I’m guest-blogging over at the lovely Martine’s digital house–on horror and the question:
“How can you write this stuff and not get screwed up?”
Sitting with a friend, watching horror flicks, everyone angrily heckling the protagonists’ every ill choice—and then realizing we had made the exact same mistakes the night before, getting our characters killed during a session of a horror-themed roleplaying game.
So let this be a public service message:
This Halloween season, take it easy on them horror protagonists. They’re having a rough go of it. And perhaps—just perhaps—the critical thinking skills of someone having a hatchet swung at their head differ from the critical thinking skills of someone sitting comfortably on a couch eating pumpkin pie.
P.S. If you find yourself in a horror film, don’t look in the mirror. Seriously. What good can come of that?
fairy tales, goblins, halloween, hicory dickory dock, horradorable, micro-fiction, nursery rhymes, peter piper, pickled punks, princes and the frog, princess, pumpkin patch, pumpkins, red riding hood, the big bad wolf, twitter fiction, witches
I like twitter fiction. It’s a good exercise for packing in lots of story in tight spaces (which is important at my job, writing video game dialogue in tiny boxes). Also, arbitrary restrictions are the mother-hubbard of creativity. Give me an infinite vacuum and my eyes dilate, and I float about the room with no purpose. Give me restrictions or complications and my creative problem-solving skills get primed. The itchy-itchy sand grain forms the pearl. Find an irritant, and it will make you write things you might not normally have written. A 120 character coffin to cram in is a nice irritant. Here are some bits of twitter fiction I’ve written, on the theme of fractured fairy tales, nursery rhymes, and the like:
- The clock ate the mouse. Patient is the clock. Waiting is the clock. Churning gore greased gears. Hickory. Dickory. Dock.
- Peter Piper picked a penny to pay to peek upon a pack of pickled punks and promptly puked at the presentation of misspent spunk.
- “I swear my first born to thee.” The goblin trades me the glowing key. I then go to my second errand of the day: a vasectomy.
- Little Dead Wolf-Head Hood walks to grandma’s house, stained axe in hand. Nobody calls her by her old name. Not anymore.
- They gather once a year at the pumpkin patch, pick goblins in embryo, trade grimoire recipes and gourd-hatching tips. Then, fly away.
- “Have to go or I’ll turn to a pumpkin,” she said. We laughed. Made out. Then she cried, rolling down the hill, leaving me alone. Again.
- Wanted a prince. Kissed a frog. Transformation. Consummation. I can feel our thousand young grow under the mucous-slick of my new body.
Did you have a merry Halloween, lovelings?
Did you all hail to the pumpkin song?
Did you recall youth in the cinnamon scents and the sticky sweat/saliva seal of a rubber mask?
Did you look at a Jack O’ Lantern and contemplate metaphors for inner light and the power of a wicked grin?
Did you find the that fine line between a joyous sugar comma and acute diabetes?
I had a night of it, here in Oslo, dressed as a mad-goggled Jack the Ripper. But I still miss Halloween back at home, with friends, in Ray Bradbury’s October Country. Perhaps there will be pics to come. I did manage to snap a few, not in full costume, before I collapsed at about 5 am.
All Saints Day
Right. Back to work.
Today is All Saints Day.
Today is Day of the Dead.
Today was the first day of serious work on polishing my horror novel, Strangeness in the Proportion. The Prologue of the novel begins on the Day of the Dead. So this all seems fitting.
What’s funny is going back and doing research after the fact. I know of the Day of the Dead and have a pretty good general idea of it (one class trip, in junior high involved heading to Chicago during the holiday and checking out a Latin culture art exhibit on the Day of the Dead…it was a memorable trip). But I’m not an expert. In said Prologue, I have some children eating sugar-spun skulls as a bit of imagery (seems like something to do during the Day of the Dead). I’ve since looked it up and found out that…not only are such skulls plausible…they exist.
It’s all connected!
Today was mostly more organization and shoving this freaking book back into my head space. I’ll start racking up a real word count either tomorrow or Tuesday. I have about 100,000 odd words to sift through. My strategy is to sprint through the novel in the first 3 weeks, make the corrections that come to me (or that I’ve noted in the meantime) without dwelling and then taking a week to look at the book as a whole and make further adjustments from there.
Stay tuned for more hints on the misadventures of Simon Meeks, my absinthe addicted, Buster Keaton-stepping, hyper-eccentric forensic pathologist.
I preach death to self-doubt…but that’s not because I’ve purged myself of that insidious demon. To the contrary. Earlier today I felt very small and useless. That’s an ongoing battle. And so….
…the self-doubt kill of the day: I covered the monster in honey and buried it in a fire ant hill. Self-Doubt screamed and begged for mercy. I put in my earbuds and drowned it out with some Danny Elfman and "Thriller", and got to work. Before it died, Self-Doubt mouthed, “I’ll be back.” I told it that’s ok, I’ve got a prodigious and wicked imagination.
*The Belated Demon Doll of Key West*
I promised to retell the story of how I met Robert, the reputedly possessed doll of Key West. Sorry I couldn’t get to it for Halloween, but I’ll do my best to properly tell the anecdote by this coming weekend.
Happy pumpkin season and witching hour.
Remember to follow the Ignus Fatuus glow.
And ask Stingy Jack for a lantern.
Once upon a time, I won a novel contest. Many and many a year ago…
And now that’s finally heading towards fruition. My editor contacted me. White Wolf has given the go on continuity and such. Time to dig out the current draft of the manuscript…shove it back into my head…
November, which is NanoWrimo month, will see me on my own novel scramble. I’ll be polishing about 100,000 words (give or take). Conan dialogue writing by day and novel by night.
“All work and no play…makes Jack a dull boy.”
Thankfully I won’t have time to type that all over a page or on the walls or ceiling. That never leads to anything good anyway. Though I can make pretty nifty faces threw axe-holes in doors. But I digress.
What’s it about?
Well, while writing twitter-sized micro stories (140 characters a story) I did manage to distill it down to six little sentences:
I met Jane D. at work. She tells me who hurt her. Her hand tightens around mine. She smiles. This is love. This is rigor mortis.
Also…going over my notes…I did manage to find this handy, sophisticated, visual-plot flowchart that outlines the many nuances of the novel.
That’s all for now. Check back for more. I’ll surface from the pile of writing from time to time over the month, to update you all on the gory particulars of an unraveling mind and a deadline. Good luck on all of you participating in NanoWrimo. Keep me updated. I’ll keep you updated. And we’ll all get out of this alive.
Remember, carpal tunnel is the enemy. Stretch! Limber up.
And self-doubts are little imps best brutalized with pipe wrenches, chainsaws, and falling anvils that you create in your head. It’s not enough to just say they’re dealt with. You really gotta anthropomorphize them and imagine brutally slaying them.
I want to start hearing you all comparing self-doubt kills of the week in bloody detail. I want the kill counts to wrack up with the word counts. Splatter those pages with gory ink!
Do or die!
I was arrested on charges of journal neglect.
And conspiracy to commit journal neglect.
And general slothdom.
And polygamy. But those charges were dropped as authorities discovered that my wives were all well over the legal age, and all in my head. Too soon?
I agreed to a plea bargain. This includes regular use of this blog as well as other stipulations, like riding a bike from Chicago to New York next September (more on that in a future post).
In the time between posts, we’ve gone all the way from pumpkin patch season to It’s-colder-than-a-witch’s-mamary-gland season.
A Parrot-Head Looks at Fifty
My Dad had his 50th birthday bash in October. It was quite the revel. Drinks and family and friends and a live band, and various forms of tropical dress. You could read the happy and the celebration written on his face (he deserves more good-spiritted debauchery more often). I got to wear my pirate hat which makes me happy (this sentence might imply that I get to wear it rarely…but that’s not true…I’m wearing it right now…ask me what else I’m wearing…).
By the bye, if you happen to be reading this and you have pictures of that night, and you emailed them to me, then I would be in your debt. If you’re reading this and you do not have those photos, then no worries. If you have the photos but are not reading this, then I guess you won’t get the message. If you are reading this and you have the photos, but suddenly stopped reading, then
Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book, and Ghost Stories by Fire Light
On October 2nd, I was able to go see Neil Gaiman do a reading from a chapter of his latest book, The Graveyard Book. T’was a good reading. T’was a good book (sweet and macabre…like me). And t’was just the right time of year.
Hungry for more, my brother (Nick) and I began holding audio fiction sessions in the backyard, on the deck, by the woods. We’d ignite the fire pit, drink Dunk n’ Donuts coffee and/or hot cider laced with rum, puff a cigarillo or two, and listen October themed fiction and audio performances from my iPod’s growing library (it’s a hungry little bugger).
Our friend, Dori, joined us one night and, to our surprise, really liked it. He had never listened to a single, solitary bit of audio fiction…and he was hooked after one session, practically begging us to continue after we were ready to quit. I mean he’s really Jonesing for this sh!%. It’s refreshing, actually, in this age of multi-multi-multi-mind numbing media—crack for the ears, heroin for the eyes—how excited he was to discover this new form of entertainment, noting how vivid the visuals came to his mind while he stared at the fire, how rejuvenated he felt after listening to a story, how meditative the experience was.
So he made it a pretty regular habit—stories by the fire—occasionally pausing the pod to hear the coyotes going nuts, likely over some kill, in the not too distant distance.
Score one for literacy.
Being read to is a very special ritual. Too many give it up after childhood.
For Halloween, a dozen friends and I hit the bars dressed as the heroes in the Justice League of America. As luck would have it, the first bar had Batman’s entire rogues gallery of villains. We got to threaten and shit-talk each other for hours. Awesome.
More photos to come, but here’s a peek:
Pre-Nativity Night Terrors
My article about The Nightmare Before Christmas 3D found a home over at Killer-Works. It’s a great site and email newsletter on all things frightening and strange. Go check it out.
Trading My Pirate Hat For a Viking Helmet?
I’m applying like crazy for writing jobs. If my debt is the Nothing—then I am Atreyu, holding on to a tree, feet off the ground, trying not to get sucked in. Still, I’m holding out on hope for a job that actually interests me and uses some of the skills I spent all that money to get he documentation that says I have them. The latest job submission was to a video game company in Norway. They liked my resume and writing samples enough to send me a little writing test. I sent that off to them on Friday. We’ll see what happens.
Bookmarks, bookmarks, bookmarks
Some internet bookmarks of interest:
I wrote this movie review last year, for a potential movie review gig. It’s about that time of the year again…so I thought I’d share:
You Know what I mean?
Basements are low, dank, and darksome,
Halloween’s buried there . . .”
“. . . There the terror is pure.
There an All Hallows grave
Can save souls that might smother
From calm dad or sweet mother.”
—Ray Bradbury, “In-Between: A Halloween Poem”
Ray Bradbury is a storyteller who knows why Halloween, spooks, and frights are important—so is Tim Burton, and he beautifully illustrates the point in his mismatched holiday classic, The Nightmare Before Christmas, now re-released in theaters, for the second year, in 3D. Certainly, the denizens of Halloweentown know, singing, “Life’s no fun without a good scare.”
The story is simplistic, but the best fairytales are. Jack Skellington, the monarch of Halloween, grows bored with scares and screams and seeing the new challenges and excitement of Christmas, commands his subjects to help him take over the execution of that holiday. Not plot driven, Nightmare is a heady visual draught, a Halloween dream woven in images and moods. Roger Ebert praised the original release of the film, saying its creators “made a world here that is as completely new as the worlds we saw for the first time in such films as Metropolis, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or Star Wars.” And indeed, the visuals are so unique that “Burtonesque” is now in the cinema lexicon. The new 3D element makes this phantasmal world even more immersive.
Burton has stated that inspiration came to him at a store changing out the Halloween merchandise for Christmas displays: the juxtaposition of ghouls and Santa—and the best images of the film are the ones mixing Christmas and Halloween, the delightful and the ghastly: a coffin shaped sleigh led by skeletal reindeer, Christmas lights strung about an electric chair, and in no other movie have I seen a character try and discover the true meaning of Christmas by dissecting a teddy bear.
This is what Burton does; he mixes horror and humor and somehow makes it innocent through his favorite medium, the misfit. These elements come together in one of my favorite scenes: Sally, an animated rag doll and secret admirer of Jack, prepares a gift basket for the Pumpkin King and makes ready to escape her abusive creator. Opening the window, she looks wistfully towards Jack’s house, then jumps, crashing several stories below, her body breaking into pieces. Then, just as wistfully, the way a lovesick teenager might pick petals off a lily, she sews herself back together and heads for Jack’s. It’s a neat bit of dialogue-free storytelling. In any other movie, this would have been a tragic scene—a teen suicide for unrequited love. Instead, Burton makes the scene sweet and he does so using the very element that makes it macabre: the fact that Sally is an undead doll that can put herself back together.
Forgiving the simple plot, I have only one complaint: at 76 minutes, I would have liked a little longer to further develop Jack and Sally’s relationship or maybe better develop the villain, Oogie Boogie. I would attribute the short runtime to the extensive and tedious process used to create the stop motion animation (a week’s worth of work reaped only a minute’s worth of film).
After 14 years, the film has aged well, looking dated neither technically nor in style. Actually, pop culture has caught up to its sardonic and subversive tones. For proof, note that the film was originally released under Touchstone Pictures (a division of Disney) for fear that it was too dark for children. In the 2006 3D release (as well as this year), The Nightmare Before Christmas was shown under the Disney banner. For further proof, walk into a Spencer’s or Hot Topic store—there is more Nightmare merchandise circulating than ever and a whole new generation of teenagers have made its cast of monsters into a misfit pantheon (with Jack Skellington at the head).
The media is faster and more fickle than ever. However we also live in a time when canceled TV shows and sleeper films can find a second life, resurrected by the necromancy of cult fans and DVD sales. People walk around with T-shirts featuring their favorite characters from 80s video games. Media fades, but iconic images endure, and Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is teeming with them.
Sleep is the wife that I neglect for things like work and other pursuits. She isn’t pleased. She says we never spend any quality time together anymore. Even when I do manage to get her in my embrace, it’s always fitful, never very deep, and rarely lasts long. She always stalks off, leaving me alone, red eyed and clutching a pillow. She’s threatening to divorce me for good . . .
Let’s see…it’s been awhile—what’s gone on in the last month:
Flattery Will Get You Nowhere
On Wednesday, I had to pull yet another 33 hour 3rd-shift/day-job/3rd-shift day. During the day I subbed for a friend, teaching an after-school magic class. I was told the kids were “wild”…but the children turned out great. They were wild because they were very young (the youngest I’ve taught), but they were just very enthusiastic. Many were actually trying to be helpful. I even found two of the little girls waiting outside the room when I left—they were worried I might get lost. It was the most fun and easy $100 for an hour of work.
That night, I sat on the sofa, somewhere between sleep and wakefulness, watching Boston Legal with my parents to pass the very short hour before I had to go to 7-11 for the night shift. I’d been awake for well over 20 hours. I wasn’t happy.
My mom got up to get a drink. “You have a cute ass,” my Dad said.
“I appreciate it,” I said, groggy and gloomily, “But, man….that’s just not cheering me up.”
Bubbles and Bullets
The weekend before Halloween I got to visit my goddaughter, Reese Her grandfather took me and her daddy out shooting his handguns. I don’t have much experience with guns. But, as it turns out, I’m a pretty good shot and did the best that day. Afterwards I got to play in the bubbles with Reese and her mother gave me the coolest Halloween card ever.
I had to work Halloween night
The weekend after Halloween, I did manage to go to a Halloween party at Jerry and Robb’s apartment. I went as the great pumpkin. My mask never came in the mail…so I had to get creative with make-up. I didn’t manage to get any pictures…other than these webcam shots (the makeup was a bit smeared by then and I didn’t have the costume on):
Of Music and Memories
A friend and neighbor, John, died just over a week ago, suddenly and unexpectedly of some sort of heart problem. He was only 53. I got the call about it just before going to bed, after the 3rd shift. My family and I rushed over to his house for any emotional support we could offer his wife, Deb. The police had to shoo us out right away, though, as the coroner hadn’t even been there by the time we arrived.
His wake was a few days later. My little sister, Danielle had never seen a dead person before and I think it weirded her out a bit. A lot of people came out. John touched a lot of lives. He’d told me stories about his wild days working at a ranch and entertaining. He always wanted to sit down with me and put those stories to pen and paper. Meeting him later in life, these exploits were just stories for me…until I saw some of those character manifested at his wake. For music, they just plugged in John’s iPod. I think this was a good move. It was his music. I was impressed how an iPod could become a sacred reliquary of someone’s life. Another neighbor made a touching speech about John, about how he and Deb had a big family with lots of other siblings (the other neighbors on the block) and a lot of kids (us neighbor kids growing up on the block). Deb pulled me aside at one point to tell me how proud he always was of me.
There’s more to type . . . but not in the scope of this entry. Maybe later—all the normal clichés this type of thing inspires. But I hate to be cliché…I might have to filter the sentiments through odd, metaphorical characters—maybe in this case it would be dialogue between a living vampire pumpkin and manic-voiced anthropomorphic personification of nostalgia (in this case, personified by a talking pogo stick with a chicken leg and rabbit head). Maybe.
I’ll really miss John come the next Buffett concert.
I have a tremendous compulsion to keep my iPod updated.
7-11 No More
On a particularly impulsive Wednesday, I quit 7-11. I’m going to write my novel full time, for the next couple months, get that done and work on fixing my shattered sleep cycle. I’ll worry about regular work after that.
Book of Dead Things: A Nomination
On November 25th, I and some of my fellow anthology authors did a live reading and book signing at Café Aeon, for our book, Book of Dead Things. It was fun. We sold a few books. I love doing live readings and Café Aeon is a great place to do them (the other authors agreed). And now a few copies of Book of Dead Things can be found on the cafe’s shelves.
Also, over at Dark Scribe Magazine, Book of Dead Things was nominated for Best Dark Genre Fiction Collection. If you click the link and register, you can vote for us (come on! do it!!!).
Danielle got the job as princess at Medieval Times! She’ll start up sometime in January. You should go there, eat without utensils, and cheer my sis on.
Me and Sleep are getting along a little better. She’s even shared the same bed with me a little. I told her we might get therapy. Maybe there’s hope for us after all.
Preambles in Latex and Body Piercings
October, a month of Halloween is here. So I got started. Watched Young Frankenstein.
But there is still much to be done.
Tonight it’s ghost stories at Volo Bog. Double check.
The other day, I was too resltess to sleep after 3rd shift and then after the sun rose, so I went for a walk-about at the bog. I got to see a group of Sandhill Cranes. They are very large birds, taller and larger than Great Herons. They look something like a pterodactyl when they fly and sound something like a dinosaur when they call. As they should. They are very primordial birds, the oldest known species, having existed for some 6 million years.
Last night I visited GothicFest, with Sophia, at Excalibur Night Club. It’s the right sort of night club for that kind of event. It was interesting. I wear black. I like grinning skulls on my person…but I don’t know if I fit into the “Goth” scene, exactly (sub-genres—industrial, emo, etc.—are tedious little things, so I’ll skip them). But one black bird roosting with a bunch of other black birds looks about the same, and they caw and I caw, but in the end, I think I’m on my own little branch. Or maybe that’s the illusion we all like to maintain.
I saw strange and interesting sights and met strange and interesting people. Some where funny, some freaky, some took themselves far too seriously, and some were eccentrically charming. Most were actually pretty kind and inviting.
I did see something I hadn’t seen before. There were performers, bands, singers, DJs, displays, and booths selling dark merchandise (we’ll just assume, from this point, that everything there was “dark” and I can stop using the word). There were piercing booths, body mods, T-Shirts, action figures, post cards, and rubber dresses held up by impossible physics. Then there were book booths: fiction—yes, occultism—yes, dark spirituality (crap…I used the word again)—yes. But beyond this was a booth with fiction books and literary journals and a sign that said: “Cthulhu vs. Jesus (yes, that Jesus)”.
I thought to myself, “ . . .”
Looking further, the sign said something like “An anthology of hardboiled horror, with a Christian twist.” And so, I think, I was introduced to the Christian Goths. Curiouser and curiouser.
Mark those calendars…
On November 3rd, Nick and I will be finishing the Halloween season with a special addition of the Doetsch Brothers Outdoor Theatre…yep, we’ll be dragging the projector and screen out back and screening a marathon of horror flicks. Good, bad, scary, funny, all sorts. More details to come. There will be fire and copious amounts of cocoa and coffee to keep folks warm. Start making movie recommendations.
On November 25th (tentatively at 7:30) there will be a Twilight Tales, Book of Dead Things, reading/signing event at Café Aeon in McHenry. Details to follow (I’m still in the beginning phase of setting this up) but there should be several authors present reading some cool stories about…well…dead things. Come out and give us your support. You can sample Book of Dead Things stories, including mine (“Blood, Snow, and Sparrows”) over at the website.
Baby, I Gotta Get Some Links Off My Chest
Here are some links I’ve been saving, in no particular order or manner . . .