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Tippity-Tapping While the World is on Fire, or I’m Here & I Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere

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.

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This Is Where the Magic Happens, or How I’m Obsessed with Writers’ Workspaces

 

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.

Stephen King typing Primetime Aug 23 1990

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.

My Workspace - 2015

This is my current workspace in the corner of my living room, behind the couch and loveseat. This provides easy access to the kitchen for coffee or tea.

The Sound of the Scythe, or Harlan Ellison Eviscerates Me Again

It doesn’t take much work to know that I love Harlan Ellison’s work, and that I think the man himself is pretty keen, too. Even a new reader of my blog/website will know fairly quickly. So this Christmas was a pretty good one considering I got two of his books as gifts. One was the Subterranean Press edition of his classic 1958 collection The Deadly Streets, which I’d read this past summer in one of my paperback editions. Subterranean makes handsome volumes and this one is no exception. Now I need me the matching Gentleman Junkie so I can have the set. Anyway, Pamela did great. The other Ellison volume I received was Harlan Ellison’s The Sound of the Scythe, which features the full-length novel The Sound of the Scythe, published in its entirety for the first time, as well as four novellas. I feel the urge to talk about this book.

The Sound of the Scythe opens the book. Like most of Ellison’s novels, it’s a short one. It’s about a man named Emory who is moved to revenge against a former friend of his, a powerful man who is intent on destroying Emory’s life for the simple reason that he can. The book is a science fiction story that has the main character moving across the stars, trading faces (and, in some cases, bodies) to exact his revenge. It’s pure Ellison. Equal parts angry, loving, fantastic, and scary, one can’t help but feel Emory’s pain and even disgust in himself until the final pages. Still, while the novel is entertaining, it’s the lesser piece of the four that comprise this book. The fact that it was published for the first time in over 50 years, and was rewritten and unabridged, and the fact that it’s Ellison’s second novel, are the main selling points. I enjoyed it a lot, but it isn’t my favorite piece in the book.

The book’s second piece is Ellison’s novella “Mefisto in Onyx.” This story is about Rudy Pairis, a man who is able to read minds, and how he’s duped by a serial killer to switch bodies. The story is really good, though I found that the introductory meeting between Rudy and his closest friend, deputy district attorney Allison Roche, to be longish, since it comprises most of the story. Still, I enjoyed it the first time I read it back in my early-twenties when I read the 1997 collection Slippage, and I enjoyed it even more this time around.

The third piece is the novella “All the Lies That Are My Life,” which appears to be a semi-autobiographical tale about two writers. While I have this novella in the 1980 collection Shatterday, I still haven’t read the collection. This novella floored me. When I reached the end of it, I wanted to go back to the beginning and start over, and I wanted to curl into a ball on the couch and cry, heart-broken. It’s that kind of story.

The final novella of the book is one of my favorites, “The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie.” I first read this story back around 2000/2001, in the fourth volume of the doomed Edgeworks series, which collected two of Ellison’s collections: Love Ain’t Nothing But Sex Misspelled (1968) and The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World (1969). “The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie” is in the former collection. I read it again as part of 2001’s The Essential Ellison: A 50-Year Retrospective. This novella is a Hollywood story about a former movie star by the name of Valerie Lone who is found waitressing at a roadside diner by a movie studio’s publicity guy–Handy, who is the main character–and a producer. They lure Lone back to Hollywood, seeing it as a way to make their current movie, a spy picture starring Robert Mitchum, more interesting to the public.

The novella is heartbreaking. It got me back when I was 23/24, and it got me again, harder, at 37. I stayed up late one night this week finishing it, even though I knew how it ended. And when I finished, I wanted to cry.

And that’s why I’m writing about this book. The four longer pieces by Ellison are at times quite funny, and beautiful, but they’re all heartbreaking. They move one to look at the world, and at themselves, and ask the difficult questions. What constitutes bravery? Why do we allow ourselves to become entrapped by outside forces? Why do we ignore the songs within ourselves for false senses of security? What is love?

These are things that run throughout Ellison’s work, and they are why I love his writing so much. When I’m done, I’m usually wrecked, but I feel better for it. So click the link. Get yourself this book, or the others that I mentioned, and ask yourself those questions.

My Thoughts On Fame, or Why They Don’t Deserve Your Rudeness

A month or so ago, someone on Facebook bitched about Jodi Foster’s speech at the Golden Globes. You know the one, it went viral and lots of people said how brave she was for it.¹ Well, the part that got me most was about her privacy, asking–downright demanding–that her privacy, as well as the privacy of other stars, be respected. Someone on my Facebook wall wrote that Foster asked for the lack of privacy by becoming famous and if she didn’t want her privacy stepped on, then she shouldn’t have become famous. I’ve heard this before. Celebrities shouldn’t be angry when their privacy is stepped on because they asked for it by becoming famous.

Bullshit.

Yes, there are fame whores out there. Almost everyone who appears on reality tv for no other reason than that they’re freaks (I’m looking at you, almost everyone on TLC) falls into that category. Paris Hilton, the Kardashians, Real Housewives, etc. Sometimes it’s a strategic business move (I’m thinking Bethenny Frankel) but most of the time it’s “look at me” grown-up. Some actors and actresses also fall into this category. For those people, yeah, they give up their privacy in order to be noticed more and more.

I’m talking about the actors, actresses, writers, musicians, directors, artists, and everyone else who can fall into the category of loving a certain craft and wanting to work on the craft as much as possible with as few limitations as possible. I’m talking about the Robert Downey, Jrs, Jodie Fosters, Stephen Kings, Bruce Springsteens, George Lucases, and everyone else in their ilk. They are the people who love their work and want to do the best job possible. Sometimes, that means becoming famous, usually by accident. The fame allows them freedom. Without it, they couldn’t make some of the movies they want to make, to write the books they want to write and not worry whether or not it might lose readers.

I ran into this once in Bangor, Maine. I was vacationing with my then-girlfriend and her godfather in Maine and we went up to Bangor solely to visit a bookstore that specialized in their most famous local writer’s work, my hero Stephen King. So we went and I bought something. Then my girlfriend’s godfather asked if I wanted to go by the King house and I said sure.

“We can stop and take pictures,” he said.

“No thanks,” I said.

When he asked why, I explained that I wasn’t cool impeding on my favorite writer’s privacy. Driving by the house would be bad enough but at least that’s not annoying the residents of the place.

So we drove there. And he stopped.

“If he didn’t want people to take pictures of his house,” the godfather said. “He wouldn’t have become famous to begin with.”

I’ve never felt right about that. Yeah, we took pictures. Yeah, someone was entering the house (it wasn’t Unca Steve). But I’ve never felt right about it.

King did not choose to become famous. He chose to write books to the best of his ability and promote them to the best of his ability. That’s all. He wanted what I want: readers. Someone who would read his writing and be entertained. That was it. He did not ask for fans to go by his home and take pictures, or to bother him at Fenway Park, or stop him in the streets, or….

Another incident:

Back in 2000 or so I was at the local mall when I saw David Duchovny and Tea Leone with their new baby and a woman. I was with my baby, my sister, and her friend. Her friend ran up to me and said, “I just saw a guy that looks just like David Duchovny!”

I said, “That is David Duchovny.”

“Come on,” the friend said. “I’m gonna ask him for his autograph.”

“No, you’re not,” I said. “He and his wife are here with their family. They’re on vacation. Leave them alone.”

She did. It wasn’t until a clerk in one of the stores announced their presence that anyone actually bothered them. The stars left immediately. I was pissed off for them.

So when Jodie Foster articulates that her sexuality, her life, is none of your goddamn business, she’s right. Her job is to act in movies, to make movies, not to live her life in front of the camera. When a writer writes a book you love, that’s what they’re supposed to do, not sign it, not shake your hand, and certainly not accept you taking pictures of their houses.

Most of these people understand that with popularity, some of their privacy is going to go away, and many will gladly shake hands with you, sign autographs, or pose in pictures with you, if you ask nicely. And should they say no, don’t go kvetching about it. They did their job by making the films, writing the books, playing the music, creating the art that you enjoyed. The rest is icing on the cake.

And yes, I will sign my books for you. Because I’m not famous and, at this point in my career, it’s pretty fun to do. But there may come a time when, for whatever reason, I cannot and I will say no. Don’t hate me for that, I may just have to go to the bathroom or have dinner.

______________________

¹ I actually found the speech a confusing mess. She “came out” of a closet that everyone already knew she was out of, she never really addressed anything of importance, and appeared almost out of it.

A Sundry Post

So the response seemed pretty good to last week’s posting of my first essay in the Nightmare in Gautham series. I will begin revising the second essay tonight or tomorrow to have up on Thursday.

In case you missed it, last Friday I posted my short story “Snow Day” to the site. If you haven’t checked it out, please do so. People seem to really enjoy it. It’s a favorite of mine to read aloud because you can usually hear the audience react. Very cool.

Work on the novel continues and while I’m sure you’re sick of hearing about this faceless novel, I assure you that I’m making headway on it. And just to make stuff more interesting, I’ve begun a novella for fun. I don’t know if it’ll go anywhere, but I’m having fun with it.

Winter is finally winding down and I’m happy for it. It’s been a busy one. The baby is now 4 months old and the teenager turns 15 in less than a month. Talk about vertigo.

I finally finished The Twelve, Justin Cronin’s follow-up to The Passage. I enjoyed it but not as much as the first book. I’m interested in seeing where he goes for the third book.

My teenager has gotten me (finally) into Doctor Who. I’m in the 4th series (the Tenth Doctor) and am enjoying it, as I’m sure all of you have.

That’s pretty much it right now. Talk to you later.

Sandy, the Aurora Is Rising Behind Us

There’s a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I’m heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain’t got the faith to stand its ground
Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the dreams that break your heart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted

Bruce Springsteen, “The Promised Land”

So it’s Sunday afternoon, 4:55 as I write these words. There’s a hurricane heading toward New Jersey. Its name is Sandy, like in the old Springsteen song “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)”. Al Roker was in Asbury Park this morning. Apparently, the storm’s hitting there.

I’m further north, on the Southcoast of Massachusetts. I’m not on the water, more inland. The school I teach at has already called it. No school tomorrow. I was originally going to write about fall and how it seems like the perfect time of year for writers and artists. Maybe I will before fall disappears. Right now, though, the storm is on my mind.

I’m not worried about the storm. That’s the problem living where I do. We’re often told a big storm is coming but by the time it reaches us it’s usually wimpy. The reports say that’s not happening with Sandy. She’s supposed to come and kick some ass. I guess time will tell. I am worried that this is when my wife will go into labor. I mean, it’s a clichéd happening, isn’t it? Of all possible times to give birth, in the middle of a hurricane is when the water breaks. There’ll be a mad dash to the hospital. Maybe the car will be swerving around branches and felled trees. But I don’t think that’ll happen.

I’ll be plugging in my e-reading devices so I can continue what with what I’m reading (The Twelve by Justin Cronin) but even that’s not a big concern, I have plenty of books that don’t need to be charged or updated. I can write, at least for a little while, even if we lose power, with the computer or iPad. I can go old school with paper and pen, too. Shit, I can grab one of my manual typewriters.

And, of course, there’s just spending time with my wife, which is always great.

So we’ll be hunkering down. If you’re on the East Coast, be safe. Find a good book and enjoy it. One of my favorite memories is reading Stephen King’s The Stand by candlelight during Hurricane Bob in 1990. Enjoy yourself and be safe.

 

School’s In Again, When’s Vacation?

That title sucks, but what can you expect from a teacher after the first week of school is over? I went from spending the day working on the novel, reading other people’s novels, watching movies, being a husband and father (and father-to-be-again) to being Mr. Gauthier. The week was pretty good. There were some issues, there always are the first few weeks of school, but I had a good time and I think the kids did, too. One of those kids is my 14-year-old daughter who started the high school I teach at this week. I decided to bring her to school and bring her home and so have seen her every day this week. We’ve talked more this week than we have for the whole summer. Part of that is that she went to Florida to visit my sister and her family for a month, part of that is that, at 14, when she comes over she sits on the computer. I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same if I were in her place. So the week has been good.

I never thought I’d be a teacher, when I fell into the whole education thing, I didn’t think I’d be good at it. I have found that I am good at it. I think it’s the natural storyteller in me, the entertainer.

This may shock some people who are of literary persuasion but I see writing and literature as a form of entertainment. I don’t just mean media tie-in novels and books written by or about celebrities, either, I’m talking all literature. My to-be-read pile (which somehow never diminishes) has novels by Proust, Pynchon, and Steinbeck next to (or underneath) a volume of the pulp The Shadow and two A Nightmare on Elm Street tie-ins written around 2004-2006. One pile has You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry: A Hulk Companion by Patrick A. Jankiewicz on top of Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link, which sits atop 3 werewolf anthologies, a nonfiction book about Harlan Ellison I bought in 2003, and several books about Bruce Springsteen. Enterfuckingtainment, man! I think most people who read my blog feel the same way about literature. Most of my immediate colleagues probably do as well.

A good teacher, he says humbly, is a good entertainer. Don’t take this wrong. I do not feel that class has to be fun or that students should be coming to school to be entertained. Schools are places for learning and education is a serious thing–a look at the current Republican Party and the Tea Party movement shows what can happen when people aren’t well educated–but I do not believe that education needs to be boring. I will cop to education not always being fun, but I will not give in with the idea that you must be serious every minute of every hour of every day. If you ask me (and if you’re reading this, I’m going with the notion that you did), passing by a classroom with laughter coming through the door means you’re most likely passing a classroom where serious education is happening.

Humans learn best when their emotions are being played. You may not remember when the Magna Carta was issued (I had to look it up to even remember what it was!) but you remember the date a favorite song was written by a favorite artist because the song means so much to you, and so does the artist. Just as you remember where you were for the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, because the immensity of the event played your emotions. Or maybe you remember a key piece of history or historical figure because of a comedian’s passing reference (Robin Williams is great for this) or a comedy movie. How many people born in the late-1970s learned about Genghis Khan because of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure? Sure, we didn’t necessarily learn everything about him, but we learned the name and could then check it out.

So I find that my natural ability to tell stories, my sense of humor (which doesn’t get much play in my writing yet), and my enjoyment of entertaining people helps when I’m in a classroom. I have the ability to make students laugh when I want them to in order to help them understand something. I’ve made students cry by telling moving stories from the Civil Rights movement or even by telling them ways that movies and literature have moved me and made me who I am today (I teach a media class, which is why I can jump around to different subjects).

I hope I’m not coming off as conceited or arrogant. I’m basing this on student and colleague reaction. The best teacher I ever had, a woman who became my mentor, has called be a great teacher. From a writing perspective, that was like when Greg Gifune basically gave me a free writing seminar by helping me a shape my second published story, or finding out Tom Monteleone was going to write the introduction to Catalysts and then reading that intro a couple of years after he and his wife bought a story of mine for their Borderlands 5 anthology. Or doing a signing with Christopher Golden, or receiving complementary emails from John Little. Or the voicemails from Harlan Ellison (I never did call him back, out of fear, and now–six years later–it’s too late). Or various other cool things that have happened as a result of my writing. My former English teacher’s opinion of my teaching is validation that makes me nearly too happy to put into words.

I will try to keep the blog up as well as I did during the summer, and perhaps even better. At some point, I’d like to write about trying to keep my writing life and teaching life separate. Perhaps next time. Until then, happy learning. We never really stop being students, do we?

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.

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.

Reading, Reading, Reading

I’m not fond of being a slow reader. I discovered I read slowly fairly early on. There are people who read two books (or more) a week and that just befuddles me. There are occasional books that will take me a week to read, but often a book–a novel, that is–will take me a month, which is one reason I attempt to read more than one book at a time.

My mother used to read nearly a book a day, and at first that kind of upset me. Sure, I was 13 and she was 27 years my senior, but still. As I got a little older, in high school, I discounted her total by saying, “They’re mostly Harlequin novels.” This wasn’t an entirely fair assessment. Yes, they were formulaic. Yes, they were often the size of the covers for my Stephen King novels, but still, they were books. My mother, who bought a Kindle a few years back and hasn’t read Harlequin novels for probably 15 years, still manages to read several books a week. I’m still stuck with one or two a month.

I had a professor last summer who said I wasn’t a slow reader so much as a careful reader. I have professed to enjoy letting the language of the novels I’m reading to melt on my tongue like good chocolate, but is that a good thing? I know it’s not a race, but come on.

The book-a-month isn’t set in concrete. There are novels that I speed through. Nonfiction also tends to move faster. But it still stings. On Twitter, I feel stupid posting my #Fridayreads because many times it’s the same goddamn book! Here’s a for instance for ya:

I just finished rereading Stephen King’s Dark Tower novels, including the new one, The Wind Through the Keyhole. Eight books in this series. I began reading them in January. I finished The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (I read them chronologically, placing The Wind Through the Keyhole between books IV and V) last week. I even put down the other novel I was reading, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, to focus my attention on Unca Steve’s books. Of course, within days of finishing The Dark Tower, I finally finished Goon Squad (I loved it).

Because of my slowness, there are many books I haven’t read that I desperately want to. I have had books in my To-Be-Read pile for nearly a decade. Of course, there are always new ones added. It doesn’t help that classes I’ve taken throughout those 10 years have forced me off my own track and onto their tracks for a bit.

So I do my best. Right now I’m reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which I’ve never read and was at the top of my stack o’ books even before his recent death. It’s length makes me believe I should be done with it by the end of this week, maybe even sooner. I’m also reading Joe Hill’s Locke and Key, Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft. I may also begin one of the nonfiction books I have about the television industry, one by Bill Carter and the other by Warren Littlefield. There are still some writing friends whose books I have to read, not to mention the classics….

Yeah. Well, I have my work cut out for me. Enjoy your reading, while I might be behind, I know I’ll enjoy mine.

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