Dog Ear
Ash cloud (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 12 July 2012 00:00

My writing instructor from long ago told us this would happen, that true writers are morose, suffering bouts of depression that could even lead to suicide. I knew this going in. But then again, it wasn’t the writing that brought the darkness, it was the darkness that brought the writing.

But in the last 24 hours, everything went into the crapper.

I got a rejection letter from an agent who said she couldn’t get into Indigo , that it didn't catch her (well, then get your nose out of Harry Potter and seek things fresh and new). At work, the usual feuds. On the cycle-trip home, harassment from kids from behind the smoked windows of their fart-can car. And even though it’s after July 4th, some defiant straggler was launching rockets, one after the other, at 10pm. Just as a rain washed out his siege gun detonations, I discover an important tax document buried under composting junk mail (and I’d just sent out my sales taxes for the quarter). And while I’m pondering this, the cat gets on the layout and breaks stuff. I run to fetch the squirt bottle and end up in a discipline fight with the wife, who seeks mercy for that fuzzy dumbass like the Chinese backing Syria.

So I’ve had it. I seal myself in the train room and work on the layout damage, winching at each defilement to my art. The wife goes to bed, I don’t care. I just stay in there, deciding to sleep in the desk chair. I finally drop off, only to have next-door fireman-hero turn on his stereo a little too loud at 1am. Then he and his latest tramp have a quick glass-breaking fight on their driveway at 2am, ten feet from where I’m propped up.

And it goes on the next day, with tailgating BMWs and my work team splitting an apple pie without even inviting me.

And there is that depression, erupting into the upper atmosphere like a large volcano, throwing ash and darkness over everything. I don’t want to talk to anyone, I don’t want to do anything, I am not in the mood to suffer the fools that surround me.

I don’t even ride the bike in. Let the world flash-fire in its greenhouse hell. I wash my hands of it.

Lunchtime. I’ve got the tinytop with me and I really don’t feel like doing much. I don’t want to write or edit anything. That reptilian agent really curdled my enthusiasm.

But still, I don’t want company and I don’t want to hang around, so I jump in my car and degrade the world’s climate a tiny bit more to go to a hole-in-the-wall pizza joint with an outdoor sulking area. Automatically I fire up the laptop. No signal.

What to do?

I write under assumed names on the web, just fun little stories unconnected to my true effort, some racy laughable stuff that is a kick to write. And some of the readers have been asking for more, and you know, it’s been a while. There was that one idea I had.

So I sit for a bit and think about it. And the ideas click into place like puzzle-pieces. I pick up the saga where I’d left off, a whole new story with all my established characters. And as I write, my friends, my true friends – the characters that I write, join me. It’s too muggy for anyone to bring their kids out, the waitress keeps me in cokes, and I’m okay.

Oh, there is still volcanic smoke and the plains are ruined hellscapes. But I’m not alone.


Last Updated on Sunday, 08 July 2012 07:15
The Irony of Irony (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 05 July 2012 17:24

Eric Frank Russell once wrote a wonderful science fiction piece where a scout ship discovers a planet, green with fields and ripe with cities. The crew emerges after their fiery (and highly visible) descent to find… nobody coming to see them. Finally they head towards the nearest town, only to discover the inhabitants “racing” in their vehicles towards the landing site, but because of a difference in time scale, they are barely moving at all. The crew returns to their ship, going about their business and ignoring the forest of “statues” that slowly gather around their landing field. Finally an army arrives and charges, only to be picked up and moved backwards hundreds of yards by the bemused crew.

In the end, the commander is writing up his report and notes that we should take care, for if there are races operating on a much slower time scale than us, perhaps there are those running at far higher ones. Having drafted this, he leaves his desk but turns to consider something, only to see that his report has vanished.

When I speak of irony here, I am referring to the more common usage, that of mockery of an earlier time and playing off of (or using) its imageries. Our culture is rich with “ironic” uses of the fifties: the red-baiting buzz-cut military commander, the desperately unhappy housewife, the hair-oiled, train-chasing company man. Most children’s cartoons set their stories in worlds of 50’s and 60’s suburbia, with parents artificially chipper and ignorant to the exaggerated adventures of their offspring.

And that’s fine – it’s a tool writers can use to convey an image quickly. I remember reading Sabatini’s Scaramouch and discovering that traveling companies of actors would rely on established character types (Scaramouch, Harlequin, Pierrot, and others), typecasting them in roles so that the audience would quickly identify their personalities and traits – no backfill needed. We use such characters and concepts ourselves, populating in our tales with the already-known, and perhaps also gently mocking the world of the past.

I did it myself in Early ReTyrement. To establish his commercial supremacy in the ancient world, Mason uses every marketing trick he can imagine to sell average grain at remarkable markups. Part of this involves him spewing a long litany of ‘50’s advertising slogans, the jingles and advertisments that tickled the wallets of our ancestors. And I focused selectively and precisely on that time, as advertisers operated in a verbal market (such as radio), and had to appeal to the ideal of conformity and slight superiority that their products would supposedly bring. So Mason sells his grain and we all get a double laugh, both at the ‘50s and also at the 330ADs, who are even more “naive”.

The danger in doing this is that, aside from appearing condescending, our typecasting can become obvious, even tired, as time moves on. I’m reading a fantasy book right now that starts with a dwarf with his magical axe (of course) and magical armor (of course) who kills a dragon (of course). Ten pages in and I’m drowning in cultural references. Even everyone’s beloved Harry Potter books, with wands and wizards and broom-riding, really doesn’t add anything new to our story-worlds.

And that’s the danger of relying on cheap imagery and established norms. You are locking yourself into a story-telling reference. Time moves on. Think about my earlier reference to that scifi book I opened with. Sure, from our point of view, we are more imaginative and clever and ironic than those stiff, conformist people of the fifties. But is our writing different enough, unique enough, and true enough to stand on its own when scanned by future eyeballs? Or will they shake their head sadly and laugh in bemusement at those still and lifeless ideas that filled the novels of the early twenty-first century?



Last Updated on Thursday, 05 July 2012 17:30
The Air that I breathe (Dog Ear) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 28 June 2012 18:33

We’d just come out of the movie Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and a scene was stuck in my head, a beautiful image that’s a bit of a spoiler so I’m not going to tell it other than it was magnificently sound-tracked with the Hollies’ The Air That I breathe. In this, the music and imagery really worked to form a perfect meld, the moment where what the director wanted me to get, I got.

Before the music industry became the hip-hop ring-tone thing it is today, individuals could still produce music that touched our souls, not simply vectored for a target audience and Facebook-buzz. And perhaps even though writers face a bleak market in decline, one where unimaginative kid-lit makes big bucks and thoughtful pieces languish in slush heaps, there is still a glimmer of hope. Sure, we’re unrepresented. Sure, we’re unread. But we are in control of our writing (still). It is our art and our thoughts, our blood and our breath. We might not get published but we can still write whatever beauty, terror, wonder or magnificence we can imagine.

You should consider this every time you write, what new things you will create, what insights you will interject, what words you will tickle your readers with. Imagine your story up on that screen, amazingly beautiful. What soundtrack will they play for it? What are you expressing? What is the swaying rhythm that heartbeats through your moment?

For me, in Early ReTyrement, there is the opening scene (HERE) where the slow and steady past gets booted in the bottom by a sudden injection of Dion’s “The Wanderer”. Wouldn’t that make a great image? Can’t you just see the cut-scene, from a regal vista in ancient Tyre to a zoom shot over Daytona Beach with that music banging away? That’s what I envisioned when I wrote it, the musical surprise, the sharp cut-away, the then-now contrast. Hopefully you will see it that way, too.

It’s the air that we breathe.


Last Updated on Thursday, 28 June 2012 18:43
Rejection (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 21 June 2012 16:45

This was how my story started...

The shotgun trembled in Hector’s grip, his crucifix tinkling across its twin barrels.

He was frightened – dry-mouthed, ass-puckered frightened – more frightened than when Mr. Sethman had come to their town meeting with his damned proposition. But this current fear wasn’t diluted by misgivings and second-thoughts. This fear was final.

And this was how the rejection started...

Choosing which stories to accept has been a difficult decision, and we regret that we won't be taking it for the collection. It was a very creative semi-western, semi-gothic, all-wonderfully-bonkers-and-evocative piece, and we hope that it finds a home elsewhere.

Ugh. It's enough to grip my crucifix. Or to put my shotgun in my mouth.

I'd been following this collective series for some time (even reviewing them someplace on this site). I'd had this plan, once I got the tempo, pace and length of their stories figured, to submit a nicely wicked piece, something they would be sure to love. Once their new submission notices went up, I plotted my short story (it had to do with trains - I know my trains) and wrote it out. Cleaned it, polished it, groomed it. Got it all ready.

See, it isn't about the money. It's about writing something that people will notice, and in the authors' blurb, they'd mention my books and my site. And that could be a way to get that invaluable writer's cred, the notice that leads to more notice, and soon I'm churning out wretched best sellers, just like those other goons.

But my plans didn't factor in getting rejected.

I'm not really sure why. I might have tried too hard and overwrote. I might have been too technical. I might have caught them on a bad day. Whatever. But now I've got this story that I can't use anywhere else, a very tight tale of a man who doesn't wish to send his daughter on a one way trip to Hell.

But we're writers. We gotta come off that mat, again and again. We gotta keep taking those low punches, even when undeserving twits get the agents, the book deals, and the placement on the NYTBS.  I saw one of these knobs at a show I boothed. He was wearing leather pants, for Christ sakes. And I gotta schlock books around on a cart while he breezes in and sells?

Yes, that wonderful odor of rejection.

If you are reading this column, you are probably a writer. You know the feeling of getting that SASE back, of all the love and effort that goes into your novel, only to have it languish in a lousy word file (and not between covers, as it should). I know about it. And nobody else will tell you because nobody else knows how it feels. But I know. Your book is great. It deserves a place in the library stacks. It does. And you'll get it there.

Now spit that bloody water back into the bucket, climb off your stool, and get back into the ring.


Last Updated on Thursday, 21 June 2012 17:22

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