Category Archives: Life
“René Descartes walks into a bar. The bartender says, ‘Would you like a drink?’
Descartes says, ‘I think not,’ and disappears. A moment later he reappears and says, ‘On second thought…’
Anyway, Bill, this is Harlan Ellison.”
That was how my second voicemail from Harlan began. It was a moment that knocked me out. I’d already received a call from him the prior fall, in November 2006, but there I was leaving work in the spring of 2007, hearing the gruff voice again. A voice I’d heard in audiobooks, CD recordings of lectures, and on television was, again, coming from my phone. At the end of the message, he left his phone number.
I never used it.
Harlan Ellison died on June 27th. I heard about it on June 28th, which happens to be my wedding anniversary. I am heartbroken.
It’s taken me almost two months to write this because I wanted to get it right. I don’t know that I have. Harlan’s work has amazed me since I first started reading it when I was 19 years old, in 1996. I have trouble believing that I’ve been a reader and fan of the guy I first saw on television through his commentary on Sci Fi Channel’s Sci Fi Buzz when he was in his 60s and I was at the end of my teens. Turning 41–an actual friggin’ adult!–and Harlan is gone. People talk about their favorite Harlan Ellison stories. Of course, “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman.” and “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” are classics and I love them both. I am partial to “Jeffty is Five” and “The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie,” and also “Incognita, Inc.” But trying to list favorites is a mug’s game, as Harlan might say. Every time I think of a few, a few more pop up that I love. His nonfiction was amazing, too. It made me want to try my hand at nonfiction, which is how I got into blogging, and even had the nerve to pitch my column to Dark Discoveries Magazine back in 2004.
But his writing, which was how he defined himself, was only a part of what I loved about Harlan. His personality seemed very similar to mine at times and I loved that he would say what he believed, throwing the chips into the air and letting them fall where they lay. For a kid who spent too much of his adolescence trying to figure out who he was, just living your life by your rules and to fuck with anyone who didn’t agree was refreshing. Looking back, I realize I may have taken this too far at times because Harlan had something I lacked: courage. Or the stupidity of just not being scared by anything. He was a Force of Nature, I was a Fart in the Wind. I look back on my column, American Gauthic, and some of the things I wrote online and said in real life during my early-to-mid-to-late-20s and cringe. I should not have gone there. I was not then, and am not now, Harlan Ellison, who could mostly get away with it. That said, the column did build some bridges and it is the thing that got me the voicemails from Harlan.
In the fall of 2006, upon renewing (or changing my address for) my HERC–Harlan Ellison Recording Collection–subscription, I sent a letter saying I was writing an essay about him if he’d like to read it. Harlan (or, more likely, Susan) sent a Post-It attached to an issue of The Rabbit Hole saying yes, so I mailed the manuscript to him.
A few weeks later, I was leaving work at my newish job as a teaching assistant and I saw I had a voicemail. It was Harlan, thanking me for the essay, telling me it was good, and correcting some mistakes that I’d made. I was thrilled. I wish my phone company at the time had let me keep the voicemail. I revised the essay and sent it to the magazine. The next spring it was published and I mailed the copy or two that Harlan had asked for to keep in his files.
Spring of 2007 was a good time for me. I had met the woman I was pretty sure I was going to ask to marry me. I had been hired as a teacher. Things were looking good. As I left school, I saw I had a voicemail. I opened it and heard, “René Descartes walks into a bar….”
Harlan Ellison had a large impact on my life, just as he did on many readers’ lives. His words, his personality, his performances, his life helped me through difficult times. Harlan’s message in his writing and in many of his lectures and public appearances was to be ourselves, to not take shit, to learn and think and love and help and basically try to be our best. And that was a message I needed at critical times in my life when, as someone coming from a lower middle-class background, elitism was a definite no-no.
Harlan and I had a few exchanges via his bulletin boards, but I was never able to bring myself to actually call him after he gave me his phone number in the spring of 2007. I was just too goddamned afraid, which would have disappointed him. I wasn’t afraid of him, I was afraid of me. It was stupid, and I should’ve listened to everyone around me, but I didn’t.
And now, Harlan is gone. I didn’t know him. I wasn’t a friend. I was a reader who admired his work and what the man did in his life. There are many out there who can tell stories of bad behavior and this and that and fuck them all. Harlan Ellison was a great man. His stories could cut you, make you feel, make you laugh, make you cry. He always believed in the possibilities of human beings. Harlan wanted what was best for us and for us to live our best lives with ethics, and for us to also know we’re all broken to a degree. We all have ugly sides that are part of being human. He wanted us to experience good art, good food, the best of what humanity had to offer. He knew, though, that there was violence beneath it all, and he had no problem revealing and, in some ways, reveling in it.
Harlan Ellison is dead. Words I knew I’d have to write someday but still feel strange to see together. Like Robin Williams and Wes Craven, another of my heroes gone. But, never truly gone. Because the work remains. And that is what Harlan wanted, for the work to last far longer than he did. I’m up to carrying it along. Join me?
Do you want the general update first? Yes? All right.
I received my Master’s Degree in May. I am officially a master. I get a seat on the council without whining. So there’s that. I’ve been catching up on reading that I put off while reading for the graduate program. Don Winslow’s The Power of the Dog and The Cartel…holy shit! These are good books. Stephen King rewarded me for the Master’s by publishing The Outsider in May and kicked my ass with it. Jeremy C. Shipp’s The Atrocities was a hallucination nightmare and recommended. There are other things, too, but we’ll worry about them another time, if at all.
I’ve been writing, too. I’m editing Echoes on the Pond and should be doing revisions next week. I should be able to begin submitting to agents/publishers by August. I also started a new novel, which is a middle readers novel. My youngest daughter loves novels as much as she loves picture books. At five years old, she’ll sit and listen as her Mom and I read a chapter or so a night. This has been going on for about a year. While I was still in grad school, she asked me to write something for her. Well, it just so happens that I had a story I came up with when I was between 10 and 12 years old, I even drew a picture of it. Funny enough, I found the drawing about four or five years ago in my parents’ attic and brought it home. It’s a slightly revised version of that original idea but I’m writing it now. I also wrote my first (good) short story in a few years and submitted that. It feels good to be back on the horse.
And that’s the thing, that’s the real topic of today’s post. It feels so good to be writing again for me and, by extension, you.
I’ve spent the last two-and-a-half years writing academic papers with only a few small forays into my own writing that I feel like the world is mine for the taking. But it has also led me to think about (or rethink about) (or re-rethink about) some things. This blog is one of them. Now, before you get all sweaty and freak out, having waited oh so long for a new post from me and now you’re afraid I’m about to say I’m going to stop, calm down. If there is anyone out there reading these posts, I assure you, I intend to keep them coming. I’ve thought about several topics to write here on the blog in the last few months. They include:
- How the deaths of Carrie Fisher and Margot Kidder made me realize how their characters taught me about women when I was a child
- Writing about keeping the dream alive when everything seems to be working against it
- General observations about the world
- A remembrance of Harlan Ellison
The first and last things especially have hit hard. The thing is, though, as I look at the time that I have, it’s limited. I can either work on my novels, stories, general fiction that I hope to submit and get paid for, or I can write blog posts about things that I’d love to talk/write about but there’s no chance of getting paid for it. Money is very much in my mind right now. I owe over $100,000 in student loan debt. And even though on paper my wife and I make a pretty good income, the cost of living is rising ridiculously. This past month alone, I’ve found myself tight in the wallet, and I foresee next week is going to be really hard. Part of this is that changes will have to be made, and I dig that. But I also need to be able to earn some extra income. So while I’d love to be able to write more here, I think I’m going to look into turning these ideas into essays, columns, whathaveyou.
Now, I may look into Patreon at some point, once I’ve hit my writing groove again, and if I do, you will be the first to know. I may pitch some ideas for columns, too. Maybe bring back American Gauthic or something else entirely. I don’t know. But if going through grad school taught me anything, it taught me that I can juggle some of these things more than I ever thought I could. And if the last three weeks have done anything, they’ve lit a fire under my ass.
What happened in the last three weeks to do this? 1) The money thing. 2) The death of Harlan Ellison
If you’ve been a longtime reader of mine, you know how much Harlan Ellison meant to me. Since his death, I’ve been watching commentaries and listening to his lecture CDs put out by Deep Shag Records. It has reinvigorated me. I’d like to write more about Harlan but I think that should be its own post, and I also have another idea. You’ll know when and if I pull that other idea off.
So there we go. As the world burns around us, I am doing my thing. Writing, telling stories, and watching. I will report back, I promise. How and when is the real question.
I am a little shocked that I haven’t posted here since last New Year’s Day. I mean last New Year’s Day, 2017. A lot has happened…and not much has happened, too. If you want the short of it: I’m doing well, so is my family, and I’m nearly done with grad school. Once I am, I’ll post here more. I hope you’ll forgive my lack of posting (though I’m not entirely sure anyone really cares about these blog posts). And that’s it! See you when I see you.
All right, that was the short of it. I didn’t do the thing with the ellipses up there to be cute, though. They’re there if anyone doesn’t want to read beyond that brief, general update. If you’re still here, it might get long. We’ll see.
Anyway, 2017 was an interesting year, wasn’t it? We went from having one of the best presidents in modern history to…well…HELP US!!!
Yeah, and that was just January 2017.
I had a not-so-great year at the day job. Being a teacher is great, but sometimes things are tough, mainly from adults. Still, that wasn’t the only problem, because I was having issues, too.
As I mentioned in my last post, I thought I may have been suffering from depression. Well, in May I finally saw my doctor and spoke to her about. She said, “You’re a textbook case of depression.” We talked about mental health and how even that can be “broken” or something like that. She prescribed something and by the summer, I was feeling better, and by late summer I was feeling the best I’ve felt since I was a little boy. Things at work got better and–most importantly–things inside me got better.
Most of my free time was spent working on grad school through 2017, or grading. I turned 40 in August. Forty. I mean…I’m an adult now. Except that…well…you know.
There was a leeeetle Bill Gauthier writing done here and there, though nothing finished. Grad school and papers took up too much of that time. And grading. And being a father to a 19-year-old. And being a father to a four-now-five-year-old. And being a husband. And a dutiful son. And… You get it. Still, don’t you worry! My plan is to finish grad school–I should be done by May–and then take a few weeks just to veg out. Then I’ll be jumping right back into Echoes on the Pond, making another sweep through, and attempting to submit it. I’ll start working on other projects that have been on the back burner for far too long. We’ll see how everything goes. One thing that grad school taught me was that I was capable of far more than I thought.
Let’s see…what else about 2017…?
Oh! The Dark Tower movie! Loved it. Justice League! Loved it. Wonder Woman!! LOVED it!!! Coco! Loved it! Star Wars: The Last Jedi!!!! Are you fuckin’ kiddin’ me?! I LOVED it! Oh! IT! Loved it! I could go on, by why bother? I enjoyed most of what I saw. And as far as The Last Jedi, I feel as though I could write my master’s capstone on that!
Am I missing anything? Except for the fear of the impending End of Civilization®, not much else. Of course, I’ll post this, walk away, and think of seventy other things, but for now, I’m going to take my leave. I’m looking forward to getting my Master’s Degree and getting back into writing for myself and, hopefully, for you.
Until next time…
How have I not posted anything since July?! Well, there were a few abandoned posts that I just didn’t like the sound of before posting them, and the many ideas for posts I either didn’t have the time, energy, or wherewithal to write and post. There were the posts about Star Wars, or politics, or the depression/anxiety I’ve been going through, or…. Well, you get the idea.
Those pauses are as much for me as for you, because I realized as I was writing that last paragraph that I’m falling into a voice I employ on this blog which is usually fine but isn’t right now. It’s more chipper than I wish to sound. The fact is, I’ve been in a mental storm for over a year now. Closer to a-year-and-a-half now. I’ll be calling my doctor soon. When I checked a list of symptoms of depression, I’ve had almost all of these on a nearly constant basis since late-summer of 2015. Naturally, 2016 really helped with things. As my graduate studies progressed, and my grades have been superb, my personal writing and reading went down, down, down. Maybe this is part of it. But I don’t think it’s all of it. I found myself sitting around on the days my now-four-year-old was at daycare not writing, not doing homework, not doing anything. Toward the end of my summer vacation, I forced myself out of the apartment to get pizza. It was my birthday. Whee.
There was my oldest daughter graduating high school and moving on to college. I’m so proud of her. I worry about her, though, because I’m her Dad. I also worry for other reasons. But I’m proud of her and happy to see the young woman she is and the woman she is becoming.
There was work-related stresses. Some of those will hopefully be put to rest soon as I apply for a teaching license extension, but until it’s in my hands, I’ll be
In late October, doctors thought they found ovarian cancer in my mother. They did. They also found a pulmonary embolism, or a blood clot in her lung. They treated the clot and she had the cancer removed. They believe they got it all but she’s going to have to go through chemotherapy soon.
My wife has work-related stress.
Did I mention that I hardly have time to write my fiction as I write my papers, discussion posts, etc.? It’s not simple time management, either. There’s no energy or time. Not in my current life.
I won’t even mention the “election.”
All these could be factors. But….
Look, 2016 wasn’t all bad. There was a lot of good, even great. My family life is amazing. I’m relatively healthy. So are my daughters and my wife. I have a job I really enjoy. I still have the ability, up here in my head, and down here in my heart, to write my stuff. I’ve seen some good movies and read a few of my books, and have been exposed to a helluva lot of good books for my classes that I haven’t really been able to read because of time/energy. By next Monday, I’ll be halfway through grad school. I don’t quite see the light at the end of this tunnel, but I think I see something.
But this…depression? Anxiety? Both? Melancholy? It’s been bad. I’m trying my damnedest in public and with friends to hide it, more to keep myself from falling too far into the chasm, but it’s growing harder to keep it at bay. It really is.
So that’s why I haven’t posted since July. Time, energy, self-doubt, and this funk.
I hope 2017 will change that. I have my doubts. But I will do my best.
I’ve been called pessimistic by some people I know. I’m not pessimistic. If you saw how dark things are in my head, you’d know I was an optimist. I have to be.
So thanks to all who cared enough to show me this past year. Thanks to those who have made me feel like a good man, husband, father, teacher, even writer. I will try to do better in 2017. In these uncertain times, it’s all any of us can attempt.
Wow. I haven’t been here since April! What’s up with that? If you actually follow and read my blog, you’ll know that I’m a full-time teacher, father of an 18-year-old high school graduate and soon-to-be-college freshman, a 3-year-and-9-month-year-old, a husband, and going through my master’s degree program online. I’ve been busy this summer, too. It will end, someday. Truth be told, by the end of this school year, one which was one of the worst of my career, I was ready for a nervous breakdown. I’m really not exaggerating on that, either. But here I am now, and here you are now, and I thought I’d skip the homework I promised myself I’d do to say hi to my old friends, my blog readers.
I’ve had so many ideas that I wanted to write and post here. Whether I will or not remains to be seen. I’ve got just over a month of vacation left and my little one goes to day care two days of the week, but we’ll see. For today, I wanted to say hi, give a few updates, and maybe talk a little about writing. You with me? All right. As my little one says, “Let’s do yit!”
First the update. I’d sent a query off to one agent so far for Echoes on the Pond, and that was back before Christmas. Since then, classwork has kept me busy, as well as waiting for a few friends to read the most recent draft and give me their feedback. The feedback in question has me on track for One Final Draft. I’ll pause so you can join me in laughing at that. Done? All right, let’s carry on. This final draft shouldn’t take long, as I pretty much know where to go in with the knife, and also what needs rewriting. It’s not an overhaul by any means, though the ending will change a little to be stronger. Trust me. When the book comes out, you’re gonna love it!
I also started a new novel. I wrote a bit back in late winter, February through March, and only recently was able to return to it at all. More on that below. Besides those things, I also have an idea for a new short story that is so weird, I may just have to write it just to see what the fuck it’s about!
However, most of my writing these last few months has been for my master’s program. I have an 18-to-20-page paper due next week. Tonight I have a discussion board post to write and put up about the 1777 play The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. It’s an enjoyable play, but it held me from seeing Ghostbusters yesterday, a movie I can’t wait to see.
All this leads me to….
The common advice you see from professional writers to beginning writers is Read every day, write every day. This is awesome advice and I agree with it wholeheartedly. I also know that it can be difficult when you’re working full-time, parenting, expected to be an active participant in your relationship, etc. Before my grad classes began, writing every day was a challenge but doable. Since it’s started, it’s damn near impossible. In the past it would’ve depressed me, angered me, and got me all ready to join the Dark Side, Dim Side, or just plain Hulk out. It still does sometimes. When the voices in my head, all characters from current and future projects (and the occasional past project) who want to be heard, want a chance to run in the sunshine, become too much, I can be nasty, depressed, unlikable. Well, more unlikable than normal, anyway. Still, I’ve come to understand something about myself: The stories are still there when I’m ready to return to them.
Look, I’d love to sit down every night after Pamela and G go to bed and work on the books and stories (and blog). I’d love to try writing articles to make some side money and get my name out there more. But I can’t. I have a discussion board to write. Or a journal about this play or that story or that novel that I didn’t get to read all of. I have a major paper to write. Vacation time with a toddler is hardly a vacation. My two days with her at day care are mostly catching up on school work. I did get to write a little bit in the new project a week or so ago, but only a little.
I was asked by a friend last week, “How do you finish what you start?” Because of two little ones running around, I don’t think I actually answered, but the main answer is: Determination. I want to see it through to the end. There have been plenty of stories that have fizzled out on me before I got to THE END, but even those usually reserve a room in the back of my brain and wait for the right time to be written, like Under the Dome and 11/22/63 did for Stephen King. I sit down every day that I can and work on it. And work on it. And work on it. I may work on something else between drafts or because I need to at a certain time, but usually it’s just work on the project until you can’t anymore.
Which is why, unless an agent or editor asks for rewrites, this next draft I’ll do for Echoes on the Pond will be my last. I thought of a few things I can do to make the story stronger based on having it sit here so long as I attend to educational matters, and based on what friends have suggested that are good. See, not every suggestion that’s made gets followed, but when one comes in that gets you excited, you’re a fool not to follow it.
That’s how it’s done. I can’t write fiction every day right now, but when I can, I do. I know that once grad school is over, I’ll be back in the saddle every day. Once my little one is a little older, I may be able to easier, as well. But right now, I do what I can. And I’m all right with that.
It’s hard raising a daughter. Somehow, in 2016, I feel like the world has gotten tougher for girls. Maybe it’s because social media amplifies everything to a ridiculous volume, but it seems that times are getting…well…worse. The Tea Party movement created a backwards thinking environment that’s juxtaposed against a post-1960/70s Women’s Lib movement that has gotten people crazy. My 18-year-old is on a fine track. She’s political, aware, and verbal. I may not agree with everything she proclaims because life and experience has taught me it’s not always that simple, but I’m proud of her.
My 3-year-old though, G…I’m worried. She loves Doc McStuffins, Sheriff Callie, and Sofia the First, and Disney Princesses, but she also loves Star Wars and superheroes. I recently got her the Star Wars: Galactic Heroes Millennium Falcon playset, along with some figures. The ship came with Han Solo, Chewbacca, and R2-D2, and I got her Luke Skywalker/Yoda, C-3PO/R2-D2, and Darth Vader/Stormtrooper. She wanted Princess Leia. The store had none. Amazon has none. From what I can tell, except for older versions of the Galactic Heroes line on the second hand market (eBay, etc), they don’t make Princess Leia. Sure, Rey and Captain Phasma were just released and will soon make their way home (along with Finn), but where’s Princess Leia?
We were at Target and she saw the Fisher-Price Imaginext DC Super Friends Batcave (one of several, this one is huge and comes with Batman and the Joker). She loves to mess around with it. Underneath it was the Hall of Justice, with Superman and Batman. She flipped. She’d asked for Princess Tiana before that. The Hall of Justice came home with us. Soon she had Lex Luthor, the Joker, Harley Quinn, Plastic Man, Martian Manhunter, the Batmobile (one of about 75 from what I can tell) that comes with Batman and Red Robin (and his winged jetpack), Commissioner Gordon (I never owned a Commissioner Gordon action figure! Which I desperately wanted…because they didn’t make them in the 1980s!) and a GCPD police cruiser. Today, Wonder Woman and her invisible jet, which was bought on Amazon on the collector’s market, arrived. She was thrilled. In my research, Fisher-Price Imaginext released a Batgirl and her motorcycle figure recently. It’s very hard to find. Those are the female superheroes. Mind you, this toy line has Harley Quinn, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, and Cheetah. I may have missed someone. No Supergirl. No Hawkgirl.
G loved the DC Super Hero Girls shorts on YouTube. We couldn’t watch the one hour special on Boomerang because we don’t get that channel from our cable provider. They don’t carry it. I got her the Wonder Woman costume, and she’s getting a Batgirl costume from her grandmother. I intend to get her the Supergirl and Bumble Bee ones, too. The action figures, though, are recommended 6 and up. She’s three. I think they’re more than she can handle. Same with the dolls.
I’ve been following the strange way these toys are marketed. The Hasbro Rey fiasco, and the Hasbro Black Widow fiasco. Here are characters that creators are including to try to break the mold, to open the world to more than just white males. But the toy lines are behind. It bums me out. When she asks me, “Daddy, can we get Supergirl or Hawkgirl?” I have to say no.
“Because they don’t make them.”
“I don’t know, honey.”
She’s okay with it. She has her imagination. One of the Batman figures will become Batgirl, no doubt, just as Superman will sometimes have to be Supergirl. Guaranteed if I get her Hawkman, he’ll be used as Hawkgirl. But I’m not okay with it. Because she can’t be the only girl who loves her new Imaginext DC Super Friend toys.
That handsome cover belongs to a reprint anthology my story “The Umbrella People” is a part of. There are stories by others whose names make me giddy, like Ray Bradbury, Kealan Patrick Burke, Elizabeth Engstrom, Tim Lebbon, John R. Little, William F. Nolan, John Shirley, Tim Waggoner, and so many others that my head’s a-spinnin’! I’m very proud to be a part of this group of writers.
This will be the third printing of this short story. Its first publication was in the first issue of Dark Discoveries, which is what qualified it for this antho. Its second publication was in my short story collection Catalysts, which was actually published by James R. Beach and Dark Discoveries Publications. I decided that, in honor of this publication, which is due to be released from Dark Regions Press this Tuesday, that I would write a few words about the story.
“The Umbrella People” came to me around 2003. At the time, my parents took me, my then-wife, and my older daughter out to dinner every Saturday to a pizza place in a nearby town. It was a good little restaurant. Their pizza was great, and so was a lot of what they cooked, comfort food meals. It was raining and as we sat in our booth, my mother put her umbrella under the table.
“Don’t let me forget my umbrella, people,” she said.
“Where are they?” I asked.
“Where are what?”
“Your Umbrella People.”
She called me a smartass, we all chuckled, and went on with the meal. For some reason, though, the idea stuck with me. And, like most ideas, the longer it stuck, the darker it became. The world itself was growing darker. I was unhappy in my marriage. I was restless and confused. And the world was going crazy. We were about to go to war over lies that our own government was telling us and things seemed, at the ripe ol’ age of 24, bleak. A storm was coming, it seemed.
And so I began writing.
At the time, I worked at a bus station, behind the counter. An entire wall was made of a mirror above the counter if you stood in the waiting area. From my vantage point behind the counter, it was a window. I would bring my Olivetti manual typewriter to write, after January 2003, I brought my notebook computer, a Toshiba Satellite that lasted me until 2010. I wrote the story at the bus station.
It was during a fairly productive time in my life and I was doing a lot more writing than I have time for now. The story flowed out without many issues. I remember thinking how odd the tale was how strange. I was very proud of it.
Now, thirteen years or so later, I’m still very proud of the story. I know James Beach loves the story, and it was a major impetus for him allowing me to write a column for Dark Discoveries between 2004 and 2011, as well as taking a chance on my first collection of stories. Others who’ve read it also seem to really like it. I wrote a short film script based on it and intended to try to make the movie myself for a long time. These days, I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to make it happen.
I also think about the Umbrella People sometimes, and wonder what happened after the story. I think there may be a novella there, but it’s still unknown to me, foggy. Maybe someday, a character will speak to me and I’ll be able to find out what happens next, and then let you know. Until then, I’m happy the story has found a new, really cool home and I’m looking forward to you making this particular Discovery.
All right, let’s do this!
Yeah, I don’t buy that enthusiasm, either. Term 1 is done and so is my first grad class, which I passed with an A. I’ve already begun term 2. Go me.
Echoes on the Pond, aka the novel, is finished. For real this time. It now weighs in at 114,800 words, which is still long for a “first novel” but it’s what I could do right now. I think the novel is strong and, as of about two minutes ago, I just sent a query letter to an agent. So we’ll see where that goes. I suspect that by next week, I’ll have signed the Standard Bestselling Writer Contract. Yeah, and maybe pigs will fly outta my butt.
Star Wars is opening tonight. I’m here. I’ll see it tomorrow. I’d planned on doing my movie essays about the previous six, but, as the lady said, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” This is the first Star Wars I haven’t seen opening night since I was a kid. Ah, well, that’s what happens when you grow up and your friends move away.
I already know the next novel, so I’m itching to begin it. I want to do a little more work on synopses for Echoes before I begin the next novel.
I’ve had a lot to say lately but little time to say it. I began first drafts of two posts that never made it here because I didn’t think they were good enough. So here’s what you get.
Take care, and have a great holiday season!
I posted a quick update at the end of week 1 of my grad school online course and wrote, “when I look at the syllabus, I see that the remaining nine weeks are going to be very busy.” I am at the start of week 8 of 10. I haven’t completed week 7 yet. I shouldn’t be here, but fuck it. I drank coffee between 8:30 and 9:30 so I could work on a paper that was due tonight by midnight and that I’m still working on because…well…I’ll get there. I promise.
First, the good news. I’ve been maintaining a mid-90s grade. For weeks I was at 94. I dropped to 93 last week, then to 91, and now back to 93. I’m happy. Considering I have little idea of what I’m doing, I seem to be doing it well. I do feel as though the readings have been sinking in, though I rarely understand what I’m reading. I keep looking at the novel I began reading in August, The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne, which I’ve read tiny snippets of in between Freud, Marx, Lacan, Jackson, Conrad, Woolf, and many more, and want to cry. I’ve loved Byrne’s prose since beginning it but, goddamn, no time. I have Stephen King’s new collection, The Bazaar or Bad Dreams, Christopher Golden’s new novel Dead Ringers (about doppelgangers, which I fucking love), two collections by Charles Beaumont, and more novels that I’m eagerly awaiting to read. Shit! I forgot! The PS Publishing collectible re-issue of Harlan Ellison’s Ellison Wonderland that I’m so eager to read….
But…work. Work-work. School-work. Report card grades were due in the last few weeks. Discussion posts, prospectuses, proposals, analyses were all due in the last seven weeks (and still more are due in the coming three), and that’s not the personal stuff.
Pamela’s car died at the end of September. My computer died this past week, which means this is the first thing I’ve truly written on my brand new HP Pavilion All-In-One desktop computer. Whee. Well, that I’ve truly written that wasn’t for my class. Oh, and my teenager got her driver’s license and my toddler turned three. I found out that my sudden (and by sudden, I mean since the spring) exhaustion is not anemia but may be related to my Crohn’s Disease, so my meds have changed a little, but only in the last two days. So I’m still a refugee from a George Romero flick most of the time.
But, Bill, I hear you say. What about the novel? Are you working on that? We’re waiting for this masterpiece you’ve spent the last century or so talking to us about!
First, it’s not a masterpiece. It’s good, I promise, but not masterpiece material. Maybe future classic… But seriously, I’ve worked on the last edit three times since starting the course. I intended on working on it this weekend when my notebook died. That threw out that idea. However, perhaps later this week. I have about 50 pages left to edit, and then I’m bringing the edits to my manuscript. I still have to check to see if my queries that I’d written had been backed up to Dropbox. I believe they were but I’m not sure. Honestly, I’m afraid to check. I may try to see if I can get the stuff from my hard drive soon.
Anyway, I’m still alive and still dreaming. My goal is to have the novel completed and have begun the query process by the end of the year. I can’t wait to start writing the next book, too. It’s about a man and his child and…oh, you’re going to have to wait. In the meantime, I’ll be returning to the world of the girl, her therapist, and the ghost to tie up loose ends, and working on my grad school work.
Be good to yourselves and good to others. The world needs more of that right now. I’ll try to check in again around Thanksgiving.
It was about a week before the new school year was to begin, this past summer, almost two months back now. Pamela and G had just gone to bed so it was sometime between 8 and 8:30. I was in the kitchen, reaching for the sugar to make my tea and thinking about the following week, the big ol’ return to school and another year as The Best Teacher You Will Ever Have when I had an epiphany: I’m a really angry guy.
If you chuckled when you got to the end of that paragraph, shame on you. This thought chilled me. I mean, I know I’m angry in the same way I know I’m a man, that I have brown hair, too many moles, and ten fingers (one of them weirdly crooked). I know this like I know I have a wife, two daughters, living parents, and friends. But every now and then I still look around and think, Damn! I have a beautiful wife who is able to deal with my stupidity! or Damn! My teenager is pretty freakin’ awesome! or Damn! The toddler is really smart and beautiful and empathetic! It dawned on me that the years of therapy, the growing up, and the calming down that I have endured have simply really been sleight of hand. The anger is still there. And it scares me.
I have near my workspace a quote from Nikki Giovanni that goes, “Rage is to writers what water is to fish.” This seemed really cool when I first found it and taped it to my notebook computer (dead five years now) ten years ago. At 28, being an angry young man seemed like the thing to be, which was good for me because I was an angry young man. I saw all, knew all, and wasn’t afraid to let you know it. At 38, I don’t want to be angry.
I know the anger is a part of me, and it’s a large factor in why I write, why I create, why I insist on trying to succeed in my goals and dreams. I’m still working on grudges that began in elementary school. It’s such an ingrained part of who I am, that I forget just how angry I am, all the time. It’s exhausting.
There’s a scene in Marvel’s The Avengers that comes at the end. There’s been talk throughout the movie about how Bruce Banner is able to not be the Hulk all the time, and he said he had a secret. It all comes to a head at the end of the movie.
When Banner says that line, “I’m always angry,” the audience erupted in applause both times I saw the movie. It’s become a popular meme on the ‘Net. For some reason, anger, and the lack of control of anger, has become a sort of thing people are happy to have and will applaud.
It fuckin’ sucks, though. To have this fire burning in the pit of my stomach, day in, day out, never quite sure when it’ll flame up…it’s tough. People will say things like, “You need to learn to chill out,” or suggest meditation and all that, and I do it, man. I do deep breathing exercises, I write, I journal, I go to happy places, I look at all the good things in my life, all that stuff. But the anger is still there.
I’m angry right now. Something at work got me angry. A few somethings, actually. I’m angry about grad school. I’m angry for no real reason except…well…look at the world!
I’m only writing this because I want you to know that this is not fun. I don’t consider this a plus to anything in my life. I think my writing would be just as good without the anger in the same way that I do my best writing when I’m happy and not depressed, despite what the popular mythology surrounding writers is.
So, yeah…that’s my secret, I guess. I’m always angry.
Today is the end of my first week as a grad student. I have no fucking idea what I’m doing. Because I don’t have time to drive and attend an actual brick-and-mortar class, I’m doing my Master’s program online. I decided to do English Lit because that’s what I did for undergrad and because I think my life isn’t painful enough. Also, I couldn’t get a satisfactory answer by anyone what online school’s education programs would be accepted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
So it goes like this: the professor (they use instructor) gives you reading and an assignment. You have to post one assignment by 11:59 PM on Thursday, and a second by 11:59 PM on Sunday, and that’s your module. So I did a fuckload of reading last weekend including Freud and Marx and others, and Shirley Jackson’s classic “The Lottery,” which really was the sugar that helped the medicine go down, and then wrote my response, commented on at least two, and then took a quiz for today. The academic writing was…well…you know how I’m writing this right now? You know how it reads? Yeah, well, it’s the opposite of this. It’s like Alice through the looking glass. I’m writing, something I know how to do (and some say I know how to do well), but I don’t feel like I’m writing. I feel like I’m…I don’t know. Farting in the wind?
Anyway, I posted my writing Tuesday night and wasn’t able to sign in again until yesterday. It seems fairly well received, except I threw out all MLA citations and stuff because fuck you, that’s why. Apparently, mostly everyone else did, too, so the instructoprofessor will be nice to all us grad students who should know better.
Then, yesterday, I signed on to take a quiz about two future major projects. The two questions were so mind-numbingly…devoid of anything I read, that I was shocked.
Still, when I look at the syllabus, I see that the remaining nine weeks are going to be very busy. I should be reading right now, but I know you missed me.
I also decided the role I would play was frightened and super-stressed new grad student with an extremely busy home life. It’s an easy role to play since it’s 99.9% true. That .1% is just an asshole part of me that refuses to tell the truth. When I look at the syllabus, I’m like, “Wait! Isn’t this online schooling supposed to be easier?”
But the school’s all like, “No way, man. We need to prove that we’re a legitimate institution and not something that has Sally Struthers in the commercials.”
I let the school know I diggit, and I’m proud of it, and then we go out for coffee at the student café, which is very comfortable and always has a good acoustic performer. It’s a good time.
All right, so now I have to read about this, that, and the other thing, and start rereading Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, which I last read a decade ago. I can’t remember much about it so this should be fun.
Twice in the last 48 hours on my Facebook feed I’ve seen posts that start with “Kids these days…” or some equivalent. Whenever I hear that, especially coming from someone my age or within shooting distance of my age (I was born in 1977), my immediate response is, “Fuck you.” I can’t help it. I don’t actually say that, but I think it. Usually I just bite my tongue and let them have their say. There’s no use arguing with an old person.
I turned 38 just over a month ago. I could easily look at kids (which seem to be getting older and older every year–when did people in their early-20s start being “kids” to me?!) and think that they’re all self-involved, entitled, clueless little twerps who don’t remember anything because of their super-computer-phones. I could say that when I was a kid, things were better. We had only a few channels on TV (depending on which part of my childhood, either five or 57) and had to use our imagination to play. I could say all that and I’d be right about some of those things, but most of it would be bullshit painted pink by the rose colored glasses of being an adult.
I’m a teacher. I work with 14-15-year-olds, and occasionally the 16-18-year-olds, too, and I can tell you first hand: these kids rock. First off, they’re dealing with a world that’s completely different. Born at the tail-end of Generation X, we grew up with the remnants of the Cold War and the fear that Gorbachev (remember him?) and Reagan would push The Button at any minute, annihilating everything we knew and loved forever. No more Star Wars, Masters of the Universe, Strawberry Shortcake, or the Shirt Tails. Kids these days live in a world where there are school shootings at least once a month and in a world where no one cares if you’re a Communist because they’re too busy fearing you’re a terrorist. Even my oldest students, the seniors, have little-to-no memory of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks. My teenage daughter was 3 when it happened. The freshmen were born the year it happened. These kids have been raised under the PTSD that the entire nation (world?) suffered as a result of that horrific event and its aftermath.
Next, when I was a kid I was bullied. From around 5th grade to my sophomore year of high school, things were pretty rough. I was chased home, ostracized at school, jumped on at least three-to-five occasions, threatened innumerable times, belittled, and basically treated less-than-human by many. I was smart, the teachers loved me, and I was horrible at sports. Oh, and I was quirky, which was the worst. Naturally, being home was my favorite place to be. I could play with my action figures, or role-play, and let my imagination fly. Even after most kids my age had put away their toys, I continued to sneak my action figures. I had to. The stories in my head were too much. I was safe at home.
Kids these days have the internet. Shut off their computers, you say. They have their phones. Take away their phones. Sure. Go for it. Go ahead. While you’re at it, give me yours. Some of you can. Some of you can’t. When kids are bullied these days, it doesn’t stop when they go home, but continues online. Cyberbullying sounds like a bad idea in 1980s science fiction stories written by William Gibson or Bruce Sterling, yet we’ve been hearing about it for almost a decade. Teenage suicides are on a rise and it ain’t satanic-themed heavy metal albums that are contributing, or Dungeons & Dragons, no matter what Tipper Gore says. It’s the ease in which the tormentors can go after their prey.
Where are the parents? you ask. Did your parents know everything you did? I don’t think so.
Another thing I hear: Kids these days are spoiled and entitled. Oh? And you weren’t? Tell me again about how much you enjoyed your Atari 2600. Or your Nintendo. What? You had a Commodore 64? Wow! You must’ve been rich. And remind me about the joys of MTV, Nickelodeon, and HBO. I had some of these things, some I didn’t. Coming from a lower-middle-class family, we didn’t necessarily have all the toys and gadgets, but my kid sister and I were pretty spoiled just the same. Just because the toys are different now doesn’t mean that we were that different.
Yeah, well, kids these days have no respect for adults. I know a kid who was playing in his backyard and began climbing a post that was in a neighbor’s yard. When one of the people in the apartment house saw him on the post, he was told to get down. The person was a nice guy that the kid had known his entire life. For some reason that day, maybe it was because the kid’s friend was there, maybe it was because the kid was an asshole, the kid started saying the neighbor had halitosis. He even sang a song, “Haaaalitosis! Haaaaalitosis! Halitosis! Halitosis! Ha-AA-aa-lito-o-o-sissss!” (To be sung like “Halleluiah”). Yeah, you know who the kid was. This would’ve been around 1990. Kids haven’t had respect for adults since around the 1950s when teenagers began being an economic force. Please don’t tell me that things are worse now in the regard. They’re different, sure, but not that much worse.
How are they different?! Well, for one thing, parents aren’t on anyone’s side except their kids’. Do you know how difficult it is to give a student a failing grade? They have to have a progress report signed by a parent. A phone call home or a parent-teacher conference has to be set up. Everything has to be documented. Why? Because of you, you helicopter! Why don’t the kids respect adults? Because you don’t.
Look, man, I’m a fucked-up guy. I have anger issues, touches of depression, I’m a wise-ass, and I’m a bit egotistical. If my daughters skip any of these problems, I’ll be happy. If either of them grow up well-adjusted, I’m happy. Honestly, your kids see the best of me! Why can’t the same be said of you?
I could go on and on, but I’m not going to. I’m tired, and I have to teach your kids in the morning, but I want to say one more thing before I go….
Working with teenagers has been a high-point of my life. Kids these days a sharp as knives, ask tons of important questions, understand things you and I would’ve run screaming from, have somehow managed to stay children in some ways while having to grow up real fast in others. Kids these days are seeing injustice and are pissed off. They’re seeing that the same ol’ same ol’ isn’t working, and while you’re sitting on your ass bitching about why they’re inferior, they’ve already processed what’s broken and what needs to be fixed. And they’ll fix it. Because kids these days, they’re growing up, and they’ll be able to look at the little old man and woman on the lawn, shaking their fist, and continue walking by, listening to music on their phones, and understanding that they’ll be the ones to do what none of us could: fix society.
The first time I saw the name Wes Craven, it was in TV Guide, around 1986. It was in the synopsis for A Nightmare on Elm Street, which read something like, “Horror maven Wes Craven’s tale of teenagers terrorized by a killer in their dreams.” The fuckers gave it two stars if I recall. In the following years, his name popped up on TV more, usually for commercials of his follow-up movies: “From the creator of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven, comes…” Shocker. The People Under the Stairs. The Serpent and the Rainbow. As I found and read Fangoria, and other stuff about horror, I learned more about him, but it really wasn’t until I was in high school and I saw interviews with Craven that I learned really learned about him.
When I saw the news of his death last night, I was rocked. It came on the night before I was to start a new school year as Mr. Gauthier, so maybe I wasn’t as rocked as I may have been two weeks ago, when I wasn’t as stressed. Still, it was a shock and very, very sad.
I can’t say I’ve seen every Wes Craven movie because I haven’t. I feel like I only saw the original The Last House on the Left in the last eight years. I saw The Hills Have Eyes sometime in the mid-1990s. I saw Shocker and The People Under the Stairs when they first came to cable. I know I saw The Serpent and the Rainbow but can’t remember when, though I think I was in high school. Deadly Friend was viewed not long after seeing A Nightmare on Elm Street the first time, but I didn’t know who Wes Craven was and it was on cable as I was discovering horror. I barely remember any of these movies except the first two. Have I seen Swamp Thing? I don’t know. I’ve definitely seen pieces of it, just as I’ve seen pieces of A Vampire in Brooklyn.
Truth be told, I’m really quite astonished that I haven’t seen more of his movies. I really only know his creating and contributions to the A Nightmare on Elm Street series and directing the Scream movies. This upsets me.
Craven has been someone I would’ve loved to have met. When I found out he bought a house on Martha’s Vineyard, a ferry ride away from where I live, I sometimes thought it might be cool to run into him somewhere, let him know how much he meant to me, and ask if he’d have coffee with me. I know it’s crazy talk, like a deranged stalker or something, but Craven had this feel about him that he was approachable and would sit down for a conversation.
What I think was my favorite aspect of Wes Craven, other than writing and directing my two favorite Nightmares, the original and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, is that he wasn’t just a guy who was into horror for the sake of making money, but that he was actually releasing fears, his own and others. When you look at someone like Sean S. Cunningham, creator of Friday the 13th (and mentor of Craven’s), this is a guy who made horror films for a fast buck. His producing of Craven’s first film, The Last House on the Left, came about because low-budget horror movies were starting to do well. He told Craven, who was itching to direct a movie, that if he wrote a horror movie, Cunningham would let him direct it. What probably wasn’t expected was that Craven would actually make a movie that was almost too dark, too scary, too violent, a movie that became an underground classic almost immediately.
Craven loved cinema and understood how to scare. He saw it as cathartic and necessary. The creation of Fred Krueger is an amazing story of thought, feeling, and psychology. Breaking the mold of having a stunt person play the killer and instead hiring Robert Englund, who knew no boundaries to get the desired effect, Craven revolutionized the horror film bad guy. Suddenly they all had to have personalities, make quips, and find creative, supernatural ways of killing. A range of sharp objects and tools were no longer good enough, they had to have interesting weapons or a cool new way of killing.
Then in 1994, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare just knocked the whole block castle down. It’s a shame it didn’t do better business at the box office, but the movie is, I think, a masterpiece. He asks important questions. Do horror films negatively impact their viewers? What about the people who make them? This line of questioning is woven throughout his Scream movies.
Wes Craven was 76. He was an old man who lived a great life. This doesn’t stop my sadness. A Nightmare on Elm Street is up there with Star Wars as movies that shaped me. Knowing that he will never make another movie, never impart more of his wisdom, and never scare the hell out of me deeply saddens me.
“Some people ask why people would go into a dark room to be scared. I say they are already scared and they need to have that fear manipulated and massaged. I think of horror movies as the disturbed dreams of a society.” — Wes Craven
I don’t remember when, but sometime last fall I mentioned on Facebook (and maybe Twitter) that I was becoming obsessive about wanting to try more tea. As a teenager, I began drinking tea. My gateway was the same as many others, simple ol’ Lipton tea. At some point I graduated to Bigelow or Twinings, usually English Breakfast, but sometimes Earl Grey. I drank these well into my twenties, adding Chai into the fold. And then in 2003/2004, my life sort of went haywire and I became a separated father of a precocious youngster, a full-time college student, and a full-time employee at a bookstore. A bookstore with a café. Suddenly, I was drinking coffee. The teas in my cabinet grew old and dusty as my new love became Queen.
I still love coffee, but about two years ago I started to think more and more about tea. Passing Teavana stores at malls didn’t help. Posts about tea by Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill didn’t help.
As a matter of fact, Joe Hill’s post got me to go try a new English Breakfast tea, Tazo’s Awake tea. Which I loved. And still do, it’s my favorite tea. So I began drinking that in the afternoons instead of my second (or third) cup of coffee. But I wanted more and didn’t know where to start.
That’s when Pamela came to my rescue. After seeing that post, she got me some tea for Christmas.
All right, so what you see there is Fortnum & Mason’s Royal Blend Tea, the official tea of the Royal Family since forever, available in the States exclusively through Williams-Sonoma. Also in the picture is Tea Forté’s World of Teas single steep set which had some amazing teas in it. I loved Moroccan Mint and Bombay Chai, and liked most of the others very much, too. Well, this has done it.
Tazo also makes a great Chai tea, too, but my problem has been finding a caffeine-free tea that I enjoy. On a recent trip to Western Massachusetts, I happened upon the Republic of Tea’s Cardomon Cinnamon herbal full-leaf tea and decided to try it. Let me tell you, it’s fucking great. It’s like Chai without caffeine. I mean, how good is that? I just finished drinking a cup in that cute mug my wife gave me for Christmas. I think my friend Jorj would like it since he’s a fan of Chai.
So those are some standout teas I’ve tried in my recent plunge into this whole new world. Feel free to recommend some teas you like. So far, I haven’t like Darjeeling much, but it may just have been the one I had from the World of Teas set.
This is the last time, I promise. Until the next time, anyway. I’m currently printing out the 3rd draft, the “final” draft, of my novel Echoes on the Pond. It’s not so I can just look lovingly at the brick of pages but so I can do another draft. I know, I posted that I thought I was done back in May, but I’d said I was 98% sure I was, and, well….
But that’s my method. Until the piece is published, I tinker. Maybe not in any kind of routine way, but whenever the fancy strikes. In this case, it’s because I’m gearing up to look for a home in it and I had a fateful conversation with one of my readers that corroborated a few things in my head and something my wife kind of pointed out.
My goals with the 4th draft aren’t too drastic:
- Tighten up the story a bit…look for typos and silly turns of phrases that I may have missed the last two times, or created during the last draft
- Make sure the characters are being themselves and are true to form
- Specify a few vague places (and I can only think of two that were mentioned)
- Delete a character’s onscreen presence
That last will be the closest thing to real rewriting that I’ll need to do. Pamela had mentioned the character in question as early as the 2nd draft, and when my other reader mentioned her, I knew the small feeling in the back of my mind was right, she needed to go. This means several deleted scenes and one heavily rewritten scene. Basically, this 4th draft should take long and it shouldn’t hurt the work I’ve done on the query letter or synopsis.
It’s the game we play, trying to make sure the story is what we want it to be. You have to be passionate about this if you’re going to try to make a go of having a career in the arts.
I’m rather obsessed with writers’ workspaces. Their desks, offices, writing sheds, whatever it is they use, however they use it. I know I’m not alone on this, but I think the first manifestations of this obsession occurred before I was even aware of it.
Stephen King’s novel The Shining made me want to be a writer, which I’ve written about. I’ve also written about the television segment that led me to buy the book. It was an episode of ABC’s Primetime Live that aired on August 23rd, 1990, the day before my 13th birthday, that got me interested in buying King. As I was reading The Shining the following day, I turned to the About the Author page and saw that King lived in Bangor, Maine, which had to be nearly as uncool as New Bedford, Massachusetts, the small coastal city where I lived, if not even more uncool. Beyond that, though, there was an image in the Primetime Live profile that kicked open the doors of my mind. The image was of King sitting at a manual typewriter, clacking away. He was in a dark room, alone, with no other apparatus around him. Even at 13, I understood this was a set-up shot, done strictly for the television piece.
The power of that image rocked me, though. It made me think of Billy Crystal at the end of Throw Momma From the Train, where he’s sitting at his desk, finishing the last paragraph of the novel he never thought he’d be able to write. It made me think of Chevy Chase in Funny Farm where he’s trying to write a novel that never really seems to come out for him (though his wife writes a children’s book). I’m sure it made me think of Richard Dreyfuss in Stand By Me, working on his tale. Who knows? Maybe somewhere in the flotsam of my mind was Kathleen Turner at the beginning of Romancing the Stone, finishing her novel in a most unglamorous way. The thing with the image of Stephen King sitting at the typewriter, though, was that he was a real writer. He wasn’t an actor playing a part, he was a guy who was paid (a lot of) money to write books. And from what I’d seen that morning at Waldenbooks, he wrote a whole bunch of them, too! There was even a book club devoted to his work that ran commercials on TV! Remembering that image and reading a novel by him walloped me like a trailer truck come to life to mow me down. Later that day, I set up two or three milk crates, put my Royal Quiet De Lux manual typewriter on top, and began writing.
Something very similar, yet very different happened, happened several years later, again involving King. For a time in the 1990s, former King chronicler George Beahm, who’d written three books on Stephen King, began publishing a fanzine called Phantasmagoria. I don’t know how I came across it. Maybe from the Stephen King column in Cemetery Dance? Probably. Anyway, I subscribed to it. In one issue there was news that King was one of many writers who were featured in a photograph book about writers at their workspaces. It was called The Writer’s Desk and it was by a woman named Jill Krementz. I’d find out soon enough that Ms. Krementz was married to the writer Kurt Vonnegut (who appeared in the book, of course). I was working at a big chain bookstore at this point and decided to order it. It must’ve been summer or fall of 1997 because my girlfriend (who would become my wife, and then my ex-wife) was pregnant with my teenager. I remember that because the book was $35, which was too much money to spend considering how my life was really about to change. But I ordered the book because I knew that I wouldn’t have to buy it (it was the company’s policy) and I figured I’d look at it on break and then shelve the book for someone else to discover and buy.
Before I even opened the book, the cover mesmerized me. I had no idea who the woman on the front cover was (it’s Eudora Welty) but on the back cover was Toni Morrison, whom I knew though I hadn’t read yet; Tennessee Williams, whom I also knew but hadn’t (and still haven’t…and I don’t think I’ve seen any of his plays, either, which saddens and shames me); and Stephen King. I began looking through the book and found the huge quantity of writers and pictures that went back into the early 1970s. The photos were accompanied by quotes, or small musings on writing, or their desks from the writers. There were many writers whose names I recognized even though I hadn’t read their work. There were many more who were introduced to me by this book. I knew before I got halfway through flipping through the book during my break that I needed to have it.
It gave me a charge. To see where these people produced their work made me want to work. To see how simple it really was, this so very difficult task of wordslinging. Some of the writers have work spaces that are stately and well put together, organized. Some are a mess. Many used typewriters (remember, the book was published in 1996 and many of the pictures were taken in the ’70s and ’80s) though quite a few used computers. There was even a few who had notebook computers. Quite a few of the writers were working longhand.
I found myself cutting out pictures of writers at their desk should they appear in magazines or in the newspaper. Once I got a computer I began finding writers at their desk online and, for a while, kept a folder of images. I still have the folder though I hardly save to it anymore. There’s no need. A quick Google search (or a few, depending on your word-use) will come up with thousands of pictures. I’ve also discovered I’m not the only one obsessed with this. There are at least two blogs I know of, Write Place, Write Time and Writers at Work, that share photos of writer’s work spaces. Write Place, Write Time was cool because it had photos taken by the writers they featured, as well as a small piece about their work environment. Unfortunately, after a strong 2011, the posts began to be few and far between until they seemed to stop in June 2013. Still, it’s fascinating to take a look at. Writers at Work collected photos from around the ‘net and posts them. Some of the pictures are sent in by blog readers.
As I said, a quick internet search will show that writers and their workspaces are quite popular. Why is that? I think it’s partly because writing is so solitary, and so personal, that one wonders if they’re weird. So to see the famous French mystery writer George Simenon has an arsenal of pipes ready to go while he works, or that Tennessee Williams has another typewriter leaning back behind the one he’s using in case there’s an issue, he can just swap out (anything from a bad key to a change of ribbon; there’d be no slowing him down when he was hot!), makes me think maybe my rituals and quirks aren’t so weird.
I think the other thing it does is inspire. And I don’t mean that in some mystical, mythical sense of the word, either. I mean seeing writers, past and present, at their desks and knowing that from that person came a body of work, sometimes huge, sometimes not, all important, really makes me want to sit at my modest space and work. It makes me feel like if they can do it, and they basically have the same tools I do, then maybe–just maybe–I can do it.
Writers have been called professional liars. I know I’ve heard Stephen King and Peter Straub say it. I think I’ve heard Harlan Ellison say it. And there’ve been others along the long, long road I’ve taken from the age of 13 to now, a month and two weeks away from my 38th birthday. Hence, the lie in the title. I just wanted you to read my blog. But while I have you here talking about the lies writers tell, I want to remind you that while fiction is (usually) wholly made up, the real reason fiction is important is for the truth it tells. It doesn’t matter what genre you write in, what kind of story you’re telling, the truth of the characters, the situation, the emotions are what keeps the readers coming back.
Anyway, I haven’t posted since May because I lose track of time easily, it happens, but I’m here now and I’m working on an essay for the blog that’ll go live either tomorrow or Sunday (Monday at the latest, I promise). It’s not one of my movie series essays, though I plan on writing about two different series this year (I’m sure you can figure them out considering my nerd pedigree), but I think you’ll like it. For now, a small update.
As I mentioned back on May 12th, Echoes on the Pond is (I think) done. I’m sure I’ll be called back to tinker here and there, but I’ve begun the process of writing a query letter for possible agents or publishers. If you don’t know what a query letter is, it basically pitches your book to an agent for representation in helping sell it, or to an editor, in the hopes of buying and publishing it. Think of it like this, Echoes on the Pond weighs in at 126,500 words. In it’s current manuscript state (Times New Roman, 12 pt font, double-spaced) it is about 490 pages. The query tries to boil that down to 150 words. I have a few other things I want to work on regarding submission, like a synopsis and outline, in case they’re asked for. I already have a few agents I’m interested in querying so we’ll see how that goes.
I also wrote a short story. The first draft weighs in at a hefty 8,400 words, which will definitely be whittled down later, after it’s been given time to settle. The story came to me one morning while driving to work. The teenager was sitting in the passenger seat, quietly hating Monday (or Tuesday) morning, and for some reason, the idea came and I instantly knew I had to write it. I didn’t start until the end of June and finished it two nights ago. It’s an unpleasant little ditty with unpleasant characters and chocolate, and that’s all I’ll say right now.
So right now, I’m trying to decide which big project to work on next, since there are several that I’m pretty passionate about.
Anyway, that’s the check-in. We’ll talk soon.
Hey, Kids. Do You Like the Rock N Roll? Or How David Letterman Made Life Bearable & Helped Me Through Adolescence
I’m sure that I tried to watch David Letterman on TV before August 30th, 1993. By that date, I was six days into being 16 and I’d been suffering from insomnia (or poor sleep habits, either/or) since I was 9. This means that I would’ve tried watching Late Night with David Letterman at some point, and I faintly remember doing so. Trying, that is. Just as I tried to watch The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. I mean, all you heard about back in those quaint days of the 1980s was about how Johnny Carson did this, or said that, and then there’d be reminiscing by the adults in the room. Mom would mention the Potato Chip Lady. Grandma would chime in that Ed McMahon was “a bullshit artist,” but then reminisce about something Carson did. Carson was too damn old for me, though, between 9 and 14, and Letterman…I don’t know. There was something off-putting about him at that time in my life. And he stood too close to the camera. I’m sad to say that my first introduction to the late night talk show was The Arsenio Hall Show.
When Hall’s show premiered in January 1989, I was 11. I didn’t discover it until later that year, I think. I’m sure if I did research of who appeared on his show, and when, I could come up with a more accurate time, but who really has that kind of time? He’s not the topic of this story. The topic or not, Arsenio Hall’s show was cool. It had music that I liked, humor I liked, and was on at 10 PM on channel 64. That was the Fox Channel affiliate out of Providence, Rhode Island. (The show also aired at 11 PM on channel 25, the Boston Fox affiliate). Arsenio was speaking to me, it felt. Far more so than Johnny Carson. And as far as that Letterman guy with the gap between his teeth, weird hair and eyes…why’s he standing so close to the TV?!
Though I had many good times with Arsenio, by the time 1993 had come, I wasn’t watching nearly as much. I was still watching, but not as often. I was interested in the Late Night Wars from afar, though, and had been since 1991. In June of 1991, NBC announced that Johnny Carson would be retiring and that Jay Leno would be his replacement. To me, Jay Leno was the Doritos guy with the chin, who appeared on TV a lot and was supposed to be funny. He even made a buddy cop movie with Mr. Myagi himself, Pat Morita. You don’t remember the movie? That’s because it was a buddy cop movie starring Jay Leno and Pat Morita! The movie had aired on Cinemax and it always seemed to be on when I was looking for something to watch. Of course, I’ve never actually seen the movie. But I digress…. The entertainment magazines my mother subscribed to that I lovingly read cover-to-cover were very much about the “feud” between Leno and Letterman. When The Tonight Show with Jay Leno debuted in 1992, I feel like I tried watching it but found it…well…unfunny. Leno was no Arsenio Hall, I’ll tell ya! When rumors began that David Letterman was about to jump ship from NBC, the news had a field day. Again, I was mildly interested. I remember seeing video of the press conference where the news broke that Letterman had accepted an offer from CBS and would be taking his show and leaving. I remember reading about NBC not allowing their “intellectual property” to go with him and how he was going to have to change certain things.
I was interested. I don’t know if it was my budding maturity, being a wise, old 15, or if it was just interest in the entertainment business, but I was interested. So on August 30th, 1993, most likely a week before I would start my junior year of high school, I tuned in to one of the CBS affiliates at 11:35 PM, and watched the very much-hyped and ballyhooed first episode of The Late Show with David Letterman. There’d been so much talk, so much analyzing, so much…mythology building, how could I not?
I was hooked.
From Paul Newman’s surprise appearance in the audience; to Tom Brokaw storming onto the stage, grabbing a cue card, and announcing, “This joke is the intellectual property of NBC,” and then storming off (Dave’s comment: “That’s the first time intellectual and NBC has ever been used in a sentence”); to his comment about how the Top Ten List will cost the show $10 million; to Bill Murray spray painting Dave’s desk and taking him outside to introduce him to the people; I loved it. But, while I loved all that stuff, the thing that really spoke to me, the thing that really hooked me was David Letterman himself. At 16, I felt like a mutant. I mean, who doesn’t? But I’d been bullied for a 5-year stretch. I liked to read and write, and I loved movies way more than other kids my age seemed to. I still secretly played with my action figures because the words couldn’t be written down as quickly as the ideas would come. I had an unhealthy fascination with stand-up comedy. And I had a sense of humor that those around me called “witty,” “warped,” “weird,” and “unfunny.” I was also super sarcastic and was always in trouble for that at home. And here was David Letterman making jokes that only one person in the whole room was actually, truly laughing at: himself. Through the magic of TV, I was laughing, too. I got it.
Between 1993 and sometime in 1996/1997, I watched Dave every night. During my senior year in 1995, the National Honor Society took a field trip to New York City and I went to the Ed Sullivan Theater and had my picture taken in front of the marquee. When I got home, I sent for tickets and in August 1995, I went to New York to see The Late Show. I talked to Rupert Gee. I saw Van Halen (with Sammy Hagar) perform. Most importantly, I saw David Letterman. He was standing as close to me as the oven is to my right. Ten feet? I sat right behind then-executive producer Bob “Morty” Morton. In one shot of Morty, you can see a Star Wars baseball cap. That’s me. Unfortunately, except for the performances by Van Halen, the show kind of sucked. I was thrilled to be there, and still remember it fondly, but it wasn’t Dave’s best. Hugh Grant had been arrested with a prostitute earlier that summer and his first public appearance to promote his first big Hollywood movie Nine Months had already been booked…on The Tonight Show. Jay Leno scored his first #1 night since Letterman began his run on CBS and he never let it go. Well, except for when he let it go.
Anyway, The Late Show with David Letterman was just what I needed, just when I needed it. I became obsessed with the show and with David Letterman. And with late night TV. I loved Bill Carter’s phenomenal The Late Shift, which documented the whole Carson-Leno-Letterman fiasco. I studied how Letterman did his show. The set-ups, the remotes, the sarcasm. He interviewed people and he helped them along, but he was also fun to watch. Unlike Leno, who seemed to wait for his opportunity to throw in a joke, Letterman actually conversed with them in the time permitted by the format. He was also able to make those around him stars. From the owner of the Hello Deli next door, Rupert Gee, to the stage manager Biff Henderson, to his mother, Letterman took whoever happened by and made them a character you followed. Sure, it was partly inspired by what he saw another former NBC employee, Howard Stern, do but he found a way to make it his own, and unlike another late night host I won’t mention, Letterman often praised Stern for giving him the idea to do those kinds of things.
More than all that though, I saw another mutant who was full of self-loathing doing his best. He came out each night in a nice suit, he told jokes, he had a good time, and he made people happy. I wanted to be him. Or, at least, I wanted to be like him.
I’d already begun writing by this time, and was honing my craft writing (bad) books and (bad) short stories, but I secretly wanted to either be a filmmaker or, because of Letterman, a late night talk show host. Had I been a little more courageous, I may have tried my hand at stand-up comedy with the intention of someday having my own show. And now that I see Jimmy Fallon, who is only three years older than me, doing what he’s doing, I think maybe I should’ve attempted it. Ah, well, it is what it is. My time has come and gone and I have novels to write, oh so many novels, but Letterman is still an influence.
Unfortunately, I haven’t really watched Dave in a long time. I’ve seen the odd show here and there. Thanks to the Internet, I will often catch interviews a day or so after they air (especially when Howard Stern, Steve Martin, or Robin Williams was on). I watched it the night G was born in 2012, after watching the election results.
David Letterman isn’t perfect. His show wasn’t perfect. But I loved it. It’s going to be weird in September once Stephen Colbert sits behind the desk and becomes host of The Late Show. It’s going to be weird that Letterman won’t be there to hear about the next morning. I think about that. The pillars of our youth begin to crumble at some point. I understand why so many people were sad about Carson’s departure now. Even Leno’s. Late Night TV is going to be very different. The new guard is in place. But I think it’ll be good. Because when they talk about the late night host who inspired them, they don’t mention Carson, and they sure as shit don’t mention Leno. They all mention Letterman. Fallon, Kimmel, O’Brien…all of them. They all name David Letterman as the guy who turned them onto their paths.
Looks like there are a lot of mutants out there.
See that? That’s what’s at the very end of my manuscript for Echoes on the Pond. The reason I’m showing you is because—and I say this knowing it’s not 100% true, but roughly 98% true—I’m done with it. I have a few people giving this third draft a read, and if they all hit on things that have popped up in my head recently, or hit on things the other readers hit on, then I’ll do another sweep of the novel, but it’ll be a short one. The kind that takes a week or two instead of months. Of course, if an agent or editor at some point asks for changes that’ll make the novel better, I’ll be more than happy to oblige.
As you can see, I’ve been on this bastard for a long time now. When I began the novel in April 2008, I thought that I’d finish the first draft in three/four months, the second draft within six months, and then have the third draft to shop around in 2009. All long-form writing I’d done prior to this book indicated that should have been the case. Of course, things were different.
It’d been four years since I’d started—and finished—anything of significant length. Between 1998 and 2004, I wrote many novels. Most were pretty bad, few were terrible, and a couple were…good. For the time. They were written by a younger guy, of course. I turned 21 in 1998, so being in my early-twenties, I didn’t have much perspective on life, but I had an itch to tell stories and the insanity to think I could do it.
By 2008, I was in my early-thirties, had been through a divorce, severe depression, some of the hardest times in my life, and hadn’t written anything worthwhile except for several abandoned novels, garbage short stories, and little else of value. Well…that’s not entirely true. I wrote my late, great column American Gauthic for Dark Discoveries, a gig I really enjoyed doing and would love to do again, given the opportunity. I’m proud of those essays, though I admit that some of them are a little…well…wince-inducing. I also wrote papers for college, lesson plans, and blog posts.
But here I sit, twelve days after finishing what I consider to be my final edit, and I’m looking forward to what’s next. I have about six book ideas. Two horror(ish) novels, two “mainstream” novels (that I think may be darkly comic), and two YA novels. Way back in my mind are the science fiction novel takes on two Shakespeare plays that I’ve wanted to do for a long time now.
I think I’m going to do one of the YA novels. I want to do it something that’s fun, plot-driven, and fast. In other words, the kind of book I would’ve wanted to read when I was a kid.
Other than writing, I’ve got the real work ahead of me on Echoes…: Figuring out what the fuck to do with it now.
It’s a good place to be, though. Actually, it’s a great place to be.
On Monday, March 30th, I figured that I’d be done doing pen-edits on Echoes on the Pond by the end of the week and work would move to the computer to begin editing the manuscript. I had about 50 or so pages left and had been editing about 10 pages/night. This took me about 20 minutes or so, which was great. I felt accomplished and it allowed me to rest for the marathon that would be the computer edits. I knew, however, that the last 50 pages of the second draft of Echoes on the Pond were going to be the toughest to edit. This contained the most new material, an ending that I wasn’t completely satisfied with, and a bunch of things that needed fine-tuning. Meaning, unlike the rest of the 450 pages that preceded it, the last 50 pages were almost like a first draft.
By Thursday, April 2nd, with only 35 pages left, I realized I needed to add some stuff. There was a leap in the story that was all right but felt, to me, slap-dash. My thinking was that if I felt like it was slap-dash, and I wrote the fucking thing, then any reader would feel similarly. So I decided to write this new stuff while I was in the midst of the chapter. I also chose to write it out by hand in a notebook, for the helluvit. I’ve been reading up on writers who’ve given up the word processing program for the pen and paper. Writers I admire like Joe Hill and Neil Gaiman are but two who are big on handwritten first drafts. So I figured I’d dip my toe in for this new stuff. I worked on the 3rd and 4th, and meant to on the 5th but was too tired from driving for four hours, to and from Western Mass, where my in-laws live.
And then came the bug.
I got a bad stomach bug that knocked me on my ass Monday and Tuesday. Then came grading that needed to be done by Friday on Wednesday and Thursday. By Friday night, I was wiped out, so I just read.
Last night I finally returned to the novel, and wrote some more by hand. I’ve done 9 pages by hand so far and will probably be done with this new section tonight. Then I’ll have about 25 pages left to edit. Still, I’m sure there’ll be some funky stuff in there which means that it might take me more than three days to finish my edits.
A part of me feels like I’m stalling. I’m a little freaked out about beginning the research into publishers/editors, which I intend to do (as well as get my grad school stuff in order) once I’m on the computer every night again. But mostly I’m not worried. This novel hasn’t come easily for me but I’m fairly happy with it, and that means a lot. And that’s the thing I keep rediscovering as I work on it: I’m happy telling the story. Sure, it’s taken me from 2008 to work on this novel, but who cares?
When you’re writing, it’s the act that counts. It’s telling the story to the best of your ability. The fun and challenge of it.
Either way, the end is near. And I’m going to enjoy every minute of it.
And then start it all over again with a new project. That’s what we do.