Tuesday, December 28, 2010


This is just a quick update. There won't be much blogging this week since I'm currently writing my Fraggle ass off. Sheesh... and I just wanted to do this in about 20,000 words (we are now at 27,000 and not done). Ah well, we write until it's finished and then it's finished. No revisions. No corrections. Once the last word is "published," I'll be abandoning the Fraggle romance genre to do something else.

I'm guessing 2011 will be another rebuilding year. I have a lot of those. Most of next month, I'll probably work on my old book and get ready to send it forth all sparkly and new in February. I'm still not ready to go back to my snakehandler story. Maybe sometime in February, while I'm anticipating the rejection letters and hoping for just one "yes" I'll pick that back up --or maybe not.

So far, my list of resolutions and plans for 2011 is staying pretty modest. Part of me has lost the will to give a shit. I'll keep going to the gym because I like to and because it feels good. However, I'm not making a lot of plans to travel or do things because that never works out. I really don't want to deal with the disappointment that comes at the end of twelve months when I look back at another year spent penned in my cubicle.

I'll continue to go to the library and take chances on different topics, different authors and if they dazzle me, great, but I'll still read a fair share of comic books.

I'm not making plans to make more money because one of the great truths of my existence is there is a very specific sort of thing that happens when I make even a little more money: new expenses crop up just as soon as I start earning even a dollar or two more. It's like fucking magic.

It is my lot to remain broke. The daycare center will always raise their rates just when I get a raise at work. My car will always break down and cost me $200 when I have $100 in my savings account. I will always be behind on the bills no matter how many weeks I go without taking a day off. There will never be enough money and every purchase over six bucks will come with a cold feeling the size of a grapefruit in the pit of my stomach.

This is my fate.

Still, I am going to follow my bliss, chase the things that make me happy, which is what I do already. I'm not really expecting to be any happier than I am right now. I have reached my median range of joy and happiness. This is it. I must take joy in the conflict and the struggle because there is no goal line. There is no touchdown dance or thousands of screaming fans waiting at the end. There is no Superbowl ring.

I am meant to slog, to work until the second before I die and to repeat the same routine until I can practically see the future.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Fraggle Love

For those of you who aren't one of my Facebook friends or are wise enough not to keep up with every single goofy thing I do, for the last couple of weeks I've been working on a novella. I kind of needed to do something since my previous writing project has stalled out for now.

This new thing is a big change of direction.

It's satire based on an occasional running joke of mine about vampires and werewolves and other fantastic elements in romance novels. I figured if vampires, why not muppets? They're no less ridiculous a creature to fall in love with. Vampires are animated corpses. Muppets are animated dolls made from felt and yarn. Both are hollow inside.

The plan is to release the novella in chunks over the next couple of days. Day one is today. I even created a special blog to house the thing. You can visit it here.

To be sure, it's rough. There are probably continuity errors, writing errors and storytelling errors. The book was sort of vomited out. I apologize in advance for the mess.

I do not apologize for the profanity, the vulgarity or the crude sexual situations which will arise.

And to be clear, no, this is not a new literary direction for me. It's for a laugh. I'm a writer. It's what I do. Anyway, if you're interested, check it out. I'll be updating it over the next couple of days.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


There is something almost spiritual about cracking walnuts. I don't mean the thin-shelled English variety you get at the grocery store in the cellophane bag. You put two of those in your hand, squeeze and nine times out of ten one of them breaks. You pick it apart, devour the heart of it and move on.

No, there's nothing spiritual or thought-provoking about that, but black walnuts... those motherfuckers are tough. They challenge you. They confound you. They demand your attention and if you want what's really there, you have to work for it.

First, you have to collect them from somewhere: off a farm, from the backyard of an elderly relative or in the middle of of the national forest. Nobody grows black walnuts deliberately any more --if they ever did. They're messy. In the early fall, a big black walnut tree rains down baseball sized fruit that dent cars, lay waste to picnic tables and will brain a dog too dumb to move its lazy ass out from under it.

You have to seek them out then gather them up and wait. You have to keep them away from the squirrels and the chipmunks. You have to hide them away from the spiders and centipedes, the maggots and the beetles. You have to wait for the hulls to turn black and greasy. You have to wait until they're juicy and rotting before you can do anything with one. You have to wait until just to hold one in your hand means your palm and fingers will look dirty for at least a week. The stain of a black walnut is as good as ink and it smells of decay.

From what I understand, the pulpy mess is poisonous --not enough to kill you, though I doubt anybody has tried --but enough to make you wish you were dead, enough to make you God awful sick.

To get at the nut, you have to peel away the slick, poisonous hull and extract the gore covered pit. Each time, you're witnessing something being born, watching something new being brought into the world.

The hulls are discarded. They dry in the sun and turn to dust. The nuts you clean up as best you can or you don't. Well-meaning guides suggest you should wash them, like you're cleaning off afterbirth, like the damned things need to be polished, like they can be turned into sparkling jewels. They are not jewels.

The exteriors are rough and gritty. They will remain that way even after they are eventually broken apart, but there's something attractive about them. They're durable and the ridges on the shell are like runes.

It takes a while for the nuts themselves to dry. You can put them in a window box and let the sun do the work. That is the old, country way. I put mine next to a heating vent in my house, in a box that used to hold copy paper. A month later, after a cold snap and all the color has gone out of the hills, they're ready to harvested.

They make contraptions for cracking nuts. At the grocery store, you can buy a simple hand cracker for a couple of bucks. They're shiny and impressive. The good ones can also be used to break into lobster claws --or so they claim. They're also useless when it comes to cracking a black walnut. Likewise, the nutcrackers kept in the heads of dolls are useless, as are a wide array of gadgets that promise they are up to the task.

I bought one of those --a Texas two-step-- twenty bucks on Amazon. It cracked two nuts before it warped so bad it couldn't be trusted to crack a peanut without crushing the fingers of the person holding it.

In the end, I settled on an old wooden stump, a couple of study nails driven halfway to the head into the slatted top of the wood and claw hammer. The crude design reminded me of something I'd seen in a Foxfire book. It was an inaccurate representation of a better idea, but serviceable. The nails held the nut in place, kept it from rolling away while I brought the hammer down.

It was a learning experience. Some of the nuts exploded when you hit them --too hard. Others were like tapping on the side of a battleship --too soft. Every now and again, one would break perfectly in perfect fragments where the oily meat inside could be gently dumped out in gorgeous chunks.

However, it hardly mattered how much force I put behind each individual stroke. You could not read the nuts by looking at them to tell how much or how little effort was required. Sometimes a gentle tap did the job. Other times, you had to pound the living hell out of it and you still got nowhere. Every once in a while, regardless of the time, the effort or the expectations, the inside was empty. There was nothing to be had, no matter how hard you tried.

Cracking walnuts is therapeutic. It's hard to think about trouble, the unpaid bills, your broken heart, when you're swinging a hammer down on a little hard nugget and trying very hard not to pulverize the thing. The whole process requires concentration and luck. It is a meditation. It is a form of prayer and like all prayers it is answered by an indifferent other that will only give to you what there is to give. It will never be enough.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Blood: Birthdays

I reached a milestone last week with the plasma donation. I've donated 50 times, which at one time was going to be my stopping point. This means I've been at this for right at 6 months.

I've gotten past relying on the money. It never gets figured into my budget. I have stopped counting on it, stopped cashing the checks the second I get them, but it's still nice to have the extra few bucks around --just in case.

But I feel like I can start planning to quit. Once I'm done, I'm done. I'll get the tattoo and that will technically finish me off --though as I've learned, short of shooting up in the lobby, engaging in anal sex with a Belgian male prostitute or eating a hamburger that says "Made in England" on the wrapper while the staff watches and takes pictures, there isn't much that would actually disqualify me from donating, provided I don't tell them.

I'm always learning about the ways you can be disqualified from donating --the ones they don't ask you about but are hard to hide from.

"Somebody is having a birthday," she said.

"It's not me," I said and she smiled. She had my chart. Of course, she knew it wasn't my birthday, which would be a pretty miserable way to celebrate --though once, I did sort of plan to do that, but didn't.

"No, it's not your birthday," she said. "But we do something special for birthday people and for when you hit 100."

I knew I'd just crossed 50.

"What happens?"

"Oh, we give stuff," she said. "Sometimes it's a water bottle or one of those drink cozies."

However, sometimes, the gift is a kiss off.

"We had a client come in on his 60th. We really loaded him down with a t-shirt, a gym bag, the water bottle, the whole thing." She seemed sad. "The company changed hands a few months ago. They won't let us take anyone over the age of 60. So we gave him all the stuff, then someone had to tell him he couldn't donate any more."

So he came in for 20 or 30 bucks and left with a t-shirt, a gym bag and a water bottle --along with the message, don't come around here no more.

I hoped the guy needed the money less than I do. Odds are that wasn't the case.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Open casting call

Well, as part of my new "let's help other writers" thing, I'm starting on the basic level. If you're a blogger who reads my blog and want to be identified with me, I'm willing to add your blog to my blog roll.

Not everybody wants this. Some people dig the sordid, car-wreck-in-progress posts that I occasionally conjure up, but wouldn't want their name attached.

Others might be fine with it.

No big promises that this will increase your traffic. I blog because I like to, not because I get a lot of visitors. 5th Column still gets waaaay more than me, even on old posts. If you've been here before, you know I don't really host a forum that leads to a lot of discussion. Comments are welcome, just not really necessary --I mean, what do you say to a guy who spends money he earned selling plasma on a Christmas tree?

What kind of lights are you going to use? I just don't leave a lot to work with.

Anyway, if you want me to add you, I will --provided your blog isn't about promoting the master race, toppling the government or gathering people to do things that would lead to felony convictions. Everything else is mostly fair game, I think. I'd prefer local, but whoever is interested, I suppose, is good enough.

Just send me a link to your site.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

pennies: mood ring

Over the last couple of weeks, I've been grappling with a couple of personal failures and rejections. The most significant has been the loss of a couple of friends.

Nobody died. They just went away.

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine called me from the road and told me she was through with Charleston and heading home to Texas. It was shocking and disorienting. We'd gotten close and I'd come to rely on her for moral support, as a sounding board for my writing and just someone to kind of get me out of my dull, gray brain.

Her own story is complicated and difficult, but the move wasn't entirely unexpected. She always planned to go. The timing was what was off. I just expected later rather than sooner.

A few weeks ago, she decided that things where she was weren't working the way she'd hoped they would. I really don't know what she thought, but she abruptly stopped communicating.

It scared me just a bit. In the weeks leading up to her dropping out, she'd filled my head with fears about old enemies, talk about a stalkerish new guy she'd sort of been seeing and even her own depressed state.

I imagined all kinds of things. I asked around a little and eventually found out that she was okay, but it hurt. I felt discarded and abandoned.

In the last couple of days, I lost another friend. This one, I've known for years. With him, it's the usual. We've always had a kind of adversarial friendship and snipe back and forth for laughs --sometimes to the point where it ceases to be funny and becomes kind of merciless. On some levels, we're very much alike. We have similar temperaments and ways of thinking, but I have a gift for cruelty. When provoked, I can be particularly hurtful and without really trying.

He can be a bastard, but he's really out of his weight class when it comes to me. I'm just that much more awful.

Anyway, I pissed him off --possibly because he pissed me off --and that was it. He cut me loose. It is probably for the best.

It may be that for my friend who fled to Texas, cutting me out was the best thing for her to do, too --to maybe cut some of the things that tethered her to a specific time in her life that just didn't work. Sometimes maybe you have to get rid of some of the old things to make room for the new in your life.

I've taken the rejections hard. Lately, I've been blathering almost non-stop about change. Well, there you go... change, right there. People change. Sometimes they change because they want to and sometimes they change because they need to. Sometimes it happens because of something you did and sometimes it happens because it happens and it has nothing to do with you at all.

I'm trying to find my peace with this. I've lost people from time to time, but I don't quit anybody. I do give them their space, however. Sometimes that's what they want in the first place --space away from me. I don't chase. I don't beg and I don't plead, but I keep a place open in my life for them in case they should want it.

Sometimes they do come back.

But not always.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Pennies: Resolutions again

My resolutions are coming together slowly and the list to the side is growing. I spoke to a guy about them yesterday, a drummer as it happens, who told me he didn't bother with them. He also said that losing weight or getting in shape was never a problem because he's married to a personal trainer. When he starts getting fat, she lets him know. Problem solved.

This was not particularly helpful.

Still, my little coffee cup reminds me, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."

At the library, looking for a copy of the Writer's Market for a friend --she writes erotic/pornographic short stories involving bondage, masochism, etc... and needs help locating magazines that might consider publishing, one of the librarians asked if I needed help. I didn't, but she seemed pretty unhappy to be shelving books so I shrugged and went along with it.

"Are you a writer?" She asked and I said, sure. I'm a writer.

"Are you?" I asked. She seemed pretty eager to help. She worked around books. She was human. All of these things contributed to the possibility that she might like to write.

She nodded. "I write science fiction and fantasy --but just a little."

"Lots of imagination," I acknowledged.

"Well, reality isn't as much fun."

I nodded, but thought that my friend who writes the porn is probably writing from her own experiences to some degree. Of course, not everybody likes sex or wants to be treated as a personal fuck toy.

The pope, for instance... probably... and maybe some of those guys on Fox News.

We looked for a little while and finally I explained what the book could do. It's a directory of where you could get published --if God loves you. She seemed interested, like maybe she'd wondered about that.

Finally, she located the book.

"Oh, it's in reference." She frowned. "You can't check it out. You can look at it, but you can't take it home."

Ah well, I told her. I can always buy it. It wouldn't kill me to buy something every once in a while.

As I was leaving, I remembered how many people encouraged me to write, how many people cut me slack or gave me a break. I've tried to do that with other aspirants. We are many. But I've never nailed it down as a personal policy. For 2011, it becomes policy. I still want to get published. I want that more than anything and I'm still going to try, but I can also do what I can to help other writers get read, too.

For my friend who writes the porn, I promised her I'd share my copy of the Writer's Market when I got it. I'm selling blood on Saturday. It should be enough to cover it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

blood: Oh Christmas Tree...

"Why are you wearing shorts?"

Outside, snow was coming down like paper streamers. The sky was leaden and the technicians working the counter were appalled. Just looking at me made them cold.

"Laundry day," I said. This is my standard line when actually I don't much care what I wear on Saturday. It was enough to get my point through. They understood, but thought I was stupid for coming out dressed for a luau.

"You drove, right?" And I nodded.

"But I've got some errands outside," I said. "My family is getting our Christmas tree."

What I really love about the plasma people is no matter what I tell them I'm planning on spending my blood money on, they never flinch. Whatever I say I'm going to buy never seems weird to them.

"I've got to get my tree out of the attic this weekend," the technician said and checked my blood pressure. "I guess I bought it about ten years ago, spent almost a hundred dollars."

I nodded. "Sounds like you got your money's worth. The fresh cut ones run about 40 or 50 bucks. We go out every year. It's kind of a tradition."

"I like live trees, too," she said. "I just can't stand cleaning up the needles."

It is a common complaint.

"I don't mind the extra fuss," I said. "I wish they were cheaper, but we do pretty good. We always go with a budget."

In this case, my budget was exactly $52, the money from a single week of donating plasma.

We picked the tree out at the market. The snow was really coming down. I was still wearing my shorts. My youngest son found the tree.

"I like this one," he said and it looked pretty good to me. It looked pretty good to all of us.

I shelled out 40 dollars and bought a bunch of mistletoe to hang over doorways and to tie above the stalls in the bathroom at work.

Ho, ho, ho.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

punch drunk

The problem with doing what I do (writing for money) is you can never be certain how something is going to be received. You do your best, look to do the story right and sometimes... fuck, who knows? You still end up pissing somebody off you didn't really intend to.

Nobody likes negative feedback. It's draining and certainly I earn a fair share when I do dumb things like screw up the spelling of a name or mistake the time of a particular show. Some of the things I've screwed up are pretty ridiculous. I accept my stripes when I'm careless. I deserve them, but I make a correction, offer an apology, try not to do the same damned thing again, and move on.

The hardest times are when I get called out on something that has nothing to do with an error. It's usually a difference of perspective. A couple of times I've had tense conversations with concert promoters over articles, usually reviews they didn't particularly like. It's always some detail that's been pointed out: a singer has a cold, the sound system seemed off... something.

This is not to say I am a hard reviewer. I'm not. I strive for fair, but forgiving. Putting yourself out there is hard, particularly when you're on the local level.

Anyway, you can't please everybody all of the time --or some of the time, even. Every now and again, regardless of the intent, the story is read completely wrong. Somebody prospects for that one shining nugget of shit out of what is a silver mine of promotion and good will. The mine it then they want to bring it to the window to be cashed for all its worth.

It feels like a gut punch. It makes me doubt my own ability. It makes me try to peel apart my own intentions like layers of onion skin to see what's at the core.

Today, for instance, I was pissed at an artist. I wrote something I took as positive and more interesting than everything else in the section --at least, the most interesting thing I wrote this week --and they hated it. They absolutely loathed it and read something between the lines I did not write.

And I did the walk through the emotions: shock, disbelief, doubt of my own skills, anger, more anger, disgust then finally... eh (shrug). Along the way, I swear I'm never going to do another one. I swear the ungrateful asshole will not be seeing any more ink from me and they can go fucking hang themselves for all I care. Who fucking needs this? I'll stick with the god damned bass players. They never bitch.

The funny thing is it doesn't matter whether they thought I did a good job or not. It doesn't matter whether I'm hurt because I feel unappreciated and rejected. I don't stay angry and I don't hold a grudge. I let it go because I live in a small town with a small arts, music and theater scene. They can say different, but each struggles to draw a crowd and find patrons.

Maybe they don't need me, but I think they do.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Emo's rambling roundup

Again, we enter the last few weeks of the year and I take a look at that list to the right of the blog I've been ignoring. 2010 was a tough year, not because the money was tighter than usual. It wasn't, really. I managed to get through, thanks to a nearly endless work week and supplementing my income with regular donations to the plasma center.

No, it was tougher for other reasons, I guess. It started hard and it's ending hard. There wasn't much of a gooey center.

But here's the final update on what I did and did not do this year.

1-I did not get published. My first book was ignored and subsequent rewrites have mostly stalled. Book number two is being re-written. Who knows? Either way, it's not getting published this year. Next year, looks particularly bleak.

2-I haven't written to my grandmother in weeks. This has kind of been on again and off again.

3-I've learned very few things this year and certainly not 50. Most of the important things I've learned are not particularly practical. For instance, Larry Groce told me once that there were really only about 300 different melodies. Everything else kind of riffs off that. I remembered that when I started reading about archetypes in literature and sort of connected the dots about people.

There are no unique people. We are not unique little snowflakes. We're all riffs off a set of archetypes. This explains to me why so many think they know me, why I resemble somebody else they've met and usually remember well. They do know me. I'm closer representative to a particular (and fairly common) archetype in the great book of characters that is repeated over and over.

This is the kind of stuff I learned. It's sort of interesting, but not really useful. It doesn't improve my life or the life of anyone else in any measurable way and is a little depressing, actually.

4-Read 12 great books. Never happened. I read mostly pop fiction this year. Some of it was fun, but none of it was what anybody would consider edifying or enlightening. So, I did read 12 not-so-great books.

5-Make enough money. Well, I made enough to survive. My credit rating is up, but that's about it. I get by, but thriving is another matter.

6- Complete Captain America project. Nope. Still working on it. I'm trying anyway.

7-Improve. That's a tough one. I think I'm some better as a writer. I'm stronger and I don't smoke these days. I'm a good father. I think I get better at that every year. I'll rule that as in the plus column.

8- Remember I'm lucky and decent. I'm decent yes and I have tried to be as lucky as a man can be, but I wouldn't say that's true. You can make your own luck. I've read books on the subject that talk about improving your chances for positive outcomes, but that sort of thinking makes luck like of like cooking. Some people can follow the directions of a recipe for a cake and turn in something that's better than you can buy at a bakery. Other people can follow the same directions and create something inedible.

It's not just what you do. It's where you are, who you are and what you have at your disposal. There is a difference in what you have for ingredients, the quality of your tools and even the elevation of where you do the work. Some of these things you can adjust, some of them you're stuck with.

I did not make much luck this year.

9-Escape. I never did. Not once. All year I've been like a chained dog in a fenced yard. There was no vacation. I spent two nights away from home this year. Both of them were at my Mom's.

On the pluses and minuses, I fall easily in the negative, which is disappointing since really the bar wasn't particularly high. I could make excuses on why this or that didn't work. Mostly, it has to do with losing steam, with finding my optimism and drive collapse beneath the everyday struggles of just being me. Some of it was maybe turning 40 or just laziness.

I could have eased up on the cheeseburgers, though, and watched a little less television.

Looking back, 2010 won't be a year I'll miss. There were a few bright spots here and there, but there was a lot of wasted energy, heartache and headache.

But we start over. We start over because that is what I know how to do. I get up and give myself another chance. I do that because despite the periodic whining I like me. I think I'm worth another chance. I am always worth another chance and besides, what else have I got to do?

One of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing the same way over and over and expecting a different result.

Maybe I should stop hoping to be published or to travel anywhere farther than Pearisburg, Virginia. It doesn't mean I should stop writing, that I should stop sending my work to people or that I shouldn't go where I can when I can. It just means I need to lay off creating artificial deadlines that do nothing but periodically make me feel like I failure over the course of twelve months.

Making oaths and promises for self-improvement doesn't seem to work for me. I've been waiting to get this tattoo to celebrate the completion of project Captain America for a while. Maybe the point isn't to win, but just to compete.

Maybe this time, the way to do it is to go ahead and have dessert first then move on to the soup and salad. Maybe instead of looking for ways to make more work for myself in order to reward myself at the end I should look for ways to treat myself, then work to pay for it somehow.

It's all a work in progress, I guess.