parties; my state is unpleasant, but does not warrant concern -- there are no physical issues, and I am capable some basic functions including hope. The primary issues are paralysis and irritability, both harder on the missus (who is being swell) than me.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Art of Eating

Recently, Warren Lutz asked me if I could suggest some books for him to read. Warren is a strong contender for Best Writer I Work With (you will hear of him, I assure you -- here's a taste), and he wasn't after something fun to fill an afternoon. He wanted the good stuff, the kind of writing that makes you want to reach a little further, try a little harder.

My immediate response was to go to the shelf and pull out The Art of Eating by M.F.K. Fisher.

It would be reasonable to suggest that my regard for this book is tinted by nostalgia -- I first read it on Christmas vacation during the fourth grade. My mother and I had taken a trip to go Christmas shopping in Berkeley, taking advantage of the still-exotic BART train. On the ride home, I complained that I was hungry; my mother passed the book to me, open to the chapter called How To Be Cheerful Though Starving.

Mom knew that would shut me up. I have always been a sucker for prose and M.F.K. Fisher is an absolutely first-class prose stylist. (Note: the phrase 'absolutely first-class prose' is third-rate and cliched. But true.)

This book is a mixture of history, food essay, and memoir, all swirled and mixed. There are recipes; to regard this as a cookbook is simply inaccurate. This is an exceptionally fine work of literature, one which provides the pleasures of exquisite craft, sensitivity, and refinement in the service of a powerful and distinctly feminine intellect.

But while this book serves the intellect well, with passages dealing with everything from historical observations to the deliberate cultivation of a relationship with food, it is the emotional presence of Ms. Fisher which grounds the book, providing it with its most consistent element.

While it does not have a narrative, this is one of those books that provides one with a real sense of the wealth of life, of the profusion of joys and sorrows that constantly attend our existence. Love and death, sickness, madness, violence all have their turn on stage, but this is a reality rooted in the need to provide food for yourself and those you love, and it is through the alternately cold and loving demands of domestic life that all of history and all of Ms. Fisher's life are eventually filtered.

What I'm saying, this is a book rich and wise and singular. Much of my ability to enjoy life has its roots in the lessons provided by Ms. Fisher's elegant and practical Epicurianism.

This is not a book to read straight through. It consists of five volumes of loosely-connected essays. Serve It Forth alternates memoir and history, Consider the Oyster adds natural history to the mix and focuses on one food item (this one was my favorite as a child, although I hate seafood), How to Cook a Wolf was done as a series of satire-laced advice columns during WWII. The Gastronomical Me was my least favorite as a child, but as an adult I have a greater tolerance for its estrogen-redolent atmosphere of romance and sexuality. If you don't require explicit descriptions, the eroticism here has a dark, nasty punch. An Alphabet for Gourmets happily wanders the field.

Which is what I'd suggest to the reader. Leaf through it, pick around, read an essay at a time until you feel compelled to bite off larger and larger pieces. Some books are company; this book -- wise, sweet, coldly practical, possessed of the wry musty humor of a true scholar, fiercely, achingly vulnerable -- is a true friend.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Wrong Revolution



I'm gonna try and pull my head out of my ass and get some posts up this week, even if I don't do anything else. So here's the big question -- why aren't I over in Oakland catching rubber bullets? I could fucking walk there -- what's my problem?

The problem is this, my droogs -- there ain't nothing over there for me to agree with.

I don't believe the myth of the revolution. I can't think of many cases where a revolution turned out to be an improvement in terms of quality-of-life. The ability to tear down a government and the ability to build a healthy society require entirely different skill-sets, and if you got one? You probably are severely lacking in the other.

And the basis for the protest here eludes me completely. It seems as if all people want is to be seen, to be heard -- well. I've got a fucking blog for that nonsense.

The culture of protest here in the East Bay has a genuinely honorable heritage, but that heritage is gone, its last vestiges buried underneath the flung scat of the tree people. Right now all all I can hear is the wail of an angry child.

If I had any sense of a coherent message with which I could align myself coming from Occupy Oakland, I'd be there. It breaks my fucking heart that I look at that situation, and see a bunch of kids taunting the toughest gang in town. It looks idiotic. And the self-lubricating jackoffs trying to up the levels of conflict are not the kind of fools I suffer lightly. The arrogance of their position statements disinclines me to their aid.

Look. I started working as a janitor when I was thirteen. I have been hungry because I've been out of work and money. And it is very difficult for me not to see revolution in America as a middle-class sport, the kind of privileged passtime that justifies buying a bunch of Spandex and Gore-Tex and then threatening the fucking cops while in someone else's fucking neighborhood.

Normally, I don't discuss politics on the blog because I'm not well-socialized enough to really understand them, and I'd just as soon not look like a fool. But let me make a few statements here.

The problem is not the 99% versus the 1%. There is an absolute sense in which the needs of the poor and the luxuries of the rich do exist in conflict. That is not the problem we face in this crisis.

The problem is specifically the financially predatory classes, those who occupy a strange netherworld where money exists not as a means to regulate the exchange of goods and services, but rather as a thing in itself. It is their pursuit of abstract profit through the manipulation of the law that has brought us to this pass.

Anyone capable of viewing the teachings of Jesus Christ and Ayn Rand as congruous should be regarded with extreme suspicion.

I bet you think I'm joking. I'm not.

When the statement 'occupy Wall Street' first entered my consciousness, my first thought was an image of a sinking ship, and a bunch of people gathered around the snack bar protesting the prices.

Wall Street is not the problem. What's happening on Wall Street is the result of deregulation.

Don't occupy Wall Street. Don't occupy Oakland. Occupy Capitol Hill -- that is where regulation and de-regulation occur.

Or perhaps health care is the issue. Fair enough. Again, Capitol Hill.

Let me put it this way.

When Wall Street wants something done, do they send people to Wall Street? No. Where do they send people?

To Washington.

Fuck Oakland, and fuck Wall Street. We need to occupy our own damned government.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Depression for Dummies


It's been a rough patch lately, and among other things, I've experienced three distinct forms of clinical depression. Allow me to taxonomize.

First came agitated depression, in which mania and depression occur simultaneously. This is regarded as a particularly dangerous state because the built-in safeguard of depression -- lack of energy, lack of will -- is bypassed. You're depressed, but you have the ability to act on that depression.

This is the most intolerable of my mental conditions. There is no way to settle down until things pass -- I'm compelled to physical activity, usually walking the streets.

When I'm like this, I'm a disturbing, unpleasant, even threatening presence. Frankly, it makes me feel like a terrible person, a bully and a bastard.

Then the agitation passed, and I got into the regular old 'there is no hope once the capacity for joy is eliminated' vanilla depression.

So my eating, sleeping, and so on have been thrown all to hell.

Thankfully, the missus has been particularly sweet and that's enough to lift my mood. This puts me into a particularly tricky situation.

Right now, I'm capable of experiencing pleasure and hope, and of feeling gratitude for the good things in my life.

This is swell so far as daily existence goes. But it's pretty much a pile of leaves and branches hiding a pit with spikes on the bottom. Because while this state is easier for everyone to live with, it is still clinical depression. Decreased appetite, decreased sleep, nausea, lack of motivation and focus, easily confused, emotionally volatile, etc, etc.

This state was a serious issue for me for a long, long time. I'd assume that since I didn't want to gouge my eyes out with a fondue fork I wasn't depressed. But when I'm like this, there's a genuine apathy in regard to my well-being. Last winter when I was like this while the missus was out of town, I wound up not eating for a number of days and then not drinking for three solid days. Pure inertia. Apathy. "Hmm. Seem to be going downhill here. Tongue feels slick, like leather. I bet this is real bad for my teeth."

So I've learned to keep a close watch on myself when I feel okay while displaying clear symptoms of depression. It's good, in that it's a step away from the pit. But it's tricky.

Right now I'm trying to decide whether I should try and get myself pumped back up again, or if it's time to start hunkering down for the winter and just accept that I'm going to be useless for a while.

Now that I put it into words, the answer seems obvious. So. That's the next question. What to do for a moral boost.

I will think of something. Goddamnit.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Me Me Meme

I think this would be fine for wallpaper or pajamas. On a tie, the phallic symbols would hit critical mass and impregnate the wearer.

Maybe an ascot?

So. I've been gone because I've been in a terrible mood, and I haven't had anything decent to say. Sometimes silence serves the public good. Okay? Okay.

That said, it seems that during my absence I've been memed by master of stage and page Neil Vogler. So now all I have to do is answer a few simple questions without degenerating into a ruinous slop of morbid self-pity. Let us commence!

If you could go back in time and relive one moment, what would it be?

This question is a Schroedinger's bitch. It's not a matter of selecting one lovely moment worth reliving -- it's a matter of discarding all the others. It is not so much the moments in themselves as the people who made those moments worthwhile. This question demands that we cast all of those we love into the pit unless they were there in that one moment we choose to cherish above all others.

Well, it looks like I fucked that one up pretty good. Let's start over.

So this one time? Me and the hon. Richard Talleywhacker were in a parking lot and I coughed and spat. Neat, flat trajectory, went a good twenty feet before the gobbet intersected with the flight path of a Monarch butterfly, which thereby met its demise and, slime-laden, dropped like a stone to the grass. I would never do something like that intentionally, I assure you. But if I could put a clip of that with Little Green Bag playing in the background on my resume? I would.

Next question, maestro.

If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?

Well, I'm not sure what the scale is here, what the intent. I feel a little at sea, so I figure I better cover all the changing-crap-in-time basics -- big humanitarian, little selfish, and something to make Hitler's life shorter or more unpleasant.

Big humanitarian? Okay. K-T boundary asteroid? Chicxulub Crater? Fuck that shit. I never asked for it. So no asteroid hits the Earth at the end of the Cretaceous, and the big dinosaurs don't die off.

No parking issues. No last, current, or next administration. None of that horseshit! It would be perfect.

Little selfish? Go back in time and whisper a few little words in my ear. "Get out of high school pronto, get your GED, take a variety of classes at a community college until you learn some study and social skills. Then go to a university back in the eighties when it was more affordable. And just for the record? The big redhead at Grayhavens who threatened to beat you about your head and shoulders with her breasts? The twin models in Malibu? You were being set up to lose your virginity both times, you dumb fucking worthless idiot two-legged Labrador bastard. Jesus, you're stupid and I hate your fucking guts."

And when Hitler is an art student, he's swept forward in time to work as a janitor at the Guggenheim, and it's not my fault what happens when he snaps because I only got to do the one change. So if you want me to just kill him, you should tell me now.

Now there we go! That one was downright chipper, mostly.

What movie/TV character do you most resemble in personality?

Well, this one stumped me. So I went downstairs to ask the missus, and she wasn't just puzzled by the question, she was worried. But! But! He cried.

There is another authority. Someone who has roomed with me at two different events for a total of three weeks. Someone who has seen me go through some remarkable highs and lows in that brief time. Here he is; Christian Walter, his interview and his terrifying image.

Christian believes I resemble Walter Sobchak from The Big Lebowski. And when I look back on my behavior at Viable Paradise and Taos Toolbox, I suppose he's right.

If you could push one person off a cliff and get away with it, who would you choose?

This is not a question I can answer lightly. There are hundreds of questions to be asked, like is Neil Bush still legally allowed to run for president?

Name one habit you want to change in yourself.

My persistent disinterest in my physical well-being. Eating, drinking, exercising, sleeping. The simplest basics of existence are frequently ignored, and then I wonder why I'm 'grumpy.'

Why do you blog?

Ego gratification, writing practice, communication and the maintenance of a social network, exposure, the practical use of the essay as a means of exploratory thought, simple delight in casual, complex, pretentious, esoteric, goofy fucked-up prose that I would never, ever allow into the pristine pages of my fiction.


Name at least three people to send this to:

I will think on this. I will ponder.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

What's Next?




I ain't even gonna try and talk about the last few weeks. Life is fucking insane, you know? But it seems as if things have settled down. And the novel is in the hands of readers. Honestly, I think it's good enough to market now, but I'm going to wait until I've had a chance to hear back on the whole thing from at least one reader and then given it one last strunking. So right now I'm in the horrible zone where I'm waiting.

So it's time to figure out what I need to do next.

First off, some editing and reading for pals and Swill, and working more on my synopsis.

There's a whole Swill thing. Since I've begun looking at the literary scene, I've come to realize that once again, I've seriously underestimated what I've got on my hands. Swill is a fucking contender.

Nobody reads it, because neither Rob nor I have the knowledge or inclination for sales and marketing.

So I guess I've got to learn a little about marketing. Get Swill into some local stores, find out if there are any distribution companies that handle this kind of thing...

The art for the next issue of Swill is on the fast track as well.

Right now, I don't have a real website. The missus is currently indignant about this situation and I don't blame her. So it's time to start putting together an honest-to-gosh promotional site that would allow me to begin marketing my art, writing, and so on.

Which means I also need to get a card. Dang.

Of course, I've got the loser side of my life to attend to. Shame has kept me from pursuing my health care and goverment check. It sounds crazy, but I had to get the novel into a state where I could at least race the publishing industry against the government to see who can fund me first, with my pride as the stakes.

Whee!

Along those lines, I need to get in with my pain doctor, get set up with a fucking cortisone shot and so on. God damnit.

Once I've got a site with a gallery and artist's statement up, I can begin hitting up galleries, grants, and so on seriously.

And it's time for me to start hitting up the writer's colony circuit as well. It turns out that it's good for me to have isolated writing time -- important, even.

Holy smokes. Bone Chips, my trilogy of spoken-word pieces, is finished. I suppose I'd better start figuring out how to acquire a venue. Huh. Perhaps a podcast? Tell you what. Folks hear those stories in a row? They might need counseling. Brutal stuff, even by my standards.

Speaking of podcasts, I would like to acquire video capacity. Since I'm dead broke this could be tricky.

And just between us, I've been feeling a musical itch lately. I've been doing a wee tad of recording... I'm not a trained musician, I'm a fuck-around-until-it-sounds-like-something musician. But I've been one of those for long enough for it to start turning into something. Finding out that I can record what sound like electric guitar tracks with a piezo pickup and a ukulele puts me in a position where all I need is leads.

Speaking of which, I've had a build-it-yourself electric mandolin kit sitting around for more than a year now. Seven frets between strings? All those frets so close together on that tiny little neck? This looks like the four-string lead instrument. Time to start scanning the weather reports so I can spray the finish when I've got a few days of sun.

Also, find some scrap linoleum for the studio floor. I'm getting nasty splinters from time to time. I do not like nasty splinters.

Plus, it's about time I set up a mailing list. Get my contacts organized. Start putting my online presence in order. Social networks; branding.

Speaking of which, I should contact the FogCon people and volunteer and find out what all this convention nonsense is all about.

I've got a piece of short fiction that needs to be marketed. I should get something off to Tor. I should probably be tracking the various anthologies.

And the thought of doing a Kickstarter campaign for a pre-professional edition of Ghost Rock...

That screen printer in the shed... T-shirts...

Shit.

Guess I'll be keeping busy. I suppose the first thing I should do is take this post, put it into a list format, prioritize...

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Mean Man Looks At American Fiction


They put you in plastic, Eddie. I'll make them pay for that.

Right now there are terrible things going on in my life and wonderful things going on in my life and I can't talk about them and you know what?

I'm in a bad mood. And when I'm in a bad mood, you know what does me good?

Fucking shit up.

So let us inspect the current state of American letters. To be blunt. Has a genuinely distinguished American writer emerged since, I don't know, let's say, John Irving? (Who would be a second-rate Steinbeck if Steinbeck was as good as his reputation, which he isn't. Fuck them all.) Somewhere in the eighties, American fiction died. It's not that the writing and publishing stopped. It's not that there isn't any work of merit being produced.

But nobody seems to be swinging for the fences any more. The whole scene seems weak, trivial.

Here's what's going on.

First off, the reorganization of the publishing industry as a bona-fide business fucked everything up. The arts are dependent on artists, and the years of effort it takes a writer to develop their true strength are dependent on either extreme good fortune or the knowledgeable patronage of their financial betters.

As a business, publishing has said, "Fuck you," to the notion of nurturing talent. If there were no writers, only best-selling books, they would be perfectly happy.

So as readers? We only get the talent of people who have nurtured it themselves.

And in America, art is not a means of expressing a unified culture. Rather, it is a bitter cup of consolation offered to losers and lunatics such as myself. Which is why there's a paltry, resentful quality to so much of American art and letters.

So. You nurture your talent yourself. Here are the two paths to disaster you can take. Or, as I said to Nick Mamatas (Writer! Editor! Master of mayhem!) the other night, "Incompetence and professionalism both lead to predictability."

You can be classy, and enter a Master of Fine Arts program in literature.

If you do that, you will get four years of free time to write. Doing this when you are young and inexperienced is not a great way to get good writing.

And if the evidence is any indication, you will be taught Jack. And then you will be taught Shit. My recent perusals of current fiction has shown me multiple simple errors in craft on every single page of every single work that wasn't written by someone who's a proven old-school talent, your Joyce Carol Oateses (my favorite new plural) and T. C. Boyles.

They do not know sentence structure, paragraphing, word choice, fucking dialog tags. The technical elements of writing are not there.

What they do have is a willingness to experiment with language. Without skill, that isn't a virtue.

There's a horrible pattern in all recent literary novels I've read. Writer writes cute, chases their tail until they get two-thirds of the way through the book, and then pull in some ridiculous bit of business so there seems to be some kind of story going on. And inevitably, it's a movie or television story, not a literary one.

One afternoon's worth of plotting instruction would put paid to this repetitive nonsense.

Now, if you're as lumpen a prole as I am, you will turn to those writing instruction books, workshops, community college writing courses...

... and you will, with effort and expense, get a decent set of technical skills.

This is where I begin to giggle. Because it's true, it's true, it's really, really true. Literary fiction no longer has better prose than genre fiction. Pull out a copy of a Gardner Dozois Year's Best Science Fiction, and compare the writing, page for page, with The Year's Best American Fiction. Again, with the exceptions of the old warhorses of literature, the prose in the SF will demonstrate clearly superior levels of craft.

Of course, most of the writing will, as most professional writing does, come to feel much the same after a certain point. The problem with the workshop circuit is that the creative pool in genre fiction is a small and incestuous one, where riffing off of a limited number of themes and approaches is part of the game.

And everyone who participates in these workshops can trace their instructional ancestry back to Milford and Clarion. The instruction offered, while tremendously useful and tremendously valid, is so persistent in the field that its influence must be consciously wrestled with in order to produce unique material.

That this highly useful, but extremely specific skill-set is applied to work that's primarily derived from fiction rather than life does not help.

Let me be blunt. I think most American fiction is over-rated. The very best of it tends to be minor, obscure, or otherwise limited. The clearest, strongest American writing has taken place in journalism, memoir, and other areas of non-fiction.

That fiction is no longer at the core of popular culture has an effect as well. Talents that might be drawn into the field wind up diluting themselves in group creative efforts such as television because fiction writing simply is not an attractive career for someone with material aspirations.

So that's why American fiction is shitty and boring.

Wanna fight?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

How I Will Survive The Next Week


So things have not been optimum around the house lately. A vast confluence of events ranging from my work on the novel to the missus's relatives and so on and so forth have all been good. But. I'd say the boat's rocking too much, but I love a boat in motion. Maybe there are too many turns on this mountain highway. There comes a point where equilibrium is desired.

Ain't gonna happen soon. The missus, who is a bit of a rock-star type, is being flown off to a bodywork convention. Whole shebang's paid for. Picked up by a limousine. That kind of thing. That's my gal.

Frankly, I love the idea that she's gonna get this kind of boost. But I hate the idea that she's going to go away for a week. Especially now when I'm feeling a wee tad vulnerable after the various to-dos.

So, we've worked things out. I've got protein bars, hot dogs, V-8, sprouted whole-grain bread, veggie burgers, peanut butter, three bean salad with extra long beans, and tangerines. This is not something that I'm proud of, but when I'm alone I rarely give a shit about eating, so it turns out I'm best off giving up on doing anything but grimly stuffing down whatever calories I can get myself to ingest. So I've stocked up on the lowest common denominators, and allowed myself medical defense for my gastronomically abject status. Sainted Ghost of M.F.K. Fisher, think of sludge and forgive me.

That said, I've got a leftover pack of chicken thighs and a guest-purchased jar of Bulgarian buttermilk, and I think I may have to make something along a green curry/tandoori axis. Although fried chicken would be very nice...

And I'm going to eat out a good bit. Taking advantage of my parasite status, I reached out to friends and said, hey. I'm gonna go nuts if I don't get some company. So I'm going to have company nearly every day.

In addition, I have a straightforward task ahead of me, and one which I will relish. Line edits and plot polishes. Lots of time in bed with the dogs and a red pen and masses of marked-up manuscript from readers. Lots of time examining every use of the word 'I.'

And both advice and experience have lead me to the final act. I'm gonna read the fucker out-loud from beginning to end when I'm all done just to make sure it truly flows properly. I do hear the words in my head as I work, but it's not a hundred per-cent. I need to know that it's possible to read this out loud. Because I'm going to have to read this out loud. So why step on my own self?

So. Daily phone chat with the missus, regular company -- even to the point of hanging out with people more than once a day sometimes! -- a steady diet that will neither kill me nor require me to work anything more complicated than the toaster oven, the presence of the dogs, and a genuinely fascinating and rewarding task.

Yes, I want my sweetie home. I hate sleeping alone, all respect to the dogs. Yes, I long for a sense of return to routine and semi-stability.

But I'll be fine. I'll have a few laughs, and I'll get the job done. Won't sleep as much as I like, spend too much time pacing and fidgeting and so on.

But I'll be fine. As they say, planning and preparation prevent piss-poor performance. And I'm learning that many of the key tricks to being gifted rather than crazy come down to planning and preparation.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ghost Rock Draft 11 Is Done

Somewhere between seven and eight years. Eleven drafts. (And three drafts of volume two, and an outline for volume three...) I ain't going over the names of the people who helped me right now, but I'm thinking of them.

I still have the delightful process of line edits and minor fixes and fussing with my writer's groups. Then? Off to the races.

There will be submissions to both agents and editors, with a particular eye cast on foreign markets.

And there will be a pre-professional edition. This is still in discussion and consideration, but tentatively? Two magazine-format volumes, illustrated, a signed, numbered limited release for friends and publicity. Most of y'all reading this will have a shot at one of those if you're interested. Just going to fish for some buzz...

Yeah, the book is an encrypted transformative ritual, a dissection of PTSD anatomized as landscape, an integration of personal, national, pre-Classical, and archetypal mythology with pop culture and genre fiction, about as thinly-veiled a memoir as you could ask, and so on and so forth to an intolerable extent. This is not a novel; it is a meme bomb in which the arts, sciences, and personal pathology intertwine to a hideous degree.

But how the fuck can I get an agent to look at the goddamned thing? Here's my first shot at a synopsis. Please, this would be an excellent time to comment -- does this make you interested in the manuscript?


Ghost Rock

If they put out a benefit calender for terminal virginity, Matt Cassad would be Mister February. Janitor Matt spends his time in his room, futzing around with his sketchbooks and his bass while pursuing his life-goal of withering into a bitter husk.

His cozy, miserable life goes all to hell with the entry of Lulu and Willy, a pair of homeless musicians. Something awakens in him, a sensitivity to an unseen world. Then a shoving match over an attempted mugging leads to a vengeful death by fire. Matt's involvement propels him into an escalating series of vividly biological hallucinations. When reality shatters, he finds himself the rescuer of a decaying afterlife – and a participant in a post-mortem vendetta as he’s pursued between worlds by the ghosts of the men involved in the mugging. (He's killed them once or twice, depending on how you count these things.)

Someone else wants Matt. Corrie. Is she the green-haired goddess of a bizarre evolutionary hothouse, an ageless siren with wisdom beyond human years, or is she "a four-hundred-year old little fat girl who talks like a cross between Benjamin Franklin and Madame Blavatsky?" Opinions vary.

The gods, guns, ghosts, madness, monsters, superpowers, and explosions are Matt’s meat and drink. Matt is ready to fight, and Matt is ready to die. Matt’s struggle is inside, where hatred of self wars with the need for others. This has always been Matt’s fight to lose. Now, when Lulu and Willie's lives are at stake, what chance does he have?

That depends on the power of love. And rock and roll.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

An Immigrant In The Country Of Love

This essay started when I tried to express my gratitude to my dad for a burger, and my friend Deborah for her generosity -- two cocktails, a beer, and another burger was the specific damage. When putting the post together in my head, I realized that I'd done a print expressing the theme for the last issue of Swill. I almost never incorporate humans in my art -- but when I did this piece, I used a photo of Deborah. Odd loops, odd loops.

Can you picture your house? Not the house you live in, not the house you grew up in. Your internal house. The place your soul lives.

The image of my house comes instantly to mind when I call on it. The sky is cool gray, the ground is warm gray, the house is neutral gray. No rain will ever fall from the roiling clouds that stream across the sky; they're heavy with the debris of distant explosions. The ground is blasted ash, worn into coral-like shapes by the wind; boots sink inches into it. You cannot walk without destroying the only beauty in the landscape.

My house is a concrete cube. Curved and pointed, black horns and thorns sprout in rough profusion along its edges. On each side, high and in the middle, there is a small window. There are no doors.

If you see this house, your death has been contemplated. Probably not considered with intent, but if you see this house? Your body is an object. Objects are broken sooner or later. This is war, and no-one survives.

The top of the cube is open to the weather and undefended. I never thought anything that flew would want to hurt me.

I have decided to move; you have taken me to a different place, and while I understand why I made my house the way I did, it no longer acts in service to my life. I still spend much of my time there, but I prefer to live with you. One day I will walk away and I will not feel as if I'm leaving home. On that day, I will become a citizen of the country of love.

I've been mistaken for a military man by people who have served. I believe this stems from my basic approach to life -- it can erupt in savagery at any moment, so be ready to fight all the time. I have consciously struggled my whole life to be open and available emotionally to the people around me, so it's been a surprise to find that there are parts of me I've guarded so fiercely that they've never been touched before.

Illness and poverty have stripped away certain illusions I have entertained about myself, and my place in the world. I have always valued myself based on utility. What am I good for? How can I contribute? What can I do to help?

And despite the kindness that has been shown to me over the years, I've seen the world as a fundamentally hostile place to a much greater degree than most people do. To the point where it has undermined my ability to function in the world. I know what it is like to be hated, and I know what it is like to be despised and I know what it is like to be held in contempt and I know what it is like to be feared.

Much of love is new to me.

I'm not talking about romantic love. I'm talking about the binding regard and affection that people have for one another. Now that I'm in a place in my life where I am of virtually no practical use whatsoever, I have been brought face-to-face with what I currently regard as the root good in life.

Connection. Kindness. Mutual regard. Affection.

It is easy enough to give lip service to these things. When you see them clearly, they are frighteningly powerful. These days I find myself periodically overwhelmed by the sensation of being cared for. The idea that I'm a passing concern in the minds of people I will never meet. The idea that I'm a source of pleasure and solace in the lives of those close to me. I don't sob, but tears flow painlessly from my eyes, and all I can do is endure the feeling that I am cared for, thought of, held in regard, valued. It is joy experienced with the same overwhelming intensity as rage.

The idea that we live in a hierarchy angers and frightens me -- but that anger and fear are being ameliorated by the notion that kindness is also an organizational principle, and it's one that has been brought to bear on me.

Here's what brought this home to me. What dropped right on the roof, where there are no defenses.

I mostly gave up solitary drinking a while ago. I stopped buying comic books more than a year ago, ending a lifelong habit in order to finance my writing education. The very last bit of my money ran out a while back, and I am currently living on kindness and the seeming likelihood that I may receive a disability pension.

This means that there are no little indulgences readily available to me. The tiny treats that I used to coax myself an inch at a time through life are, at least for the moment, over, and have been for some time. If something goes wrong, I don't have the option of promising myself a reward. If things go right, I don't have the option of celebration. There is nothing special at my command.

I missed this dreadfully at first. Dearth sucks.

But here's where things got squirrely on me.

I do get a drink and a smoke. I do get a book and some music. From time to time I get to eat at nice places. I've even traveled a little.

I get the small pleasures in my life from the people around me, and they are given to me because I am valued. Because time spent with me is a small pleasure in itself, a nurturing indulgence, and people like it. What initially seemed like incredible generosity on the parts of my friends has revealed itself as compassionate self-interest.

If I read a new book or look at new art or listen to new music, it is because the missus got it for me at a yard sale. So when I take in these aesthetic experiences, they are flavored by the knowledge that this is something the missus desired for me. She like it when I get things I like. It makes her happy when I enjoy them.

When I have a drink, it is because someone I respect and admire wants to have the experience of drinking with me.

If I take a trip, it is because my company is desired.

When I fell ill, I was cared for, and the manifest kindness of the people around me was overwhelming. And now, as my life continues, that kindness has failed to abate. I've always understood that I'm not supposed to kill myself because it would make other people miserable. I'm just starting to understand that to my true friends, my delight in life is a tangible and valued resource.

This is radically changing my experience of life. I'm gaining a much more feminine perspective -- I value myself based on who loves me as well as what I can do. As a result, I feel more valued both internally and externally. And the process of connecting with the world is increasing in intensity as it builds -- I'm a long way from equilibrium here.

What I thought was true was wrong. I am not actively hated. The world does not seek my destruction with intent. Most intent that is held toward me is positive. I thought I had a house but it wasn't a house. It was a bunker. You know who lives in bunkers during peacetime? Prisoners. Now I don't have a house, but I'm at home in the world. Uncertain but at ease. I don't know where I am, but I don't feel lost.

When I decided to take my art into the world, I approached it as though entering battle. My metaphor was entirely incorrect, and much of the emotional destabilization of the last years has been due to this.

Now I see my art differently. I see myself differently. And I see my place in the world differently.

I am no longer at war. I have been taken into the country of love, and war has no place there. I have to face the challenge of allowing people to be kind to me. Altruism is a basic desire, and to allow others to fulfill it is a kindness in itself, and I have to struggle for that kindness.

To ask for what I need -- let alone what I want -- is one of the greatest difficulties in my life. To do so when I am useless for nearly all practical purposes runs contrary to my rules for myself -- while I certainly wouldn't apply this to others, useless people should die. I feel as if I have been presented with a coward's life.

But if I'm honest with myself, I know that the feeling of having done something good for someone is terrific. And to a certain degree my resistance to having my needs and desires met is a form of hostility. A preemptive rejection.

I am learning to be open about what I want without expectation of either fulfillment or disappointment, how to be grateful without resentment, and most of all to appreciate that there is a mutualism in generosity, and that sincere gratitude and appreciation are worth the trouble just so I can feel as if I'm taking my part properly.

First I felt like a shovel. Then I felt like a broken shovel.

Now? I feel like a treat. I'm a stinky cheese, a single-malt scotch, a neat nugget of the kind bud, a hit of DMT. You wouldn't want to live on a diet of me, but for some folks? If they don't get a little now and then, they feel deprived. Being a luxury item is disturbingly pleasant.

I do not believe I will always be poor. I know how people who know react to my work. I think I will go someplace.

But I am no longer conducting a war. I am no longer staking outposts with my work, and I am growing less interested in chastisement and more interested in the cultivation and encouragement of life's joys and beauties. I can do Swift and Kafka fine; I can do the Thompsons Jim and Hunter. I can Giger your ass nine ways from Sunday, Bacon you til the cows come home. That end of the spectrum seems juvenile in isolation. I want to be able to do Bach and Renoir as well. I am trying to pry my arms open so I can embrace the world.

Hell is easy for me. And I never take the easy way.

I am not pursuing a career in the arts. I am using my talent and abilities to enter into new places so that I can find more friends. Thusly do I accommodate the trauma of discovering that the art world is a social world. At some point, some of my friends will make money with some of my projects. (This sounds dippy. It's solidly practical. Just you watch.)

This is the hidden gift of the outsider -- I belong nowhere, but my friends are everywhere. I have drank with winos and with millionaires, and I am realizing that my whole attitude toward the human species is racist, and that I need to get over it. There is an element in my regard for mankind that is genuinely hateful. I need to cut that shit out. People are people, and I like people.

I do not have a house in the country of love. But I have been made so welcome that I do not feel the need yet. I'm still a warrior, but I like having parts of me that aren't edge or armor. I allow myself that luxury both because of you and for your sake.

As I've said before, I don't love myself, but I don't need to love myself. I have a team that takes care of that little problem, and they do a much better job than I ever could.

If I had a great big blog, I couldn't say this. But this is a small room, we pretty much all know each other, and any strangers that wander in are either welcome or entertainment.

So.

Thanks, y'all. I appreciate it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Riding The Snake

I was looking for an appropriately serpentine image in the file I keep of art jpgs for the blog when I ran across this little wonder. What the fuck do you suppose was going through my head when I put this one together?

The self is the greatest mystery, my friends. The self is the greatest mystery.

For the record, I'm not a Marxist or even a communist. I'm a socialist, sure, but Marxism's full of Easter Bunny crap like the withering away of the state, and the Marxist obsession with the taxonomy of class makes me think of string theory -- it could well but true, but so what? (We will ignore my willful Maoist streak for the moment, as it is distasteful.)

(And now that I've had a moment or two to consider, I remember the cereal as being shockingly awful -- the box offered legitimate gastronomic competition. Perhaps my statement was that eating it was a radical act of self-criticism? And would it have been funnier with Germain Jackson instead of Tito? Political humor is so difficult.)

Normally, at this time of year I am in a state that would easily enable the missus to have me committed, should she so desire. We’re talking case-study stuff, no fooling. This year? Only two mood swings, neither lasting more than a few hours, both occurring under circumstances when both myself and the missus were in emotionally needy states for specific, defined reasons.

What’s the difference?

Applied self-knowledge.

As initially troubling as the diagnoses I received were – for those unfamiliar with the story, PTSD, OCD, mixed-state bipolar (next time you meet a shrink tell ‘em you’ve got that one and watch the expression on their face – it’s fun if you have a cruel streak), fetal alcohol syndrome, and the suggestion that there might be some massive brain trauma that could explain everything – they’ve allowed me a basis for understanding my behaviors and misbehaviors in a constructive fashion.

As an example, my hypomania – a state of excitation similar to but milder than mania – is a byproduct of my PTSD. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder hypersensitizes one to stress reactions. In effect, it gives you what I refer to in private conversation as a ‘crank gland,’ mimicking the effects of everything from coffee to raw meth. (Mimicking is the wrong word – it’s the exochemicals who are the big fakers.) While I’ve experimented with stimulants, they are not my drug at all. Not even coffee or chocolate. I’m much too sensitive to them. Imagine if minor upsets in temper were accompanied by a stiff line of crank, a nasty rush of volts up the spine and out to the fists – that’s a defining element in my experience of life. From time to time I get complimented on my patience and detachment – they grow out of this. I can’t need to kill twenty-four hours a fucking day, so I simply cannot give a shit about minor inconveniences. If I did? Locked up.

My hypomania is strongly seasonal. I experience it constantly during the spring and fall. I’ve always been puzzled by the fact that my SAD does not track closely to the actual seasons. This year, I realized that it tracks to the school year. The beginning and end of the school year were particularly traumatic times for me, and I suspect that my developing body simply got into the habit of going into overdrive during times when I’d have to put up with additional amounts of abuse.

But let me tell you a little something about hypomania. When you feel good? It feels really, really good. It delivers what cocaine promises. You actually do accomplish, and you do so at the peak of your abilities. Hypomania is how you find the peak of your abilities. Me, I mean, not you.

This is the secret of stress reactions. When you feel both stress and a sense of control, your body makes one of the best chemical cocktails available. Top-notch. Only love is better, and not always then. Stress and no control? One of the worst, again with love as the only serious competitor.

So this year, I’ve been treating my seasonal mood disorder as a drug trip. I don’t want to waste it. And as a result, I’ve only gotten bummed out when the missus harshed my buzz.

No fooling.

Set and setting, as that modified dip Leary wisely stated. (It is occasionally unpleasant to have culture heroes that are a fucking pack of self-important idiots, said the self-made man of his models.) I went into this knowing what I was getting into.

I have told myself and those around me that I am in a temporarily altered state, and that there will be loud talking, bragging, vainglorious claims for the future, a rapid-fire stream of compulsive witticisms, and a mercurial temperament. Interestingly, many people seem to take a particular pleasure in my company when I’m in my incandescent mode – old friends have been reappearing, people who know me are expressing strong approval of my current state, and strangers seem to find me attractive.

I put myself into a position to take advantage of my energy. I’ve been writing and arting and musicing like a ring-tailed son-of-a-bitch, starting when I get up and ending when I see that it’s much too late. It’s been a period of peak performance. I’m doing the best work of my life currently. Feels good.

If I’m a bit snappish? If I have more insomnia than usual? If I can’t shut up about my enthusiasm of the moment? So fucking what.

One of the central negative aspects of my life has been completely reversed. Instead of this being the second-worst time of the year, it is the best. I’m shining and people like it. From now on, I’m timing my major projects to take advantage of the spring and fall.

Now all I have to do is figure out a use for the end-of-winter pit of despair. You know, that thing I get about halfway through January that lasts into April? Dysphoria, anhedonia, lethargy? “Gosh, if I had any moxie whatsoever I’d gouge my eyes out with a pair of needle-nosed pliers?” “Gee, I hope I don’t apathetically let myself die of thirst. The missus would be entirely justified in getting pissed off at me for that.” Yeah, that one.

There has to be something useful I can get out of it.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Respect



Why isn't the novel done?

Right now, if I had two straight days of solid, uninterrupted work, I'd be done with the draft. Three days? Ready to send out to readers.

While I have been working every day -- more than three thousand words yesterday -- that statement has been true for a solid week now. If I had gotten two consecutive days of real work in the last week, I'd have finished the novel.

Why isn't the novel done?

I made plans. I declared limits. I asked for assistance.

Why isn't the novel done?

Well, it's not like I haven't been doing other things. For instance...

Shit.

When I broke it down for myself, the first layer of explanation involved other people. My momentum was broken by requests for various forms of assistance and companionship and so on and so forth.

So? What makes my work their responsibility? Most of the time, I never even hinted that people were eating time I could ill afford. And I wanted to do everything I did. And even when people were being unreasonable, I still had the option of yelling, "Leave me the fuck alone, I'm trying to fucking work here!"

The reason this is an issue all of a sudden is that I'm having a new kind of creative experience. It is now possible for me to hold the novel in my head. I understand the story, I know the page-by-page flow, the breakdown of scenes, everything down to subtle thematic issues and obscure references to science, pop and high culture, history, etc. I do this with short stories, but this is the first time I've been able to do it with a long-form work.

This allows me to do the fine manipulation that I haven't been able to do before. I can understand how specific word choices, specific pieces of information, can affect the entire work. It's a holographic understanding, and it is kind of an incredible piece of thinking. You'd be proud of me.

The thing is? It is intensely demanding of my concentration. It takes me an hour or two of fucking around on the internet and poking at the manuscript before I can erect the whole thing in my head.

Once it's up, I can work like a son of a bitch. But any confusion, any need to think about other stuff? It collapses catastrophically, and the experience of massively disorganized thought is intensely uncomfortable. Honestly, the temptation to physically hurt myself in order to restabilize... huh. I was going to say I've avoided giving in to it, but my cuticles tell a different story. (Hey, cutters! Cuticle mutilation is our version of nicotine gum.)

Blaming others is pointless. I tend not to treat my work time with respect. If someone wants me for something, they can get me. It's assumed that as the layabout, I'm the one who needs to make way.

I make that assumption as well.

This is okay when it doesn't interfere with the work. If I am working in a way that lets me pick up and put down the work at will, that's fine. But right now?

I need a higher level of respect from myself and the people around me.

I'm getting this done, and it will finish off at its own pace. But it will be done faster and be a stronger work if I am allowed a period of relative isolation in which to work.

So. Right now, the missus has her father coming to visit. It would be a war-between-the-sexes crime if I were to insist on that right now. I shan't. I'll enjoy him while he's here, shore up the missus as she's pummeled by the brutal tides of family, and then?

Well. I need to devote a little thought to it, but I will arrange my life to temporarily accommodate a period of functional insanity from me. I will need to spend a chunk of my day in isolation, and I won't be able to read or watch any stories. Words other than the novel are active enemies at this point.

I've started hearing back from the writer's groups, and the word is good. What I've got so far is doing what I want it to do, finally. Interestingly, after I resentfully lopped out most of the drug-themed sub-plots, all of a sudden a number of different readers started spontaneously using the word 'psychedelic.' About damned time -- this is adventure fantasy for people who read Hunter S. Thompson for the adventure and Carlos Castenada for the fantasy. This is me claiming Star Wars/Lord Of The Rings territory for the stoners who form their core audience anyway.

So why isn't it done yet?