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Tattoo #79

August 21st, 2014 | Category: Life,Opinions,Tattoos,Thoughts on Books
Tattoo by Kyle, Doc Dog's Las Vegas Tattoo, Ybor City

Tattoo by Kyle, Doc Dog’s Las Vegas Tattoo, Ybor City

So, this tattoo, number seventy-nine, doesn’t follow my usual leanings toward song lyrics. Instead, I went with a book quote, a not-so-not-lengthy book quote. It’s from the last paragraph of Dermaphoria by Craig Clevenger. If you haven’t read either of Clevenger’s books. The Contortionist’s Handbook, Dermaphoria, you’re really missing something., they’re gorgeously sad books. I’m not at all ashamed to admit that the end of Dermaphoria had me crying at 4 am. Anyway, this is definitely my largest tattoo, it covers pretty much my entire right side. It’s there and almost nobody will ever see it outside of this post, but that’s not the point. It’s a memory made external, one that affected me so deeply that I want to physically carry it with me.

Again, since I’m running really low on space, it’s kind of awkwardly placed. It reads…

“…and in the moment

before the angels turn

off my universe, God’s

own clock quicksand

slows to an ice

whisper quiet and I

could sit here beside

you and watch the

twilight wither for

days on end.”

I don’t want to give away anything about what the words mean in the context of the book, but in the context of me…

No passage in any book has ever felt so familiar.

I was with someone I love, and we were lying together watching gorgeous twilight fade away, and I never wanted it to end. I never wanted to be without her, ever. Not ever.

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Todaaaaay

August 20th, 2014 | Category: Life,Opinions

So, I wrote this flash story, and I feel like it’s something different, like it’s one of the better things I’ve written. I’ve been tweaking it from a draft to something more like a finished story. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it yet, I’m still mulling things over. I don’t know why, I just feel really good about it. We’ll see.

I caught up on some e-mail… I’m really trying to be more productive. I’ve just been really nervous, like, all the time. I can’t get used to my new space, I don’t feel right here. It’s like, no matter how bad everything else felt, at least I had my room. I felt safe there, and it was mine. I picked the paint, the artwork, every piece of furniture, and everything was exactly in its place because I had it placed so. I built it with Celeste and Steven and Sarah and Katherine and Stacy, some of my best assistants, and some of my closest friends. They’re all far away now, but in that room they felt at least a little closer, and that felt good.  I made love to… Fuck it. What’s done is done.

Anyway, I’m reading these total cotton-candy books, light and fun, and no substance. I mean they’re not badly written trash, but they’re definitely not art. They’re based in the world of Diablo, a video franchise that is actually really spectacular. The games aside, the lore that’s the foundation of Diablo is intricate and well-realized, there’s plenty of material for decent fantasy writers to put out lots of fun books. Diablo’s been around since I was in high-school, and nerdy it may be, I’ve been a fan ever since. Technology has finally caught up to how detailed Diablo’s story is, so now we have gorgeous visuals that are fit for the story. For me, Diablo’s draw has always been the story. It’s set in a dark fantasy world in which angels and demons wage war against each other in the pits of Hell and at the very gates of Heaven, both sides using humanity for their own ends. It’s a world of powerful mages, humble warriors, once Holy Orders of Priests corrupted by demons offering immortality. It’s not Faulkner, but if you’re able to quote Faulkner, you can get away with reading a few Diablo books.

Okay, enough of me.

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500

August 18th, 2014 | Category: Life,Opinions,Thoughts on Writing

I subscribe to this blog, Ingrid’s Notes, she’s a writer, gives tips on craft and what-not. Today’s post was from a guest blogger trying to hawk someone’s book about how writers can boost their output to 10,000 words per day. Aside from that being deranged, the physical act of typing 10,000 words would take me most of 24 solid hours. I’m not buying that book. Still, the post was actually really… eye-opening.

The first half of the post discuses various writers’ average daily word counts. Stephen King puts out around 3,000 words per day, which is doable, but brutal. Ann Rice slams down around 5,000 words per day, totally out. Besides, the merits of monster word counts are debatable. Some say, if you’re putting down tons of words, even if they’re mostly trash, you still had a good day. Others would call such a day a waste of time, and it’s better to tighten your craft and focus on solid writing. I don’t really think there’s any right or wrong thought on word counts, it’s up to the writer and what feels best to them.

Personally, I’ve always been best at saying the perfect thing in as few words as necessary. So, what really drew my interest was one particular writer’s average daily word count, Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway averaged 500 words per day. Like his work or not, Hemingway is immortal, a writer whose name will live on forever, because ultimately, writing isn’t about word counts or unit sales, it’s about the quality of craft, of a finished story. If Hemingway secured immortality with something around 500 words per day…

Why can’t I? I know that if I create a daily routine and just fucking write, I can do 500 words easily enough. I’m no Hemingway, but I know I don’t suck either.

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Tattoo #78

August 17th, 2014 | Category: Life,Opinions,Tattoos,Thoughts on Music
Tattoo by Colt, Doc Dog's Las Vegas Tattoo, Ybor City

Tattoo by Colt, Doc Dog’s Las Vegas Tattoo, Ybor City

So, this tattoo, my seventy-eighth, is from an Elliott Smith song, Pitseleh, off of one of my favorite records, XO. It’s a wrap-around tattoo that’s pretty much impossible to photograph. I’m pretty much out of flat open spaces, so my leg had to do.

It reads:

“They say that God makes problems just to see what you can stand before you do as the Devil pleases… Give up the thing you love.

No one deserves it.”

To me, the lyrics are saying, it seems like God pushes, and pushes, and pushes, until you break and make decisions that make life even worse.

The last few years have felt like this, but I don’t literally believe it’s God’s fault that absolutely everything in my life has gone to Hell. Really, sometimes bad things happen for no reason, and sometimes when life turns sideways, we break, we make bad decisions, and our own stupid decisions wreck our desires. It’s not my fault the state of Florida destroyed my independence, nor is it my fault I had to move and leave the room I spent nine years crafting, but it is my fault I lost the woman I love. Bad things happen, we have a vast capacity to make everything worse. God doesn’t go around sticking it to people. Still, I think that that’s something people of faith worry about, especially we with Catholic backgrounds, though not practicing. We wonder, My life is shit. Does God just hate me? I’ve had the thought often enough, when it seems like life goes the opposite of all my prayers. Tivoli once wrote me, after I died but didn’t, and I was scared of losing Sara, “I still don’t believe God hates you, but I’m beginning to think He likes fuckin’ with you.” God hating me has always been just one of my host of worries, but not a belief (usually).

So, why the tattoo?

Because I think the words are beautiful and I like having them with me. Because if I manage to dig out of the hole I’m in, the words will remind  me of how deep the hole was, how far I had to dig to find someplace beautiful again.

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An evil antique

August 03rd, 2014 | Category: Life,Opinions

So, today was dull. I watched a not-too-awful horror movie, Oculus, it’s about AN EVIL FUCKING MIRROR… It’s really a gorgeous mirror, antiquey, but, yes, TOTALLY FUCKING EVIL. Still, I would hang it, anything to class-up my room.

Okay, tomorrow, I guarantee a solid post. Really.

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Slowsies

July 31st, 2014 | Category: Life,Opinions

Today was slow, really slow.

Right now, I’m watching Hard Candy, in honor of my friend, Celeste’s, birthday. It’s kind of our movie. It’s one of those movies with no middle-ground, you either think it’s fucking awesome, or you’re totally mortified. Celeste and I weren’t mortified.

Happy birthday, Celeste!

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Book review blast, July 2014: horror

July 28th, 2014 | Category: Opinions,Thoughts on Writing

So, I’ve been reading a lot, 2008 levels. My current reading is more out of abject depression, whereas 2008 was more, Sara and I liked reading. Still, reading is reading…

Not all of these books are new, I just consider them important.

I read the Strain Trilogy in under two weeks, and loved it. If you’re after gritty vampire fiction told in a sweeping story that depicts the complete and brutal fall of civilization to a rogue strain of vampires, hit the Strain Trilogy. If you’re watching the tv series and don’t so much like it, don’t let that detract from the books, they’re a much richer experience.

I’ve been reading a lot of Cherie Priest, more her tales of the supernatural rather than her Steampunk stuff. She’s now legend for her Clockwork Century series, but her ghost stories and tales of werewolf religious cults are pretty fucking awesome too. Check out the Eden Moore Trilogy, and Dreadful Skin, and also, for a total surprise, read Those Who Went Remain. Cherie Priest has a gift for (much like our next author) building fictional worlds out of real places. She takes the deep South, the far-West, and fills these wild places with tales of the wronged dead come to collect their due, or she shows us things that are quite alive and out for blood.

I’d already read and literally had nightmares from The Red Tree, Silk, and Threshold. Caitlin R. Kiernan is truly a master of brutal psychological horror that isn’t afraid to turn physical in a blink. I’ve recently read Low Red Moon, Daughter of Hounds (follow ups to Threshold), and Murder of Angels (follow up to Silk). Then I read her latest, a stand-alone novel, The Drowning Girl: A Memoir. I also have to note one of Kiernan’s story collections. Generally, story collections don’t floor me, but Alabaster: Pale Horse, does. Alabaster is a collection of tales about one character, Dancy Flammarion, an albino girl guided by an angel to slay beings of true evil. Each story draws you in until the terrifying last page. Everything Kiernan writes is something special. Her worlds are completely realized, I feel like I could take a drive to Alabama, Rhode Island, and find demons, ghouls, warring angels. I feel sad for the characters who live damaged, mourn those who don’t survive. Caitlin R. Kiernan writes lush, dark, beautiful stories, she’s not to be missed.

Johannes Cabal is a Necromancer of some little infamy, and everything Jonathan L. Howard has written about him is worth reading. The Cabal books are darkly humorous, full of wit and charm. A bit back I read Howard’s latest, Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute, and it’s top-notch. Johannes Cabal aims to thwart Death, to fully rip people from Death’s cold embrace. He’s after the Necromancer’s Unholy Grail, and I hope he finds it, but not for at least a few more books.

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Review: Authority

June 11th, 2014 | Category: Life,Opinions,Thoughts on Writing

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer is the second novel in his Southern Reach Trilogy, the link between beginning and end. Authority takes place not long after the events in Annihilation. The obscure top-secret government agency tasked with monitoring Area X, The Southern Reach, is in a state of chaos. Their body count is high, their funding is spent, their insight into Area X amounts to a little less than nothing. Almost every agent they’ve sent into Area X has never returned. Almost. Some have returned only to die of a rapidly killing form of cancer, others suffered severe memory loss. The Southern Reach is a ship that needs righted before it sinks. Enter John Rodriguez a.k.a. “Control,” a man who’s been in the covert-ops game his entire adult life. Control is a “fixer,” he’s used to being dropped into situations that need corrected, sorting out the Southern Reach isn’t his first rodeo, though, it definitely could be his last. People involved with Area X have trouble maintaining a heart-beat.

Authority is a very different novel compared to Annihilation, don’t pick it up expecting Annihilation II. While Annihilation showed readers Area X from within, the way it maims, kills, Authority shows readers Area X from the outside, how it destroys the lives of those simply trying to understand what happened, trying to understand how the place even exists. We see this destruction through the eyes of Control, newly assigned as the acting-Director of The Southern Reach. Control is our narrator, he’s quick-witted, hard-working, with an amusingly dark sense of humor. It also becomes apparent soon enough that Control is in way over his head. The further he digs into The Southern Reach, Area X, the more he realizes that he is completely lost. He knows only two facts; Area X is lethal, and those who work at The Southern Reach, those with the highest level of clearance with the deepest connection to Area X, they don’t get to keep their sanity. With each question answered, Control is punched in the face with ten more. He doesn’t have to wonder why his colleagues are ready to bust out butterfly nets. It’s not terribly long before Control’s ready to grab a net and join in the chase. The story needs its moments of gallows levity, otherwise readers might end up not far off from Control’s state-of-mind. The novel is that immersive. As Control loses control of the situation, so does the reader. We feel what he feels, confusion that becomes fear that becomes abject terror. Authority is a psychological horror story, it’s about trying to comprehend an evil that’s incomprehensible. Area X is an evil that shows no mercy, it only demonstrates death, cold and unwavering.

VanderMeer creates an intense feeling of dread that grows with each turn of the page. We know that something bad is coming, but we don’t know what, or when. The novel gives readers fear of something malevolent that destroys one’s mind long before one’s body. The loss of self is something terrifying, it’s a fear that VanderMeer taps into with subtle grace. Authority really showcases Jeff VanderMeer’s talent for scaring the Hell out of people, lights on or off. Authority is slower-paced than Annihilation, it’s richer in psychological horror, character development, at the sacrifice of action. This isn’t a minus, it merely shows VanderMeer’s range of craft.

To me, The Southern Reach Trilogy is a literary chess match. With Annihilation, VanderMeer put his pieces on the board with efficiency and speed. With Authority, he methodically arranged his strategy, letting us capture just enough of his pieces to clear the board so he can show us that we’ve been wrangled into his devastating checkmate, The Southern Reach Trilogy’s end, Acceptance.

I totally can’t wait to see this thing through.

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Tattoo #77

May 17th, 2014 | Category: Creative Flash,Life,Opinions,Tattoos
Tattoo by Colt, Doc Dog's Las Vegas Tattoo, Ybor City

Tattoo by Colt, Doc Dog’s Las Vegas Tattoo, Ybor City

So, this tattoo, number seventy-seven, is from an Aimee Mann song, Little Bombs, which is off of one of my top ten favorite records, The Forgotten Arm.

As I’ve mentioned around the blog, I died once, in some violently bright trauma room, but it didn’t stick. It was spectacularly dramatic though, my heart quit its post, a team of doctors and nurses beating the Hell out of me, trying to wake me up before all the beating in the world wouldn’t matter. My girlfriend, Sara, crying. Sara telling me not to go. It was like a movie. Had it stuck, it would have been quite something, a big, theatrical death, but it didn’t, and here we are, almost a decade later. I don’t think most death is all big and flashy, it’s slow and subtle and certain.

One of my favorite writers, K.J. Bishop, has this total badass character, Gwynn. Gwynn lives by his own set of morals, he kills for cash, he kills for justice, sometimes he just kills because it’s his whim and it feels like proper etiquette to do so. He drinks hard, enjoys all manner of narcotics. He dresses impeccably, plays the piano for eccentric old ladies at swanky parties. He has fallen in love, HARD. Though Gwynn could die pretty much every day, in some grand fashion, some way that he would personally find spectacular, he doesn’t. His hold on life in the midst of combat borders on preternatural. He takes kill-or-be-killed to a form of high-art. He is death in the theater of killing. Unfortunately, even though your profession is snatching life from others, and you do it well enough to see your gorgeous, flowing black hair go gray, you’re going to have to retire. It comes time to hang up your weapons and just be. In a later short-short story, She Mirrors, we see Gwynn as an old man. His recreational narcotics are replaced by medicines for his creaky joints, aches and pains that are the cost one pays for pushing a body past its limits over the course of a career that isn’t usually lengthy. His doctor has vehemently warned him against alcohol and cigarettes. His great love is now just a memory. He’s not dying as a mercenary in some great war, he’s not dying by sword or gun. He’s dying the slow death inflicted by time. He doesn’t go quietly, at the story’s end he’s off toward one more adventure, an adventure that might not go the way he wants, that might be the last his body allows, but to Gwynn, it’s the possibilities that are exhilarating.

She Mirrors is such an honest story, it resonates with me, and scares me, scares me because it’s so true. Our stories aren’t guaranteed to end how we want, or even with a quick bang. Time is what kills us, usually slowly, softly, over minutes, hours, years. The story shows how we’re all fighting against a force that we can rail at, furiously, and still, we will not win. She Mirrors brings to mind my favorite line from William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. I know the words by memory, “…Christ was not crucified: He was worn away by a minute clicking of little wheels.”  We’re all worn away by those clicking little wheels, the clock makes us all equals, we all get too little from time. Our clocks stop and we end. Gwynn, Christ, me, nobody gets out of it, time quitting our company.

Life just kind of empties out, less a deluge than a drought, those words resonate too, those words have been important to me ever since the first time I heard Aimee sing them. I got the words permanently etched into my leg because the idea that time is slowly, but inexorably, wearing me away drives me. It could have happened way back in that trauma room, it could happen tomorrow, but probably, it’ll happen years from now, tediously and maddeningly. Still, one way or another, or another, it will happen, which is why I have bouncers carry me up two flights of stairs at the goth club, or fly to Boston during a blizzard, my antiquated breathing machine powered by an equally unsophisticated battery, with the woman I love just to see Aimee Mann play. It’s why when Sara asked, “So, would you ever go swimming?” I said, without a blink, “Yeah!” I’m terrified of being in anything larger than a bathtub, but she only got, “Yeah!” The reality that that slow drought will come is why I once told a woman I love her more than air, why I asked if she’d wake up with me tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. It didn’t go how I wanted, but I did risk it. I’ll risk simple failure, I’ll risk my life, anything, because at the end of my drought, when time has shoved me toward death’s enfolding kiss, I don’t want to feel like I let time wear me away without fighting with everything in me to experience everything I want. I can’t not fight.

The tattoo reminds me that my life is emptying out, and I can’t just sit back and watch it go.

8 comments

That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote

March 08th, 2014 | Category: Life,Opinions,Thoughts on Writing

So, to me, story collections are generally hit or miss creatures. You usually get three or four great stories by three or four great writers, some good stories by some very capable writers, then you get dregs. Story collections by a single writer tend to fare better, provided that said writer is good or great in the first place. Great story collections by great writers are definitely rare enough, but they do exist. That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote by K.J. Bishop is one such collection.

If you haven’t read K.J. Bishop’s novel, The Etched City, and you fancy yourself a fan of Speculative Fiction, well, then you haven’t really read the best of Speculative Fiction. I mention The Etched City because, by itself it’s an important book, but also, three of the best stories in That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote are set in the world of The Etched City, The Art of DyingThe Love of Beauty, and She Mirrors. If you haven’t read The Etched City, I actually recommend skipping those three stories, just set them aside, until you’ve read the novel that they would eventually become. Bishop wrote two of the short stories before her novel, but I think the short stories are better appreciated after reading the masterwork of which they’re a part.

While the three above stories are particularly important to me, because The Etched City is so important to me, they’re definitely not the only magic that That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote has to offer, not by a longshot. There’s the dark fairytale of Saving the Gleeful Horse, a story in which childrens’ games have deadly consequences in unexpected ways, There’s We the Enclosed, a story of searching for something lost that reads like a fever dream. The Heart of a Mouse is a post-apocolyptic nightmare, a story of people suddenly transformed into animals struggling to maintain their human minds, it’s kind of The Road meets The Tale of Despereaux meets The Rapture gone terribly wrong. Mother’s Curtains is a light-hearted look into the world of the absurd, a story of bedroom curtains that feel unloved, curtains that long to live as the masts of a pirate-ship.

It’s hard to really pick a favorite, the entire collection is that strong. Each story has a way of sliding into one’s mind, always to be remembered in one way or another. One story that struck me in a very personal way was Between the Covers, a story of a writer who lost her connection with her craft after taking on the Devil as her benefactor. Writers have a certain relationship with their words, their stories, Between the Covers depicts that relationship in a uniquely visual way. Honestly, I’d pay full cover value for that story alone. Tales of writers come to ruin always terrify and fascinate me.

A really neat facet of this collection is that in the closing pages Bishop discusses each story, talking about inspiration, points of symbolism, all those little questions you’d like to ask a writer after you’ve finished reading their work.

That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote is a brilliantly imaginative collection of stories written by an absolutely brilliant writer. K.J. Bishop is someone that doesn’t blink into existence every day, her use of craft is something special. She uses words to create life, to create worlds, to create art. K.J. Bishop does things with words that few writers can accomplish. Ultimately, she writes things that are worth reading, which is really all that matters.

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