Critiquing on the Chin

Getting critiqued is hard.

It’s hard to struggle and sweat and work on a story that gets pulled to pieces later on by a group. It can be a struggle to hear counter-opinions, to sift through the opinions as well. When folks say “I don’t get it” and others say “No, it’s too explained already.” It’s tough.

Anyway.

The picture book manuscript is undergoing critiquing, and it is taking a long time. I will take the words given to me fairly, but it is taking a long time.

It’s hard to fight pride. To accept criticism – it’s the toughest lesson to learn, I think, aside from actually writing. (As in, the hardest part of writing or creating is to actually produce work). I love editing. It’s my favorite part of writing! And I like to judge others! But to be judged, oof!

But, it’s what’s best. To set pride to the side and listen to opinion and allow it to seep in and get to know you. The ship is sailing, though, I’ve got a small breeze I’ll share when it stops. A small, tiny breeze, but one I am happy about.

It’s no picture book, but what is?

The hardest thing right now is my lack of free time to work on my work – and so, I’ve had to let drawing slip away again. I’ll keep doing it for fun, but not to work at. No time.

And I’ll keep spending my time creating when I can. That’s what life is all about, after all.

Reading Books!

For the sake of ease, I thought I’d keep the world posted on books I’m reading. On the nonfiction front, I’ve been rereading The Tao of Pooh. I love this book, and its what brought me to understand (as if you could!) the concept of the Tao. The tao reminds me so very much of the concept of Grace I learned growing up Methodist. They aren’t the same thing at all, but the sense of a great, unknowable thing is something I like.

I’m not just reading that. I’m also reading a book of Folktales from around the world off and on, looking for new stories to tell. My storytelling repertoire needs expanding – I certainly could keep telling the same five stories ad nauseum, but I’d rather not. Bring me your stories, world, that i might steal and profit from them myself!

Finally, after perhaps a thousand requests to “buy my book” from Sam Sykes, I borrowed his book from the library. It’s a fantasy called The City Stained Red, and while I don’t normally read straight fantasy, I am enjoying it so far. It has a style reminiscent of Scalzi, though a differing tone, which means it’s easy to read. It’s very long, though, which I haven’t done for a while.

There’s also a Paleo cookbook.

In picture books, my latest favorite is an Oliver Jeffers book called Here We Are, which I doubt anyone following picture books hasn’t seen. I have been reading many, many picture books so they blend together if they aren’t great. This one is – it’s a guide to our place in the universe and the world we live on, and it’s quite beautiful. Even non picture book readers will like it.

By the way, everyone should read picture books. They are beautiful things – Zen Shorts, Mother Bruce, anything by Adam Rex – there tell such concise, whimisical stories and they look good doing it.

Idea Trap

I heard something today. I was listening “the Canon,” a podcast on movies. The latest episode is about Marvel’s Avengers: The Movie! which came out a few years ago. You may have heard of it. It is a fun conversation which I’m only half finished with, and I had a great idea for a blog post.

Of course, I forgot it.

Writing while driving is frowned upon, so there wasn’t much I could do about it at the time. It may have had something to do with the seriousness of the Batman movies juxtaposed against the colorful Marvel movies and how, in order to really crack that nut, you just need to provide a heartfelt version of your subject matter. Both franchises worked because they were taken seriously. Marvel didn’t ask forgiveness for having a helicarrier, they just had one. It’s kind of a goofy idea.

That wasn’t it.

It might have been about Thor: Ragnarok and how it’s such a great movie – but I’m pretty sure I’ve written that before. The slight epiphany I had driving home is that even without the jokes, Ragnarok would be a compelling narrative. That’s the best part of the best comedies. Even if it’s nothing new or bold, if your story is solid, you have a good shot at a good movie.

“Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein” are great, not just because of their jokes, but their actual stories. Blazing Saddles has a journey. There’s real stakes – people die! I mean, it turns into an incredible farce at the end, but the hero does win. Young Frankenstein has a main character running from his past, embracing it, helping to find understanding. Ragnarok reminds me of those. Not that there are screwball elements (there is some good physical comedy), but because it had a compelling story to tell.

No, it wasn’t that, either.

If only we had idea traps. Little caps we could wear to hold ideas for us so they didn’t float away. Would life be better? Doubtful. I’ve also wished for insta-printers that could read your mind and instantly print your novel. That’s because novels are hella-long and challenging to write.

It wasn’t an overly compelling idea, which almost makes it MORE frustrating. I forget great ideas all the time! I usually remember the piddly little ones. Not in this case!

Anyway, The Canon is great. Movie fans should listen.

Black Rectangles

Black Rectangles. That’s the way our society is fit right now. Stuck to black rectangles. I’m of a mixed bag with black rectangles – I love the connectivity, the knowledge easily accessed. Waiting in line is terrible. But – the connectivity is a killing stroke as well. Tension and stress are hard to put down when you can’t put down your black rectangle.

Pardon my maudlinity.

Beeps, too. I thought of this as a friend set a microwave for ten minutes, thinking it one. Her dish boiled over and made a mess. Waiting for the beep. We are all waiting for a beep, a chime, a ding – it’s convenient! It’s nice! But it’s also damning.

Staring at that screen with its tiny rush of dopamine. Why is it so attractive? Why is it so hard to put down? I wasted hours this weekend swiping three in a row – it doesn’t matter what. If I knew anything about programming, I could develop a swipe 3 game and make dozens of dollars.

I’m an old man, now, I guess. Ludditery has caught up to me. My black rectangle brings me music, it brings me freedom. With that freedom an invisible chain. How to weaken that chain? That’s the modern mystery.

“What’s wrong?” I used to ask.

“The texting is too expensive” my mom would say.

Now, it’s all we do. Now, I don’t talk on the phone. Now, I type, one handed, no tactile nature even – it’s all electric. What is tactility but electrons repelling, anyway?

Electrons are energy. Light is energy. Let there be light –  the logos was poetic in many ways.

Not me.

I place my black rectangle on my bedside table – I think we’re already cyborgs. When we implant the screens, we will be – relish that day. Refute that day.

What we really need are small machines that dust. That will bring us the freedom we need.

Smile at a human, that brings freedom, too. Shake a hand. Compliment. Kindness reigns. You must dig at it and pile it, but those parapets built on kindness and compassion reign stronger and longer than hate and malice.

March it in, Saints. March it in.

A Western!

Bumbadumbadumdumdum went the music as giant words appeared and disappeared over the mountains. Things slowed way down after that. A tall drink of water loped into the town, dust everywhere. Horse shit everywhere. The whole road was full of it, just disgusting. The man didn’t care.

He had no name.

Pronounceable in English.

People just called him “Jim.”

Jim had on a leather duster, black felt hat, and a big iron on his hip. It was for getting creases out of his business clothes. On his other hip was a revolver. He used this to plot planetary cycles through turn of a crank – it was strange to wear on the hip.

In a holster, beneath the revolver was his gun.

It was a blue steel affair, walnut stocks set with Lincoln pennies. Shooting things just made sense to him. Time was, that barrel had taken down more dudes than dysentery, cholera, or any number of disease brought forth by unclean water or improperly cooked food. To be honest, probably far less – still, he’d killed his share of men across the west.

Jim hated the whole business of killing – had only done in men when he’d had to. For all his trouble, he’d not made a dime on the whole business. That would have been unfair – he’d made a shitload of dimes. Turned most into dollars, to tell the Lord’s truth.

And there, in that town, he met his match.

Anthropomorphic matches are such hotheads. It was an easy shot to fire into the head of the match, setting the sulfur off. The match collapsed onto the boardwalk next to the saloon, the liquor bottles heating up and exploding in a fireball.

Jim watched the town burn around him.

He got on his horse and left the town behind him.

And this story.

It was too silly.

Save the Empire!

Oh, blessed topics! I will write about this today – I apologize for the lack of short short stories about awful things happening to people.

Today is Rex Manning Day! This is the day Rex Manning descended upon Empire Records to sign albums, be generally seen as royalty, and be a sleazebag. Empire Records was a movie. Also, a record store. I don’t think it was a chain, but I remember thinking it was very large, and also had a big staff for a local record store.

Also, did everyone in the movie work there? Did the bandmembers work there or were they just romantically involved somehow? It was a mystery.

I don’t think anyone who did not see Empire Records in their teenage years would give it a second watch. I suspect it holds up mainly from nostalgia, and I haven’t seen it in years. But I sure did watch the heck out of it.

Empire Records was on a tapean a friend gave me that included Clerks, Mallrats and this movie. I knew what Clerks and Mallrats was – but had no idea what Empire Records was. This was in the casual illegality of tape copying – it was a romantic time where it was easy to steal from corporations, but still dangerous. Now, it’s much harder.

I don’t want to lose my point.

I had no idea what to expect, but I sure did like Empire Records. The music, the events, the too-cool coolness. This was a movie about hipsters – called misfits. They all seem cool as balls to me. The soundtrack was one of the first CDs I ever owned (the Friends soundtrack was the first) and I played it often and often. (The most played CD of my youth was actually the Presidents of the United States of America, which I played over and over in my house – starting with track two because the song “kitty” had the f-word, and I didn’t dare let my parents know I was listening to naughty words in my music, so I listened to it while playing Doom and Duke Nukem 3D, the irony lost on me then, and then as I wrote an epic portal fantasy).

What does Empire Records bring to me now? I don’t have the soundtrack anymore, but Spotify has it all – and it brings me the rememberance of the Gin Blossoms as a band that always caught my nostalgia-chord. This whole album fills me with the ennui of youth lost and wasted. Am I happy where I am? Yeah, I am pretty happy. But youth lost is youth gone.

I am still pretty youthful, though!

I thought the songs Ready, Steady, Go and Sugar High were the greatest songs of all time for a few months. One of my first downloads when the Napster era hit was the movie version of the song – I was unprepared for the sexual content of the original. I was unprepared for any of that as a youth.

Anyway. Empire Records was one of the first movies that moved past sole entertainment and spoke to me on a level- here were people who understood the base reality of adolescence! Being a middle class teenager is hard! The mission to save a record store was incredible and believable to me. I like this movie.

The real crime, though, is the lack of Rex Manning on the soundtrack album. That is offensive.

Mark was the character I identified with, even though I was really not a thing like him aside from being a goofball.

Happy Rex Manning Day, everyone. If you’re young, keep it with you. If you’re old, life is still good. We’re all in this together.

FreeWrite 4/7

IN Which I FreeWrite so I DoWrite

This is the story of the bowl with a crack in it. How was it made? It was made thus:

By hands.

By hands that thrust deeply into the clay of the bog, hoisted by the pound into the wicker to be processed in a sluice, in a barrel, to find the pure clay. The clay used for the bowl. The wheel turned, the hands smoothed, shaped, spread the top into space.

The potter knew his craft, knew the pressure to use, knew the glaze to apply. The kiln was hot – this order special. Special for him. He laid it on the shelf and went out.

It was too late.

There was no safety on the kiln, no way to lower the heat. The flames were high in the oven and the hot air filled the space. But the jewel, the jewel he’d promised was not in the clay. There was time, yes, to press it into the bowl, right in the bottom.

But not time enough.

He snuck in, the heat climbing, and pushed the jewel in. Behind him, the door prop gave way. The door slammed to a close.

He pounded – but could not break through. When he collapsed, it was against the shelf. The vibration shook the bowl.

Leaving a crack inside it.

FreeWrite – 4/6

In Which I FreeWrite so I DoWrite:

The sickness grabbed him. Grabbed his stomach, caught him. Sleep, the exhaustion still with him had done nothing. The nausea was omnipresent this morning – one of the worst. His belly churned, he fell to the floor to crawl to the bathroom – his wife asleep.

How much longer could he keep the secret? How much longer until she discovered his awful truth? In his time on earth he’d found other strangers – the elves, hidden away, the trolls, disguised as people – but no one like himself. He was utterly alone.

It welled up within him, choking him as he knelt over the tub. He turned the shower on to wash away the mess, and managed to fall inside.

His mouth stretched around the expulsion. A large, round dome emerged – what if he didn’t shave his head? It was a silly thought, as final thoughts go.

Dome gave way to the identical face – the duplicate emerging, turning his innards inside out. Fingers reached up to peel away the old lips, his old bones gelatinizing in an instant, the fresh body emerging, bright pink, coated in goo. Water from the shower washed it away.

He stood, old memories speeding through his brain. Old skin, paper thin now. He would crumple it up, hide it, run it through the trash disposal before his wife came down.

It was a strange life, but it was his.

This Is A Query Letter

Hi Sirs!

This is just a letter to say I have written a book which you will know doubt race to publish! It is Die Hard meets Air Force One in Space with an intricate love story between alternate universe versions of the same President! I call it “Edge of the Atmosphere” and it will leave you breathless!

A bit about myself – I have been published 63 times by a local vanity press through the generous contribution of my uncle’s deaths. These 63 volumes convey my inner demons through narrative poetry written entirely in trochaic heptameter. I cannot share lines with you, as my concerns about copyright trump any concerns at appearing sane.

Suffice to say, they are brilliant. I did the illustrations myself in number two pencil and napkins.

In my spare time, I eschew the philistine act of television, living instead the Luddite lifestyle best serving an author of my caliber, similar to the hero in Edge of the Atmosphere – he is a man who gets called back to the world of technology, ironically over the phone!  Then, he meets himself, a women who made the choice to embrace technology and is also now a cyborg – I better stop, you will understand as you blaze through my masterpiece.

As requested, the first ten pages are attached. Also, the rest of the book. I understand you have requested email only, but I don’t trust it and have therefore chosen to submit via hard copy. Please return it as I do not want it falling into the wrong hands. This is why, you will notice, it has been printed on purple paper with a dense watermark.

Please arrange for the advance to be provided via cashier’s check to the return address, along with the contract.

I eagerly await your publishing contract.

The Villain of the Piece.

FreeWrite 4/5

InwhichIFreeWritesoIdoWRITE

INFODUMP:

I am trying, without trying, to post for the Poetry month on Twitter. I still have the tweeter separate from the facebase. Because, reasons.

Let me Tell You A Story:

Once upon a time there was a wizard who could ignite stuff with his mind. He couldn’t ignite water or anything stupid like that – but if it was flammable, he could look at it and catch it on fire.

No, shut up, he didn’t have heat vision. He didn’t have to “look” at it, but there was concentration involved. It wasn’t like, pyrokinesis either – it was MAGIC.

No – god, no, there were no magic words, but it was MAGIC I AM TELLING THE STORY STOP NIT-PICKING.

So, this wizard who was MAGIC – he could set things on fire WITH HIS MIND.

Also, he was a wolf.

Well, the wizard was walking along one day and he saw a house made of straw and hay. It was tightly packed, but it caught fire. Not because of the wolf wizard, but because of the moisture content in the hay – see, this is an educational story, too – and because of the moisture percentage being over 22% in the bales the house was built with, and it had been built six weeks prior, the wolf saw it catch fire.

Now, there would be a lot to explain to the police ordinarily, but this took place before the socialization of city safety and the land was mainly feudal in nature. I’m not sure why the pig (there was a pig living there) didn’t opt for the relative safety of the castle walls, but it doesn’t really matter because he was roasted in the fire.

He had been asleep, so he wasn’t aware as the carbon monoxide did him in before the flames – keep that in mind.

The wolf ate him.

The wolf ate him, which was not a big deal at the time because the society understood waste makes haste (I think that’s the phrase) and went along on his way, wondering about the coincidence of the fact he couldn’t set the house on fire since it had already caught fire.

Further down the game trail – this is a feudal society, so there weren’t too many major thoroughfares in development at the time, excluding Roman pathways – he saw a house of sticks with a pig living in it! Understanding the pig to be a sentient being – how else could it build a house – and having no quarrel, also having just eaten, he went by.

Unfortunately, the pig was using an open brazier instead of a fireplace. The resulting heat has dried the wood sufficiently to gasify the flammable components. The brazier was below some pine struts installed, ironically, for safety, and the whole place caught fire.

The wolf wizard didn’t have the magic power to STOP fires, only to start them, so he went to the river, got some water in his hat (wizards all wear hats) and brought it back.

This gave him a way to cool the pig down, because by the time he got back, the pig was also roasted alive. He had also been asleep – maybe it’s afternoon and they’re napping?

Well, the wolf ate the pig, bones too, because wolves do that sometimes, and went on his way finally arriving at a home built of earthen bricks. I’m not sure if they were proper modern bricks, to be honest, but it was certainly a well constructed home. No cob or clay – well, sturdy bricks. I suppose if we can accept a wolf wizard and sentient pigs, modern bricklaying can have been developed as well.

The house wasn’t flammable, because it was made of bricks, so the wolf walked by without incident.

Later that week, the pig went to visit his brothers and found the homes burned to the ground and their bodies missing. He didn’t fret as this sort of thing happened often before centralized police forces and citizenship allowed society to better keep track of people. He was sad, but there wasn’t much he could do.

Fearful for his life, though, he did move back inside the castle gates where he was subsequently denied citizenship by the humans living there and they ate him.

The End.