I swear I thought it was only a month or two ago since I made my last non-Batman-related update. Oops. So, here’s why you haven’t heard from me save when I’ve been writing about men wearing rubber bat costumes:
I know, that’s broad. I’ve been writing as much as possible since school started back up again in late-August. I finished the second draft of the novel on October 18th. I’m not sure how it is. I’m waiting on a couple of people I trust to read it and give me the lowdown before I start the third (and, I hope, final) draft. When I wasn’t working on the book, I was writing the Gotham to Gautham Batman essays. I even wrote a 5,000 word short story last week.
When I’m not writing, I’m either reading (should finish Stephen King’s superb Revival tonight) or vegging out because teaching is hard motherfuckin’ work.
Before I go, I want to recommend two things to you:
Thing the First. If you haven’t checked out Mason James Cole, you really need to. His Pray To Stay Dead is a great zombie/horror novel. I’m not a huge fan of zombie books, but I loved this. Even better is his much shorter novel Buster Voodoo. I consider him a friend from afar, meaning he connected to me via Facebook at some point in the last five years or so, and we found that we had a huge admiration (obsession?) for the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, Stephen King, and basically nerd stuff. All that means nothing to me when it comes to the writing. Cole is the real deal, I promise. His writing reminds me of King’s, but definitely is his own. I can’t wait to see what else he has up his sleeve.
Thing the Second. Richard Chizmar, owner, publisher, and editor of Cemetery Dance magazine and Cemetery Dance Publications, recently launched a new endeavor called Stephen King Revisited. With associate (and a really good writer himself) Brian James Freeman, Chizmar is re-reading Stephen King’s books in the order they were published and then writing essays about them. They remind me quite a bit of what I’ve been doing with my movie essays. Funny enough, I’d thought about branching off into the King books, too, but am now thinking that maybe I shouldn’t. Either way, you should definitely check this site out. It’s entertaining, insightful, and will bring you back to the first time you cracked open one of King’s novels.
That’s it for me. My essay on The Dark Knight Rises should be up within the next few days.
Here I am, peeking in just to say hi. Sadly, I broke the chain the other day, Thursday, September 4th. I was just too goddamn tired and depressed to really motivate myself to do the editing I needed to do. So between June 24th and September 3rd, I wrote every day, mostly on the novel. That makes a 72-day stretch. I’m very happy. I worked last night (Friday) and tonight so a new chain is forming.
If you’re following my From Gotham to Gautham Batman film essays, rest assured that they’ll come. I already have the next four essays written, and have gathered the pictures for the next installment, Batman Returns (1992), I just have to format them, place them, and revise the essay. I also have to re-watch Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.
So keep watching this space. I’m running as fast as I can.
It’s 8:56 PM as I write these words. At this time next week, I will be tired after having gone to work for the first time since mid-June. I’m depressed. Now before you give me the Well, I work all year round, get two vacations, and have to work on weekends speech, please rest assured, I know this. I used to, too. My wife has to work like this, and she reminds me of this whenever I kvetch too much or too loudly.* As she should. But here’s the thing about teaching, the 7:30-3:00 day (which is really more like 7:15-3:15, or 4) isn’t the only thing required.
If I can, I try to get all my grading (I hate the term correcting, but I’m not a math teacher, either, so…) done during the school day so I don’t have to take anything home. Luckily, with what I teach, I can do this more often than not. It’s about time management and finding opportunities when they arise. Kind of like writing when you have a full-time job and a family. Still, I do occasionally have to bring work home. Hours of work.
Then there’s the planning. I haven’t been back to work since June. I will go in this week to get my room prepared and to get some supplies I need for my first day. Because I teach freshman, there is more stuff I have to do on Monday than many of my colleagues, who will be setting up their classrooms that day. I haven’t actually even opened any files that are work-related. To the untrained civilian eye, I have done nothing for my job since mid-June.
I’ve been thinking. See, teaching is an art, or a craft, like writing. My life as a writer as helped me be a teacher as much as being a parent has helped me be a teacher (maybe someday I’ll tell you how being a teacher has helped me be a parent). So when I’m sitting at my desk, or on the couch, or at the table, or in the car, and it looks like I’m doing nothing, my mind is going. Racing, really. Sometimes it’s in Writer Mode, thinking about the current draft of the novel (almost done! Ayiiiiii!) but more and more frequently I’m thinking about work. Lesson plans. Ideas. Ways to present the information. Ways to present myself. Two weeks ago, my two-mile walks were mainly me thinking about the book or stories I want to write between drafts 2 and 3. Last week, my two-mile walks were split between writing and teaching, with teaching taking up more and more of my thoughts.
I’m about to start my 8th year as a teacher, and I’m revising in my mind. By the end of the weekend, I’ll begin writing notes. By Wednesday, my third day (and the school’s 2nd day), I’ll have a bunch of handwritten lesson plan notes that will eventually be typed up and submitted to my boss when the time comes. Some may tsk-tsk. You should have your lesson plans before you step foot in the classroom, they say. I do. I have last year’s. My springboard. It’s how I work and it works for me, so back off.
I love teaching, no doubt about it. But I love writing more, and I worry that my writing might stall as the Day Job takes up the mental and physical energy required to do it. I’ve known teachers who didn’t give it their all, who made their jobs easy. I sat in with an English teacher once who actually sat at their desk the entire class, every class. The kids were bored. Sure they learned something, maybe, but they didn’t have to think. Everything was fed to them. Everything. I knew a different teacher who taught straight from books and slept at their desk. Can you imagine that? Neither are in the profession anymore and I’m glad, because their students were at a disadvantage with them. I can’t do what they did. I can’t go the easier route so that I have more energy, more time. So I give it my all, teach my lessons like Robin Williams did stand-up comedy, or like Bruce Springsteen puts on a rock concert, and come home to be Daddy, and then Honeybun, and then…Bill Gauthier, writer of such books as Alice on the Shelf and stories such as “The Growth of Alan Ashley.”
And that’s the thing. This summer, I was a stay-at-home dad. From the time I woke up until the time G went to bed, I was Daddy. When Pamela got home from work, I was Daddy and Honeybun. When she went to bed, I allotted two hours for myself. From 9-10, I was Bill Gauthier, writer. From 10-11, I read. Sometimes I fuck around online, but more often than not, I read. I’m a slow reader and need all the help I can get.
About a month ago I wrote about not breaking the chain. I haven’t. This blog can be my X for tonight, though I still fully intend on working on the novel, too. Here is what the chain looks like now:
I’ve been busy, and the goal wasn’t just to not break the chain but to also get myself into the habit of using 9-10 for writing. I still have to get my Master’s degree, so this is going to be especially important. I know that once school starts back up, the chain will break. My goal is to postpone that from happening as long as I can (that said, my money is on next Monday night, Tuesday maybe). I don’t know if I’ll succeed, but by now, even when I don’t want to write, I find I’m able to manage something.
So if you know a teacher who’s about to go back to school, or has already gone back to school, don’t give them a hard time about going back when they complain about it. There’s no need to remind them about their vacations or holidays. Remember, I didn’t even mention how the kids’ lives seep into ours as we grow concerned because this one has that issue and that one needed to be brought down to guidance and that other one is failing even though they’re brilliant. I didn’t mention the silly politics or the things that don’t work that should work, or….
You get the idea.
I’ve inadvertently written 1,152 words. My intent was to write 500 or so. Oops.
* I love my wife more than anything else in the world, and am not trying to make her sound like a nagging wife. She puts up with my shit but she does not take it, if you get what I mean. Her reminders when I start complaining about having to go back to work aren’t meant to belittle my feelings, but rather to remind me that it could be worse. Just so you know.
Last year, I don’t remember when exactly, a piece about Jerry Seinfeld popped up on my Facebook wall that actually made me click the link. I don’t hate Seinfeld, I actually think he’s a goddamn funny guy, and I love his show Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee (which reminds me, there’s a new season I have to watch!), but I’m not likely to reminisce about his sitcom (I haven’t watched that many episodes) and generally not likely to click a link about him. But two things piqued my interest about this particular link: 1) I’d heard Seinfeld on Howard Stern in a great interview, and 2) it was about writing. Because of the Stern interview, I knew that Seinfeld still wrote every day. The guy’s worth gazillions of dollars but he is dedicated to his craft as a comedian and does the work. So, I clicked the link.
In the article (which I’m not linking to because I’ve forgotten which place I read it on, but if you search Seinfeld break the chain you should find one of several articles about it), it says that Seinfeld told a man once, way back, that he writes every day. When he was asked how he keeps motivated, he told the man that he had a giant calendar on the wall above his desk (or something) that has every day of the year on it. He then crosses out a day after he’s done his writing. Sooner or later the Xs form a chain. The goal: Don’t break the chain.
Always looking for motivation (because, you know, spending time in my own fantasy world the way I did when I was a kid playing with my action figures isn’t enough motivation) this stuck with me. I even looked up some calendars online. Still, I didn’t take action. Around the end of the year, I remembered the idea and decided I’d begin on January 1st.
So, on January 1st, I began forming my chain. I wish I could say that I haven’t broken my chain. Unfortunately, if you go back to the 1st of the year with my chain, I’m afraid it wouldn’t hold a damn thing. That said, I’ve still been using it. And it looms over me. When I haven’t put an X on a day, I feel bad. Doubly bad, really. Not only have I broken the chain, but I’ve deprived myself of the joy that writing, that creating characters and getting lost in my own imagination, provides me.
Like I said, I haven’t exactly built a great chain. More like a bunch of small chains, and even a few random links. However, I’m particularly proud of the chain I’ve been working on since June 24th, when I counted a blog post I wrote that day to be my writing. Technically, by my own rules, when I’m done with this post, I can add a new link to the calendar even though I fully intend (need) to get back to the novel tonight. And because I’m obsessive, I even write in the margins how many days I write and how many days I don’t. January and June have been my best months. March, my worst.
I don’t know if it’s working 100%, but I like it. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and I’ve gotten back the feelings that seduced me into writing way back when I was 13 years old. The feeling of creation, of problem solving, of putting something down that wouldn’t exist without me. Life has hurt that, I guess. But this calendar has helped get it back, and that’s something I’m quite happy about.
While I’m talking about writing, I want to mention WritingChallenge.org and the very cool Kristy Acevedo. Kristy is a fellow teacher in the school I work (which, oddly enough, we’ve only met once or twice and have maybe said one or two things to each other in the real world. With my social awkwardness, that’s not much of a surprise, really) but she’s also a writer. We began following each other on Twitter because of a former student we had in common and have spoken there a bit.
Right after summer vacation started, she decided to issue a challenge to the writers following her that, for the month of July, she would try to write at least 500 words a day and then post the results on Twitter. Others began doing it and it’s become a thing of it’s own. Like Frankenstein’s Creature, it’s off to terrorize the countryside. So if you’re a writer and aren’t aware of it, check it out. I’m not a regular because with my current work being revisions (and as followers of this blog know, these revisions have been going on forever) I don’t have many word count days in the way I would writing a 1st draft, but I chime in every now and then. Like a support group whose goal is to encourage its members. You might even–egads!–make friends.
This Saturday marks my 5th wedding anniversary to Pamela, and I have to say that I’m a little surprised. Surprised that five years have passed, surprised that she’s been by my side for seven years, and surprised that I haven’t somehow fucked the whole thing up. There’ve been near-misses, but here we are with an awesome 19-month-old girl and still crazy in love.
Sunday marks the 11th anniversary of the e-mail that would change everything. I know it because it came the day after my best friend’s wedding to his wife. The e-mail was from Elizabeth E. Monteleone telling me that my short story, “The Growth of Alan Ashley,” had been accepted to Borderlands 5, the fifth volume of the cutting-edge horror/dark/weird fiction anthology that I’d only grown up reading. She and her husband, the writer Thomas F. Monteleone, co-edited the anthologies that had published some of the biggest names in the field, and several newcomers who would go on to become Elder Statespersons of the dark genres.
For me, the sale would be true recognition of hard work. Within 24 hours of the acceptance, their publishing company, Borderlands Press, released their first advertisement for the book. This ad listed all 25 contributors, including Stephen King. This was a dream come true.
“The Growth of Alan Ashley” appearing in Borderlands 5 (and its subsequent paperback from Warner Books, From the Borderlands) opened doors for me. Some I walked through, some I missed, some I still hope to walk through more than a decade later.
A lot has happened in the last 11 years. My life had been turned upside-down and rightside-up and everything in between. Still, I am hugely proud of my association with Borderlands and with my story. “The Growth of Alan Ashley” is a piece that I can look at and think that, at least once in my life, I wrote something that was as good as any other writer working at that time.
The story was reprinted (slightly edited) in my collection Catalysts. Since Catalysts sold out, it’s been out of print.
Borderlands 5 is now available as an ebook from Borderlands Press. Some of the reprint rights for some of the stories weren’t granted for this edition (for instance, no Stephen King) but it is still an amazing roster. I can’t go through my favorite stories entirely, because it’s been 11 years since I read the book, but I remember being blown away by Gary Braunbeck’s story “Rami Temporales”.
I hope to be able to get Catalysts republished in some form sooner than later, but for now, for a damn fine read, I can say that buying Borderlands 5 will be the best $3.99 you can spend. Honestly, I’d splurge and get all the Borderlands anthologies.
Something happened recently that made me question myself. I won’t go into specifics but it made me really question myself. I came out stronger, I think. And a better person, I think. It may have even been one of the last real steps to me becoming–gasp!–an adult.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to sell my action figures or relinquish my love of comics books, superheroes, space fantasy, Muppets, or Mister Rogers anytime soon. But for the first time I feel…well…like a man.
Let me explain, if I can….
As a teacher, I began telling my students to grow up to be the kind of person they want to be. If they see themselves as a good person, then work their asses off to become a good person. Everything else will fall into place. Now, as I reread that, it looks a little hippie-dippy to me. The best way I can explain it is this….
When I was a kid, I hated to be asked the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I hated that question because I didn’t know. I was 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, fucking 10 years old! How the hell would I know?! (An aside: This is one question I will not ask children until they are teenagers. I’m more interested in what they want to be now. Childhood is such a short period of time, why sully it with a glimpse into the grown-up darkness that awaits?). So I’d give them some bullshit answer that would shut up the grown-up and get them off my back.
“A baseball player,” I’d say, though I never played Little League, didn’t watch any sports on TV, and generally despised competitive athletics (I still do).
“A police officer.”
“A weather man.”
In other words, I’d give the standard answers that adults expect. The only one that really came close to what, in my heart of hearts, I’d hoped to do was be an actor. I’ll explain why I think I never pursued it another time, perhaps.
But around the time I was 9 or 10, I began to get a glimmer of what I might want to do as an adult. Not a job or career, but a general way of being. I knew that I either wanted to help people or entertain them. Those were the two things that I decided I wanted to try to do.
Now, my choices were limiting, because even as a 10-year-old, I knew I couldn’t work in medicine. I’m too squeamish. And I knew I’d make a horrible police officer (although I think I’d make an excellent detective, but I could be full of shit). So that left…what?
For awhile, I thought I would be a comic book writer and artist, until I decided to focus solely on writing when I was 13.
Fast forward 23 years. I’ve had many bouts of wondering what was happening in my life in the last few years. Turning 36 last August was hard. In age, I was an adult. I could no longer blame my stupid actions on being young and naive. Maybe naive, but certainly not young. And I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I had a job—a career—that I really liked, that I’m really good at, but…it wasn’t the career I wanted. But…I liked it. Loved it, even. Not the paperwork, and certainly not the politics, but the interaction with students. The knowledge that I’ve made a difference in lives. I mean, I have students who have given my cards and notes and vlogs telling me how much my classes, how much my work, has meant to them!
And yet…I was so sad. Because I wasn’t writing full-time. Or working on movies. Or comic books. Because I wanted, in my mind, more.
So one day I was talking to some students after school. This was about a year ago. The two were best friends and one was leaving to go to another school. And I told him that I would be there if he needed me. And then I said:
“One of my favorite writers, Harlan Ellison, has said that his definition of success is ‘achieving in adult terms that which you longed for as a child.’ I’d add to that that if your childhood self met your adulthood self, would he be happy? Would he say, ‘That guy’s pretty cool. I wouldn’t mind becoming him.’
“When I was a kid,” I continued, “I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I knew that I wanted to either entertain people or help them.”
And before I could go on to whatever I was about to say, one of the young men said, “And you do both every day right here.”
“Yeah,” said the other. “You’re a success, Mr. Gauthier!”
We laughed and talked a few minutes more before parting ways for the day, but it stuck with me.
This year, I began telling students not to worry about future careers. To have an idea and work toward it, but to decide what kind of person they wanted to be, and the career would present itself.
So I went through a little bit of a fire this year. It made me question myself, and the way I got out was by realizing who I wanted to be. I’ve known since I was a boy. Now it was time to actually be that man.
I’ve always wanted to help and entertain. I’m a teacher and a writer. In my classroom, I help and entertain. If I can make a student laugh, or cry, if I can make a student feel, then I can make them care enough to learn what I need them to learn. In my stories, I can help people escape their lives for a little while, make them laugh, cry, or frighten them. I may try stand-up comedy at some point. I may try acting. I know I’ll write a comic book. I may even try screenwriting. And while I’m still hungry to make the creative part of my life my sole profession, for the first time I’m truly happy with the part of my life that pays the bills.
As a result, I’m a better teacher. I’m a better writer. I’m a better father. I’m a better husband.
I’m a better man.
Harlan Ellison, one of my heroes, turns 80 tomorrow, 27 May 2014. I will leave my usual birthday greeting on his website, and go back to lurking. But I now lurk as the man I know I want to be, not the guy who’s unsure of himself.
It feels pretty great.
Sorry about the silence of the last…oh…shit. I just looked it up and my last post was in February! Bad blogger! My apologies, my adoring public. I could give you the grocery list of reasons—being a teacher with grades due, stress, parenting a teenager, stress, parenting a toddler, stress, being a husband, stress, and stress—but I don’t want to bore you. What I want to do is:
1. Assure you that I’m alive and well and will return here with a real post sooner than later.
2. Let you know that this Saturday, April 12th—which happens to be the great David Letterman’s birthday—I will be making my first appearance on The Tim Weisberg Show! I first met Tim back in 2011 when I was invited to so his other radio show, Spooky Southcoast, which he co-hosts with Matt Costa. Tim has been very kind since then. I don’t know what we’ll talk about but probably pop culture stuff. Since we’re around the same age, we’ll probably fall into mutual fondness for bad 1980s cartoons, horror movies, and other such stuff. Either way, I’m pretty excited because I’ve enjoyed being on the radio in the past and Tim and I seem to get on pretty well.
I’ll be appearing on the 8 o’clock hour of the show. You can listen on the WBSM website or on the RadioPup app. Of course, if you live in the Greater New Bedford area on the Southcoast of Massachusetts, you can hear it on your actual terrestrial radio, on 1420 AM.
I’ll try to be entertaining. I promise.
I’m writing this on the iPad, so if there are major typos or just seemingly illiterate stuff that pops up, that’s probably why. I dare not try going into the office because I may wake–or alert–the Toddler, Genevieve.
This week, G has been sick. Last weekend her normal morning congestion was extremely bad and went on throughout the day, which made it not morning congestion but, rather, a cold. After a slight fever Monday night, Pamela stayed home with her on Tuesday and took her to the doctor. G has a virus that needs to work its way out.
Wednesday she went to day care but had a bad day, so I stayed home with her on Thursday. Back to day care yesterday. She’s a little better but is still sniffly, ooey-gooey snotty. The cough isn’t as bad. I put her down for nap about an hour ago and she wasn’t happy. She’s either sleeping right now or daydreaming; making only small sounds every now and then.
Due to her being sick and my worrying (our worrying), as well the the typical stressors of being a high school teacher, I dropped the ball this week on writing. I’d been doing real well with editing, revising, and rewriting the novel but this week I did nothing. I was too goddamn tired. I read a little before bed (Supergods by Grant Morrison) each night but that was all. With vacation being this coming week, I’m hoping to play a little catch-up. We’ll see.
How anyone with full-time jobs and families make the time to write is amazing to me. At least I’m just over halfway done with this draft of the book.
One of the biggest problems with writing long fiction is the certainty that you’re fucking it all up. I’m about halfway through editing/revising the novel and I’m pretty sure I’ve fucked the whole thing up way beyond repair. Now keep in mind that there’s no evidence, not one iota, not a single scintilla, that would lead me in that direction. It’s just insecurity speaking. The voices of Them.
You know who They are. They are the ones who laughed at you at school or in your old neighborhood because you were too imaginative, you didn’t fit in, you weren’t interested in sports. They are the members of your family who wonder when you’ll stop wasting your precious time at night (or in the morning, or on weekends) working on your stories, your fantasies, your games you played as a child with plastic men and women with accessories or Action! Features! and grow up. They are the ones you see in reflections in the windows at the Day Job, or in the mirror when it’s too late and those bags under your eyes are awfully dark tonight and in the morning when it feels too early and the bags are worse and why, why, WHY the Day Job that takes up too much time, too much energy, too much creativity?!
Yeah, I’ve fucked up the novel. I’m sure of it. So there’s only one thing to do now….
I’ll pick up the current chapter I’m editing tomorrow night and continue. It all comes with the territory.
Strangely enough, found that someone did an Internet search for the following: “bill gauthier the shining book review titan magazine”. That’s oddly precise.
They found my bibliography.
The story behind the review is kind of funny. I found out (somehow or another) that some local guys were going to start a magazine called Titan, which would be something like The Improper Bostonian for the New Bedford area. I looked into being a book reviewer or somesuch and was told to submit a sample. So I wrote a review of Stephen King’s The Shining, figuring the editors would check out my style and see if it was a good fit, and then we’d go from there. They used the goddamn review. Then I was told that they’d be interested in more from me, but only if it was more contemporary.
I think it was the last thing I submitted to them. The pay was pretty bad, too. Meaning, it was nonexistent.
Anyway, I have copies of the actual magazine, if someone is looking for it.
So now that I’ve finally gotten through the Friday in Gautham essays (or essays on the Friday the 13th movies) I’m left feeling the same sense of fatigue that the previous movie series left me feeling. I had planned on jumping straight into the next series, but find I just don’t have it in me right now, not with the novel to work on.
But that’s okay, because I will do another one, and probably another, as long as readers seem interested.
So, the Genevieve turned one this past week and her 1st birthday party is this Sunday. It’s a three-day weekend that won’t feel much like a weekend. That’s probably the most difficulty I’m having as a new father this time around: losing so much alone time.
I had friends growing up, but not many. Given a choice between playing with a group of kids or playing with my action figures, the action figures always won out. This led naturally to the writing lifestyle of hours alone in a make-believe world. I like that alone time. Thrive on it. So to have my alone time so diminished is pretty frustrating.
That said, I’m extremely lucky to have lost so much alone time due to people I love. Of course, the Day Job’s squelching of my alone time is an entirely different matter, though at least my students are great and, often, inspiring. So it makes the loss of time worth it.
That said, I should get back to work. I just wanted to let you know I’m here and will be trying to post more.
Whoa-ho-ho! What a day, friends! But I’ll get to that in a minute or so.
I’ve decided to attempt to schedule my creative time. I actually decided this months ago, and began really thinking about it a couple of weeks back. Tonight I put pen to calendar and I thought I’d share.
I read this article more than a year ago and thought, I should try something like that. I decided instantly that using an Excel spreadsheet wasn’t an option because I can’t figure out how to use that program (Excel’s templates are what I use, if I use it at all). It took me awhile to figure out what to do. For now, I’m using my desk calendar. I’d already decided that Thursday would be a Must Blog Day, which is when I was putting the Nightmare on Elm Street and Superman essays up. But since July, I’ve been bad about that. So now that I’m back at work/school and have been doing real well working on the novel, I’ve decided to really try out a schedule. I know it will change as I get used to it, but that’s fine. Two weeks are mapped out. We’ll see how this works. If you’re interested, I can give you updates.
This is a nice feeling of accomplishment and, dare I say?, maturity on my part since I had a bit of a meltdown today. I won’t go into it because I know They‘re watching and I don’t want to say the wrong thing or for that thing (right or wrong) to be taken the wrong way (which, in my experience, tends to be how things work), but suffice it to say, ineptitude turned me into my arrogant, prima donna self.
Which makes me think of Dunkin Donuts. I have basically stopped going to Dunkin Donuts in favor of their competitor Honey Dew Donuts. I was sick of the window people (and the counter people) getting things wrong every time I went there. My order is simple: Large hot coffee, extra light, four sugars. Many times, I emphasize extra light. Dunkin Donuts gave it to me light, at best, dark most often. Or without sugar. Or they’d fuck up my sandwich, or my wife’s sandwich (she doesn’t want cheese on her breakfast sandwiches–or any sandwiches for that matter…I know, it’s a major personality flaw but I still love her even though she eats breakfast sandwiches wrong), or her drink.
The final straw was when I went to get a toasted bagel with cream cheese for the teenager. I’d already gotten my coffee elsewhere before I picked her up for school and she asked if I’d get her a bagel. So there was a Dunkin Donuts and I went through the drive-thru.
“Hi. I’ll have a toasted bagel with cream cheese, please.”
I drive up, pay, get the bag, and am pulling around to leave when Courtney says, “Look.”
She pulls out a small package of butter. And there’s no knife to spread it.
So I park, and bring the butter in. The girl at the counter ignores me for a few moments before, “Can I help you?”
“Yes,” I say, putting on a smile and faking a pleasant disposition. “I just ordered a bagel and cream cheese at the window and was given butter.” I held up the butter. “I wondered if I could have cream cheese.”
The girl sighs and walks away. A few moments pass. I wait. And wait. And wait. Finally she returns and thrusts the cream cheese at me and turns around to walk away.
She turns and rolls her eyes. “Yes?”
“Could I have a knife to spread this?”
She sucks her teeth and procures a plastic knife that would have a hard time spreading air. She walks away before I can thank her. I’m left with cream cheese and a knife in one hand, butter in the other. I placed the butter in the rack of gift cards.
It’s been months since I’ve gone to a Dunkin Donuts. I’ve been happy.
Except, recently, Honey Dew has been giving me light coffee. I order it extra light.
I’m not asking for much, just aptitude at your job.
Speaking of which, I made these cheeseburgers (hamburgers for Pamela) tonight. Her’s was medium, mine well-done. Cheee-rist! I made a mean burger! Well-done but juicy, two slices of cheese (one on top, one on the bottom), lightly toasted buns.
Yeah. Tonight helped today.
The poll way back in July gave me a winner. However, I never got to the watch winning series of movies when I wanted to so I haven’t written the essays yet. That said, there’d been another set of essays I’d already started and am almost finished with, so that’s what I’m going with, especially considering next week’s significant date.
So the next movie series will be:
That’s right! Beginning next Friday the 13th, I’ll be posting my thoughts on the Friday the 13th movie series, or as some refer to them, the Jason movies.
Which I’ll totally admit that nobody voted for this series, but they came back on Netflix (well, most of them) and I began watching them again. As of right now, I only have one more to watch and write about, so the series is pretty much all set. Unlike my previous movie essays, though, some of these will be posted twice a week so I can get them all in by Halloween.
After this, the next series will be, finally, the winner of the poll. Which is…
You’ll have to wait.
I hit an exciting milestone in the novel a week or so ago. I got to the halfway point in the second draft. I knew the work was going to get harder because the character I excised really started doing stuff in the second half of the book.
The way I’ve been working on the second draft of this novel has been thusly: I take a chapter from the printed-out first draft and I go through it with my blue pen (Pilot Precise V5) editing, making notes, etc. When I’m done with the edits, I sit down at the computer, cut the chapter from the first draft file and paste it into the second draft file, and then go through the edits. At the end of the chapter, once I’ve gone through my notes and such, I go back to the top of the chapter and then read it aloud, making further changes as I go. Once I’m through, I go to the stack of chapters in the first draft and start on the next chapter.
Well, as I’m going through the current chapter with the pen, I realize something the makes my blood cold. The talismans I have given to two different characters are superfluous. They were something that helped me in the first draft but is really…well, bullshit. They must go.
Now I’ve got a decision to make. Do I wait until I’m working toward the third draft to get rid of these silly objects or do I go back and rewrite the half of the second draft that is completed so as I move forward on this draft, I can take care of it all? And if I remove these talismans, how do the characters resolve their issues. That part was easy: They resolve it on their own.
I went back-and-forth with this for a week, but a morning walk around the park decided it for me. Last night, I went back to chapter 1. This shouldn’t take long.
So far the results for the poll have Batman on the Silver Screen tied with the Indiana Jones films for the lead. The Back to the Future movies are tied with Other: All of the Above. Nobody has voted for the Friday the 13th movies. I’ll give the poll a few more days in case you want to vote. Thanks to those who have already voted.
So after posting my views on Man of Steel and then the Afterword to From Krypton to Gautham, I needed a break and have mostly been focusing on fiction. Writing those essay series is like writing short books. That’s good, though, because it showed me that I can really do something like that. Also, your reaction to it, from the comments and just the traffic that these essays have brought to the website, are worth it. Thank you.
Still, I do intend to put other things up here as well. Most summers are pretty productive for me but this summer is slower because of the baby, but I have a few things in mind. But I would like to get to another series of movies. I’m trying to decide which ones. What do you think?
The first draft of the essay for Superman III is done. Tonight I’ll revise, gather images, and post. Sorry about the second delay.
Up, up, and awaaaaaayyyy!
I’m not sure who, if anyone, is following my From Krypton to Gautham series of essays on Superman on the big screen, but if you are, this week’s essay(s) on Superman II will probably be delayed. As you know, I’m a high school teacher by day, and I have a 7-month-old baby (the 15-year-old doesn’t keep me up at night or have a diaper to change). This is the end of the school year and I’ve been tired as well as busy. My normal writing time these days is between 9-or-10 and 11 and lately, I’ve needed the sleep or have been busy doing school stuff.
The good news is this: My last day of the Day Job for the 2012-2013 year is next Tuesday. My intention is to finish the first essay on Superman II (I’m at about 1,800 words now and am close to finishing) in the next few days and post is as soon as it’s done. I will also then be rewatching and then writing an essay on Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut within days following. My goal is to have that essay, along with Superman III‘s essay, online next week. I’d hoped to have the two versions of Superman II up this week but it just didn’t happen.
I also intend to write more on this blog in general, maybe even try my hand at a vlog post this summer. Who knows? One of the things I discovered doing the few radio appearances is that I enjoy talking like that, so I’d like to try it in some way. I may even do a podcast-type thing, or audio posts, if that’s possible. We’ll see. So if you’re sick of only seeing movie-related posts, my intention is to make sure that’s not all that’s happening here.
Stick around. Things will get interesting.
From 2004 through 2010 I wrote a column called American Gauthic for the magazine Dark Discoveries, which seemed to have some regular readers. A few, anyway. In 2006, I wrote an installment on Harlan Ellison, which was apropos. The reason I was writing the column was partly because of Ellison’s own excellent columns that I’d read collected in An Edge In My Voice, Harlan Ellison’s Watching, The Harlan Ellison Hornbook, and The Glass Teat books.¹ They inspired me. Looking back on the earlier columns make me cringe. I was beginning to hit my stride, though, by the time I stopped writing them.²
Today, on Harlan’s 79th birthday, I’m posting my essay. It will be revised and have annotations throughout. I hope you enjoy and, if you aren’t familiar with his work, make yourself so.
From Gautham to Ellison Wonderland
Someone suggested at one point (I think it may have been John R. Little–whose work, including Placeholders, The Memory Tree, and Miranda, I love) that I write an installment about one of my favorite writers, Harlan Ellison. It’s a daunting task, really. Others who are far more talented than I am have done so and have barely touched the surface of the entity that is Harlan Ellison. But there have also been many less-talented people who’ve written about Ellison, so I figured why the hell not?
I’ve said to friends that if Stephen King is #1 on my favorite writer list, then Ellison is #1.5. As King pointed out in one of the last sections of the chapter called “Horror Fiction” in his 1980 nonfiction book Danse Macabre, “it is impossible to separate the man from the work.” The reason this is so is because Ellison has a persona that is as hated as it is loved and is as famous as any of his stories. There are few people who tend to fall into a gray area in regards to him.
I’ve never met the man. Some would count me among the lucky ones. I have had a little bit of contact with him, though, through the bulletin board at his website, which was begun by Rick Wyatt. Our few exchanges have been pleasant. At one point he needed a specific printing of his collection Troublemakers that I happened to have and I sent it to him. I soon received a first printing of the book with a short thank-you note on the book’s title page. It’s amongst my prized books (second only to my signed edition of Borderlands 5).
In person, I saw Ellison (along with Neil Gaiman and Peter David) at MIT in October 2001. I didn’t stick around for the signing because at the time I was too nervous and…well, there were some other complications, too. Gaiman brought out most of the crowd but Ellison was electric. What I remember best about that night (besides the albino with the goggles who seemed to have orgasmic fits almost every time Gaiman spoke, including, at one point, screaming “We love you, Neil!”), was the pure joy Ellison had reading his story “Goodbye to All That.” There was a running joke in the story that, after the third time the audience laughed, sent Ellison into a childlike dance of glee.
There was also an exchange with a young man that brought tears to my eyes. It was after one of Ellison’s diatribes about Internet piracy (this was in the midst a lawsuit against AOL) in which Ellison called most of the people in the room stupid. The young man was clearly upset and asked Ellison if he thought calling people stupid helped the message. Ellison came to the edge of the stage (which made some of the audience ooh and aahh, expecting him to pounce the young man and tear his throat out, to which he responded, “Shut the fuck up”), and asked, “Do you think you’re stupid?”
A brief hesitation, before, “Yes.”
Ellison climbed off the stage and went to the young man. “The very fact that you asked that question means that you’re not stupid.”
Then Ellison went on to explain about how asking questions and caring is so important.³
What does all this have to do with reading Ellison? Well, I think it’s a window into what Ellison’s work is about. There’s a lot of screaming in his earlier (and sometimes his later) work, mouths or no mouths, but there’s always an underlying tenderness–or at least an underlying caring–that is essential to Ellison the man.
Ellison seems to be a burst of energy; someone more prone to running around on stage like Robin Williams (who is a friend of Ellison’s) than sitting at an Olympia manual typewriter writing stories. This may be one of the reasons Ellison has published only four novels compared to the 1700 stories and essays. Like the man, his stories are bursts of energy that leave the reader moved.
I first became aware of Harlan Ellison when I was thirteen, when I bought the first edition of George Beahm’s The Stephen King Companion. There was an interview with Ellison in that book, along with an essay from Harlan Ellison’s Watching. I read the interview and essay, and the name was filed under Someone Important In the Genres and that was about it. Ellison’s name popped up again for me in the aforementioned chapter of King’s Danse Macabre. Again, it was filed under a similar heading (along with Someone I Should Read Someday), and then ignored.
It wasn’t until we got the Sci-Fi Channel and I began watching their show Sci-Fi Buzz (which I miss wholeheartedly) that Harlan Ellison really hit me. He had a commentary on the show, done mostly from his legendary home Ellison Wonderland (or the Lost Aztec Temple of Mars). Being around seventeen, I thought he was a jerk. Yelling and screaming at the tv audience. But I was also entertained. And, while I might not have admitted it at that point, I looked forward to his small contribution to the show.
One night I flipped through the channels and stopped at CNBC to see who Tom Snyder was interviewing. He occasionally interviewed people I was interested in. This particular night he was interviewing Harlan Ellison and I remember thinking, It’s the old grouch from Sci-Fi Buzz. They were discussing Ellison’s new collaborative effort with Polish surrealist Jacek Yerka, Mind Fields, and Snyder asked Ellison what his favorite painting in the book was. Ellison said it was the painting called Ellison Wonderland, one of only two paintings in the book whose name he changed (because it reminded him of his house); the other story/painting was “Susan.” Snyder pulled out a large package and told Ellison that he had a surprise for him.
Ellison looked flustered and there, in his hands, he now held the painting Ellison Wonderland. And I saw something that, at that point, I didn’t think was possible. Harlan Ellison was speechless. Tears welled in his eyes as he stammered and finally was able to thank Snyder. Smiling, Snyder went to a commercial and I wiped the tears from my own eyes. Within days, I bought Ellison’s first volume of the ill-fated White Wolf Edgeworks project, which featured the collection of stories and essays called Over the Edge and the collection of Ellison’s column An Edge in My Voice. I was nineteen. I was hooked.
It’s been almost 17 years since all that happened. A lot has happened to me (and Ellison) in that time, but my admiration for the man and his work has never foundered. His audiobooks are amazing. His performance of “Jeffty Is Five” brings tears to my eyes every time I listen to it. Ten years ago, when I was very unhappy in my marriage and wasn’t sure what to do, it was his performance of “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” that made me realize what I had to do. Like the characters in that classic story, I was trapped in something and I needed to make a painful decision to fix escape. That story gave me the courage to take off my wedding ring and decide it was time to end the marriage despite the fear I held for my relationship with my then-five-year-old daughter.
When people talk about Harlan Ellison’s work (when they can get past the legend surrounding him, anyway) it seems that the words angry and painful are often used. And while that may be true for many of his earlier stories, something that carries through almost all his stories is the hope that Ellison has for the human race. If he’s angry at you, at me, at all of us, it’s because he sees in humanity the godlike abilities to create, to nurture, to love. Love is a huge theme in Ellison’s work…having gone through four marriages before meeting and marrying his wife Susan, having gone through an uncountable number of relationships, Ellison’s work is as much about what it means to love as it is about anything else. He also sees humanity’s self-destructive nature and shortcomings and it upsets him.
“Jeffty Is Five” is my favorite story of his. The story has always choked me up, but Ellison’s reading of it has made me cry. Here is a fantastic, subtle story filled with love. And, maybe, a small amount of anger. Another favorite of mine is “The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie,” in which a Hollywood star of old films is rediscovered in a diner and brought back to Hollywood in the late 1960s. It’s a heartbreaking tale and Ellison pulls it off with panache. I first read it when I was about twenty-four or so. At twenty-six, I read Nathanael West’s novel The Day of the Locust and wondered how much West influenced Ellison’s own tale of that bitch of a vampire called Hollywood. I also love his story “Incognita, Inc.” This is a story about a man who has to put an old man out of business. The old man is a mapmaker who makes maps that will find things one could only imagine. All these stories have the caring that Ellison has for the world, mixed with the anger at what corporations and selfishness does to people.
His work has certainly influenced my own. Right after completing “The Growth of Alan Ashley,” I called it “my Harlan Ellison story” in an e-mail to a friend. Not that I’d copied his style or tried to mimic his voice, but because I tried to take the way he bends reality until it’s a mirror image of itself and use it in my own way. So when I heard that it would be in Borderlands 5, in a sense, I felt as though I’d succeeded. After all, Ellison had a story in the first volume of Borderlands.
His influence can also be seen in this column. Going back to that first Ellison book I owned, and then reading his collection Harlan Ellison’s Hornbook, and other essays, certainly made me consider being able to do anything like this. Even the logo I had for American Gauthic was reminiscent to the logos Ellison had for his columns.
At 79, he’s not done yet. His Edgeworks Abbey imprint has been working with Publishing 180 has released eight books in the last couple of years, including two (so far) this year, and while some of the books reprint classic stories, novellas, and screenplays, they also premiere never-before-collected work. Last year, Kicks Books published his early books Pulling a Train and Getting in the Wind. This year, Hard Case Crime republished his first novel Web of the City. Subterranean Press is republishing two highly-regarded early collections, Gentleman Junkie and Other Tales of the Hung-Up Generation and The Deadly Streets in very nice collectible editions. DC Comics will be publishing the long-awaited graphic novel 7 Against Chaos. And while there aren’t any on the horizon that I know about, the CD series of On the Road With Ellison from Deep Shag Records is up to six volumes now and I recommend them all. And that’s off the top of my head (with a leeeetle research).
While I’m excited about this new stuff, I still have a lot of his older stuff to read. And reread. Whether one loves or hates the man, one cannot ignore the impact his stories, his visions, have had. Whether he’s the Zorro or Jiminy Cricket of the speculative fiction fields can be argued, but what cannot be argued is his blazing talent. And what cannot be ignored is, love him or hate him, he’s done things his own way and has held no one else responsible for the outcome.
I’ve learned a lot about what to do and what not to do from Harlan Ellison. And I look forward to many more years of his lessons. And, more than that, many more stories. I think Harlan would agree that when it’s all done, it’s all about the stories.
Right before this went to installment went to press in 2006/2007, I needed to change my address with Harlan Ellison’s newsletter, Rabbit Hole, which comes through his Harlan Ellison Recording Collection, and I mentioned the piece in the letter I sent. His wife, Susan, sent the last issue of the newsletter with a Post-It saying they’d “love” to have a sneak peek. So I sent it. Harlan Ellison called and left a voicemail to thank me for it, as well as correct a few errors and help me zipper my fly as far as some poor proofreading was concerned. It’s one of those moments that is so weird, yet so welcome.
When the essay was published in early 2007, I received another voicemail from him, again thanking me (and correcting a few things). Both voicemails were lost, since I was never able to figure out how to save them. Since the publication of this essay, Erik Nelson’s phenomenal look at Ellison’s life, Dreams with Sharp Teeth came out. Besides the incident with the young man at MIT mentioned above, there’s a clip where Ellison says, “I’m an Atheist, folks,” and some woo-ing can be heard. That’s me and my best friend Toby.
I never returned the calls to Harlan because I never knew what to say. It’s one of the many times my social anxiety has gotten the better of me. Still, I have the knowledge–an enough friends to heard the messages, including my wife, who heard the message back when she was my girlfriend–to know they existed.
Harlan’s influence has been great on me, both his writing and his life. So it is with great joy that I say–
Happy birthday, Unca Harlan! And thank you.
¹ I also found inspiration in Tom Monteleone’s M.A.F.I.A. column in Cemetery Dance.
² I stopped writing American Gauthic for several reasons, the biggest of which was lack of time. I needed to take classes to keep my job and found that a lot of my time was eaten away. Time wasn’t the only reason, but it was a big one. I’d happily go back to writing it for Dark Discoveries or another publication if the opportunity arose. I’m much better at time management now.
³ This incident appears in the documentary about Harlan called Dreams with Sharp Teeth, as is another clip from that evening.