WARNING: The author of this blog is a terrible copy editor. Furthermore, he has no assistant, no lackey, no trained monkey, nor magic robot to help edit these blogs. They are written and posted with little or no review. Read at your own risk!

Started as a blog, this site now is home to an ever-growing archive of stories. Most have been published somewhere, a few haven't. Personal blogs entries might still happen occasionally but it's not very likely.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Blog | Homoerotic Fifth Grade Epics and the Art of Editing on the Fly

May 29,2006

          I didn’t see Star Wars when it came out in 1977. I saw it the following summer at a drive-in theater.  I got the novel for Christmas that year and, though I had always been a voracious reader, up until that point, I had only had the patience for short stories and comics.  So Star Wars was my first novel.
This was fourth grade and, the previous year, my teacher had sent home a letter to my mom telling her that I had a real talent for writing.  She (the teacher) even bought some little comic book ink stamp things with blank word bubbles to encourage me to write.  I think I was mostly unaware of all that praise and subtle encouragement, but I was beginning to develop a serious interest in writing.
On a side note: That teacher now lives right down the street from me.  Or, rather, I now live right down the street from her since she’s been here since Jesus was an infant.
Anyway, by my fifth grade year when my Star Wars mania was at its peak, my interest in writing was heightened by the announcement of the Young Authors’ Fair.  I decided to write a wholly original space epic.
Fast forward for a moment to the present day.   We are having tons of work done on our basement and things on the garage side are a mess.  Because of this mess, one of the rubber tubs full of writing-related stuff has been opened and nearly dumped out.  There in that box, is the space epic from fifth grade.  It is typewritten (my mom did that) and bound (in the style of the Young Authors’ Fair) in contact paper (brown wood-grain contact paper) over cardboard.  Throughout the story, there are parts that have been covered with White-Out and corrected by pen.  The story is forty-one pages long (not including title page and illustrations) and features 16 chapters plus a prologue and an epilogue.  At the end, before the “About the Author” page, there eight pages of illustrations, rendered in what appears to be colored pencil.  The title of this grand epic is SPACE ADVENTURES.
The story is set in the 55th century (the “universe date is four-forty-four and one point two” for those of you keeping track) and begins “…on a small planet known Lak,” where “a man of twenty-two years, who was six feet and two inches tall, and had a muscular build and black hair that was parted, walked into a rocket port” to purchase a ticket to Zale.
By the top of the second page, this man , Mark Smith, has foiled an attempted robbery and received a reward of one “Zanoi”, which, we are told, is a lot of money.  So Mark sets off for Zale on a “cargo and passenger cruiser” called the Flant, piloted by Captain James Rogers and his green, reptilian, cyclops co-pilot Tway.  Along the way, the ship is attacked and captured by Space Pirates.  Captain Rogers hides his crew and the 25 passengers, only to ambush the boarding party.  In another wholly original twist, they dress in the uniforms of the pirates so they can move about undetected on the pirates’ ship.  Many firefights and much carnage ensue.
Eventually, the heroes encounter the main villain, Captain Comet.  He is captain of the pirate ship, Pirship. (Am I good with names or what?)  Captain Comet “…was a husky man wearing solid black clothes.  His left hand had been replaced with a special metal hand.  His right eye had been replaced with a large gray one.  His nose and mouth were only metal breath screens.  He wore a large black glove his right hand and he wore a large utility belt.  He had rockets on his back, also.”
I didn’t read the whole thing again.  (I mean, it’s forty-one pages for Christ’s sake!  And that’s not even counting the illustrations!)  But, skimming through it, it seems that: Captain Rogers is killed and some other character pretty much seamlessly takes his place.  There are more firefights, more bad prose, and a McGuyver-like bit where Mark turns a light into an electro magnet to disable the “electro alarm” in a crawlway.  There’s another main villain—this one named Super Skull, but he doesn’t really do much.  In the end, Mark goes through a black hole and ends up in the galaxy of Micron where he becomes a member of the Space Force and marries “a beautiful red-haired girl” named Cindy Matthews.  Mark, of course, went on to have many more adventures.
Re-reading this (or skimming through it), I can’t help but laugh.
My attention to detail was absurdly developed, particularly when it came to describing the spaceships and the clothing of the villains.  Remember the nearly homoerotic description of protagonist Mark Smith mentioned above?
Then there’s my prose.  Things like: “quick as a laser flash could shoot” and “I saw a room with a good, good lock on the door,” are just brilliantly bad.  But my favorite bit of all is this bit from Captain Rogers, following the death of his co-pilot and best friend, Tway:
 “I hate the idea that my best friend, Tway, is dead,” sobbed James.  “Oh, well.  I’ll get over it.  I hope!” he added sadly.
That raw emotion in that scene makes me tear up a bit even now.
Just before the Young Authors’ Fair, everyone in my class had to read their stories aloud.  No one else had a story longer than four or five pages.  What’s more, no one wanted to listen to a story longer than two or three pages.  People were bored with Space Adventures almost immediately—though I can’t imagine why—so I started skipping through it and editing on the fly.  Even with the instant edits, no one was particularly impressed with my story and it didn’t open the doors to an exciting writing career in place of junior high; however, reading it aloud before the class left me with one solid memory.
As I mentioned earlier, my mom typed the thing from my handwritten manuscript and, along the way, she made some (okay, many) mistakes.  Most of them were corrected but, as will happen, she missed a few.  Most of these mistakes were really minor and didn’t throw me off too much in my verbal presentation.  Then I got to the line where the hero disarms one of the bad guys.  In my typed version, the line read:
“With a swift motion, Mark grabbed the bun belonging to the guard who was about to handcuff him.”
Fortunately, I didn’t actually read the line as typed.  I caught the mistake, but I started laughing and never fully recovered.  It was fifth grade and buns were fucking funny.  But they were also dirty so I couldn’t tell anyone what was wrong.  I didn’t want to have to explain to the principal why I was talking about buns in class.  But I couldn’t stop laughing.  If anyone had been paying attention (This bit of interstellar grab-ass happened on page 33 and I think even the teacher had nodded off by that point.), they must have thought I was a fucking lunatic.
But my point (and, as Ellen Degeneres says, “I do have one”) is that I think this experience put me off writing longform stuff for quite a while.  The next couple of years, I submitted only short story collections to the Young Authors’ Fair and, for a while, that’s all I would write.  Eventually, after reading some damn good novels in high school, I came round to writing longer pieces again.  By the time my interest in epics was rekindled, I had developed an intense love for short stories and the art of streamlined storytelling.  That, I believe, is why my novels tend to be on the short side and my short stories are barely stories at all.  I’m a short story writer trapped in the body of a novelist.
I sometimes think that, perhaps, if that fifth grade class had gazed me in rapt awe as I rambled on and on about space pirates and laser battles, I would be writing deeply complex novels of distant worlds and alien cultures instead of twisted novellas about a one-handed ex-con living in a trailer park.  But there’s more to it than that.  I love the construction of fictional universes and I can go into great detail about the minutiae of Star Wars, Star Trek, and the Marvel Universe.  Furthermore, my own writing (most of which takes place in the same small, southern town) is full of intricate details that flow from story to story.  In my head (and, to some extent, on paper) Winnepesaukah County is just as richly constructed as the Star Wars universe.
I think the reason I’m so attracted to the redneck denizens of my own little world is that the characters there could very easily be real.  The people I write about are people you might actually meet at work, at the store or in the park.  And, for me, that makes them all the more strange and frightening.  I just need to learn to write fewer scenes involving bun grabbing.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Blog | I'm A Writer

May 24, 2006
          I don’t much care for people and I’m not a big fan of reality.  This is not to say that I dislike all people or live entirely in a world of fantasy. I love my wife, Christie, more than anyone or anything in the world. I also love my family and a small but loyal group of friends. I have a good job (populated by good friends) and, for the most part, I’m fairly grounded.
But I’m pretty sure I have Asperger Syndrome. I’ve never been officially diagnosed and, unless there’s some sort of court-ordered evaluation, I probably never will be. Still, Christie is convinced, and has convinced me, that I’m A.S. I’m low-level A.S., to be sure. Or is that high-level? Whatever it is, I’m high-functioning, but still exhibit most of the characteristics of someone with A.S.
I won’t go into all the details here. (If you don’t know about AS, you can look it up on Wikipedia which has a pretty good article on Asperger Syndrome.) Suffice it to say that, apart from a very small group of family and friends, I prefer to be alone, I don’t like to be touched and I hate social gatherings.
This, I think, is why I’m a writer.
Let me digress for a moment and say that I was inspired to write this partly because my friend Benjamin mentioned on his blog that a friend had challenged him to "Write about writing and your vision of yourself as a writer". That sounded like an interesting challenge and the rest of this rant just sort of flowed from that.
As I was saying..
I was a freshman or sophomore in high school when I decided that I wanted to be a novelist. I’m not sure when I’ll actually get the proper motivation and dedication to finish the three or four novels I’m working on and actually set about trying to sell them. But I still aspire to be a professional writer of fiction. I want to be Robert B. Parker or Christopher Moore—one of those writers who has a loyal fan base but retains a fair degree of anonymity.
When I close my eyes, I can see myself as a full-time writer: I’m not wildly successful, but I make enough money for Christie and me (along with a child or two and a plethora of dogs and cats) to live comfortably on a little farm that sits conveniently near several fast food restaurants and a Best Buy. I sit out on the back deck (well out of the sun to preserve the pastiness of my skin) with a laptop and a bottle of Beck’s Dark. Christie and the child/children are playing in the pool at the bottom of our yard. Opus the Chihuahua sleeps on the chair beside me. My agent has called, but I never answer the phone. If he wants to reach me, he’ll have to send an email and then, if I’m feeling particularly communicative, I’ll consider responding. Later, we’ll go out to a nice Italian dinner then over to the Theatre Centre where they’re premiering a production of my latest play in the Circle Theatre. It will get decent reviews but, hey, I can’t do anything about the quality of the acting, now can I?
I can picture myself as a writer so well, I think, because, deep down, that’s really what I am, even if I’m not particularly successful yet.
I’m a pretty good video editor (that’s my day job) and I’m not bad with graphics, but everything I do is done from the perspective of a writer. I listen to music as a writer, I watch TV as a writer. The writer in me overrides everything else. I’m always looking for flow and development and conflict and resolution. When I meet people, I find that I care very little for them as individuals yet I’m frequently fascinated by them as characters. For me, life is about the story and the conflict. I can appreciate the static beauty of life but only as background detail to set the mood and tone.  I’m always writing in my head. If I could find a way to get what’s in my head onto paper in a coherent way, I’d be one of the most prolific writers of our time.
I leave meetings at work and, in my head, the clients are morphing and acting and reacting to new and interesting situations. I drive down the road and picture a thousand interactions for the people I pass on the road. I watch a movie and, regardless of whether I liked it or not, I develop sequels, prequels, alternate endings, and more. Everything leads to a story and then another story and so on until I finally have to fall asleep.
Reading is one of my great passions (other than writing and playing Age of Empires II, it might be my only great passion), but I think I read slowly because I get distracted by the art of the writing and the storytelling. I frequently pause to absorb the method and the style.  That often leads to getting lost in my own variations, interpretations, and revisions.
Sometimes, I wish I could stop being a writer and just be a person. I wish I could, at least temporarily, silence the voices in my head that keep me awake long into the night. I wish I could meet someone and not imagine him or her as a Jedi or the scantily clad victim of a vampire from beyond time.  Sometimes, I wish I could be normal.
But how fucking boring would that be?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Blog | Guard Shacks and the R.D.C.

May 22, 2006

About twenty years ago (I think it was spring of '85), a friend of mine accompanied his brother and a small band of mischievous honor students to the Rossville High School Sports Annex. There, under cover of—well I don’t suppose there was much cover really—they proceeded to paint the small, concrete block guard shack that sat next to the main gate.

Now, I'm not sure why there was a guard shack. There was never even a guard in there. The gates were always open.  I'm still not sure why they even bothered with the fence in the first place, much less a guard shack. Maybe it was used for the parking lot attendants at basketball games but, if that was the case, I have no recollection of it.
One night very near the end of their senior year, these honor students (observed by but not assisted by my friend, a freshman) painted that extraneous structure using alternating horizontal bands of purple and pink. Of course, being honor students and future leaders of the free world, they did a damn fine job. There was no coloring outside the lines or sloppy brushwork. It looked really good and would have looked even better had the redecoration not been interrupted by the local police department.  Apparently, someone who lived near the school (and it’d been a long, long time since that was a good neighborhood) called to report the vandalism. I picture it thusly:
A pair of beady, gray eyes beneath cheap mascara and thick blue eye shadow, peer out from behind faded floral print drapes. A mouth drops open, exposing yellowed, uneven teeth and a mossy tongue. A phone is grabbed and a call is frantically placed. 911, of course. There is no time for looking up the regular number. This is an emergency! Screw the people whose houses are burning or who are being beaten to hamburger by their drunk husbands! This is a real crisis! The guard shack is being painted by hooligans with absolutely no regard for the school's well-established blue and white color scheme! Something has to be done—and quickly!
So the cops arrived and all but one of the hooligans were rounded up and carted off to jail. Parents were called. School administrators were notified. And the first pungent whiffs of the inevitable shitstorm wafted into town on an otherwise pleasant spring breeze.
You must remember that this happened in the mid 1980s. It was a simpler time. A more backward, head-up-the-ass kind of time. A time when shit like this was still sort of a big deal—particularly when honor students were involved.
And these were real honor students. In an era when Rossville was graduating salutatorians who had never even read a full novel, these young men were actual geniuses. In a community overflowing with Pinkies, they were a band of Brains.
The hooligans' level of intellect made their crime all the worse. How could good students do a thing like that?! And using those colors! It was openly speculated that they were the first wave of a Gay Communist plot to destroy Middle America (which, thanks to the televised Oliver North trials, Rossvillians now knew was somehow different from Central America). If these thinkers could be corrupted by the Godless Left, how could the slow-witted football players resist the ever-growing anti-American temptation of freewill?
So they were punished. There was talk that they would not be allowed to graduate. This would have meant the first four or five seats at graduation would be empty and, aside from the guest speaker, not much would be said.  Eventually, however, it was all resolved. The hooligans gave their speeches, graduated with the honors they so deserved and went off to fine colleges and fine careers and, in at least one case, a fine wife.
The student most punished was the one who was least involved. My friend, being a freshman at the time had a suspension that carried over into the next school year. He ended up in a great private college and eventually went on to a great career and a great wife, but this hurt his quest for the perfect GPA and is probably what kept him from being Valedictorian three years later.
The important thing is that these students, in spite of their “station in life”, were punished for desecrating school property. The community property had to be defended and preserved!  For two or three more years anyway.
In 1989, Rossville Comprehensive High School saw its last 12th grade graduation. Beginning the following year, high school students in that part of Walker County attended the brand new Ridgeland High School, a few miles away. The old high school building became the new Rossville Middle School since the old Junior High had burned a few years earlier.
Although I continued to live in Rossville for several more years, I slowly lost touch with it. It became background scenery on the way to work and, eventually, that place across the ridge with the good burger joint (that would be the Dream Cream). I lived not more than five or ten miles away, but I completely lost touch with the city that had once been my home.  I went to college, found a career, got stuck in a boring loop of that career, broke out of the dead end cycle, met Christie, got married and moved to Rossville.
I loved (and still love) Christie, but I hated moving back to Rossville. I resisted it with great surliness and much whining. Christie had a very nice home but, for the first several months, I was just not happy there. We live in what is, far and away, the best neighborhood in Rossville, but that didn’t matter. I lived among a type of people I can’t stand and, to top it all off, I was back in Rossville. I was nearly 35 and, in my mind, I should have been living in Atlanta, New York, Amsterdam, or a place with padded walls. I should have been anywhere but Rossville.
Eventually, being an at least marginally reasonable person, I came to love the home almost as much as I love Christie. It’s really a nice little neighborhood, it’s a pretty good location and, apart from some stupid taxation policies and a dangerously right-wing governor, Georgia is a fairly decent place to live.
The actual city of Rossville, however... Not so great.
When my parents were kids and teenagers, Rossville was really hoppin’. There were theatres and shops and restaurants and lots of things to bring people over the state line from Chattanooga. By the time I was in junior high, though, it was all going away. There were still some decent little mom and pop restaurants, some high-dollar dress shops, and a few other nice little stores. But it was fading fast.
I think it was around that time (this would have been the early ‘80s) that the Rossville Development Corporation (or R.D.C.) was formed. It was led by a group of Rossville bigwigs (mostly members of families who owned or had owned the many textile mills in town) and its mission was to restore Rossville to its former glory.
For a while, there were R.D.C. signs all over the place. Old, faded walls were painted bright white and emblazoned with the bright blue and red R.D.C. logo. It seemed to me to be sort of a promise of things to come. Either the factories would re-open or there would be urban renewal and we’d get snazzy new shops and restaurants and condos and artists and all the things that make for great little towns.
Of course, none of this ever happened. The reasons are many and complex so I won’t go into that now. While I was a few miles away, living my life, hope slowly evaporated and the town died. Shops closed, minds closed even tighter, and the town became a rotting shell of what it had once been. The lottery, which could have helped tremendously, only served to further eat away at the body and soul of the little city. By the time I moved back, the town was so far gone that I doubt it will ever recover.
But, as they say, hope springs eternal.
So, one day a few weekends ago, I went out wandering Rossville with my trusty Canon Rebel and a few rolls of black and white film. (Remember film? It’s cool stuff.)  Anyone who’s ever seen my photography knows that I absolutely love decay and chaos. Entropy is my muse. I figured that Rossville would be a great place to indulge my thirst for old buildings, cobwebs and moss. It was. But it was more than that.
That day depressed the shit out of me.
I had noticed, of course, that the old R.D.C. stuff was fading but I’d never really realized just how far gone the city is.  It was a water tower that—to use a bad pun—brought it all home for me.  It stands next to one of the abandoned factories. For a long time, it was bright white and R.D.C. logo painted on it was vibrant and bold. Now the tower is rusted and scarred and the R.D.C. is barely readable. No new company has plastered promises on that tower or anywhere else in town. No one has graffitied hope. Rossville is that patient that’s been shoved to the side to die while the doctors operate on the ones that have a chance.  And, two blocks over from the water tower that marks the site of Rossville’s demise, there’s the old Rossville High Annex. And its guard shack.
The little, gray building looks like it’s been hit by two tornadoes and a heavy truck. The concrete blocks are askew, the paint is long gone and it looks like a bug landing on it would knock it right over. This little building whose honor had been so vehemently defended during my high school days was now a mostly forgotten wreck.

I took a picture of it and, later, sent it to my friend who had been along for the ride but hadn’t actually participated in the “redecorating”. He didn’t even recognize it at first. He told me that, although they had to repaint the sides, no one ever bothered to look on the roof and, unless the years had weathered it away, there would still be the names of the guys who had desecrated the building so many years before.

These four future leaders, in a moment of tame rebellion, had put their mark on a part of their hometown, and it was covered up posthaste. But their signatures remain (I didn’t actually check to see if they’re still there. I just like to think that they are), out of sight and, very nearly, out of mind.
It made me wonder where my signature was on the town, on lives, on anything. Where have I secretly written my name? And who will ever know it was there?
Depressed beyond all reason, I put my camera away, went home and kissed my wife.  That night, I decided to start this blog.