EXCERPT: All These Things Just Keep On Going Bump in the Night.

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Next little bit for you. In chapter two, our story shifts from John Fowler, Convenience Store Clerk Vampire Extrordinaire, to the Day Brothers, Shit Psychics. Have fun. If you’ve missed the first two parts, here they are:

TTGBITN, I
TTGBITN, II

2
DAY BROTHERS

“DAY,” the barista bellowed, over the ambient industrial noise throbbing from the speakers. “DAY, DEREK. DAY, DEACON. SMALL ICED AMERICANO, RED EYE CHAI WITH SOYMILK. DAY, DEREK. DAY, DEA–”

“That’s enough, thank you,” said Day, Deacon. “I’ll take those.”

But it had already begun. The coffee shop denizens, previously hunched over their laptops and smart devices, were peering at him disbelievingly. And, worse still, their eyes drifted immediately over to Derek, who, after all, looked exactly like him, and was therefore impossible to mistake for anything but his identical twin brother.

“Wow,” the barista said. “Are your names really–?”

“Yes,” Deacon said, preemptively striking. “Our mother was crazy. Thanks.”

He didn’t tip.

When he approached their table, Derek was already engaged in the standard conversation, with the standard petite and awed-looking college girl.

“A psychic,” she was breathing, right on cue. “Wow! Like, a real psychic? Like, she could actually see the future?”

Under his breath, Deacon repeated the next line in the conversation, matching his brother syllable for syllable.

“Yeah, she could. She even saw my future wife, can you believe it? Blue eyes, brown hair. She said…oh, wow. What a coincidence. She said she’d look exactly like you!”

And, in spite of the lameness of the line, the girl laughed. She was twenty, maybe. Far too pretty, and far too young, for the likes of the Brothers Day.

And she laughed.

Deacon puttered around by the coffee bar, examining the condiments and packs of sugar while his brother worked his magic. When he saw the number change hands–and Derek, ever the organizer, snapped the obligatory selfie of himself with his arm around the girl’s shoulders, for later identification purposes–he sidled back over.

“Ah,” Derek said, attaching the girl’s picture to her contact information in his phone. “Thank you, Gerard Manley Hopkins College. Your fount of wisdom is ever-flowing, and such beautiful flowers grow on your grounds.”

“Are you done?” Deacon said. “If I hear you wax rhapsodical one more time today, I’m going to be sick.”

“She was a lovely creature,” Derek purred, closing his eyes and steepling his fingers. “A woodland sprite from the pastoral lands of Aycock Dormitory. A veritable nymph of the liberal collegian Hesperides. An–ow!”

The ow was because Deacon had plunked his red eye chai down in front of him, and managed to spill most of it in his lap.

“How do you do it?” Deacon asked. “I mean, we have the same face. Pretty much the same hairstyle. But I haven’t gotten laid since we graduated.”

Derek smiled. “Simple, dear brother,” he said. “I work with what I’ve got.”

Deacon rolled his eyes. “Anyway,” he said. “I put the fliers up on the bulletin board. Hopefully, someone’s seen Beelzebot. He’s pretty hard to mistake.”

“It’s the eyes. How many wall-eyed cats do you know?”

“True.”

There was a faint cough from beside the table. Deacon looked over to find the barista standing there.

“So you’re the Day brothers?” she said.

Deacon steeled himself. Derek, who would hit on anything with legs, performed a comical seated half-bow.

“We stand accused, madam,” he said.

But the barista didn’t proceed with any of the normal remarks about their stupid names. She didn’t ask if they were teased as children, or if they had any sisters named Diane or Danielle.

“There’s a letter for you guys here,” she said instead, proffering a much-crumpled envelope. “A lady dropped it off about seven years ago. We kept it around more as a gag than anything else, but, well–I guess if you actually exist, we should give it to you. Have a nice day.”

The envelope, in Mama Day’s spindly hand, read: Derek and Deacon Day, care of Cafe Colossus. Derek, wipe that grin off your face!

Derek’s grin disappeared.

“Not another one,” he said.

Madame Dorothea Day–the mother, as it happened, of Derek and Deacon Day–had indeed been a real psychic. She had achieved moderate fame in the sixties following supernaturally inclined rock bands, telling them which shows would sell out and which drugs would result in overdose. She was, some said, the sole reason all the Stones were still alive.

She had dropped off the face of the celebrity map in the mid seventies. She had married a plumber from Portsmouth, bought a ramshackle old house, started her own little family. The house had undergone constant and mostly ineffective renovations. She’d had some money, and it had lasted.

Sort of. The twins got a monthly pension. It was, combined, just enough to pay the electric bill.

Dorothea Day had been the bane of her sons’ combined existences for twenty-five long and prescient years. She’d been dead for three of them. Somehow–even beyond the grave–she managed to nag.

“Just open it,” Derek said, sighing.

Deacon popped the familiar blue waxen seal and unfolded the letter, which had obviously been composed on Mama Day’s ever-present and painfully anachronistic typewriter, and which was now yellowed with age.

Boys–

The man who is about to talk to you is not to be trusted. Take his proposition anyway.

Love,
Mama

PS–Derek. The girl you were just flirting with has chlamydia. Your Mama raised a smarter boy than that.
PPs–Deacon. Those glasses make your face look fat. Why don’t you go get a nice set of contacts, like your brother?

Both brothers, in unison, groaned.

“These do not,” Deacon said, removing the trendy tortoiseshell frames he’d bought two weeks ago and glaring at them, “make my face look fat.”

“Chlamydia,” Derek moaned. “My sweet collegic flower has chlamydia?”

“I wonder,” Deacon said, “what it’s like to have a mother who wasn’t a fucking psychic, and who doesn’t nag you from beyond the grave. It must be so fucking nice. It must be so nice to be cooking an omelette, and not find a note next to the red pepper flakes telling you it’s going to burn–”

He trailed off. His sixth sense, carefully cultivated, was beginning to tingle. Bad things happened when his sixth sense tingled, not the least of them being, as this sense was attached to no visible organ, that he had nothing to scratch.

He scratched his nose anyway, in hopes, just this once, it would do the trick.

It didn’t.

“Excuse me,” said a deep voice to their left. “Are you the Day Brothers, of Day Brothers Exorcisms and Psychic Investigations?”

Deacon sighed. They had just wanted some coffee. Why did every tiny outing turn into a full-blown excursion?
“Whatever it is,” he said, “we’ll do it. But we don’t trust you.”

The man blinked at them. It was only then, craning his neck to meet their visitor’s eyes, that Deacon noticed: he was about seven feet tall, and three hundred pounds if he was an ounce. His arms and hands were covered in snaking black and red tattoos, and a similar design was blazoned proudly on his cheeks and forehead. His head, from which every hair had been carefully shaved, was about the same size and shape as a bowling ball, and was polished to the same high sheen.

He was wearing, to make matters worse, a suit. It must have been custom-sewn for him–they didn’t sell XXXXXL suits off the rack–and his red silk tie was held in place by a silver tie pin that looked antique.

It was a rooster, Deacon realized, after staring at it for as long as he thought he could without getting the shit kicked out of him. The silver likeness of a rooster, with two tiny red jewels for eyes.

“…sir,” Deacon added. Reluctantly.

The man pulled up a chair and sat down across from him. The chair, one of those spindly things popular in trendy coffee shops everywhere, groaned audibly under his weight.

“Don’t you want to know what I’m asking you to do, first? Or what I’ll pay you?”

“Yes,” Derek said smoothly, shooting Deacon an exasperated look. “Of course we do. We’ll discuss payment after hearing our task, and we’ll send you an invoice as soon as possible. But we will do it. Just so you know.”

The man smiled. His teeth, Deacon noticed, were filed to blunt points.

“That’s wonderful,” he said. “My organization is very glad of the help.” He stuck out a hand larger than Deacon’s forearm, and both brothers shook it. Had they wanted to, both brothers could have shaken it at the same time without touching.

“Is there some place more quiet we could go to discuss this?” The man continued. “There is information of a…graphic. Nature. That I must show you.”

The Brothers Day were pretty used to graphic. It came with the exorcism business–Deacon reckoned that, in his lifetime, he’d been covered in more types of slime than the props department had manufactured for Ghostbusters.

But it was true, college kids studying for exams in a coffee shop weren’t used to it. And, worse still–they might get curious. What Derek and Deacon did wasn’t illegal, but it certainly wasn’t normal.

And they both knew it.

And Deacon, at least, clung to what shreds of normalcy remained to him with the tenacity of a drowning man.

“Come back to the house with us,” he said at last. “We can discuss it there.”

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Writing: On Suffering and Emotional Scars

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Suffering: It’s Okay to Not Talk About it All the Frigging Time

So, a few weeks ago, I was hanging out on the main street in my hometown, drinking my cup of coffee and getting ready to go to work (which involves a lot of steeling myself, but, you know, work). This kid comes up to me, and he wants to talk about faith.

I was, initially, hesitant. I’m an atheist in a bible belt area, and this phrase usually winds up with somebody telling me I’m going to hell. But I didn’t see any way out of it without being unconscionably rude, so I stuck around, and was, in the end, so glad I did.

Because he actually wanted to talk about faith, not just preach his own. There need to be more people who’re willing to do this, to sit down and have an honest talk about what they believe with strangers–and this kid, who asked me questions and expressed genuine curiosity, came closer to converting me than any of the billion and one people who’ve told me I’m going to hell if I don’t believe in A, B, and C, though it wasn’t his intention. He was honest, polite, funny. I can admire a person who takes faith like that, whatever it is they believe.

I’m mentioning this, though, because of something he said about halfway through. We were talking about the afterlife–where you go (or don’t) after you die. He was interested that I didn’t believe in one, and asked me something along these lines:

“But don’t you hope our suffering on this earth means something?”

And that struck me, and it’s stayed with me for a while. My answer at the time (and still my answer, in a non-writing context) was simply that, well, I don’t see that I’ve suffered too much. I’ve got a decent job, a Definitely Not Dave, I make enough money to get by. Life’s what you make of it, not a holdout for a reward.

But I’ve been thinking about it. And my answer now (and why this post has that little typewriter up top) might simply be: ‘suffering’ is, in a way, its own reward.

You see it a lot in poorly written stories: a character (usually the main character) has some terrible tragedy happen to them, something painful and terrible and twisted.

And then, aside from some quietude and weepiness for a while, they remain the same person.

Wait, what?

Suffering changes your characters. Suffering changes a person. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worst, but it does change them. It doesn’t just make you stay in bed for a while (though it might do that, too). It doesn’t just make you forget to wear makeup or brush your hair.

And suffering is, often, unspoken. It’s something the person afflicted doesn’t feel comfortable talking about, might even feel guilty about. But it makes them do funny things.

The trick is, it’s your job as a writer to make sure people know your character is suffering, without you (or your character) saying a word about it.

Someone like Jin, my leading lady, suffers in silence. Jin simply isn’t a demonstrative person, and as a result, any suffering she might feel from the horrific shit that’s happen to her has to go unspoken. This is a problem I had in Aurian and Jin that I’ve talked about before here–my solution, instead of having Jin talk about it (which is less likely than aerial pigs), was to insert backstory, so you see what she was like growing up.

And the thing about Jin is this. Jin’s tragedy is, in a way, her whole goddamn life. She’s been used, more or less from infancy, trained to be a great tool, employed on alternate occasions by the two men (Emperor and Bonemaker) who have taken the place of parental figures in her life, and who care less for her safety and health than they probably should.

Does Jin know any of this, in a critical thinking sort of way? No. Hell no. I mean, you think you’re perfectly normal, right? What’s your tragic backstory? You don’t know? Oh. Well, neither should your character.

In a way, the very real tragedy of Jin’s life is simply that: she’s gone through most of it without really trusting anybody.

It’s why she married Aurian. It’s why she feels so strongly about destroying the Bonemaker. She’s hurt. She feels trapped. And, like anybody else who’s led a loveless existence, she wants somebody to love, and to love her.

Of course, she would never say this, because she has the emotional IQ of a hungry two year old child. And of course she does. Where would Jin, the Bonemaker’s prettiest tool, have learned about emotions?

Case in point: her ‘suffering’ has shaped and moved her whole life. Sometimes in good ways: it’s made her clever, analytical, able to play her cards close. It’s also made her an emotionally starved and monomaniacal one-eyed drunk (though, if you’ve read it, you’ll notice Aurian actually drinks a good deal more than Jin. This is because Jin isn’t really that much of a drunk. She’s just more comfortable looking that way).

When you’re dealing with tragedy in a character’s past, think on this. And ask the kid’s question: what does this person’s suffering mean? It’s not a plot device. It’s a life, albeit one you’ve made up. So make it make sense. Suffering is central, but not always on the surface.

‘Kay. There y’go. I blogged.

Things That Go Bump in the Night Some More

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More of this nonsense. Now featuring a Vampire Visigoth, kitty issues, iron bullets.

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The rest of his shift–the night shift, of course–passed uneventfully. John got the stockroom in some kind of order, turned the radio on, sold a few sodas and packs of cigarettes. He mopped up the blood in the alley and returned the lockbox to its spot under Marlene’s desk. He whistled along to ‘Stand By Me’ and ‘Under the Boardwalk’ on the muzak with centuries-long disregard for tune or pitch.

When no one was around, he poked the hole in his chest idly. He could feel the bullet rattling around in his lung like the last gumball in a fleshy vending machine.

It was awfully irritating. It would be, he decided, his first order of business upon returning home to remove it.

Which is why, with dawn looming on the horizon, the vampire John Fowler could be found in the bathroom of his basement apartment with a thin magnetic grabber he usually used for retrieving awkwardly dropped car keys, a pair of flat-nose pliers, and the roll of duct tape he’d borrowed from the store laid out on the hideous green formica countertop in front of him.

Doing self-surgery as a vampire, he’d discovered, was more like playing the board game Operation than it was like undergoing an actual operation. There were little pieces, irritatingly shaped, rattling around inside you. They tickled you a little when they brushed up against something that still moved. They had to be fetched out with a painstaking amount of care–not because it hurt if you did it wrong, mind, but because the holes were so damn small, and one’s inner organs were actually surprisingly large.

He wondered what his lungs looked like, at this point. He’d seen human lungs, of course–in almost a hundred years of draining the blood from people, you saw some shit. Weird blobby things, filled with funny little nodules that reminded him of baby’s breath.

He tried to picture his own, and couldn’t. All he could imagine was paper bags. Paper bags and dead flowers, dried and preserved for some special occasion.

He shrugged off his work shirt, tossed it onto the toilet seat. He looked, out of habit, into the mirror, but there was nothing there, and of course there wasn’t. He hadn’t had a reflection for ninety-nine years.

Which just made this that much more difficult.

You could sleep on it, John’s inner voice wheedled. You’re a vampire, it’s not like it’s going to kill you. You’ve got the night off tomorrow. Plenty of time to mess with it then.

Except he didn’t want to use his day off fishing a bullet out of his own lung.

Sighing, he picked up the magnetic strip and began feeding it into the hole in his chest.

He fed it a little deeper, wiggled it around some.

Clunk.

There it was.

He readied the pliers in his other hand, squinting down at his own chest until he was almost cross-eyed with the short focus effort.

The hole was pretty big. What kind of gun had the thief been using, anyway? This wasn’t the typical .45 hole, or the petite little puncture of a .22. He could almost wiggle the bullet out without the pliers.

He gave it a try, heard the telltale rustly thump of the bullet disconnecting from the strip. He picked it back up, tried to wiggle the pliers in around it lefthanded.

The bullet fell again.

He left the pliers jammed in his chest and wiggled the magnetic strip. Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle. Catch.

There it was.

He tried to force another quarter inch of open space from the pliers.

Did it hurt? A little. Pain was no surprise, these days. It was just another feeling.

Someone knocked on the door.

“Shit,” said John. He called out: “one minute.”

He gave made one last attempt at fishing out the bullet. It clattered off the magnetic strip and back into the lifeless tissue of his lung.

Sighing, he removed the pliers and shrugged on a t-shirt. He could feel the bullet rattling around inside him with every movement.

He answered the door.

“Hi,” said the vision outside. “Um. I’m your new upstairs neighbor. Is this…is this your cat?”

John had never, in the roughly one hundred and thirty years of his existence, owned a cat. He didn’t like cats. He didn’t like their aloof ways, their claws, the necessary litterbox and the miasma it created. John, in his delicate undead condition, was sensitive to odors, and a litterbox, well. It was an odor.

He especially didn’t like this cat. Cats were, in general, unclean–John felt sometimes like the only person on the planet who understood that licking a paw a few times did not a clean creature make–but this one was downright scuzzy.
Matted fur, heavy hanging belly, twin runnels of black goo leaking down from watery eyes.

It meowed at him, pinned against the sizeable breasts of John’s new upstairs neighbor. It probably had some sort of contagious kitty condition, John decided. Even its meow sounded broken.

However, John’s new neighbor–John’s incredible looking new neighbor–was holding this no-doubt-heartworm-positive lump of mange out with an expression of such fetching relief and happiness that John could not, could not, say no.

“Yep,” John said. “That’s my cat.”

The cat–miserable ball of whinge that it was–meowed piteously, as though to corroborate his story.

“He’s a sweet little guy,” said the visionary neighbor. She giggled. “Where should I put him?”

John gestured, aimlessly, to the wood-paneled musty space that served him as a living room. He kept it pretty neat–he was a neat creature–but he wished he’d had time to dust, or something. “Anywhere you like.”

The vision entered, brightening up his space with beach blonde hair and smooth tanned skin and that almost imperceptible glow that accompanies the extremely healthy. She bent down, placing the mangy cat on John’s beaten brown sofa. The cat, after turning around a few times, promptly began to pee on a throw pillow.

“Erm,” said John. But the girl, turning around to face him, hadn’t noticed.

God, she was beautiful. Smooth skin, a petite upturned nose, thick-lashed movie starlet eyes. She smiled at him, revealing small white teeth.

John’s heart, which hadn’t beaten for almost a hundred years, let out a single uneven ka-thunk.

“Thanks for inviting me in,” she said. Which seemed like a funny thing to say.

Or did it?

Her face was a little too perfect. A little too starletesque. Could have, in fact, been the face on the cover of a magazine or on a movie poster.

Probably was.

“Dammit, Aleric,” John said.

The beautiful visage in front of him lengthened, broadened, rippled and shimmered. The body lengthened and broadened also, the waist and shoulders thickening, legs lengthening. The luxurious blonde curls retracted some distance…

“Heh,” said the girl. “Hahaheh. Hee. Oh my God, John. Your face. Your fucking face, man.”

For the girl was no longer a girl. Was certainly no longer terribly attractive. Was, in fact, now a man in the first flush of his youth, some Germanic ideal of old–broad-shouldered and firm-jawed, hair brushing his shoulders in old-fashioned ringlets. This was a face John knew well–it belonged to Aleric Ulrich, messenger vampire of the Blood Reckoning coven, John’s assigned Brethren Watcher, and, he supposed, by default, his best friend.

This ancient tribesman, this vampire Visigoth, continued to chuckle. He was wearing a Slayer t-shirt. His long powerful feet, the pride nine hundred years ago of a hard-walking warrior, were encased in grungy leather flip-flops shiny with long wear. One of his toenails, for some incomprehensible reason, was painted purple.

“Meow,” said Aleric, picking up the motheaten cat and waltzing it around. “Me-ooooow.”

John, who generally tried to look on the bright side of things, said: “So I don’t have to keep the cat.”

“Hell, no. Have it for dinner, if you like.” Aleric made what John supposed was a cat-face, scrunching up his nose and pawing imaginary ears with one white hand.

“Whose face was that?”

Aleric shrugged, collapsing neatly back onto the couch. “I don’t know. She was on the cover of Cosmo last month. Thought she’d appeal to you. You like the beachy ones.” He winked, and for a moment the lost vision’s beautiful features were visible, superimposed over his own. “Gotcha!”

“Very funny.” John crossed his arms. “Why’re you here, Al?”

“You know why I’m here.”

John saw the other vampire’s eyes flicker over to the television set and sighed. The coven of the Blood Reckoning wouldn’t pay for cable, and didn’t want to bother learning how to install flatscreens in the underground crypt system they called home. As a result, John had spent more nights than he cared to admit hosting Aleric, and had seen more episodes of Friends than was altogether good for whatever remained of his soul.

But, apparently, this wasn’t the reason for Aleric’s visit. He shook his head slowly.

“As much as I want to find out whether Ross and Rachel finally get together,” he said, “I think I’ve gotta do my messenger stuff first.”

Which meant he was here on coven business. Which was never a good sign.

“As you probably know,” Aleric said, “you’re coming to the end of the first hundred years of your life as a vampire.”

John was aware. He was well aware. Had thought, for that matter, of very little else for the past year or so. The coven masters called what he was in a ‘fledgling state’, a time when a vampire wasn’t quite grown into his full powers, or over those nasty human habits like eating occasionally, drinking, and giving a shit. The official reason for this state was that it took a hundred years, give or take, for the body to truly die, and the blood that had kept him sustained as a human man to leave it. The real reason, John suspected, was actually to give the coven a big fat margin of error, so they could kill him if they felt they’d made a mistake.

Many fledglings, Al had told him cheerfully in between episodes of Iron Chef America, chose not to take the plunge into full-fledged vampiredom. Sixty percent, he guessed, maybe more. Why? Well, it wasn’t for everybody, being a vampire.
Not even the people the coven had hand-picked for their high vampire likelihood.

Why did so many choose to die the final death? In spite of immortality and awe-inspiring powers, it was a lonely eternal life. And one with little promise of release–not much could permanently kill a full-fledged vampire. Even sunlight, which would turn a fledgling like John into a small strawberry-jamlike explosion wherever he stood, was only a mild annoyance. Those coven members who wished to die had to work for it, and work hard.

Then there was the little matter of the Blood Price. But that–Aleric shrugged every time it was mentioned and went back to the T.V.

That, he’d say. You got used to it.

“The coven is still awaiting your decision, John.”

“I know,” John muttered. “Hey. Before we get into this, could I at least fish this bullet out of my…”

Aleric sighed. “Christ, John. D’you need help?”

Before John could even say no, Aleric waved a desultory hand. John’s stagnant respiratory system suddenly felt a good deal more comfortable.

Aleric opened his fist, dropped the bullet onto the counter. “There y’go,” he said. He examined the bullet for a minute, the powdery black remains of John’s blood covering his fingers as he turned it. “That’s…interesting,” he murmured. “An iron bullet. That’d wreck hell on most gun barrels. Did you have some crazies after you, or something?”

“No. Some kid tried to hold up Marlene at the store tonight. I got lucky, came out in time to stop it.”

“And he shot you with an iron bullet.”

“A little.”

Aleric squinted at the bullet again, the dark casing grooved and glinting. After a minute, he raised an eyebrow and slipped it in his pocket.

John supposed he shouldn’t ask. After all, it wasn’t like it was his bullet. It’d just lived inside him for a while.

But he couldn’t help it.

“Is that not what bullets are usually made of?”

“No,” Al said. And then–oddly enough, for Al–he didn’t say anything more about it.

“You know,” he said instead, “If you paid the Blood Price and joined the coven, you could do stuff like that too. Move fast and take bullets out of people.”

“I know.”

The two vampires looked at each other. The mangy cat, making itself at home, climbed on top of the kitchen counter and began to shed there.

“They’re serious,” Aleric said. “You’re almost out of time.”

“How long do I have?”

“A month. Maybe a month and a half. But they’ll come for you before that. And if you don’t make the decision, they’ll make it.”

“And it won’t be in a way I like.”

“And it won’t be in a way you like,” Aleric agreed. He pulled out one of the bar stools John had beside the counter and sat down on it. He shooed the cat away. “John. Buddy. What can I do to help you? I’ve given you all the time in the world, told you everything I can to help you make a decision. What’s the problem here? What’s giving you so much trouble?”

“Really? It’s the rest of my life. And, I mean, come on. My choices are eternal nothingness or eternal…everything. Ness. Die finally or live forever. How is that an easy choice?”

“It isn’t,” Aleric said quietly. “That’s why they give you a hundred years to make it.”

“How’d you make it?”

“I’m not supposed to tell you.” Aleric looked left and right, looked back at John. “But if you really want to know–I didn’t.”

“They made it for you?”

“They did.” And John saw something in his face–a flicker of something mysterious, some ancient and terrible sadness. He usually found Aleric a little ridiculous–certainly no more the stereotypical vampire than he was–but for just a moment, looking at the frown on his friend’s ageless face, he believed it. Believed, utterly, that this sloppy creature in a Slayer t-shirt and Birkenstocks was over a thousand years old, and had been, by his own admittance, a tribal prince.

“Trust me,” Al said. “Don’t let them choose for you.”

John pulled out the second bar stool and sat on it. He had bled a little, he noticed, with the removal of the bullet–two small drops of dark blood, drying even as he touched them.

How many more drops of blood, he wondered, did he have inside him? A tiny number, he was certain. Maybe a one digit number. And every drop he shed–every drop was gone from him forever. There would be no more blood. And, when the last drop was shed–there would be a choice.

From this point on, there was only death and decay.

Death or decay, he reminded himself bitterly. And the death bit was sort of a given.

“This is the last time it’ll be me asking you, John,” Al said. “Next time, it’ll be the High Master. And after that–well. If you’re lucky, I’d say you have three weeks until they take you.”

“I know. You think I don’t know this?”

“I think you don’t care. At least, not yet. Not as much as you should.” He sighed. “I only want to help you, before it’s too late. It’s a tough choice, yes. But the only thing less pleasant than making it is having the coven make it for you.”

“I know!”

“Then sleep on it.” Aleric glanced out the window. “You’ve got about thirty minutes to get to sleep before sunrise, anyway. You shouldn’t be up this early. Don’t worry. I’ll be back tomorrow to watch TV.”

“Great,” John said darkly. Al touched his shoulder.

“If you decide–when you decide. Call on me. Whether you believe it or not right now, John–I am your friend. And, should you choose the long death, I’d. Well. I’d miss having you around.”

“I know,” John said, for the third time. “I’ll make the decision. I promise. Okay?”

“By the way,” Al said, grinning. “You really do have a new upstairs neighbor. I saw the lights on when I walked up.”
And with those words, he disappeared.

And even though sudden mysterious disappearances were pretty much Al’s calling card–his favorite part, he often confessed, of having full vampire powers–John still wasn’t expecting it. Nor was he expecting him to leave the mangy cat sprawled out on the sofa.

The cat looked up at him and gave a single little mew, soft and piteous. The thing was wall-eyed, John realized. He didn’t know there could be such a thing as a wall-eyed cat.

He debated eating it. However, it looked like it would taste pretty horrible, and who knew? It might belong to someone.
Sighing, he went to fish a can of tuna out of the pantry.

That day, mangy cat curling up on his chest, John Fowler dreamed of iron bullets.

Excerpt: Things That Go Bump in the Night

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Did I tell you guys I was fiddling around with a vampire story? No?

Well, I am. It’s, erm. It’s not exactly Twilight. It’s more one of my gross goddamn stories with a vampire in it. I think–and I know a lot of you guys’ll disagree with me, but you know–I think that, as overplayed as the vampire thing is, there’s a lot to recommend it, especially in our modern age.

If you haven;t figured it out yet, I play with a lot of stories all the time. Not all of them get finished, or even get very far. But I like y’all’s input. Helps me know when I’m doing something right. Write. Whatever.

This is the story of John Fowler, ordinary dude and night clerk at a local corner store, at the close of his first hundred years as a vampire. He’s been, thus far, in a sort of vampire larval stage, possessing neither the Full Thirst nor the full powers of his older brethren. The question later in the story becomes, does John really want to be a fullblown vampire? And if he doesn’t, what the hell are his alternatives?

There’s also fun stuff about a vampire coven without cable, lesbian marital disputes, twin vampire hunters who call a poltergeist ‘Dad’, and a lockbox that may or may not contain the morning take.

May set records for the oldest coming-of-age MC ever written. Take that, frat pack bro comedies about men who can’t grow up.

THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT

*****

As John fingered the bullet hole in his chest, Marlene the day manager lit a cigarette.

“Jesus,” she said weakly. “You gonna make it through your shift?”

John prodded the hole experimentally. The edges of the wound were crusty already, hardening. He withdrew the finger, blew away the dusty black blood that clung to it. He resisted the urge–a grossout kid urge, unworthy of a member of the eternal undead–to stick his finger in it, wiggle it around a little, and make a face.

“I should be all right,” he said. “It’s just a little uncomfortable. Do we have duct tape in the back? I think I need to make a patch.”

Marlene, a thin stream of smoke curling through her carefully painted lips, stared at him.

“On my desk,” she said. “It’s either on my desk, or it’s on top of the 7-UP crates. John.”

“Yeah?”

“What does–” she gestured with her cigarette to his chest, to the neat black hole, still smoking, in his work polo. “What does it feel like?”

“It hurts.” He shrugged. “What d’you think getting shot feels like? Just because I’m a vampire doesn’t mean I can’t feel pain, you know. I’ve just felt a lot more of it.” He poked at the hole again. “I’m used to it. Do we still have some of the old aprons back there? I should cover this.”

“Hm? Yeah. Oh. Of course.” She opened the back door, leaned in and reached around with the cigaretted hand still held outside. She returned with a work apron and tossed it to him, watching as he tied it around his waist and adjusted the front to cover his wound. “You’re sure you’ll be okay, though.”

“I’ll be fine, Mar. I’ve got spare shirts at home. Go on your damn date with Astrid and be happy you’re alive.” He winked at her. “Don’t waste all that makeup on me.”

“If you need me, I’ve got my cell.”

“I know.”

They stood for a few moments, looking at each other. The back alley was silent, a silence punctuated only by the shouts and music of the Pizza Palace kitchen pulsating dimly across the way. There was no sign anything untoward had just taken place here, let alone an attempted robbery. The small pile of dust which had once been Marlene’s assailant was already blowing away in the breeze.

No sign, of course, except for the blood. And the lockbox, tipped on its side against the dumpster. John could handle this much. He could mop up the blood, carry the lockbox inside. Eating humans was such a waste, always–way more blood than you could handle. You left evidence.

This one, though. This one had deserved it.

John wouldn’t particularly say he enjoyed looks of ultimate terror being flashed in his direction. He was a benign sort of guy. He didn’t particularly enjoy killing, either–the vampire bloodlust was a myth, or at least was a myth in his particular chrysalis-like stage of vampire evolution.

But this guy.

You didn’t point a gun at an innocent middleaged lady coming back from the bank. You just didn’t. John was a vampire–if anyone was supposed to enjoy separating innocent women from their lives, it was him–and even he thought it was monstrously bad form.

He liked Marlene. She was nice.

The peeling door across the way cracked open, and the sounds of a remixed Katy Perry song translated into Spanish saturated the alley. Javier, one of the chefs from Pizza Palace, poked his head around.

“You guys okay?” he asked. “Thought I might’ve heard a gunshot a while back.”

“Slow on the uptake, ain’t you?” Marlene snapped.

“Well, shit, lady. I didn’t wanna get shot or anything.” He peered around. “Is that–”

“Lockbox,” John said. And, because it was the only thing he could think of at the moment: “it landed on a cat.”

A man, John reflected, was a remarkable thing. When provided by a trusted person with an explanation–no matter how strange–for an unlikely event, he stopped asking questions. If the explanation wasn’t reasonable enough, he started providing details of his own.

Javier, case in point, chuckled. “You and Mar so bored you’re throwin’ the lockbox around? All right. That’s fuckin’ crazy. Let me know next time and I’ll bring the guys out.” His moving eyes plotted out the lockbox’s trajectory. “You got it pretty damn far, man. You got an arm on you. Were you guys aiming for the cat, or–”

“JAVIER.” Mr. Palace’s voice boomed from the kitchen. “JAVIER. I’M NOT PAYING YOU TO CHITCHAT.”

“Motherfucker,” Javier mumbled. “See you guys later.” The door slammed shut, Katy Perry reduced once more to a tolerable volume.

Marlene, whose fingers were gripping the cigarette so tightly she’d almost broken it in two, gave John a look. “It landed on the cat,” she repeated. “Christ. You’re a genius.”

“Just experienced, thank you,” John said. He took her, gently, by the shoulders, stubbornly refusing to inhale against the olofactory orchestra that was Marlene’s use of drug store body spray. Of course, since he hadn’t drawn a breath that wasn’t for show or for the sole purpose of sighing in a hundred years, this was easier for him than it was for some people.

He wondered, briefly, how Astrid dealt with it. Of course, Astrid smoked a pack a day, so there was plenty Astrid couldn’t smell. Maybe it was a sultry hint of warm vanilla to her, as opposed to the entire birthday cake.

John sighed, his breath whistling from the hole in his lung. He turned Marlene, as gently as he could, back towards her Accura. “Go, Marlene. Enjoy your date. Make her buy you some lobster. You’ve been talking about wanting lobster for like a month.”

“It is lobster night at Crabby Chic,” Marlene said, thoughtful.

“And you’ve been wanting a night off with Astrid since she started working the new shift.”

“Well, yeah. But–”

“No buts. I’m a vampire, Marlene. I can handle a little blood and a hole in my lung. You go and have fun.” He patted her shoulder. “Just try check out the alley before you get out of the car next time, okay? You known thieves like to wait out here much past sunset.” He picked up the lockbox, gingerly, so none of the blood that now painted it got on his shirt. “And maybe it’s time to just start using a deposit bag. Toting this lockbox makes you look less safe, not more, okay? They can see the lockbox. They can’t see a deposit bag. And your life is worth more than the morning shift’s take.”

Marlene smiled a little. John smiled in return–he was worried, at first, he had traumatized her a little. He would’ve hated to do it. Marlene was a nice lady.

Of course, she’d also been working with him for four years. She was used to his shit. Had, in fact, long since passed the point where ‘they were delicious’ wasn’t an acceptable answer to the question ‘what happened to our rat problem in the back room?’.

And even now–even after witnessing firsthand her employee feeding on a human being–Marlene was still a nice lady. And the feeding–that could be a disturbing sight, John knew. The Jackson Polluck effect of the blood spatter sent most people running permanently in the other direction.

Of course, he’d also taken a bullet for her. Little bastard had been packing, which he hadn’t been expecting when he came to Marlene’s aid. Then again: that was another thing easier for him to deal with than it was for most people. And no one–no one–should have to die or fear for their lives because of the morning’s take from a shitty convenience store.

John wasn’t so ancient he had forgotten what fearing for his life felt like. In fact, it was a condition so hardwired into the human brain that he still did it occasionally. He felt silly when he remembered, of course, but it was still a default reaction.

“Go,” John repeated. “Have some fun.”

Nothing a little duct tape couldn’t patch up.

Easy DIY Condiments to Better Your Self-Esteem

Three Simple Cooking Tricks to Impress The Fuck Out of Everybody

I’m getting a little bored with the writing posts. I mean, I love writing, but you know what else I love to do? Cook. And it’s summer. So the veggies are out to play. No, there are no pictures. Because I’m not a food blogger. Just a girl with food tips (also, my kitchen is disgusting right now).

Yeah. That’s right. I too have feminine habits. Y’know what else I can do, sort of? Sew. And I can darn socks. I know, right? How weird is that shit?

Anyway.

Let’s take a moment and talk about three really simple things you can make in your kitchen–make, mind you, and not buy–that’re simple, easy, and totally good for impressing the fuck out of anybody who eats with you.

Right now, you’re looking at me with raised brows. ‘Why would I take all the time to make it,” you’re saying, “when I could just buy my organic non-GMO gluten free totally-safe-for-even-the-wimpiest-children mother Earth loving brand at Whole Foods, for only 10.99 a bottle? I mean, I have to buy SOME foods. That six figure salary doesn’t make itself. If it did, I’d namastay at home.”

To which I say: good for you. You sure that stuff is GMO free? Wow, okay. I’m not going to say anything else: saying you don’t mind a GMO or two opens you up to more self-righteous internet trolling than admitting to feminism in public. For that matter: what’ve GMOs done to us THIS week?

The fact is, if you stay on Pinterest for five seconds you’ll see every possible condiment and convenience food in its paleo-friendly-what-the-hell-ever make-at-home form. The fact is, ninety-five percent of that stuff isn’t worth doing. A few things, however, are. They are:

1) Homemade mustard
2) Homemade whipped cream
3) Homemade pico de gallo

Homemade mustard is AMAZING. Much stronger, tangier flavor, and ZOMG you can mince it just as fine as you want. Also, don’t be intimidated: it only takes about five minutes to throw it together. Most of that three day time period is waiting.

Em’s Ho-Ho-Homemade Mustard

Prep time: 3 Days
Yield: 2 cups or so. Fuck if I know, really.

You’ll need:
1 C mustard seed (I use about 2/3C yellow seeds, 1/3C brown. More brown seeds’ll make it punchier. Less’ll make it more like French’s.)
1 tsp turmeric
3/4 C mild vinegar (I use a mixture of white wine and distilled white. Apple cider works too–key is, make it a mild vinegar. None of that balsamic shit. You want the flavor of your mustard seeds to shine).
1/4 C water
2-3 splashes bourbon
1 tsp honey

1) Take your mustard seeds. Put them in a jar with your vinegar, water, and bourbon. Close the jar and sit it somewhere cool and dry.
2) Wait, breathlessly, for three or so days. No, don’t actually hold your breath. Check the seeds occasionally: if they start looking a little dry, add a splash or two more vinegar.
3) OH JOY. The day has come. Uncap that shit and dump it in a food processor. Add turmeric and honey. Give it a few pulses: I like grainy mustard, so I barely blend mine. I’d tell you how long to blend, but hell, you can figure out what you like, right?
4) Sample your amazing fucking mustard. Give Whole Foods the finger. You, buddy, just became soooo much wholer foodier. You made your own mustard. How cool is that? Orgasm. Scream your spirit animal’s secret name to the sky. Put out some crackers and meats.
5) BECAUSE MUSTARD.

Aaaand Number Two.

Em’s Homemade Whipped Cream

Prep time: Overnight (you’ll see why)
Yield: Depends on how much you like whipped cream. Me and Definitely Not Dave polish this off pretty fast, with or without something to blame it on).

1 C Whipping Cream (note, NOT the heavy whipping cream. I’ve tried it. Just not the same).
1 T sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract (usually, I just fill the cap and dump that in there. Along with…)
1/8 tsp almond extract (seriously, just a few drops of this works)

1) You need a mixer and a bowl. Got those? Awesome. Stick the mixer beaters and bowl in the freezer. I usually do this the night before, but you want ’em in there for at least an hour.
2) And I feel I hardly need say this, but your cream needs to be cold too. It best’ve been living in that fridge for a while.
3) Now that everything’s colder than you could possibly imagine things being, dump your cream in your freezy-cool bowl. Add sugar, vanilla, and almond.
4) Stick your beaters in your mixer. If your beaters are so cold they stick to your fingers, I am totally not responsible.
5) Beat the fuck out of the cream. On high. For 1-2 minutes. Your whipped cream is ready when stiff peaks form.
6) Lie in bed in dark room, eating whipped cream straight from bowl. Watch Friends reruns. Sob in terrible joy.

Trois:

Em’s Puerile Pico de Gallo

A note, before I begin: if you don’t like spice, go make ice cream or something. This is a salsa–a fairly mild salsa at that. Therefore, there are jalapenos in it. And no sissy measuring of hot sauce in ‘drops’.

Prep time: 15 minutes
Yield: Enough dip for 4-6 chippers

4-5 medium reaaaaaally fresh vine ripe tomatoes (the key here is really ripe and fresh. Get the best produce you can find.)
1 large red onion
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1-2 jalapenos
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (again, adjust according to how much you like cilantro.)
Juice of 1 medium lime
Valentina hot sauce to taste (I usually go for about 2T. Enough to add flavor, but not enough to kill the flavor of the vegetables is what you’re going for.)
Salt and pepper to taste

1) Deseed tomatoes. Chop and add to bowl. Place tomato insides in doggie bowl and hope dog isn’t allergic to tomatoes.
2) Chop tomatoes, onion, jalapenos, and cilantro fairly finely. Mix all together with garlic until living in happy veggie harmony.
3) Juice lime over veggies.
4) Add hot sauce, salt, and pepper to taste.
5) Serve immediately. Or, honestly, I usually stick it in the fridge for fifteen minutes or so, just so it knows who’s boss (and so it gets a little cooler).

Reading: A Passion, Not an Assignment

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Much prettier original image by Thomas Le Febvre, via unsplash.com.

Reading as a Passion, Not an Assignment

I see it more and more here lately. The trend of ‘shelfies’, where book lovers posts pictures of their bookshelves so eeeeveryone can see just what they’re reading (just as contrived, of course, as the actual selfie. And a good deal more full of intellectual back-patting). A quote from Ovid, culled lovingly and out of context for a Facebook profile. And any more, if you DARE misuse an apostrophe in a comment thread, God save your soul from the grammar Nazis lurking in the next comment with a Final Solution for you.

Hurr, hurr. Aren’t you all very clever.

I was an English major in college (no, I didn’t graduate). I’m not well educated, but I’m not poorly educated, either. I’m not a literary genius–however, I’m pretty far from being an idiot too. What I am is a writer. What I am is a lifelong lover of books.

So let me ask you this, earnestly and directly:

Please stop using my lifelong passion as your selfish intellectual coup de grace. Please Jesus. Please, please, please.

Every book website I check into, EVERY ONE, has a list of ‘Classics To Read Before You Reach This Arbitrary Age.’ Because, tee hee, you’re nothing if you haven’t read Anna Karenina by the time you’re thirty! How on Earth can you ever hope to fit in with your well-read friends and eventually marry a well-read man if you don’t know shit about Dostoyevsky? (Also, here’s a list of thirty really popular romance novels you can sneak on the side while you finish those Russian monsters. Don’t tell your lit teacher.). But reading like totally benefits you and makes you a better person. It’s like Echinacea. Feeling foggy today? Take a book!

When the fuck did reading ‘great literature’ become a task we completed so our family and friends could give us approving nods, or so we could be one step closer to realization on our self-improvement programs? When did this awful self-perpetuating trend of doing ‘smart things’ just so you can benefit begin?

(For that matter, when did everything become a matter of self-improvement and lifestyle affirmation? Part of life is learning to roll with the punches, and if everything you surround yourself with gives you a warm glow inside and a friendship with likeable characters then you, sir or madam, are not learning to roll. Folks need to learn how to enjoy disagreement, how to debate and dissent without personal hard feelings. But that’s neither here nor there.)

We need to de-mystify the purpose of reading, especially reading classics. I might argue we need to de-emphasize the importance of ‘classics’ altogether. You read Ulysses? So what? I can read Ulysses too. So could any child old enough to know most of the words. The question is, really, did you enjoy it. Did you connect with it. Not did you read it. (We won’t even enter into the stratosphere of ‘did you understand it’. I’m not even certain Joyce understood it).

I have never read Anna Karenina. I haven’t read it because I’m not a big goddamn fan of Tolstoy. I like his shorter stuff, but I made it like halfway through War and Peace, got tired, and took a nap. I never even made it to Anna. Does this mean I’m an idiot? Um, no. Does it mean I’ve missed some vital piece of my existence? Maybe, but if I have I so far haven’t noticed it. If I ever feel it calling to me, I’ll try again. But so far, I haven’t. Kreutzer Sonata, on the other hand–there’s a great damn story. I enjoyed it.

I repeat: I did not read this great classical work of literature, Anna Karenina, because I wasn’t interested in it.

I repeat, also: reading is my passion. I love books. Like, looove them love them. The first men I ever loved were men in books, the first women I ever wanted to be ‘besties’ with were characters on paper. I read hundreds of books a year. Hundreds. Not because that’s cool (it’s, um, not) or because I have a set number of books I need to read to feel literarily educated. I read them because I’m interested. I read them because I like to read and I get caught up. Could I tell you exactly how many books I’ve read this year? No. Fuck, no. Because I don’t keep count. I’m too busy reading.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying reading can’t improve you as a human being. Reading a book, after all, is a great way to see places you’ve never been, feel things it is otherwise physically impossible for you to feel. A great book is an uncomfortable experience. It makes you feel things, sometimes, that are taboo, inappropriate, misunderstood. It makes you question your own value system and what you know about the world around you. It lets you into other peoples’ lives, other times, other cultures. And, sometimes: it’s just plain good. You just plain liked it. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

So. The short version of what I’m saying: never read something because it is expected of you to read it. Don’t read for the promise of life change. Don’t read for the promise of learning.

Read because you’re interested. Read it because it’s a good book and you like it. If the only thing you like is Harlequin romances, well, so what? They might not be putting your portrait on the wall at Columbia anytime soon, but you’re going to be a happy camper. Maybe not the most empathetic and educated camper, but again, so fucking what?

Otherwise, with every volume you dry-swallow because you’re supposed to read it and it’s ‘great literature’, you’re on the road to becoming one more person, in a world filled with these people, who doesn’t enjoy reading. With every sentence you underline because you ‘feel it relates to your problems’ and it’ll make a great facebook quote later you are becoming one more cog in the great grinding self-involved culture machine. Let a book take you outside of yourself, not farther in. The world isn’t all about you, and your reading shouldn’t be either. Not everything written ever is going to validate your lifestyle and your beliefs, and you shouldn’t expect it to.

When you’ve finished a good book at four AM, and the house is quiet, keep staring for a few seconds at that final page. Take a deep breath. Put it down. And if it’s a good book, if you really cared about it, for the rest of the day you’ll catch yourself thinking about it.

Not because it’s Great Literature and you know you’re supposed to. Because you can’t help yourself. Because it’s part of you now, and you have to.

Here are fifteen books that’ve done this for me. Some of them are classics, because, y’know, classics tend to be pretty good. Check ’em out if you want, you might like them as much as I did. I’d leave a note here that some of these books might not tally with your personal value system or your view on the way the world should work, but frankly, I don’t give a good goddamn. Some of them don’t tally with MINE. And I liked them anyway. Words are words. They can’t hurt you.

The Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula K. LeGuin)
Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie)
A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. LeGuin)
Dead Souls (Nikolai Gogol)
Native Son (Richard Wright)
The Twelve Caesars (Suetonius)–sooooo much more entertaining than Tacitus. So. Much. Make yourself some popcorn and learn about the Julio-Claudian dynasty.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (Alison Bechdel)
Women (Charles Bukowski)–I know what you’re thinking here. Lewd bunch of crap. You’re thinking that because you had a strong reaction to it. Therefore: read ESPECIALLY if you are NOT a chauvinist pig.
The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
The Woman Warrior (Maxine Hong Kingston)
The Darling (Russell Banks)–A book all Americans who feel woefully exposed when they travel should read right about now. If you read it and you don’t understand why I said that, message me and we’ll talk.
The Secret History (Donna Tartt)
McTeague (Frank Norris)
The Monk (Matthew Lewis)–this is hands-down the best Gothic novel ever written. It has monks, a pure young heroine, crypts, foreign locales, the Devil–screw you, Ann Radcliffe. Screw you.
The Immoralist (Andre Gide)

HUMOR: Disagreement, The Flowchart

Here is your flowcharted guide to disagreement. In case you needed help disagreeing with somebody. Which, okay, I never do. But you know.

Sadly, I left out the side branch of ‘Why Don’t I Have A Girlfriend? Girls Always Pick Assholes, And I Know This Because They Aren’t Picking Me.’

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How to Cure Writer’s Block

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How to Cure Writer’s Block

You guys know all about Emily Dickinson, right? Of course you do, you’re writers and you read stuff. You know Emily Dickinson was a total shut-in. You probably spent those fifteen minutes of your middle-grade English classes where she was introduced totally, and I mean totally, pitying Emily Dickinson. I mean, she was a shut-in. There were flies and poems about death and stuff.

Then you got older. You got a job, got a car, got a family maybe. And at some point in all this–some day where you sat back and realized you got a grand total of five minutes alone today, and you spent most of those five minutes trying to pay your electric bill by phone with your husband’s credit card, which you may or may not know the security code for–you realized.

Emily Dickinson’s life of shut-innery was starting to sound pretty goddamn good to you.

Not all of us get to just sit around the house and write whenever the mood strikes us. If you do, bully for you, but there’s even less of an excuse for you not to write. Most of us, if we don’t have jobs, have house duties, payment duties, cooking duties, kid duties. Real life, whether we want it to or not, has this irritating way of filling up our time. And when you finally do get to your typewriter/word processor/fancy journal, you realize you’re so damn tired, and you have no idea what to write.

Before you know it, you’ve been doing that for a week (even on your day off), and oh my goody gumdrops goober goodness, aren’t you just so delicate, and soooo creatively blocked, boo hoo hoo.

Here’s the trick, and where my post title starts getting involved: you are not a unique elegant snowflake. Your life duties are not so special they exempt you from writing. If you want to be a writer, you have to do one thing, and one thing only, to earn that title, and that is, unsurprisingly:

You gotta write.

Mind you, I don’t think writer’s block exists. At least, not in the way it’s frequently portrayed as existing: there’s not a lot of sitting around on your bum imploring the Muse, grasping a stylus in your ink-spattered hand, cursing the gods who have stolen your own particular herbal infusion of talent. If there were, I’d be doing it. It’s good theater.

Writer’s block is what happens (and note my italics on this) when you don’t write enough to keep going.

Writing, like any other task, has momentum. Yes, your own story-time isn’t the same as time in real life. However, when you’re writing something long, there are parts that are easy and hard to write, and you’ve got to write both of them, because who the fuck else is going to do it? And here’s the thing–

–if you stop for a while. If you put off writing that hard part for too long. You, like a bike wheel in a pothole. Are going. To get. Stuck.

On the other hand: if you keep chipping away at it, word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. If you keep slogging away, even though you got three hours of sleep last night and your boyfriend expects dinner simply because he gets home later. If you devote your coffee break at work to writing a few sentences here and there. If you, in short, ignore every possible rule telling you to wait for inspiration to strike, and fit in as many minute wordgasms per day as possible:

You’ll get to a point, eventually, where inspiration does strike, and it all gets easy again. For a little while. Until it isn’t any more.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is no muse. There’s no divine voice of inspiration, no ‘right moment’ to write, no special place or music you need to produce a few lines of type on a blank page. Writing gets romanticized, demonized, portrayed as an art form of capricious difficulty, and it is none of these things. All it is, in its basest form, is stringing characters together until they form words and sentences on a piece of paper. A child can do it. Somewhere, a child does do it, probably better than you or me.

There are moments you’ll be able to do it better than others. (I do believe in inspiration, as long as you don’t sit around on your ass waiting for it). There are moments where you write something you think is pure fucking genius, and these are the moments you write for.

But these moments aren’t every moment (and I want you to think for a minute about other aspects of your life, and, really, when was the last time you expected those to all be heartbreaking works of staggering blah blah blah?) And the only way you’ll reach these moments–the only way you’ll ever ‘un-block’ yourself–is to keep writing, even though you’re blocked.

Do the sandwich guys as Subway stop making sandwiches whenever they feel they aren’t creatively sandwichwardly motivated?

No. Fuck no, they’ve gotta get paid. Why the hell do you think it’s so different for you?

Long story short: if you want to get over your writer’s block, force yourself to write something. If you want to get over a ‘hurdle’ in a particular story, force yourself to crawl over it, one irritating inch at a time. Who cares if you’re producing literary geenyus every moment of tappity-tapping? That’s what editing is for. If you want, you can come back and write the whole damn scene over later, when you have your Best of Bjork limited edition vinyl and your Bedazzled typewriter to hand and the yarrow stalks predict a good writing day.

For now, just get it done. And once it’s done, you can go on.

This is how you get anything, anything in the world, done.

Happy tough love motivational post Friday. I’m here to answer any questions you might have, field any invective you might throw, etc.

EFR

Writing: My Process

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WRITING WEDNESDAY: MY PROCESSES THAT AREN’T POOPING

WARNING: This post is more fun process-related ramble than educational, or even really about outlining. But I never tell you guys stuff about me, so here goes.

I would like to take this moment, random internet viewers, and lie to you.

I would like to tell you I wake up at five in the morning, so I have a few hours to drink coffee and let my day begin before work. I’d like to tell you I’m typing this in some super-fancy writing room (we’ll call it ‘The Solar’,) in a lovely Frank Lloyd Wrightesque split-level somewhere picturesquely deep in the woods.

I’d like to lie and tell you I’m wearing a smoking jacket and a fez, I have my life in order, and most of all, I would like to lie and tell you I use outlines.

However, none of this is true. I’m wearing a work dress and shoes that are, even by my approximation, shitty (and they’ve been broken down and shitty for two years). I am literally typing this up with tablet on knee during an hour-long inter-city bus ride into Raleigh. And I have never–never in my LIFE–seen any point to a fucking outline. Outlines are the devil. Outlines are a plague worse than diphtheria, malaria, and typhoid combined into one Victorian heart-of-darkness-style masterfuck.

Some people disagree. Some people–probably people who make dinner at night instead of throwing up their hands and going ‘eat whatever we have’–like them, even need them, to write a good story. And that’s all well and good. Different strokes and whatnot. I’m not saying everybody functions like I do.

However, in high school, I was that kid who groaned whenever I saw I needed to write an outline for a paper. I would do it–for the graaades, honey–not even save it, and never look at it again. Because it was a useless piece of paper.

Because I pants harder than Wrangler Jeans. (More on this subject can be found here).

I wanted to take a moment and discuss why it is this works for me, and why I believe in pantsing as opposed to the traditional outline-and-elaborate method. There are, as best as I’ve been able to figure out, two main reasons this works for me. And they are:

1) I am Pygmalion, and my characters are like hideous Galateas..

I approach writing more as a sort of sculpting than a linear a to b style undertaking. I slosh down my first draft with all the abandon of a frat boy at an end of year kegger. I get it done, more or less. I get the plot hashed out as best I can. And then, when I have the tangle of words that serves in this extended Pygmalion metaphor as rough rock, I start chipping away.

Because a story, I feel, is a thing best approached from both ends. When I’ve already written my ending, I have an idea of where I want the beginning to go, and how to flesh it out so it goes there better. I’ve a rough idea of all the little things that are going to make my Galatea lovely, and once I have the whole body of work to move over I can pay them proper attention.

When you employ this method, there are reasons for you to stop and think, even in the creation of your rough draft roughage. And outline, on the other hand, lulls you into the mistaken idea that you’ve already figured it out pretty well (you haven’t) and you know exactly what needs to happen (you don’t). It gives your characters a little room to take on life–I’ve had moments where my characters, instead of doing what I’d like them to do, what would make the plot turn out how I want it to turn out, decide to go do something completely crazy.

If you think this is pointless romanticizing of the writing process, you’ve not been writing for very long. It doesn’t happen because omg mysterious creative juices or anything: it happens because, whether you realize it or not, something you have planned for your plot doesn’t jibe with the way you’re writing your characters. I had this problem in Aurian and Jin, when Jin’s leaving Dern Darien for the last battle with the Bonemaker–in my first draft (and in my head) she let Aurian go along with her, and it just never worked, because Jin’s high-powered controlling ass wouldn’t do that.

It took me about three weeks to realize exactly what was wrong, and I was glad I did. Because it’s an important developmental moment for both Jin and Aurian (spoiler warning!)–Jin needs to learn that needing people doesn’t involve yeast and a floured surface, and Aurian’s passive ass needs to learn that he can be needed, and that Jin can be wrong. Without that developmental milestone, both characters would be flatter, and the climactic scene, where Jin and Aurian kill the Bonemaker together, would lack the emotional resonance of two people, one entirely too independent and one entirely too dependent, creating an equalized unified front.

Had I used an outline, I might never have caught that. Because, instead of writing the story to fit the characters, I would have written the characters to fit the story–which, if you want great characters, is a cardinal sin.

To generalize: pantsing lets your creation magnifique take on a life of its own. And that’s what you want in a story, isn’t it? Life.

2) I spend a lot of time thinking about this shit anyway.

When I say I don’t do an outline, that may not be entirely true. No, I never write it down. No, it isn’t color coded and appended like my grocery lists (I’ll say this for me, I write a helluva grocery list).

But when I’m doing something mentally non-taxing, like cooking dinner or cleaning the house or taking a nice long walk, I let my mind wander. And it wanders, invariably, to whatever I’m writing (a sign, probably, that I don’t have a very interesting life). And I think through these things. I picture my characters, picture what they’d be doing right now, what they wear, who would play Jin in the move (I’m feeling Tilda Swinton, but I think she’s too pretty). I visualize my scenes in living color, pick out scene music.

This might sound a little woo woo New Age write-and-do-yoga to you, and it probably is. But I’ve found light motion helps me think–even restless pacing, if I’m stuck in the house. This might be because I’m tie-me-to-a-jungle-gym levels of ADD. Or it might be because I’m overall a visual sort of person, and seeing the words on the page actually blocks me up a little bit.

In fact, the only thing that helps me with a big block is time to sit back and mull it over. Some people call this writer’s block–unfairly, I think (I’ll do a blog soon on why, precisely, I think the idea of writer’s block is stupid). You’re still performing the writing process, you just aren’t writing any words down. And, just like ninety percent of what you know about your world never makes it to your manuscript, ninety percent of your writing-thoughts never get written down.

This doesn’t make them any less important or useful. It just means they weren’t the best ideas.

If you have the sort of shaggy, visually-focused thought processes I have, an outline quickly starts looking more like a football play would look if Wilkie Collins vomited laudanum all over it. Not a terribly useful document for anybody, even the person who wrotedrew it. So you might as well cut that step out, right? Because The Moonstone, that’s why.

Anyway. This isn’t one of those posts where I give you good advice, or try and tell you what to do. This is just a little glimpse into my process, if there is indeed a process. I don’t need a lot of prewriting, fancy writing tools, etc., and I certainly don’t need Scrivener. What I need, for the most part, is a little bit of time and a repetitive task. And then, at some point, word processing.

Happy Wednesday.