Zzyzx – The Story That Officially Gave Me the Writing Bug

zzyzx

Living a scant three hour drive from Las Vegas for over 20 years, I went there a lot. A LOT. Weekend trips, day trips, ‘just because’ trips. I really miss Vegas.

Anyway, when you made the drive that often, you began to memorize the scenery. There were a couple of small towns (one of which boasts the World’s Tallest Thermometer, which is exactly as exciting as it sounds), then the California/Nevada state line, then Las Vegas. In between, a lot of nothing. Just good places to dump a body that wouldn’t be found for decades (I assume).

Sooner or later, everyone who makes the drive notices that road sign (it’s pronounced zye-zix, rhyming with Isaac’s). As you can see from the picture, it seems to just lead off into nowhere. I always wondered where it went, and why it was there. I eventually found out and I must admit, it was a little disappointing (although you can read about it here).

In 2000, I got a temporary job working for the US Census Bureau. Yep, a government employee. It was easy work, and it paid pretty good for the time. I ended up in a little group that worked with places like nursing homes, halfway houses, that sort of thing. Fairly interesting, but there wasn’t enough work for the team.

That meant a lot of down time. And the way the office was set up, all the computers were banked in one part of the room, so if you didn’t need to be on them, you didn’t go on them.

So I was stuck at a desk, with no computer, with nothing to do. I doodled, played tic-tac-toe, and tried to make my own fun, but you can only make a calculator say ‘BOOBS’ so many times before you start to go a little crazy.

images (1)

I couldn’t resist.

One day, I started thinking about a dream I’d had. I wasn’t in it; it was like I was watching a movie. A car full of guys on a road trip to Vegas had car trouble, and a Highway Patrol officer happened upon them and offered them a ride back to the station to call a tow truck for the car. The cop ended up being a psychopath, and drove off somewhere bad to  do bad things to them.

I was sitting there, thinking about that dream, and almost subconsciously grabbed a legal pad and a pen and started writing. And I just didn’t stop. I wrote every day, whenever I had a free moment. Before long, I’d filled up a legal pad and started on the next one. The story strayed from my dream some, but I kept it pretty much the same. Out of an active imagination and pure boredom, I wrote my first novella.

As I wrote, it became a no-brainer what both the antagonist’s hideout and the title of the story would be.

Ironically, over the years the road has been referenced a couple of different ways. Zzyzx Road is the name of a song by the band Stone Sour, and it was also the title of two different movies – Zzyzx (later changed to Burned), and Zzyzx Rd.

Zzyzx Rd is especially notorious for being one of the lowest-grossing movies of all time, making just $20 in it’s opening weekend. I didn’t leave off any zeros. Twenty dollars.

If you’re wondering, I did check; no one ripped off my (never-published, little read) story.

Even though it wasn’t great, and probably not even good, I was always proud of it. I still am, even though I’d like to think what I’m writing now is quite a bit better. Time will tell. But it was the original story that put the bug in me, and after years of neglect it thankfully never went away.

Advertisements

Years Gone By – Getting Older Feels Weird

OK, right off the bat: I’m not an old person. Not even close. But I see the signs of age beginning to show, and it feels…weird.

Part of me looks forward to getting older. Once you reach a certain age, it seems like you’re practically given a free pass, and you can do or say just about anything you want. That’s pretty cool.

Still, there’s also a reluctance to aging. Like you’re past your prime somehow. Physically, it’s an inevitable truth. My wife pointed out that I made a host of involuntary grunts getting up from my chair the other night. That’s right, I wasn’t doing anything particularly strenuous, I was simply getting into a standing position.

Now that it’s been brought to my attention, I notice I do it almost all the time. I really have no idea how long I’ve been doing it. It doesn’t bother me that much, it’s just one of those things.

What really makes me feel old are the random things that just hit me out of nowhere. Pop culture references, and recalling things from my past. I was talking to someone at work about seeing Metallica in concert. He asked me when it was, and I had to think for a minute.

“19…88? Maybe?” I asked/answered.

“Wow,” he replied.

“Wow what?”

“In 1988 I was three.”

“Shut the hell up.”

I started thinking, and realized I was right. It was 1988. 25 years ago. How can that be? It seems like it was a few years ago, but 25?

During my music-loving, concert-going peak (from 1986-2000), I devoured music. I was constantly finding new bands I liked, going to shows to see both local and national acts. I would hear older guys complain that the music my friends and I liked was nothing compared to the classic rock of the sixties and seventies. I thought that was so closed-minded.

I’ll never be like that, I thought.

Guess what? I’m almost like that. I know there are all kinds of new acts out there that are fantastic, and I try to seek it out (I really like what I’ve heard from Jake Bugg, if anyone’s interested), but it’s so easy to just call upon my vast iTunes library and have a plethora songs I already know I like. Then I watch the Grammys and I hear the nominees for a category and just stare blankly at my wife – who are these people?

Then there’s all the actors and actresses who you see age before your eyes. Seeing someone getting older means you are, too. It’s just something we have to accept – except Kevin Bacon…is he really turning 55 this summer?

bacon

All I know is, getting older is a part of life. Some of us aren’t ready for it when it comes, but I am. I think some of my best years are still ahead of me. I’ll turn gray (grayer, I should say), I’ll groan when I get out of bed or pick something up off the floor, but by and large, I’m looking forward to what is still out there for me. And whether I like his work or not, Kevin Bacon can just stick it. Stupid unaging space alien.

Writing – I’m a Poor Swimmer

I use the expression I ‘jumped’ back into writing, but it was really anything but a jump. I got back into writing the same way I get into a cold-ass swimming pool (my wife will appreciate this analogy more than anyone else). I know I want to go swimming, but it’s cold. So Cold.

So, I go in up to my knees.  God, it’s cold. I go a little deeper, up to my thighs. Jumpin’ Jesus, it’s cold! Then I get a little more brave, go on in past a certain sensitive area, and on up to my waist.

cold

At that point, it’s basically the point of no return. I still creep my way in, but the hardest part is over. Before long I’m up to my neck, until I finally submerge and acclimate to the water.

I remembered enjoying writing. A lot. But it was cold (so to speak). So I started slow.  I started my novella, then realized I forgot how hard (cold) it was. So I stopped for awhile, enjoying the knee-high level I was at. I began to slowly find things that encouraged me to go on in a little deeper. So I went back and wrote some more, then stopped again; up to my thighs. Then a whole slew of things happened that made me realize I needed to quit being such a freakin’ baby and take the plunge.

So, I went in up to my neck.

Here’s the thing : I am a terrible swimmer. I hesitate to even say that I actually know how to swim. But once I’m in the pool, I love it. It’s hard to get me out. I walk to the middle of the pool, where the water is up to my chin but my feet are still on the floor of the pool, and I just chill there. I’ll splash around, float on a pool noodle, all that, but I love just being in that middle ground. If I drift too far into the  deep end without realizing it, I have a small moment of panic. I know I’m fine, but my instinct is to freak the hell out because I know how poorly I swim.

I’ve almost reached that point with my writing. I took the plunge, and started working on my novella every day. I consider that about waist high. That was nice. Then, I finished it, which was awesome. As I began revising and editing, I started writing another one. I was just about right where I wanted to be; up to my neck, but with my feet on solid footing. I finished the second one before I finished revising the first one, so then I had two to edit. But I didn’t want to stop writing, so I started another, which is what I’m working on now.

I’m in that place, a couple steps past my comfort zone, where I have to struggle to keep my composure. Hopefully, it won’t last too much longer; I’m almost ready to submit novella # 1 (I swear this time), then I’ll just have to edit # 2 while I keep writing #3.

So far so good; but before long somebody may need to throw me a pool noodle.

noodle

Van Halen – How One of The World’s Biggest Rock Bands Ruined Junior High For Me

download

1984 by Van Halen was the first album (tape) I ever bought with my own money. I was 11 years old, and I don’t remember how I got the money (by honest means, I assure you), but I knew that was what I wanted.

I was raised on rock music. I remember as a kid listening to 94.7 KMET out of L.A. It wasn’t called classic rock yet, because the music wasn’t that old; the oldest stuff they played was from the late ’60’s. Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Stones, Jimi, all that stuff.

Then 1984 came out. It got heavy airplay, and I just loved it. Panama, Jump, and my favorite, Hot For Teacher. I bought that tape and damn near wore it out.

By 1986, two things happened: My family moved to a new town, where I realized that as the dorky new kid I was not instantly popular, and Van Halen made a video for Hot For Teacher.

If you haven’t seen it, I’m not going to go into much detail about most of it. Van Halen, girls, yadda yadda. What caused me so much grief was the little intro to the video.

The intro featured a young man, appropriately named “Waldo”, being groomed by his mother for his first day at a new school. He’s worried about being picked on by the other kids, but mother assures him everything will be fine.

The bus comes to pick him up, with kids on it being loud and throwing paper airplanes. The doors to the bus open, and David Lee Roth is the bus driver. Waldo is terrified to get on the bus, but steps on.

Bus Driver Roth looks the young nerd in the eye and calls,

dlr

“SIT DOWN, WALDO!”

The video continues, showing how mortified poor Waldo is at his wild, raucous new school.

Surely you can see where this is headed.

New kid, dorky, glasses…

Getting on the bus in the morning – “Sit down, Waldo!”

Getting off the bus in the afternoon – “Sit down, Waldo!”

For a while it expanded to the hallways and the classroom, but it died down soon enough.

I’d like to make it clear I’m not looking for any sympathy here. Bullying is a huge issue, and kids are (and were back then) bullied way worse than me. Fact is, a little name-calling aside, my life was pretty great. And by high school things went back to normal, and I wasn’t the new kid anymore.

I just couldn’t get over the irony that a band I absolutely loved was causing me so much grief.

Now that I think about it, the second album I ever bought with my own money was Licensed To Ill by the Beastie Boys. Their video for (You Gotta)Fight For Your Right (To Party) had nerds in it, too, but I never had any crazy guys showing up at my house to party with beer and hot chicks. What a gyp.

bboys

The Usual Suspects – Use Of Red Herrings and Twist Endings

*Ridiculous spoiler alert! If you haven’t seen this 18 year-old movie, you decide whether or not to keep reading.

animated suspects

This is one of my favorite movies. Maybe not in my top five, but definitely my top ten. From what I gather when talking about the movie with people, your enjoyment of this movie will largely depend on what you think of the twist ending. Some people say the ending is all that makes the movie, and therefore it’s just a gimmick movie. I don’t know if I’d go that far. In my opinion, gimmick twist endings are ones you see coming. You may not necessarily be able to call it, but you know a twist ending is coming, and when it finally comes, it invariably sucks.

Obviously, the best twist endings are the ones you don’t see coming. You have to be invested in the characters and the story enough that you’re not looking for a twist. I think that gets lost on people sometimes. It seems like people use them as a sort of crutch or a safety net to save a lesser quality book/movie, not realizing you can’t…polish a turd (sorry, it’s the best I can do off the top of my head).

For those who don’t know, a ‘Red Herring‘ is a term to describe a plot device that serves to mislead the audience, and facilitate plot twists.  Since I started writing again, all the TV procedurals I used to watch with one eye open are now more interesting as I watch them with a more discerning eye, looking to see who they frame as the killer,  who they show as the plausible suspect, and who ends up being the actual killer.

My wife can call these shows like a psychic. 10 minutes in, the cops will be interviewing someone, and she’ll call out, “he did it!” and I’ll think, really? Eh, maybe. Then 45 minutes later I look over at her like, Holy crap! How did you do that?

In the past 15 (or so) years, when you mention a twist ending most people will think of The Sixth Sense. This relates to what I was talking about earlier; the foundation has to be solid, so people aren’t necessarily looking for a twist ending. That movie is perfectly plausible and interesting all the way to said twist, so when it’s revealed it’s especially surprising.

Which leads me back to The Usual Suspects. It leads you along a very believable trail before letting you know it was a huge  smokescreen and that you, along with the interrogating officer, have been duped. But depending on how invested you are in what you’re watching, you’re either left with your jaw hanging open, or you sigh and let out a disgusted pfft!

I’m curious, what are some of your favorite plot twists in books/movies?

Or, perhaps more interestingly, what are some of your least favorite plot twists?

usualsuspects

T M I – Too Much Information

I was minding my own business on Facebook the other day, looking at posts, and I innocently followed a link that told me (in a very graphic way) something extremely personal about someone whose work I’m a fan of. It was that person’s choice to put the information out there, and it’s not something that affects how much I like their work, but it did make me think back…

Remember when we didn’t know every single thing there was to know about people? I’m talking not just about celebrities and the like, but really just anyone. It seems like there’s hardly any mystery around people anymore.

Not to date myself, but I remember a time when music videos were brand new. And it was weird, because before that there was a good chance you could listen to an artist for years and really have no idea what they looked like, other than a picture on an album cover or inside sleeve.

Now, with zero effort of my own, I know that Kanye West hates big-assed striped scarves. I know Justin Bieber likes mineral water. I know Pete Wentz‘s son got a haircut.

I don’t want to know any of this. But between Twitter, Facebook, TMZ, E!, Access Hollywood, Perez Hilton, etc. this information just floats around us like a giant ring of space debris.

I can see someone I might know on Facebook, and in under three clicks (or taps) I know their city, school, employer, social causes, political party, stance on hotbutton issues, favorite TV shows, movies, and music. You used to make friends with people, and ask them those things over time. Got to know each other.

“I was going to ask you if you watch The Walking Dead, but I already know you do, so…The Walking Dead is cool, huh?”

Remember what is was like to be talking to someone (in the flesh or on the phone) and just sort of organically realize the two of you had something in common? The act of connecting with someone in a natural way is almost a lost art.

Now, it’s more like, “Let’s see, Mike’s friend John likes Hoarders and The Following, that’s cool, but he likes EDM and…Ghost Rider?!? No, screw this guy, it wouldn’t work.”

I like the band Tool. I’m not one of their crazed, loyal fans, but I like them. But I loved their videos. One of the reasons was because they weren’t in them. They chose to do something inherently more creative and made weird little creepy mini-movies for their songs. And once again, a band existed that I couldn’t identify if I walked into them on the street. They had mystery.

I know this post is a bit of a rant, but sometimes I feel like I’m suffocating in information that I don’t want to know. I don’t care who my favorite actor voted for, I don’t care how much my favorite singer did or did not donate to charity, and I shouldn’t have to.

Ugh. I’m just going to go watch the Food Network. Because no matter how much I watch, I will never, ever know what Guy Fieri thinks about stem cell research. And that makes me happy.

Submission – Time To Make A Decision

I’m indecisive. There, I said it. I’ve been known to take weeks to make an online purchase. I read reviews, compare brands and prices, then go back and do it all over again a few days later. I’d like to think that just makes me an informed consumer, but it applies to many other aspects of my life as well.

Even being asked what I want for dinner. My response is always the same : “I don’t know.” It frustrates my wife to no end, but she endures it because, well, she’s awesome. Over the years, though, even her patience has worn thin at times, resulting in the words ‘make a decision!’ being uttered half-jokingly.

Now I’m facing a big decision. I’ve found a publisher to whom I’d like to submit my novella, I Hate Switzerland. They specialize in dark fiction, and they accept novellas. And despite being mostly a publisher of e-books, they also print all their books in a limited edition hardcover as well. The downside? They state on their website they will not accept submissions that have been or will be submitted anywhere else, and their response time is up to six months. Either one on its own doesn’t bother me much, but the two together make me slightly hesitant.

Maybe I’m just being neurotic. It just feels weird to send my work off to someone and know it could be six months before I hear anything, and if they reject it I start back from square one. We’re talking freakin’ October.

At the same time, if they accepted the novella it would be totally worth it, since they seem to have built a loyal following of readers. So maybe I’ve made up my mind as I’ve sat here typing. Hey, thanks blogosphere!

As far as my other works in progress, I have another novella awaiting revisions (Araceli Blues, if you’re interested), and I’m about 12,000 words deep in the rough draft of what I’m assuming will end up as a novel (tentatively titled The Devil On Your Back). I’m also slowly working on a nonfiction essay recounting my brief (and somewhat humorous) encounter with a medical cadaver. I’ll be putting that on the blog sometime after the A to Z challenge is over.

In the meantime, I need to come up with a brief ‘back of the book’ teaser for Switzerland to send with the submission. And I need to think of topics for my ‘T’ and ‘U’ posts (‘V’ is a already planned). Ugh, I need to get busy.