Force

I’m trying to force myself to write daily, not just the fiction writing, but some kind of post here, to keep the momentum going, but also to get out of my system this sketching, the rote description of the past and the present, which isn’t the kind of writing I do for stories and books, or at least it won’t be anymore.

That thing to the right, by the way, is the Claremont resort, where we went for Thanksgiving.  The inside reminds me of the hotel in The Shining, although it’s been so long since I’ve seen that flick, it might look completely different in comparison.  Other things I am reminded of include the extended family of Carter on ER, and all of the various athletic clubs I’ve visited in the past. I also feel slightly insulted that they haven’t nagged me about a membership yet.  I figured I would have been spammed to hell and back to pay a monthly fee roughly the same as my mortgage payment to use the tennis courts and rub elbows with the 1%.

So, force.  I never get stuff done.  I have a huge collection of books with the first 15% written.  Lots of books on the shelves with a bookmark at the page 43 mark.  I have this bad habit of skipping around, too.  Like if I have 20 chapters to edit, I will edit the first, second, get bored, skip to the last one, and then start playing video games.  A couple of years ago, at work, I started forcing myself to do stuff from start to finish.  It has convinced me that I never could have written a book in the analog days of the typewriter.  But I sometimes get results when I power through stuff like that.  It’s harder to apply to creative work; sometimes I can create, and sometimes I can’t.

I’ve also found that if I time myself, start a timer with 60 minutes on it, disconnect the internet, and force myself to either type in a buffer and get word after word on the page, or stare at the screen and do nothing, I’ll eventually start moving forward.  I guess if I burn through an hour on the timer and do not get word one on the page, that’s at least more of a victory than if I sat in front of the tube and watched an episode and a half of Chopped.

I have this book essentially done, but all of the stories need to be renamed.  I thought about going on fiverr and paying somebody five dollars a story and doing it that way.  I hate coming up with titles.  Was it Emily Dickinson or e.e. cummings who never titled anything?  I also thought about pulling a Peter Gabriel and naming my next six books Jon Konrath, except I’m sure that would somehow fuck up Amazon and all of the books would overwrite each other in some last-one-wins scenario.

I also wish Amazon listed stuff alphabetically, because then I would name it like locksmiths and bail bondsmen come up with names, something like AAAAAAA.

What else?  Closed on the house.  Bought two pair of glasses for an insane amount of money.  I am now farsighted enough that I need a second set of glasses just for reading.  This is the beginning of the end.

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The Third (and Fourth) Eye

I don’t know if I believe in luck or fate or karma, but of course my glasses had to break the day before an eye appointment.  I’m working off of a migraine-inducing old pair for today, and trying to figure out if they can temporarily fix the old ones, because even if I buy a new set today, I have to wait until they can deorbit a space telescope in order to appropriate the correct size lenses to fill my prescription.

(And no, this isn’t a matter of just getting a replacement screw and a tiny screwdriver at the drug store.  I have more tiny screwdrivers than a restaurant has silverware.  And the spring-loaded hinge itself actually snapped, and does not appear to be a serviceable part.  I’d need an entirely new temple for it.)

Glasses have always been a huge pain in the ass for me.  I first got fitted for them when I was in the first grade, so I officially became “that kid with glasses” first. I got my glasses at the Elkhart Clinic, which is like a very small step up from that place where you donate your old frames and they give them to kids in Haiti.  I have severe astigmatism, so my glasses always had freakishly thick plastic lenses, until they came out with high-index lenses, at which time they went from freakishly thick to abnormally thick.

I spent a lot of high school and college going back and forth on contact lenses.  They didn’t used to be able to correct astigmatism with contact lenses, and they didn’t make a disposable lens in my prescription for a long time.  The cleaning regimen always bugged me, and I could never make it a full 20-hour day in college with a set of soft lenses, so I never stuck with the regimen, and always returned to glasses.  And looking back at some of the frames I had in the 80s and 90s, they were all truly horrendous.  Someone must have told me at some point that a bigger lens was better, or that a small lens would cost a dollar more or something, because I always got these lenses that were roughly the size of a small dinner plate.

When I was in Seattle, I tried again with contacts, and the optometrist introduced me to Torek lenses, which are designed to correct for astigmatism.  I remember the first time I wore the new pair, driving from downtown Seattle to Factoria, and everything was astoundingly clear and corrected.  Glasses don’t give you true 3-D sight; they just present a 2-D corrected portal, which means everything in your peripheral vision is not corrected.  But with Torek lenses, everything looked clearer than it ever did, probably since before Kindergarten, before my eyes started going south.  Unfortunately, they did not have disposable lenses yet, and Torek lenses are even harder to put in your eyes, because you can put them in upside-down.  I also had all of the extended-wear issues, especially since I spend all day in front of a computer.

I think they now make a disposable Torek lens for my prescription, but I have so many allergy-related eye issues, I’m not sure I would be able to withstand them.  I also thought about lasik surgery (it’s hard not to in New York – every subway car has an ad for it) but I got the initial consult, and my corneas are too thin.  There is a new procedure where they essentially implant a tiny contact lens under your cornea, but that doesn’t correct astigmatism.  They have a torek version of the implantable lens, but it hasn’t passed FDA testing, and flying to Canada to pay $10,000 for an essentially untested surgery on my eyes doesn’t seem like the best idea.

I think my nearsightedness has largely stabilized in recent years.  But I think I’m slowly getting farsighted, and find myself taking off my glasses to read fine print on things.  I don’t know if that will mean bifocals or dedicated reading glasses, since I spend all day at the computer.  I also think they can fix farsightedness with a laser.  But I will need to throw more money at new hardware.

I also don’t know what frames to get.  When I look at frames, they all look virtually identical.  It’s like when I watch one of those Heidi Klum fashion reality shows – I have no idea what looks good or bad.  And I absolutely detest that geeky looking glasses are suddenly “in”, and fashion models are wearing these nerdy, thick black frames.  This means that if I choose a pair like this, they will go out of style roughly 500 milliseconds later, and I’ll be stuck with them for another year or two.

At least this is my chance to catch up on my large-print Reader’s Digest reading.  My eye doctor caters to the glaucoma demographic, so their reading material is limited.  It’s always fun to go somewhere where I’m the youngest person there by a good two or three decades.

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Insomnia

I’ve had horrible insomnia for the last week or so, the kind where you are dead tired and quickly fall asleep, then wake up 90 minutes later and spend hours completely alert, playing the “if I fall asleep now, I might still get x hours of sleep” game, where x is always too little.  And of course, playing this game is like moving your mouse every 58 seconds to keep the screen saver from ever starting.  If I was smart, I’d get out of bed, sit down here, and try to get some writing done.  But in the moment, it seems too imperative to get every second of sleep on the board I can.

This sleep famine is my fault, sort of.  I got through the fall allergy flare-ups by taking benadryl every night before bed, and Diphenhydramine is a cruel mistress.  (That’s a potential short story title, too.)  I stopped taking it at night, and went to occasionally taking the not-as-fun Claritin for the allergy symptoms.  The first few nights were the worst, because my dreams went sideways.  On benadryl, I’d have these ultra-groggy completely insane visions of Abraham Lincoln and Helen Keller operating the Subway sandwich shop on the corner of MacDougal and Bleecker to finance their speed metal band, in which I was auditioning as their road ileostomy technician.  These were replaced with dreams of being awake and wondering when I would go back to sleep, interlaced with actually being awake and wondering when I would go back to sleep.

My sleep hygiene has been much worse, and I expect a couple more bad nights before I will be so tired at night, the whole thing will right itself.  But it had me thinking about when my sleep cycle became such a struggle.  It used to be a fierce symptom of my depression, back in high school and the summer before college.  I had a job that summer that required me to be at the plant and ready to silver-plate band instrument pieces at 6:00 AM sharp.  The plant had summer hours where they started that early to avoid some of the summer heat, which doesn’t totally make sense, because if you start at 6:00 or 10:00, you’re still there at noon, when the sun is the worst.  But I got in this bad habit of staying up late, going to Perkins to try to write, scribbling these depressive manifestos in spiral notebooks until midnight, one, two in the morning, and then having the alarm go off at whatever unholy hour to get me through a shower and to the factory at six.

I wish I still had those notebooks, because it would be phenomenal to peer into that completely unchecked depression and see what was happening in my head in the summer of 1989, and how I recorded it.  I felt that I had a suboptimal high school experience; I made it out, but I never dated, never had the social experience I thought was standard, and it was over and done with, and could not be redone.  I knew I had college in a few short months, and I’d be able to get a mulligan on everything and start over in a new town, hopefully with a new group of people who didn’t adhere to the same bizarre taxonomy of social castes.  But I know I did not, could not focus on that at the time.

I had this feeling that something was fundamentally broken, but I didn’t know what.  My parents sent me to a shrink in my senior year, which itself was a somewhat alienating procedure, because nobody in a 1980s Indiana went to a therapist for anything, unless it was a court-mandated thing after your 25th DUI.  I went through the motions of this, and finished however many 50-minute hours, maybe 12 or 16, at which time the HMO insurance company considered me cured and stopped paying for more sessions.  I had a certain sense of relief from this conclusion, a euphoria that I was “cured” and could put it behind me and move on with life.  That lasted a couple of weeks, and then I entered the darkness again.

It takes so much effort to remember this period, partly because it was over twenty years ago, and partly because in a few years, so many points of my life would quickly become digital and more fully archived.  I have no emails or digital photos from the summer of 1989; I know I wrote a lot of letters to people after I left for school, but I didn’t type them and didn’t keep carbons.  I can’t look at my account history at Amazon.com and see what dreadful self-help books I may have been reading back then.  I kept a calendar and sporadically wrote down events as they happened, the days of concerts and meetings and orientations, when fees and dorm applications and deposits were due.  But this causes me to construct a false reality, that maybe emphasizes the wrong points, or misses others entirely.

This is, of course, not the stuff to think about when it’s 2:57 and your alarm goes off at 4:45.  And also don’t think about how you could bomb yourself out with some sedative or benzo and sleep like a baby, except you’d be out completely until ten or eleven.  Think about how to disassemble and reassemble a car engine, piece by piece.  If you miss a step, start over.  Or think about the emotions you will feel at 4:45, how you’ll wish for another hour, another five minutes in your high-threadcount womb.  Sometimes that works, too.

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Cambodia, Thanksgiving, Debt

So my contribution to small business Saturday was a trip to Spectator Books and a copy of the new book of Spalding Gray journals, which has been an interesting but difficult read so far.  I saw Gray in 1998, on one of my trips to New York before I moved there.  It was at PS 122, which is this old school that got converted into a tiny black box theater, and the show must have seated maybe a few dozen people.

This small of a space for a long-form monologue was so intimate it was almost uncomfortable.  I mean, I’ve seen Rollins ramble on for four hours in a thousand-seater, and while he draws you in, he’s a little thing on a big stage far away, and no matter how intimidating he might be, there’s this separation between performer and audience.  In this little room, we were all sitting in chairs on the floor, and he’d work the room, moving from place to place on the stage.  That meant there were several times where he would stop and look right at me and talk for minutes at a time.  He wasn’t looking in my direction; he was looking AT me and talking TO me like if I was in someone’s living room at a party and someone was telling me a story.  This destruction of that performer-audience barrier gave me this unnatural, albeit brief connection to him, which made his suicide five years later a solid blow to the gut instead of just another famous-person-dies story.

Thanksgiving has come and gone.  A came up and we went to the Claremont for dinner.  Last year we cooked, and that was a real marathon; this year, A talked about hosting, but her landlord just died a few weeks ago, so that added some weirdness to the mix, and we decided to go out for dinner.  The Claremont hotel is this hundred-year-old resort in the Berkeley hills, with a phenomenal restaurant that has giant bay windows where you can see the water and the bridges in the distance.  It was crowded as hell, the hallways filled with people like a MASH hospital filled with triaged victims, and they herded us off to a huge banquet hall set up as an auxiliary buffet.  I got many calories, although I chose roast beef over turkey.  I also did not say a prayer to the jesus, so I guess that makes me a secret muslim or something.  I think I did mention jesus once or twice, as in “jesus christ, this cornbread and chestnut stuffing is incredible.”

I also have not mentioned the house drama in a while, but on Wednesday night, we signed our papers and are out of escrow on the purchase of our new place.  The loan gets funded and the sale gets recorded on Monday or Tuesday, but it’s otherwise done.  We have lived in this house for a year, so there’s no moving to be done, but this will most likely trigger several trips to Ikea.  We went on Friday, and looked at various entertainment centers, but didn’t buy one.  Maybe next weekend.  Right now, our “entertainment center” is a bookcase on its side and some cardboard boxes packed full of DVDs.

The one roller coaster event with regard to the house close is debt.  We spent a year paying a mortgage on the old place and rent on the new place, and for next month, we will have neither.  But we went from having six figures of debt, to having absolutely zero debt after the old place closed, to having even more debt now that the new place is mortgaged up.  None of that is credit card debt, and we have two paid-off cars and no student loans, but it is an interesting anomaly.

I finished another pass on this book, the follow-up to Fistful of Pizza.  There’s still no title or concept, and I feel like it could double in size and still be too short.  I also took a quick look at the zombie book I was writing for nano, and I feel like it could be salvageable if I gave it another month of work.  Unfortunately, the next month is cratered with end of year junk, doctor’s appointments and an extended midwestern trip.  But maybe a trip or two to the Goshen Wal-Mart to watch people fistfight over Xboxes will give me the creative spark I need to get this one over the top.

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Film Orgy

I have watched so many damn movies in the last few days, it’s uncanny.  I watch TV every night, but for whatever reason, our lowest common denominator has been all of these cooking shows, like Chopped and Restaurant Impossible.  We haven’t been able to lock into any good dramas in a while, probably since Lost ended.  And it seems like reality shows are the only thing available now, but that’s another rant for another day.

We tend to see every movie in the theater that’s within our wheelhouse, but that’s limiting because I hate superhero/comic book movies, and don’t get into the animated stuff, and that’s about 90% of what came out this summer.  But I will sometimes catch up on this stuff when I can do it for $2 on amazon, as opposed to $20 in a theater.

So, here’s a bunch of stuff I saw in the last week:

Captain America

The reason I don’t like comic book movies, especially Marvel ones, is that they’re all basically “hey, Spiderman made a shit-ton of money, so let’s use the same exact script except do a search and replace and pour in another superhero.”  So it’s always the same exact origin story, with a bunch of references to other Marvel properties to appease the comic book geeks.

I wanted to see this movie because it takes place during World War 2, and has all of this Nazi secret labs stuff like giant flying wing bombers.  The movie did okay with the vintage setting, showing New York during the war, but it had a certain glossiness to it, and I’m not sure if that was intentionally some directorial decision, or if it was because they used so much CGI, that’s the best you can do.

The origin story was okay, but like I said, they use the same damn one for all of these ones, and you can practically set your watch to when the twelve points of the Joseph Campbell hero’s journey happens.  Once the origin was over and you got into the fighting, it all became a hokey blur of CGI.  Maybe if I was in an IMAX theater, this would have been more engaging, but it was a bit too video gamey for me.

I would give this one a slight bump up in points because the hero is a bit grittier here – Captain America is a touch more Indiana Jones than Iron Man, if that makes any sense.  And the ending, which is of course a blatant hook for them to make more movies, was interesting.  But it was mostly a “meh” for me.

Monsters, Inc and Wall-E

I never, ever watch Pixar stuff, which is ironic because I think I could walk to the main gates of their studio in less time than it will take me to write this post, and to the fanatic Pixar fan, that’s like Jerry Sandusky living next to a Justin Bieber-themed boy’s grade school.  But I never got into Pixar movies, and never got into animation, and I don’t know why.  So I don’t know why the hell I watched both of these movies back-to-back on Thanksgiving night, but it may have been from a diabetic coma and an inability to change channels.

I’m mentioning both of these at once because every Pixar movie is essentially the same movie.  They follow the same plot curve religiously; Sulley meets Boo at probably the same exact frame of film as where Wall-E meets Eve.  What I found both interesting and disturbing is how emotionally manipulative Pixar movies can be.  I mean, it’s like just short of “here’s a cute purry kitty.  I’ve never loved anything as much as this kitty, and it completes me.  Now, here’s a bad man that will take the kitty and put it in a bag and hit it with a hammer and throw it in the river.  But if I try hard and fail two times, on the third try, I will get back the kitty unharmed and it will love me forever.”  And every person in the theater is crying like a little bitch.  And this WORKS but it disturbs me.

Also, there’s something strange about Wall-E (or WALL-E or WaLl-EEE or whatever the fuck it is) in that the writer, Andrew Stanton, is a bit of a Jesus freak, and the whole movie is filled with religious symbolism.  But it has a heavily environmental message, which means the Right automatically has to hate it.  But it doesn’t absolutely say either, so both sides fight over who the film supports.  It’s like when the film Juno came out, and everyone argued over whether or not it was a pro-life or pro-choice movie.  I guess that ultimately works, in that you get two different teams fighting to support the same movie.  You can’t make a film like Brokeback Mountain in such a way that everyone on the Right will rush to see it because it’s a good dude-on-dude movie BUT it’s a good cowboy movie.

These were both middle-of-road for me.  You’re basically paying for a commercial for all of the Pixar toys you’ll be forced to buy if you have kids (or all of the Pixar collectibles you will be forced to buy if you don’t.)  It was an okay way to pass the time, but I didn’t drink the Kool-Aid.

Super 8

I don’t know why I didn’t see this in the theater; either I thought it was some kind of kid’s movie from the trailer, or I kept getting it confused with that horrible Nick Cage movie 8mm.  But we rented this, and I’m glad, because it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen this year, except for the end, which was somewhat retarded.  So it’s basically like Lost.  J.J. Abrams creates a magic box, and you spend 90 minutes thinking “what the hell is in that box?” and then he opens it and you feel totally ripped off.

My first reaction to the movie was that Abrams filmed this gigantic homage to ET and Close Encounters in so many ways that it was goddamn genius.  The way he set up the world of the involved kids and the oblivious adults was so much like something I could identify with as a child of the 80s.  I mean, it’s not that our parents were oblivious, it’s that they were far too involved with their grown-up world, but we had a certain distance from it, because we were so consumed with our own world of horror movies and model building and science fiction.  This was done so well in the movie, that I loved it.

And it wasn’t just the perfectly sculpted plot that showed this – it was something with the production values, the set dressing, the cinematography.  If you told me that Abrams hunted down the same DP or the same kind of film stock or cameras as Close Encounters, or he obsessively duplicated camera angles or shot tracking from Goonies, I would believe it.  If you don’t pay attention to the story at all and just LOOK at the movie, it reminds you so much of those iconic 80s movies.  The thing is, the story – the love interest, and that goddamn magic box he’s assembling before your eyes – you can’t escape it.

I can’t say why the ending is stupid without major spoilers, but it was stupid.  If Abrams had shot this as 26 episodes at an hour each, and pulled back the kimono a little more slowly, maybe.  But it was still an incredible film.

Limitless

This was a huge “meh”, an interesting premise with some seriously phoned-in acting, and an overall film that was trying to rip off Fight Club, Pi, and maybe Flowers for Algernon simultaneously in such a way that you couldn’t tell what was what.

Basically, Bradley Cooper is this blocked writer who discovers a wonder drug that unlocks 100% of your brain (the “we only use 20% of your brain” thing is a myth), antics ensue.  The plot has a lot of switcharoo action that makes it interesting, but it’s got so much poorly glossed-over technology, it takes some effort to get through it.  Like there’s a lot of stuff having to do with day-trading and financial markets that’s absolutely mumbo-jumboed in the same way as when you’re watching one of those CSI things and they show the pseudo-details of some technical thing involving web sites or phone phreaking.

Of course the real bitch of the movie is that it’s based on a pill you can take and then crank out a masterpiece novel in four days, and it’s not available at the local Rite-Aid.  All I can find there is this gingko stuff that does nothing but horribly affect my bowel output.

Okay, that’s it.  I now remember why I hate reviewing anything, and I’m horribly bored of this, and I already know the only comments I will get is unending shit about my inability to bow down and lick the asshole of Stan Lee.

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5 Reasons Posts That Are Lists Get More Traffic

I’ve been editing a book, or maybe a chunk of a book, that’s mostly composed of blog posts from earlier this year, and one of the harder parts of this (aside from all of the typos) has been retitling the posts when they are reincarnated in short story format. As both a goof and a desperate trick for SEO, I originally titled all of these as if they were crappy content poured into an autoblogged site, like “10 Reasons Zombies Will Steal Your iPad”. And the sad thing is, that actually seemed to work.

I thought of this today, because I went to look at Lifehacker for some dumb reason. I used to love that site, because I’m a lazy bastard, and if anyone presented me with a tip that would shave ten seconds off of my week, I’d probably love it. But now you go there, and it’s nothing but these listicles of the obvious. And go to StumbleUpon, which is a neat site, but now it seems like nine out of ten articles are these collations of brief tips or factoids.

Why are they so popular? I guess part of it is, it’s easier to consume. You could write a long-form article about the failing financial system, or you could throw ten bullet points at the wall and call it a day. It’s sort of the PowerPointing of the world. I worked at a place where every damn thing HAD to be a PowerPoint deck, from idea pitches to weekly status reports, and it seemed like the higher up the management food chain, the more the person could only digest items in slide format. I’m sure there’s a rabbit hole of reading I could fall into about usability and eye tracking studies, but I’ll leave that to someone else.

Another theory would be that it’s easier to write posts like that. I think it’s a push; it probably takes me just as long to write a 20-item list as it does to bang out a thousand words of prose without an outline. Maybe if I started with a quick list and used that as an outline for prose, that would take longer. But it’s one of those false economies of scale, like that if a person could build a whole house from scratch in a year, they should be able to build a fully-functional HO scale house in 4.19 days.

The thing that interests me is if this is because stripping away the supporting structure of a prose story and presenting it as a list makes it easier or more effective for people to parse. I don’t mean in a “we all have ADD/fuck Twitter” sort of way, but I mean if there’s some reason for this, like how a root/fifth/fourth song sounds so much better to us than some Yoko Ono experimental noise shit where she’s raping a lawnmower engine with a pizza oven.

And that makes me wonder about structure of non-blog post/article pieces, like short stories or books. One of the things I tried to do with Rumored to Exist was present a novel-sized work in small pieces, with an almost total disregard for traditional form. And I did that, but I felt like it would have been more readable if it did have a standard novel’s plot arc, and the “randomness” had a certain amount of non-randomness, partly out of pure chance, and partly because I kept rearranging the pieces until it felt right.

I keep writing these bursts of fiction that have no home, and end up in a big Scrivener document when they happen to be written near a computer, or find their way into a bunch of different moleskine notebooks when I’m not at the Mac. And the number one thing I bitch about to people is how I don’t have a form to put these on. I don’t know how I lucked into the one I had for Rumored, and I don’t know if it can be re-used, or if there’s something else I need to do.

I wonder if there’s anything to be gleaned from the way web articles have gone. I guess one could write a book that’s nothing but fake articles like this. There are already a whole slew of books written as email exchanges, which is something I was talking about back in 94 or 95. I thought about setting up a fake email on my linux machine, and then emailing it a page or two a day, to slowly concoct a longer work. I now know that would have just become an editing nightmare, but it’s still a fun idea.

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Why I am not an indie writer

I hate the term “Indie Writer”.  Hate it.  Hate all of the variations: indie writer, indie writing, indie books.  It’s one of those terms, like “sammies”.  Any time I am in a restaurant that has the term “sammies” on the menu, I want to burn the fucking place to the ground.

Over on Self Publishing Review, there was an interesting article about this (here.)  In recent years, I’ve had a certain unease with the sudden popularity of self-publishing, and I could never really explain this effectively. But then I read this article, and it was like I’d spent the last X months staring at the splotchy acid-trip picture at the mall and something shifted and I could magically see the 3-D unicorn.

Back in the day, I was tangentially involved in the underground death metal scene; I published a zine, wrote for another, and spent a lot of time trading tapes and writing obscure bands around the world.  This was independent music at its most fundamental: people recorded albums in their own garage, dubbed them onto Maxell C-90s with a jambox or tape deck, then photocopied j-cards and mailed them off to zines for review, or sold copies through the mail.  (“Enclose carefully hidden cash!”)  Some bands “sold out” and signed to major labels, and you could have arguments forever with people over whether or not Nuclear Blast America was a “major” label, but I’m sure their most popular band sold about as many albums total as Sony gave away during promotion of a new Mariah Carey album.

Then Nirvana showed up, and the metal scene completely died.  And all of a sudden, all of these “indie” bands appeared.  And we were constantly told that a band like Smashing Pumpkins was “indie rock”, even though they shared a label with the Spice Girls and Janet Jackson.  And this must have been a major pain in the ass for alternative or punk bands who were still pressing their CDs in batches of 1000 and dragging their own orders to the post office.  But it was even worse for the metal bands who saw a recently functional ecosystem completely dry up, replaced with a bunch of guys in flannel.  The only valid solutions for metal bands were to a) cut out all of the satan references and play mopy college rock; b) get a job at a gas station; and/or c) wait it out until all of the alternative bands had kids and got old and metal once again ruled. Meanwhile, MTV and the mainstream press beat this “indie” label to death until it had no meaning.

There are two different axes to graph this stuff on.  One is “indie” as meaning independent of a massive corporation for your publisher.  The other is “indie” as a term describing rebellion against common conventions in literature.  And I think many of the people who write genre fiction and self-publish it take up the “indie” moniker to show that they are somehow bad-asses raging against the machine, although they’re still writing vampire romances and murder mysteries.  And most self-publishing forums and groups I encounter have little to nothing to do with pushing boundaries, and are mostly about how to make a product that looks like and competes with the same exact things released by the Big Six.  And anyone calling themselves an “indie” would be the last to admit any of this, and respond with “but MY book isn’t just like Tom Clancy – it’s like Tom Clancy with zombies!”

Self-publishing suddenly became “indie publishing” because people wanted self publishing to sound legit, and shed the baggage of being associated with people who paid vanity presses a few thousand bucks for a box of a thousand books, 974 of which would sit in a box in their attic forever.  And some people may be staging a revolution against the Big Six by doing it themselves, while others may have tried to get an agent and get a deal and failed.  And maybe they failed because the industry is failing (nobody reads, economic downturn, the damn 1%, choose one or more), or maybe they just didn’t make the cut, because their stuff was no good.

And I know you’re probably just thinking, “he’s just jealous his piece of shit books didn’t sell as much as Twilight.”  That’s not the point.  That isn’t my world.  I’m not Pavement complaining about Smashing Pumpkins.  I’m Captain Beefheart for the sake of that comparison; I’m doing something that’s not meant to be appreciated by anyone but a small number of people.  I’m fine with that.

The problem is, I self-publish.  I’m an “indie” in the sense that Random House is not handling my output.  And for whatever fucked up reason, that automatically lumps me in with every Stephenie fucking Meyer wannabe that’s self-publishing for profit.  I don’t self-publish to make money.  I self-publish because I don’t happen to have an offset press in my living room.  And I write because it’s a way of channeling my subconscious and my thoughts on finding a meaning to life into a format that can then be consumed and possibly felt as emotion by other people.  And the way that happens isn’t about a perfectly carved out plot arc or a nicely packaged consumer product or a compliant genre-specific thriller novel.  Jackson Pollock did not paint crying clowns and landscapes.  Albert Camus did not pen murder mysteries for the YA market.  I don’t have to adhere to the bullshit rules people keep spouting off, any more than G.G. Allin had to dress like the members of Pearl Jam, even though they both released albums in the same era.

It’s irrelevant.  And it should be for you, too.  Write what you want.  If someone tells you to develop a marketing plan, tell them to go fuck themselves.  This is Art, not Amway.  I am not an “indie” writer.  Underground?  Maybe.  Cult?  I probably need more cult members first.  But “indie”?  Ugh.  Someone’s mom is an indie writer.  I’m anything but.

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iTunes Bankruptcy

I think when I sit down to write, I now spend more time trying to figure out what I want to listen to than I do actually writing, and that’s a problem.  My mind bounces between two solutions: one is to spend some inordinate amount of time and money finding all new music that moves me.  The other is to declare iTunes bankruptcy, and either delete every song in my iTunes library, or rate every single one at zero stars, then put it on shuffle and re-rate everything until the 11,000-some tracks more accurately describe what I like, instead of the current rating situation.  I think I “finished” rating all of my music, aside from new additions, in about 2007, and I would like to think I have evolved since then, but who knows.

( A few more facts.  Total tracks: 11,397.  Added in 2011: 426. In 2010: 504. Added since the beginning of 2007, which was my last big iTunes crash/rebuild: 5334.  Number of tracks that are “from” 2011: 122.  Number from 1989-1995, when I was in college: 2114.)

I think when I’m at the height of my collector snobdom, my worst fear is that I will become one of those people that lock into a certain artist or time period and never acknowledge that there is any music outside of that sphere of influence, ever.  I dated a girl in college who was like this with Billy Joel, and it (plus the fact that she was bat-shit insane, but there’s a cart/horse situation here) were the reason I walked away from that relationship like an unemployed person walks away from a $500,000-underwater mortgage.

But keeping up with new music is work.  I briefly tried to do this when I was reviewing new music for a now-dead web site, and it seems like the easier it is to get music, the harder it is to find music.  I can turn on iTunes genius and fire up Pandora or Spotify and point my web browser at a million different news sites and fan sites and get up-to-the-second email blasts from my favorite artists, but it seems like I find about 4% of what I used to find by wasting half my Saturday going from A to Z at a half-dozen different local record stores.  And it seems like the more I buy or download, the less potent the music is.  When I was in high school and could only afford to buy a tape a week, almost every one of those tapes was gold.  Now. I can add a hundred tracks at a clip to my library, and I still can’t name an album I bought in the last year that can stand up to repeat plays.

Albums are always time machines for me, but I’m finding the harder it is to find an album, the higher the chance of it being powerful to me.  An example: I accidentally found out about Gary Moore in 1988, while on a record buying spree in Canada.  A guy working at a store in Stratford told me I should really check him out, and I did, and I loved it.  A couple of those albums were indelibly marked on my past, and of course those tapes got lost or fell apart, and I went for years wishing I could hear them again.  And in the 90s, finding those things was next to impossible; they were out of print, or were “imports” and I never could track them down, and doing a web search on Gary Moore (Alta Vista back then, I think) would turn up maybe four hits, none helpful.  When I eventually found those albums, they were absolutely efficacious, and transported me through time like I suddenly had a Delorean with attached flux capacitor.  I think if I would have been able to just type two words and a credit card number into a browser and instantly hear those songs, it would have been nowhere near as powerful as spending months scouring every non-chain record store in Seattle.

But now I worry about listening to those tracks so much that they won’t work anymore, just like how I worry about drinking my twelfth diet coke of the day and still feeling lethargic.  I wonder if I should set aside that discography and find something new, and hope it will someday be my bridge back to 2011.  I hope that someone else out there is making something as mind-altering as the music I cherished 20 years ago.  And I wonder how I will find it, especially when I mention this to people and they say, “Oh, you need to listen to Arcade Fire.  They have like ten members or something.”

OK, now take this entire article and replace music with books.  Same thing.

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10 Absolutely Bizarre Wikipedia Articles

Whenever I get writer’s block, I hit wikipedia.  It’s arguable if it’s better or worse to fall down an internet k-hole by reading every single serial killer article you can find on wikipedia, but my hope is that I’ll eventually mine all of this for a good reference to throw in a story.

Here’s a short list of wikipedia articles that I’ve read recently that are truly bizarre:

  1. Banana equivalent dose – The amount of radiation you absorb by eating one banana.  (Yes, you absorb radiation from eating bananas.  Helicopter parents: let’s ban them!)
  2. Berners Street Hoax – Two men had a bet that one of them could turn a random address the most talked-about address in London in a week; antics ensue.
  3. Ota Benga – The Bronx zoo had a human as an exhibit.  In the 20th century.  This is a truly fucked up and sad story.
  4. FedEx Express Flight 705 – Want to read about one of the most demented hijacking schemes ever?  Here you go.
  5. Self-surgery – If you ever read alt.tasteless, you already know where I’m going with this one.
  6. Dyatlov Pass incident – When hikers wander off for no reason barefoot in heavy snow in the Ural mountains and are later found with fractured skulls, missing tongues, and no signs of struggle, a serious WTF situation occurs.
  7. Human Interference Task Force – How do you tell people for the next 10,000 years not to screw around with a buried crypt of radioactive waste?  The US government formed a task force of scientists, anthropologists, and science fiction writers to brainstorm this.  One linguist proposed creating a religion based on radioactive waste, that would create myths and legends surrounding the spent fuel rods, which would be handed down from generation to generation and eventually produce some asshole that would take people’s money to build a water park.
  8. New Swabia – Did you know Nazi Germany still has a territorial claim on Antarctica? You do now.
  9. Phineas Gage – My favorite story of a railroad worker having a metal spike drilled through his skull by an explosion and surviving.
  10. List of unusual deaths – This one is the god damned mother lode.  You could kill an entire day reading this.

Happy reading, and let me know your favorites, too.

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Your Holiday Shopping List, Should You Choose To Accept It

It’s almost Christmas!  Or it’s almost Hanukkah, and maybe it’s almost Kwanzaa (not sure), and it’s definitely almost the Firestorm, if you worship Satan.  But it’s definitely that time of year where you spend your hard earned money on carefully thought-out presents for all of your family, and maybe get a fruit basket in return.  And a week from today, the criminally insane will converge on local big box stores to beat the shit out of each other to get a crappy DVD player made by slave labor in China out of toxic plastic, that will work for roughly 37 minutes before exploding.

So, you looking for some gifts that aren’t made by children in sweatshops that might actually promote an artist and maybe make a person think?  How about some books?  Here’s my list of books I’ve read lately that aren’t big-6 published, written by people without a massive marketing budget:

  • Small Town Punk by John Sheppard – This is probably one of the best self-published books I’ve ever read.  All of John’s stuff is awesome, and maybe I’m biased because I published Tales of the Peacetime Army.  Make sure to get the original 2002 edition, and not the 1997 abortion. (It’s not in print, but there are many copies floating around for $5, which is the best five bucks you could possibly spend.)
  • Mostly Redneck by Rusty Barnes – I only know him as a friend-of-friend through Timothy Gager, which was enough for me to put down the cash.  This is 18 short stories of hard living in rural Appalachia, and each one is so precisely crafted, with absolutely no waste.  He’s got a way of really haunting you, getting something wedged very deep in your head in a thousand words.  Great stuff.
  • Treating a Sick Animal by Timothy Gager – Speaking of, check out Gager’s latest collection of flash fiction.  It contains 40-some shorter pieces, each just as lethal as the last.  What’s even more amazing than the quality of his writing is the tremendous speed at which he turns out this precision work.  He’s probably written four stories better than anything I’ve ever done in the time it takes me to finish this post.
  • How Some People Like Their Eggs by Sean Lovelace – Lovelace is a writer in Indiana (he teaches at my sister’s alma mater of Ball State) and he has a blog that almost entirely talks about nachos.  There’s two things I like about this chapbook, aside from the quality of the prose.  One is that Lovelace has a way of coming up with very unique forms, twisting and clever structures that make me think, “god DAMN why didn’t I do that?”  (Example: the titular piece is a list of how famous people like their eggs.)  The other thing I like is that this is a real damn chapbook: a carefully designed, really printed on quality paper chapbook.  It’s not just a POD 6×9 trade paperback, which is awesome.
  • Johnny Astronaut by Rory Carmichael and I, An Actress: The Autobiography of Karen Jamey by Jeffrey Dinsmore – These are both kindle reissues of the Awkward Press editor’s earlier novels.  He’s added bonus materials to both, and priced them at 99 cents each, so they’re well worth the look.
  • Between Panic and Desire by Dinty W. Moore – This is truly awesome creative nonfiction, the telling of a person’s life in hilarious autobiographical sketches, knitted together in a way that tells more than the whole story, and then breaks to throw in some quiz questions or go off on a different tangent.  It’s like a mix of Vonnegut at his best, but replace the aliens with tripping acid at the top of the World Trade Center.
  • Powering the Devil’s Circus, Redux by Jason Jordan – A collection from the editor of decomP, this is a dozen stories and a novella of experimental work, with plenty of mention of metal, which I of course like.
  • Tomorrowland by Grant Bailie – The UPS guy literally showed up with this one as I was typing this post.  It’s a collection of interwoven stories, and looks promising.  I loved his books Cloud 8 and Mortarville, so this looks awesome.
  • Fistful of Pizza by Jon Konrath – Most importantly, buy my damn book!  Nine twisted stories, and it’s only 99 cents on the kindle.  Break in that new Kindle Fire by reading about a parody of the Ben Hur chariot race, filmed with small breed dogs around a set designed like a 1970s Times Square filled with heroin addicts and pornographers.  Also available in print for you luddites.

I’m sure I forgot a few others, but check these out – thanks!

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