Friday, August 31, 2012

Ghost Writing

I finished writing The Cherubim three years ago. At the time, I was like - okay, after this gets published, I'll start writing a sequel. Until then, I'll work on something else.

Then I got something like ten form rejection emails and I stopped trying.

In retrospect, that's admittedly ridiculous. But those ten rejection emails absolutely paralyzed me. It didn't stop me from writing other books, because writing is amazingly fun. I'm just hoarding manuscripts.

Which is okay. Because now I'm finally working on the sequel to The Cherubim that I started plotting out three years ago, which is also a quasi-sequel to Mrs. Shadow and Mindtrip. That sounds like a big mess, but I think it totally works. I'm doing a mass reread of all three books; the plan is that once I finish and come up with a rough outline for the last book, I'll re-edit the first three. I'm hoping to have the whole thing finished by early 2014.

I don't know what happens after that. It's just pretty nice to have some sort of plan. Is it still a rad thing to write fiction that no one reads? Is the act of creating enough? Sort of. But I still wish that I had a real way to share my books with everyone. A handful of people have copies of my books; everyone seems to really enjoy them, especially Mrs. Shadow. But... it seems like without any promotion, no one's going to read them.I'm no good at promotion.

Okay! Back to scraping the barrel. This story was written around a decade ago. It won a second-place prize in a literary journal.
That's more than a little heartbreaking.

Michael Bolton's War

"So you think you're tough," spat Michael Bolton. "Any of you punks want to bring it on, that's fine with me. I've tangled with the harshest men on the streets, downed shots of V8 like it was Kool-Aid, so none of you want to mess around."
The leader of the Monkeys, toughest street gang in St. Paul, Minnesota, looked appalled. "Man, Michael Bolton," he explained in a whine, "I didn't mean to diss on you. I just wanted to know if you wanted a shoe-shine."  
Michael Bolton pulled out a Kleenex and tossed it to the ground. "There's your answer, fool." He turned around and began walking off, sure that his answer was enough for the young hooligans to comprehend.  
Michael Bolton had once been a popular music artist. He was hailed as possibly the greatest singer of all time, and he had been someone. His later years brought on hair loss and the trial - he'd been found guilty of plagiarism and forced to pay thousands in royalties for the hit song "Love is a Wonderful Thing" - had taken its toll on the rock star. He now wandered the lands, living off his own toughness, having ninja battles, and loving like only the crooner known as Michael Bolton could.  
He stumbled over a rock as he walked away from the gang, then did a couple of dance steps so it would look like he'd MEANT to trip as an introduction to a musical number. He was sort of embarrassed by the whole thing and mumbled "oops" under his breath as he briskly walked, then jogged, and finally ran like a drunkard down the boulevard.  

Meanwhile, Mr. Bob Saget had heard that Michael Bolton was in town. "That punk!" he spat. "Why, I was busy starring in 'Full House' when that sucker was only beginning to write 'Said I Loved You (But I Lied.)' I ought to bust a cap!"    
 He immediately knew by either instinct or through a kind of osmosis that only one late 80s/early 90s star could live in Minnesota, and the other would have to be banished to Idaho. He liked where he lived: there was clean air and sometimes, when he walked down the block, someone would notice him and say "Dude! Jackalope ruled!" He never mentioned that the person was invariably thinking of Dave Coulier (who later made the Jackalope famous on 'America's Funniest People') - no, he'd been recognized, and the fame was good enough for him. Besides, he had been on 'America's Funniest Home Videos,' which was close to 'America's Funniest People,' so why ask for more?  
"That song... 'When a Man Loves a Woman'... I hated that song," he said, gnashing his teeth. "It is time to begin the war."   

Michael Bolton was walking briskly through the shopping mall when suddenly a shout made him turn his head. "BOOLLLTTOONNN!" screeched the voice.   
"What! Who's that!" shouted Michael. Then he turned around to see who it was.
When he saw, he gaped like a small child at a zoo.   "Oh My!" he cried. "Pat Sajak!" 
"That's Bob Saget," yelped Bob Saget, as he jumped down from a carousel. "And it is payback time, Michael Bolton. Now you will die!"  
"I don't want to die," cried Michael Bolton.  
"Then," said Bob Saget grimly, "we will thumb wrestle." 

"One, two, three, four," began Michael gamely, his hand in a lock with Bob Saget's, "I declare a thumb wa... hey, wait. I didn't finish yet. You can't start until I finish."    
"You talk too slowly," complained Bob Saget, but soon the contest was on. The two men fought with all their might, sweat trickling down their foreheads as their thumbs circled warily, ready to pin the other as soon as possible.    Michael Bolton's thumb feinted to the left, then right, quickly pinioning Saget's thumb. The thumb, slick with sweat, quickly moved out of the way of Bolton's thumb and, with a jagged motion, cut Bolton's thumb with its thumbnail.   "Ouch!" yelped Michael Bolton. "That hurt! That's no fair!"  
"You wanted fair?" sneered Bob Saget. "This is war, Bolton. All's fair in war." 
A left, then a right. An up, down motion. Michael Bolton's thumb was double jointed, but he wasn't sure how much it mattered in a contest like this. Bob Saget knew what he was doing, he'd thumb wrestled before, but Michael Bolton was no pushover.  
The two thumb-wrestled for hours. Finally, with a grunt of despair, Michael Bolton's thumb fell to Bob Saget's thumb. "One-two-three-four-I-win-thumb-war!" shouted Saget quickly.
"Hey," protested Michael Bolton, "that was too quick! No fair!"  
"No mercy!" shouted the crowd of hooligans that had gathered around the two. "Show him no mercy!"  
"This," explained Bob Saget in a roar, "is for 'Time, Love, and Tenderness!'" He proceeded to give Michael Bolton a wedgie and then ran around in a circle, hooting. His actions, though inexplicable, were a warning to Michael Bolton: he was to immediately leave town and go somewhere else.     
A tear ran down Michael Bolton's cheek, much in the manner of the Indian in those commercials about littering. He lifted his hefty briefcase to his shoulder and trudged off, looking for new adventures and hoping to find a town where no one remembered his hit "How Can We be Lovers."

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fred Savage

"What is not well-known is the fact that Fred Savage was, indeed, schizophrenic."
  -- Confucious

Yep, that was Fred Savage. An all-around American kid. Man, remember the Wonder Years? Who doesn't!

I think we all had a little crush on Winnie. Unless you were a girl, in which case you liked Paul. My favorite Fred Savage movie was The Wizard, a brilliant film in which we learned that the power glove "was so bad." I threatened to slit my wrists unless my parents got me a power glove after watching that movie. My parents told me to "go right fucking ahead" since they paid "a hundred fucking dollars" for "that piece of shit Nintendo system already" and there was "no way in hell" that they would buy me "a goddamn glove power, so go do your homework." It almost broke my heart that they didn't even know it was called a power glove, and my life was mostly ruined.

But that is nothing compared to the sultry life of Fred Savage, the most dangerous man alive today.

Yeah, looks like a normal kid, doesn't he? But did you know that Fred Savage was, indeed, schizophrenic? In the interest of mental health studies, I'd like to recreate one of his delusional episodes for you so that we can all get a better idea as to how to watch the hell out for Fred Savage.


Fred: Oh my god. Not again.

"I need you to do me a favor, Fred."

Fred: What now?


Fred: I can't do that anymore, Edgar. I told you that already.

"But we're hungry, Fred."

Fred: It's three o'clock in the morning. Where am I going to get a penguin?

Fred: You have to be shitting me.

"It doesn't have to be a real penguin. We'll accept a substitution."

Fred: That's not funny!

"We offer you riches beyond your wildest dreams, Fred."

Fred: Then it's time to go Penguin-catchin'!

Fred Savage is still legal in over twenty-four states. Our government says that he's 'a slice of Americana', and 'certainly not a man that you should run away from, screaming.'  But are we safe? Can we ever be truly safe from this madman?

I implore you: contact your congressmen, your senators, and Nintendo Power. Urge them to boycott Fred Savage until he gets the medication - and the savory crueller - he so desperately needs.

Saturday, August 4, 2012


Writing is hard.
Like, not just the sitting down and making stuff up for five to ten hours a week. It's the part after, when you have to figure out what to do with your book. I planned to spend a week or two writing a query letter and a synopsis and all that, spending a couple of weeks coming up with a list of agents, and querying. I really, really don't want to.
I don't even want to.
I put so many hours into writing this thing that no one's interested in reading; why waste more time to wind up getting rejected?
That's the hard part about writing. The rejection.
I absolutely LOVE Mindtrip. But I have no confidence that it'll grab anyone. Does anyone else have that problem? Is that a common thing? Writer people: how do you deal with it?

Here's a story I wrote a few years ago. Maybe it's based on a real person. Who knows!

The first time I saw Leo, I figured he was an accountant. Squat, toad-like, nearing 60, and balding, he wore large pants with no belt loops. He reminded me of Danny DeVito’s rendition of The Penguin. He was nebbish.
Four days after he started working at my company, Leo approached and said:
“So. You’re one of those good tree-hugging left wing hippie liberals, aren’t you?”
I looked up. “Uh – I don’t know.”
“I mean, you ride a bike, right?”
I nodded.
“Do you recycle?”
“Do you think it does anyone any good?” He pointed out the window. “Look at that dumpster! Full of plastic water bottles.” He laughed loudly. “It’s just a trick! Designed to make you feel good!”
Sure enough, the dumpster was full of plastic water bottles. It was the recycling dumpster, after all. I sat down at my desk and started working again, only to be interrupted a little while later.
“Watch this,” Leo instructed. He wound up a toy and then released it. It wriggled across his desk.
“What do you think of that? You have to have a little fun around here!”
“What… was that?” I asked.
“Don’t you know,” he said scornfully, and sure enough, it was a wind-up sperm. Leo carefully placed it next to the Mickey Mouse wizard and the stuffed pink flamingo lined up on a shelf next to his desk.

            He decided that I was his liberal nemesis. From the fact that I rode a bike. Over the next few weeks, he began forwarding me anywhere from two to five emails every day, most of which were complaints and lengthy quips about lazy welfare liberals. In his signature line: “Have you made God smile today?”

I never saw him do any work. As far as I could tell, he came in late, left early, and spent the rest of the day playing solitaire and sending forwards. He was a hero. Here are some of my favorite Leo stories.

  • September 9th: A woman nearby says “Happy Tuesday!” and Leo yells “HAPPY NEW YEAR.” The woman pauses, and then cautiously says, “I think it’s still a little while before the new year.”
  • September 11th: I discover Leo has a handicapped license plate, despite having no discernable physical handicap. However, I do learn that he has sleep apnea. He also enjoys pushing buttons on his phone. I listen to him press buttons for two solid minutes.
  • September 19th: After Hurricane Ike, we are off work for a week. When we return, Leo spends two days on the phone with FEMA trying to get the contents of his refrigerator replaced and trying to get them to pay for the meals he ate in restaurants while the power was out. He reports that he bolted the windows on his apartment closed so that intruders couldn’t get in.
  • September 26th: Leo asks me if I support PETA and their attempts to get cow’s milk replaced with human breast milk in certain ice cream companies. I tell him no. Later, I hear him on the phone with his estranged wife, crying.
  • September 29th: I am talking with a coworker about the weather in Texas. Leo walks by and says "Every year, just for laughs, I pull out the barbeque on New Year’s Eve and fire it up. Just to tease my brother who lives in the north. But he laughs at me when we have summer here."
  • October 7th: Leo emails me about economics. Later, he tells me that “even a liberal like you has to admit that you have to keep the people at the top happy!” Every time I walk by his desk, he is playing solitaire. Later, he scolds me for having a library book. “You have the money!” he says. “Libraries are for people who can’t afford the books. You’re cheating the system.”
  • Later, the same day, I hear him having the following conversation with his ex-wife:
Are you as depressed as your mother says you are?!
(long pause)
(fake hearty voice): Okay!
(long pause): Okay!
(long pause): I understand that.
(long pause): I really do.
  • October 8th: Leo shows me I find that he is a regular poster under the name Leo III. Later that night, I search for him on Myspace and find him. His profile describes him as “5’6” / Some extra baggage.”
  • The same day, Leo calls a grocery store and asks for a Watermelon Boat. He is transferred several times, then asks to speak to “a manager who can at least speak English.” He speaks rudely and demands that the store create a Watermelon Boat “Or I’ll just go to Kroger’s and get one!”
  • October 10th: I ask Leo why I didn’t see him the day before. He snaps “Because yesterday was Yom Kippur! I’m always gone on Yom Kippur!”
  • October 14th: “Jesus Christ, Leo just farted loudly.”
  • October 16th: Leo tells me that everything is my fault, then sends me an email about drowning “coon asses” in New Orleans. I notice that he seems to get into work around 9 every day and leave around 2.
  • October 17th: “Leo is making me sad! He's talking to himself and laughing loudly. Maybe there's a person paying attention that I don't see or hear.” Later, he has this conversation with a coworker:
Leo: Jared! Do you feel like no one loves us any more?
Jared: Yes. I do feel that.
  • October 17th: My coworker Leslie announces that Leo has asked to see her tattoo. Later, Leo tells an exciting story about an old friend who is terrified of midgets.
  • October 23rd: Leo has a conversation on the phone in which he tearfully says, “You drove me away, but that mistake put me over the edge.” Then he asks if the other party could talk to him about an incident over the phone, or if she’d need her counselor’s permission.
  • October 27th: Leo tosses a brownie on my desk unexpectedly. I scream.
  • October 28th: Leo’s ringtone is “The Monster Mash.” When he comes back from lunch, I say “Welcome back!” He looks sad and angry. “Was I gone?” he asks. “Some days, I can’t tell.”
  • October 29th: Leo spends two days on the phone with Comcast in a wild heat fury.
  • October 30th: Leo sends me a forward about soldiers serving their country. Rebecca proceeds to edit it into a filthy pornographic mess.
  • November 3rd: Leo asks me what will happen if Obama is elected and it turns out his birth certificate is a fraud. I shrug.
  • November 6th: Leo tells a story that ends: “I just wanted to say, ‘THIS IS EXACTLY THE REASON WHY I WANTED TO STOP BEING MARRIED TO YOU IN THE FIRST PLACE.’”
  • November 7th: Leo hits on my coworker Leslie and tries to get her to go to lunch with him. When she says no, he leaves work for the day. This happens repeatedly over the next two weeks.
  • November 17th: Leo coughs loudly for the entire day and then leaves early.
  • November 19th: Leo offers me a shot of cough syrup. “It smells of Fritos,” he muses. “Even though I can’t breathe, I can still smell Fritos.”

Leo was gone from work for nearly two weeks. When he came back, he told me that he had bronchitis and asked if he’d caught it from me. Then he forwarded me an email saying that anyone on welfare should have to take a urine test before they can get a welfare check.
I listened to him on the phone all morning telling someone about how he was visiting his girlfriend’s parents’ house, only one of her seventeen year old nieces told a Holocaust joke so he left in a huff without telling anyone why. His girlfriend was apparently still confused and distraught.
Midway through the story, his boss came over and asked if he could talk to Leo. They walked away, and when they came back, his boss said, “Sorry it didn’t work out. You can put your belongings in this box.”
Leo took fifteen minutes to pack up his Disney merchandise, and then he left, escorted by a bear of a man.
I still miss him.