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Allora Andiamo a Italia

GIVE ME YOUR RED WINE. ALL OF IT.

GIVE ME YOUR RED WINE. ALL OF IT.

So, as you read this I am either on a plane drinking heavily or in Italy drinking heavily. Or possibly in an airport lounge drinking heavily. Wherever: Drinkin’. Because that’s what one does on vacation when that someone is: Me.

I am a man of various odd rules and requirements that often defy explanation, and one of those rules is that when I travel to a foreign country I must at least attempt to learn a bit of the language. This is partially because of an urge to be respectful to other cultures, partially because tourists who can’t speak any English at all irritate me so I would be something of a hypocrite otherwise, and partially because I very much want to be able to shout help me I am being eaten by a horde of mice when in foreign land. Also: no I am not an agent of the CIA stop electrocuting my nipples or please do not take my reluctance to eat that as an insult.

So, I’ve been trying to learn a bit of Italian. My efforts have been slightly stymied by general incompetence. I’ve wanted to learn a second language for a long time, and I’ve frankly been kind of amazed that I could have grown up in Jersey City, New Jersey and not learned a licked of Spanish. This general feeling of Fail Shame has been pretty oppressive, and whenever I meet someone who speaks English as a second language my jealousy and sense of inferiority is pretty epic.

Because it’s not like I haven’t tried.

AGRICOLARUM ALARUM

I went to an all-boys Jesuit high school, so I took two years of Latin. Latin! Believe me, 14-year old Jeff couldn’t believe it either. Absolutely none of it stuck, of course; I was far too busy memorizing batting averages and masturbating to actually learn anything, which is the Basic Fail of all American education. If you ask me, school should start at age four, then take a break at twelve through, say, thirty, then pick up again. Under the Somers Plan we graduate at age forty, broken and ready to sit at a desk for the rest of our sad lives before being made into Soylent to sustain those who come after.

But I digress.

I also took two years of Spanish, which should have been great, but I left school speaking less Spanish than when I started school. As a high school freshman I had a large complement of curses and insults in Spanish, when I graduated I knew nothing. At one point a teacher tried to convince me that my name would be Gofredo in Spanish, which was confusing; isn’t your name just your name?

So, after four years of letting some kid named Ian do my Latin homework and responding ¡No es bueno! to every exam question, I somehow graduated, but with no usable language skills at all. I can only conclude that I was a pretty cute kid.

Tais-toi, Chien Américain!

The Duchess is determined to travel the world despite the fact that the world is a terrible place, and despite the fact that I do not want to travel at all. I don’t even want to leave the house. I am so in charge of my own destiny, in fact, that I have traveled to several foreign countries despite my oft-stated desire not to do so.

We went to France once, and I spent months trying to learn some French. I worked at it, man, and by the time we arrived in Paris I was confident I had the sort of pidgin French that Americans have been relying on for years. Here’s how every single interaction went:

JEFF: French french french french french.

FRENCH PERSON: <sigh> Want to speak English?

Every. Single. Time.

Now, no doubt my French was awful. No doubt their English was excellent. Still, I remain enraged by these interactions. What’s the point of the immense weight of privilege I drag around with me everywhere I go if I can’t insist on speaking my half-assed French whenever I wish, forcing the poor citizens of France to adapt to my feeble communication skills?

SImilarly, when we were in Florence a few years ago I made an initial attempt at Italian, and upon arrival at our hotel I proudly introduced myself to the owner in Italian, or at least I thought I did. He smiled broadly, and said “Very good! Now we will speak in English.”

Fuckers.

 

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Day Breaks, Mind Aches

Paul stumbled over the curb and caught himself just in time, his briefcase a counterbalance. Without looking up he kept going, hoping to leave behind whatever minor embarrassment there was. He craved coffee. He thought it was almost a palpable sensation, his cells crying out for caffeine and threatening to afflict him with headaches if he didn’t supply it, and soon. He looked up from the steady scroll of sidewalk beneath him and blinked around: it was a bright, sunny day, ice cold and crisp. He could see his usual coffee cart off in the distance, a shiny tin box that gleamed in the squinting sunlight. Glancing at his watch, he calculated the line of four people waiting their turn at the cart and figured he wouldn’t be too much later if he stopped to get a tall cup, instead of choking down the cheap crap they brewed at the office.

Paul had a theory on lateness, one which he had developed over the years through extensive first-hand research. He’d concluded that lateness fell into several defined categories, and that within each category was a lot of wiggle room, so that once you passed from one category into a worse category, it didn’t matter whether you ended up in that category by a hair or a mile. For example, he’d determined that the first stage was actually not even lateness, it was Later On Time, and was basically defined as anywhere up to fifteen minutes past your appointment. If you were supposed to be in by nine in the morning, anywhere from 9:01 to 9:15 was considered Later On Time–that was, not exactly late, but certainly not quite on time. It was a grace period, really. Once the clock on your bosses desk clicked past nine, however, you were in that first category of Later On Time until it clicked past 9:15. Which meant that once you passed nine, you might as well relax and take your time and get there by 9:14 or so–your category wouldn’t improve no matter what you did, then.

He’d refined this theory extensively. 9:16–9:45 he categorized as merely Late; 9:45–10:00 was Very Late, and 10:00–10:30 was Egregiously Late. After 10:30, he turned around and went home and called in sick instead of struggling onward like a beetle tied to a pin. He’d also mapped out all of his standard routes and movements and knew how long it took him to accomplish every task and every leg of his commute. He knew how long it took him to buy a newspaper, depending on which stand he went to. He knew which buses got him where and when, on average. He had memorized the subway schedules and had timed his stride, so he could estimate new times when his usual routes were blocked. This allowed him to determine, with a high level of accuracy, exactly how late he was and how much later any deviation from the norm would make him.

Eyeing the coffee cart a block away, he decided that assuming one more person got on its line before him, it would add four and a half minutes to his walk to work, which would get him there by 9:23. Since not stopping for coffee wouldn’t shave off enough time to lower him from Late to Later On Time, there was no reason not to.

Blinking, he glanced up and shaded his eyes from the sun. It seemed huge, yellow and cold. Certainly, it seemed much larger than usual. But his head was a little fogged with a hangover, and he figured a good cup of coffee would reduce the size of everything in his perception. He walked more purposefully, intent on getting the day going, and thus getting it over with. He had his evening planned out: a dinner of leftovers, a fresh bottle of bourbon for some cocktails, a good movie on television. He wanted to erase days, scrub them off him. His memories of the night before were vague, and the night before that were gone completely. He had a constant sensation of floating bodilessly through time and space, and he liked it that way. It was a form of immortality.

Calm and satisfied, his mind blank, he got on the end of the short line and resigned himself to wait. Some people made chit-chat with the proprietor of the cart, some people just thrust money at him and barked demands. Paul figured it all evened out, time-wise, and didn’t worry overmuch. He calculated that with the volume of pedestrians on the street that morning (heavier than usual) he was probably about ten minutes away from work. Eight if he trotted, but his head didn’t feel like trotting, and so vetoed the concept.

The line moved forward by one, and Paul noted how the shadows on the ground seemed to be moving, circling around them as if clouds were moving rapidly across the sky. Frowning, he glanced up at the sky, shielding his eyes from the light. He froze in place.

From behind him someone said “What the fuck?”

The sun was obscured, he thought at first, by a bunch of black dots. Things flying between him and it, or maybe some weird optical illusion. After a moment of squinting up from under his hand, however, he realized that it was the sun itself.

“Holy shit,” he muttered to himself, backing up to gain a better view. He blinked and looked down, and the world seemed darker, the shadows deeper, the air cooler against his skin. He looked back up, and the dots were spreading, slowly, encompassing the whole of the star.

A woman’s scream pierced his attention, and he whipped his head back to the street around him, and sound came rushing in: screams, shouts, car horns. Chaos, everywhere around him. For a moment he was frozen in place, staring alternately at the sight of the sun going out, one minute piece at a time, and at the darkening world around him, gloom growing around him, fooling his eye and making him imagine that it was thick and edible, impossible to breathe. He didn’t know what to do, where to go. It couldn’t possibly be what he thought it was, that was impossible. And yet, there it was: the sun dimming, right there, turning black like a piece of fruit on high-speed film.

People pushed past him and he let them spin him about. He didn’t understand where they were going, what the point was. If the sun was…if the sun was going out, there was nothing to do. He knew it took light from the sun eight and a half minutes to reach the Earth. Eight and a half minutes after whatever cataclysm was occurring out there in space finished, the last rays of sunlight would touch the Earth’s surface, and everything would be cold and darkness and the irrefutable forces of the universe tearing themselves apart.

Eight and a half minutes. He guessed people were struggling to make it to their loved ones, to seek some sort of safety, maybe just to find out what was going on. But he knew there wasn’t time for any of that, even if radiation wasn’t already ruining radio and television signals, even if the satellites orbiting the Earth had not already been dosed with lethal rays. Even assuming they were not all going to come down with some Andromeda-Strain sunburn from whatever was happening up there, there wouldn’t be time.
He dropped his money on the sidewalk, coffee forgotten, and started to run.

He went against the tide of people because he was running towards his job. The Seventeenth floor in a charmless building with not enough windows and too many walls, and he had never, ever run towards it, even when he was slipping into Egregiously Late.

Most people were running the other way, and he ticked off the seconds that running against the stream was costing him. He looked to his left and dodged diagonally, amazed that no one thought to run in the street despite the fact that traffic had slowed to a crawl, with several accidents already clogging the ways. In the bicycle lane he made better time and adjusted his calculations, but then in the clogged intersection of Flagg and Marble streets someone hit him like a linebacker and knocked him to the street. Before he knew what was happening, hands were on him, pulling at him, and a red face staring down at him.

“What’s going on?” the face demanded. “What’s happening?”

Paul just stared up at the man, speechless. He wanted to say he didn’t know, he wanted to tell the man that no one knew, that if anyone knew they’d have warned the world, but then he thought, maybe not. If he’d known, maybe he wouldn’t have said anything, because it was terrible to think of the world ending like this, in chaos and terror. Better, he thought, that it end in ignorance, with everyone peaceful, and quiet.

The man dropped Paul and ran off, and for another few seconds Paul lay, dazed, and reconsidered again, thinking that maybe a week’s or a day’s warning would have given people the chance to contemplate, to meditate, to consider how they would leave this life. Maybe that would have been best.

Like a stopwatch, the time intruded upon his thoughts, and Paul pushed himself up, recalculating based on his delay. Then he deftly threaded his way through the traffic of people and continued running, his sides burning, his clothes too much now, too hot and scratchy. His building bobbed and weaved ahead, deceptively far away, but Paul ate up the blocks, the press of people thinning blessedly, for some reason. The pounding of his feet became the only sound and rhythm he was aware of, the beat and timing of his life.

The office building was a chaos of people, most of them just standing in the lobby peering out the glass doors at the sun as it rotted right before their eyes. Paul pushed through them and decided to skip the elevators entirely, smashing through the fire doors and bounding up the stairs. His breath burned, his heart was pounding, but in his mind his countdown had reached three minutes, and he knew he didn’t have any time to lose, or to catch his breath. Energy surged through him, crazy, meaningless energy that made him giddy. On the fifth floor, with spots flashing before his eyes in time with his pounding heart, with the dusty air choking him, he found himself shaking with laughter. As he bounded up the landing between the fifth and sixth floors, he let out a choked whoop, a war-cry that echoed off the green walls.

The world was ending, and Paul rushed upwards to meet it’s doom.

Landings swept by, downwards, barely noticed. His vision narrowed to the steps before him, his whole body was slicked with sweat, and gritty from the dust he was kicking up. Ominous creakings and groans floated around him in the dimness, as if the building were about to fall down on him, but he pushed himself further up and further in, laughing painfully the whole way in-between chest-busting gasps for air.

He went past his own floor, kept going up. He’d been a smoker, earlier, and had always hated having to exit the building just to smoke a cigarette, so he’d found his way up to the roof and knew that the door was always easily opened, the lock was old and rusty and snapped open with some gentle coercion. Paul bounded from the stairs in the utter darkness of the service corridor and attacked the door, counting off time in his head. By his estimates, he had thirty seconds. He threw himself against the metal door and heard a satisfying creak, but the door held.

“Come on, you prick,” he panted, backing up and wiping his hands on his pants, ridiculously, before launching himself against the door again. He crashed into it, and it snapped open so violently he sailed through the doorway and crashed onto the roof, tearing up his clothes and hands on the rough surface. Laughing, bleeding, he struggled up onto his knees and looked around.

The weather had turned violently; the wind was roaring and lightning flashed in the nearly-black sky. The sun was being engulfed by the sky, eaten, sucked dry. Rotting, right before him. Below, muffled by the wind, the city was delirious. Paul threw his arms out, unable to explain or even pause to consider the jolly, happy energy that burned through him.

“Come on, then! Come on!” he roared into it, trembling.

The sky disappeared, everything disappeared, and for one incomprehensible moment there was just a sudden freezing cold and the roof beneath him, and his own laughter, and then the frozen blackness reached down and found him.

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A Drop of the Dull, Hard Stuff

I Miss Typewriters

I Miss Typewriters

When I was pup, sipping small beer and learning all my curse words from VHS tapes, I imagined the Writing Life to be pretty leisurely. I’d sell a novel, be recognized as a genius, and spend my days tapping out words while publishers delivered a steady stream of gifts in order to win my favor.

It didn’t exactly turn out that way.

A lot of writers, however, still think that way—that writing is all about being creative and creating and butt-in-the-seat and all that. Which it is, of course, Except there’s a lot of other stuff involved. Dull, boring stuff. For example, here’s what I’ve done over the last thirty days or so:

  • Written and revised a 15,000 word book proposal
  • Written a half dozen idea pitches for stories
  • Written a short story longhand
  • Transcribed a short story from longhand
  • Submitted a dozen short stories to various markets
  • Discussed a reprint of a previously published short story
  • Written a few dozen freelance pieces
  • Negotiated a reprint (in Sweden!) of an article I wrote
  • Completed a novel
  • Began two novels

Aside from the freelance stuff, none of this has an immediate or even certain paycheck; it’s all spec. And it’s a lot of work, between staying organized and awake (and sometimes sober). And that’s what a lot writing careers look like—a whole lot of hustle.

Now someone go buy one of my books so I’ll have beer money.

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How to Survive the Crushing Inevitability of Your Own Death

WHAT THE

WHAT THE

Friends, you’re going to die.

As certain as you’re sitting on the crapper right now reading this, you’re going to not be here soon enough. Terrifyingly soon. Death is so pants-shittingly terrifying, in fact, that all of the world’s religions – and by extension all of the atrocities and wars that have been waged in their names – were invented with the sole purpose of making you feel better about it. You may think – or have been told – that religion is about philosophy, or morality, or some other aspect of life. You have been lied to. Religion is about telling you there’s a fucking purpose to all this and you will continue on as a mind forever voyaging after you croak.

You won’t.

Of course, I don’t know that, any more than you know you will. The universe is infinite and unknowable and for all we know we will be greeted by Cooter from The Dukes of Hazzard when we die, handed a Monster energy drink, and asked who we’d like to be reborn as. Why the fuck not.

Until we find out what’s going to happen, we have just one job: Keeping the faith that all this somehow, impossibly, matters. Otherwise, what’s the point?

That faith is powerful shit, isn’t it. Because no matter what you tell your friends, your wife, your therapist, your priest or your mullah, you don’t know anything about what’s going to happen to you or to anyone and so every plan you make, every precaution, is raw faith, isn’t it. The fact that you think you’ll still be here in five seconds is startlingly optimistic, my friend, considering the incredibly complex machinery inside of you, whirring and clicking and somehow hitting every beat.

But if you start to think about it, you start to realize that any thought that you might get of this life alive is just faith. And once you start down that rabbit hole, there’s no going back: Being conscious of your own demise is part of the human condition. It causes grown men to weep and everyone to ingest all manner of numbing substances, but the simple fact is, once you you realize you’re going to die someday, how do you keep going? Because what’s the fucking point?

Here’s how you keep going.

The Inner Swine’s Guide to Keeping on Keeping On in the Face of Certain, Doubtless Futility because You Yes You are Going to Die and Even if You Somehow Survive in Defiance of All Known Natural Laws the Sun Eventually Explodes and There. You. Are.

Step One: Denial

Difficulty Level: Infinite.

Reach down deep inside and find that part of you that is convinced that medical breakthroughs or wishes extracted from a Leprechaun or alien technology will save you and you’ll live forever or until you choose to stop flipping channels thousands of years from now and just die on your own terms.

That’s what it takes to handle your own eventual death, isn’t it? Faith that it won’t actually happen.

This might seem difficult, but of course if you think about it for a moment you’ll know that it is, in fact exactly the sort of faith you have every day when you get out of bed. Because when you get out of bed it is, apparently, with the expectation that you not be swallowed by a giant Leviathan, turned to pudding by a flesh-eating virus, or crushed beneath something so heavy it actually becomes a gravitational singularity and consumes the Earth. In other words, you’re living on faith already, my friend!

But you knew that. That’s why you chose to read this instead of making out a new will and getting your affairs in order.

Step Two: Booze

Difficulty Level: Molto Facile

Or, you know, whatever you’re used to using to cloud your sense of doom and make yourself feel better. Some people knit, or make their pets wear adorable little costumes and pretend to have tea with them.

Here’s the thing: Life is either short or infinite. Or maybe something very lengthy but not infinite somewhere between those two extremes, which is the same as short, so whatever. If life is short, best to enjoy your cocktails before your liver gives out, right? If life is infinite, then drink all you want, my friend, because why not?

So: Assuming you have enough faith to get out of bed in the morning, you might as well sit around day drinking. Really, nothing else makes any sense.

Step Three:

There is no Step Three.

 

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A Million Ways to Fail

How I Feel Most Saturday Mornings.

How I Feel Most Saturday Mornings.

One of the most awesome things about writing has to be the almost infinite chances it offers you to fail.

Even if we stick to the slim piece of reality that mortal minds can comprehend, we have quite a list:

  1. First, you can fail to even start writing that idea you have. It’s a nice, clean failure, but a failure nonetheless.
  2. Then, of course, you can fail to finish it. I estimate I’ve failed in this manner about 5,000 times. That’s a conservative estimate.
  3. Or you can finish it and then fail to do anything with the raw material.
  4. You can fail to heed feedback, advice, or proofreading marks.
  5. You can fail to show it around or submit it or make any other attempt to sell the piece or at least have it be read.
  6. You can submit it, and fail to sell it. And fail and fail and fail to sell it.
  7. You can sell it, and then fail to, you know, sell it.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. And the glorious future world we find ourselves in offers even more ways to fail, in terms of promotion and social media. So now you can not only fail to write something, or fail to finish something, or fail to sell it, but you can also fail to be interesting or clever enough on Twitter. The failure involved in writing just one novel is monumental.

And you wonder why writers drink and talk to cats. Well, why they drink more and talk back to cats, anyway.

The worst part, of course, is that most of the time this kind of failure is necessary in order to write anything and then get it out there. In one of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker books, he has a thing about people learning to fly in which he describes it as throwing yourself at the ground, then distracting yourself at the very last possible moment so that you forget to hit it. And that’s writing, sometimes, most times: Throwing yourself at a mountain of failure and then, somehow, distracting yourself from hitting it at the last possible moment and sailing over.

And how do I distract myself from Mount Failure? You guessed it: Whiskey. And cats.

BOOM

BOOM

BOOK FORT FTW

BOOK FORT FTW

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“The Sewer Rat” Free for Everyone

Free Sewer Rats for Everyone Sounds Kind of Weird, Doesn't It?

Free Sewer Rats for Everyone Sounds Kind of Weird, Doesn’t It?

Friends, a few months ago I announced a brand-new, 100% free Avery Cates short story, The Sewer Rat. The story was sent out to everyone who was signed up for my ass-kicking newsletter at the time. Did you sign up for my ass-kicking newsletter? No? Then for god’s sake do so immediately. There’s a form on the sidebar of this wee blog, as well as a link on my main web page.

So, those lucky folks got to read the story months ago, but now I’m releasing it for free everywhere through Smashwords. Because I am awesome. Go on and grab it, and look for it to slowly trickle into all the usual storefronts as well.

As a reminder, this isn’t the first time I’ve released a free story through Smashwords; to promote my novel Chum I released the ass-kicking short story Up the Crazy through Smashwords a few years ago, and that story remains a pretty great value at $0. It’s a “lost chapter” that links the novel Chum to my first-ever published novel Lifers, as the stories share a universe and some minor characters. You should totally download and read that one as well.

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My First Sale

SEVEN DOLLARS AND FIFTY CENTS WORTH OF PUDDING

SEVEN DOLLARS AND FIFTY CENTS WORTH OF PUDDING

The first short story I ever sold for actual money was Glad and Big, which appeared in Aberrations #34. The sale paid me the princely sum of 1/4 of a penny per word, which worked out to $7.50. That would be nearly twelve dollars in 2016 money, just in case you’re horrified that a writer of my caliber would sell a short story for single-digit monies.

At the time, of course, I was absolutely delighted. I’d had stories appear in zines and other non-paying markets, but this was the first time anyone had actually paid me for one, and naturally I thought of it (and still think of it) as a watershed moment in my career.

I never cashed the check. Part of this was the usual urge to hang onto a momentous thing like my first paycheck for fiction, and yes, part of it was the fact that even in 1995 $7.50 didn’t go far, so it almost wasn’t worth walking to the bank to cash it. Besides, if I’d deposited it, I wouldn’t have it to scan in and post here, now, would I?

Anyways, here’s the story itself. Written more than 20 years ago, I still like it quite a bit.

GLAD AND BIG

Life at Lee’s on second street had a pattern, one I liked well enough. It sucked at my heels with insistent attraction, pulling me back despite the heat and the same old people and the wooden seat worn smooth from years of my weight.

We usually played cards at the small square table in the big bay window, eating Lee’s filling specialties and drinking, smoking cigarettes, and ignoring everyone else. Sometimes I tried to stay away. It never worked. I always needed a drink and the only place to get one was Lee’s and my seat was always open.

That night it was raining and I felt pretty good. The conversation wasn’t too bad and it was warm inside, I was half-tanked all night and I had three packs of cigarettes to get through. Even in a crummy bar and grill like Lee’s, being inside with friends on a rainy night is a special kind of thing. Even being inside with people who drove you crazy like I was was still not bad.

(more…)

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Weekly Recap 8-19-16

recapWell, it sure didn’t take long for my Weekly Recap feature on this here blog to go the way of most of my ideas: Sailing serenely into incompetence. Instead of a Weekly Recap, this has been more of a Whenever I Am Sober at 5PM on a Friday Recap.

Still, the spirit is strong even if the typing fingers are weak, so here’s what’s happened, er, recently, since we might have to reach back a little more than a week to recap all the recappable stuff:

  • I attended the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference for the third year in a row; I gave my classic Plantsing seminar appeared on a World Building Panel, and met a lot of really cool people:
Me Professional Writer on Panel

Me Professional Writer on Panel

Coco likes to sit in pants and read THE STRINGER.

Coco likes to sit in pants and read THE STRINGER.

And that concludes this weekly recap. Go buy a copy of one of my books, or I may not be able to afford food.

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“Lifers” & “The Shattered Gears” in Print on B&N

The Shattered Gears Omnibus

The Shattered Gears Omnibus

Lifers_cover

Lifers

You may or may not be aware that Barnes & Noble has moved to compete with Amazon‘s Createspace program with a print component for their own Nook Press. That means that self-publishers can offer print versions of their books through B&N’s website as well (and there are supposedly some limited opportunities for self-pub books to get into brick-and-mortar stores, but I’m not focusing on that right now).

Anyways, the point of this post is simple: My two self-pub efforts, my first novel Lifers and the Avery Cates Omnibus The Shattered Gears, are now both available as print books through either Amazon and B&N.

The good news is, they’re both cheaper on B&N, so if you’ve hesitated to buy either because you didn’t want to pay $8 for Lifers or $14 for The Shattered Gears, you can get both $2 cheaper over at B&N.

LIFERS

B&N Nook | B&N Print | Amazon Kindle | Amazon Print

THE SHATTERED GEARS

B&N Nook | B&N Print | Amazon Kindle | Amazon Print

(You can also buy both books at Google Play and Kobo if you’re so inclined!)

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For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn.

The Good Old Days.

The Good Old Days.

Writing Short Stories is Crazy

I wrote my first short story when I was about 15 years old—that is to say, the first story I consciously set out in the form of a short story. Ridiculously enough, I wrote it solely to join my high school’s literary magazine, one of my most shameful moments. I mean, seriously. The fucking literary magazine. I can now safely say that this is perilously close to being my worst decision ever, right up there with gaining twenty pounds when I was thirteen and getting an English degree instead of something useful, like contacts in Russian organized crime.

The story was titled Bricks. I still have it. In about 1,000 words I tell the story of a family in the future where everyone lives underground because of a plague, and their son’s decision to leave home and go topside. It ends with the son wondering what will happen to him as he takes his first breath of fresh air on the surface.

Oh, it’s not good. It’s derivative, but it’s derivative in that special way you get away with when you’re fifteen and not named Mozart: People are so impressed that you wrote something that superficially resembles a real story they forgive all sorts of shit. I wrote it on a Commodore 64 in an application called Kwik-Writer I got from some friends; my friends and I were running a serious underground software piracy operation in grammar school, and I had thousands of stolen applications, and Kwik Writer was one of them. It was kind of awesome and terrible at the same time, which basically describes almost all of the applications available for the Commodore 64.

Since then, I’ve written about 500 more short stories. Bully for me. Getting them published isn’t easy, though there are more difficult projects in the world (self-surgery, perhaps, or tunneling under your house to the nearest mountain range) but the real challenge, as anyone will tell you, is getting paid for them. So why write them? Because I love short stories. Writing them and reading them. And, to be honest, selling them when I can—and I’ve sold quite a few over the years, with a few more on the way.

I write a lot of them, and since the chances of ever selling one are slim, it’s kind of a crazy waste of time. Plus, let’s be honest here, 99% of every short story ever written deserves to stay right in the notebook it was scrawled into, because most of them are terrible, and as luck would have it that goes twice for mine. Even the ones that I think are not terrible aren’t easy to sell; I recently had a story rejected very reluctantly by one market, which sent me a very sad note all about how great the story was and how distressed they were to not be buying it. I immediately submitted the story elsewhere in a frenzy of optimism—after all, this was obviously one of my better efforts.

The next market rejected it within 18 hours.

Writing and trying to sell short fiction sucks. Still, I write a lot of it.

Part of it is an exercise. You get some crazy ideas for stories after a few drinks, and while most of them are awful, some of them ain’t bad, but if you don’t put some flesh on them they disappear. So to keep them alive, I write them, even though most are pretty stillborn.

So, let’s see: Failure and no market, obviously these are fantastic ways to spend my time and mental energy. Then again, I’m an author; futility is what I eat for breakfast.

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