H is for Horror (& Pizza)

carrie

I love pizza. I can’t say unequivocally it’s my absolute favorite food, but it’s definitely up there. But the thing is, for every beautifully made, artisanal pie utilizing only the finest ingredients, there is a greasy pizza with too much cheese, or the sauce tastes a little funny, or in the case of a local pizzeria, it has canned mushrooms on it.

And I like both. Not the same, of course; all things being equal, I’d eat the better quality pizza all the time, but if it’s offered to me I will eat the greasy, second-rate pie because, after all…it’s still pizza. There’s something comforting about it.

The horror genre is like pizza for me.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not the only thing I like. But it truly is my first love. I started reading The Dead Zone in 5th grade, and it never let up from there. I had an appetite for everything horror. I started reading all of Stephen King’s books, then Clive Barker. When I was a teenager, when there were still mom and pop video stores, one of my parents (awesome enablers that they were) would run me up to the store every weekend, and the owners got to know me and would let me know any new gory, blood-soaked titles that had come in since my last trip. Slaughter High, Blood Diner, Pieces…I dug them all. I even scored a poster for Return of the Living Dead after the store took their promo down.

I also know the difference between good and bad horror. And maybe it’s because I’m older now, but there seems to be a lot more of the bad then the good. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. Because as much as I love the good ones, I’ll still watch the bad ones. Literally any new horror movie that comes out, when I see the commercial or the trailer, I want to see it. I can’t remember the last time I went to see a horror movie in a theater, but if I’m flipping channels and I see one on, I watch at least 10 or 15 minutes of it. At some point, I watch the whole thing. Like pizza, there’s some degree of comfort in it.

I realize horror is not everyone’s pizza. For my wife, it’s chick flicks; my father-in-law, action. But it’s kind of a neat thought that people can find comfort in something, and it doesn’t have to be the absolute best. Hopefully, someday one of my books will be somebody’s pizza. Even if it’s the greasy pizza with canned mushrooms.

pizza

G is for a Gibson ES-125 – My Pride and Joy

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This is my guitar. There are many like it, but this one is mine. OK, OK, enough with the Full Metal Jacket schtick.

I have heavy musical influences on both sides of my family. On my dad’s side, I got an intense love and appreciation for all kinds of music, namely the blues and rock n’ roll. From my mom’s side, I got the musicianship gene. My mom played the piano, my great aunt played the mandolin, and my grandma and both my great uncles played the guitar. The guitar in that picture was my grandma’s.

The story changes a little depending on who’s telling it, but the way I know it, she bought it in 1961. It was manufactured possibly as early as the late ’40’s, but it’s hard to pinpoint because theses particular guitars have no serial numbers. My grandma was an aspiring country and western singer, and this was her primary guitar.

She gave it to me in the mid-nineties. She said she wasn’t playing it anymore, and didn’t want to make me wait until she died for me to start enjoying it. It’s been in my possession ever since.

It’s worth a little bit, though not much by guitar collector standards. But to me it’s priceless. It’s sitting three feet from me as I type this, and just looking over at it makes me happy. And it feels even better to play it.

As I got to my teens and beyond, the music I liked tended to be loud, fast, and heavy (or some combination thereof), so it’s never been my primary guitar. It’s got a warm, sweet sound that lends itself more to jazz and blues than punk and metal. But now that I live in Tornado Alley, if there is ever a legitimate threat of a twister coming my way I have two priorities: Make sure my wife and dog are safe, and if at all possible, grab that guitar.

F is for Freaks Letting Their Freak Flags Fly

freak

I think part of the reason I put off getting back into writing was because I was scared. I worried what people would think. Not so much whether or not it was any good, but the subject matter and the language. I gravitate toward the dark side, and my stories tend to show that in a big way. I pictured friends and family reading my work and thinking, ‘But he seemed so nice!’

Two things happened that helped me get over it and stop worrying. The first was something I read on author Chuck Palahniuk‘s awesome website, where he used to have a terrific section for writers (it has since moved here). I’m paraphrasing slightly, but it basically said: Don’t underestimate your readers. They’ve seen it all before, and they can handle whatever you can dish out, so don’t hold anything back.

That was incredibly reassuring, because I actually was considering toning down certain aspects of my novella. That got me  to reconsider.

The second thing that happened was that a friend of mine passed away. Michael Louis Calvillo (or as I knew him, just Mike) was an author – not an aspiring writer like me, but an actual published author. He was incredibly proficient, and anyone who enjoys horror fiction should do themselves a favor and check out his work. I had already started writing again before he passed, and I had read some of his work. It was crazy. I mean that in the best possible way. In terms of imagination and creativity, it was light years ahead of what I was (and still am) doing. Off the charts.

When he died, I went on facebook to write a short post about him, and one of the things I wrote was, “he was never afraid to let his freak flag fly.” After I posted it, I thought about that. He was the nicest guy you could ever meet, and he wrote some of the weirdest, goriest, bat-shit crazy stuff I’ve ever read. Why? Because that’s just who he was.

And that’s when I decided it was time to write for me, no one else. I took all my insecurities, threw them in a pile, poured gas on them and lit them on fire. So whether a publisher gives me a deal or I have to go the self publishing route, if you read my work you can count on one thing: It’s going to be at least a little bit weird. Just like me.

freakmeme

Editing – Boy, Does It Ever Stink

typer

Even though I’ve been writing for a long time now, up until the last year or so it’s been on again, off again.  So in no way do I consider myself experienced. I wrote my first novella in 2000. I finished the rough draft for my second one 06/15/12. I’m still not done editing and revising it. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read over it and tweaked it since June; I’d guess at least 10 or 12. Go ahead, more experienced writers, rev up your laugh machines for what I’m about to say: I totally underestimated how difficult the editing process is.

The process really feels never ending. Every time I begin to look it over, I find something else that needs fixing. I don’t think the time will ever come when I will look at it and not find something that feels wrong, or second guess the way something is worded or the way the story unfolds. I spent my breaks at work today editing it, and I decided after I finish this pass through it, I AM DONE. I can’t obsess over it forever. It’s about as good as it’s going to get. It’s time to let this baby bird leave the nest and fly on into the big, bad, scary world of submissions.

Besides, I’ve got my third novella waiting to be edited and revised, and who knows how long that one’s going to take. And by the time I finish with that one, I may be finished with the rough draft of my novel. And I think the editing is a pain now. That’s going to feel like a freakin’ root canal. Does everyone find editing and revising this difficult? Does it ever get easier?

Dreams – Sleep Paralysis and The Old Hag

thenightmare
The Nightmare, by Henry Fuseli – 1781

I’ve always been fascinated by dreams. I can still remember a couple of my dreams from early childhood, and several from different points in my life. I’ve always wondered what placed certain people and places into your dreams, and I find it extraordinary how much about dreams is still unexplained.

I’ve had dreams that were:

Weird (an early childhood dream where a king had a giant throne in our living room, and when he scraped his arm he bled yellow)

Violent (shooting someone I went to high school with that I barely knew and hadn’t thought about in years)

Supernatural (the night my mom passed away she comforted me in a dream)

Funny (Hi, John Goodman! Say, why do you live in a loft in this public restroom?)

I don’t know if I’ve ever had a true, honest to goodness nightmare. I’ve had some scary dreams, but nothing that had me crying out or waking up in a cold sweat. So when I got the idea to incorporate some aspect of dreams/nightmares into my work in progress, I started doing research and became fascinated with one particular aspect of dreams/nightmares – sleep paralysis.

This is some freaky stuff.  With sleep paralysis, people who are either beginning to fall asleep or starting the waking process have the inability to move. So they feel awake, but can’t move and often have trouble breathing. That’s kind of freaky on its own. Oh, and did I mention that the paralysis is accompanied by terrifying visions?!? So you’re basically having the worst acid trip of your life, plus you can’t move and can hardly breathe. One of the recurring visions people report seeing is a witch (called ‘the old hag’) or a demon sitting on their chest, or feeling someone or something on their back if they sleep on their stomach.

So, to summarize, you feel awake but you can’t move, and you’re having trouble breathing. You either see horrific things around you or have an overwhelming sense of unbearable dread, and can’t do a thing about it. I’ve read some recollections of people who have sleep paralysis, and it sounds terrible. Some people claimed to be able to get it under control, even take charge of their dreams and change their surroundings (known as ‘lucid dreaming’), but at least those first few times it must feel like you’re losing your mind. Crappy for actual people, but great for my protagonist. 🙂

If this sort of thing interests you, check out some of the stories from people who suffer from sleep paralysis here. This is a fairly run of the mill episode someone shared online:

I’m a 21yr old healthy male, currently at university. I recently went home to see the family, and stayed in the guest room. Normal day, normal sleep time, nothing out of the ordinary.

I wake up, at what I would imagine is around 4am, just as it is getting light, my eyes are open and I am looking at the wall that the bed is against, away from the corridor and the door. I hear some noise in the corridor and think that I must have been woken up by it, not thinking much I try to fall sleep again, until this noise turns into screaming.

This screaming is terrifying, its like a woman absolutely screaming her lungs out, not really human sounding, terrifying. I try to move and just cant, I’m lying on my front facing the wall, eyes open, not able to move.

This screaming travels down the corridor until its outside my door, I hear my door open and the screaming continues across the room until I feel this thing climb onto me, kneeling on my back. There is this incredible weight on my body, this thing is literally kneeling on my back screaming in my ear, its deafening too. At this point I remember grinding my teeth horrendously and waking.

This was absolutely terrifying, it still scares me now. I’m guessing it was Sleep Paralysis, sounds similar, what do you think?

I think I’m grateful I don’t have sleep paralysis! Does anyone out there suffer from this or know anyone who does? Feel free to comment and share your stories.

And if all this doesn’t creep you out enough, here’s one last dose of nightmare fuel for you. Sweet dreams!

Want a balloon?
Want a balloon?

 

 

C is for Comedy – Why I Love Stand Up

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Does this picture make you smile? Does it make you groan? It’s OK either way, there’s no wrong answer. I love to laugh, so it makes sense that I love comedy. Who wouldn’t? Besides, laughter is good for you. People way smarter than me have proven it, so if you don’t believe me, visit a search engine near you.

I love all forms of comedy: sitcoms, movies, sketch comedy, satire, the Kansas City Royals. But the one I have the utmost respect for is the one I wanted to talk a little about – Stand Up.

One of the most universal fears people have is public speaking. But most people’s public speaking is giving a short presentation at work or school, maybe some sort of speaking engagement at a conference, something like that. I guess that’s not necessarily easier than being a Stand Up, but in most cases if you just suffer through those in that one instance, you’ve succeeded. Imagine the added pressure of having to be funny and entertaining the entire time, doing it night after night, and being judged an utter and complete failure if you’re not.

I feel Stand Ups are unsung heroes. Once you attain a certain level of success, you can travel a lot more comfortably (like maybe Chris Rock or those Blue Collar guys), riding in rock star buses from town to town, taking your family with you if you want. But like a lot of other artists, the up and coming spend a lot of time struggling and starving. And in the case of comedians, they do it alone. Driving a beat-up car from city to city and state to state, wondering if you’ll be paid the amount you were promised (or paid at all), not knowing if you can afford a decent place to stay for the night, and wondering if you’ll have a good show. Will they like you?

I’ve heard comedians say that they are generally a self-loathing, hateful group of people. I would tend to believe that (which is what makes some of them so funny), but thankfully, as with all other forms of comedy, it’s not true across the board. You can find something for almost every mood, every point of view, and age level. It’s not all mean-spirited, cynical and vulgar. But if that’s what you like, there’s plenty of that out there for you. If you prefer something a little cleaner and family friendly, that’s out there, too. You may have to search a little harder for that, but I think it’s worth it. It reminds me of music. There may be a lot out there you don’t like, but when you find something that really connects, it’s totally worth the effort.

Now, I understand some people just don’t like comedians, and that’s OK. I’m not trying to force anybody’s hand out there. But I feel like not enough people appreciate what these people do, and just wanted to encourage everybody to look up some clips on YouTube, buy a CD on iTunes, or, better yet, go catch a comedian live. Have some laughs; it’s good for you.

mitch

BUGS – The Goldenrain Tree Bug is the Bane of My Existence

See the pretty tree in this picture?

How pretty!
Oooh, beautiful!

This is a Goldenrain tree. It’s a very colorful tree, starting in the spring with tiny yellow blossoms (golden rain) that give way to little pinkish-orange pods (seen in the above picture), which contain tiny little black seeds. In the fall the green leaves turn a vibrant yellow before they fall off around November. When my wife and I bought our house, the majestic Goldenrain tree in the front yard was one of our favorite things about the house. Then, one day, I saw a few of these little fellas roaming around the driveway.

Say, that's kind of ugly.
Say, that’s kind of ugly.

Growing up in the desert of California, I had never seen a bug like it. So, not knowing what they were, I did what any reasonable homeowner would do. I killed every one of the little buggers that I saw. Sprayed ’em with bug spray, problem solved. Until the next year. Then I noticed little clusters of them, on the driveway and in seemingly random places around the yard. Kinda like this:

Oh, look. They've multiplied. Lovely.
Oh, look. They’ve multiplied. Lovely.

Again, I sprayed them, they went away. Then they would come back. I sprayed. They came back. There were at least three “waves” of them before they went away in the late fall. By this point I was getting pretty frustrated. This brings us to the summer before last. As spring sprung, I started to notice them earlier than years past.

Not again, I thought. I’ll show those stupid bugs who’s boss.

I finally decided to try and look these things up online. I didn’t find much at first, so I put it off. A month or two went by, I kept killing them, but it was not so much waves anymore as much as just a constant barrage of them. We started finding dead ones in the garage, and spreading to the side of the house. Finally, I stumbled upon pics of the Boxelder bug online, which is very similar in appearance. From there, it didn’t take long to find out about these wretched Goldenrain tree bugs.

The bugs are exclusive to the Goldenrain tree (hence the name). Among the things I discovered about them:

They eat the tiny little seeds that are inside those pretty pods that grow on the trees. That’s it. They don’t eat anything else but those seeds.

Spiders and birds don’t eat them because they evidently taste like a dirty sock (or something similarly disgusting).

They are easily killed with a simple solution of soapy water.

They are completely harmless. Just a minor (that’s a matter of opinion) nuisance.

YOU CAN NEVER BE COMPLETELY RID OF THEM. 

I found that last bit hard to believe. I went out in the yard, armed with a garden hose connected to a little jug of laundry detergent, and I walked up to that damn Goldenrain Tree determined to unleash hell on those bugs. What I saw looked a little bit like this:

Holy crap, run for your lives!
Holy crap, run for your lives!

They were covering practically the entire tree. I sprayed, and sprayed, and sprayed. I went through an entire bottle of laundry soap. I bought more, and sprayed more. It took four days of spraying to make a serious dent. After a week, I hardly saw any. But they came back. They keep. Coming. Back.

Last summer I kept them pretty well under control, and I just accepted it was a part of having such a pretty tree in the yard. I sprayed with the soapy water, which allows you to kill them much more efficiently, a few times over the summer. But I hate them. I hate them with the fury of a thousand burning suns.

And now that the weather is starting to warm up, I’ve seen the first few of the year out on the porch. I squashed them under my shoe, and felt a sick sense of satisfaction. God help me.

A is for Award!

liebster-award1

I was beginning to stress about April’s A-Z Challenge, being such a pro-level procrasinator, when I read Brooke Devereaux‘s news that she had been nominated for a Liebster Award. I then read on her blog that part of accepting the award involved not just giving some information about yourself by way of questions from the person who nominated you, but also to nominate some blogs as well. As I read on, I did a double-take when I saw this very blog on her list of nominees! So, not only do I owe Miss Devereaux an infinite amount of gratitude for the nomination, I also send her thanks for giving me the first subject for the A-Z Challenge. Thanks, Brooke!

Here are the guidelines:

    • Post the award on your blog.
    • Thank the blogger who presented this award and link back to their blog.
    • Write 11 random facts about yourself.
    • Answer 11 questions posted by the presenter.
    • Nominate 11 bloggers who have less than 200 followers.
    • Then ask your nominees 11 questions.

OK, first two done. Next:

Eleven Random Facts About Me:

1. I am left-handed.

2. I am an only child.

3. I began writing short stories in 8th grade.

4. I turned in a short story for extra credit in my 11th grade English class, and the teacher was so disturbed by its content that he arranged an appointment for me with one of the school counselors. LOL

5. I completed the 1996 LA Marathon. Notice I didn’t say ran, but completed.

6. I think Morphine is the most underrated band in the history of rock music.

7. I crack my knuckles a lot, lot, lot.

8. I am extremely shy around people I don’t know.

9. I love spending weekends cooking with my wife.

10. If I could devote half the time I spend watching TV to writing, I’d have filled up my hard drive by now.

11. I play the guitar with a high level of mediocrity.

The questions asked by my presenter, Brooke:

      1. What inspired you to start blogging? After reading others’ blogs for awhile I became slightly less intimidated with it, although it’s still a little nerve-wracking.
      2. What’s your favorite topic to write about? Ha! You’ll be the first to know.
      3. Do you prefer fact or fiction? Fiction, for the most part.
      4. What’s the last book you read? Blood & Gristle, by Michael Louis Calvillo
      5. What would be your ultimate getaway? Although there are several foreign countries I’d like to visit, I think Hawaii is my ultimate.
      6. If you had one wish, what would it be? More wishes! (badum tish!)
      7. What’s your best attribute? I think it’s my sense of humor, although my answer to the previous question may leave people thinking otherwise.
      8. What’s your biggest pet peeve? Right now it’s overuse of the word ‘amazing’.
      9. What’s your favorite time of the year? November-March. No yard work!
      10. Where do you get your best work done? At work, ironically. A great deal of my writing happens on my lunch breaks.
      11. If your could be anyone else, who would it be? My doggie Maximus, because he is the real king of this castle.

SweetMax Ok, now comes the hardest part for me: nominating others. I published my first blog post on February 26. This is just my fourth post. Suffice it to say, I’m quite the newbie. I’ve ever so slowly been checking out new blogs, but at this point I don’t even follow 11 blogs, let alone have that many to recommend. Hopefully this won’t lead to the award being taken away, I’ve already printed out a copy and had it framed and mounted above the fireplace. I do, however, recommend the following blogs wholeheartedly:

The Darling Discourse Blog

Steven J Dines

Writing With Your Imagination

Street of Dreams

Michelle Ziegler

Wasting Time

Alright, nominated bloggers, your mission should you choose to accept it: answer the following 11 questions.

1. What do you do to kill time when the power goes out?
2. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?
3. What book or movie is extremely popular that you absolutely cannot stand?
4. Where is the most remote place you’ve ever been?
5. Why do you have a blog?
6. If you could time travel, what period would you go to?
7. What was your favorite breakfast cereal as a kid?
8. What would be your last meal?
9. What natural disaster is scariest to you?
10. What are you having for dinner tonight?
11. Where would be the dream location to spend New Year’s Eve?

Indecision, Second-Guessing, and Procrastination

decision

I decided to slightly alter the header on the blog so that it now says “(self?)Publication”.  Here’s why:  Since I now have two works that are nearly ready for prime time, I spent some time this week researching the self-publication process, even going as far as designing a peliminary cover for one of them.  I was feeling pretty good, excited to forge ahead.   Then I found this blog post by writer Chuck Wendig, in which he and several other writers offer up their opinions on the subject, which for the most part are decidedly anti self-pub.  That’s all it took to stop me in my tracks and get me second-guessing the whole notion of doing this all myself.

Initially, I was automatically drawn to the idea of self-publication.  Back in the Olden Days when I spent a few years playing in punk and metal bands, DIY was the way to go.  Don’t bow down to record labels, record it yourself, release it and sell it yourself, Do It Yourself.  But the more I begin to rethink self-publication, the more I’m filled with self-doubt.  And what a lot of it comes down to isn’t so much rejection; I think I can handle a polite rejection letter from a publisher a lot better than a rude comment on the internet saying my book flat-out sucks.  What I have doubts about is the editing (or lack thereof).  I feel like I need more eyes on these projects before I can send them off into the big, scary world.  And for every rejection letter I get, there could be a tiny bit of constructive criticism in there that helps me make the book better.

So now I’m back to doing internet searches about finding literary agents, and which publishers out there would be looking for something along the lines of what I’ve got.  It makes me just want to chuck it all out the window and forget about it.  I’m fighting myself tooth and nail not to do that.  I keep thinking, ‘well, I can look into that next week, now that I’m not going to self-pub right now.’  You see, I’m a World Class Procrastinator.  A blue-ribbon winning, record-setting procrastinator.  If procrastination was an Olympic Sport, I’d be Michael F’n Phelps. So it’s easy to think of reasons not to do it. And I know how I am, so I can’t give myself the chance to put it off.  So, that’s all for now, it’s back to the internet for me to keep searching.  Well, in just a little bit, anyway. I think a movie’s coming on.

Am I Crazy??

I wonder sometimes.  I’ve gotten back into this writing thing, but it’s hard.  It kind of reminds me of exercise:  it’s a pain in the butt, but if you stick with it you’ll be glad you did in the end.  But keeping up the routine is quite a challenge, and something I have to convince myself is worth the time and effort.  So, here’s where I stand now..

I have one book in the in the revision process, and one rough draft just finished.  I’m going to put that one away for a while and try to come back to it with fresh eyes.  Then there are at least 3 more that are just in my head, waiting to be unleashed onto my monitor.  Since I got back into writing, my productivity has gone up a great deal, which is good.  Staring at a blank screen gets disheartening fast.  Hopefully, the writing is getting better as I keep writing.  Of course, if the writing does get better as I go, it makes me want to go back and revise what I wrote before.  It’s a vicious cycle, one that has me asking myself more often than not, “Am I crazy?”

I’ve realized my method for writing seems to differ from a lot of other writers.  A lot of writers write too much, then have to scale it back and cut out sections to get the book to a manageable length.  I, on the other hand, write very sparse, short rough drafts that need to be either beefed up to make them actual novel length, or scaled down and revised to create a good length short story.  The story I’m revising now is getting beefed up, thanks to a character that I tried to ignore but I now realize must be given a bigger part of the picture.  Hopefully, the revision won’t take as long as I’m fearing it will (right now it seems like it could be endless), then I’ll start on a new rough draft and start revising the rough draft I just finished.  Fun, fun, fun…right?

Thanks again for stopping by, see you again soon!

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