Le Journal de Das Book, Day 0

I am seldom subject to self-delusion. It has been the bane of my existence, this longing for rationality. No, it is not the desire of my dear, sweet frontal lobe, that tattered handmaiden burdened to my subconscious’ longing for prime numbers in all things. The poor dear is merely slave to its master, doing the ill will of that leftist guerrilla that insists that “if it cannot be proved, then it cannot be known.” As such, for all my life, I and my frontal cortex march in enslavement to the structural norms of the multiverse. Indeed, I would insist  that imagination was no thing directly up to and including the time I wrote two novels in three months based on dreaming, despite the fact that I hadn’t dreamt myself in the 30 years prior.

“No,” I’d say. “I’ll believe it after it happens, providing someone smarter than me can prove it actually happened.” Such a soul never appeared, and so, I spat on wishes and dreams and continued my forward, mechanized march.

But now, the MUSE, she screams in my left ear, and I cannot drown her out. I get the idea … no, the insistence, that I am about to write the veritable fuck out of this book … these books, these two or three. On impulse, and in an attempt to free my enslaved frontal lobe and thus cast off the self-identification that has constricted me for these long years, I followed the silly, delusional whisperings, those impulses that I’d long held back.

“Buy those books,” she said. “Your books will be those books, but twisted into a slow, jazz cookbook.” I thought it silly, but this time, did its bidding.

I only vaguely see the connection, and it isn’t in story or plot, because I never read, really, much less follow others’ ideas. Hell, I barely read fiction and most of what I do read, I write. On a whim, and via a pointer by a talented writer who stopped by, I added another to the list, Jazz, by Toni Morrison,  which seemed a good choice given I’d already decided to commit these books as works of music, of long-form poetry that masquerades as prose.

Do I have the talent to do that? Almost certainly not. Can such a style exist in the 21st century without becoming tedious? I’ll let Ms. Morrison answer that for me, but the MUSE has already spoken. “Just you WATCH,” she says, in her shouty, pouty way.

Can one mix tragedy with comedy? Surely, and often. Can one write tragedy so that it makes you laugh in counterpoint to all the happy bits that make you cry? Perhaps. Can I do it, MUSE? Am I enough?

“NO!” she says. “But WE are enough.”

So, there, I suppose, it begins. My antagonist already talks to me, and often, in his Louisiana backwater drawl. I cain’t hardly shut the ol’ boy up, his fat, red-tinged face becoming vivid now. His cheeks are rouge and puffy with the exertion of making his case, but I don’t want to listen. His spiky strawberry blond hair is so loud that even my wife could see it. But then, she often sees or hears a thing if I remember to think it hard enough. I so seldom do remember to do that.

If you knew me in person, and be glad you don’t, you’d likely mistake me for a stand-up routine. So, I suppose that alone qualifies me to write a tragedy. Now to sort through all the literary quarks and bind them into atoms so that I can begin–just a small start–in hearing this lot. I still don’t know how many books this is or why MUSE wants me to write them all at once. She insists it’s all one story, but that makes no sense. And non sense is even worse than no thing to my frontal lobe. But I’ll sigh and move forward.

I suppose I’ve already been given a hint I’m on the right path, guided as I was to Josephine Tey. Long have I ranted about how formulaic books have become, writing has become. We no longer read books, but revisit characters. We are all in a Bizarro Marvel Universe, waiting for the next volume even though we already know what the hell the book will be like before it’s written. And then there’s the soft, straight prose of the book I’m reading, and it asks, “Did no one, any more, change their record now and then? Was everyone nowadays thirled to a formula?”

Yes, Ms. Tey, I change my record quite often. The first Jeanne Dark was Oscar Peterson, in fact. This one is all Coltrane fused with Robert Johnson as he fights off traces of Hank Williams, Sr. It’s old-school, with a touch of 1970s British Rock, thank you very much, and it’s quite the mélange if you get the formula right. Here’s to hoping someone passes me a recipe.

A bad mix is just a bunch of noise, and there’s too much of that already.

So, it’s Day 0, the day I start. I’m writing sequels to books I’ve never bothered to publish. I don’t need to. I like them, so who needs more validation than that? But Hank, my antithesis, he wants his own book, his own brooding darkness and I’m not sure my soul can bear the stain of it. Maybe I can bend him toward the light, just a bit, just enough to wring the Douglas-Adams-infused black humour from him.

That turn would be enough. You with me, dearest MUSE? More importantly, am I with you?

 

Influences

I don’t have literary influences. That is, simply, because I have read more non-fiction than fiction. Although I love a good book, I’ve always been far more a movie buff than literary aficionado. I suppose that is why the most common comment I receive concerning my writing is that it is “visual” and the reader can “easily picture it” in their heads. I have a secret: that isn’t talent.

I’m a visual thinker.

In short, I write entire chapters in my head, and they play out as movies. Most of the time, when I write, there is a music soundtrack that paints the work. When I write poetry, for instance, it is almost always to jazz music, which influences the rhythm and harmonics of the words. Book drafts are written over 3 months or so, and almost always to a single genre of music. I don’t pick the music, the book does. It’s in my head, and when I’m writing, the right piece of music allows the pictures to run and the book is written. After all, what is a movie without a soundtrack? For Emprise, I wrote all 160,000 words listening almost exclusively to new age and worldbeat music. The music was spiritual and so is the book.

For Roxx, it was written to Rock, which gave it the edge it needed, but the final product dances to an African beat. My latest work, Eddie Daley, required jazz. When I turned on any other kind of music, the characters refused to come on screen. And so it goes. We are influenced by what our subconscious seeks. It remembers bits it heard, or saw, and pushes us to put them together in a soup that only it knows the recipe to. We must comply, or the work will be ruined.

Only the dialog comes to me as words, and they’re spoken by the characters, not thought out in advance by me. When you think in pictures, it’s easy to describe them. Words, however, even in poems, are never born until I write them. I never have the words in advance, nor do I want to.

So, when I started writing Hard as Roxx, the idea of which came to me from a music video, it was easy to see the plot lines in terms of visuals from movies I’ve loved. Now, I’m not speaking literally when I say “visuals.” Rather, the concepts that stuck with me came from the movies and they reside in my memory as images. For example, Roxx herself.

She’s a combination of Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name, Jessie J in her “Do It Like a Dude” video, and runway model. I have a concrete sense of her in my head, dressed smartly, feminine, except for her biker boots. She’s not a man with breasts, as so many action heroines are. Since she sees no weakness in femininity, she sees no reason to dress like a man. Conversely, since I didn’t write the book to appeal to adolescent males, I don’t dress her like a video-game character in the book (*cough, whore, *cough).

Her confidence, and that of her partner, Trint, is soft, unspoken, but unshakable. For that, I channeled Bruce Lee in his Dragon movies, with a bit of Charles Bronsonian swagger from Once Upon a Time in the West. If you cross Roxx, she’s not really against you, it’s just that you are in her way. So is trail dust. Big deal.

I’ve had fun channeling other distinctly science fiction themes into Roxx, blended together in a cohesive mix that doesn’t stray far from the main story line. After all, life is what happens when you are trying to figure out how to live. Such is as it is with Roxx. There’s a bit of Mad Max, a touch of Jurassic Park, a tablespoon of Thelma and Louise, some Earthbound hard sci-fi, two cups of hard reality, and even a dash of Dorothy Gale, trying to find her way home.

See, the strength of influences is not in trying to come up with your own version of their cooking, but to taste their work and develop a recipe of your own. I think I’ve done that with Roxx. It’s dystopian science fiction without the hopelessness; it is female-centered fiction starring two women who are the opposite of damsels in distress. It is my stew, and though it’s not for everyone, it’s certainly for someone.

And, as always, there is a closing theme. I can’t tell you what it is, because it won’t be written until I finish the sequel, Cool, Like Jazz, which I won’t even write for another year or two. But I can promise this – you’ll know it when you taste it. For now, here’s the closing music. Pretend you can see the credits as you allow your eyes to shut, and taste the Cayenne and bits of Turmeric. Jazz, like her mom, is a spicy little thing.

What is Your Soundtrack

I spent 2+ days struggling with a short story that did not want to come out. I started a few times, but the words didn’t flow, and those that did were not very good. Then, I hit on my soundtrack song. I guess this song hits a particular creative note with me, as I have written more words to this song than any others. This time, I wrote my entire short story to the one song, played on a loop. As soon as I heard it, I remembered how easily the words flowed before. The main character, and the plot line of my current work-in-progress also came while watching the video.

Granted, the story is only 2,288 words, but still. That’s a long time to listen to one song. Interestingly, once I was done, I found myself singing the song, still not tired of it. Perhaps, like movies, each of us has a soundtrack, and it is up to us to find it. This must be the start of mine.

I’m glad I found it, since I’m now 4 stories into my goal of 11. Still behind schedule, but I like the work so far. I anticipate this being a 35,000-word collection (around 100 pages). Not very long, perhaps a novella’s worth of stories. Enough for 99 cents or less, right? The story is raw, and will need much work in editing, but it is out now, and as Shrek says, better out than in.

So, here’s a sampling. I’d be curious to know if the words fit the soundtrack. Somehow, they never do to me. But I am not the proper judge.

Her flesh she has painted with alabaster strokes, and now offers the skin to wary strangers. “Whitewash my picket flesh,” she says. Her smile is dark, and tense, like a cobra set to strike. The men, drudging past in Sawyeresque obedience, will comply, one by sorry one.

It is ten o’clock, and now, she is fully alert, though far from sated. The first hit of the day – one that would kill most – is but a morning cup of coffee to Katie. Now, the early tracks behind her, it is time for breakfast. It is time for juice.

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” she says aloud. Her voice is rich – Dietrich deep and Monroe lush. It is her siren’s song, and few men have had the wisdom to steer clear of her shoals. One passes by, dark suited, oxford wearing, eyes directed forward, and with a steady pace. She smiles at him, standing in the shadows. She sees only the tailored suit, made from the finest wool.

He glances back and hesitates half a step. Her recalcitrant suitor pulls away his eyes, absently fingers the ring on his left hand, and quickens his pace. “Come back soon, baby,” she purrs, calling after him. Again he hesitates, before moving once again, almost at a trot. He is a Good Man, and good little husbands run home to their wives. Nervous, is-this-the-day-I-stop-and-cheat types often stray too close to the District where Katie works. There are no businesses here, and a man with a suit has but one purpose in mind. He will return, and when he does, his ship will run aground in her shallows. A ragged shell of her former self is still a song few men can resist.

Still, he has affected her as much as she surely affected him. She could smell the juice on him. It is a figment, she knows, but it puts the taste in her mind again. Her loins dampen at the thought of her next hit. If all she need promise is sex to get it, no matter. Sex is but illusion; the juice is love. The juice is her climax.

How about you? What’s your soundtrack like?

By the way, The Juice & Other Lies is the working title of the short story collection. (I’m debating whether it should be Crazy Magnet & Other Stories.)

 

Isolation My Butt, It’s Called Being a Douche

Not having the privilege of being a full-time writer, I am struck by the number of times I see (joking or serious) references to self-isolation. Roughly, they equate to “leave me alone, because I’m writer, and I’m creating.”

I imagine this is followed by a haughty fling of one’s writer scarf, as the writer sits in his internet cafe or in her hermetically sealed writer cave, pounding away. It is reinforced in cinema – Stephen King’s The Shining, for example, with Jack Nicholson pounding away in isolation in his haunted writing fortress.

Yeah, he was an alcoholic character, written by an alcoholic writer, perhaps exorcising a few personal demons of his own.

Maybe my bristling at this behavior is just jealousy. I haven’t achieved the success I want – which isn’t sales or acclaim , but reaching people organically, through the work. Maybe I just don’t get the artist’s sensibility, my being an ambidextrous, left-right-brained semi-analyst. I suppose if I were more worthy of the craft I would see the benefit of throwing up walls whenever the Muse arrived.

But see, I learned to write for money. And guess what is expected when you write for money?

1. Consistency. Write every day.

2. Schedule. Write every day because the end date doesn’t move.

3. Interaction. Write in teams, or interact with editors, publishers, other writers, and change your content in accordance with what the team agrees.

4. Organization. Try doing any of the above 3 without it. I double-dog dare you.

See, you don’t get to be isolated, and no one gives two shits about your artist’s sensibilities. It’s due when it’s due. Then, when your writing is done for the day, you go home, and have a life.

Now, I won’t pretend for a second that this kind of writing is as fulfilling as writing a novel, or a poem, or even a personal essay such as this one. However, there are some things that carry forward into creative writing from which I think others can benefit.

For instance, consistency, schedule, organization, and interaction. All of these things take place in “works-for-hire” writing because they need to be there. If you are on a corporate proposal team, you may very well find yourself writing in a room of talkers, plinking away on your little keyboard in your cubicle, with only your self-discipline and earbuds between you and success. Not as creative, but I assure you, the need for crispness, clarity, and readability is at least as great.

“Yeah, but we’re all different,? you say. “Not everyone could thrive in such a scenario.” I agree. In fact, I think you will do better in the works-for-hire sector if you are a little more extroverted, and a little less introverted. But, frankly, that’s true about society as a whole.

Here’s me, for instance. I have a 40-hour a week job, and it’s a pretty damned good one, frankly. At the average newbie-writer book advance, I’d need to plunk out a couple and a half novels a month in order to quit. Not rich by any stretch of the imagination, just the facts of where I live. Full-time-author Bill just ain’t happening. So, I need to balance writing and life, or quit writing.

I’m not quitting.

So, over the course of 2012, I will have put in around 1,920 hours at work, written a 100,000-word novel, written and published one short-story collection of around 60,000 words, edited three novels, published two, and maintained all my personal relationships – the ones I value, anyway. That doesn’t count the blog entries or the poetry or the 5,000 photos that I fit in when I can, nor the time spend trying to  stay abreast of other writers. Writing is a job, but SO IS YOUR FUCKING LIFE. When you meet someone you’re pretty sure you can adore, but you get ANNOYED when they reach out, do not be surprised if they are GONE when you emerge from your word cave.

The problem is NOT that they don’t understand how hard it is being a WRITER. The problem, my love, is that you don’t understand how hard it is being a PERSON. It’s constant, and it takes work. Writing – damned good writing – is the gift that flows from the loves in your life, the stress in your day, the empathy you develop from trudging through the muck with the world around you.

If you’re not in the world with them, why on Earth would they want to read your words? How could you … know? How can it be deep, and rich, and full of the stuff that makes them nod, and cry, and tear at the pages, trying to see how it all turns out.

How can your words weep, if you plonk them out in your cave? They can’t, that’s how.

See, I get frustrated with the  “I’m writing so I’m too busy to deal with you” nonsense. At the very least, the people in our lives deserve the truth. “I’m not really too busy to talk to you, but I think if I don’t spit out all the words at once, they’ll disappear. So let’s pretend I’m too busy, so you’ll be there when I decide to emerge from my hole.”

Kewl. Or, maybe we can practice a little structure – write a paragraph or two on whatever ideas you’re having before you try to turn them into chapters. If it’s all stream-of-consciousness, what the hell difference does it make if you stop to have coffee with the girls? Hell, the book will be based on whatever comes out next anyway. It’s not that hard, it really isn’t.

My advice to writers, trying to balance mundane life with being an artist? Don’t be a douche.

If your words don’t make you cry, tear them up, and call the girls. It’s time to smell the coffee.

Loves ya more than chocolate.

Lies Writers Tell

“Don’t ask a writer what he’s working on.  It’s like asking someone with cancer on the progress of his disease.” – Luke Angel

I often read quotes by writers, hoping to glean a bit of what they think of the process, and more importantly, its place in society. All too often, I come across a quote like the one above. I’ve become convinced that writers say stupid shit like this in order to make non-writers think what we have is a noble cause.

Like an easy button, but cooler

So, allow me to ring the bullshit alarm. It’s not that hard. Contrary to what you may have been told, there is no blood on the forehead. In fact, let me go so far as to say, if getting the words out is painful … you’re probably doing it wrong.

Or, worse yet, maybe you’ve got the wrong hobby. (God forbid it’s your job.) It ain’t supposed to hurt, my lovelies.

Creating characters should be a delight. Learning about them should be nearly as exciting as meeting a new love, making a fast friend, playing with someone else’s cool kid (and sending them home when they get on your nerves).

Now, I’m not trying to insinuate that great writing flows from the fingertips like ink from a pen. Unless you are truly gifted, that is almost certainly not the case. It takes skill to know which words to remove, what holes to fill, how to sharpen the language and craft the story.

But getting out the basics of the story, that should be joy. It is a precious gift to close one’s eyes, open the mind, and let flow what you were given. Art, all art, requires that we can unblock ourselves, you see? Trust me, if you find the place you feel at ease, if you find the right music or tea or favorite fuzzy shoes, whatever brings you that place where you commune with your inner self, you will find the magic.

If you are a writer, I mean, truly a writer, you will discover that you write all the time. There is no such thing as writer’s block. The blockage has nothing at all to do with your ability to write. Rather, it is you blocking yourself. I daresay it is little more than self-editing. In many cases, your internal editor, if you listen closely, has someone else’s voice: a teacher, family member, another writer, or just a random hater. We begin the editing process before we even start to write.

“I’d write, but I have nothing to say.”

How the fuck do you know?

“I would write if I thought I could sell it.”

You won’t sell it if you don’t write it.

My inner editor hates writing things no one reads. But see, I don’t need wealth, or fame, or tons of readers. I, like many writers, if we’re honest, only need one. I had one, as Stephen King calls them, an Ideal Reader. Without her, I don’t know whom to write for. So, much of the time, I keep the stories locked inside.

But something occurred to me today. There is another Ideal Reader out there, and she would probably be pissed if I forgot her next story before I wrote it down. So, I’ve begun to write it.

There is an Ideal Reader for you too. It may even be me. And if it is, I’ll actually call you and yell at you if you lose my story. I will.

We see things all day. We have thoughts each moment. We encounter laughter and silliness. There is heartache and longing. A friend tells me of a personal tragedy that she feels it is now her time to overcome. Another friend sends me a link to the silliest blog on Earth. The book my mind is writing comes to the fore, insisting to be written. I learn of places accepting short stories and decide I must write a few. These are all moments – from God, from luck, from outside of us – that we must capture. There is life out there, and though all see it, we blessed few can capture it, keep it, make it more.

It is a gift, this writing thing. And gifts, my lovelies, don’t get blocked.

We, as writers, must learn to get out of our own way. It is easy to write, my friends. All that is required is to furlough your inner editor. There will be plenty of work for her, later.

There is a reason musicians close their eyes when they play. It is so they can see what they are doing.

Try it for me. Close your eyes, and let it flow. If you cannot type in the dark, then dictate to someone who can. They are only words. There is no need to fear. If you temporarily run out of ideas, relax. There will always be more where those came from.

That’s just your subconscious telling you to shut it, so that it can write more stories.

Writers don’t get blocked; they just quit writing.

Writing in Darkness

Each book I write, I make it a point to write differently than the previous books. My first two books were outlined together, and written as a unit. The third was rigidly plotted, outlined, and written to my detailed notes. Book four, I developed the main characters, did eight hours’ worth of world building (a century’s worth), then wrote the beginning and ending. Once done, I sat down, and allowed the movie to play out in my head as I wrote.

This book is more movie than book. It wants to be visual. It reeks of emotion – joy, love, passion, and heartache. It has a soundtrack, and it sings it to me. Rather, the female singers who form the emotional backbone of the story sing it to me. Theirs will be the emotive backbeat. The music will dance, and flow, sweat and sex, in harmony to the words. It is poetry, this book.

And, I fear, I am not up to the task, not yet.

The previous books, you see, have been naught but practice. This book needed a voice, and I could not sing. Now, though my song be weak, it can be heard. And these warm nights, as it sit in solitude, she begins to sing me her story. My D’ark, my heroine, my new love.

Tonight, the story of her tragic loss played out in exquisite detail before me. I write this, eyes closed, and I can see it still. The blood on her white, silk blouse; his head in her lap; her tears dripping on him quickly enough, that in his torpor, he fears he is dying in the rain. It is all there.

But there is joy, even in sorrow. This I know, and so shall you. If you will but dance to my song.

And so, it begins, and I fear it greatly. You see, I have a lifetime of pain. I have horrors shared with me, torments from those I’ve tried to save. And now, in a torrent, they wish to come out, and be freed by Jeanne Camille Dark. My pain will be hers.

She sings me her stories at night. And, when the book is finished, I shall begin to write it. May God have mercy on my soul.

To make you feel my love.

Why Come I Write, Cont.

This has been, in many ways, an extraordinarily emotional day. For at least an hour, I did not think I would survive it. However, God willing, I shall.

Still, it made me realize I rarely discuss why I write. It is not for riches, nor for fame. I care not for wealth, material goods, or appearances on Letterman or with Oprah. Hell, there is nothing I want from writing for myself.

No, there is but one reason I write, why I have performance goals, to become brilliant, rather than end goals for myself. I could write forever, and still not have the words to explain.

Fortunately, I do not have to. Brilliance has walked before me, and has already said it better than I.Thank you Mr. Dylan.

“Make You Feel My Love” Words and (magic) Copyright Bob Dylan

When the rain is blowin’ in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love.

When the evening shadows and the stars appear
And there is no one there to dry your tears
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love.

I know you haven’t made your mind up yet
But I would never do you wrong
I’ve known it from the moment that we met
No doubt in my mind where you belong.

I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue
I’d go crawlin’ down the avenue
No, there’s nothin’ that I wouldn’t do
To make you feel my love.

Though storms are raging on the rollin’ sea
And on the highway of regrets
Though winds of change are throwing wild and free
You ain’t seen nothin’ like me yet.

I could make you happy, make your dreams come true
Nothing that I wouldn’t do
Go to the ends of the Earth for you
To make you feel my love.”