Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How I Hold a Kindle

I think about things. I think about what I'd like in a new Kindle. I wouldn't like a touch screen. I wouldn't like the keyboard area removed; I like having it to hold onto. Basically, the only features I want are ones that make me as unconscious of the e-reader as possible.

For instance, I would like page turn buttons that don't curve back, but are flat or curve forward, to make them easy to catch with the thumb. 

One of the best things about the form factor of an e-reader is that you can read with one hand. But from the Kindle design, I wonder if anyone else reads their Kindle one-handed. I'd LOVE to have a page-turn button at the center of the bottom area.

A page-turn button right where my thumb is would be sweeeet.

Instead, when I read a naked Kindle, I end up holding it like this: 
Anyone else hold a Kindle this way?

It's a weird hand contortion and it kind of makes my hand cramp. The pinky has to curl underneath to keep the Kindle from twisting when the page-turn button is pressed.

I had one of those unlighted official Kindle covers that caused the thing to short out. It took a month for the paint to wear off the prongs. Once it did, the Kindle reset itself constantly. Anyway, because I had a month of using the Kindle before getting a $35 credit for a new case, I knew what I wanted: a more comfortable way to hold my Kindle.

So I bought a Marware case:
Looks like a normal case
But it's got this sweet holding strap in the back.
The elastic strap holds your fingers, so you don't have to hold your pinky in a weird position in order to keep the Kindle from rotating when the page-turn button is pressed.  But I don't like the suede-ish innards. It grabs dirt. And the finger holder strap isn't near enough the edge for me.

I admit, I'm being picky. But unlike with a paper book, you end up holding the same item for hundreds or thousands of hours. So the little flaws become apparent. And I'm crazy.

Cheapo case.
So I ordered a cheapo zipper case off ebay. It cost $6, and that included shipping from Hong Kong! And yet, I love it.

Tricksy!
You see, the zipper can be reversed, creating an adjustable holding slot. And the case seems to have been designed for the Kindle 2, because it's too big. You can see how there's extra space on the side and at the top. This is actually an advantage. The extra vertical space makes it easier to access the power switch. The extra horizontal space creates a gap that makes a comfortable place for my thumb to rest.

Palming method
But then I thought of another method that I have yet to put to use. If you can palm a basketball, you can comfortably palm the kindle. Then you have the choice of pressing the page-turn button on either side, with your index finger or your thumb.

Some people call it knowing what you want
Other people call it being finicky
Some people call it just plain nuts
Other people call it O-C-D!

But I'm krazy! I'm krazy! I'm krazy for my Kindle!
If I were a hobo, I'd carry it in a bindle!




Psychomancer just got its first review ever over at Novel Opinion. Check it out!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Free Concept: Ghost Poop

You poop. It's a good poop. Satisfying. You wipe.

Nothing.

You look in the bowl.

Nothing.

You tell yourself that the turd was of such density that it left no mark and sank into the pipe. You tell yourself that and you call it "ghost poop" and laugh. But the laughter is hollow. And a stink overwhelms you. The stink of your own fear. The fear that the term "ghost poop" is too accurate.

What have you unleashed on the world? What if you did indeed just poop the ghost of a turd? What does it want? Why does it wander the Earth? What will finally put it to rest?



This concept is copylefted. Anyone who wishes to use it may do so. Run with it. Share it with the world. Just please credit me as an inspiration.

Gonna be offline for a bit. Peace!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

My new First Draft Machine

I've posted before about my Alphasmart 3000. It served me well off and on for years. But it's one unforgiveable flaw has caused me to turn my back on it.

It has a really loud keyboard.

Not just loud, but the keys require a ton of force to depress. And this is a problem with all Alphasmart 3000s, not just mine. Honestly, I could forgive this if it weren't for a recent development: I've begun writing at the local college library.

The internet does not distract me. Other things do, things which they don't have at the library, like couches and blankets and soothing episodes of MST3K. And I love libraries. I've spent a ridiculous amount of time in them from the time I was a child and I am very comfortable in them.

But I want to write on the quiet level, not the group-study level, and my faithful old Alphasmart 3000 is just too loud. It sounds like someone pounding a typewriter with a jackhammer. So I did the gadget equivalent of putting it down with my rifle: I drawered it.

The library is only a mile away, so I'm walking. Gets me some sun and fresh air (which are good anti-crazies) and I walk into the house warmed up to lift weights (which is a good anti-crazy). I knew that my new writing device had to be light. My three and a half year old Dell Vostro, which was $400 at the time, weighs like 8lbs and is a bit fragile. So it was out. I thought about buying a used netbook, but couldn't find any with a full-sized keyboard for a reasonable price. Well, reasonable for me, which is to say cheap. I would have been fine with something old that didn't have the processing power to do much more than run a word processing program, but those don't have full-sized keyboards.

I had the crazy idea of using my Droid phone. I found a decent free program to use. I went looking for Bluetooth keyboards. Only one works! The Freedom Pro. The design of this keyboard isn't ideal, because while it is nearly full-sized, it folds in the middle and so has strange shaped keys in the middle. And I couldn't find any reviews of people writing really long documents on them. And the keystroke looked shallow. And, having a lock on the Android Bluetooth keyboard market, it cost $90, which is just crazy. And honestly, I was worried about using my phone. First, the battery life with the screen on all the time would only be a couple of hours at best. Second, it occasionally freezes and crashes. This isn't normally a big deal, but I don't normally have 2,000 words of new fiction in limbo on it.

So I came back to the Alphasmart. The models made after my 3000, the Dana and the Neo, have amazing keyboards. But new Neos cost $170. I can't justify that. But used Neos can be very difficult to find on ebay, as people snap them up instantly. People who already have them sit and wait to buy them off of ebay just to have backups. It's crazy.

There are tons of Alphasmart Danas for sale for cheap. I wouldn't call it a failed experiment, but nearly. Some people like them. They run Palm OS, so they do more, but they are also more complicated and finicky. I read of people losing info transferring it off because they had to use a Palm sync program. Other Alphasmarts are just USB keyboards with a small screen and memory. You plug it into your computer, hit send, and it types your keystrokes into whatever your cursor is in. The Dana also only has a battery life of 40 hours, because it's running a real OS with a touchscreen.

After a week of driving myself completely insane with the choice, as I will do, researching continuously and weighing pros and cons, I found an Alphasmart Neo for sale on ebay for $80 including shipping. That's not cheap, but I snapped it up and this is my new first draft machine. I've been using it for a few weeks and I love it. So this is kind of my Alphasmart Neo review.



While I still feel a little weird typing on something that no one understands, having not seen anything like it, at least I don't feel like I'm typing on a toy, as the color is a serious blue and it's opaque. A big improvement over the embarrassing, candy see-through body of the 3000. The keyboard is just as good as advertised. It has a fantastic action, with a good click, a shallow-but-satisfying depth, and a snappy return. The action of the 3000 was much mushier.

The screen is improved, as well. It's a bit bigger, and you can adjust the size of the font to fit up to six rows of text on the screen. I've stuck with four, but it's nice to have the option.


It's a bit lighter than the 3000, and the build is better, more solid. It's built for school children to abuse, so it's tough as hell, with no moving parts, and I feel totally comfortable carrying it in my backpack. I like not having to worry about jarring it. And it's very light. Any lighter, and it would be too light. I like the sleeker build.

And it came with a sweet case.

The only thing I don't like about it compared to the 3000 is the battery placement. In the Alphasmart, your 3 AA batteries go near the bottom, beneath the space bar. In the Neo, they go just before the bottom angles up to the screen section. What this creates is a pivot point, and depending on how you hold the device in your lap, the screen can be heavier, causing the keyboard to float a bit. This isn't noticeable when you've got it on a surface, but when I was taking notes while watching UFC 131, it bugged me a bit.

Overall, this machine is awesome. I could type on it for 2 hours every day for a year before the batteries ran out. This isn't an exaggeration on the part of the manufacturer, either. My 3000 had batteries several years old in them and still had 50% power.


In the past couple of weeks I've been writing 2500 words a day on it. Anything that can make writing first drafts more comfortable and convenient is worth a look, in my opinion. The small screen really frees my brain from its revision mode. And if I absolutely need to research something, I do it on my phone. But since that's a pain in the ass, it keeps me from over-researching during the first draft, when I should mostly be getting the words down on paper. Basically, those factors combined with the portability have really helped me produce new work. I enjoy revision too much, so this thing is great.

End of Alphasmart Neo review.






So yeah, I'm getting out about 10,000 new words a week. I think that's a good pace. About 7,000 of that is going to the sequel to Burden Kansas. I was worried about that project at first, but things have been gelling in my head. I just kept pushing ahead, and eventually I saw the connections and things came together. So I'm pretty certain I can push through to the end at this pace.

The rest of the words are going to a weird little project I’m doing. I'll go more into it when I'm closer to done, but every day after I finish my Burden Kansas sequel stuff, I write a flash fiction based around a really awkward moment. It's kind of my reward for doing what I should be doing, and it's been a total blast so far. I don't know if I'm going to try to publish any traditionally. I'm definitely going to put them out as a collection at some point, though.




I just finished The Other Room by James Everington. It's really good. He plays a lot with my favorite kind of horror, the kind where the world just goes illogical on you, sometimes in a big way, sometimes in a subtle way. I was skeptical at first, because while the first story sets up his themes, it's not the best story in the collection. It's a perfectly fine collection story, but maybe not a collection starter, I think because it only has one character in it, and his portrayals of the relationships between his characters is one of the strongest aspects of his writing.

The variety here is really good, too. I love the fabulist flash fiction pieces sprinkled throughout, "Some Stories for Escapists." They're very conceptual, but he totally pulls them off.

Basically, without getting too wordy, if you like smart, subtle horror, get this book.




Hey, I really am jacking up the price of Psychomancer. The new price has already taken effect at Smashwords and B&N. Get it at Amazon like, now, if you want it for $0.99.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Photo Post!

Chewie got a haircut for summer!

When his hair is long, we call him the pig fox. When it's cut for summer, we usually call him the pig lion. He's extra hot this year from getting extra fat.

So often I stare at Chewie with wonder. When we drive around with him, he stands and puts his head out the window. We can literally hear people burst into laughter. Children start screaming. He is so beautiful that it's like he breaks people's minds. And I get to look at him every day.

I think people wonder why his name is Chewie. Yes, he's named after Chewbacca from Star Wars. No, he doesn't look like Chewbacca from Star Wars. But he used to:

My sister named Chewie, after her female pug-chihuahua and male pomeranian were visited by the stork. My sister isn't even a nerd.

I got a summer cut, too. Buzzzzzzed. All that hair is too dark and poofy and traps too much heat. And that makes my scalp itch. I'll show you my big buzzed head later. What I want to show you are some of the pics my wife took before shearing me. These didn't end up as good as my last author pics, but I think I'm still going to use them occasionally. I know you're supposed to pick a pic and stick with it, but booooooring.




I'm so pale! I'm currently getting myself into pool shape. Once I'm able to take my shirt off in public, I'll get some color.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Need a Last Minute Father's Day Gift?

Don't give your dad one of my books. He'll hate it.

What do dad's like?

Dad's like:

  • Smoking pipes of fine tobacco.
  • Reading leather-bound military histories and big game hunting memoirs.
  • Sitting in overstuffed chairs.
  • Sipping scotch from a lowball glass.
  • Wearing bifocals.
  • Remembering times when men were men.
  • Mahogany.
  • Scratching an old dog on the head, a dog more loyal than his children ever could be.

Hope this gives you some ideas.

Happy Father's Day, Dad, and dad's everywhere!


"What Alan Ryker can do in 132 pages puts to shame most of the 400 plus horror books I have read."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

I Like Super Mario 3 More than Super Mario World

My new book is out and being purchased. My wife is back from her week-long business trip. The sun is shining

and we're probably spending the day at the pool.

So why do I seem so angry in this interview? Because Jay Krow knows that once you get me ranting, you just have to act interested and I'll keep going and getting crazier. 

I know, I'm so edgy. I dislike Twilight.

But I think it's a good interview. Jay asked interesting questions, going beyond the basics. And I enjoy hearing myself talk. So everybody wins.

Have a great weekend people! And if you want a copy of Psychomancer, remember to get it before I jack the price up. I added it to the sidebar over yonder.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My People – Psychomancer

I'm super happy with the presentation of this book. The cover art is so eye-catching, and the design so clean and professional. I really think it's going to get people clicking.

Sometimes I feel like I should keep the people I work with to myself. They're my secret advantage. Would Lance Armstrong give all his opponents his gigantic heart, 25% larger than it should be? Would Kobyashi give his opponents his strange abdominal layout which allows his stomach to expand down into regions most people's can't? Would Chael Sonnen give Anderson Silva his steroids?

But we aren't opponents. This isn't a zero-sum game. And maybe the writers in my readership will remember this and drag me up with them when they rise to the top.

I make such sacrifices for you people.

Aaaaaaaaaanyway.

The wicked cover art is by Ricardo Sandoval. Check out his great work, and then contact him at tvlookplay at hotmail. Looking through his gallery, he's awesome at creating striking images of badass women. I could imagine several of them as book covers.

The beautiful, badass young woman in this image is model Natalie Paquette.

As usual, the design was done by the patient Wendy McBride. I love how she managed to give the design a clean scifi feel, and yet somehow maintained my visual branding.If you're a pain in the ass who no designer will work with, try contacting Wendy at mcbride.wendy at that thar gmail. You're welcome, Wendy ;)

Finally, the copy edit was done by by Rebecca Stigge. Contact her at rhstigge at that thar gmail. This was a particularly difficult one, I'm sure, because of the extremely close third combined with looooong sentences. I don't hesitate to recommend Rebecca. Her grammatical skills are second-to-none.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Psychomancer

It's out!
It's out!
Psychomancer's out!
Is it true?
Why yes it's true!
Doo doo doo doo
Doop doop dee doo!

Oh my. Hmmm.


Buy Psychomancer at:

So. This book. 

I pride myself on having avoided developing a voice as a writer. I have tendencies. Common traits across my ouvre. But basically I've worked diligently to minimize my own rather distinctive essay voice and provide whatever voice the story or character perspective requires. I've done this by always asking myself what the character sounds like, and narrating in a similar voice, even in the third person.

Even so, this book is different.

Two of the three perspective characters have EXTREMELY internally maximalist voices. IE, their thoughts end up on the page. This will be a shock for those of you who only know Burden Kansas, where Keith's sections have zero self-reflection or description of the internal. People who've read both have said that it doesn't seem possible for the same person to have written both.

It's also different because it's kind of scifi, and I don't usually write scifi. But this isn't hard scifi. This is scifi as cottony soft as Snuggle the fabric softener bear. In fact, I fear retribution for categorizing it as scifi, but a book I'm currently reading, Michio Kaku's Physics of the Impossible, says that psionics is a future possibility. He says that precognizance isn't, but I haven't gotten to that section yet. And what does he know, anyway? A lot. Anyway, it's also categorized under contemporary fantasy, so suck on that.

Psychomancer has very little horror. But it does have a little. I can't help myself. It has a monster. A FREAKY SPIDER MONSTER OF THE MIND. And that crazy violence you all have grown to love.

I'm actually a bit nervous.

It's $0.99 for the next week or so, because my blog readers and my tweeps rock.

UFC 131

I've been out of the social networks for a few days, formatting and uploading and proofing Psychomancer. It's currently up at B&N and Smashwords, but as usual Amazon is lagging. I just spent entirely too long going through my feeds, having neglected Google Reader for several days. Here's the report:

*Samuel L. Jackson read the audio version of Go the Fuck to Sleep. I was kind of tired of hearing of this book, but this is brilliant. I wish I were this savvy so that I could be rich.

*The Guardian has released their list of The 100 Greatest Non-Fiction Books. While I've read a very respectable chunk of the Modern Library's 100 greatest novels of the 20th century list, I've only read the few of these books that everyone had to read in Western Civ for their undergrad. I've been watching way too many movies recently and not reading enough. Maybe I'll pick some from this list.

*Writer James Everington is wary of a practice amongst writers which he has dubbed MBS, or mutual back slapping. He posted about the most hilariously horrific case of MBS ever over at his blog.

*Does anyone else often work in openoffice? Did you know that most of the developers have gone over to libreoffice? I just found out. They left after Oracle aquired it. Anyway, there's not a huge amount of difference right now, but from what I understand the improvements will be happening much faster on libreoffice because most of the talent is now there.


God I love fighting. I've watched MMA and kickboxing since before The Ultimate Fighter launched it into the public eye, and the difference between then and now is amazing. With its increased popularity comes a much larger pool of practitioners, and with that has come an incredible evolution in the ultimate sport.

That's right, fighting is the best sport. Sports are all symbolic combat. MMA is the best of that, the closest we can get to the real thing while ensuring the safety of the athletes.

So here's my analysis of the latest event, UFC 131:

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Countdown to Psychomancer

Okay, so the countdown is starting at like, 2 or 3, but still.  Here's the cover with art by Ricardo Sandoval and design by Wendy McBride:


I'll do my standard My People post once the book goes live. I still have to format it and upload it, but that means it should be live by Wednesday.  And because my regular readers are awesome, I'm going to sell it for $0.99 for the first week so that anyone who wants a copy can get one cheap. I may or may not advertise the sale price. Then it's going up to $4.99.

Here's da blurb:

Science scoffs at the concept of luck. The lottery is called a tax on people who are bad at math, and Vegas rakes in cash based on precise odds, not good fortune.

But what if good luck were a scientific reality?

Cornelius Worthington, the luckiest man in the world, washes up on a beach in Miami with no knowledge of where he is.

Natasha Barrett, the most gifted psion the government has ever trained, is tasked with capturing or killing him.

Seymour Zimmerman, a freelance journalist who writes a syndicated column about strange deaths, follows their path of destruction and winds up with a bigger story than he could have ever imagined.

Then things start to get really weird.

Psychomancer is alternatingly funny and horrific, philosophical and explosive. Through the perspectives of three very different characters, it examines the concepts of fate, power and human potential, and asks the question: If good luck is real, what happens when we end up on the wrong end of someone else’s?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Horror Movie Movements

Just for fun, let's look at the horror movie movements that revived the genre from the 80s slasher bubble collapse. These unfortunately didn't accompany horror fiction revivals. I'm just a movie aficionado. I watch a lot of them, but I don't read about them and have never studied film or anything. So there's your disclaimer.


These aren't in order, except for #1, which I felt finally brought horror as a whole instead of a one-off horror success back into the mainstream.

1. The Hip, Sexy Slasher
Scream started this. These movies are self-conscious vehicles for hip, attractive young actors. Unfortunately, none came even close to living up to Scream, especially Scream's sequels. Scream was so freaking smart it's scary. It inspired the parody series Scary Movie, but here's the thing: parodies of Scream were unnecessary. Scream was already the perfect post-modern parody that was also a perfect slasher. Scream also changed how killers move in horror movies, abandoning the slow stalk for frenetic insanity, taken up by such movies as Urban Legends. Unfortunately, movies like I Know What You Did Last Summer took everything but the smarts. I suspect that the residual hate-on some of the horror community has for Scream is that it let the popular kids into our little weird basement club. I understand the feeling, but the movie is awesome. The very beginning of the second is also great, the scene with Jada Pinkett and Omar Epps at the opening of Stab. The rest of the movie sucked, but that is one of the most disturbing scenes in all of horror.


The most recent movie of this type that I enjoyed was Cry Wolf. An unlikeable group of characters and cast (except Jon Bon), but a good writer and a really inventive plot. Yeah, it falls apart under close scrutiny, but it's still enjoyable. The Final Destination movies are also notable, though growing less so (actually, I thought the third was much better than the second, but the fourth suuuucked).

2. The Gritty Remake
This started with Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The only movies that even come close to attaining the success of this trendsetter are Rob Zombie's Halloweens, the first for its accuracy and the second for its imagination, and Dawn of the Dead. In my opinion, Texas Chainsaw Massacre ushered in the era of the dark, serious, modern horror movie. No low jokes. No humorous kills. It gets away with taking itself seriously because the cinematography is beautiful. Most remakes--Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Black Christmas, My Bloody Valentine--are so forgettable that almost everyone has literally forgotten them. I had high hopes for Nightmare on Elmstreet, but it turned out to be one of those movies that's much better as a trailer. Remember when the kid has been awake so long that he's having micro-dreams, and he's standing in the grocery store and the aisle of food keeps getting replaced with an image of Kruger in one of his industrial hallways? The first time I saw that scene in the trailer it gave me chills.

3. Torture Porn
Funny enough, I think the movie that launched the gritty remake into popularity did the same for torture porn: Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The other funny thing is that TCM isn't actually that bloody of a movie. It's so gritty and real feeling that the violence is very disturbing, but the kills are tame compared to Friday the 13th. Still, Roger Ebert gave it zero stars and said that he walked out of the theater desperate for sunshine, which was exactly how I knew I had to see it. But, I gotta admit that I've never seen the Hostels and I'm not really a fan of torture movies. That's just me.

4. Asian Remakes
The Ring obviously started this. And it's the only one of these movies where the American version is better than the Asian version. It was a really odd experience having American versions announced within a year of having watched all these Asian horror movies. We went from Japan to South Korea to Thailand in search of ever-more authentic ghosts. It's probably the fact that these spiritual beliefs seem to either still be held or having recently been held by their cultures that really makes the movies scary. Our versions have mostly run from adequate (The Grudge) to unbelievably terrible (Pulse). Anyway, in almost every case I'm glad I saw the originals first. If you haven't seen the original Pulse, check it out. It's a weird, sprawling horror epic that doesn't seem to care if you understand what's going on.

5. Zombies
I think 28 Days Later kicked this off. While Resident Evil came first and helped turn a one-off into a true trend, I don't think it would have done it alone, while I think 28 Days Later probably would have. Then the Dawn of the Dead remake and Shaun of the Dead came along and cemented the revival.






* Movies Where They Don't Know They're Dead
It just sounds like a plot device, but really it became its own sub-genre with its own conventions. Okay, it's not really a revival because you find it mostly in straight-to-DVD flicks, but I wanted to talk about it anyway. That's why it gets a "*" instead of a number. The first movie I saw with this device was Jacob's Ladder, which blew my young mind! The second was The Sixth Sense, which I think it's easy to forget was a pretty disturbing movie the first time you saw it. Remember when the kid was trapped in his chair fort with the girl who couldn't stop puking. Yikes! I'm not sure if The Sixth Sense started this trend or not, because the movies that came after didn't try to emulate it, but shortly after The Sixth Sense came out about a third of straight to video horror movies used the device that the characters died and didn't know it. I don't know if the film makers thought they were fooling us, but they weren't. My wife and I used to make a game of calling the moment where the characters all died. I don't want to spoil a bunch of movies for you in case you're more easily fooled than we are, or don't watch as many horror movies. Anyway, thankfully the trend seems to be over.

This list of horror movie revivals might not be in chronological order, but it is exhaustive. If you think of another, you're wrong. I'd love to hear about how wrong you are in the comments.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

7 Stuffs About Moi

I’ve got a heaping passel of serious blog posts I’m preparing to write up after the cool discussion that occurred in the comments of yesterday’s post. Coral Moore has added more to the discussion with an interesting post on her blog, but I’m taking a minute to do a personal post before I get into all this theory. I was tagged by KC Neal some time back to write about 7 things readers might not know about me. I have complied. I’ve used this blog to talk about my writing and my opinions on writing and arts, but I like to talk about myself, and I’m taking full advantage of this permission.

1. I Lift Weights
I played one sport in high school: debate. When I graduated, I was about 6’4” and weighed at most 165 lbs. It wasn’t until I was like 22 that I got interested in anything athletic. I don’t know why, exactly. The guys I worked with were also all extremely skinny nerds like myself. But some started going to a gym and my workplace got a sort of unofficial discount, and it stuck with me.

My obsessive nature has done good by me in this regard. I’m not a crazy gym rat, but I feel enough of a compulsion that I never let working out totally slip. I even a personal trainer for a hot minute and have written 200 articles for Lance Armstrong’s fitness mega-site livestrong.com. I’ve been lifting for enough years now (almost a decade!) that I know what my requirements are, and I built an affordable gym in my basement. The only downside to it is that due to my height, the ceiling isn’t high enough for me to do standing shoulder presses or clean and presses, which are my preferred shoulder exercises.


You see I’ve even got my own gym sign. Wendy, the delightful lady who designs my covers, made it for me years ago. My gym is called “The Gun Shop,” and the slogan is, “Trade your .22s in for PUMP action shotguns.” Sweeeeeet. Lifting is all about blood and sweat and vomit and aneurysms.

Today I set a new personal best in deadlift, my favorite lift. 385 lbs. It’s not great for someone my weight (235), but pretty good considering that I’m 6’6” with very long legs and unfortunately short arms (not noticeably short for some reason, but definitely noticeable when I spar at Muay Thai), and am in many other ways not built for weight lifting. I’d like to be able to lift twice my own weight one day. I’m 31, and strength athletes don’t peak until their mid-30s, so I think I can do it. Deadlifting is the best single-movement exercise for your entire body. Except for your pecs (which I don’t work anyway) and your delts, you can maintain a physique on a half-hour deadlift workout every other week. If you’re strong enough, it’s also so stressful on the body that immediately following it you get a sedative effect greater than morphine.

A deadlift is one of the 3 powerlifting lifts, along with squat and bench press. It’s just picking a bar up off the ground. One thing I love about it is that there’s no question about whether you got it or not. It can be hard to feel if you’ve really gotten low enough on a squat, and with benchpress you can bounce the bar. But on the first rep of a deadlift, you can either pick the bar up or you can’t. The weight on the pic above is what I lifted today, from the ground to standing to my half rack.

Chewie also enjoys a good workout:


2. I’m Half Black
AKA a halfrican. Isn’t that a weird thing to have to announce when you’ve got author pictures up? Right now, I look more ethnic than usual due to my halfro. Now people must think that I’m part black or a big Dominican. When my hair is really short or when I dry it under a wave cap, I imagine people think I’m Mediterranean or something. I wanted to get some author photos taken with my fro, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. It’s getting too hot out which makes my scalp insanely itchy, and I’m going to have to shave it all off here soon.
Post-workout, with Goody headband holding my hair back.

My theory has always been that if the race of a character isn’t given, assume it’s the same as the author. So all of my non-descript characters are secret, undercover halfricans. Weird, huh? Just kidding! Whenever I’m writing about Kansas everyone is white, because only white people live in rural Kansas. Except my brave dad.

3. I Have an Herb Garden
No, not wacky tobacky you nut! My wife was sent home from a bridal shower with a couple of potted herbs– thyme and basil– and we didn’t have anywhere to put them that the cat wouldn’t get to them and eat them except the window of my office beside my standing desk. My sister-in-law, a licensed horticulturist, helped me expand my herb garden with cilantro and lemon basil and rosemary, and a creepy little gnome!


I grew up in the country and helped my parents with this massive garden they kept for a few years. I considered it torture and hadn’t grown anything since, but I love my herb garden. It smells really nice, and I really like fresh herbs but won’t pay the insane prices. And look, my cilantro is sprouting!


4. I’m Crazy for MST3K
Literally crazy for it. I’ve mentioned my bad anxiety here before, with the agoraphobia. I find Mystery Science Theater 3000 incredibly soothing. I don’t even have to be paying attention, their voices just make me more calm. I usually watch at least an episode a day. I like both Joel and Mike, though I think the robots only really flourished once Mike took over and they didn’t have to behave like children. I really, really love TV’s Frank and wish he had stuck around until the end. I follow Frank Conniff on twitter, and you can too.

 I will qualify all that by saying that these geniuses were all writers first and foremost, and then also acted as necessary. Their value comes from their writing, and when fans diss a cast member for their acting, I think it’s like getting your favorite book signed by the author, then looking down on him because he has bad handwriting.

5. I Have an MFA
In creative writing. I got it from Cleveland State University. I also studied at Kent State and University of Akron. And yes, I workshopped and developed my strange speculative work and never had any issues from either the faculty or my peers for it. The literary world is changing, folks. Michael Chabon ended his collection of New Yorker realism stories, Werewolves in Their Youth, with as pure a Lovecraftian story as you’d ever hope to read.

I would really enjoy teaching creative writing one day. I like leading workshops. It’s awesome. However, I have so far refused to teach composition, so I can’t work my way up, but will have to get there based solely on the merits of my publications. So we’ll see.

6. I’m a Massive Batman Fan
And have been since I started reading comics when I was a kid. I have many theories about Batman, and think he is one of the only true contemporary American myths. George Lucas consciously used Joseph Campbell’s work on the myth to inform Star Wars, but Batman achieved it organically because he’s been filtered through all of the best comic book creators for the past 70 goddamn years, and there’s just something collective-unconscious-y about him. I have many, many theories about Batman. If I’m drunk and you bring up Batman, I will go on at great length and will not let the subject be changed. You’ve been warned.

7. I Own a Cat
My wife and I do. His name is Loki. He’s not usually mentioned here because I don’t really like him or think about him much. Unfortunately, almost no one does. He was a very mean cat for many years. For instance, he has scratched or bitten every single person who has taken care of him when we travel. We always warn people not to touch him. Some have said that cats love them and then found out otherwise. Some were chased down and attacked, so there was nothing they could do about it. He’s very big, weighing about 17 lbs. Chewie and he fight a lot, but Chewie’s thick coat protects him. Occasionally you’ll see Chewie joyously galloping through the house with the cat being dragged along by a pawful of claws stuck in Chewie’s nappy undercoat.

Loki has gotten nicer, but besides being accustomed to ignoring him for like 8 years because he didn’t want being touched, I also during that time developed enough of an allergy to cats that I have to wash my hands if I touch him, so I just don’t. He’s nice to look at though.


There you go! If you would like to make a similar post, I’m tagging you right now. You know who you are.

Monday, June 6, 2011

It's Time for a Horror Comeback

Over on the Kindle Boards, several of us horror writers and readers were having us up a good jaw-flappin over the old cracker barrel as to why no new horror writer of the stature of Stephen King has arisen. Stephen King is the only horror writer most people have read, for cripes sake! I pointed out that it's especially strange because horror movies have had several resurgences since the slashers of the 80s. So what's the dilly?

I think that maybe horror long fiction has gotten too conservative. If you look at the greats, those who totally changed the game, it basically goes Poe to Lovecraft to King. These men were visionaries. But I don't think we'd need a writer quite that big to jumpstart an interest in horror. If we could have a few new Clive Barkers and Ramsey Campbells, some people willing to do something different and daring, we could enter a new era.

In fact, the conversation made me think of Ramsey Campbell's introduction to Clive Barker's Books of Blood. He said, "If, on the other hand, you're tired of tales that tuck you up and make sure the night light is on before leaving you, not to mention the parade of Good Stories Well Told which have nothing more to offer than borrowings from better horror writers whom the best-seller audience have never heard of, you may rejoice as I did to discover that Clive Barker is the most original writer of horror fiction to have appeared for years."

The weird thing is that a lot of short horror fiction is nuts! Forget horror, Chiaroscuro publishes some of the best, most inventive fiction of any genre. But there's not a lot of carry over into novels. I'm just gonna toss some blame around and see what sticks:

1. I blame Stephen King. Ever since he described himself as a "meat and potatoes" writer who just wants to tell good stories, horror writers have thought it okay to take the same stance and try not to seem too hoity toity. Well guess what, suckers? Stephen King might think he's just a simple man telling simple stories, but he's fucking NOT. His imagination is huge. He writes characters as believable as anyone. Haven't you ever wondered why he sometimes can't avoid the deus ex machina endings? It's because he lets his characters run wild, but then has to provide a nice, neat genre-reader friendly ending. The dude is an experimental writer, even if he doesn't know it. But his friendly opinions about the art of storytelling have influenced A LOT of writers, and for the worse. They aim to be the tellers of "Good Stories Well Told" whose existence Campbell laments. Who thinks that Poe didn't know he was doing something totally new? Who thinks that Lovecraft didn't push himself to explore the furthest reaches of his dark vision, even if it alienated the average person? They weren't experimental? Yeah right.

2. I blame the nature of horror itself. I think it was Nick Mamatas who said a few years ago that it's basically impossible to write a pure horror novel. Horror alone can only sustain short fiction. For long fiction, horror elements are basically added to something, usually a thriller. While horror lends itself to experimentation, thrillers really don't. They've got a pretty tight set of expectations to be met. It's hard to think of a work of pure horror long fiction. Maybe House of Leaves? But it had its structure to prop and bulk it up.

3. There are horror novels being published that could be trend-setting, but they're not accessible enough to attain a critical mass of sales. Is the audience too conservative? Maybe. Stephen King happens to be really amazing and really accessible, but those two things don't always go together. Lovecraft definitely didn't write the most accessible stuff. He was a writers' writer, and it took awhile for everyone else to understand his true greatness and influence. So maybe there are writers like him going completely unnoticed, doomed to be buried under huge mounds of Good Stories Well Told. Maybe? Definitely. I know indie horror writers who are trying new things, and they're not necessarily the ones being rewarded by sales. If you know of any that totally changed how you view horror (indie or otherwise), let me know. I would love to be blown away by another horror novel.

I want what I read to change me. If I'm just looking for hollow entertainment--you know, just killing time until death's sweet embrace--honestly, I'd prefer to watch a movie or play a video game. I still read because fiction provides a depth of experience that is unmatched by any other medium. I want to read things that are new. That are different. If I wanted to read something safe and predictable and that plays by the rules and won't surprise me, I'll reread a book I already know I enjoy. Dune, probably. That book still rocked the sixth time I read it.

One interesting thing I've noticed is that I've enjoyed a couple of literary writers' tries at the horror genre. Like everyone else I loved The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I also really enjoyed Lunar Park by Brett Easton Ellis, despite the extremely unsatisfying ending. I don't know if it's because they're experimenting or if they just aren't familiar with the conventions, but I found these books fresh.

I'm still pushing myself as a writer. I try to always be doing something different, but I definitely don't claim to have written anything revolutionary--

Yet.

OHDANGIJUSTTHREWDOWNTHEGAUNTLETWHAAAAAAAT?!?!?! (Yes, I know that this is why people dislike me.)



I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago. I sat down and went through a bunch of related ideas I was having and for like 7 hours wrote blog posts, enough to post MWF for almost a month. This past Thursday Shea MacLeod posted a nice review of When Cthulhu Met Atlach-Nacha at her blog.


"It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. And then it does."


That's one of the best things a person has said about one of my works. Thanks, Shea.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Ambush Theater

In my last post, I mentioned that Cleveland Public Theatre produced a couple of small pieces of mine. Led by Mike Geither, my playwriting mentor, I worked with other playwrights to create a performance piece called "Know Your Future." It was performed at the big yearly Arts and Sciences festival. They close off a few blocks of downtown Cleveland. People walk around and look at exhibits, artistic and scientific. Bands play. Cakes funnel. It's pretty awesome.

"Know Your Future" was advertised as a group of fortune telling booths. People lined up to have their fortunes told for free. What they didn't know was that these were actors performing scripts. So try to imagine a person's response when they experienced this fortunetelling. I was told that if someone in line was being particularly obnoxious, they'd send them to an actor doing one of my three pieces:

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Why Make It a Play?

Let's further discuss genre and medium and especially playwriting. Let's.

If you can look at a play and say, "It wouldn't take much work to turn that into a novella," then there's a good chance that it should just be a novella.

When you write a play, you're creating something that asks a lot of its audience. If I don't like a book, I stop reading it. Since I use a Kindle and sample, I probably didn't even pay anything. I click a few times and I'm on to the next book.

Representative of theatre seating.
With a play, you're asking people to leave their homes, sit in uncomfortable seats and then sit through your production. I think a fiction writer should do her best to give her audience an awesome experience, but the playwright should definitely have made all the trouble worth it! If your play could have been experienced just as well on paper or e-ink or lcd in the comfort of audience's favorite reading chair, then just give it to them as fiction.

Plays offer all the benefits of live performance. You can have dancing, singing, shouting, tumbling, sounds, projections, lighting effects. You can and should have movement. As the playwright, you probably don't know the exact performance space, but you should still be thinking spacially.

You might look at that partial list and think, "But what can a play offer that a movie can't?" Do you think that a concert video is as satisfying as a live concert? If yes, then maybe not much. But for a lot of us, seeing the performance live in person can be a totally different experience. Now, a movie can't come charging off the screen and into the seats like actors can, but the difference can also be in the little things.

I saw an example of something little that made all the difference in a performance of The Confessions of Punch and Judy. Despite the title, it wasn't a puppet show, but kind of a re-imagining with human actors. Pretty neat on the whole, but one thing blew me away with its subtlety, and in retrospect, it could only have been done in theater:

The actress gave a furious monologue while chopping a salad.

Fast.

With a really big (and apparently sharp) knife.

Without looking at her hands.

Salad was flying everywhere. She was looking out at us and going off about Punch's bad behavior, and I'm expecting at any moment for her to lose a finger because she's casually holding the head of lettuce while she whacks at it. The tension this created was amazing, and it all transferred over into her monologue. Getting tickets, driving to the theater, sitting in the incredibly cold theater... Experiencing that one moment was worth all that and more. And I'm agoraphobic.

So I thought over When Cthulhu Met Atlach-Nacha and really asked myself if it should be a play. And I think it's only possible as a play. With every scene I asked myself what was going on that couldn't be done on paper, that had to be seen.

The most obvious is the entire basis of the play, which is the parody of the alternation of interview and scene from When Harry Met Sally. The couple is breaking the fourth wall, speaking directly to the audience as if they're being asked questions, then jumping into scenes of memories of their relationship that illustrate what they were just talking about. This would basically be impossible in fiction.

There's dancing. There's screaming. There are pratfalls and slapstick (which, by the way, are much funnier live than in a movie). There are lighting effects and sound effects.

And there's a total focus on the lives of these two characters, Cuthbert and Ashton, and on their memories of their marriage. All of the Lovecraftian stuff is pretty standard. I don't push any boundaries with the mythos. Besides, if I had to write scenes of the end of the world, it would take focus away from what really matters. Instead, the audience hears about it as filtered through the eyes of this couple as they discuss it. Not only would it have been difficult to get away with this in fiction, there's no way I could have escaped the expectation in the reader that I'm going to let them see Cthulhu stomping his way across North America. I'd have to start with some disclaimer that Cthulhu wasn't actually going to appear in the work in order to not disappoint an expectation. It's good to play with and subvert expectations, but very bad to disappoint them. With a play, it's just assumed Cthulhu is going to be offstage.

I could go into more specifics, but I don't want to spoil the play too much for those who haven't read it but would like to.

Ultimately, I would love to see When Cthulhu Met Atlach-Nacha produced. I'm very happy to have people reading it, but I'd love to see what a daring director could do with it. I submitted it in Cleveland, but I haven't yet submitted to the local Kansas City theaters. I will though. I had some micro, ambush theater produced in Cleveland by Cleveland Public Theatre, and it was awesome sitting in on casting and rehearsals, and I'm sure that having a full play produced would be even better.