Monthly Archives: August 2012

My Dad Hit the Nail on the Head, & Now I Will Tell You About It

I brought my 14-year-old to visit my parents today. I owed them a visit because, while I live relatively close to them, I don’t see them a lot. I can give my reasons but it boils down to that I’m an asshole. Not in a mean way, but in an honest way.* I also wanted to bring my daughter there because they love their granddaughter and she’s been in Florida with my sister and her family for over a month. While we were there discussing the end of summer and the beginning of school, my father said to me, “You haven’t been doing much writing lately, huh? You haven’t had much published in a while.”

My response was the normal one that someone who works real hard to produce quality product gives. I’ve been working on this one project and it’s difficult and blah blah blahblahblah… Bottom line: Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither is fiction.

It took several hours and some alone time to realize: He’s right. Yes, I have spent nearly every day this summer working on the current novel–editing, revising, rewriting, re-rewriting, more editing, etc. Yes, I have several ideas and other projects in various beginning stages. But what does any of that matter? For you, the reader, only really cares about what’s in hand right now.

I’m a huge fan of Stephen King (duh…). I own every commercial book he’s produced. I have read them all, several of them multiple times. I’m excited that he has the Hard Case Crime novel Joyland as well as Dr. Sleep, which is the sequel to The Shining, coming out next year. And while I’m thankful that he continues to work and is probably revising both projects as I write this, I just can’t wait for the books to fall into my grubby little hands.

I also love Harlan Ellison’s work. Despite owning quite a bit of it, there’s plenty I don’t own, of those things I own, there’s plenty I have yet to read. So for me, he doesn’t have to publish anything new right now, I have plenty to go back to.

Same with Joyce Carol Oates, John Irving, John Steinbeck, Dan Simmons, Neil Gaiman, John Little, and many others. I have catching up to do. If their working, or are dead and can no longer work, what is it to me? As long as I can get my paws on those books. But once I’m caught up…gimme dat ting!

So even though I spend more time in this desk chair than is probably healthy. Even though I work at least 2 hours a day writing, the readers don’t care. They only care about what they can get their hands on. Which is why I have a blog. It’s a little something, anyway. And it’s why I’m doing my damndest to get this goddamn novel finished this year. I want it in your hands. I also want to go and work on the ever-growing list of other stories I want to tell. So those can appear in your hands.

So thank you, Dad, for helping me see the light better than anyone else could have.

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* The main reason is that I lose track of time. I’m horrible with time, which is why I wear watches and have clocks and calendars everywhere. What feels like a week to me may actually be a month. This can be bad when communicating with people. I mean to return a message only to realize three weeks have passed since I received it but it only feels to my like a week, week-and-a-half. Like I said, I’m an asshole. About time in this instance.

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Pawn Stars, Facts, & the Death of True Reality

I’m not a big reality TV kinda guy. Yes, I’ve had my guilty pleasures, but generally I’m not that interested. I spent some time with The Deadliest Catch but felt the season that Captain Phil died was a perfect time to move on. However, I have to admit, I really like the shows American Pickers and Pawn Stars on the History Channel. This is because I enjoy seeing people’s collections. It’s the same thing that makes me enjoy antique shops and flea markets (though I almost never go to either). There is something that bugs about the shows, though, especially Pawn Stars.

For those who are more intellectual than I am, the premise of Pawn Stars is this: A large pawn shop in Las Vegas is owned and operated by some interesting people. There’s Pop, the patriarch who is like Mr. Toad mixed with The Godfather; his son Rick, who seems to be the one really running the business now (and my favorite on the show); his son, whose name I’m too lazy to look up, but who seems to me to be too lazy to make a life of his own and, while a smart guy, a little too overconfident and not the man his father is; and the kid’s best friend, Chumley, who is borderline retarded with moments of pure genius. People will come into the pawn shop with an item that they usually want to sell, and because the show is on the History Channel, there’s usually something special about the item. You get the sense that the employees that hover in a blur in the background are the ones pawning the losers’ girlfriends radios so he can hit the Black Jack table one…last…time. So a customer comes in with an item and gives it to one of the stars, we’ll go with Rick. Rick will look at it, assess it, and talk about the history of such objects. If it’s something that’s outside his knowledge, he calls in an expert who will come in, shed more light on the object, and give a price they believe, with all their experience, that it’s worth. Kind of like what Antiques Roadshow had been doing for a decade before this show hit.

Because the customer has chosen to bring their item to a pawn shop, Rick (or whomever) cannot give the customer what the item is worth, because the store is meant to make a profit. For instance, last night I saw an episode where a woman brought in an item (I forget what it was), that she wanted no less than $5,000 for. The expert comes and assesses it for $200-$250. Rick offers her $100. She asks for  $1,000. He reiterates $100. She declines and walks away. In the interview she gives the cameraperson outside, she tells us that his offer was an “insult” and that even though the expert said is was only worth $200-$250, she knew it was worth far more than that.

If this was an isolated incident, there’d be nothing to write about. You and I could laugh it off and go our separate ways saying, “Whattama-roon!” But it’s not an isolated incident. Almost every episode has one person who believes that their item is really worth all the riches one could imagine and refuses to believe either the people who run the pawn shop or their experts who come in to help.

This is troubling. In an election year, especially. Being intelligent people, we’ve already had this conversation, how more and more people are putting their opinions ahead of the facts–or worse, their beliefs in front of facts. I just happened upon this obituary for Fact this morning (which was perfect because I’d planned to write this piece this morning). It’s a great satirical piece by Rex W. Huppke. The finger is pointed to all the usual places: 24-hour news channels, the internet, blogs, etc.

My question is: When does it end? We have states who are going with their own textbooks because they don’t like the facts presented in actual textbooks. We have politicians on all sides creating their own facts to sway the voters to vote where they want. We have people who ignore that most of the gun violence that takes place happens with legally purchased guns or stolen guns that were purchased legally, and may god damn the person who tries to take their guns away or make the purchase of them more difficult. We have people denying rights to others because of bigoted beliefs that are more akin to the 19th century than the 21st. And even when the facts are presented, people will refute, they will fight, they will argue, and what it boils down to is, “I believe.”

Beliefs can good things. I believe that as a writer I have the power to help people through fiction or nonfiction. I believe as a teacher I can help people realize their inner potential and perhaps save them from the epitome of whatever they loathe, whether it’s being like their parents, or their background, or whatever. These are beliefs I think are fine beliefs. I also believe most people are like sheep and are happy with being led to whatever pen is safest. This is not a good belief and I’m sad to hold it. Are any of these beliefs facts? I don’t know. As a writer, I’m not nearly popular enough to have received a letter saying, “This story changed my life,” nor am I talented enough (yet). As a teacher…I’ve only been doing it for five years and for the first year, I worked with the best teacher I’d ever had, so probably not. Does it matter? Well, not to anyone but me. But I’m not going to base much on these beliefs except for the seriousness in which I take the work. And just because I believe that the Spice Girls song “Wannabe” is possibly one of the greatest pop songs ever, doesn’t mean I’m going to subject everyone I know to the song. Hell, I haven’t heard it in years!

We live in an age of science, yet many people are afraid of science. This worries me. It worried me deeply. Because if the person with the inauthentic autograph of Rocky & Bullwinkle refuses to believe that the autograph is fake even though an expert has told them, in no uncertain terms, that it’s a fake, who’s going to believe when the real bad stuff happens. Something impossible like catastrophic climate change, or mass shooting sprees every other week, or….

But you knew this already. At least I believe so.

Up the Hill to Lovecraft

All right, sorry for the bad pun in the title of this little post. I just wanted to quickly let you know that I just finished reading Locke & Key, Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. I know I’m late to the game on this one, but you might be, too. Or maybe you haven’t read it because it’s a comic book/graphic novel. It took me a bit to actually read it, I’d had it sitting on my iPad for most of this year (and I’d meant to buy the damn collection for several years). Everything I’d read about Locke & Key has made me want to read it. Rave reviews. As time passed, I almost became fearful that the hype would hurt the book once I got to it.

It didn’t. Locke & Key reads like an HBO show. It’s multilayered, intelligent, filled with emotion, and scary. This book actually scared me. Joe Hill mesmerizes me with his prose work. His scripting for Locke & Key is every bit as careful as his prose, his characters every bit as fleshed-out. The story never feels forced and the characters are believable. Gabriel Rodriguez’s art is great. At first glance the characters seemed to cartoony for my tastes but that feeling didn’t last. It’s the details in every panel that helps with that, not to mention the subtle characterization in his drawings. His art won me over within the first page and I can happily say I’m a fan now.

So that’s my ten cents on Locke & Key, Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft. It’s rare that I get so excited about something, but in this case I can’t not be excited. It’s not as good as I’d heard it was, it’s better.

The Sum of Our Parts

This past weekend I got to meet up with two of my best friends, Toby and Jorj. They feel like they’re my oldest friends but that’s not the case. I met Jorj in 1997/98, just before my daughter was born. He introduced me to Toby in 2000, a week after my first wedding, and Toby and I became fast friends. I got to experience a lot of things I’d longed to do in childhood with Toby and Jorj. I helped create a comic book. I wrote while Jorj and Toby handled the art. It was submitted to one place (and rejected) but it was a great time. We made a movie together (which I’m still editing, even though it’s been 11 years since production) that is a cross between Star Wars and Looney Tunes. I spent an afternoon reading comics with Toby. Naturally, our conversation turned to those things and stuff from our childhoods. We didn’t know each other in childhood. Jorj and Toby met in college. I met them shortly after that. Yet, there was a certain amount of collective memory that was great. Comic books (Toby and I), movies (all three), favorite cartoons (all three) Transformers (Toby and Jorj), Masters of the Universe and Star Wars (all three)…it was great.

Now most of a week has passed and I still think about our conversations. It’s funny how much we–and now I include you in this–are pieced together with the media we grew up with. Who knew that 25 years later I’d look back at Moss Man with such happiness? It’s one of the reasons I started my other blog MediaBio (which I’ve neglected but plan on going back to sooner than later). I’ve seen it with my students, too, how quickly the older ones (mostly graduated now) look back on Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (I shiver just typing those words together in that string) and smile. These shows, cartoons, and toys become major strands in our cultural DNA.

It makes me smile, but I also worry a little. It seems with each generation, these things become more important than they were. And I have to wonder if they hinder more than help. As someone who was raised obsessed with media, I can see how my life is where it is because of it. What happens with 24/7 television, and entertainment on the ‘net, and the steady stream of media that is there for you all the time? When I can turn on TV and find several shows on pawn shops, several on hoarders hoarding everything from massive collections to trash to animals, several shows on ghost hunters, on children going through dance competitions and beauty pageants, families of rednecks, religious psychos, and crazy people, I have to wonder if the sums we’re putting out there aren’t going to hurt.

An argument can be made that there’s always been garbage to consume via media, but the amount of garbage is horrifying. On the flip side of that coin, there is more quality television than there ever has been. Television series that are like novels in their complexity of character and storytelling. I haven’t seen Breaking Bad but know that’s a favorite, as is Mad Men and Sons of Anarchy (neither I’ve seen, all I want to). Boardwalk Empire is a favorite of mine, as was Lost. Even sitcoms like Modern Family make their traditional counterparts seem like hack writing and acting.

I guess it’s because I love it so much that I worry. What will today’s children sit and remember fondly in 25 years? What will we think about then?

New Look, Same Bill

So I’ve been playing around with the idea of changing the look of this site for a while and finally found something I like. I hope it looks all right. Someday when I can afford my own web person, I can really go all out. But for now, here is the new look. I’ve done my best to try to make it user friendly.

Enjoy and feel free to let others know about it!

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