Write Me No Problems

When I think of writers of future fiction, I think of the admonitions of almost every good manager I ever hand. “Don’t tell me problems,” they would say, “bring me solutions.”

Fiction writers could keep that advice in mind, and in particular, authors of future fiction or so-called speculative fiction. It is not particularly speculative to grow a view of the future that is seeded in the past. To be sure, I would guess your Fine Arts instructors told you to keep it real and imbue your writing with a sense of reality. They are wrong, however.

Let me say this aloud, or at least as aloud as a blog can be: if those people knew everything about writing there was to know, they’d be supporting themselves via books and not teaching. No one does. No one can. The act of writing, just as the act of reading, is interpretive and subjective. What is “real” to your instructor is simply short-sighted and pessimistic to me.

I am reading a short (so-called speculative) fiction collection at the moment, one that I will review when I chug through it to the end. As you can probably guess from the proceeding sentence, I am not enjoying it. The author can write. Her details are well balanced. She is imaginative. In a few of the stories, she’s created lead characters I could get behind in a longer work–perhaps even fall in love with. And, looking to the alternate future or near futures in which these stories are set, the problems that have been will always be.

Her Black People do Black People things, deal with Black People problems, and feel some Black People kind of way about them. They talk about, whisper about, think about, or be about White People and their White People ways. And I do not want to read this nouveau-racist bullshit.

I lived through the 60s, 70s, 80s, saw things improve in the 90s, thrived in the 00s, and watched us backslide in the 10s. I have no interest in reading about a future wherein the writer speculates that what has gone wrong will go wrong, or just as bad, that what other writers say will go wrong will absolutely do so. Speculation requires imagination.

Y’all don’t hear me.
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I’ma say it again, so Stephen A doesn’t get more upset. Speculation requires imagination. Stop writing whiny, broken, unimaginative, falsely dark and legitimately pessimistic stories. Instead, think about what a solution would require and then build me a world where it happens. Show the struggles involved, the opposition thereto, and maybe even give yourself permission to imagine that it can be done.

Here’s a master-level tip: not all happy endings are completely happy. There’s room for laughter and tears, even together.

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Future fiction writers lead by example, irrespective of whether they want to or not. The very first use of the word robot was within a sci-fi play detailing how artificial, forced-labor workers revolted and rose up to kill their creators. A century later, engineers worry about the same problem. Know why? Nobody bothered to write about the solutions.

Whether you pen a tome that takes place in the next millennium or next week, don’t just sit on your whiny ass bemoaning the problems in the universe. Fix them, in your head at least.

Bring me no problems. I don’t fucking want to read them. Write me some solutions. Those, we can all use.

The Idea that #Writers Must #Read Everything Is Absolute Bullsh*t (Unless you know how and why to read)

Okay, I will admit that this idea is a recurrent theme of mine. Anyone who has heard me talk about writing has heard me call bollocks on the idea that  novelists cannot hope to become good writers unless they read every novelist they can find. Stephen King is a particular advocate of this way of thinking.

Hey, Stephen, kiss my adverb.

Let me tell you what these writers are actually telling you. They are saying, “One of the most important market segments for novelists is aspiring (and published) writers who read voraciously in hopes of becoming successful. If you lot stop buying our books, we’ll lose a shite-load of money.” In other words, you should buy everything, because since you’re listening to them, it’s likely theirs is whose books you’ll then purchase.

On its face, this advice sounds logical. It isn’t. It is tantamount to a painter’s telling you that the way to become a great artist is to visit every museum you can find. In fact, the way to become a great painter is to paint, just as the way to become a skilled writer is to write, edit, solicit readers, re-edit, submit, publish, read reviews, and respond to what you’ve learned via improvements.

Want a short cut? So did Little Red Riding Hood. Look how that turned out.

Certainly there is something to be gained from visiting a museum. You can learn how people react to art, all of the different styles available, and even techniques, colors, or creative combinations you’d never have thought of before. Similarly, you can learn how different writers’ styles are, and how uniquely each uses language. But will these teach you how to hold a brush or create a story? Not likely.

In order to become a skilled writer, you must write. F*ck reading. If you don’t have time to do both, don’t read anything but short pieces and whatever you’ve written. Get others to read your work and tell you honestly what they think. If you must read, then read like an analyst, not a fan. It shouldn’t even matter to you if you finish a book, unless you’re trying to understand how books are finished. I rarely finish a book I start. That’s not what they’re for. If I want to love a story, I write one. If I’m reading, say, a Toni Morrison book, it’s because I want to understand how she uses the rhythm of her language to paint a lyrical mood without overwhelming the reader with unneeded prose.

Read, sure, but have a specific objective in your reading. Start by asking yourself what you want to know from the book (and it’s not whether Mary and Tom eventually hook up, though it could be understanding how the writer made you care whether they did.)

There’s no you, after a while. There’s only the books you’ve read.

I know some of you aren’t buying this, since it goes against the grain. Let me start with a quote by writer and teacher  Roz Morris.

Reading—the good and the bad—inspires you. It develops your palate for all the tricks that writers have invented over the years. You can learn from textbooks about the writing craft, but there’s no substitute for discovering for yourself how a writer pulls off a trick. Then that becomes part of your experience. – Roz Morris

Sounds good, right? Well, it is, with one caveat. Discovering how Hemingway pulls off a trick will only teach you how he did it. Should you do it the same way? Should you read ten other writers and then choose one of their ways? I’d suggest you focus on good characterization, story telling, and plotting, and trust that your natural language abilities will improve as these things improve. Read to learn what good writing sounds like and then develop your own tricks.

Reading others will give you ideas, certainly, but the idea of consciously imitating another author–no matter what some people say–should make you queasy. I can have a character ask a question and then say, “She told me no,” similar to how Raymond Chandler did. However, I shouldn’t then attempt to imitate his staccato dialogue pattern. I should, instead, F*CKING LEARN HOW TO WRITE DIALOGUE BY ACTUALLY HOLDING AND LISTENING TO CONVERSATIONS.

Oh my god, stop believing advice that’s meant to teach you how to be commercial is the same as teaching you how to be good. Read because you like books, stories, and language. Read in order to diagram and understand the process. DO NOT read start-to-finish like you’re in a book of the month club. Let me go back to Roz Morris and tell you HOW she says to read (with annotations by me).

  1. Skip sections – you’re in writing school, not doing a book report. And by the way, I got the best book-report grades on books I never finished. Read the good bits, skip the boring bits and those telling you how to do things you already do well.
  2. Quit altogether – if it bores you, seeyalaterbye it.
  3. Read things you hadn’t thought of reading – yes, yes, yes, read! But not just novels, for goodness sakes. I read tons of stuff, but rarely novels. I know how to tell those stories. What I want to know is how people tell true stories so that I can make my fiction sound true.
  4. Walk away and take notes – again, you’re not reading a library book; it’s a text book. Mark it up if you want, but if you’re reading Hemingway or Proust to learn their style, take notes on what you’ve learned.

See, I’m not opposed to reading. I am opposed to aspiring writers’ thinking this advice has anything at all to do with their book-of-the-month club. I never read King anymore because I read 10 or 15 of his books and I know how he does them. There’s nothing else to learn. I’m too busy trying to improve to waste time with people who have nothing to teach me. Now, when he gives advice on marketing, I’m all in.

To summarize, let me quote Ray Bradbury, who was pretty adept at both writing and being successful, as he spoke about reading, and specifically, what to read and why.

For the next thousand nights, before you go to bed every night, read one short story. That’ll take you ten minutes, 15 minutes. Okay, then read one poem a night from the vast history of poetry. Stay away from most modern poems. It’s crap. It’s not poetry! It’s not poetry. Now if you want to kid yourself and write lines that look like poems, go ahead and do it, but you’ll go nowhere. Read the great poets, go back and read Shakespeare, read Alexander Pope, read Robert Frost. But one poem a night, one short story a night, one essay a night, for the next 1,000 nights.  – Ray Bradbury

Let me tell you the final reason that the Big Five publishing world is telling you to read, read, read. Their products aren’t necessarily great, but they’re commercial. Reading successful authors won’t help you get better; however, they might show you trends that are selling. If you’re getting a book out within the 18 months after the book you read was published, maybe you’ll get in on the trend before it passes. Their job is to sell commercial dreck and convince you that you should buy it and write similar dreck, so that they retain their market power. What happens if all writers stop buying this crap? I’ll tell you what: they’ll stop publishing it, or they’ll lose market share to the indie community.

Reading is imperative, I agree. However, if you don’t know what to read, how to read, and why you’re reading it, you are doing yourself no good.

In the last 18 months, I have completed 6 novel manuscripts and 1/2 of a short story collection. Each is probably better than the first 9 books I wrote, and they’re not bad. I’ve read exactly 1 book in that time, and came to the conclusion that the writer was brilliant with plot and language, but wrote characters you couldn’t love and fell in love with miserable endings. So, I read his story collection, and learned I wanted to ensure none of my stories included those two things I hated.

Read, but wisely.

 

Garnering Distinguishment

Uma Thurman at the Parisian Woman Broadway Photocall in New York, 10/18/2017

Men, particularly successful ones, have had the advantage over the years of having been able to gain distinguishment as they age, while women merely age.  Now, I know that your immediate reaction might have been for you to be stumble over the word distinguishment rather than note what I said. Let me assure you; I chose that word purposefully.

Distinguishment is a quasi-archaic word that has been largely replaced by distinction. However,  distinction, in its current usage, is an observer-free word. That is, distinction is perceived to exist whether or not there is anyone to see it. An actor gains distinction through her or his work. Once earned, that distinction is said to exist even if one has not seen the work, or the actor. From that premise, Uma Thurman, pictured above, in October 2017, has earned distinction through her work.

Distinguishment, however, is a trickier premise. Distinguishment requires an observer; it is not a passive thing. One will not agree a man looks distinguished without seeing him. It is a prize to be awarded by an active audience. Middle-aged and post-middle-aged men of power and prior attractiveness have thus garnered distinguishment, whereas few women have.  The difference between the words is not subtle. The language is neither arcane nor archaic. We settle for one word because the other is not available to most people. One must have been in the high-social-power group (you know which one that is) in order to have distinguishment. And, as language (read, dictionaries) were decided upon by that same group, we dropped the longer word, distinguishment, in favor of the lessor, distinction, since we peons can work to gain the latter, but never the former.

A pair of distinguished actors of distinction: George Clooney (l) and Cary Grant (r).

George Clooney, Cary Grant, Sean Connery, Gregory Peck, Michael Douglas, and myriad of others host a Hollywood club of distinguished men that only very recently began admitting members like Antonio Banderas (Tony Flags), Denzel Washington, and Morgan Freeman. For chrissakes, when I googled ‘distinguished-looking men’ Ron Bloody Howard’s picture showed up. Ron Howard!

Ron is apparently one of the ‘most powerful bald men in Hollywood’ and that is enough to earn him rights to being distinguished. Now, we can understand Mssrs. Connery, Banderas, Clooney, and Grant being considered distinguished. They were handsome when young, and though they aged, they did so gracefully, still holding onto their strong, graceful features. We can still see them for whom they were, but now, also for whom they became, and we remain enamored with them. We can even understand bending the definition of handsome to incorporate the likes of Jeff Bridges, well-past-his-prime Robert Redford, or Robert De Niro, but we draw the line at Samuel L. Jackson. Bloody no! And yes, Jamie Foxx makes the club, but truthfully, at 50 he doesn’t look much different than he did at 30, so that’s a cheat code, Jamie. (And we know you and Katie are dating, so quit fronting.)

Damned melanin-enriched skin.

But do you know who the only women to appear in my google query of ‘distinguished-looking actors’ were?
You can click it to see it larger. One is Linda Hunt, there second from the left in row 5, next to Steve McQueen. The diminutive actress made the query for her distinguished work, not her looks.  And yes, there is a lovely woman in the middle of that row, but she’s a model chosen to demonstrate why men are distinguished with grey hair and women are not. I trust the authors of that article were being ironic in their choice. In any case, the only real female actor to legitimately make this not-so-random sample was Helen Mirren, whom I love so much I would have kept making this grid smaller until she appeared. Further down, others begin to emerge, like Katherine Hepburn, Connie Stevens, and a young Judi Dench (who only made the group because she looked sexy when she was young).

Young Judi Dench, who could actually act, unlike the young, say, Kevin Costner.

But, for crying out loud, they appear after Peter Cushing, OBE, Boris Karloff, and that dude who played Hagrid in the Harry Potter movies. Hagrid? Come on, man.

And all of this gets us to my main point: men suck. No joke; that’s the actual point. However, I might have lost half my audience there, so let me elucidate. My linguist wife often reminds me that language is merely a social construct and one designed to (and capable of) entrap us within it. (Y’all probably assumed I was gay from how I was going on about male actors, didn’t you? #SurpriseNope.) As such, we use the term distinguished to give credence to the idea that men retain that which is good about them, while women somehow over-ripen, wither, and die on the vine, like unused fruit.

Take a look at Uma Thurman again. I’ll wait. Or better yet, get a closer view. Click on the New York Times article on Uma Thurman with regards to her relationship with Harvey spit Weinstein and my least-favorite director of all time, Whose Name We Shall Not Speak. I wholeheartedly encourage you to read the article when you’ve finished this one, but for now, just look at Damon Winter’s photo. (It’s called Super Jumbo, so you can see it.)

I will admit, I was never a huge Uma-Thurman-is-so-beautiful fan when we were both younger, but now that’s she’s 47 (and I’m a wiser 59) I’m totally in that camp. She sits on the bed, her crystalline eyes the color of her jeans. Her bone structure is chiseled; her gaze clear and sharp. Uma matches her environment–the colours, the simplicity, the elegance. She’s seen some shit, lived some shit, kicked some ass, and emerged stronger from it, the matriarch of three children. We look in her eyes and wish she’d not needed to learn what she knows, but we admire that she learned it. You’d want a woman like that to have your kids. You’d want her to be on your team, run your company, kick your loud neighbor’s nosy ass, be a cool grandma one day. She’s badass and gorgeous and has never been better–and now, I’m a fan for life. Not because she had the good fortune of having the sort of loose skin that allows one’s face to slide inexorably off one’s skull rather than wrinkling and drying like a raisin, but because she’s earned her distinguishment. She’s Lady Uma Thurman, OBA (Order of the Bad Assery).

I truthfully don’t know if she’s more beautiful than when she was younger, any more than you know if Sean Connery actually does look better with his white beard and ring of snowy hair than he did with the youthful, black, Bond-era toupee. Maybe it’s him; maybe it’s us. Neither of us knows why Helen Mirren gets older but never any less sexy. And you know what? It doesn’t effing matter.

What does matter is that grace, strength, late-year elegance … distinguishment, has never been within the sole dominion of any one group. We should have never let them convince us that it was so. It is changing, though, and rapidly. Now that he’s in his 60s, for the very first time, people are beginning to bother pronouncing Denzel Washington’s name the right way. (It rhymes with ‘pencil’ if you’re interested, and you’ll now find plenty of young black men with that name who pronounce it the right way.) Likewise, people are starting to see distinguishment in women who were never pretty — like Linda Hunt,

Linda Hunt, Incredible

just as they have with men who were at best funny looking when young (cough, Karloff, cough). Earning distinguishment should not require that one confess that #theytoo were sexually assaulted, abused, or raped to be respected. Frankly, most women I know were; perhaps it would be quicker to switch to the hashtag #NotMe. Distinguishment shouldn’t require that women were famous, showed us their skin on the silver screen, or entertained us. They should be valued now simply because they have always been valuable.

Women do not wither on the vine. They age, gain wisdom, add layers, and remove some that don’t fit. Cool people stay cool. Badasses retain badassery. And those who were wayward souls but who kept falling forward and kept eyeing their futures, sometimes reach them in grandeur and elegance. We humans owe it to them and to us all to notice.

So yes, Ms. Thurman, we see you, and you are distinguished. We only wish the world were too.

As for the exclusive little boys club that has owned and nominated those with distinguishment for the past four hundred years, well, #TimesUp, little bitches. We all own that badge now.

Bill Out.

Drumpfing on the U.S.A

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This was always meant to be my writing (only) blog, but since I’ve spent my time writing and not marketing, there’s been nothing to post here. However, I’ve come to realize that writer isn’t my occupation, it’s my identity. I write because I have a boatload of things to say irrespective of whether anyone wants to hear them.

With that in mind, I, like most intelligent people, have been thinking a great deal about the emergence of Donald Drumpf. Like his political-track avatar, Adolph Schicklgruber, Drumpf has capitalized on the intrinsic anger of the downtrodden to emerge as a viable, if reprehensible, candidate. However, what is largely overlooked (on purpose, I think) by the media is the fact that he’s also capitalizing on a large segment of the populous that was and remains racist. Let’s not pull punches: Nazi Germany could not have existed if a large number of Germans weren’t racist when Schicklgruber showed up. My wife, who lived for a time in Germany, assures me that racist underbelly still thrives. ‘Dolph persisted for the same reason Drumpf does–because (some) people were waiting for them.

And let’s not bullshit at home, shall we? Drumpf is an idiot, but he’s a conniving, psychopathic idiot who understands history and can pick up the mood in a room (or a country). He’s running as the overt racist (not the bigoted billionaire who doesn’t care about race because he only cares about himself) because 30% of the U.S. population is racist. How did I come up with that figure? I have a degree from MSU: Making Shit Up.

Barack_Obama_Dope_posterSee, sounding truthy is as easy as asserting a partial truth with conviction. I don’t know how many Americans hate blacks, Mexicans, Jews, Muslims, Hari Krishnas, Jehovah’s Witnesses, poor whites, rich whites, Central Americans, Asians, gays, lesbians, women, or the Dallas Cowboys, but I know it’s a fucking lot. (Y’all don’t hear me. ) These douchenozzles first came out of the woodwork when Barack Obama got elected as the Brotha in Chief. They were pissed his family was never enslaved, so they called him Kenyan. They hated that his “HOPE” platform gave life to the aspirations of those unlike them, so they pretend his presidency has failed and convinced the stupid that our roiling economy is flagging.

So, it’s not surprising when they began using “Muslim” as an avatar for “Nigger,” as in, “He’s a Muslim.” Every time someone says that, substitute the n-word and you get their true meaning. (Yeah, bitches, we knew what you meant, and you meant it in precisely the same way you do when you say Ted CruzMissile is a Canadian. By Canadian, you mean Cuban, and we can’t have one of those either, can we?) Obama looked dope and smoked dope and was dope and that rankled the red-necked shit out of America’s sick underbelly.

We never emerged, fully, into the light. But the thing is, we knew that. When we had our last, secret, All-Blacks meeting, with Barack as the principle speaker, we, the negro collective, discussed how we knew that Big B needed to be the Oval Office’s Jackie Robinson. President Obama could not hit back. He couldn’t point out that most of the Senate is a collection of racist and sexist assholes determined to stop him from doing anything, just as surely as they’ll try to stop Hillary. He couldn’t jump down from the podium and bitch-slap Mitch McConnell or have his boys “influence” Justice Clarence Unclethomas to stop being such a little shit and come to the damned meetings. Obama couldn’t do any of those things, and trust me, he wants to, because others will follow him into the White House.

A woman will follow him. A Latino will follow. An Asian will follow, and it’ll happen soon, and by then, America will finally be who the fuck the world needs us to be. Don’t believe me? Look who’s running for president, who made it to Super Tuesday, and forget they’re all flawed: 3 White Males, 1 White Female, 1 Black Male, and 2 Cuban Males. Huh? Say what? Still not enough women and no Asians, but it’s starting to look like America up in here, even if most of the Americans trying to be in charge are dickheads.

We’re supposed to be the good guys, people. We are supposed to carry the torch for hopefulness, for believing that humans can live together, join their cultures, and make some really fucking cool music. We’re supposed to love those who love god, whichever god, and embrace those who don’t just as lovingly. We’re supposed to not care whom you marry or whether you’re a lesbian who was born with a penis or if you listen to Justin Bieber or if you like ice hockey. And goddammit, I’m tired of sitting here crying because we never get there.

So Big B has done his job. He switched on all the lights and the fucking, hate-filled, cockroaches came screaming out of the woodwork. Drumpf, unknowingly, has done his job too. He’s rallied all the roaches and given them hope they can take the country back. But don’t fear, Europe. Do not be disheartened, Asia. Don’t mourn us, Africa. We know exactly what the fuck we’re doing. Sometimes, the only way to stamp out all of the cockroaches is to turn on the light, put food in the middle of the kitchen floor, and stamp the holy fucking shit out of them.

There’s going to be some foot-stomping coming very soon, and Hill is the lady we’ve chosen to wear the boots. Why?

Because the sexist, woman-hating, rape-as-a-weapon-of-war-tolerating, my-bitches-came-out-of-the-kitchen-to-vote-for-me, flag-waving cockroaches are still in there hiding, and we need a lady badass to flush them out.

Drumpf and Clinton play Election Night
Drumpf and Clinton play Election Night

Shit is going to get really different, America, because there ain’t no country left for the cockroaches to take back. This land belongs to the world, and we’re about to clean the goddamned kitchen.

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You’re welcome.

P.S. Comments are off, because I didn’t ask your opinion any more than you asked mine. If you disagree, get your own soapbox and tell people.

Chief Injustice John Roberts: On the Wrong Side of History

C:UsersGenesis BooksPictures5269.jpgIn 1967, after a unanimous (9-0) decision to forbid states from restricting marriage among people of different races, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote: “Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State.”

In 2015, in a shamefully close, but completely predictable 5-4 vote, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in dissent against the Court’s legalization of gay marriage, “Whether same-sex [interracial] marriage is a good idea should be of no concern to us.” Fortunately, the 1967 Court hearing Loving v Virginia and the 5 Justices who voted for equal rights in 2015 thought it should very much be of concern to the Court. Chief Injustice Roberts went on to write, “Today, five lawyers have ordered every state to change their definition of marriage,” Roberts said. “Just who do we think we are?”

We, sir, hoped that you thought yourselves to be the moral bellwether of the United States government. We thought you believed yourselves to be that great compass that guides us not to the strict foundational words of our founding (white, male) fathers, but toward the great ideals that our nation purports to be founded upon. We hoped you thought yourselves not to be 9 lawyers, but the few, brave souls who would stand up to injustice and say, “The line must be drawn here! This far; no further!

But, alas, that was merely a fiction. You, sir, are no Jean-Luc Picard, and this is not science fiction. You are merely a lawyer who is content to dwell through all time on the wrong side of history.

Since you lack the moral decency to be ashamed, allow us, the American people, to be ashamed on your behalf. Love, sir, always wins. Had you watched more movies, perhaps you would have known that.

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“I knew Earl Warren. Earl Warren was a friend of mine. You, sir, are no Earl Warren,” said everybody, everywhere.

Inspiration, Demarcation, and Respiration fe di Nation

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 10.09.56 PMSo, I was sitting here, doing what I normally do this time at night, which is to miss the Bess to my Porgy, when WordPress dropped me the badge above. Now, normally, we don’ need no stinkin’ batches around here, but this one is a inconspicuous but important demarcation point for me. Eight years on WordPress, today.

It’s not the amount of time I’ve been a writer, nor does it mark how long I’ve blogged. (A very few know I actually had my first blog on Blogger in September 2005.) But 23 March 2007 is when I decided to take myself seriously as a writer and photographer. I created a blog, which I’ve long-since deleted, filled with rants, poems, laughs, and other bits of my psyche that flaked off like dehydrated skin. Eight years.

Other than wondering why I’m not much better at it by now (I start and stop, that’s why), my initial reaction is that perhaps that’s long enough time spent in shadows. Maybe it’s time I came Full Circle and make this place my own.

I call this blog This Blog Intentionally Blank for a reason. I drop things here, but I almost never showed up. The people who know me in real life will attest–while I occasionally blow through here, mostly I whisper. In the world, I am far more tempest than zephyr. I anguish; I rage; I vent; I love. I stopped selling my books not because I was unsuccessful, but because I have NEVER believed perfection to be an invalid goal.

And I won’t get there, I know, but that’s not the point.

The most profound bad poem ever written said it best. “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.” But I know y’all don’t hear me any more than you heard Dylan Thomas. I know because I’ve never heard a single person read that poem correctly. It’s not a eulogy. It isn’t meant for quiet sobs or gentle whispers. New Age music doesn’t blow out of some bagpiper’s ass while it’s being read. The poem is Fucking Angry. RAGE! RAGE against the dying of the light!

I don’t know whether I was given one of those new, fluorescent bulbs that will still be burning when our sun goes supernova, or if I’m an old-school incandescent meant to burn out with the next equinox. But I do know this: I won’t be going gentle into any more motherfucken nights. Rage, rage against 8 years spent in semi-darkness.

In the interim, in the real world, I wrote 100 or so poems, enough for a book if I wanted to produce one. I took over 40,000 frames with 8 cameras. I wrote 6 novels and a short story collection. And I made it to 30 years with the same company in my day job. But other than with my Girl, I’ve mostly kept all the vicissitudes hidden. I’m a fucking alpha Leo male. We ain’t supposed to do hidden. Hidden is for little cheetahs that think they’re lions.

So, eight years in, I’m no longer going gentle a goddamned place. And if you don’t like tempests, you might want to buckle up or unfollow. It may be occasionally angry up in this bitch. And I’m not talking about just writing. There’s a whole world out there, and it’s time we met.

About damn time, too.

Inequality

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He is a ghost.

You can tell by the w1-DSCF3322ay they pass but do not see. He is tethered there, rippled by time and indifference. The tilted shadow of injustice mocks him, as do reminders of the destruction reaped from his passing. This is H Street, NE, in Washington D.C. Things are finally changing–but not for them. Not for the unwanted ones.

By April 5, 1968, he’d left this mortal coil, and so did the hopes of those he left behind. Washington did not explode so much as self-destruct. It tore through its heart, killing Anacostia, burning small businesses in the purge of the ‘almighty whitey.’ It killed H Street too, shattering Kay Jewelers and the

1-DSCF8479one real department store chain that had serviced its people. They never returned–not to Anacostia, not here. Certainly, the city flourished, but not for those at the bottom of the economic ladder. The view from the bottom never changes and it smells a lot like ass.

Martin’s people, you see, had missed his point. So he lingers here, watching, across from the reminder of the anger of his raging people. “You can’t kill whitey,” he would tell them, if they listened, “because whitey never existed.” They raged against boogeymen, but the true weapons of inequity are fear and indifference. In their futile rage, they’d wielded the first and foredoomed themselves due to the other.

So, the 20th century passed, with Martin being canonized, but his real legacy ignored. Chocolate City had melted into a puddle of economic futility, and no one noticed; no one cared. The businesses never returned, and the people there never prospered.

1-DSCF3341The century died, was buried, and only the liquor stores noticed. That’s what ‘hoods’ are for, aren’t they: guns and liquor? Well, guns, liquor, empty lots, and shattered hopes. But things are changing, now. Can you see it? The trucks roll in and carry with them the winds of economic prosperity and gentrification.

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It’s no longer H Street, but Gentrification Boulevard, the big G Unit. Gee, and that rhymes with flee, and that means for good. Get thee the f**k out, poor ones.

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So Martin sits along the wall, watching the tide turn for H Street, but not in their favor. It already smells different, with down-home cooking replaced by uptown fare, and the light is brighter, the streets more colorful, and the century has been upgraded to Twenty-one. And it’s all good … except that nothing ever changes for the poor ones.

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No business plan for them, you see, except for what they can hustle on the streets. No one stepped in during the 80s when the city tried to murder itself. No one noticed during the Raygun years or the Clinton Bubble or the Bushleague Fiasco or the Old Bama Drama. No one ever notices … them.

With the influx of the Washington Nationals major league baseball team, the creeping edges of Anacostia have begun to blossom, driven by the millions poured into the local economy. Likewise, the wealthy few knead their hands over the prime real estate along H Street, walking distance from Union Station and the National Mall, and wait. The cable cars will come, albeit late.

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And Martin will disappear, when someone tears down the metal gate from which he watches as a new, improved H Street appears: one without his people–not the blacks or the whites or the latinos–but the poor, forgotten, separate, and definitely unequal.

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This is going to be a nice place one day. 1-S0038485

Falling, Part 3

Part 2

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Here is the conclusion to Chapter 13 of Emprise. If you like it, you might like the rest. The entire book is meant to read like whispered promises, like kisses, like lyrics sung by a lover, the universe, or God. You don’t have to believe in a God or something beyond the mundane path to death in order to enjoy it, but it’ll help. It is the story of two teenagers who loved the Universe and  found it loved them right back. But then again, all my stories are love stories.

Falling (Emprise, Chapter 13)

Robin edged the glitterfly alongside the blob, then, untying it, hopped on the large blob with Charlie. She caressed the glitterfly one last time, and said, “Thank you for saving us. Go find your friends.” With those words, the huge fish butterflied itself into the dark ocean and disappeared.
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Charlie did not move, but lay on his back, looking at her. She could see in his eyes he was relieved and even happy to see her, but his face was still a twisted scowl. “We aren’t exactly saved yet,” he said. His lips were not moving, but she could hear his words.

Robin looked from him to the axe. They were sinking, slowly. It was bitterly cold now, and the water moved sluggishly. Below them, miles below, she could make out sharp spires of ice. The ice was bright against the murky deep, illuminated as if from below.

Charlie, meeting her gaze, spoke up. “We’re on an ocean planet. I think the whole planet is water, even the core.” He sat up, still holding the axe. As he did, the blob bobbed momentarily higher. Charlie looked at the blob, speaking. “It keeps sinking, and we’re not strong enough to swim up without it.

Robin gestured toward the ice. “What do you think happens when we get there?” she said.

Charlie shrugged. “Dunno. Either we get stuck there, or crushed from the pressure, or burn to death.”

“Burn to death? In the ocean? It’s like ice water.” They could feel the cold, although vaguely. In time, their bodily functions would slow down sufficiently to stop their hearts.

“I’m not sure why I know,” Charlie said, “but I think that glow is heat. There’s some rocky core – magma or whatever, and the water is above it. The pressure from the miles of ocean is so great, it’s formed some weird ice mantle. Except it’s a hot as the earth’s mantle.”

“Fire water,” Robin said. “My people always were at risk from men bearing fire water.” She was speaking solemnly.

For the first time, Charlie’s scowled eased, and he burst into a broad grin. His dimples lit the ocean, and Robin’s mood with them. “You are so goofy,” he said.

“I can’t help it,” Robin answered, now laughing at herself as well. “I’m one-quarter Tewa. I’m sensitive to stuff like that.”

Charlie looked over the side at the glow below once more. “I’m part Scottish. My dad claims we invented strong drink.”

“I figured this was your fault somehow.” Before Charlie could defend himself, she looked at him, still with the axe, and had an idea. “Charlie, you have to let go of that axe.”

“What? Why?” he protested. “That elephant guy gave it to me. I’m supposed to do something with it. I just don’t know what yet.”

“Lord Heffalump.”

Charlie gaped at her. “Heffalump? Seriously?”

In response, Robin blinked at him. Twice.

Sigh.

“Okay, ‘Lord Heffalump’ wants me to fight something. Maybe once we land on the bottom, there’s some creature we’re supposed to kill.”

“You’re rationalizing. What he wants you to fight is anger. Just let it go.”

Charlie shook his head. “That thing is playing games. He’s … she’s, whatever, connected to Siri. I don’t trust him. I’m keeping this axe for protection.” He held it protectively to his chest.

“He’s not an enemy, Charlie.”

Charlie hesitated before responding. The water was beginning to warm. They were running out of time. “How do you know?” he asked.

Robin touched his arm. “Because I’m me, Boo,” she said.

Charlie searched her eyes, then, wordlessly, threw the axe over his shoulder, and into the depths. She knew that he would.

“I hope we don’t die, dream girl,” he said, holding her.

She allowed herself to be held, and closed her eyes. Beneath, they heard the faint clink of the metal axe impacting the ice below. This was followed by a loud cracking, which they felt, rather than heard, the vibrations knocking them on their bellies. Each of the teens clutched at a side of the blob, just as it rocketed upward in a bubbling gush of water. Quickly they rose – a hundred feet, a thousand, a mile, and rising quickly. As they ascended, propelled by the gust of gas and hot water released from beneath the broken ice, the blob expanded in size. With every lessening bit of water pressure, the fish grew, itself filled with expanding gases.

By the time they passed through the miles-long school of glitterflies, the light blob was a hundred feet in diameter. Miles higher, ascending with the speed of a hot air balloon riding a strong updraft, they passed schools of what must have been this world’s version of whales. They were gentle creatures, long and wide, with enormous eyes and mouths. Robin was now on her knees, hands uplifted, and hair flying behind her. As she passed, these not-a-whales sang to her. Their songs were low rumbles, unmelodic, but lovely. Behind Robin, Charlie was standing, grinning.

“How do you feel, Dimple Boy?”

“Lighter,” he replied. Robin nodded and resumed sailing on the rising blob.

In time, the water became brighter, as light from above the surface began to break through the ocean depths. They had been rising for close to an hour, and were still a hundred feet below the surface. Robin turned to speak to Charlie, but she could no longer form the words. He was kneeling, his eyes wide, a hand covering his mouth.

He could no longer breathe the water.

Robin thought to give him mouth-to-mouth, wondered if he would think she was trying to kiss him, when her breath suddenly stopped as well. She looked up, and could see a rippling orb of light above. It was the sun. Now, in a race to the surface, riding atop a two-hundred-fifty-foot-wide yellow orb, Robin and Charlie held their breath as long as they could. Robin willed the blob to rise faster, panic seeping into her mind as surely as water would fill her lungs. She would drown in the panic, the wet, claustrophobic horror of it. No more than thirty minutes before, she was a creature of the depths, as comfortable and at peace as any glitterfly, not-a-whale, or floating toothtrap below them. Now, she was an interloper.

She began to swim, needed to leave the blob, wanted to reach the surface faster. As she did, something clutched at her feet, attempting to drown her, murder her in this soggy hell. She kicked it off her; it flailed below her in pain and released her. Twenty feet higher, something grabbed both legs at once, ensnaring her, pulling her down. She fought blindly, swung, and thrashed with all her might.

It grabbed her, pulled her to it. It would bite her next, perhaps ending her life, seventy feet from the surface. She closed her eyes, trapped, awaiting its deathblow …

… and it kissed her cheek and held her, gently. Her eyes opened to see Charlie staring at her with concern. He was swimming slowly to the surface, his strong legs kicking beneath him. He was holding her in his arms, his eyes never leaving hers. Robin looked down and could see her rope looped around her ankles.

Moments later, they breached the surface, blinded momentarily by sunlight, their burning lungs filling with air. After coughing and gasping, then regaining their lungs, Charlie told Robin she had begun to panic, and was rising to the surface too quickly. He had attempted to restrain her, but she had kicked him in the face, bloodying his nose. The rope, then his strong arms, followed.

“Why didn’t you just let me reach the surface, and follow me up?” she asked. She was sorry to have hurt him, but annoyed that his fear of water had caused him to pull her back to him, as crabs will in a steaming pot of water.

“I figured the jellyfish we’ve been riding moves at that pace for a reason. You know, to let its body adapt to the decreasing water pressure. Since it lives here, I thought if you came up faster, the bends would kill you.”

“Jellyfish …” Robin said, absently. Then, “I thought you said you can’t swim,” she said.

“I can’t. But I can dream that I can.” For her, he had learned to dream, finally to dream.

She looked at him for a time, then swam closer, and kissed him. It was a real kiss, strong and fevered, her tongue dancing with his for the first time in their young lives. Her eyes clamped themselves shut, and she delighted in the pebbly softness of his intruding tongue. As she pulled back, she looked at him, overcome with embarrassment and emotions she had never acknowledged.

You. It’s you.

It had always been him.

Charlie looked at her – his eyes filled with questions, bright with emotion, and shook his head. He touched his lips with an index finger, then with his tongue. For a moment, she feared he would kiss her again, but instead he smiled. She swam, for a moment, in his dimples, floated in his eyes, lassoed herself with his curls, and, quietly … fell.

“Duck!” Charlie screamed.

A second later, screeching in from a cloudless sky, an enormous bird ripped them from the ocean. It had hidden itself by diving from the direction of the blinding sun. It rose, the air thinning, growing colder, getting dark.

They were being abducted, and not to this gentle world.

This Week’s Rant Is About …

Screen Shot 2013-09-05 at 11.06.11 PMPerception is not the same as reality. That simple truth has been echoing through my head, after reading a “review” of Hard as Roxx. Now, all things considered, it wasn’t a bad review. And, I wouldn’t care if it was a bad review. I care that it wasn’t honest.

The review, you see, decided that my 360-page story was “lesbian literature” (whatever that is) because the primary romance in the story features two women. The reader was mad because he hadn’t been forewarned about the entire plot before spending his less-than $3. He, apparently, doesn’t care for LGBT storylines (tough sh*t) and gets annoyed whenever Sci Fi features sensuality or sexuality. His perception is that’s NOT Sci Fi.

Dude. Where the hell have you been?

Science Fiction has always been the cutting edge of the literary blade when it comes to social change. Goodreads’s listopia features one list of Sci Fi with LGBT characters that’s almost 500 books long. My “romance” which features zero explicit sex, was an homage to my favorite Sci Fi series, The Gaea Trilogy by John Varley. It fit, although my story is vastly different. I’d even planned on making Roxx a trilogy, with the last two books entitled Cool Like Jazz and The Outlaw Jessi James.) Book 2 is where you cry a lot. Book 3 is where the entire world goes to shit.)

I will almost certainly never write those books.

Why? Because I’m tired of dealing with stupid motherf*ckers people’s misperceptions. Let’s investigate. Roxx, according to some, has too much romance, and sex among gorgeous women (and a drunken threesome with a guy) is icky. Science Fiction should be about technology. There’s not enough action when you add icky s-e-x.

I estimate Roxx and her girls are responsible for killing around 40 people in the book. This doesn’t include a full-out war against a city full of robots. In fact, Roxx has a 1 on 7 battle in the very first town she encounters.

Roxx danced with the other six men, keeping her two daughters behind her. Her music was the Dead Men’s sounds of fear, the happy gurgles of Jessi’s laughter at her big sister who was playing peekaboo as the baby moved with her mother in the bloody dance, the cheers of the town’s womenfolk as one man, then the next, and, finally, the last, fell to the dirt. The men had touched her daughter. They had been Dead Men from that moment. It had simply taken Roxx seven minutes to instruct their hearts to stop beating. Those beats interfered with the music in the bitch’s head.

Now, with music stilled, and with death to be mopped up by she didn’t care whom, the bitch went back to sleep, and Roxx slumped into the chair in which once sat the group’s leader. She sat, watching the villagers, still on alert. After a time, she relaxed, convinced the village folk no more cared about the death of the men than she did.

Simply put, there’s more action in this book than any other book I’ve written, with the exception of Emprise. So what’s the real message? People are bristling because 1. Roxx isn’t a video game superheroine who dresses like a leatherclad whore, 2. She’s being “aggressively” pursued by a woman, which she kind of likes, and 3. She doesn’t like rapists, and is known to kill them. In commentary, a reviewer actually compared her “aggressive” female pursuer (her best friend) to a group of soldiers who rape a woman to death.

Um, that bit was based on a true story, you dumb, gay hating piece of sh*t.

As for technology, I defy you to find a Sci Fi book that has more. And, all of my technology is real, most in development. Spend a year in research, learn what I’ve learned, and get back to me with your commentary. Tech isn’t the main point of a scene. Technology should slip into the background. It’s scenery, not the story.

“Okay,” Roxx answered, smiling, “but remember, you asked for it.” She slid into the unmanned cab, her longs legs filling the open cabin. Trint climbed in, facing her.

It was a small cab, with the passenger cabin taking virtually all of the space, except for a small compartment for luggage. As it used the same conductive plastic as Jazz’s bike, there was no need for a traditional engine, exhaust system, or drivetrain. Instead, there were small batteries mounted on the wheels, as hubcaps, which powered the vehicle.  The cabs followed tracks embedded in the roadway that connected to an assembly on its chassis. Being computer controlled, it required no driver and hence no front seat. Instead, there were two plush bench seats, each facing the other, and nothing else.

“Nui Morocco,” Roxx commanded, and the cab glided into motion. “I’m suddenly feeling chiseled and elegant.”

I spent 2 years of my life creating a vivid world that’s just west of reality, in an apocalypse that could actually happen. And, people object, because my tall, strong, tough, feminine main character is bisexual.

Sorry, the world still isn’t the place I perceived it to be. The main misperception I object to, after all, is my own. I thought the world had moved onto the 21st century. It’s still 1954. People still skip over my books because 56% of my DNA is African. I am not willing to compromise what I want to write in order to accommodate stupid motherf*ckers judgmental people. However, neither am I willing to keep writing when people don’t buy my books, because I don’t write the same crap other people write.

At some point, you have to look in the mirror, and recognize Van Gogh’s shadow staring at you. Maybe in another life, people would want stories with actual people who live on earth. And LGBTQ characters? They’re in all my books, although they’re closeted in some. (In The Stream series, Charlie’s sister is gay, although it’s never mentioned in the books at all. Why? She would say it’s none of your business.)

Lesbian Lit. The sad thing? Lesbians would probably love Roxx. She would have made a killer movie. But, men would love her too, and she’d love them right back.

***

Kamal, fortunately, was not interested in fighting. “I am so sorry.” He met Roxx’s amused smile with a slight one of his own. “It’s just you are so …”

“Tall?” she asked. She liked being tall, but was quickly bored by the obvious.

Kamal frowned. “No, sculpted. You look absolutely chiseled and elegant. Y-you both look elegant,” he said, his head turning from Roxx to Trint.

Good save.

“I just assumed you must be a robot, because, well, I’ve never seen a human who looks like you.”

Now it was Trint’s turn to stare at Roxx with a look akin to mild fear. She stepped back, likely to avoid getting any of Kamal’s blood on her new blouse.

Roxx, however, was not considering violence.

That is the best compliment of me whole bleeding life.

She walked to the flinching Kamal, held him by both ears, and kissed him. Her eyes rolled back in her head and closed, as the first male tongue since Jace’s danced with her own. It was not as nimble as Trint’s tongue, but after years of abstinence, a new tongue was a delight. As the elevator door opened, she stepped back, and out. Kamal gasped, but remained there, mouth ajar and eyes closed.

“Cheers, darling,” Roxx said. “That was the best compliment, ever.” She turned to the pouting Trint and pulled one folded arm, leading her towards Kamal. He stood in the same spot, though his eyes were now open. “You should kiss him, Trint. He is an amazing kisser.”

Trint took a step toward Kamal, whom Roxx now feared could faint. “Wait. No. I’m not kissing you.”

***

Yeah, dude, you’re totally right. Romance screwed this book up, but good.