Sunday, September 9, 2018

Gotham Writing

Life is plenty complicated without writing.  Life’s impossible without writing.

You see, I’ve got tons of fiction here.  Well, it be tons if I printed it out.  I’ve been writing every day for decades now.  Long past the limit Neal Stephenson once told me, the 100,000 words you throw out before calling yourself a writer.  The problem is, life’s complicated.

I happened into a New York City bookstore.  On the same shelf paperbacks by the aforementioned Neal and Robert Repino.  I know them both.  I returned home and fired up the laptop.  Hundreds of stories.  Half a dozen novels.  Amid all of this, just one story of mine that one small journal thought was worthy of actual ink.  It won third place in a contest.

There’s no way to count pre-computer writing.  I was born before the advent of the household CPU.  Before electronic calculators.  We thought the TI-30 was a big deal, little red lights and all.  I’d been writing for years already.  How many words?  Who can count that high?  Who has the time?  Life, remember…

So I fire up the laptop and start counting.  I quickly lose track how many individual stories I have in Scrivener.  At various stages of completion.  Many finished, sent out, and rejected.  Many more being polished and awaiting the click of the “send” button.  Even many more not yet done.

I click through some of the older stories.  I can’t remember where I was going with them.  When I started, the idea, I know, was pretty clear.  Beginning, middle, end.  Characters so real they could be sitting in this very room.  Now, however, I don’t recall their names.  Backstories.  Why was that character suicidal at that particular time?  What do I know about whaling, beyond Moby-Dick?  Perhaps one with flashes of intense emotion like me should be a poet instead?

It’s raining in the city and I recall one of my published stories about Bryant Park, just outside this plate-glass window.  That window’s like time.  You can see through it, but you can’t change it.  Not without breaking the law.  And life’s already complicated enough without doing that.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

In the Night

There are those who might rightfully suppose, like Mark Twain or Paul McCartney, that K. Marvin Bruce is dead.  The fact is that Marvin is engaged on two books of non-fiction that are actually under contract; fiction presses seem less friendly to my brand of writing.

Also, I haven’t been submitting much fiction because, well, I have books under contract.  That’s why I’m pleased to announce that “In the Night” is up on Exterminating Angel Press: The Magazine.  You can find it here: EAP.  The title come from the theme of this quarter’s publication—Things That Go Bump.

The story, as usual, predates the theme.  Quite some time ago I was struck by how religious authorities used to—and in some places still—have the authority to punish believers.  Believe it or not, in many parts of the world this includes the death penalty.  Civil authorities are unable to change their theological minds.

“In the Night” deals with such a situation.  A girl who has left a tradition, loosely based on my own experience growing up, lives in fear that they may catch her.  It is a dark tale, but things that go bump in the night are used to the absence of light.

As with most of my writing, this is heavy with metaphor.  The real issue is not to finger a specific religion but rather to question why religions have this kind of authority.  Religions disagree, often fundamentally, about what is right.  The idea that you may be punished for something amorphous as wrong belief is, to me, very frightening.

EAP: The Magazine has been quite kind, unlike many religions, in being willing to publish an unknown like me.  Over a year ago a different press expressed interest in my Medusa novel and never got back in touch.  I know people who work in publishing and such lack of communication is, well, unforgivable.  Those of us who write has our own sort of religion I suppose, and I’m glad to have a venue to express it.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Strangely Moved

Writing is all about habit.  I recently moved house and with the move I somehow left my old writing habits behind.  Or so it seems.  The fact is I’ve had two non-fiction book assignments in a row and my true love has had to wait.

My house didn’t come with a writing nook.  It was a tough market this year and finding some kind of suitable domicile before my apartment lease was up proved a trick for which I wasn’t prepared.  I thought there would be lots of choices, but instead it was catch as catch can.  Writing nooks weren’t in this year.

Still, my usual chair was still available and I settled in to try my morning writing.  I had a story accepted for publication—the first time in over a year—and I realized that what I was missing was the drawing in of new material.  I need to see how other people live.

There’s a bar within walking distance.  A trendy one that serves only local brews.  There I noticed the beard was back.  I have an old-growth beard myself, more of the Hemingway variety than the more trendy bald-on-top, hirsute-below model.  I also spied a tattooed young lady who’d’ve made Bradbury pen The Illustrated Woman.  So that’s what other people do.

My designated driver took me down a country lane dotted with stone houses.  Not the kind that have faux stone panels that speak of false premises, but the old variety built hard on what would’ve been a rough, horse-trodden trail.  Houses that had witnessed a ton of human drama.  Houses with as many stories as ghosts.

Perhaps I did lose my box full of old writing habits when I moved.  Tucked into some shadowed corner of a moving van and deposited at the next client’s house.  But the freedom of getting out and about revealed that there’s still a future of writing ahead.  And a new story will be appearing in coming weeks.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Writing Rearranged

Jo March had her red cap (before such things were tainted) and writing nook.  Those of us who write also have our habits.  Thing is, circumstances change.

For the first time in over a decade I’m moving house.  Most specifically, I’m moving from an apartment into a house.  I’ll keep my day job, but I’ll be telecommuting—whatever that is.  Here in my apartment I awoke very early in order to accommodate public transportation.  My writing time has been very early.

Weekends have taught me that sleeping in disrupts writing.  Indeed, my freshest time is way before dawn.  My mind is sharp and alert.  I’m productive.  I’m energetic.  I’m also not as young as I used to be.  One of my more self-indulgent activities is to allow myself to sleep until 5 a.m. on a Saturday.

I wake up groggy, uninspired.  I sit down to write, weary already.  Only with great effort can I shove the pen.  I really don’t want to sleep any more, but I don’t want to write either.  I must have a fever!

This makes me fear for my new lifestyle.  The few people in my life say they’d like to see me keep more normal hours.  Not go to bed until 9 or 10.  Be better rested.  Better adjusted.  And what of my writing?  What will become of it?

Houses with writing nooks are not easily affordable these days.  My new house has a gnarly, unfinished attic.  It could have enough privation to make a suitable writing space.  Freezing in winter, stifling in summer.  I can see myself up there amid the storage boxes, hunched over my desk, bleeding out my soul in words.

Writing is all about habits.  Mine, it seems, are about to change.  There’s no way I’m going to be buying a red cap.  But maybe I can learn a bit from Jo after all.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Drafty in Here

Maybe you’ve noticed it too.  You finish a story and you’re impressed.  It came together better than you had imagined it would.  You might’ve even surprised yourself with how nicely it fell into place.

Excitedly, you send it to publisher after publisher.  In their various polite ways of writing pinhead letters, you know you see something they can’t.  You start rewriting.  Changing things.  Some carpentry here.  Some cosmetic surgery there.  Better now?

Once again they yawn and say no.  This just doesn’t interest or excite them.  They’re looking for something you just haven’t got.  Meanwhile, you’ve marred your original piece, the one that spoke to you in a way that made you certain you had something to share.

After a while you turn to other things, leaving it in your drawer of unpublished gems.  I read a biography of L. Ron Hubbard once—don’t worry, I’m not a Scientologist.  Hubbard got his start as a science fiction writer.  He’d keep a roll of butcher paper rolled into his typewriter.  When he finished a story he’d rip off the paper and send it in.  Publishers loved it.

Now, I’m no L. Ron Hubbard.  (If I were would I be living in a place like this?)  But I know good stories when I see them.  I’m an editor too.  I’ve got to wonder if the endless editing, polishing, and rewriting that we do is somehow draining the life from the newborn, unwashed story.

Today few people remember Hubbard as primarily a sci-fi genius.  His world is long gone.  Send things in on butcher paper and they’ll tell you to revise and resubmit.  And by the way, only use Submittable.  

Sometimes I’m tempted, I’ll admit, to going to Submittable, clicking my cursor in the submission box, and start typing.  The worst that could happen is what already happens after endless revisions, refinements, and long agonizing over the ending.  Or the beginning.  Hell, even over the middle.

This blog post, I have to admit, is only a first draft.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Writing Dynasty

In the never-ending quest to be published, I’ve turned to nonfiction.  In nonfiction, you see, all you have to do is convince someone you’ve got an idea nobody else has had.  It took me a few years to figure that out, but then I’ve always been a slow study.  Even doctorates don’t help.

I keep working at my fiction.  It’s where my heart is.  I just finished reading a book, World War Z, by Max Brooks.  Now, I know it’s a matter of taste—this was on the New York Times Bestseller list—but I didn’t care for it.  It wasn’t that well written.  Yes, it was a new idea but so is the one I’ve been trying to get published for a decade now.

What happened here, I wondered.  Then I looked closer.  Max Brooks is Mel Brooks’ son.  Yes, History of the World Part I Mel Brooks’ son.  Blazing Saddles Mel Brooks’ son.  I was reminded of a bit of advice from Writers’ Marketplace back when print books still existed: “Are you famous?  Come on in!” (That’s a paraphrase.)

No doubt, having a famous parent also counts.  Joe Hill has gained a reputation on his own right, but everyone knows he’s Stephen King’s son.  These are the writing dynasties the publishing world adores.  As if ability passes down with the genes.  Privilege certainly does.

I’m trying to keep a more positive attitude these days.  After all, I am the son of a high school dropout who married a career alcoholic.  I’m not dead yet, so that counts for something.  I’ve also been writing fiction since I was a tween.  Some of it my teachers (who knew nothing about publishing) urged me to send it out to magazines.  Somehow fame in a town of 900 counts for little.  Can’t even guarantee sales of a grand.

Brilliance comes in earnings potential.  My Medusa novel’s been with a publisher for over a year now.  Last August they expressed interest and then came the radio silence.  So it goes.  My child writes too.  Her greatest chance is if I start a dynasty.  It’ll probably be a nonfiction one, if any at all.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Greasing the Wheels

Writing’s my retirement grease.  If I have to explain the concept to you, obviously you’re not up to date on the Simpsons.  Well, come to think of it, it’s been a few years since I’ve watched it myself.

Willie, the groundskeeper at Springfield Elementary is saving the grease from the school kitchen’s traps for his retirement.  Homer, on one of his get-rich-quick schemes, has been collecting spent grease to supplement his income.  When he targets the school, Willie spies the truck sucking up the goo and cries out “My retirement grease!”

Daily work is not only non-satisfying, it’s also time-consuming.  I sit at work thinking how there’s little to do and I could be getting so much writing done while I sit, staring at a screen, waiting for an email to pop up.  I don’t make enough money to retire.  My plan had been to die on the job, but then I realized, if I could make money on my writing, I’d have some grease.

Right now the lubrication is coming from non-fiction.  I’ve actually got two non-fiction contracts on my desk and my poor fictional self is suffering.  There’s no future in non-fiction.  Agents only want clients with high profiles and university posts.  Those of us who are working stiffs only get agency attention when we break through the glass walls, ceiling, and floor.  Shattered glass everywhere.  Retirement grease flows.

You see, I’m not making a bid to earn a living as a writer.  I’m realistic enough to know that’s impossible.  I would, however, like it to be my retirement grease.  Otherwise it’s die in an unfulfilling job, waiting for an email to pop up.  Is there anything so wrong with wanting to supplement your income a bit?

My last non-fiction book earned less than $100 in royalties.  That won’t even pay for one week’s commuting bill to work.  Willie is my guide.  I grew up working-class, just like he did.  And he knows the value of some retirement grease.