Bullshit

Marriage

Originally published in The Inner Swine Volume 14, Issue 3, September 2008, the following remains sadly accurate.

shorts

Yup.

A typical exchange at Casa de Somers:

YOUR HUMBLE EDITOR: All right, let’s go.

THE DUCHESS: Uh, is that what you’re wearing?

YHE: (glancing down at his ensemble: black T-shirt, blue khaki shorts, a pair of black sneakers) Uh, yeah, why?

TD: Maybe you would consider wearing the clothes I put out for you.

YHE: Wait a second. . .the clothes you put out for me?

TD: Yep. Right over there.

YHE: (crossing to the dresser where a blue T-shirt and a pair of black khakis sit) These clothes?

TD: Yep. Soooo much better.

YHE: (staring for some time at the new clothes, expecting something to happen) So, let me get this straight: This T-shirt and shorts is better than this T-shirt and shorts.

TD: Yep.

YHE: So again, let me clarify: I am thirty-seven years old, and you are putting out clothes for me?

TD: Yes!

YHE: And the clothes you are putting out for me are basically identical to the clothes I have chosen for myself.

TD: Except, you know, soooo much better.

YHE: And yet I am supposed to change clothes.

TD: Well, obviously.

YHE: I can’t see any difference.

TD: Of course not. You’re incompetent. If you hadn’t married me, you’d likely be dead by now.

YHE: Stipulated. I don’t see how a few dozen incidents of reckless drinking and one incident involving superglue and my underpants have anything to do with my ability to dress myself.

TD: The glue and underpants thing was disturbing.

YHE: Solved! I don’t wear underpants any more. At all. Ever.

TD: We are going to put a pin in that, but we will come back to it. For now, just change clothes.

YHE: First you have to show me the difference between this pair of shorts (indicates the pair he is wearing) and these shorts (indicates the pair neatly folded on the dresser).

TD: (pointing at the pair on the dresser) I’ve already explained. . .these are so much better.

YHE: Okay. . .let’s stipulate for a moment—just a moment—that these shorts are somehow subtly better than the ones I’m wearing. They lack the microscopic imperfections and possibly have an imaginary sheen of the favored pair. The issue remains that I have a basic human right to dress myself.

TD: Sure, if you do it correctly. What you’re missing here is this: If you grant that the outfit is pretty much the same either way, then why not just change?

YHE: Uh. . .wait a second. . .

TD: You’ve already wasted more time arguing than you would have used to simply change clothes.

YHE: The principle is not a practical consideration of available resources, woman, but a consideration of my dignity. I’m a grown man and you’re putting out clothes for me like I’m five years old. And beyond that, since there’s no difference between your outfit and mine—

TD: (takes breath)

YHE: —I know, I know, so much better, but listen! Since there’s no appreciable difference, you’re basically working on the assumption here that any choice I make will be a poor one, simply because I am ill-equipped to handle my day-to-day responsibilities. You probably don’t even look too hard at what I’m wearing. The assumption is that if I picked it out, it must be unsuitable. This is madness. I’m old.

TD: Believe me, you’re young at heart. You used to think Converse Chuck Taylors were appropriate for every occasion.

YHE: Still do. If they didn’t warp my feet into painful orthopedic conditions, I’d still wear them all the time.

TD: I rest my case.

YHE: What that is, you see, is a matter of opinion. You can’t make blanket dressing rules based on an opinion.

TD: It’s not an opinion. Chuck Taylors, like your current ensemble, are heinous. Now we’re late. You know being late makes me cranky. Please change immediately.

YHE: We have not settled this. I see no reason to change.

TD: (raises eyebrow)

YHE: Aside from the threat of physical pain, which grants no points, I mean.

TD: Oh, for god’s sake. . .Look, some people have taste, and some don’t the ones who don’t. . .like you. . .are forever claiming it doesn’t matter what you wear, because they can’t see the difference. They’re taste-blind. This would be the same thing if you were colorblind and I told you something was blue and you said it was a matter of opinion.

YHE: No, because blue is a scientifically measurable frequency of light reflection. Taste is completely subjective. Unless you want me to believe that jackoffs like Christian Soriano have some sort of measurable scientific ability, instead of just being, well, jackoffs.

TD: I am unfamiliar with this term, jackoff. And I think Christian Soriano is adorable! Like a little doll. Or a puppet. Now put on the shorts.

YHE: So, basically this boiled down to you think I have bad taste and don’t want to be seen in public with me wearing my own taste.

TD: And I will start slapping you until you cry unless you change immediately into the So Much Better Shorts.

YHE: (meekly pulling his pants off) Actually, that’s a good marketing idea. We could start selling So Much Better Shorts. They’d just be regular shorts from the store, except. . .so much better.

TD: Are you mocking me? Because I can make you wear the pink shorts and the cornflower blue tank top.

YHE: No! Not the. . .punishment outfit.

TD: Then be quiet.

YHE: Yes’m.

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Fooling Yourself, You Don’t Believe It

There are rules.

There are rules.

There were a lot of things that bothered me about Gillan Flynn’s Gone Girl. I enjoyed the book, but there were aspects of it that bothered me – most notably, the inconsistency of Flynn’s POV writing. The main problem is Nick, who somehow contrives to not think about his mistress once during the early sections of the book told from his point of view. I mean, we’re in his head. His burner cheater phone is blowing up all the time. It would be more than natural for Nick to make a passing mental reference to his mistress, in his own thoughts. Yet he doesn’t. We’re supposed to believe that a man in the pickle Nick finds himself in would maintain bizarre mental discipline concerning the existence of his youthful side piece – as if he knew we were reading his thoughts.

Of course not. Flynn needed to keep that twist under wraps, and she was telling the story from Nick’s POV. The only solution was to simply, and incredibly (in the old sense of not being believable), have Nick never once think about her until it was time to reveal her to the surprised reader.

IN short, Flynn’s got a POV problem. And she’s not the only one. And it’s one of my pet peeves.

Breaking the Deal

The thing is, when you write a story from a certain POV you make a deal with the reader. They know you’re going to control information. But you’re promising to remain consistent. If you offer us a glimpse into the head of a character, you’re telling us that we can rely on that information … or be given a good reason why we can’t – say, insanity, or because the POV narration is actually a confession being recorded somehow. If we’re supposedly getting the unvarnished thoughts of a character, playing cheap tricks like them miraculously not thinking about vital relationships or other facts is just weak writing.

Even with Unreliable Narrators, there is a deal – albeit a deal only fully revealed to the reader at the end of the story. An Unreliable narrator must still be consistent, must still have rules. You should be able to go back and re-read their sections and see where they fooled you, and how.

There are worse examples. In her novel The Five Red Herrings, Dorothy L. Sayers informs the reader that she deliberately won’t mention a clue that would be perfectly visible at a scene she’s describing. She just says fuckit and tells you in no uncertain terms that if she mention the item, you’d be able to figure out the whole mystery, so she’s just not going to, but didn’t think she could get away with just not mentioning it because it would be obvious. And then, to add insult to injury, she implies archly that you shouldn’t need her help:

“(Here Lord Peter Wimsey told the Sergeant what he was to look for and why, but as the intelligent reader will readily supply these details for himself, they are omitted from this page.)”

That is what literary scientists call bullshit.

He Told Them

There are other examples. Have you ever been reading a book and a character is asked an important question, the answer to which will explain much and go a long way to solving mysteries, and the next line is a variation on “He told them”? A made up illustrative example:

“Mr. Somers,” Captain Awesome said in his booming voice,  “I’ve solved the mystery. There is one vital clue you missed.”

Somers wiped blood from his face. “What’s that? For god’s sake, man, tell me!”

He told him. When he was done, all the blood had drained from Somers’ face. “That one sentence has changed the universe,” he said solemnly, then belched.

Again: This is what scientists call bullshit. It’s weak. It’s a lazy way of getting out of a jam, as a writer. It’s a trick I’ve used, but I feel dirty about it.

I’ve also played a dirty trick on you, because from now on you won’t be able to read a book that uses these tricks without noticing, and, like me, you’ll hurl the book across the room and hiss bullshit!

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Memory, All Alone in the Moonlight

look on my works ye mighty and despair

by Jeff Somers

I have found a small green caterpillar in the back yard and decide I will keep him as a pet. I put him in a mayonnaise jar, holes poked into the lid, with a leafy branch for sustenance. A few days later I notice a red scar along his body. I think he’s dying. I release him back into the yard and am sad for days. He is not the last insect whose existence I step on.

My brother and I have just been informed that alcohol burns. We spend the afternoon in the kitchen taking bottles out of my parents’ liquor cabinet and trying to light shots on fire. We burned a lot of whiskey. Miraculously, despite the fact that we didn’t try to hide any of this, we didn’t get into trouble. I suspect because it was ostensibly an educational moment.

My mother didn’t want us to have pets when we were kids because she was pretty certain she would end up taking care of them. To satisfy us, we bought a goldfish. Our first fish lived for a year, which I now understand is remarkable for a goldfish. When he passed away, we carefully put him in a jar with water and buried him in the backyard. We bought a new fish. Which died within days. So we buried it in a jar with water with slightly less ceremony. We bought a new fish. Which died. Then another, and another. The backyard of my mother’s house is littered with jars filled with decomposed goldfish. Then she finally gave in and let us take in a neighbor’s cat that they were planning to put to sleep.

In grammar school I started playing Dungeons & Dragons because our teacher had the books in class. Two friends and I decided to create and market our own role playing game. The result was the spectacularly bananas INFILTRATE, which was a complete set of rules with a crazy construction-paper cover. We named the ‘company’ after a portmanteau of our last names and decided we were going to be famous. The most amazing thing is we actually wrote the fucking rulebook. I mean, jebus, I was twelve years old.

Back in college I actually started jogging a little. Not seriously. I doubt I ran more than half a mile, ever. I did it mostly as a dramatic way to have some time to myself. I used to run in the golf course on campus at night. It was cool being in a semi-wooded area in the darkness, alone. One night I sat down by a pond for a while feeling curiously sorry for myself, and came home with a tick embedded behind my knee. Chaos broke out. Word spread throughout our coed floor and before I knew it about fifteen people were in my room examining the tick and offering suggestions for getting rid of it. We burned it, we put nail polish on it, one guy took a penknife, ran it over a flame, and tried digging the fucker out. I could actually feel it squirming there, which remains one of the worst sensations of my life. The next day I had to take my bandaged self to the clinic and have a very bored nurse extract the tick and re-bandage the area. She never batted an eye at it. I supposed she’d seen dumber things.

In Eighth Grade I briefly became a Crossing Guard. Details are fuzzy, but I remember it being a big deal. Only the Eighth Graders could become Crossing Guards. You got a cool belt to wear. It kind of sucked. I did it for about a week and had the first of many why the fuck am I wasting my time with this bullshit moments that led to my mediocre and just-barely-adequate academic and professional career. I regret nothing. Anyway, after a week, I quit. And my teacher pulled me aside and gave me this ridiculously over the top speech about how I’d regret this decision for the rest of my life. That I was making a huge mistake. Even at the tender age of thirteen I could barely keep the smirk off my face. Was she fucking serious? Quitting the Crossing Guards was going to wreck my life? Jebus. I still get all outraged, decades later.

I read The Lord of the Rings. I write a book.

My next-door neighbor has moved off to college and left his pet cat behind. His parents keep her in the basement and talk about having her put to sleep because they don’t want to care for a cat. I go over and visit. Every time I go down into their basement she comes out meowing and likes me to bend over so she can stand on my back. I have no idea why she likes that but she purrs when I do it so I do it every time. Three weeks later she is my cat. She comes into my room every night and sleeps with me. Once I forget and lock my door and she is trapped in the room all night with me. When I wake up she is sitting on my chest staring at me. She immediately begins to cry.

I now have four cats. One sleeps with me and The Duchess every night.

In Seventh Grade my class does a Shakespeare video project, with kids dressed in costume and performing scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. I get assigned The Taming of the Shrew with a girl whose name I cannot remember. We have to come up with costumes. Mine involves tights, which seems to make sense though I am extremely disturbed. I find myself wearing a pair of pantyhose and being filmed. Somewhere in the universe there possibly exists a videotape of me wearing pantyhose and doing Shakespeare. This is terrible knowledge to carry around with you.

I am nine years old. I am challenged by my eleven-year-old cousin John to urinate in the basement. I accept.

I am some undetermined age under my bed eating crayons. I have no reason to be eating crayons aside from the belief that they will make my poop multicolored. They do not.

My friend Jeof gives me a cheap acoustic guitar. I do not tune it or make any effort to learn how to play. I sit at home and invent chords on my own. They are terrible chords. Chords awesome in their strident discordant terribleness. The guitar eventually breaks and I throw it away. Years later The Duchess buys me a new guitar and some lessons. Those awesomely terrible chords are lost forever.

When I’m a little kid of some unremembered age I beg and plead for a Huffy dirtbike. All the kids in my neighborhood have dirtbikes, except me, and it causes me a lot of angst. On my birthday my parents amaze me by giving me a Huffy dirtbike. I take it out on its training wheels to ride. Two older kids come and steal it. Just like that. Knock me off the bike and one of them rides away on it faster than I thought possible. That is still my takeaway from this event: How inhumanly fast that kid rode my bike.

I can remember when I was a kid, when I would eat too much my mother would tell me I was going to “explode”. I always thought this was just a colorful expression, until one summer day when we were having some sort of party and I’d been eating hot dogs and hamburgers for hours, I went in the kitchen, opened the fridge, and started drinking soda from a bottle. I got a few swallows in before vomiting energetically onto the floor in a violent manner. There was no nausea. I just threw it all up. I’d exploded.

Years after releasing the green caterpillar back into my back yard, I have an intense dream. This is unusual because I do not normally dream, or remember dreams. In this dream I am standing in my backyard and a large, beautiful butterfly comes and settles on my shoulder. It sits for a few seconds flapping its multicolored wings, then flies away. It is the caterpillar, transformed. I wake up crying.

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Hesitate To Die Look Around Around The Second Drummer’s Drowned His Telephone Is Found

This originally appeared in The Inner Swine Volume 19, Issue 1/2, Summer 2013.

I Used to Have Hella Long Hair

My god, man, have some self-respect.

My god, man, have some self-respect.

WHEN I was a wee lad in Jersey City, my parents took my brother and I to an Italian named Barberlo (not his actual name, though it was equally amazing) to get our hair cut. It was an old-school barbershop and Barberlo was a diminutive man who spoke in a delightfully cartoonish Italian accent and dressed in elaborate suits just to walk to his shop, where he promptly put on a white surgical type outfit for the touching of filthy, lice-ridden heads like ours.

Barberlo had a habit of making groin-hand contact with me when he cut my hair. I was never sure if this was on purpose or not, but it freaked me out. I never told anyone, because it was so subtle as to be in my imagination, and I saw no reason to hurl about accusations when the whole thing didn’t exactly damage me, just made me feel slightly skeeved out. Worse than the occasional groin contact was the fact that Barberlo was an awful barber. Truly awful. I emerged from each session with him looking like someone had attacked me recently, and been unkind.

In High School I developed a hairstyle that I now dub The Moron in a Hurry. It was sort of a Justin Bieber-esque bowl kind of thing, and was truly awful. This wasn’t Barberlo’s fault, really; I was the only giving out orders that he cut the sides and back but leave the top longer. This should have told me that I was not mature enough to manage my own hair (Hell, I don’t believe I’m mature enough now) but I was too young to learn anything. When I went off to college I prepared by resolving to not get my hair cut any more. So I sailed into Freshman year with a shock of a mullet. It was a grand, unruly mullet, just a mess of hair that I often tied back out of my face with a rubber band.

And I just let it grow. There was no effort at shaping, or styling. No cutting. No conditioner, either, so it wasn’t long before my haircut was a frizzy mess of straw on my head. I had these huge plastic glasses and a tendency to wear T-shirts with cartoon characters on them. In other words, it was like someone was paying me to not get laid.

(more…)

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Professional Reading Vs. Reading for Pleasure

Eventually I'll just spend all of my time in the bathroom.

Eventually I’ll just spend all of my time in the bathroom.

As most everyone knows a few years ago I embarked on a fabulous adventure known as Jeff Lost His Day Job and Thinks He Can Earn Money by Freelance Writing, which so far has had a more or less happy ending (though, of course, none of us are getting out of this existence alive, so “happy ending” is relative – and transient, and therefore not an ending at all, is it?) in that I am in fact making a living writing things for people, both in terms of fiction and bloggy stuff done work for hire.

A lot of the bloggy stuff involves books; either reviews or listicles or round-ups and stuff. Plus, my publisher occasionally asks me to blurb something. The end result? A lot of “professional” reading, you know, reading books I might not otherwise get to. This is usually not because I’m not interested in reading said books, but more a matter of time management: I’ve only got so many years before the liver goes and the dementia starts (or, possibly, worsens; you have to always ask yourself every morning if you’re existing in a self-imposed fantasy driven by delerium tremens and bad burrito choices).

There are pros and cons to all this “professional” reading:

PROS

  • I’m reading outside my usual comfort zone.
  • I’m reading a lot more, overall.
  • I’m reading with more of a critical eye; even when not reviewing books, I’m usually trying to think of an “angle” to write about, and therefore not simply enjoying myself as I read.

CONS

  • I’m reading fast, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but does mean I’m not just luxuriating in a good book.
  • It interrupts my pleasure reading, meaning I’ve been reading certain books so slowly it’s going backwards.
  • I’ve read some really awful books I was totally right to not want to read in the first place, and these abominations will be part of my brain forever now.

This is a very First World type of problem to have (my god they’re paying me to read too many books! oh wait, that’s not a fucking problem at all NEVER MIND) but it’s such a mix of good and bad it’s hard to keep everything straight, to be honest. When your bathroom book changes every time you go to the bathroom in a vain attempt to meet deadlines, your life becomes a whirlwind of toilets and words.

Actually, that’s the new title of my autobiography: A WHIRLWIND OF TOILETS; subtitle, small print: and words.

And in-between all of this I’m trying to write the next novel some sucker hero will pay me. In the long run, I fully expect all this anti-comfort zone reading I’m doing to have a beneficial effect on my writing as it opens up all new things to steal, er, reinterpret for my prose. Time will tell. Until then, it’s back to my whirlwind of toilets.

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The Video Gaming of Movies

SHE KILLS LITERALLY EVERYBODY

SHE KILLS LITERALLY EVERYBODY

I recently watched the film Everly, directed by Joe Lynch and starring Salma Hayek, specifically so I could write this little essay, because I suspected that it would be a good place to start. Everly is a simple film despite the sheer number of corpses and gunfire – it’s also not exactly a good film. But that doesn’t actually matter for my larger point.

To get it out of the way (and SPOILERS HO!) here’s the basics: Hayek is a woman who has forced into prostitution by a very, very bad man, and has been living as a prisoner in a nice apartment, forced to never see her daughter or mother. Planning to betray the crime boss, her intentions are exposed and he sends a group to gang-rape her and then kill her in revenge, but she has a gun and a phone hidden in the bathroom and manages to kill them all. The crime boss sends wave after wave of people to kill her, and she manages to survive through a mix of luck, determination, and a very high tolerance for pain.

To say the film is inconsistent would be an understatement: It picks up ideas, plays with them a little, then discards them. It throws in several pointless moments of “excitement.” It has no relationship with reality at all. For all that, it’s kind of entertaining, actually. Some of that goes to the script, which is mildly witty, and some goes to the direction, which is occasionally arresting. And some of it goes to Hayek, who looks good with a machine gun and manages to sell the emotion when she’s not gunning down nameless thugs.

But mainly, the movie entertains because it’s essentially a video game run-through.

CUT SCENES FOR THE PLOT, Y’ALL

This is an increasingly popular form of action movie. It doesn’t matter much what the plot is, or the genre, or anything else. The main thing is, the film is structured like a video game: Quick setup, then a series of levels, each with its own challenges, special look, and sometimes a specific Boss battle.

Dredd was like this, too. These films are marked by the wave-after-wave structure, where the hero fights off a wave of adversaries, gets a brief respite (level loading) and then wades in again. The waves of thugs get either increasingly tough, show up in increasing numbers, or become increaingly bizarre as the hero advances through the game, er, story.

Everly follows this pretty closely: The thugs going after the title character start off relatively weak (they’re the other prostitutes in the building, who are offered a reward if they kill her). Then some standard-issue criminals in black suits and better weaponry show up. Then some bizarre torturer Boss-type guy, then a police SWAT unit with body armor and assault rifles, then the Big Boss himself with an RPG, a katana, and a nice suit. Every time Everly  kills off a wave, there’s a sequence of quiet akin to a cutscene, where the story advances until the next level loads up, I mean, the next scene begins.

You Know, For Kids

Now, this isn’t an awful way to set up a film (and I liked Dredd very much if I didn’t think Everly was so great) when what you’re going for is that breathless, adrenaline-soaked experience. But the model is very clearly video games, and I can’t help but wonder if this is a conscious attempt to capture the youth market, where a lot of kids have come to prefer the way video games tell stories. The rhythms of action/cutscene/action, the stylized violence, the increasingly bizarre Bosses – it all matches up pretty well.

It’s been theorized that Video Games might someday be the future of visual storytelling – aside from action games, games like Gone Home or Myst had the feel of being inside a movie, walking around (albeit in Myst’s case the movie was an insanely dull one) and I can see it. Once graphics become truly realistic, why not – games like Half Life and Portal and others are already very story-driven in some ways, and, frankly, there’s something exciting about the idea that you could “re-play” a movie and explore different areas and plot options, etc. And instead of sequels, there would be downloadable content.

Although, as I get older, that would make watching a movie exhausting. But at least there would be speed run-throughs on YouTube.

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Literary Devices: Booze

Lunch!

Lunch!

In some of my writing, I have characters who use guns a lot, and every now and then I get some detail about guns wrong and I get flooded with notes from helpful people explaining my mistake. Which is fine and good. So, let’s turn the tables a little. I may not be an expert on firearms, but I am an expert in firewater (see what I did there? Me good professional word person).

I am in many ways, a walking cliché: The writer who enjoys his liquor a little too much. It’s certainly not my fault that my ancestors made alcohol both delicious, all-natural, vaguely healthy if you believe European doctors, and man’s best friend. I am the victim here, is what I’m saying. And my books often reflect this lifelong love affair with The Drink: In the Avery Cates books, in Lifers and Chum and We Are Not Good People my characters all drink heavily and while you might argue this also explains why the stories they find themselves in are so dark and awful (and yet, hilarious!) because getting shitfaced is itself dark and awful (but hilarious!) it remains a literary device I use a lot. Admittedly, I use the Booze Device mainly so my characters have something to do with their hands (see also: Cigarettes).

Still, if you’re imagining that I myself get all ginned up and plow through fifty pages of golden prose while my eyes are crossed (method writing, in other words), you’re wrong. I remember once Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane being interviewed and he was asked about playing live shows while high, and he dismissed it out of hand, saying something about how you can’t do that because the guitar strings would suddenly seem like they were as thick as firehoses and everything would go to hell (I’m paraphrasing). While a glass of the brown stuff has often been my companion when writing, it’s not like you can guzzle a fifth of bourbon and then write fifteen pages of really coherent prose.

Of course, characters actually in the book? Why not. From what I can tell no one wants verisimilitude when it comes to liquor in our stories.

(more…)

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Misanthropy for the Win

KEYS TO LOST SLEEP

KEYS TO LOST SLEEP

So, we’ve made some friends on our block with some neighbors, and it’s generally a good thing because the neighbors we’re friendly with all like to drink a lot. They’re generally all good people I’m happy to know, and the ones who aren’t we just sort of wave at and smile and keep moving – always keep moving. That’s the secret.

Since we’re living in a society and I am nothing if not a team player, we do favors for our neighbors and vice versa. For example, we all have copies of each other’s keys so that when the husbands (occasionally, wives, once, cats) come stumbling home, pantsless and blind drunk, with no house keys anywhere in sight, we can help each other out.

So this morning I am asleep, and the phone rings and wakes me. I look at Caller ID, and it says the grocery store across the street is calling. For a sleepy moment I actually wondered if they were calling to tell me they knew I ate that grape without paying for it six years ago, or that I’d once clogged the toilet over there when we were having our bathroom remodelled.

Then, I woke up sufficiently to not answer. Because it was the grocery store.

Anyway, the message clicks on and its my neighbor, who has locked himself out. Neighbor X is a great guy who shares my love of pre-dinner cocktails, sarcastic remarks, and that third, ill-advised bottle of wine, so naturally I got up and went downstairs to get his keys. And poor Neighbor X is standing there freezing his ass off in his pajamas. I did him the courtesy of not asking why he was at the grocery store at 5AM in nothing but his pajamas, because that’s what neighbors do for each other, natch.

The moral? Having friends rips you from your warm bed at 5AM. Having no friends doesn’t. Make of that what you will.

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Let’s Cut Out the Middle Man: Send Me $100

Stock photography gives us everything.

Stock photography gives us everything.

So, increasingly it’s popular for writers who have, shall we say, less than great book sales (hi there!) to go begging for pennies on sites like Kickstarter or Patreon. This isn’t a bad idea, as we’re basically already beggars when it comes to our book contracts:

Writer: I am hungry and my wife just left me for a homeless man to improve her lifestyle. Here’s a book I spent six years writing.

Publisher: I’ll give you six dollars and a vague promise of a sandwich sometime next week.

Writer: SOLD.

Publisher: Now, I never said *American* dollars.

Writer: <stuffs bills into mouth and eats them>

And: scene.

Now, naturally enough if I were to go the Kickstarter or Patreon route, I’d no doubt take in some very dark, very unfortunate directions. Because, if you think about it, these sorts of arrangements are already kind of weird. Take Patreon: You offer me $5 a month and I offer you some flash fiction. Sounds innocent enough, except it has the ring of an organ grinder and me in a cute little monkey-appropriate outfit. My flash fictions would almost certainly become epic exercises in passive aggression, ending, no doubt, in the sort of murder/suicide pact that future writers will turn into Pulitzer-winning True Crime novels.

Plus, I would likely just get lazier and lazier, ultimately creating $1 support tiers where you’d get an angry, drunken voicemail in the middle of the night, and one-penny support tiers where you’d get a voicemail in the middle of the night that was just me weeping inconsolably.

And Kickstarter would start off fine and dandy, but there are two scenarios I’m seeing: One where no one donates, and I wind up being cited on comedy websites as how not to do a kickstarter, and one where I am fully funded and manage to blow all of the money in one weekend via an increasingly unlikely series of coincidences involving liquor and an impaired ability to make decisions. Either way: Tears.

Plus, to be honest, all these alternative ways of raising money are a lot of work. If I wanted to work for a living I wouldn’t be a writer. I wouldn’t have these delicate, soft hands and this fragile, glass-like lower back. I wouldn’t have this debilitating fear of other people, leprechauns, and sweat.

So let’s keep it simple, shall we? Y’all send me $100 each and I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing. Deal?

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The Time I Got Taken

You're right - I don't *have* any dignity.

You’re right – I don’t *have* any dignity.

Although my brand, as you all well know, is “Genius Alcoholic” (my justification for this branding is my expectation that just as my liver explodes and claws its way from my body in a death struggle, science will have advanced to the point where I can print a new liver at home and hire someone from the Internet to transplant it – or possibly have a new liver and a surgeon delivered via drone, either way), the fact is, I am sometimes surprisingly stupid. Like, amazingly, incredibly, bone-shatteringly stupid.

My agent just appeared in a blaze of purple fire, laughed manically while pointing at me for five seconds, and then vanished.

I’ve been freelance writing for a few years now, and have reached a point where every day isn’t a soul-killing hustle for work reminiscent of Samuel L. Jackson’s crack-dance in Jungle Fever, except instead of crack, I am dancing for writing jobs. These days I am quite fancy in my freelancing (I’ve considered wearing a monocle and top hat while working, yes, why do you ask?) but in the early going, of course, I was willing to entertain a lot of dubious writing jobs. Not subject matter, which continues to be something I’m more or less neutral on (I have written about some very, very horrible things and cashed the checks without a single regret) but dubious rather in the sense of basically dealing with shadowy figures from across the globe who regard paying writers to be a crazy idea.

Which, I know, I just described everyone. The world hates us writers, doesn’t it?

Anyways, back in those dark days I responded to some seriously red-flag waving job postings in the early goings. Most were merely frustrating: People who didn’t know what they wanted, people who thought telling you to write like some famously successful blog was enough instruction to go on, people who had no sense of humor at all.

Most of the time it was fine: I’d write a few pieces and we’d mutually wander off to other things. Not every business relationship can be perfect, after all. But twice – twice! – I got rooked, because I agreed to do an unpaid trial.

The Scam

It’s obvious, really: Always get paid for your work. Always. But, a little nervous about doing freelance, about not having a job, about testing this theory of mine that the only thing I am good at without reservation is writing, I made some bad decisions. So when an otherwise great-sounding job came along that required me to write one, single 500-word article for no money so the employer could determine that I had the writing chops came along, I agreed.

You can see where this is going.

Nope, never got hired, never got paid, and when I (belatedly) looked into it, I was one among dozens of writers who got rooked into it. In other words, we all collectively provided this guy like 15,000 words for free. In other, other words, he got his whole project written for him by suckers like me.

You might think I learned my lesson, and I did, but not well enough: A few weeks later I fell for it again. I initially turned down the job because of the free trial bullshit – but then the person came back and defended it, saying it was just a very short piece and they simply had to require it, and again it was otherwise so attractive (aren’t scams always?) I gave in. After all, I thought, if it was just a scam why would they bother emailing me? So I wrote about 300 words, and yup, never heard from anyone again.

So, now I’ve really learned my lesson. Really, really. Now, in the grand scheme of things I lost maybe $50 of my time, so it’s not like I’m going to scream KKKKHHHAAANNNNNN at the sky and rip off my shirt (ripping off shirts is super hard, anyway). But it does burn me that I got played. And reminds us all that we writers, we’re at the bottom of the ant hill, and we get kicked around a bit. But you know what? Your time is worth something, and you get to decide what that is. Everyone else then gets to decide if they agree, and pay for your services or not depending on that. It really is that simple.

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