Why Write? It’s Sure Not to Eat

Recently I’ve been MIA. I dropped off facebook and twitter except to plug a story, interview, or author I’ve recently read and liked a great deal. Some time ago, a friend made an observation: “you’ve been hiding”. Another friend asked me what I was up to because she hadn’t seen me on-line in awhile. I told her I’ve been busy with work, which was only partially true and she knew it.

While it is “crunch time” at work, I’ve also been wrapping up and revising a number of projects. The first draft of my novel is complete. I have two new short stories finally finished. And I have a couple of poems in the hopper. Through a few emails she finally asked the question that I’m sure was bugging her: “Why do you spend so much time on that?”

I laughed and asked her if she had been talking to my wife. But, she didn’t let it go; she was earnest in her question. So I had my usual conundrum: what do I tell people when they ask me why I write?

Usually, I tell them “I don’t know”.

I’m a big, fat liar.

I lie with a straight face. I don’t feel bad about it. I lie so well that if I played poker, I’d be rich enough to not need a fellowship or win a contest or be the next Steven King to help me support my writing addiction.

I could spit out “I have to write”, but that has no meaning to people who are not writers. They don’t understand the obsession or how not writing can affect a person. If I come home from work and am a jerk, the first question my wife asks me is: “you didn’t get a chance to write, did you?” So, “I don’t know” is a perfectly good response.

Even I’m not entirely sure why I do it. Perhaps I write to clarify, to make sense of the world, to entertain. Whatever it is, it sure isn’t to put food on the table.

Jon Dewey observed, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” Like most writers, I am writing continuously: scratching out idea at kid’s karate practices, recording plot ideas while walking between classes, intently listening to the old people in the booth behind me discuss Sam’s need for a kidney (while technically this is eavesdropping, I like to call it research).

When I go to the park with my kids and watch them master the monkey bars for the first time or block a lay-up at basketball practice, when I sit on the couch with a kitten on my lap, feeling it push its paws up and down on my stomach, when I am awake at night unable to sleep listening to the fan whir, I make sure to jot those moments down.

Many of the moments don’t ever leave the cheap composition pad I wrote them on; but, when that book is full and I am ready to put it away, I review them. I see where praising my daughter would be more appropriate than getting frustrated with that strong-willed terror, because she really is a good kid. I see where I could have listened to the subtext of a conversation, or the body language more closely and recognized that my wife really wasn’t angry about my shaven ear hair in her sink, but I had been so “busy” I hadn’t really sat down and talked with her for awhile. Best yet, I can see where I had a breakthrough in my own writing, a beautiful “ah hah” moment about a certain piece that was bugging me.

People are mean, and crazy; they are innocent and hypocritical; they are a complex bundle of chemicals and synapses, emotions and values. By writing, I attempt to get at who people are and why they do what they do in our culture. This exploration is more for myself than anyone else, though if they also find it engaging, I am even more happy.

Yes I want people to think, and to explore the complexities of our condition, but I also want them interested in the story, to feel something. Without that emotional charge, I am not making any connection with anyone else, and that is anathema to writing. I, like most writers, write to be read.

One day I hope to look at this topic more closely. I hope to really reflect on the question. Maybe then I’ll even be able to find a better answer than “I don’t know” when I’m asked “why do you write.” Until then, I’ll keep plugging along.

Speaking of writing, please keep an eye out for a poem, “Lilith Braves the Pawn Shop”, recently accepted over at Apparatus Magazine, and a short story, “Camp Deliverance”, accepted over at Title Goes Here.

I’d thought I’d end with this post with a poem. Yes, it’s a draft, but I am enjoying the process of revising it. Again.

My Wife

chews her children’s worlds, listens to the cud of daily life.

The baby yawns between bites;

Her older sister entertains our gaze with tales

of swings, flowers, a boy named Chase.

Afterwards we make fireworks

and kaleidoscopes from toilet paper tubes,

put on music and drum and sing; we dance

in circles. When dusk settles,

we fan ourselves with quiet.

My oldest daughter loves sleep,

the imagination’s Tiger Lilly. The baby

shares thrash and eye spin. She tastes

the world differently: a glutton

for the explosion of textures

and aromas, the sweet gnashing

and slow burn. My wife drinks

coffee, tosses and turns

in bed. She wishes she were warmer, curls

into my skin as naturally as a body unfolding

after a large meal. The streetlight

illuminates her face and I am amazed:

a woman such as this

fits her body into mine whispering

stories that burst

like blood on taste buds;

a woman such as this holds my hand,

and walks with me into dream.

 

BTAP Rolls It Out

One thing that always frustrated me about books is that everyone I know would read a book, recommend it to me, but by the time I finished they were on to the next read. Or I rec something because I want to talk about it, and when they’re ready to discuss it I forgot the cool little complexities and details that excited me (I’m a bad memory dork that way).

One of the many reasons I love film is because it is communal. Getting lost in a story for two hours then immediately being able to discuss it with others is fantastic. Themes, characters, plot twists, and more technical stuff like lighting or editing and how it added (or not) to the story can be explored right away while it’s vivid in the mind.

A few days ago, I committed myself to write this story for Cormac Brown’s Friday Flash Fiction and did my usual thing — put it off. Usually when I put something off long enough, I’ll get a brainstorm and I’m good to go. This time not so much. I started to surf the great wide inter-tubes for inspiration and ended up at BTAP where I expected a story but found a wonderful short film One Good Turn instead.

The writing gods must be smiling since the starter sentence for this week’s Friday Flash Fiction challenge is: “It was a shortcut that I would regret for the rest of my life.”

If I were witty I make a quip about driving and turns and stalled writing, but I’ll leave that to the dude’s like @steveweddle, @matthewjmcbride, @johnhorner, @dboshea and so many others who are actually good at it.

Go check out the film and let’s talk — though I may be a little late to the discussion — I have some ideas for a story I need to get down.

The sci-fi nior train

The series exploring Oscar and his Special Forces unit, Azreal, in the service of the PCG (Planetary Control Group) rolls along with a new story, “Furious”, up at Dark Valentine.

The set up story for the series, “Paint Me a Victim, Make Me a Cause”, can be found on Big Pulp.

The others, like “Power Surges” which was previously published at Pulp Engine, follow one of the characters in Oscar’s unit.

Again, “Furious” just came out in Dark Valentine edited by Joy Sillesen, and published by Katherine Tomlinson. What’s really cool about this magazine is not only the quality writing, but the fantastic illustrations that go with them.

If you like the series, “Breaking Knute” is in final edits and will be coming out at Silver Blade next month.

Bring on the funnies

So Haiku Ambulance found this diddy and it almost made me spit coffee out of my nose. Not nice Haiku. A lot of funny stuff there. I posted it below as well, but you really need to go and check out the site.

So last night, this guy showed me something that is one of the funniest things I’ve read in a while.

And I’ma gonna share it with you.

This comes from our (Denver) local craigslist:

Free Cat (Named Mr. Mustache) my girlfriend’s choice, super lame, I know. He is available to anyone who is a glutton for punishment.
So we have a one year old kitten that is desperate need of a new home? Why do you ask? Well because this cat is a total butthole and is racist as hell. Don’t believe me, okay, judging him solely by the picture I too would think that “Hey, that’s an alright looking cat, I wonder if he can do any tricks?” If you consider biting black people an amazing trick than yes, this cat is the Houdini of “domesticated animals.”

Positive Stats:

* He is incredibly good at staring contests, so good in fact he will bite you in the nose if you stare at him too long and much like I did, you will blink when he does so.

* If you have a dog that barks too much, like my girlfriends dog tends to do, this cat will put him or her in check. My girlfriend has a 110 pound Rottweiler that is scared to death of this cat. The first time her dog barked at our mailman after getting this stupid cat, Mr. Mustache bit his ear so hard he almost pierced it.

* He sort of knows how to operate a firearm. I keep a loaded .45 in my nightstand and one day while I was at work I received a phone call from my neighbor reporting that she had heard a gunshot in my house. I raced home from the office to find Mr. Mustache hanging out on the couch, the drawer containing my handgun, was wide open, followed by large bullet hole in my nightstand and a slug lodged in my marble fireplace. There was no break- in; it was only the awful cat that put his paws on my gun. (No, I don’t have any kids in my house thus the reason for a loaded and easily accessible firearm)

* Mr. Mustache can climb drywall, last month during a nice spring afternoon a bird flew in through my open patio door and landed in the kitchen. This evil bastard of a cat climbed up the drywall trying to catch it.

* This cat will rid your neighborhood of all rodents, squirrels, mice, and even rabbits. I have found remains of all the above listed creatures in my garage where Mr. Mustache likes to leave his kills. Oh, and it’s such a treat to accidentally step on an animal corpse after arriving home from a long day at the office.

Negative Stats for Mr. Mustache:

•Ever since my girlfriend brought this cat home from our neighbors, whose cat had a litter of kittens; Mr. Mustache has destroyed two of my three leather couches. The two out of the three couches he has destroyed were black; the couch left alone was a cream leather couch, not even a single scratch on it from this demon cat. If you have a nice black leather couch I would advise finding a different cat.

•Mr. Mustache loves Guinness Stout; no we have never willingly given him booze. However, if you leave a Guinness unattended he will use that ass-licking tongue of his and drink from your glass. Gross!

•Remember how I told you Mr. Mustache is racist? Well every time one of my non-cracker friends is over at my house he attacks them. Not joking! He will hide and wait until they are seated in a chair or on a couch, sneak up behind them, climb up whatever they are sitting on, and bite them in the face.

•Hates the Meow-Mix Commercials, I had just purchased a new 64 inch LG TV for my basement and a Meow-Mix Commercial came on and the stupid cat attacked my new TV and scratched the LCD screen.

•This cat will chew on and sabotage your condoms if he can gain access to them.

In conclusion, “why haven’t I taken this cat to the shelter, or put it to sleep?” Because I think every domesticated pet deserves a second chance. Animals that go to a shelter have a pretty good chance of being put to sleep, and regardless of Mr. Mustache’s bastard status , he does not deserve that fate. My girlfriend will be in charge of meeting with interested parties, so please if you have intentions of causing harm to this cat, save yourself sometime, because she is pretty good at spotting terrible people especially someone that would gain pleasure from harming an animal. With all the above listed information to take in, please remember we have been totally honest about this cat’s character and habits. So please, if you decide to take this cat home there is no need to point blame at either my girlfriend or myself when he damages your house, or harms your dog. You have received prior accounts as to my opinion of this “blender made of fur” that goes by Mr. Mustache.
Please email with any questions. This cat comes with a big bag of food, a large climbing/cat tree house, all shots are current, sorry he is not de-clawed, but he is neutered so that he cannot pass on his demonic genetics.

First Two Chapters

Ok, I figured since I’m a little over halfway with my novel I’d share the first two chapters. The first chapter was picked up by The Flash Fiction Offensive.

I know the title is awful, but I am hopeful that the end will give me something to work with. Comments and suggestions welcome.

I’ll be at http://www.wildacreswriters.com/ this July and am going to share a few others. Maybe by the time I start shopping it, someone will be interested. Heh.

Derby Ballard Gets Creative

1

“I tell you what,” he intoned in his nasally accent acquired from too many broken noses, “there is no way, I mean, I like those fellas just fine. Just fine. Both of ‘em stand up guys as far as I’m concerned, but I tell you, they don’t have a cup of sense to sip on. Neither one of ‘em. You hearing me?”

I heard him, but I was trying to enjoy my food and didn’t want to spoil it with talk about lawyers I didn’t even know.

“Look, look, I’m telling you they’re like cats who wander into a kennel of Rots and have no damn idea they’re about to get their heads ripped off even when the dogs are slobbering mad with fangs and muscle and whatnot.”

I don’t know where he picked up that word, whatnot, but he used it so often I was about crazy. I told him if he ever said it in my company again I’d bust his lip. Of course, he quickly figured out to say it only at times I couldn’t respond, like right now while eating my Swedish meatballs at my favorite restaurant. Reece was an ass that way.

It was about that moment I saw his right eye explode out of his head, spattering my meatballs with a tsunami of blood and gray matter. Reece’s mouth hung open, like a man in some soliloquy and suddenly forgot what he was going to say. (I learned that word, soliloquy, from my ex, Rosa, who used it just to remind me what a messed up idea I had thinking I could ever be with a girl like her.) And I suppose Reece did forget what he was going to say since a bullet ripping through a person’s skull-bone would generally have that affect. But I swear he was going to finish his thought before falling forward into his plate, snapping his nose into two places once more.

I imagine the coroner opening him up, recreating the timeline, the 44 bullet traveling at this angle telling the cops the shooter was ‘yeh’ tall and how the bullet ricocheted off his skull just enough to save his friend’s life.

But I couldn’t imagine anything at the moment. I was too busy thinking, ‘what the hell?’

I sat there like a cat in front of a Rot watching everyone dive under tables, pulling their beautiful pasta dishes on top of their heads. I watched the bartender disappear behind the oak bar. I saw people scurrying into the back hall and I saw the boy holding the too big gun in his shaking hand. He looked oddly familiar but I couldn’t place where. Sweat fell from his forehead. His brown eyes had a look that reminded me of something very serious, but everyone laughed anyway. His red flannel shirt hung loosely off his slight frame. He sported a thick head of brown hair, jeans, and the way he was shaking, I bet this was the first time he ever took a human life.

What the hell did Reece do to make this kid want to make him a pirate in the afterlife?

So I sat there looking at the kid, and the kid stared at me, and then he turned and ran out. I was pissed. Reece always left me in these kinds of situations. Now I’d have to talk to the cops. I’d have to deal with their questions and sidelong glances. I’d have to hope it was McClain first on the scene and not that hardass, Nevin.

I’d have to order some more damn meatballs and whatnot.

2

That night a storm came through which seemed fitting considering my mood. The rain pockmarked my windows, hitting the glass like fingers on a table. I hunkered into my couch sipping on some scotch, the half full bottle on the floor next to me and I thought of Rosa. She was, after all, where my aimless thoughts usually led me.

Rosa taught me things. She taught me how to use big words like soliloquy and cornucopia that impressed other thugs like me, she taught me how to dance and like it, and she taught me how use my hands for something other than beating the crappola out of someone.

Rosa moved on, Reece moved on, and I suppose it’s only a matter of time until the cosmic charge of karma busts my chops again. I only needed to look around my scant apartment to know all of that was true: walls painted gray years ago and now just looked putrid, floors scuffed and dirty, a ratty couch and stained Lazy Boy my father gave me before he died and enough memories hanging so heavy in the air I could barely breathe. I had enough in my bank account for more than this, much more, but I was saving up to get my ass out of the city. Though every time I thought I was just about there, I decided I would need a larger pool at the villa, or another car to park in my car garage. I’ve always been waist deep in fantasies and I’ve quickly realized once you get them, the reality sucks ass compared to the fantasy itself.

The knock at my door was soft, almost dainty. I glanced at my clock. 1 am. I took another drink and thought they had the wrong place. Then a stronger rapping reverberated through the room. Guess they had the right place.

“Who is it?” I called from the couch. I wasn’t getting up without a reason.

“It’s me. Open up.”

That was reason enough. I opened the door and the small man pushed past me.

“You have another one of those?” he asked knowing I did.

I went and got a glass, and returned to the living room where he stood looking out into the street.

“Jesus,” he said, “it’s cats and dogs out there. Cats and dogs.”

I filled up both glasses and he slugged his down.

“That’s tough about Reece. Not tough as in ‘tough shit’ but you know,” Sam said.

Reece and I grew up together in Toledo’s West Side. Train tracks, a liquor store around the corner, and Catholic school a few blocks away (which is now locked up and spray painted by the local kids). I got Reece into this business and I often wondered what he would’ve done with his life if I hadn’t. A salesman, probably.

Sam was a funny guy for this life though. Too sensitive. How he ever made it this long or this far is beyond me. Sam’s only skill seemed to be make other people feel that if he could make it in this business, anyone could. This made him more dangerous than any of the thugs out there as far as I was concerned.

I know you were close. Not close like that. Just close,” he stammered.

I gave Sam a look that told him he could shut up anytime. “What do you need, Sam?”

“Bopa. He wants a meeting.”

Of course he did. I nodded and sat back down on my couch and looked out the window.

Sam was Bopa’s little carrier pigeon. Once on a run to a dealer’s place with a simple cease and desist order from Bopa, he ended up in the bathtub with the dealer’s daughter. The way Sam tells it, she seduced him with German chocolate cake and a cup of coffee. When the dealer walked in and saw them there washing their tongues in each other’s mouths while scrubbing bubbles ran down their backs, he grabbed the closest thing he could find which just so happened to be the toilet plunger. The plunger stung Sam in the back and, Sam assumes, didn’t have the punch he wanted because the dealer dropped it in the water and ran into the other room as the wet couple scrambled out of the tub.

It was a twist of skin and water, the tile slick with puddles, and Sam just made it out of the bath when the dealer came back with his 9mm. In a passionate wail, the daughter screamed and dove for Sam knocking him off his feet and stumbling into the dealer like a drunk on roller skates. A shot rang out as the dealer raised his hands to catch Sam but ended up flailing backwards himself. The sink caught the dealer behind the head. When Sam lifted himself off the dead man, he glanced over to the quiet daughter. The water puddles on the tile already  turning pink with blood. Sam called me and I called Jersey our cleanup kid. What a mess.

Sam kind of shuffled from foot to foot, ran a hand through his hair, then looked outside. “Guess I’d better brave that. I’ll show myself out.” And he did.