Saturday, September 17, 2011

Countdown: Seven

If the Dizzy Toilet Devils ever finish another goddamned album, this is going to be the cover. The album will be called Girl Hammer.

Today's starting word count: 34,187

Yesterday's experiment was very interesting. The writing proved to be much more difficult than I'd thought -- I'm having to do much more from scratch than I'd thought, I'm encountering plotting and continuity issues, etc, etc. I was expecting yesterday to basically be a cut-and-paste situation, and instead I had tons of hard composition.

But did you see those numbers? Seven thousand words in a day -- good fucking words -- is a feat entitling me to a blue ox.

Interestingly, though. If you were watching a movie, and someone intentionally overclocked their brain, what would happen?

Last night, I got a nosebleed. Just like in the movies. I wonder if thinking too hard can raise your blood pressure.

Still. Seven thousand words. Damn. I said I could hack my brain and I did. Exactly when do you get to define something as a superpower?

Just remind me I'm a silly-assed fool who's been broke his entire life and has never asked a woman out if I start quoting Nietzsche.

(copyright 2011 Sean Craven, all rights reserved)

The silhouette coming toward me is taller than I am and only approximately human. It has two heads, one centered on its shoulders, the smaller one back and to the left. The broad torso is made of two bodies fused together. One arm is normal, the other too big, with an extra elbow and a hand that has more fingers than I can count in a glance. It has a blanket wrapped around its waist, partially concealing three legs, and another around its shoulders.
The little head has short brown hair and a bald spot. The front head has a yellow beard on a red face.

It’s Arnie and Jeff.

“Let’s just get out of here,” Jeff says. “We don’t know him, he could have a gun or something.”

“If you’re scared you can wait for me,” Arnie says.

“You don’t have to be mean.”

“Well, you don’t have to be a little bitch.”

Fuck me. Is this Hell?

No way.

“Hey,” I say.

“Hey boy,” Arnie says. “You must be lost, huh?” He grins at me, big yellow teeth. His flowing golden teeth. “I bet you got lost and now you’re scared, right?”

Jeff is just visible over his shoulder. “Hey, I know this guy.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Arnie says, then looks at me. “Hey, I do know you, don’t I?”

“Yeah, we ran into each other before.” I look right in his eyes.

“Wait a minute, it’s starting to come back to me,” the blonde head says. “I think I remember some fucking Nazi likes to beat people up, people littler than him. That’s you, right?” He steps forward. His ugly hand drags its clustered knuckles on the walkway, then whips up to stroke his beard. They look at me, Jeff half-nervous, half-friendly, Arnie just plain mean.

I’m not getting past them. They fill the fucking walkway. I step forward. He’s a fucking monster now. I beat him before and that is still there. Face still and gaze steady. Look right in the eye he tries to hide.

His eyes are primary colors, red veins, yellow whites, blue iris. They are soft. Stare at the soft eyes and think about the brain behind them. Break the bone to get to the brain. He moves once and I take his eyes I punch his throat when he’s on the ground he gets the boot. Keep staring. “Yeah. Arnie and Jeff, right?”

Arnie’s head goes to one side and he grins, looks down, slaps my shoulder. “Shit, dude, I’m just fucking with you. We’re the only ones out here, right? Got to stick together. I ain’t the kind of guy lives in the past.”

Friday, September 16, 2011

Countdown: Eight

These two are some of the most popular images I've put up on my blog. They get downloaded all the time. Recently, I did a search to see whether or not any of my art was being used on-line. I found these on some dude's site. The site was in a Northern European language I could not clearly identify, but these were in a list of images labeled WHAT I'M ALL ABOUT.

Well, all right. Providing stoners with self-image is a service I feel naturally qualified to provide.

And today's starting word count? 27,280

So. The good news? Yesterday I got a little over four thousand words down. The bad news? Two days into the countdown, I'm three thousand words down. I knew I was going to have trouble on this section, but it's done.

Three reasonable ways to look at this.

One, I seem to have set myself a difficult goal. If I keep up at this rate? My initial estimate of two, three weeks to finish the work would prove accurate. If I buckle down and try harder? Well, the work ahead of me is much easier than the work behind me. Almost all the scenes are blocked out in proper order, a lot of the writing is still functional after I pull it into the present tense. I may still have a chance.

Two, of course I have a chance. Even if I miss the ten days, I've got an extra day before... well. There's a deadline motive I haven't mentioned. I ain't gonna tell you right now, but I'll spill it in the next few days. But I have an extra day, if I stay on track, three thousand words in a day is fine.

Three. Since this stuff is going to be easier, maybe I should just break it down into slightly larger chunks and make sure that each day's work gets finished no matter what.

That certainly sounds reasonable.

I'm not gonna be reasonable. I put myself here for a purpose, goddamnit.

So what would a genius do? He would change his work procedure, rewire his brain, and clock in more manuscript pages than ever before, not just recovering lost ground but gaining a safety net.

I like that word 'genius.' I always wonder whether or not I get to self-apply it.

Here is the issue.

Writing is tremendously fatiguing for me. As I work, I have to continually resist the urge to take little breaks, and I actually do have to break quite frequently. Usually, I can only do three or four hours worth of writing in a day before my brain says, "Fuck you."

Art? Art is refreshing. I can do art for hours and hours and hours.

This has to do with level of focus on detail, and the nature of that focus. Writing is granular in many ways, focusing on individual issues in a concentrated fashion. In art -- for me -- those kinds of details aren't regarded personally, but as little dots in the whole.

This is why writing is so fatiguing.

I have a mass of manuscript that needs fucking with rather than complete re-writing. It has been line-edited -- I mean strunked, it's been strunked, and it will be getting one last strunking. So I am going to try and process writing through the section of my brain that handles rendering when I do art. That part of me is great with details, etc, but it has much more stamina than part I use for writing.

This is probably reflective of actual neuroanatomy.

So. I will work with music on. I will allow myself to lose focus and drift mentally. I will detach from the work itself, and let reflex guide me as I use the Find and Replace function until I could plotz. I will work from a meditative rather than an active place.

I will post the results tomorrow. We'll see how much of a genius I am then.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Countdown: Nine

Yes, it's true. That's the printing of Walter Jon Williams, author, bon vivant, and practitioner of the martial arts. Here is his eBook store; go buy Days Of Atonement. No fooling. I need to do a post on that one.

Jesus! He's got some stories about the industry that make being eaten alive by rats in a trench while the mustard gas rolls in sound like fucking brunch.

Today's starting word count: 23,270

Okay. Bad news? Only three thousand and some words yesterday, well under goal. Good news? This section is going to take a lot longer than the rest of the book. Totally new material.

And that leads me to today's good news. I was wrestling with the get-out-of-bed-and-get-to-work issue when I realized what had slowed me down yesterday. (Yes, three thousand words of remarkably fine prose is a slowdown for me at this point. I will have to mention hypomania at some point. I'll just say that it's the mental state to which cocaine aspires.)

The infodump scene. All of this crazy, crazy shit has been going on and now the lead and the reader are face to face with someone who has information.

This is the place where genre fiction dies. It does not die quickly; the rope does not break its neck. This is where mysteries win. They have the explanation scene at the end of the story, the story makes its unfortunately short drop and begins to strangle on the rough hemp loop, and then it ends.

With fantasy and science fiction, the explanation scene comes early, makes it plain that the author is addressing the reader, and then unlike the mystery, the poor story is left to clutch at the noose and twist, pissing its pants as it slowly strangles.

This is the prospect immediately before me.

The lead, injured and lost, has been taken in by the character who will be his own true love, and she's the one who has been in the other world from the beginning.

So if I explain things to the reader, not only am I killing the story, I'm killing my main character's love life. I kind of identify with him. So I'm reluctant to do that.

And then I realized my way out of the situation. I don't know if anyone's used this before, but.

The person providing the information is full of semidigested jargon, does not think in a particularly clear and linear fashion, and regards herself as the one who truly knows what's going on.

Not only will she confuse the shit out of the reader, she'll irritate the lead.


Here's your taste for the day -- now the title will make more sense.


(Copyright 2011 Sean Craven, all rights reserved.)

“You got me curious,” I say. “Can I have a listen?”

“It’s not ready.”

“Play the fucking song,” Willy says.

Lulu shoots her elbow into his ribs, then leans over the laptop, goes through a menu and hit the space bar. The music starts. It’s funny, her saying that she was trying for a Beach Boys sound in such a dark song. I can hear what she meant but the sound of the traffic is too intrusive for the music to really work.

Willy plays for a while, just matching the melody, then hands me back my instrument. “Man, I should play more bass. I always forget how much fun it is.”

“We’ll have to redo all the vocals.” Lulu stops the song.

“Hey,” I say, “can I tell you a stupid idea?”

“Sure,” Lulu says.

“What if you started off with just one vocal track, then pulled them in one at a time? So the traffic sound sort of builds up slowly?”
Lulu’s fingers flick over the laptop’s keyboard. “Let’s see what …” She starts the song without the vocals. As it plays she adds the vocal harmonies one track at a time. The muddy noise of the traffic builds up slowly and becomes part of the music.

I can’t help messing with my bass as I listen. It’s as though my ears and hands operate independently of my brain.

Lulu looks over at me, sideways.

“Sorry.” I stop.

“Don’t stop.” She goes back to the start, and fades the tracks in instead of popping them into place at full volume. I start to vary what I was doing, build some hooks, sort of surfy, James Bond-y sounding stuff. Not what the rest of the song sounds like, but it’s coming out that way. Lulu stops the music. “What you did, the last verse? Could you just do that over and over?”

“Okay,” I say, “but gimme a second.” I fumble around until I figure out how to take the pattern through the chord changes. “Okay.”

She starts the song. This time there’s something different and it’s not just the bass line. As Lulu brings the vocal tracks in one by one the sound of the traffic builds up and up until at the end everything else is covered by the sound of engines and horns and tires. I play softer and softer, then stop one verse after everything else had been swallowed by the sound of the street. I’ve never done anything like that before. Hell, I haven’t done anything; it just happened.

“I really liked that.” Lulu leans forward and smiles. “Can I ask you a big old big old favor? Would you let me record that sometime?”

I grip the neck of my bass. “Sure. We can give it a try.”

\Lulu starts unplugging the laptop.

“Hey, can I see that for a second?” James reaches out to Lulu. “I just want to check something on line real quick.”

Lulu pauses, then slowly passes the laptop over to James.

“I thought you liked playing bass on the keyboard,” Willy said. “You keep telling me it’s part of our sound.”

“Will you please go fuck yourself, William?” Ouch, Lulu’s actually pissed. “You could try playing bass yourself, you say it’s so easy.”

“It is easy. It’s so easy bassists do it all the time. Sorry, man.”

“I’m good with the stereotype,” I say. “Play a G, play a C, play a G, play a C. It’s pretty much all my tiny mind can handle.”

“They finally put something up on the police blotter,” James said. “Shit.”

I go to read over his shoulder.


Deirdre says, “What?”

“People died,” I say. “I think that guy I fought died.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Countdown: Ten

Sigh. This is the cover I used to use for reader's copies, way back when...

And the day starts with 20,182 words in the bag, 30-40,000 to go.

So, this last week a number of things came together and I found myself working on the novel again. I feel better about it than I ever have, completely confident as to my control over the material. A number of recent realizations have allowed me to see the full shape of the story in my head at one time, the story now has the shape and feel of a conventional story despite its fucked-upedness, and everything I've been trying to do seems to be happening.

It's short as hell -- gonna be in the Animal Farm/Brave New World range, but given the way it reads, that's a very good thing.

So here's the deal. I looked at what I've done over the past nine days, and I look at the manuscript, and if I double my speed?

I'm done in ten days, tops.

After some seven or eight years, the idea of doing the finished version in eighteen days seems brilliant. Impossible of course, but that's what I've needed all along. An impossible deadline.

Today is the do-or-die day. The next section is entirely new writing, and it's very tricky stuff. If I can finish it today, it's relative cake from here out. If not? It's a maaaaaybe.

I also have a bit of extra motivation, which I'll tell you about later. But first.

I've decided to post samples of my work while I'm engaged in my hysterical fit, just to keep my spirits up. Here is how it starts:


(Copyright 2011 Sean Craven, All Rights Reserved.)

“You’re going to find a girlfriend.” Why would Deirdre say something like that to me? I bet she tortured bugs when she was a kid.

I had to say, “Prove it.”

Shoulder the door open, hands on the mop handle. The mop bucket rattles across the parquet floor, then up and over the ridged metal and rubber strip marking the entrance to the main women’s public restroom, set discreetly to one side of the Lingerie department. Textured yellow linoleum, beige stall dividers, brown tiles up to four feet, apricot walls above the tiles. What do the colors say? Hygenic but human, feminine but disciplined. That’s what the colors say when they’re clean.

Prove it. Oh, that was clever, oafboy. May I have more trauma, please?

“Katie said she wanted to sleep with you, but she knew you’d take it too seriously.”

“I take everything too seriously. I mean, that’s what I do. I mean, fuck. That’s enough to do it? It’s really that bad?”

“Cut it out! I’m trying to cheer you up.”

“I like Katie.”

“She likes you too.”

“Thanks. I think I’m going to go lay down with a damp towel over my face in case my head just fucking explodes or something.”

I still feel shitty. Katie’s nice. And smart. Nice people shouldn’t get near me.

And now Deirdre’s friend Lulu is coming to visit. That should be just ducky. I hope she’s not my type. Of course she is, she’s a composer and I am a sucker for talent. She’s from Tennessee, Deirdre says she’s from the hills.

Dolly Parton, dude.

Quit torturing yourself. Fill the bucket with hot water and pine cleanser and sniff the disinfectant scent of artificial Christmas. Dust the tops of the stalls and the vanity lights around the mirror. Always work from the top down. Gravity is the main force that distributes filth. On to the sinks, and the water in the first sink does not drain.

Take the needle-nosed pliers from the bucket, dig between the sodden fiber and the side of the drain, grip tightly enough to hold, not so tightly as to tear, and pull. The tampon slides out slow and steady, the irregular perimeter of the maroon stain edges up past the chrome and hey, this is my Arthurian moment; Matt Cassad, you have cleared this drain and shall henceforth be King of the Third-Floor Lady’s Room. There’s another tampon in the next drain, and the next, all the way down the line. How does this even happen?

Maybe it starts with cool white walls, small minimalist prints modifying the arctic curse of the room. A little girl tosses her bangs out of her eyes and sighs with dramatic intent. “Mother, I’m bored!”

Mother, angled and elegant as a carpenter’s ruler: “Well, when I was a little girl, your grandmother used to take me to Sharpe’s downtown, the nice store where we get your ski clothes, and we’d go to the lady’s room and play special games.”

The worst things in the men’s room are stray pee or a diarrhea blart. I’m not sure if the nightmare in here is a matter of sexual politics or just the convenient supply of used tampons. Pull a bag out of a tampon bin; oh, God, that’s a couple of pounds, when I open it I’m going to see a miscarriage, a translucent doll’s hand slicked with blood, beckoning…

Dirty diaper. Why the hell isn’t it in the trash? And the next bag is half-full of pee. I picture a woman hanging from the stall divider like a treefrog pissing, I picture a woman bailing away with a cone-shaped paper cup as the tampons swell and float. No, and no, and Jesus I hate my brain.

Women can’t possibly do crap like this, right? Whoever does this is a male employee with off-hours access to the bathrooms. Has to be.

Oh, shit. From that perspective everyone I work with looks like a pervert.

Don't worry about Matt, kids!
He's going to Narnia!
Or the equivalent.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Submit To Swill

Rob Pierce -- we like to refer to him as the man with two verbs for a name -- founded Swill long enough ago so I'd have to look it up. Make it around six years ago. He asked me to help him with it because I was capable of putting together a semi-competent magazine and he knew he could get decent fiction from me.

Rob was sick of fiction that was more interested in being fancy than being fun, and he also packed a serious dose of epater la bourgeoisie. Punk rock was a touchstone. Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions series was another. Our goal? To publish stories that wouldn't fit in anywhere else, and to do it so well we could say 'fuck you' to anyone.

I think we've done so.

Swill is a writer's magazine more than a reader's. Welcome to reality -- there is no real popular market for short fiction.

Which is a shame, because short fiction occupies a very important role in our culture. If nothing else, it is the essential training ground of the novelist -- what athletes do in the gym is as important as what they do on the field. And we are devoted to short-form fiction for its own sake.

At Swill, we take care of the fiction. We edit hard, and then proofread paranoiacally. The layout and illustration of the magazine are obsessively crafted to support the writing, to add resonance without affecting meaning. If we take your story, we treat it as well as we possibly can.

This actually compromises the magazine's quality for the reader at times -- it is typical for us to take a certain number of stories each issue not because they blew us away, but because we thought they were fixable. I know that sounds arrogant, but we work with the writers, and we do so out of a dedication to craft. We have never spoken of this, but when something comes in and the writer just needs a boost, it is irresistible to us.

There may be an editing chromosome.

But most of the people we publish have respectable track records. We've even published a writer I was familiar with for years before Swill came along, someone who's been represented on my bookshelf since the early eighties, John Shirley. You want to see him read the story he gave us for issue 4?

Check it out.

I saw this. I saw it on my birthday. I walked away wondering how I could get up on stage myself. Flat-out, that video? It's why I wound up reading at Lip Service. (Joe, I bugged him when I sent him Swill 5.) Here's my post about that night. If you're a regular reader, my! Hasn't my life changed since then?

(And let the plugs roll. Don't be a fool, buy In Extremis. These are my favorites of Shirley's work. There are certain points in my writing where I ask myself if I'm being too gentle with the reader or myself. The two stories I refer to are Joe R. Lansdale's The Night They Missed The Horror Show and I Want To Marry, Says World's Smallest Man, which is in In Extremis. Most people doing work with this kind of focus on transgression come across as faking it. Shirley feels real.)


Swill needs your stories. If you have work that is odd, knotty, ugly, too short, too long, if it is flawed but beautiful, then send it in! Send it in!

We promise to love it just as much as if it were normal.

Caution -- I may accuse you of being a, "dain-bramaged Bukowskabi who's sucking the prose from my head," and Rob may send you personally insulting rejection slips. You can't get Swill love without Swill hate.

(Better, Joe?)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Your New Verb Is Strunk


So I've been plowing through Joe Clifford's copy of The Best American Short Fiction 2010. At first I was horrified but the situation is nowhere near as dire as it seemed at first. I will say that I have now officially added 'grad school' to 'prep school,' 'epiphanies,' and 'The Great American Novel,' in my 'why American fiction sucks' list.

But I went into this book expecting to be schooled. I had it in my mind that my fiction was a little musty, carried a bit of a library whiff because most of my fictional models are fairly old.

Instead, I'm finding myself quite critical even when pleased. It turns out that the sloppy-ass prose on this blog is closer to current standards than the prose in my fiction. Go figure. Most of this stuff wouldn't make it into Swill, which may be one reason we're having trouble filling the sixth issue. Maybe we are actually too picky.


Anyway, one story -- a perfect example of science fiction by someone who doesn't get science, fiction, or any combination of the two -- was bad enough to provoke a voice in my head to say, "Somebody needs to strunk the shit out of that motherfucker."

For a moment I was baffled, but the definition swiftly followed.

"Strunk: To aggressively line-edit for concision. From William Strunk, of The Elements Of Style."

Thank you, brain. That is an excellent word, and one I'm already using about eight times an hour.


'That bad boy needs strunking, dude."

"The problem was? After I strunked the damned thing, turned out there wasn't a story under all those modifiers."

"Man, why don't they strunk this shit before it gets into print?"

Strunk. Strunk. Strunk.

I will be using this word. Kindly do me the courtesy of understanding it.