Friday, December 26, 2014

Year End Clearance Blog 2014

Did anyone have a good year?  A show of hands, please.  Yeah, I thought so.  I knew I couldn’t be the only one who wants to drive a stake through the heart of 2014.

It was bleak and depressing, with a lot of in-your-face violence and death — it was a goddamned Lars Von Trier movie! — much of which has been politicized to further divide a country already at each others' throats.  There’s been a lot of loss, a lot of fear and anxiety.  There have been some good things, too, of course.  Landing a probe on a comet was pretty damned spectacular.  But somehow, I don’t think it’s the kind of year that will be remembered for its positives.  I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to turn on the TV shortly before midnight on New Year’s Eve to see a bloated and rotting Guy Lombardo leading his cadaverous orchestra in “Auld Lang Syne” — it’s just been that kind of year.

After a year of severe GI problems in 2013, I had a couple of good months, then the symptoms returned and worsened.  It has disrupted every aspect of my life, especially my ability to work.  This means that I am still behind in all the things I was behind in before.  My doctor has been ordering tests, which, so far, have shown nothing abnormal.  An ultrasound and CT scan showed nothing abnormal, and I'm waiting for the result of some blood work. 

If you’re waiting for POKER NIGHT, I hope you can be just a little more patient.  I’m working on it, but I’m working sporadically and slowly.  The end is near.  I’m very grateful for the patience of those waiting for the book, especially Zach Powell of KWP, who has been so generous.

Hey, it could be worse.  I could be Bill Cosby.

This is going to be a short blog post, but I want you to continue it in the comments, and I’ll join you there.  Tell me about the best movies you saw and books you read this year.  What movies or books were big disappointments?  Discuss!

I hope everyone had a great Christmas and I’m sure we’re all hoping for improvements in 2015.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Facebook: Internet Time Vampire

Facebook holds tremendous appeal for professional writers.  It allows us something we don’t normally have much:  contact with other people.  Writing is solitary work.  We are typically holed up in an office every day (or night, depending on one’s schedule).  Unlike a regular job, there are no coworkers, no sociable lunch or coffee breaks, only the writer, the keyboard, and the screen.

Then Facebook came into our lives.  Suddenly, we had access to old friends, new friends, total strangers who share our interests, other writers we’ve admired from afar, and a lot of smart, funny, entertaining people.  Oh, sure, there are the people from high school you hoped never see or think of again in your life, the health food hucksters posting memes that claim eating two handfuls of cashews has the same affect as taking a Prozac (I’m looking at you, Dave Sommers and Raw Food Family, you lying sacks of shit), and the spammers who send you messages in broken English promising friendship, sex, or a buttload of money you’ve inherited from someone in a foreign land to whom you did not know you were related in exchange for a nominal bank fee (“nominum banks feet”).  But you can get rid of them easily enough.  The real draw is all those fun and interesting people on your friend list.  Sure, they aren’t really friend friends because you’ve never met them, but a kind of friendship can develop that often becomes surprisingly significant in your life.

Facebook gave me a place to promote my books.  That’s why I opened an account in the first place.  But then I started getting to know some of the people and enjoying their online company.  This is a good thing.  But, also, it’s a bad thing.

The reason writing is solitary work is that without the solitary part, NO WORK GETS DONE!

As previously stated, I started out just promoting my books.  I tried not to promote too much because I know how annoying and tiresome that can be, so between promotional posts, I occasionally would interact with people.  Well, it was “occasionally” at first.

Usually, my birthday passes quietly and mostly unnoticed, and the older I get, the more fine I am with that arrangement.  Unless my wife has the day off from work, I usually spend it alone and working.  But on Facebook, suddenly a whole lot of people were wishing me happy birthday.  Some of them even sent me gifts!  I was surprised by the tremendous lift I got from this.  It was a real shot in the arm.  I made it a habit to wish happy birthday to everyone on my list every day, because who doesn't enjoy being wished happy birthday?  But after I’d been doing this for a while, I didn’t want to stop because that seemed like a kind of jerky move to me.  I had wished happy birthday to some people, but I would be ignoring others.  Keep that in mind because I’m going to come back to it.

When Robin Williams committed suicide, it began a discussion on Facebook about depression, bipolar disorder, and suicide.  The number of people among my Facebook friends who suffer from, in varying degrees, these and other similar troubling problems is astonishing — but it’s not really surprising.  These problems haunt a significant number of people in the overall population.  Prone to depression myself, I am among them.  This is extremely relevant in light of something revealed about Facebook earlier in the summer of 2014.

Facebook along with Cornell University and the University of California - San Francisco — conducted an experiment on 700,000 Facebook users without their knowledge.  The purpose was to study “emotional contagion through social networks.”  Here’s an excerpt from the Slate article linked above (please read the article) by Katy Waldman:

“They tweaked the algorithm by which Facebook sweeps posts into members’ news feeds, using a program to analyze whether any given textual snippet contained positive or negative words. Some people were fed primarily neutral to happy information from their friends; others, primarily neutral to sad. Then everyone’s subsequent posts were evaluated for affective meanings.

“The upshot? Yes, verily, social networks can propagate positive and negative feelings!

“The other upshot: Facebook intentionally made thousands upon thousands of people sad.”

(It’s worth noting, I think, that Cornell was one of 44 U.S. universities and colleges and scores of prisons, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies that participated in the U.S. government’s Project MKUltra, which conducted dangerous and sometimes life-altering and even fatal mind experiments on an unknown number of “subjects” without their knowledge or consent using LSD and other drugs, sensory deprivation, hypnosis, and various forms of verbal and sexual abuse and torture.  Fucking with people’s minds without their consent is nothing new at Cornell.  You may find this hard to believe, but I assure you it’s not a crazy conspiracy theory, it’s a matter of public record.)

Researchers from Facebook, Cornell, and UCSF found that, yes, they can alter moods.  Does that mean they should?  I don’t think the experiment involved that particular question.

Given the number of people on Facebook who suffer from a variety of mental and emotional vulnerabilities, this is rather disturbing, and it seems potentially dangerous.  But Facebook simply sniffs at such nonsense and claims we all gave consent when we agreed to the terms of service.  (If you read the Slate article, you’ll see that this claim may not be entirely accurate in this case.)  Add to that everything we’ve learned about the U.S. government’s massive surveillance of our internet activities and given its past history of experimenting on unknowing "subjects" and, even if you’re not paranoid, it’s a little creepy.

I’m not trying to scare anyone, I’m simply pointing out that Facebook isn’t just a “social network.”  It has become an active part of the daily lives of hundreds of millions of people.  And even when it’s not fucking with our psyches, it’s doing something else that’s just as significant:

It is sucking time out of our lives like a thirsty vampire on a neck.

I’ve had some health problems in recent years, and I’ve found that, when I’m feeling unwell, or if I’m experiencing stress or overwhelmed by day-to-day worries, I definitely should not be on Facebook.  Does knowing that stop me?  No.  Sometimes when I’m not feeling well and I’m finding it hard to concentrate, Facebook can be a tempting go-to activity instead of pushing on with work and trying to write.  This is a bad thing.  When I’m not feeling well, I tend to be bothered by things that normally wouldn’t bother me and I can become irritable, sometimes to the point of lashing out at others who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

For example, after I'd gotten into the habit of wishing everyone happy birthday every day and it had become a habit, there were days when I would get preoccupied and forget until the end of the day.  Did I dismiss this and try harder to remember the next day?  No.  I felt horrible about, sometimes horrible enough for it to alter my mood for hours.  I worried that people would notice I’d wished happy birthday to others but not to them and would think I had something against them.  If you’re familiar with how Facebook works, you know this is a ridiculous concern.  I knew that, too.  But did that stop me from feeling bad about it?  No.

Even when Facebook is not intentionally messing your head, Facebook can mess with your head. 

I’m not saying Facebook is entirely a bad thing.  It allows us to stay in touch with people we rarely or never see in person, connects us to new and interesting people, and can be used for productive networking.  But unless approached with some caution and restraint, it can be a bad thing.  And if you’re a writer who needs solitude to work, inviting a few hundred or a few thousand people into your workplace when you should be working is not a good idea.

As I write this, I have temporarily deactivated my Facebook account.  I just need a little time to reset my brain, some days and nights in which logging onto Facebook is not a tempting diversion or, worse, something I feel obligated to do.  If you find that Facebook has become the tail that wags your dog, you may want to do the same.  If you find that difficult to do, keep one little fact in mind:

To Facebook, you are a lab rat.

Friday, August 1, 2014

My Summer So Far

It’s been more than a month since my last blog post, so I think I’ve firmly established the fact that I am not a regular blogger.  Lately, I’ve been trying to put a dent in a pile of backed-up work, and I haven’t been popping my head out of the hole much.  Among other things, I’ve been researching the geological history of Washington state.  And my brain hurts.

People often make a mistaken assumption about writers.  Someone who can write books, the assumption goes, must be brilliant.  The people who make this assumption also seem to forget how many books have been written by Kardashians.

Granted, the chances that any of the Kardashians actually wrote any of the books that bear their names are pretty slim.  In fact, if I weren’t a writer and actually had a lot of money to wager, I’d bet heavily against those chances.  Maybe the Kardashians were a bad example, but you get my point.

My experience has been that writing often makes me feel pretty dumb because it’s always reminding me of how much I don't know.

While researching Washington state geology, I encountered what appeared to me to be a different language.  The jargon, the terminology — after a few paragraphs, my head felt ready to explode.  I was writing a prologue that didn’t need to be very long, but somehow I had to give the impression that I had a handle on the subject matter.  With zero knowledge of the field of geology, I found that impossible to do in the time I had.  The suggestion was made that I “fake it,” a notion that made me freeze up because I didn’t know how to fake something I didn’t understand.  I knew what I wanted that prologue to be, I knew what I wanted it to do.  But that would require a lot more reading and learning and I just didn’t have the time for that.  I didn’t write the prologue I had in mind, but I think I accomplished what I needed to do just the same.

If you think you’re pretty smart, maybe a little above average, try writing a novel.  It will make you aware of the oceans of things you don’t know, of the mountains of information that you may be able to access but not necessarily understand, of all the little day-to-day details of life you pay no attention to and about which you know so little.  In short, writing a novel can make you feel like an idiot.

This is the first time I’ve worked on multiple projects at once.  In the past, I’ve always worked on one at a time because each one so totally consumed my brain that I couldn’t even think about working on anything else.  Hell, sometimes I've gotten so wrapped up in a book, I have a hard time functioning without Dawn around to remind me to put on my pants.

One project at a time is no longer possible, so I’m training myself to rotate projects.  It hasn’t been quite as difficult as I expected because I’ve found that as I get older, I’m not as intensely focused as I used to be.  One drawback of that is that I’m more easily distracted, but a benefit is that I can move more easily between projects.  That has enabled me to write several short stories, work on an unfinished novel, and start a new one all in one summer.

Since my last blog post, I have not found a cure for my insomnia and still end up spending the wee hours staring at the TV with sleepy eyes.  I’ve seen some good movies.

I remember reading Roger Ebert’s review of Barney's Version, screenwriter Michael Konyves’s adaptation of Mordecai Richler’s novel, directed by Richard J. Lewis.  I wanted to see the movie immediately, but it was playing in selected theaters and none of the theaters in my area had been selected.  When we got a free weekend of HBO earlier this year, I recorded the movie, and it’s been on the DVR ever since.  I recently watched it late one night.

Paul Giamatti plays paunchy, balding, cigar-smoking TV producer Barney Panofsky, an unremarkable man who makes some remarkably bad decisions.  For example, he walks out of his own wedding reception to follow a beautiful woman, one of the guests he’s just met, all the way to the train station to tell her he’s madly in love with her.  But, to be fair, she does turn out to be the love of his life.  Ebert summed up the movie beautifully:  “Barney's Version tells the story of a man distinguished largely by his flaws and the beautiful woman who loves him in spite of them.”  It’s a funny, sad, infuriating movie that’s messy in the same way that life and people are messy.  Giamatti, as usual, is outstanding, and Dustin Hoffman is hilarious as Barney’s retired detective father.

Writer-director Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene from 2011 is a quietly disturbing story about a young woman, Martha (Elizabeth Wilson), who escapes the cult she’s been in to go live with her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy).  She doesn’t tell them she’s been in a cult, and I’m not sure she knows she’s been in a cult.  I don’t think the word “cult” is ever spoken in the movie.  What we see is the damage done to Martha during the time she spent with the cult, the way the leader, Patrick (John Hawkes), stays with her even though she left him behind.  It’s a haunting movie about the effects of mind control, how it changes the way Martha sees herself, others, and the world.  Wilson gives a quietly convincing performance that will stay with you.

The best movie I’ve seen in some time is last year’s Prisoners, written by Aaron Guzikowski and directed by Denis Villeneuve.  When two little girls disappear, their parents are frantic and the police immediately begin following leads.  But when the girls are not found, Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) caves under the pressure and kidnaps and tortures a young man he believes is either involved in the kidnaping himself or knows something about it.  Meanwhile, Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) is dealing with evidence, suspects, and the unstable and irrational Dover.

I don’t want to reveal any more than that about the story because I don’t want to deflate the experience for you.  Prisoners is best watched cold, knowing as little as possible about it, preferably nothing.  It’s the kind of movie that makes you forget you’re watching a movie.  It’s not a pleasant experience — it’s disturbing and painful and frightening, it's not light entertainment — but it is definitely a vivid and electric experience.  And a hell of a movie.
If you’re craving some political soap opera while you wait for the next season of House of Cards, you might want to check out Boss starring Kelsey Grammer as Chicago mayor Tom Kane, a man fighting to retain power while gradually being overtaken by a degenerative neurological disorder that is destroying his mind.  It’s a compelling series, but it was cancelled after the second season without resolving its storylines, which is rather frustrating.  Grammer was so good for so long in the role of Frasier Crane that it’s still difficult to adjust to him in a different role, but he’s equally good here playing a radically character.
Other than that, my summer so far has been pretty damned hot.  Yesterday, Dawn and I went out in the afternoon and the thermometer in her car read 113 degrees.  I’m ready for winter already.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Professional Wrestling with Monsters


I saw Godzilla recently.  Dawn and I don’t go to movies often these days for a few reasons.  The cost, for one.  Then there’s the audience, which usually includes a number of people who seem to believe themselves to be alone in their living rooms.  And there’s also the fact that we’re just not that interested in the movies Hollywood is turning out lately.  But Godzilla was different.

I wonder how many hours of my childhood I spent watching kaiju destroy Japan and each other.  Japanese monster movies were common on TV back then, especially on the weekends.  On Sunday morning, there was Johnny Sokko and His Giant Robot, and every weekday afternoon there was Ultraman.  The 1960s and 1970s were a TV paradise for monster-lovin’ kids.

You might remember those two Japanese series, but I’ve found that they weren’t syndicated in all areas because I’ve met a number of people my age who have never heard of them.  Ultraman was my favorite.  The original series from 1966-67 took place in the 1990s, a decade during which, as we all know now, gigantic monsters and nefarious space aliens were relentlessly screwing with humanity, especially in Japan.  With that kind of kaiju fuckery going on all the time, you need a well-equipped team to deal with it, and in Ultraman, that was the United Nations Scientific Investigation Agency (although in the Japanese language version, it was the Science Special Search Party, or SSSP), but I remember the group being referred to simply as the Science Patrol.  My favorite quirk of the show was that the members of the Science Patrol frequently would be seen wandering through a field looking for a giant monster, but behaving as if they were looking for a lost contact lens, until one of them suddenly looked up, pointed dramatically, and shouted, “Look!  A monstah!”

Johnny Sokko and His Giant Robot was similar in that it featured an organization that protected earth from annoying aliens and giant monsters, mechanical or living.  In the series, Earth is under constant threat by the Gargoyle Gang, led by the vaguely Cthulhu-like Emperor Guillotine, who issues commands from his undersea fortress.  They are constantly battling the force for good in this series, which is the organization known as Unicorn.  Johnny Sokko is a little boy who, through a series of outlandish events, winds up in control of a giant robot.  Johnny and his robot go to work for Unicorn, and lots of action and adventure result.

Both shows were primo entertainment for kids because they worked on kid logic.  They were brilliantly designed to appeal to children.  The daikaiju feature films had bigger budgets, though, and were the precursor to these television series.  But all of this really came from the fertile imagination of a man named Eiji Tsuburaya, who virtually invented the kaiju genre and, for decades, single-handedly protected earth from nasty aliens and giant monsters.  Tsuburaya was the special effects wizard behind Godzilla, Ultraman, and a host of giant monsters.  He was the godfather of kaiju.

I’d made my way through several Godzilla movies before I finally saw the U.S. cut of the 1954 original starring Perry Mason.  (Yes, I know it was Raymond Burr, but I’m sorry, back then, Raymond Burr in black-and-white had no other identity for me than Perry Mason.)  I had seen Godzilla only in color, and usually fighting with other monsters, so the grim black-and-white movie kind of caught me off guard.  I didn’t care for it.  The movie was uneven, choppy, and Perry Mason kept popping up to pontificate, which I found annoying, and it threw the whole thing off for me.  Years later, I saw the original Japanese cut (under the title GOJIRA) and thought it was a much better movie than the American release.  In that movie, of course, Godzilla was a metaphor for the nuclear nightmare that fell on Japan only ten years earlier.  I was a little kid.  Metaphors didn’t interest me.  Monster fights did.

I recognized that the movies were terribly silly and I enjoyed mocking the laughable English dubbing.  But there were so many things to love about them that it didn’t matter how bad they were.

When I watch them now, they look to me like some weird branch of professional wrestling, like the unholy offspring of the WWE and GWAR sent back to the ‘60s in a time machine.  The Japanese monster movies I saw most often when I was a kid were essentially professional-wrestling-style matches between guys in rubber suits on miniature sets with explosions and fire, hilarious English dubbing, and music that was overwrought, comical, or both.  But if you look a little closer, there’s a lot to admire.

I was crazy for puppets and puppetry when I was a kid and I think that had something to do with my attraction to those films, because there’s a lot of puppetry going on in most of them (something I recognized even as a small boy, so they weren’t terribly convincing — but no less engrossing).  There’s also a lot of artistry in the miniatures and cinematography, and in those imaginative monsters themselves, the rubber suits that became so colossal and fearsome with some sound effects, music, and a little visual tampering.  The visuals did not fool me for a second — I don’t think they fooled anyone — but that makes it all the more significant that I was mesmerized by them.  Young people watching those movies today probably would laugh their asses off at the effects.  But they would do so having no clue whatsoever as to how powerful and consuming those movies and TV series were to children forty years ago.

The thing I remember most vividly about them is that they fired up my imagination like nothing else.  They started the gears and cogs of my creativity turning when I was a boy.  In fact, they were so stimulating that, while watching them, I was usually drawing or writing.  They MADE me create.

Some were better than others, and some were absolute dreck, but even the bad ones had their charm.  I didn’t watch them for the drama or suspense because there really wasn’t any, and certainly not for the stories because who knew what those people on the screen were actually saying under all that dubbing?  I watched for the special effects.  Even back then, these were not state-of-the-art effects.  They were guys in rubber suits.  But somehow ... it all worked.  They suggested ... and we imagined the rest.

Even when I was laughing at them, mocking them, it didn’t take long for me to fall into those movies like Alice falling down the rabbit hole.  They created a goofy world that somehow made sense to a kid, and they were a hell of a lot of fun.  My dad, who responded to my taste in television viewing with derisive snorts and sneers, thought Japanese monster movies were absolutely the dumbest things EVER.  And yet, even he would fall down that hole with me and get involved if he was in the room when one was on TV.

I was especially fond of the movies that starred a whole cast of monsters, like Destroy All Monsters or Godzilla on Monster Island.  They were monster free-for-alls.  Ghidorah was a big favorite of mine because whenever he was in a movie, a buttload of monsters joined him.  And he had three heads on long snake-like necks — how fucking cool is THAT?

One of my favorites that did not include Godzilla was War of the Gargantuas.  I was fascinated by the tale of two giant, hairy monsters, the brown one docile and friendly, the green one violent and dangerous.  I haven’t seen that movie in about forty years, and I prefer it that way.  I’m sure I wouldn’t like it now, and I prefer to remember it as the movie I loved as a boy.  Decades later, I was shocked to learn that the movie was originally shot as a sequel to Frankenstein Conquers the World ... which is probably my LEAST favorite daikaiju movie.

A giant Frankenstein monster?  Really?  It seems like a bad idea now, but when I was nine ... it still seemed like a bad idea.  It conjured mental images of a colossal Boris Karloff in his Frank Pierce makeup bellowing “Fire bad!” as the oil refinery he just stepped on bursts into flaming explosions.  I still wince at the notion of combining Mary Shelly’s monster with guys in rubber suits and miniature sets, but I’ve met plenty of people who hold that as their favorite daikaiju (giant Japanese monster movie).  It just didn’t work for me.  Except as comedy.  But did I watch?  Are you out of your mind, of course I watched!

I have a difficult time making it all the way through one of those movies now.  That’s okay because they weren’t made for 51-year-old men, they were made for kids.  But after all that time spent in that goofy world, how could I not give the new Godzilla the full treatment by seeing it as it was meant to be seen — on the big screen in 3D?

I was kind of excited about seeing the Big Guy on the big screen for the first time, but I have to admit my expectations weren’t very high.  They were, however, significantly surpassed.  It was much better than Roland Emmerich’s 1998 movie in which an iguanadon, or whatever the hell it was, was foisted onto the public as Godzilla in an unfunny hoax that was appreciated by no one I know.

2014's Godzilla shows some respect and affection for the monster’s tradition.  It went to some lengths to include engrossing human interaction (although, to be honest, I think it could have tried a little harder, but that's just me being picky).  There are no guys in rubber suits, of course, because this is the digital age in which all special effects are small enough to be accomplished in a little computer.  I prefer the days when they were actually done in front of the camera by creative people who had to fold, spindle, or mutilate their imaginations to realize their vision.  But those in charge of the digital effects for Godzilla were fond enough of the monster’s history to give that CGI beast a look that suggested a guy in a rubber suit.  I cannot tell you how much I appreciated that little bone thrown to th

ose of us who grew up with the monster.  It was a big-budget blockbuster movie with familiar modern-day stars, but it managed to conjure the spirit of the daikaiju of my childhood.

Come on, admit it.  We need our giant monsters!  They’re far more threatening than terrorists, they’re much scarier than natural disasters ... but they’re not real.  They exist only in our imaginations ... like Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, and the invisible friends of our childhood.  We need those monsters, no matter what shape they take — on the screen or just in our heads — like we needed those childhood imaginary friends.  They help us to deal with life’s ugliness — the school shootings, the unemployment rate (the real one, not the one the government is reporting), and the enormous surplus of hatred and vitriol that exists in this country (and on our planet in general).

Go ahead, let your daikaiju freak flag fly!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Climbing Out of the Hole: Some Serious Advice for Writers

I feel like I’ve been living in a hole for the last year and a half.  In addition to having throat surgery to remove some precancerous tissue from a vocal cord, I’ve been sick with GI problems that have become, at times, quite severe.  I improved after cutting gluten from my diet — believe me, as sick as I was, I rolled my eyes while I was doing it because it has become such a fad.  But I have since been diagnosed with celiac disease, which forces me to maintain a gluten-free diet even at the risk of looking like an annoying hipster.  I still have some problems that need to be diagnosed, but I think the worst is over.  And the worst, for me, was not the GI distress.

For a year and a half, I had an increasingly difficult time concentrating.  At first, I thought it was simply because I felt so bad.  I can write through physical pain (as long as it’s not too intense), but nausea, vomiting, severe cramps, and frequent dashes to the bathroom make it difficult to be creative.  I soon realized it was more than that.  It wasn’t only disrupting my work, it was making it difficult to read anything or follow a movie or TV show or even hold a conversation.  My head was foggy in a way that went beyond merely feeling unwell.

I’m sure that was the result of having undiagnosed celiac disease for however long I had it, because it robs you of the nutrients you need to do things like finish a sentence or a thought.  Well after I struck gluten from my menu, lab work revealed that my sodium level was alarmingly low.  That can cause all kinds of problems, including a decrease in cognition that can range from not being able to concentrate to not being able to remember your name.

The result of this is that I have been unable to write.  And for someone who’s written every day of his life since he was a child, suddenly being unable to do it is terrifying.  Oh, I could type out a paragraph or two, but compared to my normal productivity, that was a joke, and I was unable to maintain the writing enough to tell a story.  I managed to write a couple of short stories during this time, but holy crap, was it difficult and it took a horrifyingly long time.

That has changed recently.  I’m writing again, trying to get back into a productive routine, and I’m ready to tackle projects that have been languishing while I’ve been sick, like the follow-up to Frankenstorm, finishing Poker Night for Kings Way Press, putting together a “Little Book” for Borderlands, and finishing a couple of short stories.  A lot of people have been extremely patient and supportive during this time, like Gary Goldstein at Kensington, Zach Powell at KWP, my agent Richard Curtis, Thom Monteleone at Borderlands, and my friends, who have so patiently listened to me gripe about all of this for so long.

I’ve managed to get at least one short story out of all this.  I’ve had a lot of lab work done lately, including a stool sample.  I’ve never done one of those before, and I found that it’s every bit as unpleasant as I always imagined.  A couple of days ago, I turned in a story to Jeani Rector, who’s editing a new anthology.  It’s called “The Sample” and it’s about the worst experience imaginable with a stool sample.  I may not have been able to write much lately, but life never stops providing material for stories.

I’ve learned something from this that I want to pass on to other writers, aspiring or otherwise.  This is advice commonly given to new writers by veterans, but it applies to all, no matter how much of a veteran you may think you are.  This is the advice:


Create a writing regimen and stick to it.  I did for thirty years — until last year.  Each day, I felt a little worse and started putting off even attempting to write.  This was a colossal mistake.  I should have stuck to the routine, I should have kept writing even if all I wrote was “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over again.

Once you stop, time begins to pass very quickly, even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment.  Next thing you know, six months have gone by ... eight months ... a year ... and you haven’t written a goddamned thing.  And then fear starts to set in.  What if I sit down and try and find that I can't?  What if it's all practice and once you stop practicing you lose it?  What if I've lost it?  Those are dangerous thoughts to have because they can become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Writing is a weird and elusive thing.  One of the most common reasons people with an interest in writing never do it is that they lack the discipline to make themselves do it every day and stick with a story or book to the end.  But I’m here to tell you that even when you have that discipline and you’ve been exercising it every day of your life for a long time, it can so easily be lost.  When you have it for a long time and do it every day, you lose your awareness of it.  It becomes your life.  And if it stops, for whatever reason ... well, if you take your writing seriously (and especially if it’s your livelihood) it can be pretty damned scary.

I’m dealing with that right now, and I’ve been scared a lot lately.  I have crawled out of the hole to warn you about it.  Guard that writing regimen with your life.  If you have the discipline to write, know that it’s a rare thing and it’s not anchored in stone.  It can be lost.

Don’t lose it.