Going On the Account: No, That’s *Not* What That Means!

As of this writing, we now have two weeks to go before Thanksgiving in the US, which means we’re six weeks into advertising for Christmas.

Which, okay, the way things have gone as of late, between supply chain issues and the spike in prices therefrom, maybe we do need a little Christmas now. A little something cheerful, even if we do tend to veer away from the reason we have the day celebrated (with a few notable exceptions).

But this year, we’ve got two egregious examples of drawing the wrong lessons from the story.

Not the one you’re thinking about…

"A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens and illustrated by John Leech.

By now, everyone must have had some contact with A Christmas Carrol by Charles Dickens. A few movie adaptations, at least, including ones with Alastair Sim, or Albert Finney, or George C. Scott, or Patrick Stewart, or the Muppets.

It’s worth reading the original. Copies can be downloaded here, and the whole text is online for ease of reading. At the very least, having a quick summary on hand is an option.

Something the ad folks working on these products should have done before these got shot…

This, for example: Marley is visiting Ebenezer to show him the past, the present, and the future, a future where the electric car is a definite improvement over a horse-drawn hansom or the current gas-powered car.

Which… Wha’? The whole point of Ebenezer seeing the past, present, and future is to encourage him to be a better person, but here our Ebenezer is under no obligation to do better. Are we assuming that our protagonist is someone who doesn’t need to consider their past, and can ignore everything they did in their life because there’s a reward for it?

And considering our habits created a need for an electric car, don’t we need to be mindful of what led us there so that we don’t continue to make more mistakes? If ol’ Ebenezer here gets handed a new car and can’t take into account how the power grid needs to change to allow for plug-ins, then he really didn’t learn anything, did he?

(Please refrain from “electric car net zero” jokes; they weren’t that funny the first few times…)

Speaking of failing to learn, we get the above spot from Peloton, where Scrooge snarls at carolers before someone (with a few bucks and no sense) gifts him their bike. We then watch as he uses the product and finds himself healthier and happier (while the instrumental for Danny Elfman’s “What’s This?” plays in the background, because… Okay, I don’t know either…).

Scrooge may be happier and healthier, but there’s nothing to say he’s a better person. There are too many people, likely at least one of them you know personally, who are fit and together and yet still are f’n’ G-d a-holes; the only happy outcome suggested by the spot is that he stays inside on the bike for the rest of his life and is no longer anyone else’s problem.

(Considering Peloton has had issues with their commercial campaigns before, this is probably an improvement compared to that…)

Yes, the original source material is 179 years old as of this writing, but getting a worse mangling in a bad game of telephone than the other tales the holiday is based on, which have been around for far longer, seems at best really sloppy. That the main point in a story about self-reflection making someone a better person would get hurled to the curb without slowing the car down be lost in so cavalier a fashion is at best a misunderstanding, and at worst appropriation for nefarious commercial purposes.

It may be too late to save the original meaning of Christmas, but can’t we at least try to save the original meaning of A Christmas Carol…?

Going On The Account: A Round of Thanks

And so we’re finished here.

And not a moment too soon, you might say.  Thing of it is, so would I…

I had someone ask me during a Q&A after my reading at NYRSF what year Red Jenny took place in.  Coyly, I declined to give a year, citing how both George Orwell and Arthur C. Clarke got hobbled by tying some of their better-known works to a date on the calendar.

Truth be told, the way things were going, there was every chance that a lot of events happening around us were going to make the novel look dated months before this moment.  Between March of 2011 and today, we’ve seen federal sequestration leading to government disengagement from its citizens, a major storm slamming the New York area and a realization that we’re going to lose a lot more land to inundation than we thought, an explosion of gun violence that would not be that uncommon in the time of these pirates, serious challenges to our access to medical treatment, a worsening relationship between the U.S. and her neighbors; hell, the Peace Bridge just became a flashpoint between both sides….

Despite plenty of evidence in literature for years that trying to project near-term developments by a writer is a sucker’s game, I still put a couple of bucks down for some action, thankful I was able to walk away not that much lighter at the end of it.

So wrapping things now worked out pretty well.  In fact, I’d say my timing was pretty good; a few weeks ago some press was being generated by the coining of the term “cli-fi,” having the novel in the right place and time as everyone considers the subject and allowing me to drastically cut down the time for my elevator pitch…

Speaking of getting everything in, I feel like a writer getting an Oscar and finding he’s only got 20 seconds left before they play him off to start thanking everyone for getting there.  If you don’t find your name here, we’ll talk:

* My wife (and editor) Susan, and son James:  The non-writers out there can relate to the misery of being around someone who needs time to create and gets snarly if they can’t be with their craft often enough, and the two of you put up with a lot from me.  (And you writers out there reading this with someone with whom you share close quarters: Take a second and let them know how much you love them.)

* Cheryl Mortensen, who encouraged me not to sit around too long after Raging Gail was finished to share this one; as it happened, the timing worked out pretty well.

* Susan Rocan, author of Withershins, whose interview with me was a big highlight of the whole experience publishing this novel.

* Tim O’Mara, author of Sacrifice Fly, and host of the We Three Productions reading series, who gave me the first opportunity to read from the novel and offered me a chance to share the work with a wider audience.

* Jim Freund, radio personality and host of the NYSFR reading series, who took a gamble on giving me a chance to do a reading from the novel at literally the last minute; if that isn’t a great stress test of your skills as a writer, I can’t think of any better.

* Everyone who came to or ended up at both readings; having you as an audience was gratifying, and I love the warmth that you all showed.  And hey, count your blessings; better you hear me reading than singing…

* Last but not least, everyone who logged in and read the book.  I enjoyed your comments when they came, though just having you read along as it came out was more than enough for me.  It’s to you I owe so much; thank you.

I had at one point the wild idea of a big wrap party when I got to this point, but not having a Harvey Weinstein-sized budget for a soirée, I’ve had to scale back; dammit!  I’m still scaling here as I write this, so even if all I end up with is coming home alone to a can of Genesee and one of those stale cheese-and-cracker packs you get from a vending machine on the New York State Thruway, I can at least have this out here to show my thanks.

Who knows, maybe someone reading this may decide to take me out for a drink or two, just to say thanks.  I can promise I’m good company and that I won’t be that embarrassing.

And I might even share with you a sneak peak at the next project…

Going On The Account: …A Mighty Bloodless Substitute For Life

It’s spring in New York, which means we’ve had our first robin sighting in the parks, our first hint of green from the trees, the Allman Brothers are making their annual stand at the Beacon, and soon we’ll face opening day at Yankee Stadium, to be followed soon after by the first in-season Page Six story about A-Rod



And of course, what would spring be without something to make the literary circles here a little perturbed, like this essay Gawker reported on from Robert Lewis Stevenson that appeared in the latest issue of The Strand Magazine.



(As an aside, it’s interesting how the throwaway comment Maggie Lange makes at the end of the article gets a lot of challenges from fans of Treasure Island, which is a bit of a heart-warmer, I confess…)



For those looking for the executive summary, Stevenson complained about the state of current literature (which for him was from the Victorian era) being devoid of reality, which seemed daring in the midst of the purple rage that most writers fell under during the late 19th Century, but a criticism that would be abandoned by most writers come the advent of Hemmingway.  Of particular interest is this one comment he makes about pirate navigators, and how they would appear askance in pirate fiction of the time (including his own work, which was being written at the time of the essay):


If you read a true account of these rogues you would be thunderstruck. Again and again they try to cross the Atlantic – what hundreds of decent, respectable merchant skippers do successfully every month – and again and again they lose their way, cannot find the trade-winds, and, from sheer block-headedness, suffer the last extremities of thirst and hunger.


Let’s take a moment to consider what is a quite frank comment about those plying the Sweet Trade by a man who would make his reputation discussing pirates.  What would drive this man to bite the hand that would feed him, with enough force to sever fingers from palms?
Is it the frustrations of writing in that we want to do by our characters the most justice we can, even if it means portraying them with the same techniques you’d find in a 40-plus minute Yoko Ono steady-camera kind of art installation?  Which, despite the amount of Absolute Truth you bring to the piece, you know in your heart of hearts is going to drive your readers to drink or worse…?



Is it the feeling that Art needs to trump over Truth, because Art is the flighty one that needs the special attention?  Seriously, if Art and Truth were personified, would Art be the one that needed to get past the velvet rope every night to enter the clubs where Chris Brown was going to, to abuse amuse Rhianna, to be there for the event, or at least the possibility of the event, while Truth was happy to be at home keeping the accounts?



Is it guilt the authors feels that they are somehow misrepresenting the characters they create that makes them worry about an absolute truth when they ignore the drudgery that we as real humans wish we could just skip over?  And why isn’t there some sense of guilt we feel that we mere humans ask that 165 hours of our week be skipped and that we relish the three hours we really want?  (And the idea that if we could appeal to that Greater Writer to do that for us, that we wish like hell that said author wasn’t Alexander Solzhenitsyn…?)



Or is it just my own neuroses playing in me, while the rest of you are able to enjoy life?  Hey, if I’m the only person tied to New York writing tonight with self-doubts, at least I’d be in good company



But excusing the personal issues (which every writer has, and the ones who claim otherwise are either lying or have had more drinks than I have tonight),  there’s still the overriding issue of Stevenson’s worries about how to portray pirates, which for some of us-



OK, damnit, for me!  Yes, I have my own beefs.  And it has to do with events not so far away, but recent.  In particular, it seems my musings about characters with guns post-Newtown were not unfounded, as readership has diminished as of late.  It could be a large part of this is due to the public losing a taste for people in a gun-based culture having to turn to the tools at hand to deal with their issues, and abandoning accounts of such activities.



That, or else the fact that I suck as a writer; hey, at this point, either works…



Whatever the cause, I find myself coming to the end of Red Jenny with the same enthusiasm Dave Sim faced when Cerebus #300 finally came around.  Somehow, I thought it’d be… well, not like this…



No, I don’t want pity.  A party, maybe, but not a pity party; that much work posting every week, someone needs to buy me a drink, damnit!



But beyond my personal issues, there’s still the unresolved matter of what writers need to do to stand by their works.  Is there an over-reaching Truth they need to serve to honor their characters, or does the story need to make them compromise the way we real folk need to do every day?  Are we honoring our characters and/or readers by glossing over the long bits of boredom between punctuations of terror/drama?



And if a much better writer than any of us here today like Robert Lewis Stevenson couldn’t come up with an answer, what f’n’ chance do we have…?



If nothing else, this makes for good conversation over drinks.  Which, if you ever look me up, I’m still available for…

Going On The Account: A Matter of Perspective

I don’t have much I can add beyond what Steve Almond states about narrators in this piece from the TIMES.  The lack of ability to find someone you can trust to tell you a story is probably the main identifier of literature from our modern time; whether this applies to the writers of same as well, I leave that for you to decide…

Going On The Account: Blogtober – Idea-l Conditions

Welcome to the fifteenth day of Blogtober, which coincides with the beginning of the third week of my self-imposed sleep deprivation ordeal; nice how that all works out, no…?

This came about thanks to some goading from the suggestions provided by Speaker7 and Sips of Jen and Tonic to try and get around NaNoWriMo by posting every damn day this month instead of working on a book.  Which, actually, I am still doing anyway while tying myself to the mast here; what that says about me, I leave you to figure out…

Of course, I did notice in my colleagues’ statements that when they committed themselves to the project, they were soliciting ideas for what to write about this month from their associates, which was something I should have considered; get a few topics, build a buffer around those, slot them in, grab some sleep.  If there’s ever another Blogtober, that may be the way to go.

Or not.  Because to be quite frank, it’s not whether you have an idea, it’s how you use it.

Seriously, there are only a few plots writers have to work with, simple descriptions for which that are the core of your work that can be summarized by one single sentence.  And  the quality of your work frankly depends less on the sentence you have than how you build off of that sentence.

All plots are essentially armature, a skeleton that you apply bits of clay to, or sheets of papier-mache to, or hang busted Christmas lights off of; whatever media you work in, you get the idea that it’s how you expand off that sentence that ultimately determines the work’s worth, whether you have a masterpiece or a-  well, something else, let’s say…

Let’s look at a few examples of this:  I’m going to give a one sentence descriptive, and two works for which the sentence sums the core thereof nicely.  By doing that, it should prove the point that it’s not so much your story, but how you tell it, that differentiates your work.

[EDIT:  I had word that the images that are part of the post do not show up for all viewers, so for their sake I’m including titles with links where the images would send them.  It’s not the first time a joke mine lost something in translation…]

EXAMPLE #1:  An ex-soldier opens a bar, get involved with a conspiracy that the authorities are trying to shut down.

You could end up discussing CASABLANCA:

or you could be discussing BARB WIRE:

EXAMPLE # 2:  Teenager gets telekinesis, deals with complications from that gift

Either you mean CHRONICLE:

or you mean ZAPPED!:

EXAMPLE # 3:  Man given duties out in the wilds takes up the cause of the people he meets there against those who sent him out

We could be discussing DANCES WITH WOLVES:


EXAMPLE # 4: Aliens launch a plot against Earth, using indirect means to take control of the planet


Or what you got is PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE:

(They colorized that? Dear Lord…)

EXAMPLE # 5: Young girl is possessed by demon and terrorizes her family

You may end up with THE EXORCIST:


As you can see, it’s all in the execution.  With any luck, if you draw a light enough sentence, you don’t ave to worry about execution; just do your time and wait for the paro-

Uh, sorry, a little off-topic there; damn sleep deprivation…

The main point here is, it’s not your ideas you have to be concerned with, it’s how you use them.  I can’t be the only person who’s ever seen this; if anyone reading this knows of a few more, I’d love to see the examples you have…

Going On The Account: Blogtober – Was It The Way We Remembered It…?

This is the thirteenth of Blogtober, as our minds start to wander…

So who else wonders if history could have been different?  Other than Karl Rove, I mean…

(Yeah, it’s a cheap shot, but damn, that just ain’t getting old any time soon…)

Early on in my career, I did a lot of alternative history for the sorely-missed Rooftop Sessions.  I think the first piece I did online that got something other than just a byline was “I Read The News Today” which was an epistolary examination of what happened after NYPD picked up Mark David Chapman at 10:40 PM the night of December 8th, 1980.

I remember being in some workshops with that one at the time and getting reactions from the folks I was with that were, well, not quite raves.  The main criticisms were not with the technique or approach, but the subject matter; there were not a lot of John Lennon fans among these folk, and the idea of him getting a second wind to his career with some “out of studio” influence after 40 seemed a little far-fetched.

Mind you, at that time Bono was only in his thirties, so who had a point of reference to work from in my favor…?

And it was fun to keep mining that vein for a while.  I got to use an AltHis focus on the Beatles to do some writing about the Kennedys, Doctor Who, and comic books.  All said, I think I got more ideas to explore out of that than I had before then.

There were a few other ideas I never got to fully develop, that didn’t see the light of day in their original form.  Some of that ended up in bits of RED JENNY AND THE IRATES OF BUFFALO, in a somewhat adulterated form of course, which makes a great argument for recycling.  Or at least for explaining why you have a messy desk at home…

I bring all this up as I consider what happens after RED JENNY.  As does any novel, this one too has an end, which will go up online in a few months, an end I am polishing between other distractions.  Which of course leads to that question, “So now what?”

I happen to be a little superstitious and have issues with discussing works before I’m ready to share them.  There have been too many times where I talk up an upcoming project that dies before it makes its way to the other side, and I’m left holding the bag with nothing to show for it.

But, I am willing to experiment, like any writer willing to work in AltHis.  So what I am going to say is, I did leave a clue in one of these three posts I made here.  Hopefully if this works, I can obliquely discuss the future, or at least an alternative for it, and if it doesn’t I can claim that the past never occurred, or that it happened in a different way than we remembered it having done so.

Just like an AltHis writer.  Or Karl Rove…

(Nope, ain’t old yet…)

Going On The Account: Blogtober!

So it’s that time of the year again:  The realization hits that the candy for the trick-or-treaters should have been bought last week, preparations are made for the reservations-for-Thanksgiving-versus-missing-the-Lions-and-Cowboys debate to come soon, and of course, the questions about my NaNoWriMo plans keep coming up.


I get less and less of them over the years, thanks to something I wrote back in 2009, but they haven’t entirely stopped.  Like belabored references to zombies and reminders that the GOP went overboard with their ‘Southern Strategy’, they still haunt me like Ben Cortman calling out Robert Neville, asking me why I don’t try and spew 50,000 words on a single plot over the course of the month.  Some say they get a good book out of it, and admittedly, I read one that came through that exercise that was actually worth it.  Not that I don’t have faith in me, but c’mon,  two books ain’t good enough for ya already…?


And then, there was this blogpost by Speaker 7 (who if nothing else deserves a pension for summarizing the 50 Shades series so that none of the rest of us need suffer) noting how she was following the example set by Jen and Tonic, to write one blog post a day during the month  Rather than push for something a little unwieldy and resulting in something potentially toxic (yes, I am hard on myself), this sounded like something more readily managed, and a great encouragement to work some writing muscles without straining and tearing something.


And when I actually mentioned it in passing to both of them, they encouraged me to go along with the madness.  And who am I to say no to them…?


So, starting November 1st, it’s going to be Blogtober!  Every day that month, I will get online and have something to post.  You can expect-
(Hang on a sec:  Thirty days has September, April, June, and ohthankGod…)


You can expect thirty pieces in a row, minimum.  If I burn out, I have chapter announcements that could cover it, but I’ll try not to weasel my way out that way.   I understand my inspirations may try and coast with a few images for their contributions; as I now have photographic equipment that’s been used on the blog before (mainly here and here), I may be able to claim some small virtue if me aim be good and there be a prize afore me…


So yeah, thirty posts, maybe some with pictures, maybe some stuff about writing…  And more than likely, pirates.  Yes, we have our core values, after all.  Heck, at least one piece will be how what happens November 6th is going to impact the Modern Age of Piracy, and there’s a few things mentioned before on the blogroll in passing that could get expanded.

Hang on to your tricorner hats; it’s going to be an interesting Blogtober…

[SFX: Maniacal diabolical chortles]

Going On The Account: Taking A New Tack

(WARNING: Language found at this link may be a lot for some)

Entry # 202 of Winston Rowntree’s SUBNORMALITY really hit home for me, exploring the idea of the “road not taken,” especially for writers.  The way the character of Ethel confronts herself and looks back at her own individual PoDs (points of departure) explores the way we all ask ourselves, “What if I had done something different?”  and does so with a candor and ease that gives the process resonance.


It works well as a great speculative piece, and makes the individual quest to examine alternatives that much easier to relate to.

Going On The Account: Spotting False Flags

The whole debate about whether writers just “make stuff up” or draw from their life experience, and if so how much of each, took an interesting turn when Jay Caspian Kang broke down a passage from his novel The Dead Do Not Improve over at Gawker.  It’s an interesting read, watching him take apart his passage and declaring which bits he made up and which he lived.


Frankly, I don’t know if I’d have the guts to do that.  A certain amount of what I share online is obviously fictitious, such as, say, firing four pounders at square rigs off the coast of Florida, so I’m not ashamed to highlight where the heavy schloffing took place.  Frankly, I’m rather proud of my schloffing, truth be told, or not…


As for pointing out where the drawing in the IRL materials occurred, I don’t know if that’s my place to do that.  I have fond memories of pursuing an English degree, watching professors proudly share their research where they tore apart text to show where a writer got his or her inspiration; who am I to deny scholars a chance at building tenure from reading my work by spoiling it for them…?


I personally blame James Frey for this. Hell, I’d blame Dick Cheney on James Frey if I thought I could get away with it, but this charge is more likely to stick, but anyway…  After Frey’s A Million Little Pieces came out, he tried to pass that off as a memoir, an account which could not be verified by The Smoking Gun when they failed to find his arrest record, leading the whole thing to shatter into a mill-

OK, yeah, that was going to be glib; gotta watch that…


But then, after all of that, he’s still writing, going on to use his name to become a hack mill, getting someone else to do the heavy lifting because he could offer someone access.  And I thought that when you did write-for-hire like that, you were supposed to be working under a better quality name that that, which means either H. L. Mencken was right (again) or there are way to many desperate MFA holders out there…


The point is, does this really matter this much?  Do all writers of fiction have to have some sort of authenticity to make their work credible?  Do we ignore the people who write if they admit that they dreamed up too much of their work?


If we did go that route, that would mean I’d have to give up on one of my inspirations, Stephen Vincent Benet.  Here was a writer who could move quite comfortably between historical, fantasy, SF, Westerns, and go further afield into poetry.  Would a man of pure letters still find an audience among readers demanding “authenticity”?  Would someone with talent who didn’t conveniently stick to just one genre still be taken on by an agent or a publisher, if they thought he couldn’t be properly branded?

That’s an authentic concern, right there…


Going On The Account: I’ll Have Another One, Please…

And sometimes, coincidence happens in an ironic fashion:  There are two good pieces out there online about why we seem to be getting rehashes of everything in our entertainment, one by Annalee Newitz at io9.com, and the other by Drew Christie at nytimes.com.  Both cover much the same ground, bypassing the whole “brand identification as a quick way to make a buck” shared wisdom trope and seeing other deeper forces involved, ingrained in whom we are and how we process ultimate truths over time.


Which is better than my theory:  That writers have less plot lines to work with than musicians have notes…

Going On The Account: Write Away

So what am I reading to avoid doing any work tonight?

Well, for starters, there’s John Self’s piece from The Guardian about how individual fans can kick up a writer’s profile (recommended to me by Nathan Bransford’s blog).  It seems simple enough, going guerrilla to word of mouth your payload into as many ears as possible, then hope for it to translate into sales.


In my case, the current read I’d be doing this for would be Rob Reid’s Year Zero, a book with a Douglas Adams-esque eye on the way Big Music tries to fight pirates, suggesting a very funny sounding doom if we aren’t careful about how we apply USC: Title 17.  If our existence ever did depend on a copyright lawyer with the same name as a Backstreet Boy, at least we’d be able to laugh about it as the end came…




And when I’m not reading, I’m watching the short film Tangled Tales – Mr. Write.  This was forwarded to me by the Lovely and Talented Susan, who is a big inspiration for me; that said, I’m thinking that tonight, I sleep with one eye open…

Going On The Account: And Now, A Few Words…

We interrupt your parlor wall drama for some vital messages:

Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man? Me?

Do you know the legend of Hercules and Antaeus, the giant wrestler, whose strength was incredible so long as he stood firmly on the earth. But when he was held, rootless, in mid-air, by Hercules, he perished easily. If there isn’t something in that legend for us today, in this city, in our time, then I am completely insane.

Everyone must leave something in the room or left behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.

We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand years, and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, some day we’ll stop making the goddam funeral pyres and jumping into the middle of them. We pick up a few more people that remember, every generation.

The preceeding was a message from the late Ray Bradbury, author of the novel Fahrenheit 451.  We now return you to your parlor wall drama, already in regress…