Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

UPDATE: My next book will be announced and available for pre-order on March 20th.  There’s an awesome contest that goes hand-in-hand with the book.  It’s a lot of fun, and I promise it will be worth the (short) wait.

Last weekend I attended and helped out with STAPLE!  This indie comics convention is one of the highlights of my year, a chance to connect with folks I haven’t seen in awhile.  I was a little more quiet this year and even snuck out early.  With almost a year of sobriety in my pocket, I still don’t function in social settings.  Still, I had a good time.  I received theme sketches from Rob Osborne, Ryan Yount, Josh Boulet, and Jason Chalker.  If I had a scanner, I’d share them all with you.  Hmm, I should maybe get a scanner.

Monday hit, and the with it came the 30th allergy season of 2009.  I have no idea what pollen is floating through the air right now, but it has left me with a fever, the sweats, sore muscles, and a lovely assortment of things dropping out of my sinuses.  I’m pretty sure I coughed up a dead mouse this morning.  Man, I love Austin, but this allergy bullshit has got to go.

The next week and a half will be spent preparing for the book announcement. I wish I could tell you more about it, but I’m under an oath of secrecy.  I suppose I could give you a hint, though.

So there you go.  I’ll see you all soon.

Writing like a shark

I didn’t write much last night.  I’d just finished one short project and was waiting for notes from pre-readers.  I worked a little on some cover copy for an upcoming book and rules for a contest that goes with said book (more on those soon).  All in all, it took a little less than an hour and didn’t involve a single word of fiction.

It was horrible!

As the night wore on and shifted into morning, I felt antsy.  I had trouble sleeping.  This morning, every last one of my nerves is jangling.  Because I haven’t written.  Because I feel like I’m wasting precious time.

Want to know why blog updates haven’t been as frequent?  I’ve been writing.  If I’m not at work, sleeping, or eating, I’m usually writing.  It’s a compulsive need.  I couldn’t stop if I tried.

Sharks need to keep swimming or they die.  Writers need to keep writing.  Trust me, it’s not a situation we demanded or anything like that.  We’re not really useful for anything else.  We can write, and that’s about it.  It’s not pretty, but there it is.

I’ve been think a lot lately about how to make this writing gig a career.  The odds are ridiculously long with the economy the way it is, but I remain optimistic.  And I’m going to keep writing no matter what.

Why?

Because I can’t stop.

I’m always running into idiots

I don’t know why I keep finding idiots at the local Barnes and Noble.  It feels like common sense that bookstore employees should be, at the very least, marginally intelligent.  The only way I can make sense out of it is to tell myself they’re all morons who wanted a “deep” job and couldn’t get hired by Starbucks.

Case in point…

Last Friday I went shopping for Tom Piccirilli’s latest crime novel, The Coldest Mile.  Now, I know this books is out and available.  I have friends who are currently reading it.  A trip to Borders turned up nothing, however. 

With time running out before I needed to meet friends, I ran to the nearest Barnes and Noble and walked right up to the Customer Service desk.

“Hi.  I’m looking for a book called The Coldest Mile.”

clicky-clicky-clicky.

“Tom Piccirilli?”

“Yes.”

“It’s not out yet.”

“Really? It was supposed to be out Tuesday.”

“It was.  It’s not out yet.”

“I know people who have copies.  Can you check the other stores in town.”

“They don’t have any copies.  The book hasn’t been released yet.”

By this point, I’m thinking there are three possibilities for this employee’s insistence that this book hasn’t been published yet: 1) they think I’m lying 2) they’re a malfunctioning customer service android 3) they’re an idiot.  Strong odds point to possibility number three.

I decide to take the high road.

“So, do you have any copies ordered?”

“No.  It’s not out yet.  Is there anything else I can help you with?”

And that was my Friday.  Good times.

A different kind of horror

Every few hours or so, somebody will talk about how horror as a genre is dead.  You don’t see it in bookstores anymore, nobody’s buying it, blah, blah, blah… Whenever I hear this I like to say something that sums up the argument nicely, “You’re right.  Horror is dead, provided you ignore all the ways it isn’t.”

The problem, as far as I see it, is the word.  Horror.  Look at it a second.  It’s not a genre; it’s an emotion.  It’s something you feel deep in your gut.  In the eighties, somebody got the bright idea to slap the word on bookspines (usually in dripping, bloody letters) and suddenly we had a horror genre. 

Nowadays, publishers don’t use those dripping letters, so people think the genre is dead.  Forget that books like The Road are getting critical acclaim and dominating the best seller lists.  Who cares if it’s a horrific post-apocalyptic tale brimming with terrifying scenarios.  It doesn’t have those dripping letters or a werewolf on the cover, so it doesn’t count.

Look, I’m not trying to blow smoke about how horror should be art or anything like that.  I’m just saying that if anything’s going to kill horror, it’s the constant attempts to pigeonhole it.  It doesn’t need to fit into a tiny mold for easy consumption.  You can find it everywhere.  All you have to do is open your eyes and look around a little.  You might find it in some unexpected places.

Here’s an example: this past weekend I rented the 1969 film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  Now, this drama about a dance contest during the Great Depression isn’t just a look at a time when winning $1500 from a dance marathon was seen as the answer to everybody’s problems.  It’s also a terrifying look at human nature and the lengths we’ll go to in order to entertain and be entertained.  Watching it, you can see where Stephen King got the idea for The Long Walk.  I had trouble finishing the movie, because it really is one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen.

So what about you?  What are some of things you consider horror that others might not?  No, American Idol doesn’t count.  I want to know, so chime in.

Tuesday’s Dash of Hope

I’m not somebody who prays or has any spiritual beliefs.  I don’t have a lot of faith in mankind, and I’m close to the most pessimistic person I’ve ever met.  My days are usually spent waiting for something to go wrong.

But I’m a fan of hope.

Maybe that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  Sometimes it confounds me, this pessimist who wants to be an optimist.  I suppose there are worse things to be, though.

Today, the country is getting a much-needed shot of hope.  I’m sure it’s not enough to fix everything that seems to be going wrong, but I’ve got my fingers crossed that it’ll get us started.

Here’s hoping.

Organization and Shifting Focus (thinking out loud)

So I’m working on another rewrite these days.  I work a solid two hours on it every night, a little more if I can manage.  I tend to give up on things like word count when dealing with a rewrite.  The process is too intricate, requires too much concentration.

The two-hour block is part of my 2009 plan for organization.  I’m trying to keep regular office hours.  That way I can help Shawna around the house when I get home, eat dinner, and then disappear without fear of a knock on the office door followed by the words, “Did you take care of the litter boxes yet?”  Stuff like scooping cat poop tends to break the creative flow.

Of course, on weekends I plan to spend a lot more time at the computer (if Shawna allows it).  I guess we’ll see.

Anyway, back to this novel.  I took my first crack at writing something novel-length back in 2005.  Since then, I’ve written five of the bastards.  One has (tentatively) sold.  The others are being looked at by various publishers.  Every last one of them is a horror novel, no doubt about it.

This latest one, though… there’s something different going on.  Maybe it’s a straight up thriller.  Maybe it’s horror hiding behind something else.  Maybe it’s a modern day noir.  It’s all boiling to the surface and showing itself to me as I comb through the manusrcipt, and I gotta say it’s damned exciting.  I can’t wait for this sucker to take its final shape.

Looking ahead, a few of the ideas I have bouncing around in my noggin are similar.  Some are a little more out there.  Some play with storytelling conventions in ways I think are pretty fun.  We’ll see what happens next.  As long as it’s fun, it’ll be worth it.

This has been me thinking out loud.  Enjoy your Wednesday.

Getting in the spirit

I was a little worried I’d have trouble getting in the holiday spirit this year.  As I’ve said before, it’s been a rough year.  And I did have a little trouble.  I was worried about money, and I wasn’t thrilled with the fact that Shawna has no surprises under the Christmas Tree (which we don’t have because the pets might destroy it).  Maybe this is all part of Christmas as an adult.  Heck if I know.

Luckily, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to get me ready for this Thursday.

First, there’s cooking.  I love cooking, and I love doing it for the holidays.  This year’s theme is pretty south of the border, so tonight I’ll be going home and slow roasting five pounds of puerco pibil.  The smell of annetto and cumin will fill my house like it was the Christmas Spirit.

Second, egg nog.  More to the point, using egg nog to flavor my coffee.  Yummy stuff, and I’m pretty sure I pack on a few pounds with each mug.  ANd it just feels so damn Christmasy!

Then there’s TV.  I’ve already watched the George C Scott Christmas Carol.  Tonight is reserved for the original Grinch.  A Colbert Christmas has quickly become a classic in our household.  If only I had some other specials on DVD.

Finally, there’s the music.  “Fairytale of New York” and the Springsteen version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” are old favs, along with anything from the Andy Williams Christmas record.  I swear you can’t go wrong with that stuff!

So Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and all that other stuff.  Tomorrow night I’ll be staying up late, because I can’t go to sleep until it’s officially Christmas. 

Sometimes I really do feel like a kid again.

Change we can… wait, what?

I didn’t vote in this last election.  Personally, I don’t vote outside of local issues.  I do this because all politicians are sub-human scum and are undeserving of any support I could possibly give them.  I also don’t enjoy lying to myself and trying to convince myself that any politician cares about me and my hourly wage lifestyle.

But I had a brief, brief moment when I wanted to vote for Obama, a shiny instant when I wanted to believe he was an agent of change and not another politician reaching for the presidency in that empty, greedy, “Gimme it, it’s mine!” sort of way.

Boy, I sure am glad I got over that!

See, today Obama chose evangelical pastor Rick Warren, a noted opponent of gay and abortion rights (who once compared all abortions, no matter the circumstances, to the holocaust) to deliver the invocation at the inauguration.  All that change everybody was so sure they’d get appears to be the smoke and mirrors a very good magician.  The shiny knight of the future has chosen to toe the anti-gay and anti-woman line.  He’s been elected, so now he doesn’t care about a damn thing past getting re-elected.

Sure, I didn’t vote, so many will say I have no right to bitch.  Why?  Because I wasn’t fooled? 

Look, I still hope Obama can do some good.  I’m not holding out hope, though.  I ran out of hope the first time I took a government class.

Enjoy your weekend.

Hating the World and Meeting Goals

What a year.  When I look back on 2008, my thoughts can best be described in four simple words:

Man, fuck this year.

Seriously, fuck this year.  2008 contained such golden oldies as heart attacks, a cancer diagnosis, and a death in the family, divorces for close friends, dying pets, car crashes, facing addiction, a possible rabies diagnosis, and other things you usually only see in period literature.  I mean, come on!

By the time October and November rolled around, I hated leaving the house and only rarely saw a point in getting out of bed.  I closed myself off from family and friends and reverted to my old habit of sitting in a corner and hoping everybody would ignore me.  Only the help of Shawna and a few of my closest friends got me through it with any sort of success.

Something strange happened, though.  In the midst of all this tragedy, bother, and self-pity, I managed to have the best year my writing career has ever seen.  I entered the year with two goals: Sell out Just Like Hell’s print run within a year and sell a novel.  I achieved the first within five months (with the help of Paul at Thunderstorm and a score of others), and there should be an announcement on the other sometime in the new year (because I’m really getting tired of sitting on the news).

In the course of the year I also sold a story to Cemetery Dance, finished three novels and wrote the first draft of a fourth.  My writing improved by leaps and bounds, and I even received a few rather large checks for said writing.  I’d toast myself if I wasn’t so committed to staying sober.

So that’s 2008.  It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.  Weird stuff.  I probably wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t lived through it.

But really, can we just get to 2009 soon?

When people listened to albums

Over at EW.com, they’re discussing the lost art of closing albums.  Good reading.  Their discussion of how the iTunes culture and singles-centric music business is destroying the fine art of creating a great album stirred a more than a few thoughts in my noggin.

See, in July of 2007 I had to write one of those silly meme-things, this one dealing with my Top 5 Side 1, Track 1’s  Basically, my top 5 opening tracks, the opposite of the above list.  You can check out my selections here.

Now, you’ll notice I tagged five people on that list.  Only two responded: Randy and Lee.  Wanna know something sad, though?  Neither of them could do it.  Lee had to give me a top 5 opening tracks to his iTunes playlists.  Randy at least went with opening tracks of real albums, but he used his iTunes to mathematically calculate what songs he listens to the most.  I mean, I’ve heard Barry Manilow’s “Miracle” a million times, but it ain’t one of my favorite songs.

I know both of those guys can do better than that.  Lee’s one of the biggest music fans I know, and I saw Randy’s CD collection before he dumped everything to iTunes.  Damn thing was huge!  It amazes me that neither one of them could just think about their favorite records and come up with their own answers.

But I’m afraid we’re heading to that sort of thing.  I remember waking up and driving an hour into Cincinnati to grab a copy of The Afghan Whigs’ 1965 the day it came out.  I then raced home, set my CD played up in the bathroom where the acoustics were best, and sat on the edge of the bathrub for an hour while I gave the record its first listen.

Compare the above scenario to a few years ago, when I woke up five minutes early to buy The Twilight Singers’ Powder Burns and download to my iPod before I ran off to work.  Nowhere near the same experience.  I’m not even sure the second one qualifies as an experience!

Another example.  I’ve always loved the song “Purple Rain.”  It’s a masterpiece.  However, it wasn’t until the first time I sat through the entire Purple Rain soundtrack to catch that masterpiece at the end that it became something new and wonderful.  As the end of a fantastic record, it’s something epic, much more than just a great song.

I realize I’m getting close to being one of those “In my day” guys, and I don’t want that.  Hell, I’m pretty sure “In my day” is one of the cornerstones of the Republican Party, and I know I want nothing to do with that.  I do, however, want to be able to appreciate records as the sum of their parts again.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Or is it?