Dog Ear
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
The man with the can (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 14 June 2012 19:26


"If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there."

-Anton Chekhov

I don’t know who this old black man is. Usually I see him on days I bike in, over on the other side of Lake Destiny Road, going south to my north.

He’s always riding a ratty little bike, so non-descript I can’t really remember what it is – maybe one of those banana-bikes popular twenty years ago, maybe a heavily-used Walmart coaster.

He’s got that old-man’s face: black, shopworn, seen-it-all. The writer in me would like to think he saw events of the Civil Rights era but he’s not quite that old. Maybe interesting stories all the same, like how the interstate split his black township in two like a concrete battle-axe and didn’t even give it a ramp.

The thing is, he’s always carrying a gas can, one of those plastic red numbers. Presumably he’s topping it off at the nearby 7-11, then riding home.

There are only two houses down the road he rides. Eatonville is the next likely destination but that’s like two miles away, quite a haul on an un-oiled, rusting bike.

Which leads me to ask – why is he getting this gasoline every morning? Why not just drive over? If it’s for a lawnmower, part of a service he works for, wouldn’t it be easier for someone with a car to get it? After all, getting gas in a car involves just pulling in. Getting it on a bike is a muggy long ride with a gallon sloshing around atop your handlebars.

There is a story there.

I saw this guy (again) while riding in the other day, pondering what I’d write about. And here it was – the idea of depth-in-scene, the hidden story. This element, in passing, raises a touch of curiosity in the reader. If my narrative mentions the writer-bicycling yuppie (with his safety gear and anality about the rules of the road) spotting the broken down black man inexplicably riding along in a symbolic opposite direction every morning with a gallon of gas, the reader’s interest will be piqued. Will the yuppie have some sort of contact with this man, and learn the depth of local history, or perhaps the life-lesson of acceptance?

Or maybe it will lead to some web of crime, a clue to the activities of an aging yet bitter militant, too poor to afford a car yet able to construct dreadful gasoline bombs which he will plant about town? A race against time?

Or perhaps this is a foil, to show the yuppie’s own shortcomings. How a casual let-it-be old man magnifies the yuppie’s own fruitless drive, his rules-following and pedal-pedal-pedal haste?

It could be that this is just a way to make a statement about the world, how in the shadow of the humming freeway, a marginalized black man rides past with a single gallon of gasoline.

It could be just a red herring, an odd moment that adds quirkiness to a scene, a playful artist trick.

The writer needs to decide how (and even if) this snapshot fits the story, that it serves a purpose (even if it is ironically a non-purpose). It needs to fit the mood and the story. It needs to tell us something, show us something. “Show, don’t tell” as the rule goes – and the showing doesn’t need to be clear. It just needs to be interesting, observant, relevant and picturesque. It will make a 2-D story 3-D.

As a writer, you need to see these things in your life and use them.

It is Chekhov’s Gun, and it needs to be fired, one way or another.


Last Updated on Thursday, 14 June 2012 19:39
Creativity (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 07 June 2012 07:23

Creativity. Those who don’t have it (who talk on cellphones or watch TV in the evenings) don’t get it. But we, the people who walk silently with eyes on the invisible or who do more than doodle during tedious office meetings, we have it. Creativity.

An example was yesterday – slow day at work with an unexpected extension we didn’t need. Not much to do. Fine. But for fun, I’ve been working on a computer game at home, an excel takeoff of “Time Tripper”, a time-travel/combat game from 1980 that I loved to play. The game itself was clever (I’m creative enough to recognize creativity outside my own skull) and there were two areas, the past and the future. The past was loaded with all sorts of interesting battles to intercede in – Zama, Troy, Shiloh, a cave-man buffalo hunt. Really fun. And the future? It was like suddenly they ran out of ideas and had to just get it done before COB. Vampires. Space troopers. Nothing special – no concept that history continued in a unified path. My version, I decided on the bike ride in, would have this. I would write my own future.

Think of the fun of it - outlining the way the world will continue.

In the office shower, my creativity churned out some ground rules…

1)      The future had to be limited – I only had 36 scenarios. So I decided global warming was going to happen and be the death of us.

2)      The future had to be low tech – I figure that the real future will be computer controlled weapons, self-guided gyrojet rounds and such, that will make combat pretty deadly. “A Motie fired, a Motie died” sort of thing. So for game-purposes, in fifty years, things will start falling apart. Simpler technologies. Back to bows. Back to swords.

With this, images came to my head. While toweling off, I considered the “Second American Civil War” – no, strike that, the “Uncivil War”, where all our political/religious outlooks finally result in a tearing apart of this nation, and a replacement with something very bad. As I locked my locker, I visualized a cocaine-using American Pope ground-detonating our entire nuclear stocks to bring about the Armageddon fundamentalists dream of. Riding to my floor on the elevator, I saw the other end of time, with greenhousing making the equators uninhabitable, the blossoming of Siberia and the final Kingdom of Man, a Neo-Mongol city on a flat plain and sluggish river. Of sword-thrust towers and limp pendants. Of bold horsemen, once dashing and barbaric themselves, now decadent and flabby. Come the final wave of outriding hordes. Come the final fall…

I opened up a spreadsheet and started filling out these ideas, thirty-six rows for the thirty-six mini-games. As I did, more and more ideas came, interesting ways to combine my existing rules with additions that would make each game a little different and unique. At lunch, I transferred the entire thing to my netbook and sat outside, banging out the ideas that seemed to burst from my head. A nanotech disaster. The fall of Africa. Llama-riders. Wow.

That’s creativity. Embrace it. Capture it.

When it comes to writing, we need to recognize that these moments don’t come often and we must be prepared for it. Keep a notebook handy – one never knows when an idea, a phrase, a concept will pop into one’s head. Once, a single word – DOWNSHAFTING – opened up the image of a frightening future corporate world. Suddenly it was just there. I jotted it down. That night I started to write Oath to Carthage.

Recognize the moments when they come. Often our subconscious works while we are asleep. I’ve woken to find a beautiful word, a plot twist, a character (once, a delightful murder) hanging in my thoughts like smoke. If you wait to take your shower, to have breakfast, to get your clothing, to deal with the day’s minutia, you’ll lose it. Write it down, then and there.

Archimedes knew the moment when he stepped into his bath and realized he’d solved an incalculable method of determining volume. So excited was he that he ran naked down the streets of Syracuse, screaming “Eureka!” I’m not saying you should do that. But when creativity strikes, recognize it, note it, capture it.

Savor the blessing.


Last Updated on Monday, 11 June 2012 18:40

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