Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Back In the Saddle

Took some time off. Feeling rested. Actually had to force myself not to write a couple of times. I only checked the e-mail and glanced at various websites for short periods of time. Read a few books: Gun Monkeys by Victor Gischler (fucking brilliant); A Field of Darkness by Cornelia Read (what a wonderful protagonist); Winter's End by John Rickards (awesome setting - considering it's in Maine); and Brighton Rock by Graham Greene (is there anyone better?). I also watched the greatest movie ever: Raiders of the Lost Ark. Also got a haircut. Now, I have to get back at it. Already looked over a short story I had started last week. I have a pretty good idea how I'm going to change it since I didn't quite like the ending I had originally thought of. Then onto revisions of the thesis. Originally the end of last week and this past weekend were scheduled to be revision time, but since I was under the weather and needed to rest, it was all pushed back on the calendar. No biggie I guess.

Goals for the week:

1. Finish revisions of thesis
2. Write bullshit introduction to said thesis. Also bullshit bibliography, heartfelt acknowledgements.
3. Finish the first drafts on the two short stories I have going right now.
4. Maybe write another flash fiction piece.
5. Try not to burn candle at both ends.
6. No seizures.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Physical Dangers of Writing

Little sleep plus brain tumor = seizure. So, I may have to take it easy for a little while. Nearly went into full convulsions - while holding a knife! I fought it, and it stopped, so no EMT over me with an oxygen mask. I hate that, almost as much as I hate waking up with an IV in the back of my hand. Just thinking about it makes my hands itch.

I guess I'll take a little time off and just read for the next couple of days. I have new books from John Rickards, Richard Yates and Robet Ferrigno. Or I'll watch Metal Month on VH1. But no late nights writing. I shouldn't have even come into work today, but oh well.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Baseball Flash

My baseball themed Take Me Out to the Ballgame is up on Tribe's Flashing In the Gutters. As you can probably tell from the story, I'm not a big Yankees fan.

Pulp Fiction Week

This week Slate magazine is doing Pulp Fiction Week with numerous articles on various popular fiction topics, including Patricia Highsmith and Richard Stark's Parker novels. There is also an article with various authors about their summer beach reads. The coolest tidbit is what's on Rick Moody's list: The Diviners
The Dirt : Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band
by Tommy Lee, Vince Neil, Mick Mars, Nikki Sixx, and Neil Strauss.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Working full-time and writing full-time makes Stevie a sleepy boy. I would love to take a nap right now, just lay my head down on the keyboard and go to sleep. And I can't have too much caffeine because it will cause seizures with so little rest. Oh well, unless I win the lottery soon, this is going to be my permanent state for some time to come.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Are you among the technorati or literati?

I guess the big thing at this weekend's Book Expo in Washington, D.C. was the controversy of what technology means for the publishing world. The catalyst of all of this was an article that appeared in the New York Times Sunday Magazine entitled Scan This Book, which discussed the developments in technology in regards to publishing. Some see it as a great boost to the publishing business (the technorati), while others see it as a decline (the literati). The most prominent critic of the looming technological revolution was John Updike who warned against embracing these changes because they threatened the pure definition and integrity of the industry. Ironically, Updike's speech on the ills of technology will be available as a podcast from the Book Expo website.

Updike stated that "books are intrinsic to our human identity." True, but is it the corporeal existence of that book that is intrinsic or the content?

I have to say that my opinion is somewhere between the technorati and the literati. I can understand and embrace the advantages of technological changes, but at the same time I just enjoy having a book. Sure, I spend enough time on the internet reading, but I prefer hold a book; reading print on paper. (Plus, just about my entire family is in the paper industry.) I read the NYTimes on-line, but I much prefer getting ink on my fingers. I think my personal preference is for the printed page, but the advantages of reaching more people and stop the hemorrhaging of losing readers are too great to ignore. Besides, books will always be around, no matter the future developments of electronic paper and reading devices.

Human identity is not threatened here. If anything, the continuing development of new media only broadens our identity.

Overall, I think the technorati are onto something, but my heart remains with the literati.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

I'm only here for a muffler

To the old guy in the Midas shop: What is it about me holding a book and reading says "Please tell me about your life"? Wow, your wife once locked your front door and had to have someone take it off the hinges to get back inside? That is un-fucking-believable. I can't wait to tell my friends that story. I'll be the hit of every party I go to with that little narrative gem.

So, let me point something out. If someone is in a waiting room (no matter where it is) and they have their nose in a book, it means they don't want to talk. The only acceptable interruption is to ask what they are reading and what they think of it. Beyond that I don'’t care.

Alright, I'm being a little harsh. I guess it would be acceptable to say one thing to see if someone is interested in conversing, but if the reaction is just a simple "ayuh" and then going back to reading - that'’s not an invitation.

No, I don"’t think Bush is a great president. As a matter of fact I'm one of those idiots who think he should be kicked out of office.

No, "those people" in New Orleans didn'’t get what they deserved. And yes, they should rebuild the city.

No, I don't think illegal immigrants are the real problem. Sending troops and building a huge wall seems a little too East Berlin for my taste.

And no, I did not think the war is worth it.

Let's recap:

Book = no talk
Bush = bad
You = idiot

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Feeling Funky

I'm in a writer's funk. Why do I do this? What's the point? Nobody's gonna read any of my stuff anyway. I want to crawl under a blanket and fold into a fetal position. OK, so I still wrote last night and I'll be at it again today, and I'll probably enjoy it; but the thought of no one reading it just sucks.

Of course, the melancholy mood really helps with the story I'm writing now - it's not a chipper story. So, is it the story or is it me? Am I going through a vicarous depression along with my characters, or am I draggin them down with me?

I guess being in a "life sucks and then you die" mood is prett helpful when you write noir fiction.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


I have a little essay posted on the Mystery Circus website. Check it out here.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

By a Spider's Thread and the Neurotic Reader

Shit. I've now officially screwed up with reading Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan series in order. I hate doing that. I received By a Spider's Thread as a gift and thought I could just read a chapter. Just a few pages, I told myself, then I can put it down. But then I got sucked in; I couldn't wait. Now I have to go back in Monaghan time for the two books I haven't read. For some reason I have to read series in order. It's why I'm still stuck on E in Sue Grafton's series. I have F through M on my shelf, but I've yet to go out and get E; so the other books just sit there, ignored. So now I'm rushing through the Monaghan novels I haven't read, as if I can fool myself in thinking that if I read them all together, it won't matter.

Oh, as for the book: it's wonderful, like all the others. Fantastic plotting and great pacing; and the characters are amazing. I think the fur guy who hires Tess to find his wife is probably one of the most interesting characters I've read in awhile. Brilliant as usual.

Monday, May 15, 2006

The Dramatist and Playing God

I finished Ken Bruen's The Dramatist last week and I still have it on the brain.

First of all, if there is a poster boy for the whole character over the puzzle camp, I think it is Bruen. I read the Jack Taylor series to read how Bruen is solving the mystery of his main character rather than how that character is solving the crimes he happens upon.

Second, I love Bruen's selective use of language. If you're looking for a maximilist style, you better look somewhere else. The lean prose lends itself to the bleak world Bruen has created in the Taylor novels. Just fucking great writing.

Now the final aspect of the novel. Not to give anything away, but an incident that happens at the end of the novel is so heartbreaking, so unbearable, that you would think Bruen has little love for his most famous character. Of course that isn't true; Bruen is simply creating a huge emotional conflict.

Writers need to play god within their created universes. If everything was hunky-dory, why read it? The bigger the conflict, the more a reader will invest in it. And it is the roughest conflicts that are the most memorable, whether they are action based (the first two Alien movies) or emotionally centered (Revolutionary Road). People tend to want a happy ending to their stories; they need a sense of closure, but how many of those stories stay with the reader? Take Mystic River. No happy ending there, but it hits you with a huge emotional punch. Now, think about The Bourne Identity (the book). What do you remember of the ending? Or The Da Vinci Code. Sure, I devoured that book, but I honestly couldn't tell you what happened beyond the big controversial things. For the longest time, I didn't think I had it in me to make my characters suffer, but I quickly realized that without suffering they weren't completely developed. They may well have been gleeful stick figures. But give them a reason to care, a reason to cry, a reason to be angry and just watch them come into their own. Playing god doesn't mean you completely manipulate the characters; it means you give them a conflict and allow them to deal with it. To control the characters, you are forcing them; but if you just create the obstacles, they will take control and leave a lasting impression on your readers.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

A Sure Sign of Summer

I spotted my first tourist taking pictures outside Stephen King's house yesterday; a sure sign that summer is coming! I have no idea why people go out of their way to see his house. It's not like there's a museum attached or anything. I used to drive by his place a couple of times a day because it was on my way to work. In the summer there'd always be a couple of cars with out-of-state license plates parked along the road and tourists snapping photos of the big red house and gargoyle gate. They're mostly average people who (I assume) have taken a small side trip while on their way to Bar Harbor. But our city's most famous resident attracts some real weirdos. There used to be a guy who came once a year in his van with a giant sign that read that Stephen King was the one who shot John Lennon. No wonder the guy wrote Misery.

I guess it's hard for people who grew up around Bangor to understand the enormous fascination with Stephen King. Sure, he's our big celebrity and the city's biggest philanthropist, but I think the locals are just used to him. (However, it is a city ordinance that all citizens of Bangor own an autographed book.) Sometimes people from away will approach us and ask for directions to his house. Sometimes we'll give it to them, and sometimes we'll send them on a wild goose chase to the mall.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Hump the Stump

I have another flash fiction piece on Tribe's Flashing In the Gutters website, entitled Hump the Stump . It's a heartwarming story of a man with no arms and no legs. It's very pretty. Let me know what y'all think.

If you haven't been reading Flashing In the Gutters, what are you waiting for? There are some great flash fiction stories for the whole family to enjoy.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

I'd rather watch Cocktail again

Mission Impossible III sucks. J.J. Abrams has proven that he is a television director with zero cinematic style. Sorry, but shaking the camera and extreme close-ups are not a style. If I wanted to see a Tom Cruise movie that makes me nauseas, I'd watch Cocktail. And those types of tricks are meant for small budget movies and TV shows, not $200M action movies. What is up with the shitty cinematography? The script didn't make sense. Dreadful.

It was boring. And the main reason it was boring was that it was on 11 for the entire two hours. There's no where to go. Which leads me to my point (other than bitching that I spent $6 on crap), which is this: stories need a definite structure that allows the plot to build. This can be done like a gradual slope that is steeper toward the end, or like a sine wave in which the arcs tighten and spike as we reach the climax. The trouble with Mi:III is that it shot right to the top and plateaued. There was no build up. Bad bad storytelling. If anything, you can watch the movie as an example of how not to plot.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


After a couple of marathon sessions, I've finally completed the rough draft of my creative thesis - and I am tired. I had about three hours of sleep last night. I liked what I wrote, but then again I've had no sleep; so it could be a jumbled piece of crap. Tonight, if I don't collapse as soon as I walk in the house, I'm doing absolutely nothing. There better be some cheesy VH1 special on.

And then there is the final polish before it goes out for signatures - but I'll worry about that on Thursday.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Run With the Hunted

I just finished Charles Bukowski's Run With the Hunted. It's a great anthology of this cultural icon's work that spans his entire career. Not all of Bukowski's work is deserving of the praise this pulp poet receives; in fact, some of his poetry reads like autobiographical grocery lists. But despite the underground status he has, Bukowski will probably never receive anything other than curious mention by the mainstream poetry critics. A really good article on Bukowski appeared in the New Yorker last year.

But after reading this thick retrospective, it makes me think of all the unlikable characters that crime writers need to create. I have to teach a seminar this July and I've chosen the subject of anti-heroes in noir fiction. Now this is a program where the majority of people are literary snobs and with a topic so generalized, I'm not expected too many people to show up. However, for the three people who will mistakenly walk into my lecture, I want to do a good job. I knew I needed to review some writing that would examine the less desirable characters in literature. When you read Bukowski you have to wonder why this material is so fascinating. Writing class after writing class they tell you that you need likable characters. That's bullshit. If you want likable, go watch Pollyanna; but for noir literature, you're going to read about some real creeps. It's the nature of the genre.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

In the Violent Old Land of Oz

It's nice to know that after reading crime novel after crime novel that violence can still shock me. While reading The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to my son Duncan, I came to realize what kind of a sick puppy L. Frank Baum truly was. The Cowardly Lion runs off into the forest to rip apart small animals for dinner and the Tin Woodman goes postal with that ax of his - a real no-nonsense motherfucker. I counted over forty beheadings. Did I stop reading, like a responsible dad should? Well...no. Actually, I laughed through the whole battle scene while I read it. And this is after Baum's introduction where he complains about old fairy tales "with all the horrible and blood-curdling incidents..." and states that readers would "gladly dispense with all disagreeable incident" Ironic, isn't?

This is the passage that killed me:

"This is my fight," said the Woodman, "so get behind me and I will meet them as they come."
He seized his axe, which he had made very sharp, and as the leader of the wolves came on the Tin Woodman swung his arm and chopped the wolf's head from its body, so that it immediately died. As soon as he could raise his axe another wolf came up, and he also fell under the sharp edge of the Tin Woodman's weapon. There were forty wolves, and forty times a wolf was killed, so that at last they all lay dead in a heap before the Woodman.
Then he put down his axe and sat beside the Scarecrow, who said, "It was a good fight, friend."

Can you imagine what kind of a bloodbath that was? The Tin Woodman trying to clean his metal suit asking Dorothy if she has a napkin. No heart, I'd say so.

And this is the Scarecrow fending off the Witch's crows:

"It is only a stuffed man. I will peck his eyes out."

The King Crow flew at the Scarecrow, who caught it by the head and twisted its neck until it died. And then another crow flew at him, and the Scarecrow twisted its neck also. There were forty crows, and forty times the Scarecrow twisted a neck, until at last all were lying dead beside him. Then he called to his companions to rise, and again they went upon their journey.

Who needs brains when you have the ability to cause death with a single twist?

But the violent passages of Oz makes me wonder about desensitizing readers of crime novels. Do genre readers expect violence and therefor it doesn't bother them when they read it? And if you need to spark a reaction out of your readers, how do you accomplish it? A beheading in a thriller or a horror novel wouldn't bother me too much; I seriously doubt my reaction would be disbelief and laughter.

I've struggled with the degree of gruesomeness in one of my chapters. I don't want to go overboard, but at the same time the reader needs to have a reaction to the violence to understand the motives of my main character; there needs to be some empathy to connect with the character. Now, I don't have the luxury of putting blood and guts in the middle of a children's story; instead I'm dealing with readers who've probably seen it all. Well, here's hoping people can just appreciate my own brand of violence.