Bad Dream Factories

Top Hat Means Business

It’s important from time to time to refresh your skills. Challenge your assumptions. Do something Dangerous.

For the last few months I’ve been studying writing with Chuck Palahniuk and Chelsea Cain in their Bad Dream Factory writer’s workshop and for six weeks or so I have also had the privilege to be their teaching assistant. These two best-selling mad geniuses are generous and inspirational. I’ve learned a lot from their examples, experience, prompts, and challenges. I won’t really get into much of that here (there’s that whole Blood Oath and First Rule of Write Club thing after all) except to say that Chuck has started a Substack newsletter that, I think, is pretty worth your time if you’re a writer or an enjoyer of Chuck’s unique perspective on the world.

I encourage you to take a step back from your writing practice (or your running practice or your <insert here> practice) and ask yourself “is this still working?” and “could this be working better?” Sometimes the internal dialog this prompts is invaluable. It’s easy to get in a rut, operate out of routine rather than enthusiasm. Enthusiasm has been hard to come by lately but I think you deserve, fine reader of these words, a shot at it. Try chasing it back to the root. What started your love of writing? Can you reconnect with that? Can you evolve from that? Can you try?

I think you can.

On Writing: Never Tell Me the Odds

Everything I do is doomed. Statistically speaking, I am addicted to lost causes and people are always ready to remind me. Only 8 writers will ever write professionally; the other 786 million of us will only know sorrow or work for hire clickbait erectile dysfunction pop up advertisements. 723% of all people that run recreationally or for sport will injure themselves. XYZ% of everyone that ever loses weight will just gain it back and more because of homeostasis and ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. 3 out of every 2 marriages ends in divorce, most companies are probably just going to lay you off anyway, Nancy. Addicts and alcoholics are all going to relapse sooner or later, and 100% of all lives will end in death. Well, at least one of those isn’t an exaggeration. It turns out that the odds, as they are often framed, are real bummers, and ultimately, if you were smart, you probably just wouldn’t do anything. The good news is, I’m not smart, you guys. I’m a dumb, dumb man.

Let me take a step back and approach this a different way. I am generally and constantly confused by slot machines and those bright blinky casino games. I remember the first time I decided, hey I’m legally allowed to do this so I’m gonna, and I gave the machine a dollar. It flashed a lot of nonsense and then my dollar was gone. I guess that’s exciting for some people? I don’t find gambling fun or stressful or addictive; I just find it perplexing. Gambling is predicated on the thrill of the outcome, the possibility of a big win or a big loss, of chance teetering on the brink. Intellectually that makes sense to me but ultimately I don’t do things because of the outcome; I do things because I like doing the things and there’s nothing inherently fun about flashing lights and my missing dollar.

And because all good points come from three totally unrelated directions, I was talking to an old friend recently about an idea that’s central to a lot of 12 step philosophies (this is one of the ones they put on coffee cops); let go and let God. Neither of us are especially theistic people and we talked about how challenging so many of these ideas are if you’re not a churchgoer, if maybe, you’re a cynic, or an agnostic, or even a full-throated atheist. I’ve known a lot of people that have found something in the 12 steps and even more that have found meaning in God and, in my way, I’ve found meaning in them also. Just maybe not the exact same meaning. What I suggested to my friend is that God, in that coffee cup summation of belief, is not the most important part of that sentence. People are always skipping over the first part. It’s more about the letting. So many religious beliefs advocate surrendering yourself to a higher power, and a lot of my fellow Sunday morning snoozers get so hung up on the higher power part that they miss the surrender bit. I suggest that if you can do the surrender bit, the higher power bit probably works itself out. If you can live your life, just doing your best when you can and learning when it’s okay to let go, still finding the courage to shrug and look at those statistics in my opening paragraph and surrender to the uncontrollability of the universe, to the beautiful, swirling entropy that maybe has a master conductor and maybe doesn’t– well, I think that’s most of the way.

So I don’t care about the chances and the likelihoods and I don’t do it for the blinky and the big cash-in. I care about doing what I do when I’m doing it and surrendering the rest of the time. Maybe I’ll write a billion words and they won’t mean a thing and I’ll never see my name on the spine of a book at a neighborhood rummage sale. Making anything– hell, trying anything that matters– it’ll break your heart. I had a literary agent and he was a good dude and I wrote three books and they were good books we put them out to publishers and they didn’t work out and now I don’t have an agent anymore and I’m back at beginning of the merry-go-round. I felt that so hard, you guys. It challenged my faith in my craft and it hurt and I had to decide to hold onto it or surrender it and I gotta tell you; surrendering is a process. I surrender and then I surrender and then I stop surrendering and grit my teeth and shake my fists and then I go for a run and then I surrender a little more and then I see something irritating on Twitter and I catch myself unsurrendering and that seems like how it’s going to go.

Most of my life falls into two broad categories; things I can control and things I can’t do a damn thing about. I can control the value and inherent enjoyment I get out of doing my work so I do. I can’t control if it will be successful. Seems like some people are so concerned with what the slot machine is going to do after you put in the dollar that they don’t notice that putting a dollar into a machine is, ultimately, pretty boring.

On Writing: If a Tree Falls on A Blogger Does He Get Any Clicks?

Hey. Did you guys know I have a blog on the internet? 🤯 I know, right?

Let me back up and get you all caught up. Over the weekend I attended Norwescon up in the Seattle area. I’d never been and it was really great. I highly encourage writers and fans of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and the like to check it out if you haven’t already. Anyway, as these sorts of conventions tend to do, Norwescon made me reflective about my writing and publicly available content. 2 or 3 years ago I was very ambitious about this blogging business and I posted a lot of stuff. That content generation has really fallen off obviously. There are three reasons for it and – shock! – I’m going to blog about the three reasons I don’t blog as much right here, you guys!


Reason 1: Blogging and tweeting and podcasting and all of that other platform building social media stuff is really time-consuming. When I was doing a podcast it took me at least 8 hours a week to script, record, edit, and post. That’s eight hours I wasn’t writing short stories or novels to sell and eventually that time investment just didn’t make sense for me. I still blog and tweet and I look at my podcasting mic longingly all the time. I want to blog and podcast and tweet out adorable otter pictures. I just need the cost/benefit to tilt a little closer to benefit.

Reason 2: You didn’t clap your hands. It’s kind of shameless of me to blame the audience but seriously, writing blogs without readers and recording podcasts without listeners eventually just starts to seem sort of sad. It’s like throwing a really great birthday party for yourself. You can rent a pony and hire a French horn soloist but if there’s no one else there, the French horn soloist just looks at that pony and then at you and he gets super uncomfortable. Trust me. (I’m sorry, Kyle.) My podcast averaged 3 listeners a week. When I started out I thought “oh, I just need to build up a backlog and then surely, listeners will come” but that never happened and that leads to reason 3.



Reason 3: I’m kinda bad at this, you guys. Look, I think my blogs are entertaining and informative. I try to put useful content in them for writers and non-writers. I distill my wisdoms and philosophies and I don’t think that they’re completely without merit. I try to include jokes and pictures of otters. But I’m considerably less good at promotion. I have like 7 Twitter followers and most of my social media presence is my wife giving me pity clicks. I need to meet people and learn hashtags and stuff and while I’ve not been blogging that’s something I’ve been working on. My primary takeaway from Norwescon this weekend was that it doesn’t matter if I write super sweet jetpack otter amazing fiction, if I don’t have an audience I may as well be writing technical documentation on the best utilization of multipage spreadsheets for businessing and oh god i just fell asleep a little bit sorry. If there’s one lesson I could teach 12 year Erik who dreamed of being a writer, it would be to stop typing a little bit and be more social (with people that aren’t his D&D group). I’m not socially shy at all and I don’t feel anxious with public speaking or crowds. That’s a tremendous privilege and I am not unaware of it. I was the class clown in school and I starred in my own play in college. I raise my hands at con panels and shake hands and all that good nudge nudge wink wink retweet my stuff and tell your friends pretty please stuff. The problem I have is that I’ve always valued writing over marketing. I’m a workaholic and always have been. Given the choice between meeting a bunch of strangers or writing for a few hours, I have always chosen to write. I, mistakenly, assumed that once I built up a backlog of content, readers would magically arrive. Nope. I have a whole lot of blogs (WordPress says there are 77 published for this site) and hours of podcasts and literally a million words of pretty okay reading material and I have no magic readers. I have otter pictures and self-doubt.*

But! I know what I need to do. Norwescon lit a bulb over my head and a voice came down from the heavens and gave me guidance – work less and have fun with people more. It turns out people enjoy fun. Who knew? I generally prefer work but I’m willing to see if this fun fad is going to last.

In the meantime, my words aren’t going anywhere. There’s a lot of great content on this blog. I have that backlog. I’m going to link some of my personal favorites right here. I’ll come back and blog more. But it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be very seriously fun. Prepare yourselves. Put that in your spreadsheet and business it.

*Note: I really shouldn’t be grubbing for sympathy here. I have a literary agent that believes in me and I have a book I really believe in out for submission to editors right now. Things could turn out pretty well for Ol’ Erik. But still. Give me all your clicks and retweets and comments. I need your approval so so desperately. I’m an insecure clown man. Tell your friends.


Looking for Uriel – A Personal Essay

On Writing: Hey Ho! Let’s Go! The Ramones Way

On Writing: Critics and Trolls

On Writing: Off Ramps, Ice Barbarians and Jon Hamm’s Hair

On Writing: Diversity and the 21st Century Writer (Part 1)

On Writing: Kill Your Tokens (Diversity and the 21st Century Writer Part 2)

Hesitation Marks – A Personal Essay

On Writing: NaNoWriMo Diary 2017 – Day 1

People like images so: MONKEY ON A BICYCLE

Hey all. I’m participating in NaNoWriMo which is what the cool kids call National Novel Writing Month. If you’re not familiar with NaNoWriMo, it’s both an awesome 501(c)(3) and a month long writing contest where us masochistic few write a 50,000 word novel by 11:59 on November 30th. Here’s NaNoWriMo’s mission statement:

National Novel Writing Month believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page.

NaNoWriMo (the organization) also does other great educational and creative programs and you should check them out right after you read my blog!

November 1, 2017:

Started the first day of this month-long marathon pretty casually. I had a morning appointment downtown, then met some friends for lunch, before heading over to meet my agent and talk about how we’re going to make hundreds upon hundreds of dollars selling my books. He had updates on a couple of projects we’re shopping around and we talked about some future stuff. Good author/agent conversation. Good coffee.

Metal, you guys.

I mentioned I’m doing NaNoWriMo to get my weird out before I start work on some more marketable prospects. He expressed tentative support for my alien brain process as long as I get him the materials I owe him for a proposal while I’m listening to Iron Maiden and thinking about Santa Claus. I agreed to this because I like to be an agreeable author and he is going to make us hundreds upon hundreds of dollars selling my books

After our meeting I decided to walk home instead of doing what a normal not alien brained person would do. It was a nice afternoon in Portland and only a little over 5 miles. I figured the time alone wandering the streets of my city would help percolate my alien brain juices and I was right. I spent some time thinking about listening to Iron Maiden (I forgot my earbuds so this was a music free 5+ mile stroll) and thinking about Santa Claus. I thought about a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles covered in ashes and full of skeletons and demons. I thought about elves on motorbikes and the Backstreet Boys, standing a sad suburban vigil in a fictional mall. Yeah. That’s the stuff. This book is going to be real weird. 

While I didn’t get any words down today, I got excited about my project and worked through some of the finer points of my plot.

It’s important, even in the mad dash race to the finish line of NaNoWriMo that you take the time to daydream about your story. You might not need a 5+ mile walk from the Willamette River to far SE Portland to do that but if you do, hopefully the weather is still nice.

On Writing: Past Prologues and the Lie of Scarcity


I was doing some picking up and light reorganization in my living room when I found a black binder behind some things on a bookshelf. When I pulled it out I found that it was a printed copy of a manuscript I wrote more than 10 years ago called Blue. Blue was envisioned as a big family drama heavily inspired by episodes of “Six Feet Under” and Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. I don’t think I have a digital copy of this book anymore. I lost a hard drive in late ’06 and then another a few years later so most of my work from this time period is lost. Over the last week or so I’ve been reading sections from it aloud to my wife before bed and boy, do I have some thoughts about it now. It almost seems unfair that my wife gets this perfectly preserved window into who I was when I was 24 years old. More than a photo album, this book- a great big emo time capsule overcrowded with song quotes from early 21st century indie bands- says a lot about who I was then and what I thought life was all about. It also gives me a lot of insight into my evolution as a writer and, in it’s raw poorly edited form, highlights my biggest creative Achilles Heel.

vincent-adultmanFirst off, on a very personal level, there are a lot of funny 24 old delusions that I see now in Blue and they make me laugh. Like how all of the “mature” characters were accountants. I thought I really understood stuff back then and wrote characters that were 10, 20, or 30 years older with the kind of confidence that only idiots and fools can manage. At 24 I was barely out of college and literally started writing this book while I was staying with my mom. I barely had a real job let alone a career. I had more debt than income and I don’t think I owned a piece of furniture that wasn’t very second hand. But I was damn sure I knew what the inner life of a 60 year old woman was all about.



I was also surprised to discover that there was a lot of doing it happening in the book and by doing it I mean the sex which I was clearly an absolute master of at 24, as all 24 year old are. The truth of course is that I started writing this on Valentine’s Day after going out stag to a party that depressed the shit out of me because I was nursing a relatively fresh heartbreak. I remember that I sat in my car in the parking lot in my mother’s apartment complex after bailing on that party either waiting for her- that haunting 24 year old her- to call or pick up her phone or say what I wanted her to say or say something at all and she didn’t. I took all that rejection and awkward longing and I started writing this book. So, it’s not surprising that it’s crazy thick with sexual and romantic frustration but back then I thought that was subtext. I thought I hid my feelings the way writers can in thoughtfully obscured characters and plots but reading it now it reads like a business cat emoji, self-conscious tear stains, Neutral Milk Hotel songs, a dirty cartoon of stick figures doing it, and a tiny note scrawled in the margins that says “but why didn’t the pretty girl…?”

Anyway, as satisfying as it is to kick my younger self around a little bit for being young, the constructive thing I’m getting out of re-reading Blue is seeing a really bad writing habit on full display without any hint of self-consciousness. It’s like my creative super-villain is just hanging out in that book, totally not hiding at all, kind of waving at me and pretending we’re best friends. Part of me is like, “dang 24 year old Erik, he was right fucking there and you just invited him over to watch Gilmore Girls WTF?” and the another part of me sees the value in getting to know my enemy, the Lie of Scarcity.

The Lie of Scarcity is the lie that creators tell themselves when they are convinced that the thing they are making needs to have everything in there because there will never be another opportunity to create a thing ever. It’s a lie that there’s a finite number of creations you can create, a scarcity of creative output, and therefore you better stuff it all in there whether it fits or doesn’t fit. It’s a lie I catch myself believing all the time. It’s a lie I find myself whispering right now. “Put more in this blog post, Erik. ALL THE JOKES. ALL THE THEMES. MORE PICTURES OF OTTERS.” I have to say no, shut up, this blog post has enough in it, and otters don’t even have anything to do with this so why would I put them in here? But in Blue, I did not say no. I gathered up my feelings and experiences and reflections of my entire life and I put them on the page and I’m telling you guys, that make the page pretty crowded.


god damn it

In no particular order here are some of the big ticket plot points in Blue (SPOILERS): mental illness, cancer, bad sex, alcoholism, the death of a spouse, sex addiction, bulimia, coming out as gay to friends and family for the first time, suicide, good sex, abortion, chemotherapy, Catholicism, puritanism, drugs (obviously), weird sex, turning 30, 12 step programs, genital lice, homophobia, divorce, and kind of boring sex. I’m probably missing some of the sex in there and some of the other drama but you get the general idea that there was not a life event I knew anything about that wasn’t included. I was clearly ambitious but in a book that was around 400 pages long there was nowhere near enough room to cover each of these elements (and the NINE main characters) with appropriate care and consideration. Some things came out as well-thought out, if a bit lacking in depth and wisdom, and others were well under half-baked. I got feedback that it was challenging to keep track of everyone and everything that was going on back then but I discounted it. I couldn’t imagine the narrative working without all the switchbacks and subplots and reading it now, I know I was right. The narrative wouldn’t work which is why I needed to fundamentally reconsider the narrative itself. I needed to get past that Lie of Scarcity, tell my anxious writer brain that wants to write every writing thing every time I write, and find the beating heart of the story, the part of the story that was true and necessary and personal. I know now, and I knew then, what that was but I complicated it. It would have been better to write 3 books with some elbow room in them than to write 1 standing room only but I guess when I was 24 the only future I could imagine was becoming an accountant and I needed to say what I had to say before the accountant truck picked me and took me to the business things store to get my ties and highlighters.

No kids! It's a trap! The Post-It Notes are a TRAP!

No kids! It’s a trap! The Post-It Notes are a TRAP!

I wish that I could read this book now and not relate to the anxious urgency 24 year old Erik felt writing it but I can’t. I still feel it. I don’t know what story will be my first to break through, to be my published success story. As I write this, it’s the one year anniversary of my literary agent expressing interest in representing me. A year ago, I was sure that was it. I was sure I was on the fast-track to my dreams. But I’m still writing. Will the book that initially got my agent’s attention be the one? Will the next one I wrote? Will the one I’m working on right now? Those questions are with me when I sit down to write and the Lie of Scarcity tells me I better be sure I’m writing enough. I never know what story will be my first impression and I never know which one will be my last. No writer ever does. It’s why the Lie of Scarcity can be so insidious. It’s also why you should keep your old shitty writing to remind yourself what’s at stake.

On Writing: Censorship and Book Deals for Trolls

F*ckin kittens

F*ckin kittens

There’s a media personality popular with a certain kinds of internet folks and the alt-right political movement that got a book deal and it’s all over the news. I’m not going to name him because he’s built a reputation of galvanizing a lot of shitty people to do a lot of shitty things to people that criticize him online. It’s not that I’m afraid of Pepe the Frog loving “u mad?” bros- it’s that I have a lot of other better things to do with my time and don’t want to give this fellow any more publicity than he already has. Anyway, this book deal he’s made with an imprint of Simon & Schuster known for incendiary political nonsense is worth some money and has led to a lot progressives calling for public shame and a boycott for the publisher. To counter this, the fans of Mr. If Women Don’t Like Being Harassed Online They Should Quit the Internet have cried out CENSORSHIP CENSORSHIP FREE SPEECH U MAD? and come out of the woodwork to find every social media or news post with a comments section discussing this to argue about how the SJWs are persecuting them etc. This is exactly what the provocateur and the marketing people at the publisher want. It would be sad funny if it wasn’t so sad cynical.

This whole debacle is an interesting prism to consider what free speech means and doesn’t mean. First, the primary source for many of these arguments in the US is the First Amendment in the Constitution. It reads a little something like this:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The first key takeaway from this, really, the first word, is that this is about Congress and/or the federal government. Congress can’t take away your condescending Willy Wonka memes because that’s a violation of the First Amendment but if you post one of them in a comment on my webpage, I can delete the fuck out of it. This extends to other people’s web pages, and yeah, it includes stuff like Twitter and Google. There is no constitutional protection for being an asshole on webpages you don’t own and/or host on the internet. This extends further to other private industries. Coca-Cola has no obligation to print that Coca-Cola tastes like brown pee on their cans just because I have opinions and want them to and book publishers have no legal obligation to publish my erotic sasquatch Battlestar Galactica versus Sharknado fan fiction even though they obviously should because C’MON. This means that Captain Fat-Shaming Works and his just tellin’ like it is sycophants are not having their legal First Amendment rights violated if any website, book publisher, or crazy sign carrying street masturbator decline to peddle their smug shitty propaganda.

So that’s it! Argument over! … Well, not quite.

There’s a big chasm between what is legally okay or not okay and what is morally okay and not okay. There’s a famous (misattributed) quote from my second favorite Frenchman, Voltaire that reads:

My #1 Frenchman (obviously)

My #1 Frenchman (obviously)

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Now despite all the gifs you’ll find with this quote and Voltaire’s 18th century French mug this quote is a paraphrase or possibly even a completely invented sentiment. That doesn’t mean that it’s not worth thinking about. Free speech remains free because people fight and suffer for it’s freedom. I don’t like anything about this particular Purveyor of Mean-Spirited Fart Noises Translated into English but if his free speech is being impinged, I’ll (reluctantly, gosh) stand up for him.

Phew. Well, there’s a reversal. And… scene! … Nope.

u mad?

Boycotting and protest are also free speech and they should not be curtailed or denigrated by your racist cousin or misguided college friend who unironically call people SJWs on Facebook. So, if the meticulous coiffed cretin upsets you (he should, he really should – he’s awful), I think it’s not only legal and right but totally awesome to boycott him and make fun of him as often as possible. Free speech is messy and it’s supposed to be messy. We want to hear dissenting opinions. We also want to be able to tell those weird hateful dissenting opinions to shut up and leave Leslie Jones alone because the Ghostbusters remake was a pretty good movie that was only really hampered by audience expectations and the typical big budget movie foibles and god dammit I want to see a sequel because that cast is cool.

That’s it. That’s really it. Unless the government itself tells Author X he can’t write his ugly snarky poke-the-libruls-because-LOL dreck, it’s all fair for criticism and think pieces and protesting (though -again- you know this is what he wants, right?). I’ve read some people get upset that student groups got organized and got him uninvited or even banned (THE HORROR) from college campuses and I think those are slightly murkier waters as those institutions are paid, in part, by federal dollars, but most schools empower the student body to make choices for themselves. If enough students say they don’t want a lousy troll oil salesman to come and insult women, minorities, or people with the temerity to not be skinny, then that’s also freedom. So shut up about it. I mean, you can still complain about it, legally, but it would be really nice of you to just do it into a pillow in your closet so that the rest of us don’t have to listen to it all the time. Maybe if you tried doing that people wouldn’t hate you so much and they might even invite you to parties that have chips and dip. Just a thought.

My second least favorite meme after Lipton Kermit.

The real question to me is should we let this guy get under our skin? He wants to get under our skin. That’s his promotion engine and for every voice of outrage there’s some petty butt hole that latches on to it to believe he’s being marginalized when really it’s just that no one likes him because he’s a petty butt hole. Calling him out is the definition of feeding the trolls and we all know that’s not a good idea from the prescient documentary on the matter Gremlins 2: the New Batch. But not calling him out allows him and his ilk to normalize. We’re seeing the alt-right go mainstream in our media and politics right now. We’re seeing people who would have been marginal whackos elevated and placed next to normal, reasonable people as if they are equivalent (I’m looking at you, Alex Jones) and if reasonable people don’t say, “hey that guy is literally a neo-Nazi!” than we could have some real big problems coming up.

So I think people, especially young people who have the energy to stay up until past 10 o’clock at night on Tuesdays like super heroes, should engage and speak their minds. Sometimes that’s going to sound, to outsiders, like it’s overly sensitive or even shame police-y. I get that. You can’t write content for anywhere and not be aware that it’s pretty easy to offend someone these days and that there are a lot ways for that offense to explode and become a story that overshadows the intention of what you wanted to write. I’ll be honest and say it’s not ideal. I wish I didn’t have to worry so much about it and I wish that if I offended someone they would give me the benefit of the doubt that it was unintentional and not necessarily representative of everything I’ve ever done or will do but that’s not where we’re at. If/when people find my screeds about sending all double-jointed mutant freaks back to Minnesota where their cursed kind escaped from the Devil’s North Wind, I’ll just have to face that criticism like a professional. As much as all of these alt-right acolytes think that “political correctness” has run amok and we need to get back to the good old days when a comedian could just tell a rape joke and have people slap knees and say, “god dang, sex assault is HILARIOUS!” we’re not going to go back to that. Personally, I’m okay with that trade. I can be more careful with what I say if historically oppressed groups get a chance to recover from millennia of self-centered straight white dudes running the show. Just so long as we don’t let any of those double-jointers get into positions of power. They can’t be trusted because ropes can never hold them.

So in conclusion, I don’t have the answers to how we should interact with and push back against people like My Little Racist Pony and the great news for me (and the world frankly) is that I don’t need to have an answer. I’m not supposed to have an answer. No one needs to have an answer because we all get to express our version of our answer however we like because freedom of speech, you guys. Open dialog is important and with ideas bouncing off of other ideas, I have confidence that we’ll sort it out

But seriously. Not Otis is a real fermented sack of vomit and hair product, right? Can someone please make me a Chrome plugin for me that replaces his name with a smiling poop emoji and a great sucking sound as if all worthwhile conversation and human decency has left the room?

On Writing: Of Galaxies Far Away and a Long Time Ago

star-wars-posterI’m a writer because of Star Wars. Those laser swords and space ships exploded my childhood imagination and created a gateway into a fantastic world where heroes win because the Force is with them and even the most terrible monster can be brought back from the Dark Side. I adore the mythology and the imagery and the simple earnestness of it. There’s a little bit of it in every story I’ve ever written.

The element of Star Wars that I think is the most important, and the most glaring when it’s missing, is hope and ultimately the realization of that hope. When times are dour, when the good guys are outnumbered by the bad, there is always the corny certainty of hope. I’ve written a lot of blogs about writing and expressed a lot of different points of view on this site but this is a message that’s central and critical and most personal to me: do it with hope, always. Write. Live. Watch the news. Buy a movie ticket for another Star Wars movie and hope it doesn’t have Jar Jar Binks and poo jokes in it. Do it all with hope.

That’s it’s for now. More soon. Happy Life Day everybody!


PS: Rogue One was pretty, pretty sweet, you guys. STAR WAR!

On Writing: The Audacity of Sincerity

baby-monkey-2Babies are the worst. They’re loud and needy and smell terrible. And I’m not just talking about human babies here. Dog babies and cat babies and otter babies and deer babies and little monkey babies – all babies are awful. They ruin everything and we should really be doing something about it. I think the only good baby is a chicken baby that’s still in the egg because you can use that baby to make an omelette. Basically the only good baby is an edible baby. People are always so excited to show off babies in pictures and in person and all I can think is, if we had gotten to that baby sooner we could have made it into a pie.

Sorry. I got some troll in my throat. Where was I? Oh, yeah. A writing blog.

Surprise is an essential element of creating a story. If you can catch the audience off guard you can heighten the emotional impact of a moment. A scare that is unanticipated is scarier. A joke you don’t see coming is funnier. A defeat that catches you off guard is more crushing. Surprise isn’t much of a reaction on it’s own though. For example, it’d be pretty surprising if you were reading this and I just





Surprise for it’s own sake might be novel. I mean, it is by definition surprising. But what’s the value in that? It’s not particularly entertaining for the audience and it doesn’t really do much to improve a story. Honestly, surprise for no good reason is mostly just a great way to irritate people.

Which is where we’re at now as a culture. In the 21st century, in modern America, being contrary because it’s unexpected, being a knee jerk Devil’s Advocate, has been elevated to a celebrated pastime. I do it sometimes. We all do it sometimes. We have allowed this lazy cynical childish nonsense to take over our discourse, our media, and even our political leaders. If you find an ugly hat, you should put it on because who would wear an ugly hat OH MY GOD? If you see a lot of people enjoying a television show or movie or band or ugly hat you should definitely go up and well, actually because liking a thing just because you do is so gauche. If it’s not ironic, if it’s not done for LOLs, it’s not worth doing, right?


Male privilege and casual misogyny included!

I obviously take a dim view of this trend and yeah, I’m pretty impatient with it now. There’s a whole spectrum of contrary smugness from the trucker hatted hipster drinking cheap beer that’s not really hurting anyone (except wine cooler “vintners” and beret milliners) to the predictably shitty goblins that are attracted to every comment section on every website to that piece of human excrement that sicced a horde of cretins with keyboards on Leslie Jones because of something about an old B-movie and lady on the internet. I’m painting it all with the same brush here and that might not be fair but fuck it. I’ve seen too many links to listicles explaining the top 10 reasons why X is overrated or Y is not as cool as you thought it was. I’ve had too many arguments about whether incendiary rhetoric is sincere or just trolling. Just trolling. This is a thing we have to wonder now. Is the creep that sends a barrage of rape threats to a female comedian a serious threat or “just a troll?” Is the spray-painted swastika for real? And what the hell locker room is all that talking happening in? Is it a magical wink, wink, no for real though, boys will be boys locker room where you can just say things you don’t mean because the lockers are full of bullshit excuses to avoid taking personal accountability?



I know there has always been hyperbole and there will always be some jerk that throws a rock at the pretty girl and some oddball eccentric that will try to convince us that Vegemite isn’t salty hate sewage and that like most things the internet and mass media proliferation has just put a magnifying on it but I can’t help but feel it’s still more than that. I’ve seen some argue that the increase in trolling is in response to “Social Justice Warriors”, the new term for the straw man “PC Police” (the 90s are back, you guys). The argument is that everyone is so sensitive and so serious -remember the Joker’s catchphrase? trolls love the Joker- that the trolls just have to take them down a notch. Really they’re the heroes here. This is where my ability to write really fails me because I don’t know the right word that captures the sound of a wet shit and an eye roll and a middle finger and pure undiluted contempt that I think is the appropriate response to that. I mean, there’s so much wrong with that idea that it gets caught in my throat while I’m shame vomiting that I struggle to even have to respond to it. I’ll try to distill it though. These people that the trolls are trying to take down are mostly from communities that are already down several pegs or are speaking out in favor of those communities and the trolls are most often the ones already privileged above everyone else. Trolls aren’t fighting the power. They are the power. They aren’t standing up to the Man. They are pushing down folks that are already down because they’re petty, pathetic, monster people. And that’s it. That’s all the nuance they deserve. Fuck them. You know. For LOLs.

I think I understand trolls just a little bit and that understanding all goes back to big surprises in a story. When there’s a plot twist in one of my stories I’m always really excited to know if a reader saw it coming. 99% this is because I want to know if the story works, if it entertains or evokes the emotion I want it to evoke, if the surprise manages to sneak around their defenses and bring along my real point. But 1% of it, I’m ashamed to admit, is about just knowing if I pulled it off. Did the trick work? Not the deeper narrative stuff, no – I want to know, did I get you? And if I did, I know it means I understood you a little bit and there’s a tiny sense of control and satisfaction in that. Me fooling you in a story is my version of me outrunning you on a football field. It’s a momentary jolt that for just that moment, for just that thing, I was better and I won. I think every ironically tacky fashion accessory, every sorry/not sorry, every Top 10 Reasons Why Alf Was the WORST buzzfeed post, every racist troll comment is about them getting you. People have become addicted to surprise and the rush of shocking someone else.

We live in an era where we are always social, where we are always being broadcast. The sense of private self is shrinking. This is an unintended side effect of social media and our internet connected lives in general, I think. It’s this world, like we’re all characters on the Truman Show, that creates the addiction to surprise and shock. It’s a distorted Hawthorne Effect ; we are observed and we feel a compulsion to reject the observers. But the observers are literally everyone. There are billions of Big Brothers now. So, I get it. There’s a certain punk rock refutation of the status quo going on here but at a certain point when everyone is a punk rocker, isn’t it most punk rock to be Pat Boone? When irony is no longer surprising, I certainly hope we will see a resurgence of sincerity.