Thursday, December 16, 2010

My life of stability and chaos

Tonight I started reading an article about the manic drumming style of The Who's Keith Moon by James Wood in the Nov. 29 New Yorker. I learned something about myself while reading. The realization struck me quick like the surprise shimmer of a symbol, so much so I had put down the magazine before finishing.
I need to have a balance between stability and chaos.
Wood at one point in the article compared Moon's style to that of Led Zeppelin's John Bonham. He wrote of Bonham's impeccable ability for solid, structured rhythms that provide a firm base layer for the band's music. Even Bonham's epic drum solo "Moby Dick" clearly has its own movements, verses. Wood compared this to Moon's completely unstructured, off-beat at times, style.
Speaking first of Bonham's style, Wood writes, "Everything is judged, and rightly placed: astonishing order. Moon's drumming, by contrast, is about putting things in the wrong place: the appearance of astonishing disorder."
This past summer while I listlessly searched for a job, I can easily say I was obsessed with Led Zeppelin. It is no exaggeration to say I listened to bootleg concerts and studio albums of theirs at least five days out of the week for months on end.
In the chaos of not knowing where my life was headed, I found solace in the predictable beauty of Zeppelin's blues-based rock.
Lately, however (and I noted this in an earlier post), I've found myself attracted to the noise brought on by 70s and 80s punk rock bands. Some days I revel in the sounds, the crashes created by post-punk groups like Swans or Nirvana.
All of this explains my fascination with groups like The Stooges, Meat Puppets or even the pre-punk genius of The Who.
Now that I have a stable job and a home I have no plans on leaving any time soon, I relish the chaos given me by bands that can't be easily understand. I've always been interested in the weird side of music, but I am now more than ever.
I thank God for the balance of chaos and structure He's given us. How boring would life be if we all did exactly the same thing over and over again? How truly insane would our minds become if the sun didn't rise and set every day?
If you're getting bored, pray for a little disorder. That, and listen to the Pixies.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Welcome to the West

This is my first post from my new post. We're expecting our first snow tonight. I think that's exciting. I think. It's going to get cold, and I'm unsure my Texas-bred body can handle an extended winter.

Writing for a living has been great. I've already met some incredible people with incredible stories to tell. Considering our paper is only twice-weekly, I've been fairly busy. That's great. But it's clear from those I've spoken with that living here in Wyoming is no stroll.

The mountains looming west and south of town are awe inspiring. They're beautiful, but there is something foreboding about them. I've been up here for less than three months, and already I realize a danger on the horizon.

Just two weeks ago our mountains swallowed a small plane with three children on board. On our first hike in the Tetons we ran into a bear. I've heard numerous stories already of experienced mountain men not returning from routine day trips.

We live on the edge of true wilderness.

"Watch your step, and I will make your life worth living," the Wind Rivers seem to say. "Lose sight, and I will take you. Welcome to the west."

These next few years will make us who we will be for the rest of our lives. Much hangs on the fickle will of the Wind Rivers. God lead us on a productive, sure-footed walk.

P.S. I wonder what any of this has to do with a recent fascination with '70s and '80s punk rock.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Can I Get an "Amen?!"

It's official. I am now a reporter and a journalist. After nearly two years of searching, praying, hoping, crying, shouting and other -ing's I have begun my career. To make a very long story very short (I'm sure many of you who read this know the details anyway), my wife, Emily, was offered a job in Lander, Wyoming. She accepted. Not too much later I made the journey to Lander with my family to search for a job and a place for us to live. It just so happened the local paper was hiring.

I report for the Lander Journal and the Riverton Ranger.

We moved not all that long ago, and I began work right away. Due to traveling back from whence we came for an absolutely beautiful wedding for an absolutely beautiful couple, I am on my first full week of work.

The staff seems great to work with thus far, and I am getting more and more immersed in the local scene. I will be covering everything from city council meetings to hunting events to construction projects to whatever. I'm so excited. (Don't bother checking the website for my articles. We don't post them.)

In case you were wondering, I have not and will not stop writing fiction. But the frequency of such has slowed drastically with the move and the adjustments and will remain so for some time. No doubt my new life here will feed myriads of ideas my way.

Did I mention there are mountains?

Thanks to everyone who has supported me and told me they believed in me along the way. Your kindness and love was never overlooked. I will forever be grateful and indebted to you all. It will probably require an entire post just to list all of you, so I will forgo that for now. (You all know who you are.)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Meditation on a Summer Film

Inception. You're probably sick of hearing about it already. Yes, it is a great movie; the acting is superb by almost all involved; the plot is creative and as close to original as we can get these days; the special effects are mind-blowing. All of this spells out a recipe for a chart-topping Summer flick. But I think there is another reason why Inception is resonating so thoroughly with audiences. (Spoilers to follow.)

The year is 2010. The economy is effectively in the crapper thereby rendering the American Dream just that, a dream. We live in a society where almost all that we eat is modified in some way, usually not for the better, from it's natural state. Politics are riddled with corruption. People are dying daily around the world, and we're made to feel guilty about it if we don't send a little money. Who wouldn't want to forget reality? We have out-sourced our social lives to the Internet.

Inception deals with a group people who can access other's minds by invading their dreams. While inside they can extract or steal ideas, or, more difficultly, plant ideas. You can share dreams with others and even get stuck in your subconscious. To leave the dream you either must be woken up by someone on the outside or die in the dream. Needless to say, it is easy to lose your grip on reality. DiCaprio's character's wife returns to reality after a long stint in dreamland with her hubby convinced that they're still dreaming. She kills herself.

The issue of what is real has been debated by philosophers for centuries. I have friends who could speak much more knowledgeably about the subject than I, but watching Inception I couldn't help but think of Plato and the illustration of the cave. Everything we see is merely a projection of the real thing, a shade, a reflection, a shadow. Form exists somewhere else.

I guess what I'm trying to say, however in-eloquently, is that so many people right now wish all of this life to be a dream. We are already beginning to live lives in alternative realities. How real, really, is Facebook? Isn't there a study that showed the more friends you have online the less you have offline? The Internet allows us to live lives apart from who we actually are. The awful Bruce Willis movie Surrogates tried to work through this theme too but failed miserably. (I stopped watching after 20 minutes. I almost never stop watching once I've started.)

Inception ends boldly, seeming to claim that it doesn't matter whether you're living in reality or in dreamland as long as you're happy. Is that what we've come to as a society?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Measure of a Man: An Excerpt

The moment everyone (someone, anyone, no one) has been waiting for: an excerpt from my latest short story project. I am still struggling with some structural issues, but I thought I'd share the opening few graphs. Enjoy.

So it came to this. Here sat a man with his name attached to nothing. He staked no claim to greatness, neither in accomplishment nor size. Despite all of his efforts he succumbed to his predetermined life of destitution. And now he sat as a man who only succeeded in being a failure.

The evening was overcast, no moonlight and no interior lamps alit save one in the back bathroom. A mouse scurried across the floor in front of the television with a broken screen. Paint chips dangled in slivers from the ceiling, fallen pieces mingled with dust to create a thick coating like ash after a fire.

A homeless person nested beneath the front porch behind the broken latticework.

The man sat on the sofa, leaned back, hand clenched like claws on his knees. Before him stood another holding a gun. As the muzzle pushed into his forehead, he shut his eyes and every muscle in his body relaxed; for the first time in his life he felt relief.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Writing as a Calling and Other Things Thoughts

Everyone suffers doubts. If you don't, you either need a psychiatrist or you need to come talk to me. I enjoy writing, I always have (well, since maybe junior year of high school) and I expect I always will. Lately, though, I've been wondering if I'm not following a dead end. Am I meant to be a writer? The journalism job search has been ridiculously frustrating and I've yet to have a short story published. No, I'm not giving up on either yet, but I'm taking a new outlook on life.

A couple of weeks ago I met with one of my pastors, author of the great blog Hammer and Tongs, and we had a great conversation about life, art and writing. To keep things short, he lent me a copy of "Herself" by Madeleine L'Engle (author of A Wrinkle In Time) which is a collection of her thoughts on the writing life. She was a devout Christian and much of her insights have a Christian outlook attached to them. But whether or not you are a believer this book is inspiring.

One of her main points is this: if you feel called to write then write, but don't worry about being published. Being published is merely a bonus. What is important is that you are feeding the world with words and that you keep at it. So I'm trying to focus on that, for sure. Much easier said than done, but I'm trying. Writing can be a calling without being a career.

In other news, big changes underway. A move is in the works, and I'm hoping the new location will breathe new life into my writing. More information to come.

I just finished reading "PrairyErth (a deep map)" by William Least Heat-Moon. It is a beautiful work that provides insight on the human condition by digging away at the history of Chase County, Kansas. A little self-promotion: you can check out my brief review of it on

And lastly: I'm working on a new story based off my thoughts on the previous post, tentatively titled "The Measure of a Man." It needs a lot of work (beginning draft 2 now), but hopefully in the near future I can post an excerpt here.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Measure of a Man: Brainstorming

The last couple of weeks have been difficult. I spent much too much time wallowing. My brain has been overwhelmed with questions, such as "Why?" "How?" WTF?" That said, my writing has suffered for it. I have given my stories little to no attention over the past two weeks.

However, that does not mean that I haven't been thinking about my current project. After the first draft I was unsure as to whether it could realistically happen or be believable. In the course of development I think I have discovered a much more important story. Maybe eventually I will return to the original.

Among our peers at least today-in-age, if not for all-time, I might argue, that men are defined by their successes and failures. This is a focus of much fiction: the highs and lows of men. Perhaps this is a reflection of my own state of mind, but what happens when a man utterly seems to fail in everything? I'm talking about a man (or woman, of course) who's never caught a break, never had a moment of positive luck.

Celebrities have shown us time and again that even with success in excess failure at times is inevitable. But at least they've excelled before. Lets evaluate a man who never had a boyfriend or girlfriend, who never made above a D in school, who failed to get into college and was rejected by the military, a man who can't keep a job and rarely makes above minimum wage. This is a man that screwed up everything. What causes a fate like this? How would a man cope mentally? What, if anything, redeeming can be found about his life?

Personally, I am of a mind that every person has a function and a purpose, and that ultimately no life is a failure. My questions are completely for fictional pondering, story-potential exploration.

I think what this means is that I am going to take a secondary character from my first draft of "River Rat" and explore his story. This will not be a happy story. Part of the reason I write is to explore the human condition, and because we are fallen it's not always the brightest of existences.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Smathering of Thoughts: Happy, Sad and Otherwise

"(A walker displaces the territory as a swimmer does water, but a quiet sitter is a dropped stone and his ripples subside and water laps back in: submergence.)" --William Least Heat-Moon, PrairyErth

I recently was accepted as a contributing writer at It sure won't pay much, at least for the first few months, but it will keep me writing while search for that elusive full-time job. There are some of you out there who think that writing for pennies is pointless and degrading to writers everywhere, that people like me are enablers. In a perfect world, of course we'd all be paid more. But in a situation like mine, if you can get published anywhere it is foolish to pass on it, regardless of how much or how little the gig pays. You can find my Suite101 profile and a link to my first article, a review of Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, at

Sometimes we have to remember that it's not all about us.

Last week I discovered the Pixies. Their 1988 debut album Surfer Rosa is one of the most fun records I've heard in ages. I strongly encourage anyone and everyone to listen to it (except for kids; there is some suggestive content). Another recommendation: Dummy by Portishead.

There is a time for everything.

Yesterday, my wife and I watched Mulholland Dr. for the first time. I don't think there was ever a 10-minute stretch that I didn't say something to the effect of "What the heck?" Far and away one of the strangest films I've ever seen. But in retrospect, thanks to the millions of bloggers and movie buffs out there, I've come to a better understanding of the movie, and I see now how brilliant it was. It is definitely disturbing, creepy and deserving of the R-rating. All of that said, if you like movies that make you think, suburb directing (Mr. David Lynch) and creative story-telling, watch the Mulholland. The scene in club Silencio might be one of the best written and directed scenes of all-time. I wish I had written it. To watch the scene see: Part 1 and Part 2.

Sometimes it hurts.

One of my favorite bands, Tool, is starting a mini-tour tonight. Twice they will be close to me, but I won't be able to make either show for several reasons. Oh well.

Earlier this week I was dealt a substantial job-related blow. I thought I had a good shot at the position, but was subsequently strung-along for months, kept in contact with and then dismissed without so much as an interview. I get angry and depressed just thinking about it. Dwelling on failures will not help me. People will disappoint you. Sometimes we have to remember that it's not all about us. There is a time for everything. Sometimes it hurts.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Yesterday I sent out "Getting to Know Lou Jones" for the first time. After getting feed back from five different people, editing it at least a half-dozen times and obsessing over sentence structure since the beginning of April "Lou" now has been submitted to 10 different journals (all of which allow simultaneous submissions, of course).

Submitting is a difficult process, for me anyway. To send something that you've worked so hard on, and for so long, with the high likely-hood of rejection can be a blow to the ego.

If you write poems or short stories and are having a difficult time finding a publication that your piece might fit into check out Duotrope's Digest. This made my life so much easier, and hopefully once I'm making a little money I'll be able to donate to the site (it's entirely free). Duotrope's is massive index of journals, magazines and e-zines, is searchable by all sorts of criteria, and if you register it can help you keep track of all your submissions. Brilliant.

Using this, I searched and read about countless publications until I found 10 that I thought would fit my story. All of them had to allow simultaneous submissions, publish works over 6,000 words (about the length of "Lou") and have at least some possibility of being published in print (some are e-zines that publish a yearly anthology). Not all of them pay, some do, some just in contributor's copies.

So, as I hear back from them all, waits vary from 1 month to 6 months, I will report the responses and their dates, at Duotrope's and that will add to the publication's overall stats on the site.

My plan is this: once I have received five rejections, I will search out five more publications to send "Lou" to until someone sees its potential and buys it. Relentless.

On top of all this, I am writing a new story tentatively titled "Domestic Rat" and am job searching, applying, making follow-up calls, praying, hoping, listening to music (now playing: The Dillinger Escape Plan, "Miss Machine") and reading. Right now I'm reading PrairyErth by William Least Heat-Moon. It's a travel book of epic proportions and verbage, so it's taking some time. I'm loving it though. As soon as I finish you can find a review here.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Close-Minded To Close-Mindedness

Today: a rant. If there is one thing that I'm intolerant of, it's close-mindedness. (Yes, I understand the irony of that sentence.) Let me begin by clearing up a couple of things. I do believe in absolute truths. I do believe that convictions are something that everyone should have. Relativistic truth is as ridiculous as many people's beliefs.


For the moment, I will keep from hyper-specifics, but someday I'm sure I'll lose it and spill it all. Two examples of close-mindedness that drive me crazy:

1. If someone believes something different than you, be it a religious belief or a differing scientific theory of sorts, don't automatically dismiss the other person as crazy or their views as preposterous without fully hearing them out. While I said that I believe in absolute truths, I don't claim that I know every exact truth (I could very well be wrong about many things) and it would be foolish of me to shun someone and shut them up without trying to understand their points of view. After hearing them out, I should then be able to make a sounder judgement, and if I still believe they are wrong I will have points from their argument to use against them. IT IS THE ULTIMATE FOOLISHNESS AND SELFISHNESS TO NOT LISTEN TO OTHERS.

2. In art (music, film, paintings, performance, sculpture, literature), how dare someone dismiss a movement or a technique or work as a whole without trying understand it's place in history and culture, and the artist's motivation. To completely dismiss Jackson Pollock's action painting as talentless trash is an uneducated statement. You don't have to like it. I'm not saying that you have to appreciate (as in enjoy) everything, but you should appreciate (as in respect) everything in its place. Certainly, you can critique technique when comparing to something similar. You can't compare Lady Gaga to Led Zeppelin, because they aren't trying to do the same thing. You can't compare Pollock's paintings to van Gogh's for the same reason.

Oh, and don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you are sensitive to language or sex or violence in movies, don't dismiss a well-made film like "Crazy Heart" as terrible because a character has a drinking problem. Just because a piece of art, book, or movie involves and incorporates human immorality does not mean that it is condoning it (yes, I do know that some do condone, but be careful and respect the context).

There. Glad I got that off of my chest. I could go on, but I won't. Feel free to disagree. I love a good debate.

Monday, May 24, 2010

LOST: Connections

Less than 24 hours after the series finale of LOST, I am tackling the meaning of the show, its importance for modern story telling, and why, as anyone who writes or enjoys stories, should appreciate the show. But, before I begin, I have two disclaimers:

1: There will be spoilers. If you haven't watched all of the way through and don't like learning things beforehand, back out now and come back later.

2: The following essay is simply my interpretation of the show. I do not claim to know the thoughts of the writers and producers.

For six long, tumultuous seasons LOST has brought people together over insane story telling. The show was never about the island, it's mysteries or the mythology. In my mind, that's fluff: fun, but not the point. After watching the finale last night I can say that the show is about connections. It's about how everyone you meet has an impact on your life. Regardless of how little the interaction happened to be, it can -- and most likely will -- have a butterfly-effect-type impact on your life and the lives of others who you touch.

Throughout the first three seasons of the show, we see how all of these characters' pasts are intertwined. Sawyer drank with Jack's dad in Sydney. Jack and Claire were half-siblings. Locke's dad was the one who drove Sawyer's parents to their deaths. Every episode the connections grew. The last three seasons we got to watch as all of these people's relationships evolved and some cemented into life-long loves.

Then we have the finale. In the "flash-sideways" time-line, all of the characters are re-connecting and remembering their experiences together. Turns out they all died, each on their own time, and the "flash-sideways" time-line was created to help them all re-connect and move on together. Even in death the connections we make, the time we spend together means something. Everything we do, everyone we meet, has purpose.

Sure, that's all well and good, but what about Walt? What about Aaron? They were supposed to be special right? Why didn't we learn anything more about them? Let's come down from our cloud of LOST's greatness and remember we are watching a television show created by human beings. I can say with a decent amount of certainty that the producers knew they were going to re-unite all of the characters in death at the end of the show. But, I will venture a guess and say that they didn't have all of the mythology planned out. Walt and Aaron, their character's importance fizzeled out as the show evolved and 'more important' bits of the story overtook them. They created Walt as an interesting kid who seemed to be able to summon birds, and that's why the Others were in-turn interested in him. But ultimately the show grew around him. While sad, I think we need to remember that television shows are rather elastic in their creation, and some things will get lost (no pun intended). We should count ourselves lucky that the producers actually got to end it on their own time. Now we don't have to sit through seasons of the writers aimlessly coming up with individual episode plots that have no purpose towards the end.

That's what happened in LOST's lesser moments. Who cares about the chick from "Expose"? Not I. Do we really care that Jack had a fling with some crazy woman in Asia where he got his tattoos. Nope. Again, such is the nature of a television show.

So, why, as lovers of stories and, some of us as writers, care about the show? The characterization is fantastic. Most of the characters are quite complex and the biggest characters, Jack, Locke, Ben, and others I'm sure, have full development arcs. LOST is a great study in character motivation, complexity and growth.

If your into sci-fi or speculative fiction, the show's treatment of time travel is superb. The mythology created, and fairly well maintained, throughout the entire series is exceptionally complex. This complexity has frustrated many, and I understand. That is an acquired patience. LOST's writers really went out of their way to include intelligent cultural references. From Sawyer's quipped nicknames for everyone, to Jacob reading "Everything That Rises Must Converge" by Flannery O'Connor as Locke falls from paralyzing heights.

In the end, LOST succeeds as an intelligent, complex show. It is a show about people; people struggling with their lonely and depraved pasts to make sense of their lives, to have faith, to have purpose. The mythology is good, confusing at times, and yes there are some dead ends. Stories should make you think, make you contemplate your place within that story and what its message means for your life. In this, LOST succeeds.

LOST brought viewers together all over the world. The show definitely helped me cultivate friendships, including one with my future wife. It gave us something to talk about, something to bond over. For this, I will be forever grateful. But thank God, LOST is finally over!

(Edit: Actually Aaron was explained already. Scratch that.)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Does Any One Read Short Stories Anymore?

I started writing this post yesterday, but I was sick and decided to quit while I was ahead. Now, hopefully in a bit more coherent voice, I want to encourage all of you to read short stories!

Again, I was inspired by a lively debate over at BookEnds, LLC about whether novellas are too short to successfully convey a story. Some of the argument focused on whether publishers would buy something as short as a 30k-word novella. But in the comments section, I was incredibly surprised by the amount of people who said they never read short stories or novellas. Several even went so far as to say that it is impossible to get full characterization out of short-length stories.

I'm in love with the short story. I am the proud owner of 13 short story collections and am looking to expand (once I have money). I write short stories. It is possible to tell a compelling story, to fully bring out a character within the short story format. It sure isn't easy, obviously, because of the smaller amount of words you have to use.

READ SHORT STORIES! Your life will be better for it. Below I list a number of short stories that have impacted me. The list is by no means exhaustive. But it should suffice to silence you doubters. Go forth and read!

In no particular order:
"Refresh, Refresh" by Benjamin Percy
"A Good Man Is Hard To Find" by Flannery O'Connor
"The Lady with the Dog" by Anton Chekhov
"The School" by Donald Barthelme
"A Distant Episode" by Paul Bowles
"The Swimmer" by John Cheever
"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
"Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin
"The Tell-Tale Heart" by Edgar Allan Poe
"A Perfect Day for Bananafish" by J.D. Salinger

PS: Be on the lookout for my "Lost" retrospective on Monday.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mommy, Where Do Stories Come From?

It's so easy to criticize a story for lacking creativity or for using the same plot over and over again. Yesterday I watched the movie "Quarantine." It used several tired devices: hand-held camera action, zombies, infection, screaming. Half of the time I shook my head in wonder. Why would you rehash the same story over and over again. Because it works; the public has a thirst for zombies right now. Despite being a combination of cliches "Quarantine" managed to actually be fairly frightening. What made it work was that the people were 'quarantined' in an apartment building; they'd be shot if they tried to leave, turn into zombies if they stayed. On top of reusing devices, the acting was sub-par. But the environment was just fresh enough to make the movie work.

As a writer it's easy to fall into these traps of plot lines that are overused but always produces decent reaction. Jessica over at her blog, BookEnds, LLC, discussed the problem today also. (I credit her for inspiring this post. See? I steal story ideas too.)

If we want to be considered creative (good) writers, we need avoid these 'classic' plots. So how do we do that? Where do we get our story ideas?

I'm a bit of news junky. The short story I'm working on was inspired by several articles about veterans in various magazines. (See my previous post "A Need For Direction.") So we can look for stories in news. Another thing I like to do is imagine the points of view of secondary characters in other author's works and try to figure out how that person feels about things. I've also seen interesting people while out driving around or running errands, and I start to imagine a life for this poor guy I just saw on the side of the road. I'm not of the class that can just conjure a plot out of nothing. I have to really work at it.

This post comes at a critical time for me. As I'm finishing up "Getting To Know Lou Jones" I'm starting to brainstorm my next story. No leads yet. It will come. It always does.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

On to the Editing

I enjoy editing. Really, I do. I just don't like editing my own stuff. It might be the most frustrating experience ever. When I look at my story, I see what I wrote as I intended to write it. Sure, I'll pick up on most spelling and grammatical errors. It's the larger flow of the story that I have a harder time seeing.

About a week and a half ago, I finished the first draft of story that for now I'm calling "Getting to Know Lou Jones." Honestly, I think it's better than most of my rough drafts, but I know that it isn't perfect either. I think that this might be my first publishable story, considering that much of my unpublished catalog is so bizarre. I've been avoiding digging into it, because I'm not sure where to begin.

If a journal or magazine is to pick it up, it needs to be as close to finished as possible. How do I figure out if certain scenes are working? How do I know if the reader knows enough about the characters to care, to make the action believable? These are the questions that are haunting me. If anyone out there has any tips, please share. In the meantime, I will try my best to work out the kinks, to look at Lou Jones with outsider's point of view.

This ain't easy.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Truth Is What I'm After

Us human creatures are generally social, generally knowledgeable. For being what we are, in large part, we don't know what or who we are. Some of us see ourselves as Christians, others as atheists. Some as animals, some as greater than the animals. Some as rich, poor, or middle-class. Democrat, Republican, Independent. American, European, African, Asian, Russian, Australian. Fit or fat. The identifiers that we use for ourselves are endless. And that is what draws me to the written word.

Fiction is a desperate attempt to tackle the human experience. As writers we fight to capture what it would be like to be 15 and pregnant, or a worker in the old-time Chicago meatpacking district. We want to feel what it's like to kill someone, to see someone being killed, to be a victim. What would it be like to be part of that fairytale romance or in a romance that is destructive more than anything else?

The same goes for journalism. I read news, and hope to write it someday soon, with the goal of connecting people to who they are in relation to their community, state, country, world. Politics matter. The child kidnapped five states over matters.

In a sense, real people every day deal with these issues. This is why I write. I write to learn more about who we humans are as creatures and to get a feeling for why we're here and how things work. Much of fiction and news is grotesque and disturbing, but real life isn't pretty either.

Truth can be found in fiction. News should be the truth. Truth is what I'm after.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Need for Direction

This week has been quite the adventurous one. I'm throwing myself back into the job market, the blogosphere and the world of writing. It's been fun, but challenging. I won't bore you all with my day-to-day madness, so I'll stick to what this blog is about: fiction.

I had an idea in my head about soldiers returning from Iraq and the challenges they face. Inspiration for this story has come from articles like this one from Esquire, this one from GQ, and from the gripping story "Refresh, Refresh" by Benjamin Percy.

I also had written a random scene that I very much liked. On Monday I attempted to combine the two. I wrote for a couple hours, desperately trying to make it work. It felt awkward and clunky. After throwing in the towel for the day, I realized what my problem was: I didn't have a clear plot.

I write short stories for a couple reasons. One, I don't have the patience or confidence at the moment to tackle a work of novel proportions. Two, I love the medium of short stories. I love how you learn so much so fast about the characters. Short stories are mini-mini-novels. If it's well written it will fulfill the reader just like finishing a book. Really the two mediums shouldn't be compared too much. But just like a novel, you have to have a plot. All I had was a vague idea.

So, Tuesday when I sat down again, I sketched out my characters (at least the ones I knew would have more than a passing role) and plotted out the story. I left the outline loose enough to give me creative freedom, but tight enough to give me direction. Direction is necessary for productivity. The creators of Lost (best story on television right now, that I've watched anyway) said that during Season 3 they began to feel a little 'lost' because the studio wouldn't let them set an end date for the show. But once they set the show at six seasons, they were free to move toward that goal.

Now, I've got to pound out the rest of the rough draft. I won't be around this weekend. Hope to see you all back here on Monday.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Epic Journey

Today marks the beginning of an epic journey for myself. Not unlike Odysseus, I am on my way home from battle. The road will be full of trials and tribulations; the Internet will be a distraction like the Sirens, luring me away from my goal with its sweet song of procrastination. I pray my leap of faith will be worth it in the end.

I quit my job to pursue my dreams of being a journalist and a writer. Today is my first day of unemployment. But I am not wasting my time. I will be applying for jobs across the country in search of that one paper, magazine, website or organization that will realize my passion for news and the written word. I have begun research for a freelance piece on ghost hunting, its rise in popular culture and its presence here in town. I will posting here more often. I will be resuming my fiction writing and seeing where that leads me.

Any rejections I receive (and there will be many, I'm sure) will only mean that I haven't found my place just yet. I won't stop until I'm employed and published. And even then, I won't really be stopping. Writing is now and will be my life. This is what I want for my life.

Of course, none of this would be possible if it weren't for the support of my family. My wife is being overwhelming gracious, understanding and encouraging. For that, I am forever grateful.

This is no longer an experiment. This is for real.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Vegetarian Experiment and "The Jungle"

For the month of March I have committed myself to vegetarianism. Not vegan, not pescatarian. Eight days in and I'm feeling alright. I don't feel any major physical changes and mentally, thus far anyway, has not been terribly difficult. I'm guessing that it would probably take several months, if not longer, for my body to start feeling the absence of the hormones, steroids and antibiotics that all of our meat has in it these days. I have had days where if I think about a burger too much a craving starts. The worst moment so far was when I went to Chipotle. The guy in front of me ordered a burrito with double chicken, as if to shove my meatlessness in my face. At this point, I cannot say what April 1 will bring.

The experiment began for several reasons. Emily, my wife, is a vegetarian. I wanted to see what would happen if she and I actually ate the same meals on a regular basis. Having her around also has helped with coming up with meal ideas and the like. Secondly, I watched the documentary "Food, Inc." The film is biased to be sure, but it opened my eyes to the lack of transparency in the food industry. As a journalist, I'm all for transparency and the striving of major companies, like Tyson and Monsanto, to hide their inner-workings disturbs and angers me. Thirdly, I believe a diet of little-to-no meat can be much healthier when done right.

At the same time I've started reading "The Jungle" by Upton Sinclair. Right now I won't get into its cultural significance, Sinclair's magnificent ability to craft emotion or how depressing the first two chapters are when compared to just about anything else. As most of you should know, the book is about the meat packing industry and the poor conditions of the immigrant workers in the early 1900s. Below is a paragraph from Chapter 3, where a group of people are on a tour of packing plant and have just witnessed the slaughter of pigs:

"It was all so very businesslike that one watched it fascinated. It was pork-making by machinery, pork-making by applied mathematics. And yet somehow the most matter-of-fact person could not help thinking of the hogs; they were so innocent, they came so very trustingly; and they were so very human in their protests--and so perfectly within their rights! They had done nothing to deserve it , and it was adding insult to injury, as the thing was done here, swinging them up in this cold-blooded, impersonal way, without pretence at apology, without the homage of a tear. Now and then a visitor wept, to be sure; but this slaughtering machine ran on, visitors or no visitors. It was like some horrible crime committed in a dungeon, all unseen and unheeded, buried out of sight and of memory."

That paragraph resonates because of density and reality. Humans and pigs do share similar biology. The lack of respect shown to the animals is something that vegans and vegetarians have been harping on for forever. Should not we be grateful to the animal for giving its life that we might live? The meat industry is cold-blooded indeed. The last sentence brings it all home, exposing the fact that this machinery is purposely "unseen and unheeded, buried." The meat industry knows what it does is nasty and they do their best to keep us from thinking about it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Dreams and Narration

I had a dream. This dream occurred two nights ago and I still remember most of it quite vividly. It was not a normal dream. It involved violence and my own death. But weirdest of all, it contained voice-over narration.

I was living somewhere I've never been before with a roommate I do not know. I think he had an afro, blond. The dream gave me the feeling that we were in Colorado maybe, maybe Denver. My roommate and I ran a business, of what sort I cannot recall, in the lower story of our house, or apartment or whatever it was. Three men walked into our shop as we were locking up for the day. We told them politely that we were closing and that we couldn't help them. Two of them promptly walked back out the door. But one did not. The big guy. And he was big, I'm talking at least 6' 6" and built, perhaps Scandinavian in heritage. It got to the point that I was physically trying to push him toward the door, and those of you who know me, know that I'm no taller than 5' 6" on a good day.

Things got physical. We began to grapple with each other. The fight felt personal, like not only was this guy a mean guy, we hated each other for other reasons. I think I knew him. Eventually, the fight went to the floor, I landed on top of him and began to punch him in the face mercilessly, tirelessly. I paused a couple of times and asked him if he was ready to leave. He said no and I continued to hit him. Blood was spraying everwhere, on the floor and the bookshelves we had landed near (I inspected the stains later in the dream). It was like this scene out of "Fight Club" (beware, link is violent). Eventually, the guy was out cold. The roommate and I dragged him out the door and left him unconscious in the snow on the porch. We locked the door.

I was proud of myself. Glowing. But I was also scared. What would happen when he wakes? I remember the roommate and I discussing this in worried tones, as well as reliving the fight, but I don't remember specifics. I remember going to bed afraid to hear him banging on the door.

But when I woke the next morning he was still lying on the porch, although it looked like he had shifted. Here the dream gets fuzzy. We attended a wedding and reception, but I only remember bits from the reception. I bragged about the triumph over the "Scandinavian." At one point the bride came up to me and told me that my friends and I couldn't party afterwords because we had to hang out with some of the really little kids (I have no idea why). All of this is just fragments in my memory.

Things clear up for the ending. I've returned home and the big guy was not on the porch. He left, great. I sat down to do something, maybe read, maybe get on the computer, not important. I sound comes from the open room behind me and there stands the "Scandinavian." I stand to face him, but he apologizes and regrets being a jerk. I apologize for tearing his face up. We shake hands.

Enter narrator. As we shake hands a voice, not in any reality present, begins to describe what is happening. A male voice. It describes the hand shake and how the big guy's grib firms. His thumb is beginning to dig into the side of my hand, he says. And then the man swings something, it could be anything, and strikes my skull, thereby sending brains flying. The narrator describes it all. I have just enough time to realize I've been tricked and that I'm dead when everything goes black. I wake up and within 20 seconds my alarm went off.

I wish I could remember everything that the narrator said. I wish I had at least one direct quote, but I don't. All I know is that there was a narrator. I'm not disturbed by the fact that I died. I'm disturbed that someone was describing it. I can't find anything, at least via a Google search, about narrated dreams. I've typed enough now, but will go into some of my hypotheses on the next post.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Cormac McCarthy and a Discussion of Motivation

No one does anything without a reason. Even if you sit at home and do nothing it is with a purpose: to do nothing. Therefore it is important that our characters have motivation to do what they do. I remember one of the staple questions in fiction workshops was "Why?" Why is the character doing this? But since we are good writers we don't just want to write, "Jack killed the neighbor because he was mad." We want to show why he did it. The reader should be able to discern a reasonable motivation for a character's action.

Currently, I'm reading "Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West" by Cormac McCarthy. The book is about a band of renegade cowboys who travel through Mexico slaughtering Apaches and Mexicans. It's not a story for the faint-hearted and the violence will make you gag more than once. On the surface it's about the racial hatred and land-ownership disputes in the 1840's and 50's in west Texas.

I thought I understood this basis of the motivation, a sign of the times, hatred between Texas and Mexico. But still the violence (killing women, children and infants; scalping them all) didn't quite seem justified. I felt frustrated and was beginning to feel McCarthy just wanted to write about violence. And then I came to a particular passage last night.

One of the band of "warriors" simply referred to as "the judge", a leader among the men, had a habit of collecting samples of the land they passed through. He would kill birds and stuff them, press leaves of newly discovered plants and sketch the landscape. When one of the others asked him why, he explained:

"Whatever exists, he said. Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent....These anonymous creatures, he said, may seem little or nothing in the world. Yet the smallest crumb can devour us. Any smallest thing beneath yon rock out of men's knowing. Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth."

He goes on for a little while and sums up thusly, "The freedom of birds is an insult to me. I'd have them all in zoos."

After reading that it came to me. This is all about control and dominance. To these men the Indians and the Mexicans are nothing but something that is beneath them, anonymous creatures. The world will not be theirs until each Apache is discarded and scalped for collection. No life but their own is sacred. In saying all this the judge exposed the motivation for the entire group's actions.

And that is what we are all after, isn't it? Control. To varying degrees, of course. Some of us want to be commanders of our destiny. Some just want to know that they can control where they are sleeping from night to night. So where is your character's sense of control, and how much do they want? Where is your sense of control, and how much do you want?

Saturday, January 2, 2010


I think it's time to get serious again. I've been overwhelmed and will continue to be, no doubt. This is not a New Year's Resolution. So much to write, too much, too little concentration. So much to do, so much I want to do, so much I don't want to do. Struggling desperately to become well-versed in everything.

It's time for change...seriously.