A Report on the State of Publishing

When researching agents recently, buy I found an agent who had a note which said: “Due to conditions in the publishing market, this agent no longer accepts queries from authors who have not been previously published by a bona fide publisher.” The few people I’ve mentioned this too, thought it sounded harsh. The truth is that I like the simple directness of it. Really many of the agents express the same thing in their form rejection letters, just not as clearly.

The publishing industry sucks now. Fewer and fewer people buy/read books. Fewer and few large corporations own publishing and they are institutionally incapable or unwilling to champion books that do not fit in their marketing templates. The agents are very careful with their time. You’ve got a few seconds to convince them that they are going to be able to sell you to the publisher. It helps if your book happens to fit their particular passion, but it’s not necessarily enough.

I would almost feel sorry for them, but I have my own problems.

I rarely worry about whether my writing is good. I assume it is good. At least it pleases me in some way. I could always make the writing better. But at some point I have to decide to stop. I rarely worry about whether my writing is good. The question is, what is it good for.

Some of you would enjoy my novel. Some of you would not. You might think it is bad, or it may just be a story that does not interest you. It does not bother me that some people will not like my novel. Success is not counted by the ration readers who like or dislike the story. It’s not measured in the number of readers. I know this, and yet I am still too reliant on this big publishing industry to get out my book.

What I need to do is to work on alternate distribution channels. I talk about this all of the time. I need to work on online publishing, podcasts, or printing on demand. I need to find the online community of people who would be interested in this story. One of the reasons I haven’t done this is laziness (well, not entirely laziness, I have recently been obsessed with completing the 30,000 work “outline” for my next story). But part of me is still stuck on the idea, I want my book to sitting on a shelf a Barnes and Noble.

Lennon 45: The Next Big Story

In its current form, case my new BIG story is 30, price 000 words: too big for an outline, no rx too small for a first draft. I really like how this one is going, but there is a lot more work to do. The plot is pretty complete, but the characters, subtext, and voice is mostly still in my head.

In some ways the new story (working title “Lennon 45”), is the opposite of FAILUR. Failure is about a couple of malcontents looking for action (or looking to do something worthwhile). Lennon 45 is about a young reporter who is ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’ – danger finds him. I had in mind films like “North by Northwest” and “Three Days of the Condor.”

Lennon takes place in the fall of 1970. The 60’s a literally over, but the Vietnam war continues. The previous spring, the public learned that the war had expanded to Cambodia. One student protest over the expanded war, the ROTC program, and the low admission of black student at Kent State resulted in four students (including two not in the protest) being shot and killed by the National Guard. To many people, the president, Richard Nixon, seems cold and unsympathetic to the slain protestors. Nixon does meet with student leaders and decides that they are willing or unwitting pawns of international communists. In the fall, just before my story begins, the Weather Underground has just broken Timothy Leary out of prison (for which they were paid $25,000 by the Brotherhood of Eternal Love) and Janis Joplin has died.

My story is not a about the historic 1970. It is an adventure set in a fantasy 1970 of Russian spies, government conspiracy, mass behavior medication experiments, underground radicals, and dangerous science.

More to come, as the story develops.

Killer Yellow Umbrellas and the Escape from Hollywood

I don’t keep up well with Shannon. She lives across the country. We talk maybe once a year. But just after college, Shannon, Michael and I had several ‘adventures’ out on the west coast. Recently a firend of Shannon’s, asked several people that knew her to write something about her for a surprise birthday party. Below is what I wrote.  While not my best writing, I think it captures the feeling of the time well. It is a prequeal in a way to Gear and Loafing in America.

In ’91 Shannon and I slogged through the congested urban hellscape of Los Angeles in my blue Toyota hatchback looking for work. Everything in LA was an hour by car. Half of the time that car shook with stupid goofy hilarity. We made up songs. We riffed on stupid billboards, the ubiquitous neon mini-malls, and the million over gaudy symbols of a city constantly on the make. And we laughed at ourselves and our lack of marketable job skills.

The rest of the time we shouted. By our early twenties, we had discovered that the world was pretty screwed up and we were pretty pissed off about it. Los Angeles, was a polluted city with sepia air, where vulgar conspicuous consumption butted up against poverty. It gave us many exampled of what was wrong with the culture of greed and commercialism. On the radio Dr. Helen Caldecott told us that the Earth was dying and a president named Bush had just sent the nation to an unnecessary war in Iraq (Ok, compared to Iraqi Freedom, Dessert Storm seems almost holy, but it was still bullshit. For history buffs: what was the ‘peace dividend?’)

We yelled because the world was wrong and because we were in a recession. Because our degrees were less valuable than the frames they were set in. Because we had no way to do anything meaningful. Because our lives were out of balance.

We yelled and sang old songs.

We starve-look at one another – short of breath – walking proudly in our winter coats wearing smells from laboratories – facing a dying nation – of moving paper fantasy – listening for the new told lies – with supreme visions of lonely tunes

And when we could yell no more at the world, we turned on each other and yelled some more.

Shannon and I went to an employment agency. They were polite to me and allowed me to fill out an application. When they saw Shannon, they had stuck employment agency gold. They immediately sent her out on interviews for “pretty young receptionist/secretary” jobs. Shannon didn’t get the first job. She’d taken the interview seriously. She had asked intelligent questions about the business and tired to find interest in what they were doing. This had been a mistake. They had not been looking for someone intelligent and interested. They wanted a “pretty young receptionist/secretary.”

This did not at all sit well with Shannon, but she was quickly moving though her small cash reserve. She needed a paycheck. A few days later she interviewed with another company. This time she acted demur, friendly but passive. She got the job, working for two real estate loan guys in large commercial banks. She spent her time at bank finding ways subtle and overt to torture them.

Michael T. came to Los Angeles a couple of months after Shannon. Unlike Shannon and me, Michael had a degree useful in the job market (Electrical Engineering) and actual job experience programming. Like us, Michael had trouble finding a job. After hundreds of miles negotiating the smog sea for a job (and anything of value), Michael came up with the theory that it was in fact Hell. Hell, Michael theorized was not a burning pit, but a place of endless frustration and discomfort where you struggled to get ahead not realizing that on that next level just contained more frustration.

It wasn’t long, though, before we found a pattern around one of the few things we could control – food. Each Saturday we would spend hours strolling down Fairfax shopping at bakeries, delis, and independent produce markets. Each evening we spent an hour or two preparing out dinner. Our chores where time consuming but not tedious. The food was fresh. It was unprocessed. We had circumvented the system, albeit in a small way.

It was Shannon’s idea to move to Oregon. Nominally we were moving to go back to school to find something we could make a career of. In truth, we went to Oregon with a utopian vision. We were going to find intentional communities, sustainable living, and alternate economies.

We drove up to Oregon to check it out. Along Interstate about an hour outside of Los Angeles was an art installation by the conceptual artist, Christo. There were miles and miles of giant yellow umbrellas. The Los Angeles media was all a buzz about the umbrellas. Just as the LA cultured class was asking itself if it was art or not, the wind pulled on of the umbrellas loose and it killed a woman. In our small group we never asked if the umbrellas were art, to us they just more ore the careless viciousness of LA.

Shannon and I left LA sonn after than. Michael found a job, and so again he would follow us a little later. We drove up the coast and as usual we laughed and we yelled and we sang old songs.

LA is a great big freeway. Put a hundred down and buy a car. With a dream in your heart you are never alone, but dreams turn into dust and blow away. And there you are without a friend. You pack your car and drive away…

But of course were we not “without a friend.” We had our little group and we had a mission, but that is another story.

Life Out Of Context

When I started FAILUR, I wanted to have the characters floating in a world without any sense of context: no history, no politics, no science. I wanted that characters – who were essentially searching for relevance – to live in a vacuum. It was that their world had no history or that there was no science, it was that most people (including my protagonist) lived in modern world without thinking about it, without any idea about how history or science affected them. Without context, people turned to marketing to find something that passed for meaning. Without context, people were easily manipulated by politicians and special interest group. In other words, I wanted to portray modern culture as it is.

Now, in a political season, it is very clear how this works. Candidate (or often their segregates) make gut-level claim that often fall apart if one looks back even a few weeks in the past, their arguments fall apart. One reason that I love the Jon Steward show is because they juxtapose politician’s words with the most obvious of contradictions – something that the “real” news media pretending that they are unbiased fails to do. I believed that is people applied a rudimentary understanding of history, culture, civics, and science, most politicians would be blown off stage with the force of the audience’s contempt and laughter.

But I digress…

With FAILUR, I strained to put my characters in a world without context. It didn’t work. Early in the planning stages I built a political world for my characters that became integral to the plot and themes of the story. Even with this, the whole time I wrote the story, I wanted to make more connections with the real world.

One thing I am enjoying about writing “Lennon 45″ (the working title for my next novel or screenplay), is that it has a sense of context. I get to include politics, culture and technology from 1970 and before. My characters are affected (often indirectly) by the shootings at Kent State, Amazon Mythology, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, Operation Overlord (a.k.a. D-Day), the Philadelphia Experiment, the Bohemian Club, over-sized punch card computers, and good old vinyl records. I doubt that I will be praised for my exhaustive research or ultra-realistic setting, but it is making the writing more fun.

A Break from the BIG Story

I’m feeling rushed. This is nothing new. I always feel rushed.

I promised myself that I would write something here once a week. It was my way to keep myself in balance. Otherwise I become too anxious about the BIG STORY. I want it done now. I can never do enough on the BIG STORY until it is done. In my heart I still chase the BIG dream of the BIG novel, that turns into a BIG film, and launches the BIG writing career.

I keep chasing the fantasy.

Doug, at work, keeps saying that the Internet is the future. He is looking at pod casts. I believe he is right. The internet, new media, is the way to go. It is still open enough that you can carve out a niche without being beholden to big dinosaur industries. I need to spend a little more time, looking into it, but I’m too busy chasing the BIG dream.

I don’t have a title yet for the new BIG story. I’ll tentatively call it Lennon 45. While I’m unhappy about the speed of progress (I’m never happy with the speed of progress), I’m pretty happy with the story so far. The “outline” will be about 25,000 words. I think to myself, that all I will have to do is to add 2 words for every word in the outline and I will have another novel. Of course this isn’t exactly true. I’m going to have to put an awful lot of characterization and style into those two words.

The new BIG story follow a young reporter in 1970, who gets into a mess of trouble when an ex-girlfriend – now a Weather Underground like radical – comes back into his life. It’s wrong place at the wrong time story consciously channeling Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and Three Days of the Condor, but with a light Science Fiction edge. I am having some problems with the B-story, which follow an FBI agent (I’m probably changing this to a Police Detective). The B-story is still a little too functional. Both the reporter and FBI agent/detective are archetypes from old movies and television, but their world will be much more subversive.

Well, I’ve better get back to it. I’ve only got a little time to work on the BIG story, before I’ve got to do something else.

1001 Tips for Creating an Irresistible Query Letter

  1. Ignore advice from people who have not been successful. What do they know? All they can give you is conjecture and rehashed conventional wisdom they read from what was probably a better source.
  2. Be famous already. Agents and publishers love working with authors who have a wide following before their book is even released. This reduces their risk. If you are not famous already, ailment remember in this case ‘infamous’ is almost as good as regular famous. Go out their and sleep with a celebrity or politician. Keep in mind that there are laws that prevent convicts from profiting from their crimes, so you will have to find a legal way to get public attention.
  3. Nepotism!
  4. Find opportunities to discuss your project with your literary friends. Invite some agents to your place in the Hamptoms. Play racket ball with your old Yale buddy that’s now at Penguin.
  5. Join the Writer’s Digest Book Club, and get a book about formatting and submitting your novel and three other books for “FREE” when you agree to purchase another Writer’s Digest Book Club selection at the regular club price. About every three weeks you will receive in the mail the Writer’s Digest Book Club catalog of books with a featured “Book of the Month” which you will be sent automatically if you do not return the order form indicating you do not want it. After a few months you will forget to send the order form back in time and receive the featured book. It will probably be about making you memoir a spiritual. You will think about returning it, but decide it is easier to keep it. (Note: This description my not accurately represent any actual Writer’s Digest Book Club plan or offer. The Writer’s Digest Book Club is not associated with this site.)
  6. Go to the store and find a book that is something like yours. (What? No other books like yours? Congratulations! You just wrote a book that has no market). Read the book. Find out who the author’s agent is. If you are lucky that author will have thanked the agent in the acknowledgement section. You may also be able to find the agent through a search online. If you cannot find out who the agent is, start over. Go back to the book store and buy another book. Now look up that agent at the agent’s website or in a guide to agents and find out what they are looking for. Read reviews of other books the agent has sold. Find out if the agent is currently accepting unsolicited queries from new authors. If not, start over. Right a one page query letter to the agent explaining how your book fits the agent’s list. Describe the premise of your story, what makes it stand out from other books, and why someone would want to read it. Send the query by email if the agent accepts is that way. Now one of three things happens: a) you get a return email within 24-hour explaining how you should keep trying even though they didn’t think the book was quit right for them; b) you never get a response from the agent; or c) the agent asks you to send the first fifty pages
  7. Add pictures or artwork with your query. If it is really cool, maybe it will catch the agent’s eye. Or if you are not an artist, attach something to the query letter that is meaningful to your story – a black feather from that mysterious crow that follow around your protagonist; or a tiger-striped dotted just like the one you main character wears. Even though all the article and book about writing to agents tell you that this will be perceived as gimmicky or unprofessional by the agent, maybe, just maybe, the agent will understand what you are trying to do. Perhaps they will keep your query letter long enough to really think about it. And if they really think about it, they will realize that it is a good idea. And if they will just read a few pages then they will see your writing and then they will understand your story and everything you put into it and they will know that they can get others to enjoy your story and then you will be published because it doesn’t matter if most agents think your picture, feather or button is stupid, you just have to get one to understand.
  8. Indiscriminately send a query letter to every agent you can find. Fuck it, it’s not like most of them are going to read it anyway. You might as well just get over with. If none of them can recognize a good story then screw them.
  9. Go into a deep depression for a while.
  10. Consider self-publishing.
  11. Go into a deep depression for a while.
  12. Take up painting, yoga, or online gaming.
  13. Go into a deep depression for a while.
  14. Consider self-publishing.
  15. Go to the store and find a book that is something like yours. Read the book. Find out who the author’s agent is. Send them a query.

Disembodied Days

Lately I’ve felt a little disembodied. This is partly a cost of writing, thumb of working out variations of scenes like a meddling god until they are right in my head. But I don’t think state is only a symptom of the writing. It’s also an effect of my job. I sit in my cube for hours floating in cyberspace. The monitor is my eyes, cialis the headset my ears. My hands are mouse and keyboard. I communicate by email. I meet with a global conference bridge with people in Casablanca, here Scotland, Malaysia, England, Panama, and China. We joke with each other about the position of the sun. It is morning here, afternoon there. They say good day; I say good night. My Tuesday winds down and as they begin Wednesday. We joke about how our shared sun comes and leave us, and I think we laugh in part because we know it is irrelevant to our work.

Almost no coworkers sit around me. I have some friends nearby, but most of my Texas coworkers work in another building across the street. Many of these coworkers don’t like me. I’m not saying this as some sort of dramatic self-loathing. Their dislike is not personal. They don’t like me for business reasons. It is a new global team, but many of them have worked together for a long time. I am an outsider, and I have been tasked with changing things they have done for years. I’m tipping their sacred cow. This situation will change. Nothing stays the same very long in my company. It’s been a hard year. People are scared or frustrated. But for now, it keeps the distance. And I work primarily through wires and signals.

No wonder I have a problem snacking too much at work. I get up from my desk, walk across the floor to the candy jar at a friend’s desk. It is a change to move, even a little. It is a change to taste something of the earth.

The cost of this is that I have trouble switching gears and getting out of my head. At work I got feedback that my presentations were too dry. I didn’t engage my audience. Sometimes in groups of friends I struggle to be there in mood and tone. At home I work to connect with my family. These are temporary struggles. They come and go. I have always been a little too mental. I know how to fight this fight. But I get torn with motivation. I know where I am most effective. I struggle with myself and with my circumstances.

Winter Campaign – Update

I have had one response to the 10 queries I sent out so far. An agent who I sent a sample chapter and synopsis wanted 100 pages. It’s a good thing, but too early to declare the Winter Campaign a success. I promise to tell ou more about the Winter Campaign soon. Really I want to tell you about it before it is clearly a success or failure. If I tell you about it after it’s failed, then the stupidity of it will be too aparent. If I wait until it is successful, I will seem that I did not have enough confidence to tell you about it until it was proven. My plan is to post it with my next newsletter. 

The Winter Campaign

Last week I sent another 10 queries to agents – snail mail this time. I’ve adopted a new tactic. A good query does two things. It sets the proper expectations about the manuscript and keeps the agent’s attention long enough to so that they will think about it before rejecting it. I’m hoping that they will see it as clever and original. The risk, though of going something different is that they will think it is gimmicky and that it gives them an excuse to move on the next one. I’ll tell you about the new tactic soon, at the moment I have some other things on my mind.

Gear and Loafing in America

“I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed or buy anything sold or processed or repair anything sold, bought or processed as a career. I don’t want to do that.”
  – Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack), Say Anything

“You pretend to be more eccentric than you actually are because you fear you are an interchangeable cog.”
  – Douglas Coupland

I sold buttons with my roommates (Michael, Shannon, and MK) when I lived in Eugene, Oregon in semi-optional poverty. We’d scraped together $100 to mail order the button materials and we’d borrowed the button press from MK’s brother Charles, who sold tie-dye stuff at Dead concerts (which would make Charles feel entitled to steal from us later).

The button designs were mostly conventional: symbols (like ankhs, yin yang, and peace signs), quotes from Freud, Einstein, Gloria Steinem, and Marx, and political statements (Free Tibet!), smiley faces, and character (the Grinch and “Bill” from School House Rock). We came up with some original slogans and designs, like “Follow me, I’m Jesus” and “Fuck off! I’m Meditating.” Don't Be A Cog Button

I used Michael’s Apple to create the gears that now appear as the header of my website and newsletter for a button that said, “Don’t be a Cog.” This wasn’t just another slogan to me. At the time, this directive had resonance and urgency. I’d rejected the big industrial-commercial machine. I saw that civilization was a giant Ponzi scheme, borrowing from the environment and the poor to finance temporary gain. I wanted as little to do with it as possible. I was going to use my time doing something worthwhile, or at least something creative and fun. And if I couldn’t do either, I wanted to do as little as possible.

Yin Yang Fish I had mixed success at doing little. I was a part time shift supervisor at a skating rink in nearby Springfield. I got off early enough in the evenings that I could go to a bar or a night diner. There was no alarm clock. When I decided to get up, I would bicycle along the Willamette River, stopping to practice Tai Chi or to pick blackberries when they were in season. I often went hiking or hung out at Buffalo Gals (a coffee shop where I was known). And sometimes I wrote stories or worked on schemes with my roommates. Only frequent misery kept it from being perfect.

Despite the schemes, it was stagnant. I was restless and impatient. My roommates were my best friends, but we had lived together a little too long in a too too crowded apartment. Increasingly we all looked for ways out. I didn’t date and had sex even less. And my poverty was only partially voluntary. Unless someone wanted me to direct a short film, I had no marketable skills. I was at the end of my middle twenties, and I’d failed at (or turned my back on) my first two ambitions. I was running out of ideas.

Sunflower Botton In many ways, my life is better now. I’m married and I have a smart and silly five year old. I know many interesting people, some of which I can call friends. I have a fairly good job, a house, and I put money away for the future. Perhaps, I’m a wage slave, but I’m just as much a slave to my writing. I have less free time, I don’t know if I would have ever had the discipline to write a novel with my loose schedule I’d had in Oregon.

In most way things are much better now than they were when I created the gears artwork, but I am definitely a COG.

Most of my waking hours are spent in routine, work, chores, feeding. My job can be interesting, but it is all about saving money for a large multinational corporation. I may free time it is difficult not to want to crash by the TV or play a stupid game on the computer. I look for ways out of the machine. But I know that even if I become a successful novelist, it is no guarantee I will escape (it could, in fact pull me in deeper). Dead Smiley

Though long gone, that guy that created the gears artwork is my harshest and most interested critics. He wouldn’t necessarily been opposed to my job (to him all non-personal job were the same: janitors, offices temp, project manager, etc.) He would not approve of my working overtime (without time and a half!) He would have frowned when I took the job home with me or when I lost sleep over it. He would have expected me to spend more time with some political or community cause. Mostly, he would have hated that I ever allowed routine to make me forget what is important: Action! Creativity! Connection! He would have been pleased that I was trying to get my novel published, even if it took me forever.

I’m not sure if my former self would have approved of my life now. But then again, he didn’t know everything.

Gear Art

The intermediate art between the button and the header.

If Ghosts were Cockroaches

If werewolves were real, generic mostly likely we would have killed them all by now. Or maybe they would have killed us. If somehow we’d all managed to survive we would have come to a state of equilibrium. If werewolves real they would be very mundane. When the news reported on how a new bill in Congress changed federal werewolf policy, most people would turn the channel to see if they could find out what Brittney is up to.

If vampires were real, there would be degrees programs in blood management. Blood bank chains would be run by multinational conglomerates. Jobs in the blood industry might pay well, but you wouldn’t see a lot of TV shows about glamorous characters working in it.

If ghosts were as common as cockroaches, there would be all sorts of sprays and powers to get rid of them. If the exorcism industry wasn’t well regulated, these home remedies would probably be toxic to humans. Chances are no one would pay much attention to the regulations because when you had ghosts you’d just want to get rid of them as fast as possible, and it you didn’t, who cares? You’re too busy to worry about these things.

I’m sorry. Am I being a killjoy?

Any sufficiently familiar magic is indistinguishable from technology. Monsters are easily integrated in our lives.

Excerpt – The Market Plan of the Mall Gypsies

I’ve posted my first excerpt from my novel, FAILUR. It is a scene that happens earlier chronilogically than most of the action in the story. The protagonist is only a couple of years out of college. He has a godd job with a consulting firm something like Accenture. He is a little arrogant, but he is already beginning to sense something is wrong. I wanted to include a gypsy warning, like in an old black and white Universal horror movie, but I wanted to make it very modern. His dealings with the gypsy will have reprocussions later in the story.

Click here to read the excerpt.

The Market Plan of the Mall Gypsies

This is an excerpt from my novel FAILUR. It happens earlier chronilogically than most of the action in the story. Warren is only a couple of years out of college. He has a godd job with a consulting firm something like Accenture. He is a little arrogant, but he is already beginning to sense something is wrong. I wanted to include a gypsy warning, like in an old black and white Universal horror movie, but I wanted to make it very modern. Warren’s dealings with the gypsy will have reprocussions later in the story.

The Market Plan of the Mall Gypsies

from FAILUR: A Werewolf Love Story
(Copyright Brian Wittenbrook 2007)

            As soon I entered the room, I knew it was a mistake. The woman gazed downward as if she was in a trance or meditating or something. I waited. I decided it was up to her to make the first move. After all, I was paying. Just as I was getting tired of waiting, she looked up. Her eyes were fierce. I was startled. I flinched. Ok, so she had the dramatics. I’ll grant her that. I made it a point to hold her gaze after that.
            “You have the mark of the wolf.”
            “What?” I said. She had startled me again.
            “You have the mark of the wolf!” The old gray gypsy woman repeated the pronouncement.
            “Crap!” I couldn’t believe that I let Gilbert talk me into this. Forty dollars wasted.
            The gypsy laughed. “Come in,” she said, “sit down. You’re not going to make this easy for me, are you? What will it be? You want to talk to the dead? You want to know your future?”
            “Sure, whatever,” I said.
            “Perhaps,” said the gypsy, “you can outsmart me. Maybe we talk awhile. You can catch me in a lie, or see through my trickery. I have to warn you though, I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’m very good at it.”
The gypsy’s frankness surprised and amused me.
            “Come on, sit down and talk to me for a few minutes,” said the gypsy, “The first moment I look at you I can see that you don’t want to be taken in by an old gypsy like me. But I’m a very clever talker. I think I can find something to interest you. Besides, you’ve already paid for the time, and there are no refunds.”
            What the hell? I sat down at the table across from the gypsy.
            “What do you want me to do first?” asked the gypsy. “Shall I impress you by guessing your profession? Give me three guesses.”
            “You need three guesses? I would have thought that you would use your powers and get it on the first try.”
            “Give yourself a little credit. You are not that obvious,” said the gypsy. “Let’s see, you are very young. You haven’t been out of college long. This is your first job. It’s a very good job. You are successful for your age, but you are not comfortable yet in your success. You dress very well – very professional but not stiff. You are proud of your position. You like making money. You might be a lawyer, but no, I don’t think so. You dress like a sales person.”
            “Good guess, but wrong,” I said.
            “Ok, I get two more guesses. The questions is, what brings you to the M-A-double-hockey-sticks on a weeknight. You didn’t buy your clothes at this mall. I don’t think this is where you shop by choice. You are here because it is convenient. You are probably staying in one of the hotels nearby. You are here on a business trip. You have alcohol on your breath. You probably had drinks with coworkers or clients at T-Buds. Now you are wandering the mall, because you don’t have anywhere to go except back to your hotel room. You are a consultant. I’m right. Aren’t I?”
            I agreed. The gypsy was correct.
            “You are from one of the prestigious consulting firms that hire a lot of young people out of college like Melvin-Conroy, or Brinkley Barnum.”
            “That’s right, Brinkley Barnum,” I said. She was good, but she was still just guessing. “Now what? Are you going to tell me my future?”
            “I could show you your future, but the procedure is imperfect, expensive, and many find it disturbing. No, I don’t think you want me to show you your future, but I can give you insight.”
            “I’m not really looking for a spiritual therapist.”
            “I’m more of a spiritual consultant,” she said. “I’m intrusive. I tell you what you should do with yourself. In the end, you can’t be sure if you could have done just as well without me.”
            I laughed. “Do you always insult your clients?”
            “Most of them don’t catch it,” said the gypsy. “Tell me, do you like motorcycles?”
            “No, why?”
            “Not at all?”
            “Not really. Why? What’s the deal with motorcycles?”
            “It’s nothing. Tell me about yourself. How is the career going? Is it everything you’d expected so far?”
            I decided there was no harm talking to the gypsy. She had been correct. I had nowhere to go except back to my hotel room to watch television and log a few more hours. I had gone with my coworkers to the T-Buds on the other side of the mall for happy hour. We’d gone to T-Buds almost every night since we’d come to Fort Lethe. At first, we had gone most nights after happy hour searching for merchandise or entertainment on which we could dispose our generous per diems. Now, about five weeks into the three-month assignment, we usually went back to our rooms after T-Buds.
            Julie, Jonathan, Gilbert, and I were the younger members of the Brinkley Barnum team on the Fort Lethe assignment. We worked together, ate together, drank together, laughed, and argued with each other. We were proud that we worked for Brinkley Barnum. We had been chosen from among many for our skill and promise. We made good money and expected to make a lot more. We were hard working, smart, and very competitive. Each of us knew that we would be the first to make partner.
            That night, as usual, we laughed about the follies of our client, the billing office for the Bauldi Hospital network. They needed our assistance more than they could comprehend. We complained about our project leaders, the senior members of the team. They gave us the crap work and little credit. They treated us like we didn’t know anything. Granted, they had more experience, but we had a fresh perspective they lacked. They needed our creativity even if they didn’t acknowledge it. We suspected that the senior members of the team resented us a little. We had talent. We knew it. We were a circle of geniuses. We would be recognized and rewarded for our abilities.
            I think I loved that group, a little. They were the best allies and fiercest competitors I could have hoped for. Gilbert had been with Brinkley Barnum a little longer than the rest of us. He thought of himself as our leader. On these extended trips, he planned most of the outings: dinners, ball games, bowling, clubs, or movies. Usually the rest of us went along with his plans, but we thought of him more as our mascot than our leader. Julie and I had started at Brinkley Barnum the same summer. Julie had a deep smile that most of the guys mistook for flirting. Jonathan had joined Brinkley Barnum the year before. He had a bashful bladder.
            “I do not have a bashful bladder,” said Jonathan.
            “How come you are always running back to your hotel room before the rest of us?”
            “I just need to get back to the hotel room. That’s all,” said Jonathan. “The bashful bladder joke is getting really stale.”
            The rest of us voted and decided that no, in fact, the joke was not getting old.
            “What about dinner?” asked Gilbert. “Anyone up for seafood?”
            We weren’t. Jonathan planned to grab a burger on the way back to his room. Julie wanted to shop a little. Gilbert and I had nothing better to do. So, we followed her to Great Pages, where we each purchased a copy of the latest business bestseller, Constructing Leviathan. I knew Julie would actually read the book. I had already read the reviews. I thought I understood the main points enough to discuss the book, at least with associates that also hadn’t read it. I didn’t like the picture of the author, Leonard Morrow, on the dust jacket. He looked too smug. I decided that when I appeared on the cover of my best-selling book, I would look friendlier. Morrow’s smugness made me resent him all the more for taking another twenty dollars from me.
            After Great Pages, Comfort Tech, Edges, and Gizmos and Stuff! Julie was ready to go back to the hotel. Gilbert wanted to stay. Usually, I would have gone back with Julie, but I was feeling restless. Most nights I phoned Valerie when I got back, but this evening she was dining with a group of doctors and telling them about her company’s new heart medication. I had nothing to look forward to at the hotel, but cable movies and endless spreadsheets.
            I followed Gilbert deeper into the mall. He chatted tirelessly about something. When he confided in me that he thought Julie had been flirting with him, I assured him that she had not. Gilbert and I came to a branch of the mall that I hadn’t been down before. It didn’t look promising. I knew from the maps that there was no anchor store this way. The wing was a gloomy beige and white. It hadn’t yet been remodeled to the more elegant gray and white of the rest of the mall. Passing archaic chain stores and lackluster homegrown boutiques, I found nothing of interest. It depressed me inexplicably. I found myself daydreaming about six-figure bonuses, about being interviewed by leading business journals, about my name in big letters on the outside of an office tower.
            “Look! Let’s go in here,” said Gilbert with his typical dopey enthusiasm that made you want to go along. Having nothing better to do, I followed Gilbert into the Fortunes, Etc.
            Fortunes, Etc. stores were for the gullible. I’d never been in one before, but it was about what I’d expected. Voodoo dolls, craven images, and stone idols filled the shelves, representing no consistent culture or creed. There were racks of candles and red and yellow leather bound books. Charms, talismans, and symbols promised easy love, wealth, or revenge.
            Back in college, I’d read a case study of the Fortunes, Etc. franchise for a marketing class. Fortunes, Etc. had two types of customers. Most customers came. to buy talismans and idols to decorate the walls of their bedroom or dorm to make their lives less mundane.
            The other type of customer was fewer in number, but spent more money. They came to Fortunes, Etc. to gain more control over their lives or at least hedge their bets against uncertainty. They bought trinkets, tomes, and salves to help them obtain love, revenge, or wealth. For these customers there were four doors. Three of the doors went to fortune rooms, where the mall gypsies read palms, tarot cards, and tea leaves. The fourth door was marked “Do Not Enter.” You had to prove your knowledge, desperation, or wealth before you were allowed past the fourth door. Beyond the fourth door, was the room where the “sophisticated” and “enlightened” shoppers could find the “real” stuff, or where the suckers bought the expensive stuff, depending on how you saw it. Even after you were admitted, the gypsies would sell you nothing until you had accepted the responsibility of the power they offered. It was part of the market plan of the mall gypsies. They made you work for it, or at least made you feel like you were working for it.
            “Let’s get our fortunes read,” said Gilbert. I can’t explain how he convinced me. Maybe it was his almost giddy excitement and I had nothing better to do.

            Once I’d made it clear to the mall gypsy that I didn’t want any bogus hocus pocus, I actually enjoyed talking to her. The gypsy had remained largely silent while I told her about my career, about Valerie and about my plans. When I’d finished, the gypsy stared at me as if considering my words or my soul.
            “You want me to tell your future?”
            I nodded noncommittally. I wasn’t expecting much.
            “It is very likely that you will be disappointed in your ambitions.”
            I smiled. It was a joke. “Is this the way you keep customers?” I asked.
            “You want me to tell you that you will inherit a fortune from a long lost relative, or some bullshit? You’ll be fine. Probably, you’ll be better off than most. Unless you are very careful, however, you will plateau. You will be frustrated.”
            “Unless I buy something from you to help me take control of my destiny, right?”
            “We both know you aren’t going to buy anything from me. I have nothing to gain or lose by saying this. You need to decide what you want.”
            “See, you don’t know me at all. I know exactly what I want. I’m going to get it. I’m going to do whatever it takes. And, I’m going to do it my own way.”
            “Which is it?”
            “What?”
            “You are going to do whatever it takes, or you are going to do it your own way? There is a difference.”
            “You don’t make any sense. I don’t need your help. I have a mentor back at the office, who helps me without speaking in riddles.”
            “It is a shame you aren’t a motorcycle enthusiast,” said the gypsy.
            “What are you talking about?”
            “There is this man. His name is Mansfield or Mandrake. He is the head of your company.”
            “You mean Sherman Manchester, president of Brinkley Barnum?”
            “Yes, that is the one. He is passionate about motorcycles. He collects them. He used to race them. Maybe he still does. Perhaps if you knew more about motorcycles-”
            “How do you know Manchester is into motorcycles?”
            “I have my sources.” She didn’t say what her sources were. I didn’t believe they were supernatural. Manchester was well known. Most likely, the gypsy had read something about Manchester in a magazine, assuming, of course, that her intel was even true.
             “What did you think?” asked Gilbert when he’d finished talking to his gypsy and I to mine.
            “Not worth the money,” I said. I didn’t want to admit that it had been more interesting that I thought. Toward the end, I had allowed the gypsy to get to me a little. It was my fault. She was just doing her job. I had no plan to come back, but I had to admit I had a little more respect for Fortunes, Etc. and their market plan. Before going, I glanced back at that fourth door that went back to the secret room. It was a clever gimmick. I had to admit I was curious about what was back there.

            It would be almost a year before I asked the old mall gypsy to show me.

Air and Fire

About a week ago there was a fire at the KOOP Radio studio. It is the third fire the radio station had in two years. According to the news the first two fires were accidents. Authorities say that the latest fire was arson.

There was a time that I was down at KOOP (pronounced “co-op as in cooperative, viagra not as in chicken coop). the station two, unhealthy three, or four time a week. I did shows on the air occasionally. I was a volunteer coordinator. And sometimes I just hung out. I was there the first day the station broadcast. I helped the station move to its previous office in the old Cotton Exchange office on 5th Street. I owned the station. We all did.

It’s been several years since I’ve been part KOOP, but the story really brought it back to me. It wasn’t completely surprising to hear that there had been another fire. Nor was it that surprising to hear that it had been set on purpose. KOOP was always home to passionate artists and activists. The folks I knew were amazing musicians, performance artists, protestors, organizers, reporters, poets, dreamers, and arguers. There were a lot of verbal battles and endless tense meetings. I don’t mean to suggest that these arguments turn into arson, far from it. The arguments came from a lot of passionate people wanting to be heard. And as frustrating as these meeting were, we kept coming back for more.

The climate was also prefect for borderline personalities, would be dictators, and giant egos. There were always a few people who understand thoroughly that their opinion was that of truth and righteousness. It was axiomatic that anyone disagreeing with them meant you were corrupt, probably a fascist or FBI infiltrator.

KOOP is not mine anymore. I don’t know the people there now, but it would surprise me if it the people had changed that much. KOOP wasn’t just a radio station, it was a lifestyle.

Puzzle 1

Eel is to Twix bar

as

Jellyfish is to Hershey’s Chocolate bar

as

Lobster is to M & Ms

A cow is to what? Twix bar, price Hershey’s Chocolate bar, or M & Ms? Why?

Prank 1

  1. On a lazy day, look approach a stranger.
  2. Look serious but a little confused.
  3. Ask: “What day is it today?”
  4. When they tell you the day of the week or the date, there say: “No. What’s the year? What year is it?”
  5. When they well you, repeat the year aloud. Look incredulous.
  6. Hurry off.

Bonus Point if you are wearing clothes from the 80s.
Double Bonus Points if you are wearing a “futuristic” silver jumpsuit.

Logic Problems

A: Socrates is a man.
B: All men are mortal.
C: All men are Socrates.
- Woody Allen, vcialis 40mg Love and Death

Recently in my writing I have found myself repeatedly fighting against logic. This bothers me because I’d always assumed that my stories would be more logical. The problem is that almost every time that I find that a story is getting too boring and tedious it is because I’m trying to provide a logical explanation for the characters and action. Increasingly I’m making jumps in my writing. What’s worse is that sometimes I like it.

The truth is that when you control the whole world, you can make almost anything logical. But often the logical explanation is BORING, SLOWS the story down, or BREAKS THE FLOW. In FAILUR, I didn’t want my protagonist to have a cell phone (cell phones can be a problem for suspense), even though it was an obvious choice for him. In the story I’m writing now (I don’t have a title yet, my working title is Anachronism), I didn’t want my hero, Franklin, to go to the police after he is attacked, even though this is the smart thing for him to do. In both cases I’ve made up perfectly good reasons why they don’t do the sensible thing. But my justifications were tedious. I’m not sure that anyone would want to read them. I’m temped to add footnotes for people who miss the detailed explanations.

I feel guilty about this. Good writing feels natural. When logical gaps are noticed it makes the story seem contrived. Nevertheless what I am working on now in my writing is keeping the narrative interesting. In the past I’ve wasted too many words trying to get the plot accurate. Playing a little loose with the logic has been liberating. Like binge drinking I’ll probably regret it later.

BTW – NO logic gaps are allowed along the main line of the character arc.

Stuck at the Horse Latitudes

Day after day, viagra order day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

- Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

When the still sea conspires an armor
And her sullen and aborted
Currents breed tiny monsters,
True sailing is dead.

- The Doors, Horse Latitudes

The winds at the Horse Latitudes are variable and unpredictable, making the seas alternately choppy, and calm. Colonial ships, their sails stilled, could be stuck in the hot humid waters of the Horse Latitudes for weeks. Precipitation is uncommon. Sometimes, to conserve water and lighten their loads, sailors would pitch horses overboard and drown them in these treacherous seas. It is for this that these latitudes (30-35 degrees north and south of the Equator) get their name. (Actually they may be named for the Persian general and navigator, Sataspes, but this explanation is not as interesting.)

Now, at the end of 2007 my story is adrift. I was a good enough navigator to know it was coming, but not a good enough captain to avoid it. A few days ago I’d received a rejection from the last agent that took any interest in my story. I haven’t sent any queries out for a while, mostly because I have been focused on my outline of my next story (and my website). My problem at the moment is not how to get my novel published, however. Right now, I’m thinking about how I continue writing these posts from still waters.

When I started writing these posts there was movement. I announced that I had completed the novel and that there was some immediate interest by agents. I knew that it would not last. Even with “quick” success in publishing could take two years before the book was in print. More likely it would five years or more, and it might be the second or third book that finally sold. Foolishly perhaps, I began writing this story, knowing that I would likely become stuck along the way with little apparent movement.

But it is lazy to view life as a lot of waiting between destinations (and depressing I think). As a writer, it interests me to show the stillness between the big actions – to show that it is not really stillness at all. The real reason I write this, however, is because as long as I have a story to tell, then my pursuit has not failed. The real failure is running out of story, and I am far from running out of story. Of course I would like a wide audience, but it doesn’t matter it my story goes out like a lonely message in a bottle bobbing the waves that my never find it shore. As long as I’ve got story, I have something.

Still I want to keep my story interesting. I don’t want to be like the Ancient Mariner spending eternity accosting wedding with his albatross killing story. So while I end 2007 stuck in my own Horse Latitudes, wondering what I might have to jettison to propel my story onward, I’ll leave you with a preview of directions the story might take.

I will try new ways to sell my story to agents. I may decide to make significant rewrites to the manuscript. This will be ugly, but it may be the best path. I will continue the work on the next novel, which could overtake FAILUR. Meanwhile I intend to explore new ways to get my stories out their and to make connections with other writers. I shall tell you a little something of the demons that follow me on this journey, alternately blowing me off course and pushing me forward. Perhaps in 2008 I will reach my destination, or maybe like Columbus I will find some different land not on my charts.

Happy New Year friends. May the winds be at your backs and may you have a star to guide your journey.

I thought that they were angels, but to my surprise
They climbed aboard their starship and headed for the skies
Singing come sail away, come sail away
Come sail away with me
Come sail away, come sail away
Come sail away with me

- Styx, Come Sail Away

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy – Part 4 : Fate’s Exception

One of the few exception to my rules that names in FAILUR be meaningless or deceptive, salve was Chloe. Chloe is a friend of the main character. She’s an actuary. Her name was chosen because it was similar to Clotho, the first of the three Fates (or Moira, the “apportioners”).

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy – Part 3 : Mary Sue

I’d considered calling my protagonist “Brian Wittenbrook.” (see Mary Sue). I’ve had a fondness for authors who write improbable stories about themselves. Stephen King put a writer called Stephen King into his Dark Tower series. Kinky Freidman regularly writes novels about a character named Kinky Freidman solving crimes. And of course Dante Alighieri wrote about “Dante” who got Vigil to give him a guided tour of Hell, buy where he got to see his enemies tortured. Later he visits Heaven where his host Beatric is a woman that Dante had a crush on who died at 24.