Monthly Archives: October 2015

The Weekly Re-Motivator: Strange Seasoning


We’re coming into one of the strangest times of the year for the writer: the Holidays.

The dreaded Holidays bring with them a legitimate army of distractions, obstructions, and pitfalls for the writer. Between a total disruption of the work schedule, extra obligations to spend time with the family you aren’t seeing regularly, and oh yeah, let’s not forget, here in America there are at least two massive debilitating food comas on the horizon. Time to write is hard enough to come by when things are normal, but things are hardly normal at this time of year.

Which is why I find it particularly sadistic to put a writer’s torture device like NaNoWriMo smack in the middle of it… but that’s a rant for another day. (I’m not doing NaNo this year, nor do I have plans to ever do it. I have better things to do with my time than subject myself to the slings and arrows of attempting to write an entire half of a novel [50,000 words do not a novel make] in the least writer-friendly part of the year. Further, if you need NaNo to finally motivate you to write that novel you’ve been thinking about writing, then maybe — maybe! — writing isn’t your thing. But there I go digressing.)

On a writer’s website I frequent, an aspiring writer, who seemed in true distress, asked the question in a state of near hysteria: with meals to cook, shopping to do, family to visit, kids to take care of, etc… how do you find the time to write through this time?

Well.

I may be a hopeless optimist, and I may be a tireless (or tiresome, depending on your point of view) motivator — I really do make myself sick sometimes with all the rah-rah-rah and YOU CAN DO IT speeches around here — but one thing I’m also guilty of is a bit of a blunt streak. Okay, maybe less of a streak and more of a huge angry puckered blunt scar. I don’t like to mince words, and most of the time, a harsh dose of the truth is a lot more helpful. (This gets me in a lot of trouble with my wife and, well, people in general, but at 35, I am who I am.)

So I responded the only way I could think to: The same way you make time any other time of the year. Sure, you’ve got Holiday Things clamoring for your attention to the left and to the right, like a swarm of needy toddlers who have just learned that you will actually come running the moment they say “daddy”. And yeah, maybe you’re more obligated to devote time to these Things than usual. But the way you take time to write now is the same way you take time at any other point in the year.

You prioritize. You set values on the things that matter to you and you allocate time accordingly. Maybe this is the year where instead of waking up at 3 AM to go Black Friday shopping, you sleep in until 6 instead, and get up to write while the rest of the family is fighting for their lives in the mad crush of humanity trying to get to the Tickle Me Elmos of this year. Maybe instead of sitting around watching the Lions lose on Turkey Day (a favorite national pastime) you sneak off to jot down a few words. Maybe you don’t have to cook EVERY SINGLE DISH for your family’s dinner, and with the time you free up, you can escape to your study (or your car, or your bathroom, or your wherever) to get some words on the page. You might upset a few people when you bust up their traditions, but you’ll stay on target for your WIP.

Or maybe you multitask and pull double duty. Wake up even earlier to do your writing before the family wakes up, or stay up late to pound the page after they fall asleep. Keep the laptop on the kitchen counter while you’re cooking and season your draft while you season the mashed potatoes. Jot notes on characters and plot points in your favorite organizational writer’s app while you’re waiting in line to shop at 4 AM. Granted, you do this, and you’ll certainly have some consequences: sleep deprivation and overly salty mashed potatoes at the very least.

Or a lunatic altered personality that grins vacuously at a computer while stirring a bowl full of, apparently, WHOLE UNCUT VEGETABLES. Who could be that happy? Who could use a computer at all in the kitchen without destroying it immediately with splattered sauce and flying crumbs?

Or, and here’s the really crazy part where we entertain notions that maybe we don’t want to, you don’t.

It’s tempting to think that with the time off you could or even should get tons of extra work in on your writing. But you don’t have to.

This is not me telling you to make like Elsa and let your writing go over the holidays. Momentum matters, and you’re gonna be turkey-drunk enough to have plenty of trouble getting back in the rhythm when the world returns to normal. By all means, write when you can. But the world isn’t going to stop spinning, and your novel won’t collapse, and your writing hand won’t wither to an ashen husk if you take a little time off.

Writing can be something like a second job, and we need time off from any job if we want to not lose our minds.

And let’s be honest: during these strange days, we lose our minds enough to begin with.

LOOK AT ME ENDING NOT JUST A SENTENCE BUT A WHOLE BLARG POST WITH A PREPOSITION

ENGLISH TEACHERS DON’T CARE WHEE

This weekly Re-Motivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every Saturday, I use LindaGHill‘s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.

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Terrible Reviews: The Martian


I couldn’t put my finger on why, exactly, I was so excited to see this movie. I’m not a particularly big Matt Damon fan, though I like him well enough. I tend not to love “realistic” Sci-Fi — that is, science fiction stories that burden themselves overmuch with being “scientifically accurate”. (Give me The Matrix, give me Star Wars.) I was also a little dubious about the prospect of a film which was essentially Cast Away in space.

Still, I was pumped to see it. I heard good things, and there’s just SOMETHING ABOUT MARS this year; between the recent discovery of water (or water-like substances), the discussion of Mars One, and the recent announcements of NASA actually going for a Mars mission, I bought into the hype like your jerk of a brother buying up all the red spaces on Monopoly.

And man, oh man, does it deliver. The film is funny, intense, heartbreaking, funny, clever, sad, funny, and also, believe it or not in a science fiction movie, funny. The main character is an astronaut/botanist with a sardonic streak as wide and deep as the Marianas trench, and Matt Damon plays that up in hilarious deadpan to keep what could be a tedious or ultimately depressing movie … not exactly light and fluffy, but … let’s put it this way. The tension in this film is sharp enough to slice through steel. Yet, throughout much of the movie, I found myself smiling thanks to the levity provided by the main character.

Okay, let’s get into it…

The Good.

Pretty much everything.

No, seriously. The set design is brilliant: the surface of the alien planet is every bit as stark and hopeless as you could imagine; the living quarters on said planet as utilitarian and cramped as they would almost certainly have to be. The acting is superb: Matt Damon’s performance is of course top-notch, and I found myself swinging wildly between elation and despair right with him. There’s a particularly powerful moment when (no spoilers) he experiences a brutal setback, calmly approaches the terminal to log what has happened, utters a single syllable, and then the entire facade cracks and he flies into a paroxysm of rage and panic. An instant later, he recovers himself and gets back to work. It’s all believable and utterly sympathetic. Even the token unlikable bossman pulling the strings of the operation (Jeff Daniels, and what a turn he’s made from his Dumb and Dumber days, by the way) becomes sympathetic along the way, despite being at odds with most of his team for most of the film.

Also, for a sci-fi movie, the film does a remarkably good job of steering away from the science. You know, obviously, that a tremendous amount of science is happening offscreen, but you never feel inundated with it or hamstrung by your inability to comprehend it (I’m looking at you, Apollo 13, with your 02 stirrers and your gimbals and your other such witch science). It’s almost as if the science is a pleasant rose garden in front of a mansion — you can stop and appreciate it if you like, but the real action is the house itself.

And finally, the moment (SERIOUS spoilers here, jump ahead if you’re in doubt) when Watney blasts off from the alien surface to rendezvous with the passing rescue ship… I’ve been invested in stories and characters before, but it has been a long time since my heart has pounded like that during the climax of a film. There are too many things to count which could go wrong, and each try-fail cycle dovetails with the next like the tightening of the screws on a torture victim. There’s a perilous launch, which Watney might not survive. He does, but he blacks out. He escapes the planet’s gravity, but is nowhere near high enough for the rescue ship to catch him. They manage to lower their altitude, but only at the expense of blowing up part of their ship. And on and on and on. Masterful.

The Bad.

Um… maybe… science?

Okay, so there are some scientific faux pas present in the film. Making it not 100% scientifically accurate. The (SPOILERS OMG LOOK AWAY) dust storm on the planet’s surface, for example, wouldn’t happen, at least not with the effects that it has in the film. There’s the problem of cosmic radiation frying anybody who’s exposed for any significant period of time. There’s the frankly laughable (SPOILER HELP) plastic tarp covering the hole in the side of the habitation unit on Mars after the explosion.

But these are, with the exception of the tarp, easy to overlook. Without the dust storm, and without a magical nonexistent solution for the radiation, you don’t have a movie. The tarp … well. I guess every good film gets a pass on one or two ridiculous contrivances. The truth is, I’m having a hard time finding anything bad to say about this movie.

The Head-Scratch Worthy.

Maybe this is just me, but from the halfway point of the film onward, there’s a real head-scratcher. A previously unknown character basically comes up with the day-saving maneuver that sends the Martian astronauts back out to collect Watney, and this he concocts in a half-asleep daze while receiving a brief from one of his superiors. He goes in, pitches it to the head of NASA, and suddenly he’s like the lead mathematician on the project.

It’s not a bad device, but it feels like a stretch. We’re supposed to believe that despite the (presumably) well-staffed teams of experts at NASA working overtime trying to find ways to bring Watney home, none of them had this kid’s idea first? And, given the crew’s decision to basically mutiny toward the end of the film, why not let one of them come up with the idea? Again, maybe it’s me overthinking the elements of story, but it felt like a somewhat hollow method to drum up another character.

That said, at least they didn’t get another white guy to play this part. Yay for diversity!

The Verdict.

The truth is, I only wrote a couple of paragraphs for the other two categories because I could have gone on and on and on about what was good in this movie, and I wanted to give the illusion of parity. The fact is, this movie was fantastic. Think Apollo 13 meets Cast Away but without all the technical jargon of the former and without the knocking-your-own-rotted-tooth-out-with-an-ice-skate squickiness of the latter, not that either of those two things kept either of those two films from being excellent movies. This movie is awesome if you’re a science aficionado like myself, and it was good enough for my wife, who hates sci-fi, to enjoy as well.

The only thing that remains to be seen is how prophetic it is, which might — might! — happen in my lifetime.

If you haven’t seen it, go see it.

You will never look at poop or potatoes the same way again.

All images are obviously not my property. To the best of my knowledge, they are owned by 20th Century Fox.


The Depths of My Affection


The Depths of My Affection

It’s not my kind of place. But then, what place in Hell is?
A derelict cement building in an abandoned block. But inside… It’s like a velvet glove got together with a neon sign from the Vegas strip.
There’s a live band tonight, some unholy trio of electric guitar, synthesized drums, and howling vocals. They all wear tattered formal attire and wigs so oversized and nappy you can’t see their faces. Throngs of people dance to the stuff, if you can call the cavorting “dancing”.
It’s hot inside, the press of hundreds — maybe thousands — of bodies colliding with one another making the air thick with sweat and perfume and liquor and other things best not mentioned. The walls and countertops are slick with vapor like the inside of a shower.
I slip through the crowd as gingerly as I can, trying to avoid the dancers and drinkers and failing. A stubby guy with a goblin mask on — maybe it’s a mask, one eye scarred over and missing — bumps into me and spills a frothing reddish concoction on my tie. He says something rude and vanishes into the crowd. Next thing I know, a wispy girl all in blue is trailing her fingers across my lapel and blowing cloying smoke in my face, beckoning me out to the floor. I pull away and she turns, forgetting me immediately.
Can’t afford to get tangled up with these degenerates.
Don’t even want to be here, not really.
I think about leaving, looking back over my shoulder, but the door has already vanished in the fog of this place. Everything is a blur of smoke and haze and occasionally pulsing neon lights in the dark.
The bar stretches against the side wall, a massive thing made of blackened polished wood and ivory studs that look like teeth. I rest my hands on it and they stick there, a tacky red clay almost grabbing me back.
“What can I get you?” The bartender asks. She has hair made of snakes and eyes like the void.
I’m not here for drinks. “I’m looking for Yzebel.”
She withdraws with a hiss and flicks a finger upward.
On a balcony I hadn’t even noticed — veiled in the fog and the smoke — stands a figure who looks as out of place as I feel. White gown. Hair molded and flawless, cascading over one eye and past her shoulders like a golden waterfall. Shimmering skin. Her one visible eye sweeps over the place, a security camera processing all within its arc. She looks at me and I’m skewered to the seat, a hot lance in my veins pinning me to my place like a bug under glass.
But she doesn’t actually see me, or at least she gives no outward sign. She whirls and vanishes into the haze.
I race upstairs and find her leaning over a game of cards; instead of chips and cash, there’s a small pile of teeth and dried-out strips of what looks like untanned leather.
Somebody wins and there’s a clamor at the table; somebody’s accused of cheating, and all of a sudden chairs are being pushed back, hands are flying to collars and everybody’s shouting. I seize the moment, taking her by the arm and walking her away.
“I hear you can get me passage out,” I say. Her perfume smells like my grandmother’s peach tree.
“Not anymore,” she says, not even flustered. As cool as if she were telling me they were out of the night’s special. “Guys upstairs have clamped down around here, in case you hadn’t noticed.” She lays a hand on my fingers and points down into the bar. A saucy bunch of devils are clamoring for a waitress’s attention, jawing at each other, their tongues hanging out like limp windsails.
I’d noticed the fuzz when I came in, but the fuzz are everywhere. They’ve always been a part of her operations. I tell her as much.
“I think you heard wrong about me,” Yzebel says, plucking herself free and smoothing her hair. For just an instant, the light catches her just so — an angel amidst a mass of forsaken souls — but then it’s over, and she’s looking at me like I’m a dead insect on her windshield. “I run an honest business.”
“I know about your reputation, okay?” I nod at the brutes down below, now neck-deep in a couple of pitchers. “And I know you have to keep up appearances. But I also know you’re a good person.”
“That and a nickel will just about buy me a stick of gum.” She’s not harsh, just matter-of-fact, almost apologetic. “I used to help people get out, but I don’t anymore. My goodwill is all used up. The noose is tightening. Nobody in or out. I couldn’t help you even if I wanted to.”
Yzebel turns away with finality. I grab her and she spins around on her own accord. No longer is she the angel she appears — for a heartbeat she’s all fury and horns. She snarls, the sound too deep for the waiflike body she’s in to even make, and I’m forced to remember who I’m dealing with. I draw my hand back, open the pendant around my neck, show her the cameo inside.
“Maybe you don’t want to help me, but I’ll bet you want to help her.”
Then, she’s the one seizing my arm and yanking me into an office.

#

Yzebel offers me a seat on a swanky sofa swathed in velvet. I sit and sink in.
Meanwhile, she’s pacing the room, the seductress transforming into a businesswoman. She pulls her hair back, knots it behind her head. Leans on the smoked-oak desk separating us. She’s tiny, but the thing creaks under the force of her. She’s quiet. Dead quiet. “Who are you, and what in the seven hells do you have to do with my daughter?”
I lick my lips, conscious of the seawater that leaks out as I do so. “She’s my wife.”
“You mean she was.”
Right. The whole “dead” thing.
“I like to think she still is. With a place like this. With somebody like you to help me out.”
She tsks and drums her fingers on the desktop, tiny ringlets of smoke escaping where she touches the dark wood. Suddenly, the full force of her gaze hits me, and it’s like in the bar; I’m skewered to my seat, but this time there’s a heat to her scrutiny, like she’s really seeing me, the smoldering coals of her eyes burning away waterlogged flesh and soggy suit and everything I ever was, living or dead. She sees it all. The wedding on the beach of Bermuda. The honeymoon cruise back to the states. The delirious night in the casino, where I took in over ten grand in an hour, lost it, and won it back again. The shady guy I bluffed on the last hand of the night to double it all.
And she sees me walking up to meet Lydia on the deck at midnight. Sees the stars burning overhead, a blanket of tranquil diamonds. Then the bag over my head. The tying of my wrists. The punches and kicks to my gut, my face. Then the water.
Then she looks away and I come to, gasping for breath and struggling to sit upright.
“Hell of a way to spend your wedding night.” She leans in, her face a mask of judgment and impassivity.
She’s seen it all. There was no hiding it. At least it’s all out in the open. “I made some mistakes.”
“And got yourself killed.”
“Yeah.”
“Leaving your bride-to-be on the very night of her union.”
“I’m sorry. I —”
“My daughter.” She slams a fist into the desk top, and if it groaned before, it actually splinters now. She’s staring at me, a snake pondering not if it will eat the mouse quivering before it, but how, and how much it will toy with the poor thing first.
For a moment, madly, I wonder if I will escape this room with my life. I almost laugh. But she sees this, and the mirthless chuckle turns to ash on my lips.
“My daughter,” she mutters, leaning back now in her chair and pondering the ceiling. I worry for a moment that she’ll ask me how we met, how I got involved with her in the first place, and if she learns that, then I will likely become a permanent fixture in her office, perhaps a living ashtray for her to grind out her cigarettes on. But she smirks, like she’s just thought of something. “You realize, of course, that I could just as easily send you the other way.”
“…The other way?”
“You want to go back. Above.” She rolls her eyes and points toward the ceiling. “But this isn’t the only Hell. There are others. Infinite ones, really. Though they come in a few distinct and … unsavory varieties. You caused my daughter pain. Maybe in return, you deserve some pain of your own. A little bit of personalized torment.”
The room feels suddenly hot, and her eyes have taken on a dangerous red tint. Discretion is sometimes the better part of getting your face roasted off by a half-demon. I rise quickly, backing up.
“Sit.”
My legs don’t bother asking for my opinion. They buckle, and I drop into the sofa again. She moves around the desk, the snake again, creeping in for the kill. She leans back against the desk, taps her nails on it again.
“There’s something about you, Hiram. Something I like. So here’s the deal. I smuggle you topside, give you a little time to put your affairs in order, give you a nice new body to truck around in.”
“A new body?”
She laughs. “Have you seen yourself lately? If I send you back there in this —” she waves a hand in my general direction, encompassing with the flick of her fingers her entire contempt for everything I am — “you’ll be dead again in just a couple of minutes. I’m a demon, not a miracle worker.”
“Fine. How long do I get?”
Her eyes turn cold, black, empty. Snakes’ eyes. There were stories about what her other half was, but I didn’t believe them, not until now. “Seven days. You get seven days.”
It’s not as much time as I had hoped for. Maybe not enough. But with those eyes staring holes in me, I’m lucky I got anything at all. “Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet,” she says, the menacing demeanor evaporating in a peal of cherubish laughter. “You haven’t asked me about my price.”
“What’s your price?”
“I want you to bring me my husband.”

#

I find Lydia sitting in a streetside cafe, her eyes attending but unable to read a paperback open in front of her. She looks put together to an outsider, but I can see the out-of-place strands of hair, the slight mismatch of her outfit. She knows I’m dead but can’t make herself believe it.
It’s not the best way to approach her, but I’m on a limited engagement. I walk up to her, clear my throat. “Lydia Gantz?”
She looks up, startled at the use of her married name.
“I have a message from your husband.”
She locks onto my face with the intensity of a shark scenting blood. “Hiram?”
It’s stupid, but I feel tears pricking at the backs of my eyes. Somehow, she recognizes me in this doughy, shapeless form Yzebel has given me. But then Lydia gets suspicious. “What have you done with him?”
It’s too crowded on this street to have her bursting into tears over her dead husband. I try to pull her away, but she’s angry now.
“Do you want money? Is that it?”
“Listen to me.”
“You listen. I want my husband back. I know my mother’s involved in this. Whatever she’s giving you, I’ll double it.”
She’s right, but she’s all wrong. I lay a hand on her arm, tell her we can’t talk here, we should go somewhere else. She wheels and smashes me in the jaw with the flat of her hand. It’s just a slap, but it connects like a brick to the face. The engagement ring — my engagement ring — leaves a little gash in my cheek, blood welling up hot.
She’s not going to like the next part, but there’s nothing for it. I pull the little snub-nosed pistol from its holster, slide it into my pocket, and jam it into her side. She protests until she recognizes the feel of the gun through the sundry layers of fabric. For a moment I’m shocked at how coolly she takes it, but then, this family is surprising me from every side lately. Obviously it’s not the first time she’s been held at gunpoint.
“Come with me,” I whisper, helping her to her feet with my other hand. “Please.”

#

It’s a short car ride back to her house — not our house, but the family’s house, a towering affair of brick and ivy set a few miles back off the main road — and we speak not a word on the way there. She’s tense but cool, and I’m trying to figure out just how in the hell she’s managing to stay so cool. But there’s no time for all that — I pull up to the house and we go in. Inside, it’s all cordial pleasantries. Her father is here, doddering and clumsy in his tuxedo, asking me if he should pull the car around, for god’s sake. He hasn’t been right in the head for most of Lydia’s life, if she’s to be believed. For a moment, I wonder how I’m going to deal with him. Then he vanishes down a hallway and we don’t see him again.
Lydia’s recovered herself a little; she offers me tea. “No thanks.” She makes herself a cup, and the spoon tinkles against the rim like a drowning wind chime.
“Your husband is dead,” I say.
She blows absently across the top of her teacup.
“And he’s not coming back.” My throat tightens a little on this; I’d love to tell her, but there’s no point.
“Just one more thing my mother’s stolen from me,” she says, her face not half as vitriolic as her words.
“He wanted me to tell you something.”
“How do you know him?”
“Does it matter?”
She weighs my response, measures me, eyes like the edges of knives.
“He’s got a safe deposit box. Number 81723. You go to his apartment, dump out the box of cereal on top of the fridge, find the key. Inside is…” I falter. It sounds so foolish. “A little statue. Ancient. Jade. Priceless. Something he…” stole, I don’t say, because I can’t break her heart again. Something he stole, and something that’s going to get you killed. Her expression gives away nothing, and I can feel her doubt. “He wants you to have it.”
“Wants?”
“…Wanted.” She’s staring at me again, and I’m a worm on a hook. I look away. “Just do it. This week. Tomorrow, if you can.”
“And then what?”
And then, when the thugs come around looking for what I owed them, they’ll take it and leave her in peace.
They won’t kill her to get back at me for holding out on them.
“And then you won’t hear from him again. Or me. You can go on with your life. Meet somebody else. Get married. Have a kid.” She’s squinting at me now, the way she used to do when I was making up stories about my past and she didn’t quite believe me. But she never pressed the issue then, and she doesn’t now. She opens her mouth like she’s about to say something, but she doesn’t. I mumble an apology and get the hell out of there.
When I check the box a few days later, it’s empty. I swing by our place and see it in the window, catching the light in its weird crags and edges. At least she’ll be safe.

#

All that’s left, then, is her father. I’m on my seventh day, and you don’t want to split hairs with the queen of the dead. I have until three o’clock to bring him back with me, or Yzebel will take me alone and to be honest, I don’t want to think about what comes after that. I go back to Lydia’s old house and knock on the door.
The old man’s there, still wearing the tuxedo. He smells of must and turned earth, like the inside of a crypt. And he’s asking me again if he should pull the car around.
What the hell. I say yes.
He blinks at me like he hasn’t really heard, then his eyes light up and he begins nodding like his head’s about to fall off. “This way,” he babbles over and over again, leading me down an elegant hallway to the garage. Inside are a series of ludicrous roadsters in obscene colors — fire engine red, twilight purple, nuclear yellow. I guess it pays to be married to the mistress of night. He grabs a set of keys and leads me through the fluorescent-lit garage. Toward the end is a posh number: a polished and gleaming ghost in black and white. The old man says it’s a Brabus, whatever that means — all I know is it’s gorgeous and expensive, and it looks fast enough to outrun any demon any day of the week. If only. He tosses me the keys and settles in next to me, tapping his thumbs excitedly on his knees.
Grimly, I set the car in gear, and we roar out onto the street. I’ve never been a killer, but at least the guy’s not protesting. It’s almost like he wants to go. What do I know; maybe he does.

#

The real bitch of it is that I have to go out the same way I came in. It’s got to be drowning again, which is something I’d really rather avoid, but all I have to do is think about the unholy fire behind Yzebel’s eyes to realize that a few lungfuls of seawater are preferable to a woman’s wrath, particularly this woman. There’s a brilliant vista out over the sea by the cliffs out on Route 1, and I make for that at about a hundred and fifty miles an hour. The old man — Yzebel’s husband — hums idly in the seat next to me, like we’re out for a Sunday drive, like he knows what’s coming and looks forward to it.
Whatever. It’ll all be over in a minute, and I can go back to my eternal torment and not have to worry about Lydia or her mother or her father ever again.
There’s the cliff.
Ocean surf below, clouds rolling in like marshmallow fluff.
And, funny thing, I look in the rearview mirror and see Lydia in the backseat.
Lydia.
She’d been hiding under a tarp in the back and now she pops up, wraps her arms around my neck, and whispers in my ear.
“You can’t get away from me again.”
I yank the wheel hard to the right, but it’s too late.
We smash through the guardrail and go tumbling into the azure at nearly two hundred.
Next to me, the old man shrieks in glee as we go over.
Right before we hit the water, I swear I can see Yzebel floating just below the surface, her arms open wide, a devilish grin playing across her face.
We’re all going to see her.
One big happy family.

#########

Chuck’s challenge for the end of October was, appropriately enough, a horror challenge of the X meets Y variety. I drew “Casablanca” meets “The Ring.” I think I captured that feel at the beginning, then slowly drifted away…

This one is what it is. I think I’m maybe still a bit burned up on finishing my recent sci-fi draft. Anyway…


Words and Whiskers and Woe Unto My Face


About two years ago I pulled a switcheroo in my daily shower prep. Given that I have less hair than ever these days (at least on my head), it’s hard to make any major changes, but I gave this one a try. I traded in my multi-bladed razors for an old-school double-edged safety razor.

Okay, OKAY. Settle down. I’m not here to go on a long-winded rant about how contemporary razors are garbage and the old-school stuff is way better. There are great swathes of the internet dedicated to such stuff. You can find them if you so choose.

All that really matters is that after an initial period of adjustment, I have found shaving with an old-school razor to be much more relaxing, pleasurable, and satisfying way of performing what was once just a drab, do-it-and-get-it-over-with task in my morning routine. It takes a little more time and a little more care, but the results, in my opinion, are well worth it.

So what? Well, the other morning I found myself in a little bit of a rush. My wife and I had somewhere to be, and I didn’t have the time to do a full and proper shave, But, I needed a shave pretty badly (I go from five o’clock devil-may-care to mountain man in about five hours), and I still have a few disposables in a drawer, so I figured, what the hell, I’ll just grab a quick shave in the shower like I used to do.

But they say you can’t go back, and shaving is no exception.

I got most of the whiskers off my face, sure. But the razor tugged and pulled and nicked, skipping and jumping all over my face in a motion about as smooth as that of an epileptic donkey seizing out at a disco. And when I got out of the shower, I found that my beard was mostly gone, but still extant in patches and stripes and tufts, like a feng-shui garden designed by my three-year-old. I needed a second pass to clean up the scraps, which still didn’t get me to where I wanted to be, but by that time, my time was up and I had to get out of there.

So I got my shave in three minutes as opposed to ten, but at what cost?

Worse still, I was struck with the realization that this used to be my normal. I used to think that that was simply the way you shaved, and without a hell of a lot of time and discomfort and razor burn and ingrown hairs to show for it, you couldn’t do a better job. So I didn’t. I had a sloppy shave every day, and I didn’t know any better. Now, though, I don’t have an excuse.

Okay. Shaving talk over, writing metaphor begins. Here’s the point: when I picked up wetshaving (yeah, that’s what it’s called. I know. I’M SORRY) two years ago, I learned a (for me) vastly superior way of doing something I had to do every day. It required a bit more time than what I was used to, but it was better in virtually every other way. And now, knowing the better way, I almost can’t stand the thought of doing it any other way. Seeing and feeling that patchy, amateurish Mach 3 face-butchering irked me on a deep emotional level. I knew it wasn’t my best work, and I knew I’d cut corners to get a shoddy end result.

So it is with writing. (So it is with anything, for that matter.)

I’ve been whacking away at this writing thing with the equivalent of a Mach 3 idiot-proof blade, cutting narrative swathes out of the lumberjack beard of my creativity with a weird, reckless abandon. It gets the job done, but the end result is hardly something I should be bragging about. (Let me qualify. I still believe that any written novel is worth bragging about. But the rub is: I know I could — and probably should — be a lot better.) And sure, you get better at anything by actually doing that thing, but you’ll get even better with some actual targeted practice and mindful application than you will by blindly flailing around with a razor.

All that is to say that I’m going to be taking some time over the next month or so — in the downtime before I go back to editing the recently finished draft — to do some targeted practice. Less raw creating, less vomiting words and unformed ideas onto the page, more consideration of form and technique.

Which may not make much difference for what you see around here.

But I certainly hope it makes a difference in my capital “W” Writing. You know, the stuff I hope to get people to actually pay for one day.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: The Butcher’s Shop of Edits


So, you’ve got a draft in the bag and you’re sitting there thinking to yourself, this feels good. No, this feels awesome. I wrote a BOOK. I deserve a cookie.

And you do, maybe. But there’s a danger in that line of thinking, and the danger is in thinking you’re in any way done.

It’s easy to do. Typing the conclusion to your story has a lovely ringing finality to it, especially if you’re particularly dramatic (like me) and brazenly type an all-caps middle-finger-to-the-tribulations-of-the-draft “The End”. And certainly the draft tires you out like a machete-hacking slog through vine-tangled jungle. The problem is that when you hack through the jungle like that, you leave a path of carnage behind you, all broken stalks and fallen branches and trampled flora. Sure, you left a path. One with wrong turns, with dead ends, one that doubles back on itself like a stuffed bear hunting woozles.

And if you wanna do anything with that story, you’ve gotta fix that thing up.

Time to shift metaphors.

(OMG a metaphor post. I LOVE A METAPHOR POST. METAPHORS BE WITH YOU. OMG STAR WARS IS OUT SO SOON OMG.)

Sorry.

The draft, magnificent as it may be, is untamed, untanned, raw, like a side of beef fresh from the slaughterhouse. It can one day become a dazzling array of savory filet mignon, perfectly marbled ribeyes, staggering sirloins and lip-smacking ribs, but you can’t just toss the thing on the fire and expect it to come out delicious.

Maybe it calls for the hatchet.

Separate the poor dear into its component parts. Look at how this part connects to that part, then level the axe and hack it away. Dice the monster up into bits, first torso-sized, then leg-sized, then hand-sized, then bite-sized, ready for stewing. Examine each bit for disease and rot, weed out the tainted, and package up the rest for market.

Perhaps the knife.

A more delicate approach, but a more elegant one. Your story is riddled with extra fat, extra gristle, and before it’s fit for consumption, it needs trimming. So you go to work. Shave off a bit of overdone character development here, open up a gash in some disarticulated plot points there. Maybe a thin gash all through that one vein of a ridiculous MacGuffin you planted to let the rancid blood out. You slice, you shape, you shave, and send the leaner, comelier carcass on down the line while repackaging the trimmings to send to the dog food factory of your future projects.

Or maybe the Rocky treatment is more your style.

You’ve got some seriously pent-up rage from your trip through that disastrous first draft. The story came out hard and angry, like a kidney stone on methadone, a tight-wound spur of bone and tendon and agony. It needs tenderizing, and you’ve got a prize fight coming up. Time to tape up your knuckles and take out your aggression on the story’s knotted bits. Overly preachy villain? Bam, a gutshot to take his wind out. Malformed plot-lines? Skrak, a wicked cross that scatters their teeth across the stain-resistant cement. Mushy middle? Wap-wap-wap-wap, a flurry of undercuts to punish the soft flesh, and the bowels turn to water and the poison gushes out. You punish the knotted, sinewy flesh to a smooth, melt-in-your-mouth buttery consistency, which serves the double function of icing your knuckles and venting the anger and hurt and frustration you’re nursing from the draft.

(Funny sidenote: run a google image search for “Rocky punching meat” and you will find the above image, again and again, in varying color washes, resolutions, and sizes, like a bizarro Sylvester Stallone stained-glass mosaic, as if it were a painting from the 1300’s.)

Whatever tool you choose, the thing to remember is that the draft, as incredible as it may be (and it is incredible; for god’s sakes, you wrote a fargoing book, how many can claim that?), is not a finished thing. It’s a step along a path, the first few miles of a marathon, a pit stop at the moon on your way out to Mars. Whatever tool you use to get on with the fixing, you must wield it fearlessly, recklessly, even brutally.

Which is not to say you shouldn’t stop and take a moment to appreciate the draft, as imperfect as it may be. Do that. Put the pen down and appreciate for a moment the story you’ve built for the thing of beauty it is. Some of its imperfections will serve to make it perfect. Most of them will not. Stand back, have a drink, and bask in the magnificence of those imperfections.

Then put the story on the block and start lopping those imperfections off.

This weekly Re-Motivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every Saturday, I use LindaGHill‘s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


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