Monday, March 23, 2015

Interactive Blog and April's Published Story

Short and simple this time:

1.  My short story, "The Zombie's Lament," is in an anthology of short zombie stories (that is, short stories about zombies, not stories about short zombies).  The anthology is called Black Chaos II, and it's published by Big Pulp.  Please see my published works blog for more information.  There'll be a contest to win a free copy of this book after its release.

2.  I've started a blog, called Approximate Word Count (see the tab above), to push me, motivate me, or prod me to write more words, more frequently.  The premise is simple: When I write, I state my [see title].  On Sundays I post my word count for the week.  A friend of mine has joined in.  You'll notice from yesterday's entry that she roundly kicked my butt.  To the point of shaming me, really.  But that's okay, because now I'm motivated to write at least as many words as she did last week.  (She says that it was a bad week for her, so I expect to get my butt kicked again this week, but the point here is simply to be productive and to produce.)  So please feel free to join us on that blog, if you're a serious writer--or, at least, serious about your writing.  Email me (see email above) if you want the rules.  If not, join us and just leave your approximate word count!  Welcome!

3.  Ted Cruz announced he will run for president.  Calls of congratulations came from every single comic in the country--and quite a few Democrats.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Making Money Writing and Secret Windows



Photo: Hardcover art, from the book's Wikipedia site.  (Go there to see the Contents page; one chapter is called "Great Hookers I Have Known," but if you remember your remedial writing days, you'll see right through that.)  I read the paperback with the building on the cover.  This cover is terrible and just a little creepy.  But it's what Wikipedia had.  The building cover is better.

Described as "a companion book to On Writing," this volume reads more as a long interview with King, done over maybe 10 to 12 years, with a couple of never-before-seen stories thrown in. 

It is worth your time.

I put off reading this for awhile because I thought it was, frankly, a cheap attempt to cash-in on his On Writing success.  But that didn't turn out to be the case.  This book is actually much different.  On Writing is, as its title says, at least mostly memoir.  Part writing tutorial, part memoir, is how I speak of it.  But Secret Windows is a book of questions King doesn't answer in On Writing, and as such is, as I said, more of a long interview, over 10-12 years, on a variety of topics--much of them, surprisingly, not about writing, per se.

This book is more for writers, in some ways, than On Writing is.  While that book is mostly memoir and sometimes a writing primer, this one is about the more minute parts of the business.  Did you know that King got an agent to hawk his novels and short stories?  I didn't, because agents don't sell short stories anymore--well, unless you're a Stephen King level writer, that is.  Then they'll be more than happy to sell your underwear or shopping list, just to keep you happy--and their client.  But for you and me, they won't sell our short stories today.  We'd have to do that for ourselves. (I know, because I do.)

Did you know that King sent out a query to agents before he'd finished his manuscript for Carrie?  I didn't, because that's a huge no-no today--and must've been then, too.  Because writers, like everyone else, won't finish something when they say they will, and agents know this.  So they all say--today and, I'm sure, then--that you have to finish the manuscript, perfect it, and then solicit them.  King was more ballsy than that.  He pitched them when he was almost done with his manuscript--for Carrie, I think--and his selling point was the huge list--I'm talking 20 or more here--of short stories he'd sold and been paid well for in just two years.  At $200 per story, times 20 stories--that's $400.  10% of that is $40, so 15% of that is $60.  Many agents in 1974 would take $60 to send out a couple of quick letters to publishers about a client's work.  It would take them about an hour, maybe.  If that.  Probably half an hour.  $60 p/h, max, in 1974 would sound good.  The bottom line is: King essentially was ballsy enough to say to these prospective agents: "Even with my short story sales, I can make money for you."  And then, more importantly, he finished his novel manuscript, just as he said he would.  That's good business, and that turns on agents, too.

So what's to be learned from this?  Be ballsy.  But also be productive, so you have something to be ballsy about.  And then, be good at the business, and finish the manuscript when you say you will.  Lost in all the millions Stephen King makes is that he has always produced, even pre-Carrie, and at a very high level of both quality (ie--it'll sell) and production.  In other words, he's always been bankable, and very good at the business.

You won't learn this kind of thing from On Writing.

You will from Secret Windows.

If you dream of a writing career like I do, you should read it.  And read On Writing, too, of course.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Model and 16-year old boy Arrested and Charged with Insulting Turkey's President

 
 
 

1st Photo, from a site's article I've pasted rather than linked because you should read it, is from http://www.bustle.com/articles/66565-ex-miss-turkey-merve-buyuksarac-faces-prosecution-for-quoting-from-a-poem-on-instagram

2nd Photo: Former Ms. Turkey, Merve Büyüksaraç, from The London Telegraph, at this website, pasted here instead of linked, because you should really read it: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/turkey/11433974/Former-Miss-Turkey-faces-prison-for-insulting-Recep-Tayyip-Erdogan.html

Right now there's another brimming totalitarian regime in the making.  It's in Turkey, where Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, has briefly imprisoned this woman, and who has officially charged her with the crime of criticizing and insulting him.  Ms. Büyüksaraç copied a poem to her Instagram account that over 900,000 other Turkey citizens had shared--yet she has been the only one to be charged with a crime for it.  If convicted, she could serve up to 2 years in prison.

According to the article linked above, "Ms Büyüksaraç shared a quote from the satirical The Master's Poem - in which verses from the Turkish national anthem are used to criticise Mr Erdoğan.
The 26-year-old said she "may have quoted a poem" believed to be from Uykusuz, a Turkish satirical magazine, but soon deleted it after a friend warned her she could have committed a crime."

I am currently looking for this poem, which may also have a different title.  I searched for about 1/2 hour online, to no avail.  If anyone can find it, please comment and let me know so I can put it here as a show of solidarity and of freedom of speech.  (It's okay if it's in a language we can't read; it's the point that counts here.) 

During his time in power, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also:

--blocked Twitter and YouTube for a month, last year

According to the linked article:  "The decision to block Twitter in March 2014 came after audio recordings allegedly revealed corruption among those close to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the then Turkish prime minister. They had been widely shared on Twitter. It was a tense period ahead of the country's local elections and despite the outrage and upset the ban caused, the leading Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the majority of votes. Mr Erdoğan became president in August."

--charged a 16-year old boy with the same crime.  According to this site, "In a case that attracted wide attention, teenage schoolboy Mehmet Emin Altunses will go on trial on March 6 on charges of insulting the president in a speech in the conservative Anatolian city of Konya."  In a more specific article, from The Guardian, a Pulitzer-prize winning paper: "The 16-year-old student, Mehmet Emin Altunses, was taken away from his school on Wednesday and jailed for making a speech during a student protest in which he reportedly said Erdoğan was regarded as the “thieving owner of the illegal palace”."

--built the "palace" the boy referred to.  This palace--home of Turkey's President, not king--is "the world's biggest palace" and is outlined in this article:

"It boasts 1,000 rooms and has a total floor area of 3.1 million square feet. This makes it four times the size of Versailles, home of the lavish Louis XIV, the “Sun King” of France. Buckingham Palace only has 775 rooms. In Turkish, it's called the Ak Saray - White Palace - and, as the Telegraph's David Blair points out, the "quixotic architectural style seems to cross the Ottoman and Seljuk traditions with that of a modern Chinese railway station". Then there's the silk wallpaper.
The former Turkish prime minister also spent £115 million on a new presidential jet."

The palace looks like this inside (and that's the man you're reading about):


--ordered armed policemen to stand outside a newspaper's office and inspect copies to make sure it did not publish what the government considered a dangerous photo from Paris's magazine Charlie Hebdo.  That magazine had itself come under attack by extremists, and many of its writers and other employees had been shot and killed.  Consider this quote, from express.co.uk:

"Delivery trucks leaving the offices of Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, based in Istanbul, were stopped by police after the publication revealed plans to publish cartoons from the French weekly.
The trucks were only allowed to pass after armed officers confirmed the French magazines' controversial front cover not been included in the newspaper."

And the photos from that site:





I say that any country that tells armed policemen to stand outside of a newspaper's office is not a free country, and it does not have freedom of speech.  Any country that restricts internet and social media access to its citizens is not a free country.  Any country that arrests a former model for sharing a post that over 900,000 other Turkish citizens had also shared is not a free country.  Any country that arrests a 16-year old boy from his classroom because he had the nerve to question the ultra-lavish abode of his non-monarchy, is not a free country.  This is odd, because Turkey actually is a free, non-secular (for now) country.  Its leader is a president, not a king or religious leader.

But for how long?
 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Night Shift by Stephen King


Photo: First edition hardcover, from the book's Wikipedia site.


Very successful collection of short stories that spawned some (really bad) movies.  I'd read this book as a much younger guy, but had forgotten most of the stories, so I went back to it and appreciated it all over again.  I've lost somewhere my original copy--the one shown here--and so I've had to make do with the "Children of the Corn," movie tie-in version I have here now.  Somebody, probably me, had switched copies over the years, and I can't tell you why.  Odd.  And I want the original one back.

The ones I remembered from (literally) my youth were: "The Last Rung on the Ladder" (still my favorite here), "Jerusalem's Lot," "Graveyard Shift," "Strawberry Spring," "The Bogeyman," "Gray Matter," and, because of the incredibly bad movies, "Children of the Corn" and "Lawnmower Man."

"The Last Rung on the Ladder" and "The Woman in the Room" work especially well because there's nothing supernatural in them.  Both stories--especially the former--read well because they are of the "Nothing's More Scary than Real Life" genre--which should be a genre if it isn't.

All of the stories are either good or very good, but I was pleased to discover a couple more.  "One for the Road" works really well, and is one of the scarier ones here.  If "Jerusalem's Lot" was originally a chapter in Salem's Lot--I think I got this right from King, who said it opened his book and was taken out just like Stoker's "Dracula's Guest" opened up Dracula and was taken out--then "One for the Road" takes place after Salem's Lot ends.  It's mentioned in the story that Ben Mears had burned the town down.  I would've put this story last in the collection, rather than second-to-last.  "Jerusalem's Lot" opens it up, so it would've been nice book-ending to have "One for the Road" end it.  Or perhaps that's too-slick serendipity, like the similar paths taken by Stoker's and King's vampire stories.

"One for the Road," "Strawberry Spring" and "The Last Rung on the Ladder" are the best-written stories here.  Almost all of these stories, by the way, were originally published in Cavalier magazine, a now-defunct magazine of a certain sort, if you know what I mean.  I wonder what men of the 70s made out of these well-written, and sometimes philosophically-bent, ruminations next to those explicitly explicit pictures of...well, you know.  It'd be a little jolting, I'd imagine.  He also got paid a few hundred bucks, per story, by that magazine, which is really good money for short stories, especially in the 70s.  My guess is that the magazine was trying to become the next glossy picture and literary high-end magazine of one of its bunny-themed competitors, and failing miserably.  (That bunny magazine, by the way, still pays a few thousand dollars for a short story, and always has.  So the lie could also be "I was reading the stories!" instead of "I buy it for the articles!")

Anyway, what I've learned here is that King has an idea and he writes it.  The simplicity of that is sort of shocking to me.  So here we have a story about a possessed laundry-pressing machine; a story about monstrous and blind rats; a story about trucks taking over the world; a story of a company that hurts those you love to help you quit smoking; a story about a hitman done in by the toys sent by the mother of his latest victim...and they all work, in varying degrees.

Think it, write it; think it, write it; think it, write it.  And why not?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"A Matter of Principle" by Charles W. Chesnutt, Library of America


Photo: Charles Chesnutt, at 40.  From his Wikipedia page. The reason I include his picture will be apparent when you read below.

I haven't read one of the short stories sent to me, for free, from the Library of America.  This is a service I recommend, and I've written about a few of the stories (Charles W. Chesnutt's "Baxter's Procrustes," one of my most-read blog entries, can be read here; another, Henry James's "Paste," can be read here).  I've fallen almost two years behind on these, as they're sent to an email I rarely check, and I have trouble finishing things (::cough::--novel-::cough::) besides.

These Library of America emails highlight a short story, short novel, article, or other piece of writing that the Library of America has collected in a volume of that author.  I own a couple of these, and can say that they are worth the price--though a high price it is.  I didn't say I could afford it; I just said each was worth it.  Anyway, these are high-quality and important stories, diary entries (soon I'll read Gideon Welles's diary entries about his first-hand knowledge of Lincoln's assassination) and other things.  They're short, often between five and twenty pages, so they don't take long to read.  Sign up for this service here.

The story of this blog entry, Week 264 (like I said, I'm several years behind) is Charles W. Chesnutt's "A Matter of Principle."  (The Library of America apparently loves Charles W. Chesnutt.)  You can read this story on your own here--but before you do, read the following disclaimer.  The story is about what, at the time, was called...Well, here's how the Library of America introduced the story, and its author:

Several of his stories and novels deal with the comic—and occasionally tragic—effects of the social confusion and legal complications that result from attempts to determine or avoid this “color line.” As a light-skinned African American, Chesnutt particularly reserved what he called “a very kindly irony” for those of his fellow Cleveland residents who were regarded as black by white society yet who presented themselves as superior to their darker neighbors. Or, as biographer William L. Andrews writes, Chesnutt satirized “an assimilationist philosophy among upwardly mobile, light-skinned Afro-Americans which implied ‘absorption’ into the white race as its goal.”
Why would Chesnutt write about this, and what exactly is it?  This explains it, from Chesnutt's Wikipedia page:

"Chesnutt was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Andrew Chesnutt and Ann Maria (née Sampson) Chesnutt, both "free persons of color" from Fayetteville, North Carolina. His paternal grandfather was known to be a white slaveholder and, based on his appearance, Chesnutt likely had other white ancestors. He claimed to be seven-eighths white, and identified as African American. Given his overwhelming European ancestry, Chesnutt could "pass" as a white man, although he never chose to do so. In the 19th century and in many southern states at the time of his birth, Chesnutt was considered legally white. Under the one drop rule later adopted into law by the 1920s in most of the South, he would have been classified as legally black because of having some known African ancestry."  Check out Chesnutt's Wikipedia page for other interesting things about an interesting guy during interesting times.  A talented and creative author could not make up the "one drop rule."

Back to my disclaimer: The story is all about race, which some people find iffy, and it contains language that is simply not acceptable today--more stinging in this story, to me, because it's used by African-Americans in judgment of other African-Americans.  Chesnutt's writing was written in a light-hearted way, and this story was meant to be seen that way when it was published in 1899.  It may not seem light-hearted to the reader today; or, at least, some of its words and tone may not.  So consider yourself forewarned.

Anyway, the bottom line for this blog entry is this.  I got to thinking that the main characters of this story, as well as the Congressman in it, and the story's author, Charles Chesnutt--and, say, Derek Jeter--would have had no problem at all walking into a southern restaurant, in the 50s, let's say, that had a sign saying it would not serve African-Americans.  Why?  Because they didn't look African-American.  But what does that even mean?  (This is the essential question behind Chesnutt's story.)  One could legally answer that question, apparently, by using the 1920s "one drop rule" of the South.  But, I mean, what does it mean, really, since one can't always tell, by sight, who is, and who is not, African-American?  If Chesnutt, or Derek Jeter, or countless others who don't look African-American, can walk into a restaurant that didn't serve African-Americans--and then get served--well, then, the whole racial divide is unnecessary and undefinable, isn't it?  If it's possible that you can serve an African-American, and not know it, then what's your problem, exactly?

Now fast-forward to today, to some states, like Arizona, where, by law, businesses don't have to serve any member of the lesbian, gay, trans-gendered community.  Or to Kansas, where, by law, business owners don't have to hire someone (or, they can fire someone) based solely on his sexual orientation.

(I know you can see where I'm going with this.)

It's the same thing, isn't it?  Can you always tell who's gay and who isn't?  Is anyone's gay-dar that perfect?  Isn't it possible that some gay men and women could walk into a bakery that won't serve gay people--and get served?  If so, then isn't the whole thing as unnecessary and undefinable as the situation above?  If a gay person who doesn't "look" or "act" like a gay person can walk into a restaurant that doesn't serve gay people--and then get served--then isn't it all ridiculous?  If it's possible that you can serve a gay person in a business you own, that you proudly exclaim doesn't serve gay people, and still not know that you're serving gay people, than what's your problem, exactly?

Doesn't sound reasonable or logical to me.

P.S.--This is why literature is important.  A story from 1899 will have relevance to racist America, 1930-1960 (rough estimate), and also have the exact same relevance to something happening today.

I'm just sayin'.