Quitter’s Inc.

Only two posts this month? Let me explain.

I smoked my last cigarette almost ten days ago. Supposedly, I’ve regained the sense of smell I would have had if I never started smoking. I believe it. Being able to smell like a normal person is already terrible.

I keep catching whiffs of things I wouldn’t have noticed before I quit. Napoleon (the dog) suddenly smells like old sweat and dirt. I can sporadically detect the scent of beer even though I haven’t had any drinks in the house in almost two weeks. Suddenly I hate the smell of laundry detergent, so much so I’m having trouble sleeping on pillows which are now obnoxiously fragrant.

Last time I tried quitting I couldn’t focus on anything. This time, my symptoms of withdrawal aren’t bad enough to distract me from my writing (yet). Still, I don’t feel like updating this blog right now (I’d rather punch it right in its goddamned face to be perfectly honest), but I assure you I’m still doing 31 Days of Gore, an October-long film marathon in which I review 31 horror movies in a row.

That’s another reason September was such a slow month: October will be the biggest month for this blog ever.

everything is as irritating as fingernails on a chalkboard lately

I’m worried my blog posts might seem a bit more angry in the near future, and if that’s the case, just remember that’s probably the nicotine junkie talking, not me.


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I have yet to see this or any other trailer for fear of spoilers

In other news, I was browsing OOP (eBay lingo for “out-of-print”) movies the other day and stumbled upon a VHS copy of Sonny Boy, an early 90s exploitation film which features David Carradine playing a transvestite. I remembered reading about it in a Fangoria about a million years ago and was tickled to death to rediscover it. I’ve always wanted to see it (at least during the period of time in which I remembered it) and, thankfully, I won the auction for a little bit less than I was willing to pay.

$8 to see a lost masterpiece like this? Fuck yeah.

10/3/2016 Update:

Sonny Boy is now available on Blu-Ray from Shout Factory.

After a year, the weirdest thing about being a non-smoker is my food cravings. I haven’t gained any weight (that I’ve noticed), but I crave spicy food more than ever now. You’d think I wouldn’t be able to handle it as well now that I’m no longer deadening my tongue with smoke, but my tolerance for heat has steadily gone up.

Strange days

I have a pretty consistent writing habit. A bad day for me is any day which produces fewer than five pages. Lately I shoot for something like twenty and usually average about eight to ten (we’re talking double-spaced, by the way). Every other week or so I have what can only be described as “a really good day.” It’s less about page count and more about my level of satisfaction with the content itself. The kind of satisfaction I’m talking about here typically leads to a higher page count anyway.

random movie trailer courtesy of Youtube… you’re welcome

I’ve just had three really good days in a row. Three good days in which every direction seemed like the right one, three days in which every word I chose didn’t require second guessing. My “this just doesn’t feel like a novel” worries are quickly dissipating. I can’t remember the last time I had three good days in a row. If I had to guess, I’d say never.

Strange days, indeed. (Look, I just need an excuse for posting the Strange Days trailer.)

There have been problems with my novel. I tend to prioritize the big ones: this chapter is too boring; that chapter is too long; if I cut half of this chapter and half of that one and combine the two together it all has a smoother flow, but what the hell do I do with the chapter that was in between? In solving the bigger problems, I inevitably create a mess of smaller ones. That’s the bad news. The good news is I only have small problems left.

Other than video games, this blog is the first thing I ignore when I’m deep in my work. And right now I’m pretty damn deep into it. I’m not superstitious so I don’t mind jinxing myself: I’m pretty sure I’m about to have a fourth good day.

Jurassic World still looks like shit.

2001 Ray Bradbury video is full of writerly advice

This speech is full of good stuff. Right off the bat Bradbury suggests something I wish I would have known when I started writing fiction in my teens: don’t write long in the beginning, but write a ton of short stories. Preferably one per week. At the end of the year, at least one of those stories should be good. “I defy you to write fifty-two bad ones,” he says.
He then goes on to suggest reading a lot of Roald Dahl, Guy de Maupassant, John Cheever, Richard Matheson, Nigel Kneale, Edith Wharton, Katherine Ann Porter, Eudora Welty, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. He calls John Collier “one of the greatest short story writers of this century and you’ve never even heard his name.”

Kilgore Trout is better than Kurt Vonnegut

Some say you can only write a character as smart as yourself, but that’s not true. Meet Webster: he’s a forty-nine year old furniture builder who stuns his small, mountain community when he completes a sixty-three day winning streak on Jeopardy. See? I just made that character and I’m certainly not smart enough to be on Jeopardy. Yet there’s Webster and, as far as I’m concerned, he exists now. So don’t tell me a fictional writer can’t be better at something than his creator.

In my last post I unwittingly referenced Vonnegut. When I realized this it got me thinking about him, even though I haven’t done much of that in nearly a decade. I will concede that I’m a fan of Vonnegut’s short fiction. The Slaughterhouse-Five and Breakfast of Champions deserve their praise for the most part. I loved Timequake, the novel that even his biggest fans tend to dislike. Maybe it’s because the concept scared the shit out of me. Maybe it’s because it’s pure science fiction.

Science fiction writers tend to be bitter about Vonnegut. The guy wrote the stuff, denied what it was, and lived like Tom Wolfe and Gore Vidal. In Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Inferno, the main character wanders the circles of hell when he happens upon Vonnegut’s final resting place, which is a tomb with a big neon sign that reads, “SO IT GOES.” As if the writers’ contention wasn’t clear enough, they have their hero say, “I was writing better than he ever did before I left high school!”

And Vonnegut’s most famous creation (other than himself) is Kilgore Trout, the failed science fiction writer who crafts weirder stuff than Vonnegut does. I have a fondness for Trout that goes deeper than most characters, especially characters who write. He writes a special breed of science fiction with no regard to how inaccessible it is for normal people. On the other hand there are consequences to writing that way. We sense Trout would be a happier person if he wrote mainstream stuff… or if he denied that it was science fiction and managed to gain entry into mainstream literature circles.

I know what you’re thinking now. How could I compare Vonnegut’s writing, which is in every library in the country, to the writing of Kilgore Trout which is more or less ethereal? But Trout’s writing does exist. Let me explain.

While I’m hesitant to say I’m a fan of Vonnegut (although ten years ago I would have had no reservations) I revel in my fanaticism for Philip Jose Farmer. I’m pretty sure a girl broke up with me once because I told her about the plot of Riders of the Purple Sage Wage, which contains incest and pedophilia and about a million other taboos. I love the look of shock on “normal” people’s faces when I tell them about Flesh, in which the main character grows horns and beds literally hundreds of strange women, or when I begin to describe To Your Scattered Bodies Go, which involves every human being who ever lived waking up on Riverworld, a kind of science fictional afterlife which trumps the aforementioned Inferno in every conceivable way.

PJF wrote the kind of fucked-up shit Trout wrote with no regard to how inaccessible it is to people who own SUVs, manicured lawns, and 401ks. Predictably, he was met with relatively little fanfare amongst the general public, although many writers in the genre thought he was brilliant including Harlan Ellison. Apparently Farmer felt a kinship with Vonnegut’s fictional character. It isn’t hard to see why.

Indeed, the story goes that Farmer called Vonnegut and professed his love for Trout. The lesser-known writer begged Trout’s creator to let him write as Kilgore Trout. Vonnegut reluctantly agreed after initially refusing Farmer. The result was Venus on the Half-Shell, which reads a little bit like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but it’s far more insane.

the original books make no references to Farmer or Vonnegut
What happened? Farmer himself reports that Vonnegut got sick of the letters that poured in saying it was the worst thing he had ever written since many people assumed it was actually written by Vonnegut. Perhaps a bigger factor: Vonnegut was pissed off by the amount of people who wrote in saying it was the best thing he had ever written.
I suppose I’m in the camp of people who think it’s better than Vonnegut’s fiction, but I must warn you I love weird SF from that time period. Farmer planned on writing additional novels as Trout, but Vonnegut wouldn’t let it happen. For now, this is it, the only Kilgore Trout book we’re ever going to get. So it goes.

I’m revising my science fiction novel

Revising sucks. Yet that’s what I’m doing for the foreseeable future. That’s why there (probably) won’t be as many updates this week or next.

So there it is, the first draft of Sling (working title), which I wrote between November of 2012 and April of this year. This is uncharacteristic for me to say: I’m proud of this one.

In a nutshell Sling is one of those “galactic empire” war novels. I’m going to call it hard science fiction; although there is FTL travel it’s too complicated and impractical for most people in my story universe to ever take advantage of it. So let’s just say it’s about as hard as Hyperion or Pandora’s Star, just not as long as the latter.

My story Phantasmagoria will be published in Under The Bed

Under the Bed (formerly eHorror) is publishing my short story Phantasmagoria in its August 2013 issue, which should be available here for four bucks. I’ll post a reminder when it’s out.

Phantasmagoria is a dark fantasy story about a couple of teens who get on a haunted house ride at their local amusement park. The ride hangs a right where it normally takes a left and, well, the boy gets lucky… then extremely unlucky.

The homestretch beard is no more and why ebook readers are great for short fiction readers

That’s right. I finished my novel quite a few days ago. Well, the first draft, anyway. If it’s anything like the other novels I’ve written, I’ll put it in a drawer with the intention of dusting it off for revisions later, only to find I don’t give a shit anymore. But it’s not going to be like the other novels I’ve written. I say that every time, sure, and I don’t feel like convincing you, Total Stranger, that this time is any different.

It just is. I know it is.

Right now I have horror stories in me. I feel like that’s what I should work on instead of the planned sequel to the SF novel. Besides, I’ve been reading a hell of a lot more horror than ever before. I find myself picking up horror short fiction rags more than the science fiction ones, which is really unusual for me. Have you read eHorror? I got it through B&N on my tablet. This month’s issue (Vol. 1, No. 8) has a story called “It’s Just Tearing Me All Apart” by O.D. Hegre. It’s described as, “A tale of perverted sexual vengeance.”

Perverted? Yeah, I’d say so. Hell of a good read, too. If you subscribe to the magazine today, through B&N, it’s free for fourteen days. Amazon might offer the same deal. I don’t know. I don’t feel like looking it up because I rarely purchase anything in their ebook store.

Sorry if that sounded like a commercial. I have no affiliation with those people.

That’s the only thing I really like about ebook readers, by the way. As a struggling writer, you always have to read a lot of short fiction. If you buy them at the newstand, you probably can’t afford them because, like I said, there’s the whole struggling-writer thing. I read more short fiction than ever because it’s cheaper than it’s ever been when you subscribe. Is that good for the publishers and the writers? I think so.

The homestretch beard and the possible indie publishing bubble

The novel I began in November took longer than expected because it quickly became apparent it works better as a series rather than a stand-alone book. This was worrisome because the story was intended to be a one-off and I didn’t want to cop-out and pull a “To Be Continued” at the end of the first book. Really, a book ought to stand on its own even if it is part of a bigger story, which means you need a definite conflict and a definite resolution, all in one story. So I worked on some short stories and a screenplay while I thought about ways to make the novel a little more independent. Then a seemingly minor character I had written about earlier in the story came back unexpectedly and, well, everything fits together nicely now.

It’s a standalone story after all.

the homestretch beard

Right now I’m growing my homestretch beard. Whenever I’ve been working on a project for a month or more I tend to neglect shaving towards the end (and sometimes showering, but that’s a different story). I figure I might as well make this an official custom. The beard won’t be shaven until I finish the novel. There just isn’t enough time for being a civilized human when you’re finishing something that’s been in your head the last four or five months. So…

Is indie publishing a bubble right now?

If you ask me the answer is “sort of,” but I’m not an industry analyst and I don’t really “get” economics. I am just a plumber, after all.

Yesterday my friend asked me what I plan on doing with the novel. That’s a good question. My first instinct, upon completing anything, is it should really be published traditionally. My biggest issue with that is the time involved finding a publisher who actually wants to take a chance on my silly little book. Twenty publishers rejected Frank Herbert’s Dune for crying out loud; what does that say about my chances of quick publication? My second biggest issue is this is supposed to be a series… so, uh, if the first one doesn’t sell, who’s to say they’ll ever publish the second one?

Tip #1: Don’t write a series until you’re an established writer.

Not too long ago self-publishing fiction was considered the stamp of an amateur (and rightly so). That’s changed in recent years, sure, but I feel a lot of that is because of ebook readers; the technology is still pretty new and apparently there are a lot of people hungry for as much cheap content as they can get for their new toys (we’re talking 99 cents to $2.99, sometimes even free). But am I really the only person who considers the current generation of ebook readers to be the Atari 2600? There was a lot of thoughtless, cheap content pushed out for Atari and look how that turned out.

The problem is absolutely anybody can pretend to be a writer these days. I could write a piece of shit in a week or two, upload it to Amazon and other markets through Smashwords, then buy five-star reviews off of a website like Fiverr.com. A lot of people are doing just that. When you have delusions of grandeur you can justify being such a slimy weasel: “Hey, I am the shit! I just need to rig the results I know I deserve!”

I spend a lot of time lurking in writing forums. I discovered a lot of amateur writers are churning out a huge catalog of “books” (many of them are only a few pages long) in a matter of months. A lot of these men and women are reporting four-digit monthly incomes that are either growing or holding steady. Each of these masturbatory forum threads attract a lot of attention from other writers who are obviously interested in doing the same. One of these would-be power writers said, “Instead of being a needle in the haystack, the idea is to make so many needles that you have a needle-stack.” Or something to that effect.

They make it sound so easy: get around fifty “books” out there on the market, use a different pseudonym for each genre so people don’t get sick of any one pen name (I imagine readers are getting sick of this shit, anyway), and flood the market with your quickly produced garbage. Then: profit.

This trend just isn’t going to last. The people who are doing it are fucking themselves in the ass and could potentially damage the entire indie publishing scene. Yeah, a lot of people are going to disagree with me, but listen to what I’m really saying: Only publish stuff that’s worth people’s time. Should that sentiment really be so controversial? Just because people are buying this shit now doesn’t mean it’s worth their time.

You may remember that a while ago I released my own independently published novel for free, but the difference was I worked on the sucker for over two years and I planned to sell it once I got enough input. I was also upfront with readers by telling them it was still a work in progress, an experiment. Since then I’ve lost interest in that piece (let’s face it, it wasn’t all that great), but a few hundred people read it and I learned a lot so I’m happy. I used to give short stories away for free, too, but you know what? When I sold my first short story I discovered I enjoyed having an editor and, more than that, I enjoyed getting paid.

No, it’s not all about the money, but my first short story fully paid a utility bill I would have otherwise been late on. Yes, getting money for something you enjoy doing is awesome. That raises another point: people who focus on quantity over quality can’t enjoy doing it, can they? Not only did they not deserve that money, it’s not as satisfying as getting paid for something they enjoyed.

This has all been to say that, like a lot of writers, I really think that indie publishing is going to play a big part in the future. I just think we need to treat it with the respect it deserves. Maybe indie publishing isn’t in a bubble in the traditional sense of the word, but again, all I’m saying is don’t publish shit just because it’s easier to do than ever before.

My plan is to continue publishing short stories the traditional way so I know I’m worth a shit. As for my next novel, I’ll probably publish it myself through Smashwords and Lulu, but only after I’ve hired a professional editor, gotten a decent cover artist, and a ton of beta-reader input.