Chuck Wendig: Terribleminds

Apple-Obsessed Author Fella

Archives (page 436 of 451)

Loud Noises! Pots Clanging! Frothy Spittle! I Like Yelling At Writers!

This shall be the culmination of this month’s Penmonkey Boot Camp, wherein I take a more, erm, “aggro” tone with you fine young upstarts. This post in particular is juicy with NSFW-isms, and may in fact be NSFL, or “Not Safe For Life.” Those with frail constitutions, weakened aortic walls, or little wormy egos in pink Barbie dresses should probably just skip this and go somewhere to glumly masturbate. If you find yourself offended during this post, I apologize. Please see me after class, I will hand you a Xanax.

I’d like to thank you for coming today.

It doesn’t really matter why you’re here. Could be that you find my dubious writing advice somehow useful (“He just told me that writers write! Genius!”). Could be that, instead, you find me a hateful little gnome and want to know if I’m secretly planting conspiratorial codes about you into my work (“This whole blog post is a ROT13 cipher about my weird nipples!”). Maybe you just like watching me body slam the plexiglass walls of my enclosure and leave poopy handprints everywhere (“I think that one looks like a turkey”).

The point I’d like to make today is that, holy shit, I really enjoy yelling at you guys. It just gives me a total boner. And I don’t mean a real boner. I mean a — oh, hell with it, yes, I mean a real boner. A good firm — grr! — baby’s arm kind of erection, you know? With a little fist on the end you can use to punch out goblins.

POW.

I enjoy yelling at you in part because it’s also me yelling at me, and that is also one of my favorite pastimes. I figure I’ve got a lot to learn yet about This Thing That I Do With The Pen And The Ink And The Storytelling and I learn best through hateful booze-soaked tirades against myself and others.

Oh, did I mention I’ll be drinking during this post?

I’ll totally be drinking during this post.

At the moment, the drink of choice is Basil Hayden’s Bourbon.

If I were singing a song I’d say, “sing along,” but instead I’ll pause and also ask you to pause and say — hey, go get a drink. Drink along with me. Won’t you join me? Do it. Yes. Nice.

Good? Got a cup of the ol’ sauce in hand? Right on.

Think of this like a Gallagher show. Get a tarp or a rain-slicker or steal a fucking sneeze-guard from the salad bar at Wendy’s (preferably one speckled with minimal phlegm-flecks). Beware my froth.

Now — hold still while I yell at you, goddamnit.

Stop Cheating On Your Manuscript With New Ideas!

What a word-slut you are. There, on the desk, is that sad lonely manuscript. And what are you doing? You’re out behind the shed, cornholing some new idea, bending over some pretty young thing with big “characters” and pointy “plot points.” You adulterous whore-badger. Listen, I get it. The one thing that really feels like it can derail a novel is the wandering eye of other awesome ideas. But you better learn how to deal with that. That is, in part, what writers are. We’re idea antennae, constantly receiving insane frequencies from beyond the margins of our brain. If you can’t manage that noise, you’re fucked. Stop acting like a hyper-sensitive spider-monkey with fetal alcohol syndrome. Calm down. Manage your new ideas. Your ideas won’t amount to a hill of beans if you can’t take one and drive it like a herd of cattle toward execution. Shelve new awesome ideas. Marry the manuscript, and divorce it only when it’s yielded to your marital creative power. New ideas, take them out of your brain, write down some notes, stick them in a jar and pop them on a shelf. Now write the thing you were supposed to write.

Stop Slagging On Editors Or Agents, Cock-Waffle

Editors? Rule. Agents? Rock. Fuck the narrative that says they’re part of big publishing and they don’t care and blah-de-blah-de-blippity-bloopy-bloo. (Too much with the hyphens? Too bad! Ha ha! Bourbon!) You may have some gnawing scarab stuffed up your ass about gatekeepers, but seriously, grow up. I’m happy if you take the indie path, but editors and agents are not your enemies. They’re good at what they do. Moreover, given the state of the industry it’s not like they’re doing this so they can finally afford their own personal robotic colonic technicians. They do it because they care. Because they love it. They’re in this for the same reason you are: because they really like books. Yes, yes, fine, the world is home to some shitty agents and editors. They’re the exception, not the rule. End of story.

Of Course You Suck, We All Do, Get Over It Already

I don’t care that you think you suck or you’re having trouble writing or gosh this manuscript is haaaard. Shush up, Nancy. I know you suck. I suck, too, a lot of the time. But I don’t want to talk about it, and I damn sure don’t want to hear about it. Be a fountain. Not a drain. Or some other twee cliche bull-snot. Be positive. Be awesome. Own your role as storyteller. Stop sniveling. Do the task at hand. Your purported suck-fest doesn’t make for compelling reading. And you know what? Writing’s not even that hard. You know what’s hard? Kidney stones. You know what else is hard? Being born in oppressive country where the people have no food and no freedom. You know what’s really hard? My bulletproof abs. Okay, shut up about my abs. I know they have the firmness of a bean-bag pounded to a pulp by a ceaseless parade of dry-humping college students. You keep quiet. My point is, writers get the glorious chance to constantly rewrite. You have the ability to forever up your game. You’re telling stories. It’s pure. Perfect. Weird. Wonderful. Stop complaining about it or I will choke you with a sock full of your own teeth.

Shut Up, It’s Okay That We Talk About Writing

Writers are going to talk about writing. Get over it. Nobody said you had to read it. Nobody said you had to pay any attention at all. But I’m tired of the narrative that writers shouldn’t talk about writing. Listen, writing? Publishing? It’s some crazy shit. And we’re all crazy for doing it. If some of us don’t think about it or talk about it? Our skulls will rupture and monkey-demons (or demon-monkeys, I gotta be honest, I was never clear on this point) will escape. You don’t want that to happen, do you? Hell, you ever hear the phrase “talk shop?” This is that. What’s next? “Hey, teachers, stop talking about teaching. In fact, just stop teaching, teacher. It’s like that band says, leave those kids alone.” Every job I’ve been at, you know what they talk about? The job! Because it’s fucking relevant! Fnuh! Bbbt! See what you made me do? Now I’m just typing sounds. I’m not even making the sounds. I’m typing them. That’s the first sign of clinical insanity. I’m going to be over here still talking about writing sometimes. Don’t like it? Here’s my butt pucker. You can give it a little smoochy kiss and then hit the door. HA HA HA THAT’S NOT A DOOR IT’S A GREAT WHITE SHARK YOU JUST GOT SERVED

And Sweet Motherless Goat, Writers Are Cranky

YOU CAN’T SAY ANYTHING oh — damn, caps lock still on. Ahem. You can’t say anything anymore to other writers without someone getting their nipples into knots. You talk about traditional publishing, self-publishing, price, character, content, review, platform, and somebody out there is going to hike on the ol’ cranky-pants and cinch the drawstring good and tight. Mention something, anything about writing or the industry and somewhere a writer is quaking with inchoate rage or sudden venomous snark. What happened to having a reasonable response? It’s no longer, “Hello, I do not agree with you and here’s why,” but rather becomes “HOLY SHIT WHAT DID YOU SAY ABOUT MY MOTHER? No, no, I see what’s happening here, you said that thing about how science-fiction should be considered as important as literary fiction but what I heard was, your mother fucks hoboes on CSPAN.” Hell, haven’t you read the news? You say the wrong thing, something called a “YA Mafia” will hunt you down, shit in your mouth, then write nasty teen novellas about you. Holy crap, writers get so mad about stuff! Why are we so mad? What is wrong with us? Is there something wrong with our adrenal glands? Does writing cause mood cancer? Everybody, just chill. Yesterday in baby class they taught us soothing noises, and apparently that means I get in your ear and go SHUHHHHSHHHHHH SHHHHHHHH PSHHHHHHH FSSHHHHSHSHHHHHH. So. Imagine I’m doing that. Feel better? Of course you do. I am… the Penmonkey Whisperererer.

OMG YOU GUYS BOURBON

This bourbon — Bourbon? Capitalized? — is delicious. I was always a Scotch guy, you know? But, mmm. Bourbon is nipping at Scotch’s tartan heels, it is. You know what else is awesome? Bluecoat Gin. Best gin I’ve ever had. And it’s not only American, but it’s Pennsylvanian, and we do shit right in Pennsylvania. Hello? Soft pretzels? Cheesesteaks? Yuengling? The Amish? Hatred? We’re good at so much. Yesterday, the makers of Bluecoat, Philadelphia Distilling, sent me a box full of goodies. Big bottle of gin? Little bottle of gin? Little bottles of vodka and absinthe? And a hat? Yes to all of the above. Thanks to them for sending a writer alcohol. Smart move. Customer loyalty, earned.

Commerce Is Not A Dirty Word

Writing for me is a business. It doesn’t have to be for you. I don’t care. You can write My Little Pony fanfic for all of eternity — and, if my vision of Hell is accurate, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing. I need to make money with my writing. If I don’t, I cannot feed myself, my wife, and my upcoming spawn, then I will have to stop writing. So, it’s something I need to think about. And talk about. It’s not a dirty word. Try to make me or any other writer feel like a shit-heel for having to earn out and I will collapse your trachea with a broom-handle. In fact, let’s get shut of a whole bushel basket of dirty words — social media, self-pub, pantser, plotter, theme, fuckface, literary, young adult… wait, wuzzat? “Fuckface” is a dirty word? Are you sure? Says you. Pfft. Pssh! Whatever. Point is, just because you don’t dig on something or don’t consider it important doesn’t mean that other people don’t. You’re allowed to not dig on it. Just don’t be a fuckface about it. Now go back to stroking your My Little Ponies. IN HELL. (See? Cranky! Bourbon!)

That Greek Semen Lady Isn’t An Emblem Of Anything

(Sorry, what? It’s Greek Seaman? Is there a difference? Oh. Oh! There is? Really? I always thought my little man-seeds were actually tiny ocean divers. With the big bell-helmets? I had biology all wrong. What were we talking about again? Oh! Oh, right. Crazy author lady.) The other day, some cranky froth-badger got on the Internet (first mistake) and responded to a somewhat negative review of her self-published novel (second mistake), and then kept on responding (third, fourth, fifth, etc. mistake). The post — found here, if you care — went viral pretty fast among writers, publishers, and editors. The narrative that resulted initially was, “This is how not to act like a professional writer,” but then morphed into something about self-published authors. No! No. The Greek Semen lady isn’t an emblem of anything but total farking space-bats who get on the Internet and act like, well, total farking space-bats. “But this is why I don’t trust self-published writers!” No, this is why you don’t trust lunatics. Plenty of self-published writers act like very nice, generally sane folk. And plenty of “traditionally-published” authors have gotten on the Internet (first mistake) and ranted at reviewers or said stupid shit or made asses out of themselves. This lady isn’t a standard-bearer for anything but unprofessional whackaloons. She doesn’t deserve your heaps of scorn, nor does she deserve this much attention. Stop rubbernecking and move on.

Thinking About Publishing Is Like Having A Brain Parasite

We think too much about publishing. And it’ll drive you nuts. (Actually, that might explain why so many of us writers are cranky.) Seriously. You gaze into the abyss, and that abyss not only gazes back, it’ll flick a lit cigarette in your eye. “Oh my god, advances are down. I have to write a query letter. What are the royalties on e-books again? Borders is closing? Barnes and Noble stock is down? I could self-publish! I could make some cover art with dried pasts and Elmer’s glue. What are the trends? Young adult paranormal dystopian giraffe porn? Vampiric zombie dieselpunk middle-grade romance? Will Oprah like my book? Why is my mouth filled with blood? OH MY GOD I BIT MY TONGUE OFF.” Guess what? All this publishing crap doesn’t matter. I mean, okay, it matters, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t pay a little attention. But a lot of the time, it’s like watching the news. You can’t personally do a lot about what you see on the news. Same with publishing. Books aren’t going extinct. So write one. If it’s good, it’ll have a place to land. But not if your head explodes from thinking too hard about publishing trends, first. Which leads me to…

For God’s Sake, Shut The Hell Up And Write Already

Your task is to write.

Write! Write write write write write. Write every day. Write until your heart flops out onto the desk like a bloody catfish and thrashes around, squirting your creative blood all over the wallpaper.

The only way through is to write.

Learn how to write better. Then write some more.

And keep on writing until you explode and die.

And there you go. A super-soaker full of my unfocused rage, sprayed in your face like projectile vomit. If you feel so inclined and are equally full up of such wanton and incalculable vigor, stomp on down into the comments and leave your own deposit of weasel scat rambling pejoratives about writers and writing.

Again, should you find yourself offended, I’d casually remind you that I am including myself as a target of my own sputtering spit-up because I’ve done most of this shit once upon a time.

If you remain offended, then you can now have your Xanax.

This way to the great egress.

*drops mic, walks off stage, falls into the orchestra pit, dies*

I Am Offering A Writing Critique: Genre For Japan

GENRE FOR JAPAN.

Heard of it?

It’s a sci-fi, fantasy and horror-based auction in service to the Red Cross to aid the victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. It is filled with a ton of awesome stuff from your favorite authors past, present and future. Hello, Neil Gaiman? Mike Shevdon? Adam Christopher? Rowena Cory Daniels? Hell, the list goes on and on and the index of lots is right here.

Anyway, they asked me to contribute a little something-something, which is like asking a bait-minnow to hang out with a flock of majestic blue whales — hell, blue space whales, glorious and translucent as they float through the nebulae — but hey, I’m totally excited to have been asked and doubly excited that maybe someone will bid on my lot and send some money to the relief effort.

What do I have on the auction block?

First, an e-book of Irregular Creatures.

Second, a critique of your writing. Up to 5,000 words, which might be a short story or a piece of a novel. Is my critique worth anything? Well, hell, I dunno. I like to think so. Outside of my dubious writing advice that I offer here on this site, I have developed a number of books for White Wolf Game Studios, and that involved me helping writers hammer their first drafts into final drafts. You can ask them if I’m qualified, I guess.

Anyway, what I’m saying is, the bidding is now open.

Get on over there and pitch your coins into the hat if you care to. If not for my lot, then for another lot from another great publisher, editor, or author. Time to help out if you can, peeps.

Thanks, in advance. I’d also appreciate you spreading the word on this.

My Lot (Item 21) can be found here.

 

Baby Madness: A Conversation

Sometimes I think, when the baby comes, I’m going to go outside and move my butt in a sweeping motion and clear a concave indentation in the dirt like some kind of nesting sunfish. And then I’m going to stick my wife, my newborn son, and myself into this shallow hole and it will be there that we raise the child until he is… well, somewhere between 4 years and 42 years old.

Reliable information on baby-rearing — or, more specifically, baby-not-accidentally-killing — is as hard to come by as an honest politician or a unicorn wearing the flesh of his enemies.

It begins, of course, with crib bumpers.

Crib bumpers, to those who don’t know, are padded “bumpers” that line the inside base of the crib along the bars so… well, reportedly so the infant doesn’t whack his head or get his soft little multi-plated lizard skull stuck between the bars, but really it’s so Mom and Dad can ooh-and-ahh over the pretty little rocket ships or bears or fiery demon skulls that represent the nursery’s triumphant decor.

We bought a sheet set for the crib, and it came with crib bumpers which we, as completely unaware parents, thought: “Well, that’s fine.”

Except, it’s totally not fine. Apparently.

Here’s how the conversation begins.

“Oh, crib bumpers?” the experts say. “Those, yeah. Ooooh. Those will kill your baby.”

“These pillowy things? Soft? Downy? The pillows will kill the child, but the wooden bars of the crib will not? Are you sure? Is this opposite day?”

“Totally sure. They can fall on the baby and the baby will suffocate. Plus, the cords might get undone and the baby will strangle himself. Also, the crib bumpers may prevent oxygen from properly recycling, and the baby may intake too much carbon dioxide. And that may be one of the causes of SIDS.”

Blink, blink. “Wait, oxygen may not… recycle? Because of crib bumpers? Is oxygen heavier than I think? I mean, it’s not mercury. Are crib bumpers, like, the opposite of plants? Do they have some sinister mechanism by which oxygen is eaten and carbon dioxide is exhaled onto my baby’s head? Or maybe crib bumpers are full of cats. Cats who leap out and steal the baby’s breath.”

“Could be, expectant father. Could be.”

“Okay.” Throw crib bumpers into a burn barrel, then. “Fuck those dirty crib bumpers. Whew. Those menacing baby-killers are long gone. Hey, why are they still allowed to sell them, anyway? I mean, the baby industry is ten kinds of obsessed with safety, understandably so. Shit, a baby’s car seat has an expiration date. Like milk. Or love. My seat-belts don’t even have an expiration date. So, why are they allowed to sell crib bumpers to an unsuspecting populace?”

“Hell if I know.”

“Oh. Well. So, speaking of car seats, we’re going to go to this thing the hospital is having where they check the car seat to make sure it’s locked in, and I was wondering, will they also check the placement of the mirror on the headrest of the backseat –”

“Mirror? Oh, no. You can’t put a mirror there.”

“No, no, it’s okay, it’s some… baby product bullshit, a, a… kind of soft-flexible mirror thing so we can see the baby from the front seat since they have to be rear-facing until they’re a year old –”

“Now it’s two years old.”

“Two?”

“Two. And we’re considering making it 20.”

“20?!”

“Can never be too safe. But back to the mirror: you have to destroy that mirror. It, like the crib bumpers, may destroy your child. Think of it like a witch. Kill it with fire. See, if you’re in an accident, the car seat is designed so it flips upward, and your baby’s face will hit the headrest.”

“That seems dangerous.”

“The headrest is soft.”

“Mine’s kind of hard.”

“Well, soften it up. Also: the mirror could also become a dangerous projectile. In fact, anything in your car can become a bullet. Get rid of everything that isn’t nailed down.”

“Wow. Got it. Anything else I should know?”

“You’re wife’s not eating any lunchmeat, right?”

“Lunchmeat? What the hell is wrong with lunchmeat?”

“Listeria. Causes listeriosis. Will pass through to the baby. Plus, Mom is very susceptible at this point. Her immune system is that of a very sad panda. Just think of that.”

“That sounds awful. It must be kind of common, this listeriosis.”

“Nope. Not so much. About 2500 cases, 500 of which die. Annually.”

“And all those are pregnant ladies?”

“Oh, no. About 27% of ’em. Round up to 700 affected.”

Blink, blink. “The population of America is 307 million people. That’s…” Does some quick math on fingers and toesies. “Less than 0.001%.”

“Well, sure. But you don’t want your wife and baby getting sick.”

“No. No! No. It’s just… doesn’t she have roughly the same chance of getting struck by lightning?”

“Oh yeah. And even then, only 10% chance of dying. But don’t you dare send her out in a storm. There’s a billion things you need to worry about. Key word: worry. She’s not eating sushi, right?”

“No. She’s not. But she’d kill a dude right now for a slice of hamachi, some brie cheese and a dirty martini.”

“Sushi is home to parasites. Well. Not really. It’s very rare. And we don’t even know if a parasitic infection will easily cross the placental wall. Oh! And fish has lots of powerful nutrients. And wine is loaded with antioxidants which a baby may need. But if your wife eats sushi or drinks wine, she will be shunned by the tribe for reckless child endangerment.”

“I think my Mom probably drank when I was in the womb.”

“And doesn’t that explain a lot?”

Pause. “Yeah.”

“Here, let’s see what else you’ve got in your baby registry. Mm. Hmm. Okay. I see you’ve got these baby bottles, they’re supposed to help with colic?”

“Yeah. Something about reflux.”

“Oooh, sorry. We still don’t really know what colic is. It may be genetic. It’s definitely a developmental phase. Not much you can do except weather the storm. These bottles? Pbbt. Won’t fix crap.”

“But they say –”

“I SAID WON’T FIX CRAP.”

“You don’t have to be so loud about it. Jeez. So, okay, why do they say it may help with colic if colic is just some weird thing that happens like a curse cast upon our child by a surly warlock? I mean, really, shouldn’t that be illegal? It’s like buying a box of Captain Crunch that promises you’ll get laid or something.”

“Life’s tough, dipshit. You can’t go around believing everything you read.”

“That’s not very nice calling me dipshit like that. And it’s really starting to feel like I can’t believe anything I read. I mean, damn. Breastfeeding? Natural labor? Pitocin? Autism? Circumcision?”

“Rocky road. Total minefield. You’re gonna breastfeed, right?”

“Well. Yeah. I mean, not me personally. My wife will do the actual boob… process. But if not, if it doesn’t work out, I know there’s formula you can buy…”

“Formula. Sure. Might as well just punch your baby in the face.”

“I don’t want to do that! But I hear some women can’t breastfeed.”

“Mommy over there is pre-built to feed your little monkeyface right from her mammy-glands. It’s free, for one. And by the time the kid’s four years old, you’ll have spent enough money on formula where you could’ve just bought a small boat or a komodo dragon. The boob makes powerful antibodies that kid needs. Trust me, unless she’s some kind of troglodytic cave mutant, she can breast-feed like a champ. Those teats are for milkin’. Besides, you don’t want your wife to feel like an incomplete mother, do you? If one drop of formula crosses that kid’s lips, she will be stoned to death in the town square.”

“But I was formula-fed.”

“And again, just look at you. You’re basically a chimp. With designer glasses.”

“Shut up.”

“Let’s talk labor. You’re going natural, right?”

“If we can. But we realize that no plan survives contact with the enemy, so…”

“So you must want your wife to again be an incomplete woman? If you let her have a medically-managed birth, goblins will come. And they will steal her fallopian tubes. And from them they shall craft their terrible goblin weapons. Go natural. Women have been having children naturally for, ohh, let’s just call it 10,000 years. Only relatively recently has the medical establishment decided to treat birth like a medical crisis rather than a natural event. You know what’s in an epidural? Kool-Aid and heroin. When they give the mother an epidural, they must also give her Pitocin to ameliorate the contractions, and they create more painful contractions, so. When they back off of the epidural in time for the birth, the contractions feel ten times worse than if mommy never had an epidural. Not only does the epidural possibly damage the infant’s nursing reflex upon birth but Pitocin might also have a connection with autism.”

“Autism? Oh, shit. Really?”

“Ehhh. Ennnh. We don’t really know. But it sounds good. And people like to raise the question, and any time there’s a question, it’s just easier to default to the answer being yes. For instance, Could there be sharks in your toilet? Ehhh. We don’t know. Could be. So why take the chance? Poop in a potted plant, like I do.”

“Potted plant. Got it. Okay, but — all this stuff is bad, but aren’t doctors supposed to, y’know, tend to the health of people? This sounds like it’s the opposite of that. Doctors can only do good.”

“Sure, sure. They’re like Superman and Santa Claus. Oh, you’re cute, little naive round-headed ape-man with your scary beard and your fantasies of being a cherished writer. Doctors are people. And people are basically scum. Listen, doctors really like two things: one, expensive pharmaceuticals and two, expensive medical treatments. You know who is a highly-paid person at your hospital? The anesthesiologist. Fuck the brain surgeons, that guy is the rock star. You don’t go to him for a fix, you’re maybe losing the hospital some sweet, sweet cash. Money makes the world go ’round.”

“That is awfully cynical. Doctors aren’t evil.”

“No! But they’re selfish and stupid just like everyone else. Remember Thalidomide?”

“What, the flipper baby thing? Well. That wasn’t actually prescribed, it was on clinical trial in this country. That’s not fair to blame on doctors.”

“I’m just saying. Doctors aren’t perfect. They got to get paid, son.”

“Who are you, Omar from the Wire?”

“You trust your doctors so much, why do they perform circumcisions?”

“What? Because it’s a medical procedure that… you know. Does stuff. Good… stuff. I mean, hey, I’m totally circumcised. Wait, you’re going to use that to insult me again, aren’t you?”

“The medical establishment will not recommend a circumcision. Go on. Call your pediatrician. He’ll tell you there’s no medically valid reason to go chopping up your kid’s winky like it’s an octopus salad.”

“So! Hah. That means doctors do have ethics.”

“Well, until you tell them you’ll still pay them to go Ginsu on your boy’s pee-pee-meat. Flash some cash, he’ll whip out the meat cleaver good and quick. Where’s your ethics now, pink boy?”

“Pink boy?”

“It sounded good at the time.”

“I hate you so much.”

“I’m just trying to help.”

“You’re not helping. You’re hurting. This is too confusing. Everything is just worry and agita and fear and uncertainty and komodo dragons. Dude, I just watched this sorta documentary, Babies? And in it, they showed a baby in Africa, and that kid was rolling around in the dirt and letting dogs French kiss him and he was splashing around in a little stream and he seemed healthy and happy. In fact, there’s 307 million people in this country alone. And they’re all alive. Happy, well, I dunno, but they’re all here, and they were born with epidurals and without epidurals, and some of them breast-fed and some of them didn’t, and Moms drank wine and Dads learned a thousand different breathing techniques and whether it’s a big dangerous industry or a giant baby-hating conspiracy, we’re all here and alive and it seems like as long as you try to do the right thing however you see it you’re probably going to be fine, because haters gonna hate and life is a bitch and dear gods, I need a nap or I’m going to poop in a potted plant somewhere.”

“Good luck, Dad.”

“I seriously hate you with the heat of an exploding sun.”

And, scene.

Goddamn crib bumpers.

Beware Of Writer II: Revenge Of The Teenage Penmonkey From Mars

See that guy over there? The one in the alleyway with no pants, his big beard braided with bird bones? The guy twitching like he’s covered in ants? The dude stabbing an invisible demon with an invisible knife?

Now, see this guy here? Ahh, the writer. Sitting at his desk. Typing away. Clickity-clack. Clackity-click. Coffee by his side. Hair slightly mussed. Writing about murders and lost love and space opera.

Let’s say you have a choice to cozy up to one of these two individuals. Hang out with them for a day.

The one you’d choose would seem obvious.

And that’s where you’re fucked.

Seriously. Choose the Charlie Manson-looking motherfucker every time. He wears his crazy on his sleeve, same way he wears his poop on the outside of his body. But the writer? The writer hides his crazy. It’s like a little secret present inside filled with bees. A Pandora’s Box deep in the writer’s troubled heart.

It is time, once again, to beware of writer.

Your Attention Is Our Creative Heroin

Newsflash: we are needy little goblins.

Makes sense when you think about it. Our work — and thus, our lives — becomes geared toward seeking the approval of others. We’ll kill a dude just for the chance to have an agent request a full manuscript. It’s not just editors, agents, publishers, and producers. It’s the audience. We tell you we write because we love it, but the dark reality is we write because we need you to love us.

If you don’t justify our existence, we will wither like a frost-bitten petunia. We are junkies for your love and appreciation. The other night, I had my wife sit in front of the computer and read something I’d wrote. Thirty seconds in, I said, “You didn’t laugh.”

“What?” she asked.

“That part there. It was supposed to be funny. You didn’t laugh. Means it’s not funny.”

“It was funny.”

Squint. Shift. Twitch. “But you didn’t laugh.”

“I smiled. I laughed inside.” She saw the tendons in my neck standing out. Wet eyes trembling like those of a sad Japanime samurai girl. “Listen, if I’m going to read this, you can’t stand there over my shoulder.”

“Okay,” I said, not actually moving.

She rolled her eyes. Kept reading. Finally, I couldn’t take it. I said, “I will give you fifty dollars and a foot massage if you just laugh sometime in the next 30 seconds. Let me sweeten the pot. If you don’t do it, I will know that you don’t love me, and more importantly, you don’t love my writing. My only response will be to run to the bathroom and drown myself in the toilet.”

The lady knows the drill. She accepted the deal. Twenty-eight seconds later, a convincing little laugh. I could’ve licked the computer screen that felt so good. Creative heroin, indeed.

We Bite When Cornered, And Also, When Not Cornered

We look harmless. But we’re like hooded cobras. Very angry humans, we writer-folk. Not sure why, exactly. Maybe all those words get caught up in the pipes and chutes of our brain-plumbing, causing something along the lines of a spiritual arterial blockage.

A whole dictionary full of profanity and rage gumming up our think-machine.

Doesn’t take much to set a writer off. You tell us, “You know, I don’t like pie as much as I used to,” and next thing you know you’re wiping a gob of spit from your eye. Gets worse if you try to talk to us about writerly things. “I don’t think writers should self-pub–” but before you finish that sentence, we’ve broken a laptop over your head and shanked you in the jugular with a fountain pen.

In your blood we shall ink our first bestseller.

You Can See Our Libraries From Space

We like books the way crackheads like crack rock.

We collect books. We hoard them. Anybody who has ever moved from house to house with a writer in tow learns a very unfortunate lesson, very fast: books are the heaviest substance known to man. You’ll be thankful you get to move a fire-safe filled with dumbbells after you move 50 boxes of our books. Many of which we’ve never even read. Or we didn’t even like. Go ahead. Try to take one of our books away. “You didn’t even like this book,” you’ll say. “You said you hated it. That you wanted to find the author and shove this book so far up his ass he could taste his own shit-shellacked prose.”

“But I might like it someday.”

“We’re getting rid of the book,” you’ll say, and you’ll reach for it.

“YOU CAN’T STEAL MY DREAMS,” you’ll cry, then tip over the bookshelf. When the cops drag you away, you’ll casually note how much those feet look like the Wicked Witch’s feet from beneath Dorothy’s house.

We’re Probably Drunk

That coffee cup next to the desk? That’s probably wine in there. Or whisky.

Or paint thinner.

Yeah.

You Shall Be Destroyed! (Uhh, In Our Heads)

Revenge is a dish best served to a character who is secretly you inside a book we’re writing and in that book the dish is actually a platter full of scorpions and then you the character eats them and the scorpions sting your mouth and throat and they keep stinging you and your pants fall down and you slip screaming into a trough full of horseshit and all the townsfolk gather to laugh at you and throw Justin Bieber CDs at your head and finally the scorpions have babies inside your colon. The End.

Uhh. What I mean is, you know that disclaimer you read inside books? “Any resemblance to real persons living or dead is purely coincidental…?” That one? Coincidental, my left nut. We may not punish you in reality, but ye gods and little fishies, watch what we will do to you in our fiction.

“This character sounds like me. He looks like me.”

“I’m sure it’s just coincidence.”

“My name is Burt Smith. The character’s name is Bert Smythe.”

“Still. It’s a… common name?”

“He shows up in Chapter Seven, then is promptly beaten to death by a pack of housewives with double dildos. One of them says something about child support. Then they pee on his corpse.”

“Well, your ex-wife did write the book, Burt. Maybe you want to pay that money after all.”

Spoilery Spoil Heads Are We

“That guy did it,” we’ll say, pointing to some character on the TV. Or we’ll say, “She’s going to shoot him… right now.” Or, “No, you think she’s a hooker, but actually, she’s a he. And he‘s a space elf.”

Sadly, we’re usually right. We don’t mean to be. It’s not because we’re smart. It’s more because we’re obsessives. We watch a metric butt-ton of films. We consume gallons of television. We read a billion books and a trillion comic books. We play video games till our fingers look like rotten kielbasa. We write this shit. For a living. We know the tricks. We know structure. We know about Chekov’s gun and the bomb under the table and the act turns and the subtle-not-so-subtle clues. And we’ll blurt them out uncontrollably. Probably because we’re so goddamn needy.

We may be trying to impress you. Answer unclear, ask again later.

We won’t spoil things we’ve already seen. Well, not unless we didn’t like it.

“The unicorn killed her,” we’ll tell you.

You’ll punch us in the shoulder but we always feel justified. As if it’s not a spoiler if we think it sucks.

Man, we’re jerks.

As Writers, We’re Very Easily Distracte — Oooh Shiny!

When we’re supposed to be writing, we’re distracted by everything else: video games, the dogs, the vacuum cleaner, somebody else’s book, our genitals, a loaded handgun.

When we’re supposed to be doing something other than writing, we’re distracted by the writing.

“Honey, can you put the keyboard aside and stop typing for a minute?”

“Fine. Fine. What is it, you chirping harridan?”

“Well, you’ve been writing for the last fifteen minutes and I’d rather you be doing that thing you’re supposed to be doing? You know? Feeding the baby?” (Or, washing the clothes, driving the car, inserting the nuclear fuel rods into the containment unit, loading the handgun, etc.)

Our Stories Grow Like Viagra-Charged Erections

We are not only lying liars who lie, but we’re also wanton embellishers — the narrative equivalent of someone who cannot stop bedazzling an otherwise boring denim jacket.

When we’re telling a story, feign interest. Because that’s how you get the truth out of us. If you start to drift off — you start going through the mail, you stare off at a distant nowhere point, rivulets of drool begin creeping down your chin — we will crank the volume knob on the story louder and louder until we regain your interest. “I was at the post office today,” we’ll start. “Man, the line was crazy.”

“Nn-hnn,” you’ll say, paying only half attention.

Our eyes will narrow. We’re suspicious. Okay. Fine. Fine. You want to play it that way? Done. “The guy in front of me smelled.” This is true. This is part of the story. But then, we add: “He smelled like a corpse stuffed with a dozen Italian hoagies. He smelled like a dead guy exuding hoagie oil from his pores. I almost threw up.” Ah. Ah-ha. Yes. We’ve started to hook you. You’ll look up.

“Really?” you’ll ask.

“Oh yeah. And then he was mauled by a bear.”

“A bear.”

“Yep. A Kodiak bear. Not a record-breaker or anything.”

(We don’t want to seem like we’re embellishing, after all.)

“And where did this bear come from?”

Pause. “Uhhh. A hang-glider.”

“He came down from a hang-glider.”

“I took it too far, didn’t I.”

“Probably.”

Of course, on the other side…

We Have Judged Your Story, And We Have Found It… Lacking

We wish the rest of the world would embellish. Everybody tells stories. We’re just dicks about it because we think we’re the experts. We’re not. We’re just bloviating gas-bags. (But don’t tell us that.)

You’ll finish up your five minute story: “… and then Jenkins gave the boss a look like, whatever, and he went back into his office. Then we all went to lunch.”

“That’s it?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, that’s all you got? That’s the story?”

You frown. “What the hell were you expecting?”

“I give that story a D-plus. C’mon. It had no third act turn. The escalation was mostly a flat line from zero to zero, and I didn’t see a lick of character development. Jenkins didn’t have any kind of catharsis. God. Couldn’t you have thrown in a screaming porn star or a ninja or something?”

“You know, I don’t think that’s particularly fair –”

“A SCREAMING PORN STAR OR A NINJA OR YOU WILL GET THE HOSE.”

See? Beware of writer.

The first “Beware Of Writer” post can be found here. That post is this blog’s easily most popular, having gotten by now over 200,000 looky-loos by you, The Internet Public, and collecting 139 comments. Thanks, you crazy cats and kittens, for checking it out. If you like the post, spread the love.

 

Sucker Punch: Lessons Learned

Sucker Punch is five kinds of awesome mixed with ten kinds of terrible.

More on that in a moment.

I had a gift card for a local movie theater, and I was sitting around reading reviews of the movie, and I thought, well, fuck it. I know the wife doesn’t want to see it. I know I have two hours. And I know that if it’s good, I’ll want to have seen it in a theater, and if it’s bad, well, I didn’t pay shit for the ticket.

Two caveats:

First, if you saw and enjoyed Sucker Punch, don’t let me poo poo on your parade. Let your freaky geeky flag fly and shout your love to the world. Please don’t take anything I say as an insult.

Second, here there be spoilers. Light spoilers, very light, but spoilers just the same.

So, here we are.

The first five, ten minutes of the film are some of the most visually arresting five minutes I’ve seen in a movie in a long time, and they pack an emotional, erm, sucker punch. It’s hyper-stylized and very sad, and I don’t say it as an insult when I say it has the kind of kinetic power of some of David Fincher’s music videos (Janie’s Got A Gun, f’rex).

Unfortunately, the movie fails to really live up to the narrative oomph felt in the first act. The movie is about… 20 minutes of actual story, and a not-terrible story at that, crammed into a two-hour movie.

So, what fills the other two hours?

Masturbatory tech demos.

Zach Snyder is a fucking whup-ass director. The man makes visuals his squealing piggy. His work, as they say, has a real pretty mouth. The action scenes are cogent, too. They’re clear. I know what’s happening. They are elegantly choreographed and the effects will kick your teeth in.

The issue is, the action sequences mean nothing in terms of the narrative. No, really. They’re pit-stops. Outright fantasies. The film has in effect three layers of “reality,” ala Inception — first layer is the real world asylum, second layer is the fantasy brothel that stands in for the asylum, and the third layer are the various rabbit holes of action. (It’s the best I can put it, sorry.) The first layer is one we see very, very little of. The second is the setpiece of the movie so it is more or less our “baseline.” The third layer…

Well, that’s where we get into troubled water. All the awesome shit you see in the commercial takes place in this third layer. Hyper-psycho action sequences painted in the ejaculations of geeks everywhere. But what happens in these layers has no bearing on the first or second layer. None. It’s just… hot teen girls kicking ass for ten minutes. Doesn’t matter if they get hurt (they don’t). Doesn’t make a lick of difference if they achieve their goal (and we’re given no reason to believe they cannot achieve their goals because they are a stone’s throw from immortal). There’s not even a real strong metaphorical connection.

The action sequences, of which there are several, are without context, without meaning, and entirely without stakes. We learn nothing about the characters. We gain nothing in the story.

This makes these the most boring action sequences you have perhaps ever seen.

No, really. I found my mind wandering to grocery lists. Not kidding. Every once in a while I’d perk back up and nod toward some cool move — “Oh, that was neat” — before checking back out again.

What exists beyond these action sequences is where the movie lives, and it’s not a bad movie. It is, at times, kind of awesome. Plus: Carla Gugino and Jena Malone! Mmm.

But again, we’re talking 20, maybe 30 minutes of a two-hour flick.

Ultimately, that makes this a hot mess and something of a big disappointment, but since I was expecting it to be kind of awful, it actually came out somewhere in the “mmm, okay?” department.

Even still, I don’t like to outright pan a film if I can’t learn lessons from it. As a storyteller, you can learn as much from problem stories as you can from the best stories. Sometimes more.

So, three quick things I took away:

First: the school of cool has to stop. Just because something is awesome does not excuse its existence in the story. This movie offers a thousand darlings that should’ve been killed. It’s like Snyder had some sort of epileptic fit where he swallowed his tongue and had a fantasy involving every fanboy trope known to man: steampunk clockwork nazi zombies mecha samurai katana handgun gatling gun dragons orcs sailor moon tiny skirts hot girls robots sci-fi fantasy horror zeppelins hookers jon hamm. At first appraisal, that sounds super-cool. In reality, it is a dude painting with an uncontrolled hand.

Second: we need to know the stakes. Stakes are incredibly important in storytelling. The audience needs to know, If X happens, Y will not. Or, if X doesn’t happen, Y will fuck some shit up. We have to see potential consequence. We require want, need, fear, and the actions born of that. The action sequences that make up the bulk of the movie have no stakes. None. And that makes them very dull, indeed.

Third: context matters. In novel writing, you hear advice that says to start with a bang, like a movie. That’s hard to pull off, and here’s why: for an action scene to work, it has to be more than just action. It has to have context. We have to know our characters. We have to have, like above, stakes. We need some thread, some throughline, to carry us through and give the action meaning.

Is it a bad movie? No, probably not. Snyder can really direct and, when he has material to direct, it’s incredible. Here, though, there’s just not a lot of there there, as the saying goes. It’s a bit too hollow, a bit too shallow, which ultimately starts to drain it of its fun. So much so it just gets tireless.

Though, again, your mileage may vary.

Flash Fiction Challenge: The Portrait

Go visit last week’s flash fiction challenge — BABY PULP! It’s easily my favorite, so check out the stories.

Okay, so. See that photo?

When the wife and I were in San Francisco, we stopped in a kooky little antique store up near the Marina. It was truly eclectic, like many are, and particularly like many in the city of San Francisco are, and contained within were any number of strange delights and wonders. But then I found that portrait up there. Now, one suspects that the portrait — which clearly portrays a boy who is not, erm, precisely human — is Photoshopped and isn’t actually a real antique. But let’s be honest: that’s not the most interesting interpretation of that story, is it?

So, your task is:

Write some flash fiction about that portrait. Will you write about the monster in the picture? Or the photographer? Or the poor couple who buys the portrait? Or some other unseen angle?

Is it real? Is it fake? Will you write horror? Humor? Urban fantasy? Noir? Some weird mish-mash of genres that remains unexpected? Fuck it, go nuts.

You have 1000 words. (Though next week’s challenge? I’m giving you only 100.)

You have one week. (Next week’s challenge, you get one day.)

As always, post the stories at your blogs. Link to the stories here in the comments. And, if you’d be so kind, link to here from somewhere within your own post.

Once more, you’ve got till next Friday morning.

Please to enjoy.