Thursday, January 29, 2009

Capping off a fabulous week

The envelope was waiting for me when I got home. Like I said before the holidays, sending part of my novel off to the agency in California who requested it was a long shot. I expected it to get chewed up. I expected them to say no and they did.

In a friendly one page letter, the agent told me what she thought was both good and bad about what I'd sent. She offered some suggestions of things I might try to make it work better, but work for someone else. She was nice, but she said no.

I knew it was coming. I've known it was coming every day since I sent it. It still hurt.

So, I had myself a good couple of minutes of falling apart. I went face forward into my bed with my boots still on and quivered there like I'd just been turned down for a date to the prom. I had it coming and I let it pass.

It's been a bitch of a week, but it's not the worst.

Later, I looked at the letter again. Some of the feedback is good. I can see her point. Part of it I don't see. She doesn't get it, but at least now, I know why I've been having such a hard time with the new writing project. The old one isn't finished yet. It won't be finished until I have it in someone's hands or until I run out of people to send it to.

Maybe one day, I'll be the kind of novelist who can work ahead, who can have one book on the market, another one finished and another being developed. That's sprinting the 100 yard dash. I'm still flopping around, trying to get on my feet. I'm still learning how to tell a story and trying to find what it is exactly I want to say.

I'm not any good at math, so I'm pretty much stuck with this.

Not so great.

The non-stop hits of this week continue. I turned down a gig for $150, money I desperately need. It's a little worse than that. My reasons for turning it down had little to do with the moral implications of the freelance piece, but with my schedule.

It sort of sucks. I'm not a very nice person it turns out. Others, no doubt, have suspected this for some time.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rough week

It's been a bad one, but I get those. Saturday, somehow I managed to blow out my rear brakes. The mechanic described the rear drums as "exploded." Neat trick. No idea how I did it and he wasn't giving me any tips on how not to do it again.

Cost $650. Getting to listen to yet another stranger tell me my credit is bad and why: priceless, but they still gave me the loan and a free lecture. My hopes for saving up for a down payment on a home were yet again dashed, but, luckily, the housing market is shot. I don't have to feel too bad. It's the fucking apocalypse. Why would I want to own anything more than a shotgun and some shoulder pads?

This sort of foretells me looking for a second job again... My wife likes this idea not at all, but she would probably like not having light and heat even less.

I managed to get another one of my stories circulated internationally. The downside is it was about Jesco White. Kind of depressing that the only way I can get noticed is if I write about crazed redneck dancers or radio stations who partner with a divorce attorney to grant some lucky someone. A. Dream. Divorce. Getaway! (insert applause and cheesy music)

The snakes novel is stalled. I'm frustrated and I can't get around it. I said I wasn't going to do this, but it might be time to work on one of other writing projects. I had a funny one. I could use a good laugh (as well as an evening of debauchery and fine dining).

Add to that, my nifty new video game I bought for my computer, apparently is too much for my system to handle. It would be fun to play, if I suffered from seizures. The handling is jerky. It's just a mess.

On the upside, I'm looking forward to the Polar plunge next week. I've managed to raise a few bucks for The Special Olympics and I'm modestly proud of getting to be a part of it. I'm also looking at doing my part to make it extra interesting. It all depends on whether I can find something in my size. I'm restarting the mailings of my novel this week, though I'm going to have to scale back to three per week. I have to make cuts. The postage and materials are just too much.

Winter sucks.

Monday, January 26, 2009


Two more for the pile.

Change We Can Believe In: The Obama Presidential Campaign.
It's a policy thumbnail sketch for the future from the campaign. There are a lot of promises... a lot of promises... and seven key speeches. The policy stuff tends to repeat. It was supposed to, in order to hammer the points. Some of my favorites included an Earned Income Tax Credit for some folks who pay child support and rebates for everyone! The tax credit I like because it rewards people who do pay support. It encourages following the rules and would probably reduce, to some degree, the number of people who try to sneak off.

The problem with the book, even before the economy went as far south as it has, is I don't think he can't pay for this stuff, not with streamlining government, not with closing a few loopholes... Not going to happen. The call to cut the bureaucracy has been issued many, many times. Mostly, they just move desks around. Fire people from one department and hire people (usually more people) for another. It offers a lot of good ideas of where to spend money, but not a lot on how to come up with it. He doesn't mention which programs are going to have to get throttled in order to spend the money he wants. So... eh... not so much on the policy stuff.

The speeches were pretty much great. His speech on race is a keeper.

As A Friend: Forrest Gander.
This is kind of a Faulkneresque character study from multiple points of view about some shitball named Les. Les is a full-time land surveyor and part-time poet, who screws around a lot, writes not particularly memorable poetry and drinks too much. He's quirky in an annoying, childish way, but is still somehow beloved by his "lesbian" mistress (who buys him a cock ring), his thick-skulled wife and his annoying homosexual-leaning drinking buddy. Some of the language is pretty, but the characters are mostly frail and unlikeable. Everyone is a thinly sketched co-dependent to the gigantic overdrawn asshole that is our buddy Les, who exits about a hundred pages too late.

It's a jerk off novel for the shallow.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Faster, damn it.

Sometimes I imagine individual minutes as kind of being like a line of dominoes tipping over one after another. This is how time moves. Today, it's starting to feel like someone threw a bowling ball at the dominoes.

Too much to do. Too little time and it's gonna get bumpy.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Of mice and batmen

The guy was waiting for me when I got in this morning. The first words I heard were, "There was a man here to give you a paper." I already knew what this was about. I'd been informed while I was driving, but I'd laughed it off.

What in the hell did he want me to say?

Downstairs, in the lobby, there was supposed to be a note. Outside in the cold, a currently unemployed pizza delivery boy (but who wants to be a comedian) stood outside and waited for me to take the note. As soon as I asked for the note, he stepped forward with the subpoena. Later, while the two of us were sitting at the courthouse, with me waiting to be called and with him waiting to get paid, he said he'd never done this kind of work before. It was his first day.

He might have been lying about that.

I didn't really mind. I've never been subpoenaed. I've never been asked to testify about anything -at least, I don't remember having ever testified. I once gave a statement for a lawyer about a friend in college who was accused of stealing some tires. I told the lawyer my friend was far too stoned to have stolen anything. He was practically unconscious. Of course, it turned out he did steal the tires. I just wasn't there when he did it.

In this business of journalism I'm weirdly attached to, you expect running into some sort of legal issue eventually. It happens most often to reporters who cover money or business or the government. It occasionally happens to reporters who cover education or even crime. It very seldom happens to guys like me who write about bass players and even less to guys who write about people who own a batmobile.

A little over a week ago, I did a story on a guy who owns (or owned) a replica of the batmobile. This was similar to the vehicle used in Batman and Robin, the Val Kilmer installment as the caped crusader. It was a follow up story, just a cute piece to pass the time and give people something to think about besides maybe getting laid off. It sounded cool. The interview wasn't any great shakes, but it was interesting enough.

The owner of the car has quite the fan club. The next day, I got hit with phone calls and e-mails from a wide variety of people who knew or had heard of the guy's dastardly deeds. He's got a pending case in Putnam over a hit and run. He is a frequent visitor in family court apparently and some of his neighbors don't like him.

It might have been a different story if I'd known all of this before, but as it happens, most people don't mention pending court cases when they're seeking publicity about something. It's sort of funny how that works.

Anyway, the owner of the batmobile is involved in matter with one of his ex's. They wanted to ask me about what I might have noticed while I was interviewing him. As my attention was affixed on the weird looking car in the driveway and pretty odd conversation with the owner, I might have been occupied.

It didn't really matter. I sat around for an hour with the guy who served the paper, but never went in. My assistance wasn't required. They were victorious! His attorney mentioned they might like to call me at some point in the future and I rolled my eyes. That sounded great... Meanwhile, the ex-pizza guy trailed us on the way out like a stray dog. I think he would have hit me up for some spare change if he hadn't served me a subpoena. Whether I was called to answer questions or not, he wanted to get paid. I don't blame him.

The morning wasn't entirely wasted. I listened to a pair of old ladies reverently talk about the end of days while they waited for their evil, heavily tattooed children duke it out with their former soul mates over hateful phone calls, broken promises and God knows what. Both women were pretty certain the end was soon. They were looking forward to it. If their kids were still living at home, I imagine the apocalypse must be pretty enticing.

It was a pretty good time for all.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Monday, January 19, 2009


I can add two more books to the pile.

I finished Slapstick by Kurt Vonnegut and Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by GerdGigerenzer.

Slapstick, I'd say, isn't one of my favorites by Vonnegut. It's even more loosely plotted than usual, with Vonnegut spinning off into the weird and never really coming back. The story follows a pair of apelike twins who, together, have vast, supernatural intelligence. Naturally, for years, they hide this fact from their wealthy parents and the rest of the world. Eventually, there's incest, drug addiction, tiny Chinese men and a bizarre malfunction with the world's gravity, possibly the fault of the Chinese government.

It is a very, very strange book, which usually works for me. In this case, it just became too distracting with one bizarre thing piled on another, with it really not adding much to the overall story. It was fun, but not exceptionally stimulating.

Gut Feelings was something else. As part of my attempt to read 100 books in 2009, I'm trying to read things outside my usual genres. Gut Feelings is sticking my big toe in that particular river to test the water. It's part of the science of decision making. It was pretty accessible and gave me some interesting thoughts about how people make decisions. It also confirmed, or at least supported, some of my own ideas dealing with the familiar and unfamiliar.

It also sort of explained why I get confused for other people on a regular basis and why this isn't usually a bad thing.

The gist of the book is we often operate using almost subconscious rules of thumb. These are often pretty simple statements that help define who we are to ourselves. It's kind of a code of behavior.

What the book explains is we often make decisions against the obvious data at hand, using facts we know, but don't know we know. These represent hunches, instinct, whatever... The funny thing is these rules of thumb work more often than they don't (particularly in cases when it would seem they shouldn't work at all), but they can be manipulated. They can be changed when new data is accepted. Often this is for the good, but it's possible to force different internal rules to conflict and essentially trick them into making a decision that goes against their core beliefs.

Fascinating stuff.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Curse the sun

It's like bad karma. I've got writer's block. My spooky story about Cartersville is all tangled up. I can't seem to write my way out of it. After fighting with it for weeks and writing a lot of stuff that doesn't seem to be getting me to my ending, the temptation is to put the damned thing away for a little while, take a week or two then start on something entirely different if I don't feel moved to write about creepy preachers and their evil friends.

Maybe I just need a few laughs. I think everybody does. The whole world seems pretty grim right now.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Old Republic

A friend of mine is pretty pleased with himself that he's going to Washington to see the inauguration of President Obama. Yesterday, there were numerous lengthy and unnecessary explanations for how he'd be out of the office, how he'd be late the following day and how this was all due to his trip to Washington. He seemed to work it into every conversation he could.

"Looking at this coffee I'm reminded of how, though it is black, it is both a comfort in cold times and invigorating with it's strength. I'll need this coffee next Tuesday, while I'm standing in the cold, watching history being made in Washington."

Okay, it wasn't quite as ridiculous as that, but he did hammer the point home over and over. He was going to the inauguration. Somehow, some way, he'd been plucky enough to get a ticket and found the strength to fill his car with a tank of gas. It would be a perilous journey, but he'd dug down deep and found friends to stay with. There would be sacrifice. He was willing to brave crowds and risk eating fast food while driving, all to get a glimpse at the future.

This wasn't just about him. He was going for all of us.

I could perhaps be a bit more kind, a little more thoughtful. It's a big deal to him and maybe to a lot of people. I've seen others get this way over American Idol, but on his way out at the end of the day, as he was explaining for the fifteenth time we were all going to have give him a pass for not being here early in the week because he was going to be in Washington watching the torch of freedom and enlightenment be re lit by the guy we voted to have the matches, I spoke up.

"Hey man, since you're going," I said. "If you happen to pass near Obama during the inauguration, if you could reach out and but touch the hem of his robes, I will be healed. "

He sort of stared at me for a second. It was pretty bad manners on my part and I think I baffled him the layered blasphemy.

"Just have a good time," I said. "See you next week."

And I wish him well. I hope he has a great time. I hope it's everything he wants it to be and that maybe my sour disdain for the cult of personality around Obama is washed away by the works and leadership of a great man. I'm willing to give it a shot at least.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I've been thinking nearly endlessly of travel, which is funny because for the first time in my life, I do not actually own a pair of good walking shoes. My stupid cat, a symbol of my domestic oppression, took a nice dump on the laundry room floor (another symbol of my domestic oppression). I stepped in the mess and the shoes, which had holes in them anyway, just were past saving.

I'm down to a pair of five dollar Doc Martens I bought at a yard sale and a pair of fifteen dollar Doc boots, I got off Ebay. I buy second hand, but I don't buy crap.

Everything I see makes me think of hitting the road, sticking out my thumb and taking my chances or loading up my bank-owned car and just going. I don't think it much matters where, just go, don't leave a forwarding address. Stay gone until the IRS comes asking.

I've got nothing against the inevitable settling that comes in almost every life. I'm a responsible guy. The kids need me. My wife needs me. Second-rate burn-outs who play bass and who want people to come to their show at The Empty Glass need me. My whole life, some days, seems about giving people what they need and me recognizing, it's what needs to be done.

But I dream of far-away shores where the days are different and the faces everybody wears change from time to time. I'd like to see crystal clear waters and meet more people with loose morals or spend some time wandering ugly iron cities full of fear and promise. I'd like to meet some friendly cannibals and maybe a werewolf. I don't know enough actual dwarfs or people who pierce genitalia for a living. I'd like to blend in with some lepers or at least a couple of strippers.

I'm not bored. I'm just restless and unfortunately, I fear it will eventually pass.

Monday, January 12, 2009


I'm off to a slow start with the 100 books in 2009 project. I finished Thich Nhat Hanh's "The World We have" and I'm about halfway through Raffaele's "Among the Cannibals."

Thich Nhat Hanh's book was an okay read. It's mostly a call for conservation and earth compassion from a Buddhist point of view. Nothing wrong with it and I certainly got some decent ideas about how to apply Buddhist principles to living in a consumer society. Some of the high points included: remembering that many of the things we enjoy, including meat, coffee and chocolate come from places where the workers who provide them can't actually afford to buy them. You can't practice engaged Buddhism, compassionate Buddhism in action if you're not actually practicing your religions. Funny thing. He says doing good works isn't really a substitute. It sort of all comes back to meditation and being in the moment. I also got a decent Buddha diet tip: just eat what's in your bowl. Fat Buddhist monks are rare.

Anyway, the book gave me some things to think about and challenged me to make some changes.

Next up, a very disturbing book about one writer's journey to meet a variety of people who practice one form of cannibalism or another. Raffaele's visit with the tribes of New Guinea really messed with me. I wasn't so much bothered by the idea of stone age savages (and they are savages) eating human flesh, but the often-repeated notion of civilization in cycles. It was pretty frightening to look at where humanity once was and where, eventually, we will likely return.

But more on that, after I finish.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Happy Birthday to the King

Here's hoping the big guy gets off early from his shift at the 7-11 this morning and maybe kicks back with a fist full of nembutals, some kung fu movies and a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. I'm told he likes to keep it quiet these days.

Happy Birthday Mr. Presley, you hunka-hunka burning love.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


No, not a hundred posts... I'm way past that. 100 books. The Kanawha County Public Library is opened up a challenge for patrons to read 100 books in celebration of their100 years. Now, I read a bit. I'd say I average about a book a week (minus graphic novels. Some of which are like novels and others are not. I read both kinds so count neither).

Anyway, I'm giving it a shot. My strategy is to mix it up: read a bunch of shorter works (including poetry) as well as my usual fare of big-ass novels. I finished my first read last night: Charles Dickens' Hard Times. It was a pretty dense read, at times maudlin, at others saccharine, but generally deeper than it appears. This one criticized love and marriage. The couples most in love and most compatible in the book are those who either aren't married or can't marry. As he tends to do, by the end, Dickens punishes the wicked, reverses the fortunes of some, turns a couple of characters into martyrs for their hearts and overly rewards the simple and virtuous.

Still, a pretty good book. Even I got a little choked up after what happened to noble Stephen Blackpool, but not Dickens best by a long shot.

One book down. Ninety-nine to go. Next, we've got a tiny book by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh called "The World We Have." Should be a hoot.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Sunday mornings in paradise

Sunday morning and the bozo from across the street has a couple of his grubby looking flunkies working on his small fleet of cars and trucks. The guy is the neighborhood's local supervillain. He does landscaping work and probably construction clean-up. On any given day, he's got a big-ass club cab truck with a trailer full of crap parked behind it, at least one beat to shit car and an assortment of heavy equipment including anything from a bulldozer to a bizarre looking device I think is used to take down redwood trees.

My neighborhood is on a narrow, dead end street. The street is always choked with vehicles. Parking is always at a premium and if you show up at the wrong time, usually after 5 p.m. on Friday, you're probably walking a block or two to your house.

I love the bozo. Everybody bitches about him. In pairs, they meet out in the street to complain at each other about his rather unneighborly use of the street. For his part, the guy doesn't really give a rat's ass what people say. He's going to park his trailer full of wood and his truck and his bulldozer and whatever the else he owns right where he can see it. Fuck all! He'll park a God damned Sherman tank on the street if he wants.

The local busybody has suggested one of us might call the city. Evidently, he can be cited for something. What exactly, sounds vague, sinister and oppressive. I'm getting enough of that as it is, but so far, no one has been willing to stick their neck out. As for me, I don't care. As long as people are complaining about the bozo, they won't be paying any attention to the noise and chaos emanating in waves from my front door. If I had the money, I'd buy the guy an ugly old Cadillac, donate it anonymously. It could be his summer home, if he wanted.

Across the street, a couple of the bozo's kids hang out of the back window like monkeys at the zoo. Their long arms hold stolen cigarettes and they practically crawl out to take a puff. I know the cigarettes are stolen because say what you like, there isn't a clerk within three counties who'd sell a pack of Marlboros to a fourteen year-old. At least, they wouldn't do it in this day and age. When I was a kid, you could get cigarettes out of vending machines. People started smoking somewhere around the third grade.

The Bozo's kids see me staring and wither. They've been found out by an adult. If I can catch them, they have to figure the old man will be on to them shortly and undoubtedly, the cigarettes they're smoking belong to him. He would likely complain. The damned things are expensive.

In the street, avoiding the Bozo's buddies, little kids from the neighborhood ride scooters and dodge the cars coming and going to church. I watch the drivers' of the SUVs and trucks mutter under their breaths as they wait for eight-year-olds and younger creep out of the way. On crowded streets everybody is in a hurry except the people with nowhere to go.