Slogging the Mire: 4/13/15 Update

Slogging the Mire: 4/13/15 Update

A good amount of what goes into writing is discipline and focus; the actual act of pulling an idea out into reality and getting it onto a page. In a lot of ways, that’s the hardest part. Lots of people have great ideas, wild imaginations, and can have elaborate worlds just swirling around inside their skulls. The real difficulty, the hardest part, is managing to get that content to appear on a page, hammering it into an acceptable shape, and making it something that others can see as clearly within their own heads. That’s the work part. The daydream part is, usually, easier.

But it isn’t always the case. You see, anyone can daydream free-form. It’s no task at all to let your mind wander and follow where it leads. A lot of authors do this. They just daydream and go from there, following their own heads. If that gets them a story, excellent. A random story appears. It may well be fantastic.

That’s not how I work. Thing is, there’s a failing in that method. It’s tremendously difficult to write to a target. If I, as a creator, want to write a story about dealing with loss in the wrong ways, or the triumph of intellect over irrationality, or the human capacity to empathize beyond our species, or any number of concepts, then straight up free-form daydreaming is going to be less than helpful. It will actually hinder my process. When you write to a target idea you need a sort of intentional daydreaming. You have to break your creativity, just like you would a wild horse, and it’s equally difficult. Too much, and it won’t take you to the new ideas you need. Too little, and you can’t stay on target. It is a difficult balance, but one, I find, is the hallmark difference between professional and amateur authors. The ability to write something specific, on command, is vastly more marketable than trying to sell your own ideas.

I practice this. I write for Griot. Not my characters, not my world, but I treat them with the same care. I am translating Jiba Molei Anderson’s dreams when I write the Horsemen, not mine. Sure, I taint them, infuse them, and expand on them, but at their core, I’m an interpreter. When I write my image inspired stories I’m practicing writing within the boundaries set by the illustration. Even when I write stories of my own, I’m adhering to a goal I set before starting and I measure the success or failings of any given work by my original intention. How close to the mark did I come?

I have been working on writing a story set in the Satanic Panic of the Eighties for the past month. I’m several thousand words in and, as I was simply ‘following my nose’ in daydream style to see how that turned out for me. I discovered that while I was writing a very interesting story, it was significantly off goal for what I’d been hoping to accomplish and the spirit I’d intended to convey. I grew up in a church during the panic. I was an avid Dungeons and Dragons player while simultaneously being an active member in a church that declared such activity as communion with demons. Literal demons. I spent years, and thousands of hours of effort, trying to reconcile these two things on account of what I was taught by my church group. It was a harrowing part of my life that I’m tremendously glad is over.

In my current story, I’d decided I wanted to use my past as a setting, but not to make it the theme. I didn’t want to talk specifically or provide direct commentary about how churches all across the country railed against an imaginary foe for nearly a decade and their effort and devotion had all been a paranoid response to some very talented con men. I just wanted to dip my toe in. To tell an engaging horror story within that setting and to expand on the false mythology into something interesting.

As I approached the ending of the story I kept having trouble with coming up with something that would work to make the point I wanted. I had a theme, a tone, a setting, a character arc, and the first third of my word count. Now was not the time for idle daydreams. This horse was on a narrow trail and I had a specific destination to get to. I refuse to let the story dictate my direction. For two and a half weeks it’s been bucking me. Just do this. Just change that. Just add another character. Just drop that element. It said. Two and a half weeks of ideas, over and over, in my head. Many of them excellent. Just not what I want. I was starting to think the story might be broken.

And then, Saturday night, at three in the morning, it stopped bucking. My creativity surrendered to my will and offered up the exact thing I needed to make the plot work, to jibe with the character arc, to compliment the tone, and to make this story work exactly how I want, without cutting any corners.

I’m aware that, as a reader, it’s not possible to ever know if a story is what the author intended or not. Readers just know if they like it or not. But that hardly matters to me at this point. It’s about training, and discipline, and making my mind do exactly what I want, when I want it.

The daydream phase isn’t always easy. I’ve caught this one, after a very specific hunt, and am holding it tight. Now comes the next hard part; dragging it onto a page.

I’ll keep you posted.

Two Sentence Sci-Fi

Two Sentence Sci-Fi

I did a creepy horror version of this a while back.  This time I’m headed for the cosmos with ten little science fiction snippets. Let me know which ones you like best!


1.) Zelar the Undying’s instruments confirmed that the the star, a swollen red blight that covered half the sky, was in its final stages. Annoyed with the frequency with which it happened, he resigned himself to moving again.

2.) The Lec10 rifle was wired directly into Commander Vargas’ brain and every shot splattered another of the advancing insect horde. As precise as the weapon was he knew it wouldn’t be enough to stop them all and, for the first time, wished the cerebral safety restrictions built into the gun would let him use the last bullet for himself.

3.) Professor Hardington frowned at his rival, Doctor Cline. “While I appreciate the tremendous effort and scientific achievement in animating fossilized skeletons of dinosaurs I fail to see the practical aplica… Ahhh!”

4.) It is widely accepted that the most amazing sky in known space is on Bil-Yaris. To be fair though, it’s the spectacular view of a dozen colorful moons, each with multiple moons of their own (which, in turn, have their own asteroid satellites) that everyone marvels at and not the actual sky.

5.) We made sure bodies one through six were in their positions with the proper weaponry, that seven had the escape shuttle ready, eight had hacked the surveillance with nine’s help, and ten had set the explosives. As one flesh, we moved.

6.) He chuckled from his balcony vantage as he watched his past self on stage giving a speech. “Time travel is not possible!”

7.) The bullet moved on an arc, angled high to counter the massive gravity pull, travelling at a snails pace, and cutting through the thick atmosphere with slow determination. It was only ten feet (and as many minutes) away, but as Jonathan watched it approach, he was acutely aware that the same forces that hindered the bullet were the same ones that would keep him from moving aside before it would reach him.

8.) Just grateful to have it, Jared never thought about science involved in how his robotic arm worked. If he had, he’d have likely removed the networked diagnostic chip it contained as soon as the anti-human A.I. programs overran the net.

9.) “The good news is we’ve discovered we’re toxic to the aliens so if they eat us, they die. Unfortunately, we’ve also discovered that they’re really stupid and don’t learn from their mistakes.”

10.) Engineer Roan had explained to Shelly a hundred times that it wasn’t possible for her to be hearing whale song at the depth the station was at, that they were all long extinct, and she must be imagining things. She knew he was probably right, but, despite this, something down there was singing.

Cult Fiction Rises from the Grave!

Cult Fiction Rises from the Grave!

Many of you know that for about a year I ran a live reading horror reading series called Cult Fiction. It happened in a dimly lit bar and featured a quartet of horror stories by local Chicago authors, read by local Chicago actors, with covers created by local Chicago artists.  Afterwords there was usually a band. Sometimes there was performance art. There were always s’mores. It was pretty badass while it lasted.

Sadly, the live series died.  Of course, that’s not enough to keep a good cult down! The corpse is festering into something new.

Cult Fiction will switch from a live show to a quarterly magazine.  Same format, mostly. Four loosely themed stories from four local authors. We’ll be adding covers and spot  illustrations for the stories by local folk. We’ve lined up a fantastic artist, Neal Morrison, for an ongoing serial horror comic. We’ll and be showcasing different creepy artists features as well.  As much content as possible will be by Chicago based contributors (or originally from Chicago). Issues will be available in full magazine sized print or e-book.

We’re still in the “rotting skeleton clawing through the coffin” phase of the project. Even so, we’ve wrangled stories by original cultists Brendan Detzner, Frank Stascik, and Eric Cherry. A website is in the works and within weeks we should have writers guidelines up for future issues. I’ve got a hellishly good hit list of authors I’m going to be tapping for stories (just as soon as I finish gathering their hair for voodoo dolls). Who knows, maybe we’ll even get some of those actors back to record stories for podcasts on the website.

I’ve met a lot of really good (deranged) authors and pretty amazing (twisted) artists in Chicago. The whole purpose of this project is to showcase them in an casual collective sort of format and then share it with other warped souls.

If all our machinations proceed as planned you should see the fist issue of Cult Fiction Quarterly drop this Spring!

Hope Vs. Hard Truth; How Do You Eat a Whale?

Hope Vs. Hard Truth; How Do You Eat a Whale?

I’m behind deadline on Issue Four.  Part of it  is due to visiting relatives, busy summer schedule, and the day-to-day of trying to write around running a business and having three daughters.

Another part of it goes a lot deeper.

To fill you in, in case you don’t know, I’m working for Griot Enterprises on writing a serial novel set in the comic book world of the Horsemen created by Jiba Molei Anderson. It’s a black comic (not an African American comic. If you don’t know the difference, message me).

Now, in this comic, the Horsemen, a group of super-heroes from Detroit, imbued with the powers of Yoruba gods, destroy a portion of Nigeria, unify Africa, and start building a technological utopia there. The U.S. has become repressive, outlaws emigration, and is basically a police state.

Where do they build this utopia? Right next to the crater of the city they destroyed to wake up Africa. A place they considered the epicenter of the continents problems and wiped out; Abuja. You know Abuja? Of course you don’t. What Americans really know the names of cities in Africa? I’ll give you something you do know though.

Bring back our girls.

We put our fictional city that represents hope, literally, on the same place that Boko Haram militants went and stole almost 300 girls from their school. When the news came about what happened I recognized all the places. Where the school was, where they’d been taken, where the military was ineffectually responding from, all because of my researching the region for the book months earlier. And now, while I was writing about an idealistic dream for Africa they were simultaneously being raped, beaten, and sold into slavery. The dream and the reality are so very, very far apart. It was excruciating. More than half the characters in the Horsemen are women. Brave, intelligent, funny, amazing fictional women, meant to inspire girls, specifically black girls. Like the ones that were taken. Girls not so different from my own daughters.

Chapter Three, which I wrote during that crisis, was incredibly hard to write. The sadness, the desire for the world to be different, to change things, was difficult to deal with.  I pushed through it and Jiba and I made the best issue of the series so far. Then I moved into Issue Four.

Eshu and a Chicago cop partner up to deal with a problem with the underground railroad leading to Africa. So in the previous issue, I was writing in Abuja when the girls were kidnapped.  This issue and I was writing a white cop protagonist when Ferguson explodes. And I’m transfixed. What the fuck is going on? To say that I’m stunned is an understatement.  Jiba and I created a proto-military America as an exaggeration! A god-damned example of an extreme to illustrate a problem. But for some reason, here it is, happening for real. Reality just caught up with our doomsday vision of America. Oh sure, not entirely, but here, in the microcosm of Ferguson, I’m watching what we created as the terrible future manifest itself. The same horrible thing that the Horsemen created hope in Africa to counter. And again, the dream collides with reality.

As an author, I want to create things that mean something. Jiba likes to say “Everything I create is protest art.” As a black man surrounded by a white industry, he’s absolutely right. I, on the other hand, don’t automatically create protest art just by creating.  I’m not a woman, or a minority, and there’s no shortage of guys like me creating all manner of stuff all the time. I’ve got to do it intentionally. While many of my short stories are “fluff” and lack themes, overall, the work I’m most proud of are the stories that illustrate the human condition, make a statement, or reveal something about ourselves. It’s one of the things that has always drawn me to horror writing. Much of the human psyche is governed by fear and horror allows a writer to poke the uncomfortable areas. It inspires self-introspection, growth, and awareness. It’s why, despite being very different subject matter, I was drawn to the Horsemen. It does the same. For some reason I thought it would be easier than horror. I was dead wrong.

For as difficult as they are to write, at the end of the day, horror stories are personal. The difference with the Horsemen is that it’s personal and cultural and global. A personal fear or issue is yours to control. Cultural? Global? That shit is out of your hands. Those horrors remain. They’re real. They stand in the world and point guns at you, steal your children, and fire tear gas. The best you can do is band together with others and hope to god you gather enough of you to fight them, because alone? Alone, they swallow you. They bury you. They end you.

It can really make you want to quit. It feels futile, hopeless, like tossing pennies into the grand canyon to make a bridge. It is so small in the face of the real world. Next issue has to do with prisons. I don’t even want to guess how the real world intersection might happen there because the American prison system is already a terrible thing.

But no matter how small it is this book Jiba and I are writing is a fantastic. It promotes diversity, inspires hope, busts stereotypes, and all of that is good. Seriously good.  Whatever comes, Jiba and I aren’t stopping this project. This protest. It doesn’t matter how big the tide of darkness reality swells over us or how wide the canyon is that needs crossing. You don’t stop fighting just because your opponent is bigger than you. This world makes me sad and angry and vengeful and the tools I have to combat it are tiny but you can bet your ass I’m going to use them. How do I keep going when your hope is smashed by the beasts of mass rape, police murder, and civil injustice? You get stubborn.

I just keep telling myself; “How do you eat a whale?”

“One bite at a time”.

Why Generation X Would Thrive in the Zombie Apocalypse

Why Generation X Would Thrive in the Zombie Apocalypse

The day comes, the dead rise, and the world goes to hell.  Boomers, Gen Xr’s, and Millennials are all thrown into a crap-fest of shambling corpses and biting teeth. Who’s going to survive these days of the dead?  My money is on the Gen X-er’s, and here’s why.

 

The Boomers will be the first to go.  Lets face it, Boomers have had it pretty easy for a long time and they aint getting any younger.  The activities required for survival; sleeping on the ground, climbing fences, eating out of cans, sprinting, are not the sort of thing most Boomers are going to be able to keep up with.  Oh, they’ll try.  They had big dreams and changed the world once before, by god they’ll do it again!  But it’s been a long time since they changed anything without employees or service people to do it for them.  They’re out of practice and the learning curve is going to be steep.  This, combined with the soul crushing despair of seeing everything they built falling to shit (and perhaps foolishly trying to defend their homes or stay there so kids can find them), and they’re an early meal.

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The Millennials will fare better, after all, they’re young and spry.  But, their family ties are strong and their first instinct is going to be to head for their ever-supportive parents.  Of course, that’s a horrible idea.  Their parents are still full of hugs only now they’ve got teeth to go with it.  That’ll eliminate a lot of them.  The Millennial propensity to wait for instruction is going to be a serious problem.  For the first time in their lives they’ll have to make life or death decisions without any support network, crowd-sourced ideas, or social media.  There won’t be anyone to give them advice or validate decisions they make.  Again, it’s a sharp learning curve.  I have no doubt many Millennials will learn quick, but a lot of them won’t.   They were raised to respect opinions and rights and weren’t raised “rough”.  Getting them to acclimate to the immediate violence required to survive and go from “your thoughts are valid” to “I’m going to stab you in the eye over and over with this chair leg” is a significant challenge.  But, on the plus side, they’ve all got helmets and pads and will put them on instantly.

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On to X.  Oh X.  The zombie apocalypse is your fantasy and you’re soo suited to it!  We would have built the world too, if not for the fact the Boomers already did it and left us with nothing but low wage jobs that were constantly shipped overseas.   Now, these zombies are helping fulfill one of our biggest dreams; they’re giving us a blank slate and letting us be in charge!  And, as a bonus, they’re made of Boomers we’re resentful of and we can literally smash them!  You think an X-er is going to rush home to check on their parents when the outbreak happens?  No way!  Fuck em.  Most of us come from broken homes and started raising ourselves in grade school.

X-er’s have already been screwed over repeatedly.  We’ve gone from recession and war to a bigger recession and bigger war with only the .com bust and Y2K panic as an intermission.  It’s been one long “Oh, you’ll make it as soon as >fill in the blank< gets better”.  We don’t believe it.  Most Xer’s are pretty frustrated that we work more hours than our parents and have less to show for it.  All that pent up anger is piled on top of the standard Gen X cynicism and mistrust of authority and self reliance we’ve always harbored.  But now, not only are we vindicated and  justified for feeling that way, it’s a fantastic survival asset!  While Boomers and Millennials see killing other humans as terrible and distressing, and X-er would find it simultaneously unpleasant and  cathartic.

We love our technology, but we’re not dependent on it like many Millennials are.  I could point out that we grew up before cable tv, internet, cell phones but that’s nothing.  We grew up before microwaves, velcro, digital watches, push button phones, and plastic bottles!  We knew how to organize without that stuff, where to meet up, and could tell time just by, you know, existing.  We were unsupervised and as a result got into fights regularly, did everything without a safety net, and spilled a fair amount of blood in the process.  That was our childhood.  In a lot of ways, the zombie apocalypse would actually feel comfortable and nostalgic to X-er’s.  And don’t forget, we’ve been prepping for this since Michael Jackson busted out Thriller.

We’re not sentimental about this world going to shit.  In fact, we’re all pretty sure that’s just the normal state of the universe and yeah, the zombies would be gross, and dangerous, and you might have to smash Aunt Millie’s skull in with a cinder block, but it’s no more horrible than any other possible future we expect to roll over the horizon.  At least this way we get to control our own destiny.

And we never really liked Aunt Millie, or anyone else, that much anyway…

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