More Poetry For Poncy Millennials

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Well, guys. Sorry I’ve been so little in evidence this week. I’ve had a lot of rush to deal with at work, and some editing stuff to do as well–this blog totally took second, possibly even third, place.

I know. I suck.

In the meantime, posting a few more happy little poems about The Millennial Condition–namely, being a Millennial parent. (What’s so special about this? I don’t know. But plenty of people seem to think it is.)

We’ll be back next week with heartfelt articles and all that shit you expect. For now, CLEVER RHYMES. (Dear hipster moms of the world–I deeply look forward to you being indignant at me saying Thieves relieves stress. Long story short: I don’t KNOW what it’s supposed to do. I don’t care.)

LITTLE JIMMY

Poor little Jimmy’s come down with a cold!
Hope these antibiotics aren’t too old.

Coconut oil. His hair’s a mess.
A dab of Thieves to relieve stress.
Ginseng for focus, he likes shiny lights,
And don’t forget the multi-vites.
Fish oil in his morning tea:
We think he’s low on Omega-3.
For energy and steady will,
A timely dose of clorophyll
And carotene, for better sight–
He only takes one? That can’t be right.
Vitamin D for healthy skin,
A fistful of A to let life in.

What else could be wrong? He still looks slightly ill.
Just give him a fistful of nutritive pills.

Oh no! He’s convulsing! Somebody, please save him.
It must be something the doctor gave him.

REASONS YOU’RE A SHIT PARENT

My child says your child
Gets cookies every lunch.
My child says your child
Still drinks Hawaiian Punch.

My child says your child
Got vaxed for the flu;
My child agrees that your child
Simply won’t do.

He’s never known the luxury
Of kale chips salted light,
Or cupcakes made with free-trade flour.
How do you sleep at night?

A gender-neutral nursery
And carseats ’til they’re twelve:
Right-themed novels into which
A little mind can delve.

These are the things that make a child
As good as he can be:
A moralistic member
Of our great society.

You say love’s more important? What?
Sit down, shit mom, and can it.
Child-rearing ain’t about the child:
It’s all about saving the planet.

Affordable Christmas Gifts for Writers

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A NOTE: There are a lot of links in the post. Mostly because, after writing it, I got curious if some of these things actually existed. Lo and behold! Internet magic! You can buy plot dice, an E.E. Cummings tshirt, AND a stupidly expensive fountain pen all in one fell swoop! I don’t necessarily encourage you to buy these things–hell, it’s me, I encourage you to buy as little as possible. Links are included fo’ yo’ edification.

Affordable Christmas Gifts for Writers

We’re coming up on Christmas.

I know, I know. It doesn’t feel like it. But the Santa Seepage has already begun–the craft stores have Christmas endcaps, and Target has its oblique we-know-it’s-not-time-for-this-yet-but-buy-stuff back Christmas wall up, lurking like a hungry red and green shadow behind the current commercialized holiday section, Thanksgiving. For those of us who work retail, the nightmare has already begun. I’m basically getting this post over with early, as resident Grinch.

For those of you who DON’T work retail, and therefore like Christmas, you can start humming ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ under your breath. What’re those lyrics, again? Does anybody actually know the lyrics to Jingle Bell Rock?

Anyway.

I see ‘Christmas lists for writers’ a lot online, but y’know what? A lot of times, they’re things like t-shirts with ‘I’m a Writer’ written on them, which is pretty much useless in the art of writing, except possibly to blot your blood, sweat, and tears on (or, alternatively: if you hit your head pretty hard on something, and forget who wrote all those half-finished stories on your laptop). Or, it has the Hemingwrite on it. Because gadgets. I mean, who doesn’t like expensive gadgets? Who doesn’t like to buy them? Everybody has the money for a twenty dollar coffee mug and a Hemingwrite.

So I wanted to take a minute and give you guys a useful (and, hopefully, slightly more affordable) list of things you can get your pet writer. Here we go:

1) A Coupon Book.

Broke this year? Saving all your money to buy Granny that five-speed blender? It happens, buddy. And, when it happens, the homemade coupon books appear.

However, for your writer, you might want to consider going above and beyond the standard free back rubs and Netflix n’ chill night ideas. Here are a few authorial coupon concepts for you:

1) One FREE night of you telling me all about your novel. I’ll ask questions. I’ll get into it.
2) One FREE night of locking yourself up in your room to write. I will not ask you why dinner isn’t ready. I will not ask you why you aren’t keeping me company.
3) One FREE dinner left obliquely by the door of your room while you’re writing. I won’t complain about making it. I won’t ask you to join me at the table. I know you’re writing.
4) One FREE read-aloud. Read me your story!
5) One FREE accompaniment to the convention/signing of your choice. I’ll stand there next to you and be super supportive, even if I don’t know what’s going on and I had to take the day off work.

2) Services Rendered.

No, not sexual services. You dog, you.

Do you have a skill that might help your writer buddy out? Are you a graphic designer, a photographer, an editor, have a job in marketing, etc? (Even if you’re none of these things, you could always be a beta reader).

If your writer buddy is trying to self publish, or publish through a small indie press, he or she could probably use some help, and they may have been too shy (or too introverted, whatever the popular term du jour is) to ask. So this Christmas, if you’re broke but want to still make somebody smile, offer aid.

3) Kindle Unlimited

Does your writer read a lot? If he or she doesn’t–are you sure he or she is still alive? Poke this person a few times with a stick. Whisper the words ‘Fifty Shades or Grey’ or ‘E.L. James’. If this doesn’t provoke a strong reaction of some variety, your writer friend has passed on, and your Christmas gift should probably be a mourning bouquet and help with the burial.

If your writer friend is still alive and vociferous about Shades, you might want to consider a Kindle Unlimited subscription. KU is a great program on Amazon by which certain ebooks (a lot of solid bestsellers among them) can be ‘borrowed’ for a month. It gives your Kindle-possessing writer the chance to read whatever kind of books, and as many of them, as they please.

A note: Amazon now has a reading app for all smart devices. So, yeah, your writer doesn’t even need to have a Kindle for this one, though it is recommended.

4) Supplies.

Writing isn’t a profession that requires a lot of stuff. You don’t need a two hundred dollar leatherbound notebook to write. You don’t need a pricey fountain pen. And, honestly, if a lot of us had these things, we wouldn’t use them, or probably look at them ever. (PS–if you haven’t reached your ‘humanity is ridiculous’ quota for the day yet, check out that fountain pen link).

But your writer does use something to write. Moleskine notebooks? A tablet? A laptop? You can buy a passel of Moleskines for pretty cheap. A keyboard case for a tablet. Long story short, if you want to buy your writer an actual writing related item, make sure it’s something this person will use. I’d recommend staying away from plot dice and Hemingwrites and clever t-shirts with E.E Cummings jokes on them: these items are more or less useless (unless, of course, your writer has expressed a desire for one of them. For instance, no E.E. Cummings t-shirt for me, but I’d love something with a quote or two on it from A Confederacy of Dunces. Or this Henry Miller Library poster: ohmigod, I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life. I get what they were going for, artsy bastards, but this has to be one of the FUNNIEST accidental truisms ever manufactured about Henry Miller. Look, the gal in the picture is even asleep). 

5) Support.

Did I mention love and encouragement? No? Well, they’re cheap, and in the end they’re the best gift you can give anybody.

Note, I’m not suggesting you give your writer a Christmas card with ‘You Get My Love For Christmas!’ scrawled on it in Sharpie. That’s kind of an asshole move, man. At least make a coupon book, or something. But, nevertheless:

Self and small press publishing is pretty horrible. It’s difficult to build a following, difficult to keep a following once you’ve built it, and almost impossible to make money (at least, in the golden way your writer dreamed of before actually self-publishing). So the best gift, and the best way to keep up the spirit of the season? Be there. Be supportive, be a fan, be a friend. Like stuff on social media. Leave a glowing review of your writerbuddy’s book on Amazon. Help out. For all you know, you might be helping somebody keep their dreams alive.

6) Money.

You have enough to give it to other people? Oh, man. What’s that like?

If you do, money is pretty much appreciated across the board by everybody. And, for your writer buddy, it might be your best option, if they haven’t given you any hints on what else to buy. Money’s such a cheap gift, you say? Really? It’s worth exactly what it’s worth. How the hell can it be ‘cheap’?

Sorry, that expression’s always bothered me. Anyway. Money can buy a writer advertising, listings, a five pound sack of gummy bears. Whatever this writer needs–which is something you might not necessarily know.

Or, if you just can’t bear to be that awesome friend or relative who just gives out money: does this writer go out to a certain coffee shop frequently? Perhaps a gift certificate to that coffee shop. Is there a conference he or she wants to attend out of town? Plane tickets, or a gift certificate to a really good restaurant you know there. Just published a book? A gift certificate for framing, maybe, so that book can go up on the wall where it belongs. An Amazon gift certificate is always awesome, too.

Long story short, give your pet writer a gift just like you’d give a gift to anyone. Listen to that person. What do they say they want? That’s. Um. Probably what you should give them. People don’t usually lie about that stuff.

Last words: just because someone makes a percentage of their income from writing doesn’t mean you have to give them a writing related gift. Maybe what your writer friend really wants is Granny’s five speed blender. In which case: skip the glittery pens and get this person a blender. After all, do you get your architect friends a t-shirt with ‘I’m an Architect’ on it?

See, kids? It ain’t half hard, nor does it have to cost you an arm and a leg.

How to Find Good Advice Online

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Okay. Yes, yes, I’ll get to that post about accents in a few. Right now, I wanted to talk about a little problem I’ve been having–and the solution, which is more helpful to you than the problem’ll be.

My views, the past few weeks, have TANKED. I mean–TANKED.  It’s a negative feeling when that happens, especially for sensitive little shits such as myself: boo-hoo-hoo, I say. Am I being uninteresting? Does nobody care about the art of writing any more? Boo hoo hoo. Lesigh.

Of course, it’s nothing that personal. (Or–I hope it isn’t). I narrowed it down to three possible causes, all of which I’ll try to remedy:

1) I’m not posting at the right time of day/on the right days.(I’ve known this for a while. I just–I have a job.)
2) I’m not as engaged in my blogging (or Twitter, where a lot of my views come from) as I used to be.
3) The topic I’ve picked for my blog is perhaps not as popular as it used to be.

We’ll talk about two and three in time, but right now, I want to talk about number one. Why? Because I had REVELATIONS, man. Revelations.

There are, of course, particular times that’re peak times on social media. They’re different for each kind of media–if you want more information on this, check out the bottom of this post.

But when you’re doing a google search, a lot of things’ll pop up. And they’ll say DIFFERENT stuff. And it’s pretty confusing. And how the hell do you know who to believe?

The answer is important, and also useful when encountering shiny pretty memes on Facebook:

Use your common damn sense.

We’ll use this example: say you see a meme on Facebook informing you that voting for Hillary Clinton is like voting for your own death sentence, because she personally traveled to Libya and killed 5,000 virgins in Benghazi with a strange alien deathstaff, laughing all the while in bloodstreaked killjoy.

What? You say, horrified. That’s terrible. How on earth has the truth about this been suppressed? How could I not have known this? I’m definitely voting Republican now. Definitely.

Well, kids. A meme is an image with text on it. That image could be from anywhere, and so could the text. They’re not necessarily related. That text isn’t true, just because you saw it on the internet.

Again, start by using your common damn sense. If an American politician did something this shocking, why doesn’t everyone know about it? There are two possible answers:

1) Someone is, indeed, suppressing the story. Or:
2) Someone is telling porky pies.

Now, balance the likelihood of these two answers. People could suppress something like that, I suppose, but a picture of a gore-covered Hillary Clinton laughing amidst the carnage, glowing alien artifact in hand, is unlikely to STAY suppressed very long, in our age of internet sharing. (Or: is this why we’re seeing a meme about it now? Is it all a government conspiracy? WERE there two gunmen on the grassy knoll?)

Also, consider–if the truth is being EFFECTIVELY suppressed, there’s not shit you can do to find out about it sitting in your chair tooling around online. So you might want to play around with the other conclusion anyway, just to see if anything THERE convinces you.

Suppression aside, people lie on the internet every day. Every second. There’s no data for this, sadly, but I’d be willing to bet there are more lies told in the course of a day than babies born, or meals eaten, or fucking breaths taken. Why is it less likely to be a lie because it’s on the internet, with a picture tacked on to it?

Your next step? Take to Google. Image search for ‘bloodstained Hillary Clinton’. Image search for ‘Hillary Clinton alien deathstaff’. Query Google: ‘Hillary Clinton virgenocide Benghazi alien deathstaff’.

See a very similar image of Hillary Clinton, minus bloodstains and staff, giving a speech in Iowa? Hmm. Photoshop seems likely. See a photo of that same alien deathstaff in promotional material for a movie called Plan 8 from Outer Space? Hmmmm.

And I can almost promise you, someone else has seen that image before you, and done a more thorough investigation, hopefully with better sources. Find a few reputable sites (since it’s political, try and find a few with differing political biases). What do they think?

If a lot of sites call it fake, if they offer convincing evidence, then it probably is fake. See, kiddos? That’s using your brain on the interwebs. You should do it every time you see something that shocks you. ‘S what shock SHOULD do–it should make you think. Is it solid proof? No, of course not. Solid proof of anything is next to impossible. But if a lot of reputable people agree, well, you might want to cash in your chips on the reputable people.

What, you’re wondering, does this have to do with post times on social media?

You need to use the same set of problem-solving tools in figuring out which advice to follow about your blog.

This is the internet. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone with a keyboard can offer advice. Hell, I’m doing it right now. So what should you look for, in figuring out which advice to follow?

1) What KIND of advice do you want?

If you’re looking for advice on how to write well, likes and popularity aren’t important. Look for a post that you, personally, think has been written well. You might want to start by seeing if some of your favorite writers have blogs online–a lot of writers WILL write about their craft, and a lot of them (especially the indies) are more than happy to help you out, and would love to see your comments. Don’t be afraid to try and make friends: what’s the worst that could happen?

If you’re looking for advice on how to make your blog more popular, look for a blog offering this advice that is already popular. You don’t want advice on garnering more pageviews from someone whose posts have like three likes apiece. You don’t want marketing advice from someone whose book is in millionth place in Amazon rankings.

Advice on where to get nice legal images? Look for a blog whose pictures grab your attention.

Etc. You get my point.

2) Is the link timely?

This one, especially, if you’re looking for advice on social media use and anything involving popularity. A link telling you how to get more Facebook likes from 2008 might not be viable now: people change, and the average age of Facebook users has increased since then. This means people will be logging on at different peak hours, interested in different things. Always check the date of the post, before you make up your mind to follow advice.

3) Use Your Common Goddamn Sense.

I can’t stress this one enough.

See a shiny infographic telling you the most people log on to Pinterest at 5 AM EST? Woah, nelly. Hang on a second. Most Pinterest traffic is probably mainland American (as we’re the most wired-up nation in the world) and the earliest 5AM EST could be is 1AM, for those on the Pacific coast. Most Pinterest pinners are adult women, who have things to do like work or at least take care of the kids–how likely does even a 1AM peak time seem?

Some of you are wondering why I’m asking you to do ‘all that work’. You’re whining: ‘you can’t possibly expect me to fact-check everything I believe in’. After I cold-cock slap you, I’m going to be honest with you: I do. And let me just chuckle patronizingly and end this with a single statement:

If you don’t have the time to fact check it at least a little, maybe you should suspend motherfucking judgement.

For People Interested in Peak Posting Times, Here’s a Useful Current Link:

Julie Neidlinger over at CoSchedule is a fricking QUEEN for doing this one.

For People Interested in Not Believing Every Shiny Meme they See, Here are Some Fairly Reliable Fact-Checkers:

Factcheck–One of the oldest and most consistently reliable of the fact-checking sites online.

SnopesI know, I know. All the Republicans in my crowd can’t believe I’m listing Snopes as a viable fact checker. Well, it isn’t 100% reliable, but it’s better than that almost 100% FALSE chain email you’re thinking of right now that discredited Snopes (which was, in turn, discredited by FactChecker). A note for you: any time the phrase ‘Wikipedia finally got to the bottom of it’ is used, you might want to reconsider reliability.

Google–The best ‘fact checker’ of all: yourself. Spend some time looking stuff up under different search terms, so you get different points of view, and make up your own damn mind.

“It is better to remain silent at the risk of being thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt of it.”
Maurice Switzer

Writing Exercise: Worldbuilding as Motivation

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Some Background

People spend a lot of time talking about building character. People create character sheets, elaborate motive charts, all sorts of ridiculous writerly bric-a-brac detailing the motive and inner turmoil of imaginary people.

This is all great, of course. Everything other people do is great. I have to say this, because being polite is, for some reason, important.

One thing that often gets ignored in our attempts to chart out our characters is, unfortunately, motivation. Not just what motivates a character–that gets talked about plenty–but why it motivates them, and how it happened. People don’t just start wanting things out of the blue–they want them because the necessity of societal obligations has, in some way, pressured them to want them.

So. Out of the places a character occupies in a society, which ones are important to that character? Which ones have caused them to want the things they want?

This is a more important question than it sounds. It is, in its own way, the basic building block on which individual personalities are built. It combines simple physical things (your character is a woman, your character is single, etc.) observable from a distance, with the deepest core of your character’s inner makeup.

And there needs to be more of that. Because who you are–who other people observe you as being–does have a deep inner impact on what kind of person you are. Sorry, nineties feel-gooders. It does.

Take a woman who has been fifty pounds overweight for most of her life. On the outside, this fact doesn’t seem like it would make much of a difference–doesn’t change whether or not she was born with money, whether or not she’s an aristocrat, etc. But people do judge you based on your weight, and if she’s been overweight for most of her life, you can bet she’s felt it.

Unless–unless the society she lives in considers obesity beautiful.

In which case, maybe she’s spent her whole life cramming one more helping than she can really stand down her throat at dinner, just hoping she can gain that extra five pounds to impress Prince Chargrill. Maybe she’s irritated at the dressmakers in her town, because it’s so difficult to find something small enough to fit her. You could write a whole story where the most important thing to this character isn’t her sex, or skin color, or social standing–it’s her weight. Maybe the story could end with her defiantly allowing her weight to drop at last, finally understanding it doesn’t matter.
And obesity is just one of the things which you notice about someone without any explanation, which might have to do with their inner workings too.

The Exercise

Take your character. Take a list of ten broad characteristics that might determine the place in society this character inhabits. This list of traits should include things you might know about this character just from observation, and not from conversation–for instance, you know if someone’s married by seeing them with a spouse, if someone’s a mother by seeing them with their children, where they’re from by an accent, etc. We’ll use Jin from Aurian and Jin for mine, since, you know, Jin. Jin is, in her fantasy world:

A soldier
A woman
White
From the Empire
A wife
A mother (by book two)
Of common birth
Fairly famous
Straight
Nonreligious

Now, place those attributes in order. Which of these things matters most to your character? Which matters least? Why?

Now, this list might change, depending on what part of the story you’re talking about. For instance, Jin wasn’t a mother until the end of book one, and soldiery falls farther down her list of important things based on the peacefulness of the current time.

Jin’s list, from most to least important, at the beginning of Little Bird:

A mother
A citizen of the Empire
A wife
A soldier
Of common birth
A woman
Fairly famous
Nonreligious
Straight
White

Like most people who have a spouse and kids, her spouse and kids are pretty high on her list of priorities. But Jin puts her people, and the welfare of said people, before her husband (or says she does, at least. In practice, the two would probably be better put side by side). Little Birdy, however, comes before the Empire: this relationship trivium actually creates most of the plot arcs in Little Bird.

The Empire, being a combination of tiny countries composed mostly of pale people, borders the North Darklands and the kingdom of Karakul, where people have darker skin. Therefore, being white (or black, or green, or pick your Crayola color here) hasn’t had much impact on Jin’s life, as the Empire regularly sees visitors and immigrants of different skin tones, and doesn’t make much of a fuss about it (believe me, you don’t make a fuss about the Darklands. It’s…unwise). Being a woman, while a notable disability in the Empire, hasn’t influenced Jin much–largely because, well, you have to get pretty close to tell she’s a woman at all. These facts haven’t caused her any problems, so they aren’t parts of her identity she thinks about much.

On the other hand, her birth (low) and her profession (soldiery) have shaped and changed who Jin is. They are not, however, something she fights for–they are simply influences, not something she protects or cherishes or talks about. (The fact that she doesn’t go to temple has, on rare occasion, bothered her. But it’s more for the social value of the thing than any deep religious belief, and she has other stuff to think about).

You get where I’m going with this?

These are the things that shape who Jin is, and they’re all external things, visible from a week’s close observation. What motivates Jin isn’t some aspect of her temper or personal being, it’s external stuff–what her husband and child need, what her people need, what her fighting skills enable her to do, whether or not folk in the poor quarters have enough to eat. In a different society–one where having pale skin, or being a woman, came with serious drawbacks–those things might be more important to Jin. But she’s fortunate enough to exist in a world where her profession is more important in her personal makeup than these two arbitrary attributes, so.

Jin is clever, quick-tempered, physical, and crude, yes. She’s all of these things. But they aren’t why she is like she is–she’s become that way, in fact, because of the way she’s had to act to get things she wants in her society. Women aren’t considered as valuable under Imperial law as men, so Jin’s not very traditionally feminine, and her hair-trigger temper has kept people from questioning whether a woman should do the things she does. Her low birth is a stigma, and she doesn’t think it should be, so she’s become (sometimes unnecessarily) crude in her expression, especially when talking to people of ‘better’ pedigree. A life’s worth of soldiery has left her apt to solve conflicts by throwing somebody through a wall. And her intelligence–well. That’s the thing that’s allowed her to survive in the first place.

When you look for character motivation, and believable character traits, don’t start plotting out adjectives. Knowing your character is afraid of snakes isn’t going to do you a lick of good, unless you know why. And the whys of your character are, often, buried deep in the rules of your character’s society–because people, regardless of time and place, grow where you let them, and falter where they have no support. Even the most self-sufficient person is dependent on the rules of the culture they live in, and the opinions of the people around them.

So don’t world build and then character build, or vice-versa. The two things are one in the same. And an exercise like this one can help you lay bare, not only your character’s motivation, but also the laws of the society he or she lives in.

I’ve shown you mine. If you want to show me yours, by golly, I’d say it’s only fair.

Writing: Your Antihero

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Writing Yourself a Likeable Asshole: The Classic Anti-Hero

So me and the Definitely Not Dave were watching TV last night. Specifically, we were watching Nextflix. And guess which show they had every last episode of?

If you looked at the title, that’s probably all you need to guess what I’m talking about. They had House, people.

House was a great show, especially the first few seasons. The reason is simple: House had House, and you hadn’t gotten tired of him yet. And House is this era’s perfect example of the likeable asshole.

A lot of people struggle with this character type–often referring to him, somewhat gustily, as ‘the antihero’, which is one of those compound phrases (much like ‘reverse racism’) that doesn’t at all mean what it sounds like it should mean. (Doesn’t reverse racism sound like it should mean treating someone with a different skin color very, very nicely? Doesn’t it? Why the hell doesn’t it mean that? Anyway.)

It’s okay, boo boo. I’m here to help you. Because it’s one I’m pretty good at (see: every main character I’ve had ever).

A brief look at The (Anti)Hero’s Journey:

1) Character does Good Thing for Wrong Reasons.
2) As action rises, Character must struggle to come to terms with pain in past, and stop self-destructive actions. Character begins making progress towards redemption.
3) It’s too much: Character does something Really, Really Shitty.
4) Milksop ‘nice guy’ other characters stop supporting Central Character’s behavior.
5) Character does Good Thing for Right Reasons.
6) We All Skip Happily off into Sunset. Rainbows, Glitter, Other Bullshit Happens.

Five points, to help you on your journey:

1) Balance This Asshole.

Not on a high beam or a tightrope. This is very hard to do, especially with make-believe people.

Balance this person’s essential assholeness with a sweetheart or two by his side. House has his team, all of whom tolerate (sometimes barely) his bullshit, and are fairly nice people comparatively. He has the puppylike Wilson. These people are around House to provide contrast, true: they’re also there to show what should be done, by a normal non-assholeish person. You might think your audience knows this instinctively, and in a just universe you’re probably right. However, your audience also needs to know that you know this–that this person’s assholian qualities are a fictional tool, and not just, you know, what you think is par for the course.

Another important thing–these non-assholes, though they can be irritated by your asshole’s antics, needs to fundamentally like him. It gives your audience an excuse to. After all, if these nice people like this emotional cripple, there’s got to be a reason, right? Which leads into:

2) This Asshole Needs to do Good.

House does plenty of good. You know, saving people and stuff. The problem isn’t with what he does–it’s how, and why.

And this is the main paradox of the anti-hero. If this person doesn’t do good, he’s just an ass. If he doesn’t do it for the wrong reasons, he’s just a hero. Of course, since the anti-hero usually redeems himself by the end of the story, he has to be aware of the wrongness and come to terms with it. An example:

–Your hero takes two children of a banished royal line under his wing. He does it for the ransom money, but of course he knows if he turns them in they’ll probably be killed. In the end, he doesn’t turn them in.

Because his conscience gets the better of him, see? Though he might not say it–he might say the current ruling party isn’t offering him enough money, or he feels like it’ll just get him in more trouble when the current ruling party is itself deposed. But by that point, you know this asshole well enough to know it’s just bluster. He’s doing it because he doesn’t want to kill children. And in some way, by the end, he acknowledges this–more on that later.

3) Your Asshole Needs Some Damage.

Which, out of context, just sounds x-rated and weird. But here’s the thing–your asshole needs some kind of excuse to be an asshole. House has his leg, and the painkiller addiction (which we’ll talk about in Four).

But here’s the thing–that excuse isn’t enough, and it shouldn’t be.

House kind of likes the pain. He likes it because it gives him an excuse to be what he is. An asshole like House isn’t necessarily pandering for pity–House wouldn’t tell you his sobby-sob life story if you bought him a beer at a bar–but he expects it to mitigate his actions, to let him skate by without the trouble and toil of becoming a better person. He’s got a cane and a limp and part of the narrative reason he does is so people make instant judgement calls based on them. He’s disabled. You’re taught to make extra allowances for the disabled.

But how many?

So. What happened to your character? Did he lose his wife to the raiders, get cursed by an angry wizard? Was he always teased in school? Whatever it is, make sure the pain is real–but moderate. His wife died fifteen years ago. The angry wizard’s curse was permanent heartburn. Getting teased in school isn’t an excuse for fricking anything anyway. You get it.

4) Some of This Asshole’s Damage is Self-Inflicted.

You might hear something like this come out of the mouth of a supporting character, in the wife-killed-by-raiders thing:

‘Harry was a great guy until the raiders came and decapitated Rena. After that, he sort of went downhill. He did a lot of drinking, lost his house, lost the kids. Now he just sits in the bar, night after night.’

You feel bad for him. Yeah, someone decapitated his wife, and that’s tragic. But the drinking, like House’s painkillers, is on him. And so is all the shit that happened to him because of it. It’s an understandable vice–I mean, raiders decapitate your wife, you’re going to drink for a while–but he’s taken it too far and, at least in the beginning of the story, it doesn’t look like he’s willing to make it better himself.

So, items three and four are related. You need damage–but then you need self-inflicted damage. The anti-hero (asshero? Asshelo? Herass?) needs to carry on the pattern of destruction and damage on his own, without outside help. Because this bastard isn’t sympathetic.

5) Your Asshole Needs to Change.

In every antihero type story, the main focus is the redemption–change–of the main character. Hell, House got like fifty billion seasons out of this one idea alone (and, let’s be honest, by the end of that show we were all so fricking ready for it). But in the end, even House makes a change for the better.

And this is where the hero part comes in. By the end of the story, your main character has to’ve done at least one thing that is truly, incontrovertably, good. And, furthermore, the character has to know why he did this thing, and welcome it, and admit it.

Why? Because character development. Because, if you’ve built your tension right, the audience is yearning for your asshole-hero to acknowledge the good in himself, and you occasionally have to give your audience what they want, or they’ll stop being your audience. (A note here: part of the reason this storyline works so well in House is because the show is, ostensibly, about something else. You can’t write a whole novel based just one one person’s search for redemption. Gimme something else along with it: House finds nifty weird diseases. Maybe there’s a war in your novel, or a trek cross-country, or what have you. But in a character arc like this, just remember: there has to be a plotline, some other action, for your asshole character to happen to.)

There you go: classic anti-hero stuff, with the help of Gregory House. Now go off and diagnose some weird diseases, kids. Go. Have fun. Because you’re all doctors now.

Yeeeees. Sure y’are.

Why Reviews Aren’t Everything

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The Silent Majority: Or, A Story About Reviews

So I wrote this book a while back (you may have heard of it. It’s called Aurian and Jin). Since its publication in November last year, I’ve sold, given away, lent out, etc. about two thousand copies of it.

That’s not a big number, compared to the number of people in the world–or the number of bacteria colonizing the screen of your phone, even. But it’s pretty sizeable. It’s consideration worthy. Two thousand people out there (more, if they lent it out) have at least heard of my book, probably read it, probably had an opinion on it one way or the other. I regularly hear things like this, day-to-day: ‘my cousin loved your book! She’s like your biggest fan now.’ ‘Grandpa’s been recommending your book to his coworkers. They have some suggestions’. ‘I left a copy of your novel in the bathroom at the strip club, and now the girls can’t stop talking about it.’ (Okay. Maybe not so much that last one. Though, now that I think about it, gratis copies to strippers might not be a bad policy.).

My point is–even if my friends and coworkers and family are just being nice to me, a lot of people have read this book, and said something good about it. And yet, when I look at my Amazon listing, I’ve only got sixteen reviews.

Now, I could get all chappy-assed about it. I could recommend (read: demand) that people write a review when they finish the book. But here’s the thing about that, kids:

The vast majority of people, even people who really loved your novel, aren’t going to leave a review at all.

And there’s nothing you can do about it.

I mean, think about it for a few seconds. Before you got all involved with indie authorship, when was the last time you left a review for something on Amazon? If you’re like me at all, the answer to that is, well, never. Even books you really liked, products you really used. It never occurred to me to do it. I would see the reviews up there, read a few of them maybe, buy or not buy (usually regardless of reviews). In fact, I was more likely to consider writing a review if I was dissatisfied with something–because, in my mind, a review existed to let other buyers know what sort of experience I’d had. I couldn’t tell you at this point whether or not I realized the maker of the product might actually see that review, and it certainly never occurred to me to take their feelings into account when I wrote it. The internet, after all, is a very big place–bigger, in some ways, than the physical world–and I’m a very small person in the scheme of things.

People see your book. They don’t see the praise-hungry author hunched over a keyboard behind it, dreaming of row after row of five solid stars. They don’t see your desire for validation, your need for emotional support, the bragging rights (or causes for shame!) inherent in your Amazon rankings. They don’t know what it’s like, being an indie author with no publishing support system or nice fat advance to live on. Most of them don’t know about your Twitter or your blog or where you’ll be next signing books, and they don’t care. If your editing’s decent, they might not even know you’re indie. They might not even remember your name.

Your book was something to read at the beach, something to read at the dentist’s office, something gotten for free, something lent out by a friend. It wasn’t graven in gold and presented by a burning bush on a mountaintop. In the 100,000 or so words of your story, if you’ve got any sort of pride and decency, your hunger for approval and tacit support wasn’t mentioned once. The support of your readers comes to you in the form of money, which gets you things like cheeseburgers and another month of power, and is about as tacit as support gets, unless you’re the government.

Much as small pub might feel like a validation game sometimes–especially when you aren’t making the millions you anticipated–you made a product and now you’re selling it. Praise isn’t the endgame–it’s more like a happy side effect. You want to make people happy, and you probably have. The written proof of respect your ego so desperately craves is optional stuff.

And, hard as it is to swallow, dealing with that is your business, not the reader’s. You sold your damn book, and that’s what you’ve got to worry about. Somewhere out there, a buyer you don’t know is either happy or sad about it. How happy or sad they are, and whether or not they choose to inform you through the Great Equalizer of Amazon, is their deal. Not yours.

So let’s get Nixonic about this. There is a silent majority of readers–silent, at least, on the interwebs–who probably loved what you have to say. You’ll never hear from them, unless your guys happens to know a guy who knows a guy. But they’re out there.

I’m NOT encouraging you to badger people harder about leaving reviews. That’s not what this post is about, and, frankly, I’ve always found it a little off-putting when people do that to me. Too much of your voice, especially your desperate, pleading voice, detracts from the story you have to tell.

What I’m trying to say–even though you don’t know for sure what these people think, be grateful for them. After all, they bought your book.

And there’s all sorts of life going on in this world that isn’t reflected through the internet or Amazon reviews. You might be famous somewhere in Guatemala right now, where a teacher just loaned a thrift store copy of your book to a kid and made his day. You might never know–but you still, indirectly, made that kid’s day.

So step back, smile, and thank your readers. Not just your reviewers.

Why I Won’t Buy Your Novel

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Five Reasons I Won’t Buy Your Novel

I give you guys a lot of writing advice. It’s heartfelt. Some of it might even be good (hell if I know, right?).

But it occurred to me the other day, as I was out buying YET ANOTHER bookshelf, since my most recent one was slowly sagging under the weight of three different layers of trade paperbacks–it occurred to me that, you know, some of the best advice I can give you has very little to do with me putting my pen to paper.

It has a lot to do with the fact that I read. An assload. Possibly, if the academy will pardon my French, a metric fuckton. If my library were leatherbound and perched on mahogany shelves, Garden and Gun would do a four page spread on it and toss me a free whiskey decanter into the bargain. (As it is, it’s in a two bedroom apartment, piled ass-deep on the cheapest shelving units Target can mass-manufacture. Maybe if I tape a cutout of Hemingway to it and poop out a few Audubon prints…how about that, Garden and Gun? Eh? EH?)

At any rate, I think I know a lot about writing, but the messy fact of the matter is, I know even more about reading. Why would that interest you, you ask? Eh?

Well, let’s fill in the blank. Work with me here:

I am a writer, and I want people to ____ my book.
A) slather whipped cream on
B) read
C) ,in zero G, have a lot of difficulty closing
D) All of the above.

Much as I like to imagine you’re creative and the answer is D, it’s probably B, right?

Well. As a reader–who also knows a little bit about indie pub and What You’re Going Through–I am going to straight up no frills TELL you the reasons I don’t buy books. Because I can’t imagine I’m so different from the mainstream reader that most of these don’t apply across the board.

1) YOU PASTE IT 24/7 ACROSS MY TWITTER FEED.

You know what this behavior is? It’s motherfucking ANNOYING. It is SO, SO annoying. And if my feed is drowning in your book advertisements–if I can’t see one person’s two-part tweet because your fifteen mass-released twitbominations come between the two parts–I will go to desperate, unheard-of lengths to NOT purchase your product. I won’t mute you, because I want to REMEMBER YOUR NAME. I want to remember it so, when the book comes up in my list of Amazon recommendations, I’ll go ‘oh, that asshole’, and IGNORE IT. And I do buy books. Indie books. Just not yours.

A note–posting about it once or twice a day won’t bother me. After all, you wrote something and you’re proud of it. I’ve picked up a few books after seeing seemly and interesting tweets about them. The writer Twitter accounts I follow and remember aren’t spammy or even advertisey, but teach me a little bit about the writer in question or the craft. So please, for the love of JESUS, stop spamming up my goddamn feed with posts like this:

**FREE**TODAY**
#mustread#fantasy#romance#amazon#advertise#advertise#advertise
YOU’LL LOVE IT!!!!
REALLY!!!
**AMAZONBESTSELLEROMG**
(Include picture of unreadable book cover with half-naked girl on front, with or without vampire.)

If you must spam on Twitter–if you absolutely must–have the tact to pay someone else to do it for you. Go through one of the multi-tweet accounts that offer this service (and good luck with that, by the fucking way). Or join IAN, or use #iartg. Because if I follow you, in the naive idea that you sound like a real person and not a mindless spam-spewing automaton, and you spurt your advertisements all over my feed, I will personally become VERY unfond of you, and this lack of fondness will be expressed by not buying your product.

Got it? Good.

2) YOUR BLURB IS POORLY WRITTEN.

This, after tweetspam, is my number two turnoff. Seriously, you couldn’t get through two hundred words without slathering crap all over your own project? After this behavior, I have no hope whatsoever for the 90,000 or so words that make up your novel.

Please, when you hit that publish button, make sure your blurb is typo-free, the grammar is good, and you’ve considered your words carefully. I don’t know how important your first sentence is, but your blurb is literally the FIRST TASTE people get of your writing, with no commitment whatsoever already made, so make it count. Most of the books I buy, I buy because the blurb itself sounds like a cut above the rest.

3) PRICE.

I’m sorry, but this is just too true. If I’ve never heard of you and you’re charging $9.99 for an e-book, I better love that sample so much I name my firstborn after it.

People are less willing to pay ‘big’ money for something virtual, folks. After all, they get no physical object to look at, hang on to, pet covetously, etc. Much as I’d like to pretend I’m loaded, there are times I simply can’t afford to pay the five bucks you’re asking for. Or, more accurately–would rather use it for lunch one day. Does this make me a traitor to bookdom? Maybe. But unless you can sell me on it, convince me in a blurb, cover, and sample that I’m about to discover my new favorite book, I’m spending that fiver on a cheeseburger.

I think just about everyone’s heard this by now, but you should probably looking at $2.99 or under for pricing your self-pubbed novel. I stick with the $2.99, myself–anything less feels like giving my work away (which, I may add, I’m not too proud to do semi-frequently), and anything more is unlikely to find an impulse buyer.

And that’s another thing. Your $2.99 indie novel on Amazon? That’s someone’s impulse buy. No one’s plotting that purchase out, saving up the money for it. So keep that in mind as well, when pricing and advertising–what makes this book worth three bucks right the hell now?

4) NOT IN MY GENRE.

Admittedly, there’s not a lot a writer can do about this–but for the record, I’m a pretty dedicated genre reader, and someone working outside of F/SF or the occasional historical fiction is going to have trouble getting my attention.

So make it easy on your readers to classify you. If your book is fantasy, it should look like a fantasy novel. If it’s SF, it should look SF. If it has romance tinges, give me a girl in a corset or whatever sells romance novels. Same with your blurb.

A quick note about covers–contrary to popular wisdom, a bad cover won’t necessarily keep me from reading something–not like a bad blurb will. So, while I recommend a nice looking cover, as should be blatantly obvious to you anyway, I’d pay more attention to the fact that your cover needs to encapsulate what your book is about. Got it? Pretty half-naked people won’t necessarily sell your fantasy novel to someone not looking for a romance read, and the nicest castle at sunset in the world won’t sell it to someone who is.

5) TITLE.

I share a vital fact with you: there are times when I can tell, just from the title, whether or not I’m going to like something. Am I occasionally wrong? Sure. But by that point, the purchase has already been made or not made, and unless that book comes up in my aimless internet wanderings again, I’m unlikely to think twice about it.

The titles that grab my attention most, actually, are short and original, but still understandable– J. Zachary Pike’s Orconomics (which is an awesome book, by the way, and one you should read if you’re a fan of fantasy satire) got me on title alone. I mean, what a great title. It suggests the fantasy nature of the book, hints at humor, lets me know up front that this author can at least come up with some on point compound words.

A title should, in VERY few words, let me know what it is I’m going to read. Think about that, when naming your work–is the very TITLE of your book advertising to the people you want reading it?

So there you go. A brief look at what makes me buy things. Really, the long and short of this post is: is the small amount of explanation you’re allowed to do on your book’s Amazon page reaching out to the people you want to buy that book? Maybe that’s people like me–I hope it is, I need some new reads–and maybe it’s not. At any rate, market it to your intended audience. Don’t just blather it out into the ether.

It’s Night Time, And Things Keep on Bumping.

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I know, I know, It’s so CHEAP how I do these excerpts instead of writing a post when I’m tired. But I don’t want you guys to forget about me. And you seem to be enjoying this story. So. More Day Brothers for you. The story is beginning to come together, so hold on to the seat of your pants, or whatever it is you do when a story comes together.

If you missed the earlier parts, here they are:

TTGBitN I
TTGBitN II
TTGBitN III

Woo! When I do the next one, I can use a V! Excitement!

*****

“I don’t know if this is such a great idea,” Derek said, as they frantically piled the dirty dishes in the sink. “I mean, he’s a giant, and he’s got pointed teeth. Does that sound like one of the good guys, to you?”

“Of course it doesn’t. I’m not stupid, Der.”

“And the house is filthy.”

“Well, we can’t help that. As long as Dad’s around, it’s never going to be clean and we might as well not bother. Besides, Mom said to do this. And Mother,” he added gloomily, “always knows best.”

“Course she does,” Derek agreed. “It’s hard not to, when you’ve seen it all play out. But she doesn’t always mean what we think she meant, you know? Remember Alston Street?”

“Ugh,” said Deacon, finding a stash of forks in the living room with week-old mashed potatoes still clinging to the tines. “We really need to get working and clean this place for real, at some point. And yes, Derek. I remember Alston Street. But we still did exactly what Mom said, and it still worked out. Sort of.”

“I almost lost a finger.”

“Well, that’s what you get when an unquiet spirit’s throwing knives. She never said it would be easy.”

“She never does,” Derek said gloomily.

There was a thunderous rapping on the door.

“That’s him,” said Derek, shoving a dirty dish towel into the overflowing trash can. “He’s about knocked the door off.”

They left the filthy kitchen for the unswept and unmopped foyer. A vase of yellow roses, left over from Madame Day’s passing, sat calcifying on the side table, still whole under a layer of dust.

“Hmm,” their visitor said, as they both moved back to accommodate his bulk. “I take it your business doesn’t do well enough to account for maid service.”

“Yes,” Deacon said. “Well. We’ll take some tea on the porch.”

Derek led the large man back out onto the porch, and would, Deacon fervently prayed, let him have the sturdiest of the old rocking chairs. Deacon made tea in Mama Day’s old kettle and poured it into the only three clean mugs he could find. After a moment’s thought, he grabbed a box of crackers from the pantry and emptied it onto a plate.

The cabinet door, which he had left open, abruptly slammed shut. Deacon’s sixth sense began to tingle unpleasantly.

“Shit,” said Deacon.

The doors of all the cabinets began slamming shut unaided, in an odd synchronized flow of noise. One of the clean mugs lifted itself up and slammed abruptly back to the table, sloshing steaming tea all over Deacon and the newspapers piled beside him.

“Dammit, Dad,” Deacon ground out. “We have a client in the house. Stop it.”

The mug lifted up again. This time, it slammed down so hard it shattered.

“Dad,” Deacon said.

Neither Day brother knew how they knew the old house’s poltergeist was their long departed father. Maybe it was the slamming sounds he made on the staircase late at night, reminiscent of their father’s heavy tread. Maybe it was the way he had found the old box of seventies Playboys up in the attic and dumped them all over the sunroom floor.

Maybe it was the scent that lingered after his apparitions–a combination of sweat, English Leather, and drain cleaner. It was their father’s scent, a smell Deacon associated with childhood Christmases and going to the fair. With childhood.

It was not, however, something he liked associating with mischievous ectoplasmic manifestations in his own home. Especially not ones that made more of a mess than he did.

Deacon and Derek’s father had died fifteen years ago. A heart attack at night, sudden and unexpected. He’d been fairly young–only forty eight–and Deacon imagined he’d left a lot of things unsaid and undone.

Whatever he’d left unsaid and undone, however, he’d seemed perfectly fine with–at least, until Mama Day passed away. Deacon supposed he, much like his sons, had been willing to wait until the afterlife to venture forward, when the coast should’ve been clear.

The sugar bag hovered above the table.

“Don’t,” Deacon said. “Jesus. Please don’t–”

The sugar bag upended itself.

“Dammit, Dad.” He went for the broom and the dustpan.

When he came back, a single word had been traced in the sugar with an invisible finger.

DANGER.

“Huh,” said Deacon. He’d never tried communicating with it before, other than yelling when things started slamming and getting spilled. Mom had always said there was no reasoning with poltergeists, and there had never been any reasoning with Donald Day, anyway.

Maybe it was time to try.

“The man out front,” Deacon said slowly. “Is he what’s dangerous?”

There was silence in the wrecked kitchen. Deacon’s sixth sense, cultivated since toddlerhood, informed him something was waiting, gathering its strength.

Slowly, a shaky line appeared under the word DANGER.

“Should we help him? C’mon, Dad. Give me something I can use here.”

But there was no answer. The spirit, Deacon’s sixth sense informed him, was gone.

Sighing, Deacon swept up the sugar and deposited it, after some consideration of the overflowing trash recepticle, in the sink. He ran the water until it was gone, gone, gone.

He went back outside, balancing the plate of crackers on top of the two remaining mugs of tea.

To his surprise, his svelte brother and the overtattooed giant seemed to be having a pleasant conversation, sitting side by side in their rocking chairs. The giant had his phone in his hand, and was showing Derek something on it.

“Ah,” Derek said, when he saw Deacon. “There you are! Took you long enough. Pass me one of those mugs, and take a look at this. Ivan, d’you need cream or sugar?”

Ivan. Of course the seven foot tall bald man was named Ivan.

“I take it plain,” Ivan said. The man’s voice, though deep, was strangely mild, strangely cultured. “Thank you, Mr. Day.”

“Just call me Deacon,” Deacon said. “It gets confusing, otherwise.”

“Ah. Yes.” The man fiddled with his phone. ‘At any rate, Mr…Deacon. My organization and I have been in pursuit of an item wrongfully stolen from us for quite some time. We tracked it down, a few days ago, to a small independently run convenience store downtown. We sent one of our best young men to claim it. This is the video his spotter sent me of what happened.”

Deacon watched the video. He blinked, watched it again.

It made no more sense the second time around than it had the first. A middleaged woman, cheeks obviously over-rouged even in the grainy video, got out of her car in a faceless dim alley. She was carrying a lockbox under one arm. A young man–Ivan’s ‘best young man’, he assumed–approached her, holding a firearm that looked like it belonged in a dystopian science fiction flick. He gestured at her, yelled something. The woman, surprised, dropped the lockbox.

And that was where it got weird.

A door behind the woman’s car opened. The woman whirled, stared, just as though there were something in the empty doorway. She yelled something.

And then, like a cherry on the chocolate sundae of weirdness he was observing, the young man began to float a few feet in the air. He shook, dropped his weapon. Looked like he was about to beg for something.

And, promptly, imploded.

It was the only word Deacon could think of. Something blurred, violent, and too quick to see clearly happened, and then the young man started shrinking, like a sponge ball crammed into something entirely too small to hold it. His features underwent several physically impossible transitions, mouth twisted in agony, until they were at last obscured by a fine fountain of red.

In the end, there was nothing left of him but dust.

“Jesus,” Deacon whispered. “What the fuck was that?”

“Language, Mr. Day,” said the seven foot monster currently stuffed into one of his rocking chairs.

Deacon kept watching, fascinated. The woman, with shaking hands, lit a cigarette. She was talking to someone, someone it looked like she trusted.
Talking to someone who wasn’t, for all practical intents and purposes, there.

Deacon watched it one more time. On the third try, it sunk in.

“Vampires,” he breathed. “Holy…heck. You guys found a vampire.”

“You sound very surprised.”

“I am. Vampires’re tough to catch in the wild, and they generally don’t like to be found, which makes it even tougher than it is already.” Deacon paused the video at a spot where the young man was dangling in the air, feet limp, staring with eye-popped terror at something none of his observers could see. “They’re not as evil as their reputation, maybe, but they’ll fight hard to protect their privacy. I don’t mean to question your credentials, Ivan. But whatever group you’re a part of, are you sure you’re ready to mess with vampires?”

Ivan pointed to something on the screen. His finger was about as wide as the phone itself, so it was hard to make out precisely what he was pointing at.

“Erm,” said Deacon. “You might have to…narrow things down for me.”

Sighing, Ivan plucked a pen from his jacket pocket and pointed with that. It wasn’t the young man, and it wasn’t his weird gun, glinting forgotten from under a dumpster.

It was the lockbox.

“There’s something in there,” Ivan said slowly, locking eyes with each Day brother in turn. “Something extremely dangerous. I’ll admit, my dear friends, that we aren’t precisely a charitable organization–I’ll admit that my employers are far from charitable men. But the thing in this box must not find its way out into the population. Charity or no, my employers recognize full well when they are part of an ecosystem, and do not wish it to change.”

The giant’s eyes were utterly sincere. It was frightening, Deacon reflected, what fear in the eyes of a seven foot tall man could mean.

“Unfortunately,” Ivan continued, “it would be…somewhat difficult…for our men to approach this vampire, given the nature of our employment. But you, perhaps, could do it. And the vampire is not, we think, a full vampire–we think he is a fledgling, one not yet born into the full ways of the undead. We do not particularly care if he lives or dies. We only want the box.”

“Have you considered just asking him?” Derek asked. He didn’t look any happier about this than Deacon felt.

“That is,” Ivan began. Deacon got the distinct sense he wanted to finish with the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, but was far too polite. “Impossible.”

“Of course,” Derek said. “You can’t ever just ask for something.”

“The thing in the box,” Deacon said slowly, ignoring his brother. “I suppose we can’t know what it is, then?”

The giant’s smile was surprisingly gentle, for a smile full of pointed teeth. “No,” he said. “It’s better, we think, if the world never knows.”

Deacon looked down at Ivan’s phone again. He had frozen the video in such a way that the young man seemed suspended in midair by a cloud of pure violence, energy and dust and gore.

He then looked up. He looked at the porch with its peeling paint, the weathered old rockers, the front door bowed half out of its lintel, its cracked panes of Victorian glass. He looked at his brother, whose sweater could use some darning and whose jeans were developing holes. Whose coffee mug was chipped, and from a thrift store and said ‘#1 GRANDPA’ in patchy block caps.

DANGER, eh?

Well, they were used to danger.

“What,” he asked, “is in it for us, if we do this?”

Ivan seemed to have been expecting this question–he smiled slightly, waved for momentary patience, walked back out to the driveway at the side of the house, where Deacon assumed he had parked.

He returned with a black leather briefcase, of the variety Deacon usually associated with drug deals in nineties action movies. He balanced it on the porch railing and popped the locks.

He lifted the lid.

“Holy shit,” Derek said softly.

Inside, packed in neat little wrappers, were row after row of hundred dollar bills, from one end of the case to the next.

“Once we’ve discussed terms,” Ivan said, “would you like a ten percent advance?”

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.”

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)