Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

richieMany thanks to my friend Dave for making me aware of this Craigslist ad, which I am honest-to-freakin-God not making up:

Emotional Writer Needed For Support Community for Affluent Individuals

Special community for people who have earned a lot of money or been born into a wealthy family needs a blog ghostwriter. The focus of the community is providing psychological support for the problems money brings — family tensions, unfulfillable expectations, boredom, etc. To do this you must be intimately familiar with the problems faced by wealthy people. If you grew up wealthy or through some other means can write detailed blog posts on this topic, please get in touch.

The posts need to be highly personal, emotional and have a strong editorial voice. These are anything but generic lectures. We are looking for 3 posts per week and each post pays $30. If you’re interested, please send a brief cover letter with some suggested topics so we can see that you really can come up with specific topics which touch the hearts of people from affluent families along with some writing samples of your personal, emotionally charged writing. It should all be pasted into the body of the email. We can’t open attachments. Thanks!

 

Here’s my application. I would appreciate any feedback:

I am responding to the request for a blog ghostwriter serving your special community that provides psychological support for the problems money brings. I believe that I am qualified. For I myself have felt the ache within my heart that comes with being born into wealth, and would like to bring succor and comfort to those similarly afflicted.

Yes, I was born into money. My father was a wealthy entrepreneur who pioneered the use of orphans’ tears as industrial lubricant. My mother was a heavy hitter in the fashion industry. I assume you’re familiar with the Bulimiqúe line of designer emetics?

I grew up in what many would consider comfortable circumstances. Champagne mimosas to go with my Fruity Pebbles. Servants fighting with claw hammers for my amusement. I attended exclusive boarding schools, was summarily spanked by headmistresses, and tipped accordingly.

Starting from young adulthood, my life was a glittering panorama of trendy nightclubs, casinos and resorts. Monaco. Dubai. Atlantis. (Oh, it exists. Don’t laugh. Hard to get a decent vodka martini there, but it’s one of the few places in the world where the hookers are willing to give you a “Tijuana Bassoon Solo.” Tijuana, surprisingly, is not one of them.)

Yet the suffering inherent to my lot in life tormented me night and day. The family tensions. The unfulfillable expectations. The boredom. The incessant whining of those crybabies complaining about picayune annoyances such as lack of access to basic nutrition and health care. How I wept inside at the tragedy that was my existence!

I recently remarked upon this to a friend. We were at a resort in … oh, I forget the country. All I remember is that the natives were distastefully short and swarthy. But they did have a nice restaurant. One of those places where you can go up to a pen full of albino snow leopards and pick out which one you want for your entrée.

Anyway, we were sitting at a table. My friend was tucking into his albino snow leopard stir fry, and I was snorting a line of Peruvian flake off a tragically beautiful Victoria Secret model’s cleavage.

“You know,” my friend said, “if only there was a blog devoted to alleviating the anguish of those such as us.”

“That’s it!” I cried. “That is my mission in life! To be a literary champion who speaks out against the cruel oppression of the rich in our society! For we bleed, my friend. We bleed. Yet what is the heart that pumps that blood if not a heart of fire for the songs of freedom and mercy that course unto the night eternal?”

“I … didn’t really get any of that,” my friend said.

“Sorry,” I replied. “That’s the Peruvian flake talking.”

And so I offer my services as your scribe. Your champion. Your villain’s banana. Wait. Did that last one make any sense? This Peruvian flake is kicking my ass. Damn! What were we just talking about?

For EmmyOne work that had a big influence on me as both a writer and a reader was Alan Moore’s run on D.C.’s “Swamp Thing” comic books, which I read when I was in college back in the ’80s. I was never a big comics fan. But I read them at a friend’s suggestion and was blown away.

In particular, I admired Moore’s approach to symbolism. The way he employed classic monsters to represent some larger point about society or the human condition.

He wasn’t the first to do that, of course. From their inception, monsters such as Dracula and Mr. Hyde personified malicious forces lurking just below the placid surface of Victorian society. You could argue that horror fiction — stretching back to ancient folklore and myth — has always served as a Rorschach blotch where a careful observer can pick out the anxieties of the individual or society that produced it.

What I liked was the fact that Moore was so obvious about the symbolism.

A couple of my English professors, the same blinkered souls who told me that comic books and speculative fiction are artistically worthless, insisted that obvious symbolism is a failing on the part of an author. Symbolism is supposed to be some elusive entity hiding among inert plots and passive characters, unknowable to the unwashed masses and detectable only to those who truly understand “great literature.”

Moore’s attitude? Fuck that. The zombies are the undying legacy of racism. The werewolves are simmering female rage in the face of institutionalized sexism. Boom.

I’m not talking about symbolism where the author bonks you over the head because he or she clearly feels you’d be too dumb to pick up on it otherwise. I’m talking about symbolism that’s out in the open because the writer sees no reason to hide it. There’s a narrative to tell. A point to make. Why not let the power of the story directly engage the reader, rather than play some coy game of hide-and-seek as to what it’s about?

I thought of that approach to symbolism when I read “For Emmy,” a novella by Mary SanGiovanni — another story that openly states its larger theme and proceeds to illustrate it in an indelible manner.

The theme, and I’m not really giving away any spoilers here since it crops up at the beginning, is despair in face of our inability to guarantee the safety of those we love. In this case, initially at least, the loved one is a missing little girl.

That’s an old theme, of course. From folklore dealing with fairie kidnappings all the way up through “The Exorcist” and beyond.

But what makes “For Emmy” distinctive is that it isn’t concerned as much with the initial terror of the disappearance so much as its aftermath. It’s more about the way that the corrosive residue of a tragedy can continue to eat away at those touched by it for years afterward. And it leads up to a conclusion that’s subtly rendered, but gut-wrenching in its impact.

I was impressed that SanGiovanni was able to convey this sense of lingering tragedy and long-term psychic damage in a mere 107 pages. She’s a propulsive, efficient storyteller with a good sense of the telling details that move a narrative along, but I wouldn’t describe “For Emmy” as a slam-bang read. Her technique is refined. Almost delicate. For all the horror in the story (and make no mistake, it is scary) the pervasive mood  is a kind of despairing melancholy. Which makes a quietly devastating final twist that much more affecting.

Ultimately, the book is about the extent to which the realization of our inability to protect loved ones can warp us. Not a reassuring message, to be sure. But then again, we don’t really read horror fiction to be reassured, do we?

Remember my review of “Clones, Fairies & Monsters in the Closet,” the anthology of LGBT-themed genre fiction? If not, read it here. Then read the book itself. It’s really good. But “Big Pulp” publishes a lot more in the way of quality fiction. Solely in terms of title and concept, I guess my favorite Big Pulp book has to be “Apeshit,” a collection of ape-themed stories. Anyway, you can fine out more about Big Pulp here. And Big Pulp’s publisher, Bill Olver, generously agree to an interview with Chamber of the Bizarre. So here goes:

 

What is Big Pulp, and what are your publications?

Big Pulp is a brand covering a line of publications featuring science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, and romance fiction and poems. I started with an online-only version of Big Pulp magazine in 2008 and published the first print edition in December 2010. Since then I’ve branched out into themed anthologies—including Clones, Fairies & Monsters in the Closet; APESHIT; and The Kennedy Curse.

 

When, how and why did you start it?

I started working on the website in 2007 and officially published our first story on March 3, 2008. I started Big Pulp for a variety of reasons. Foremost, I wanted to publish the kind of magazine that I wanted to find at the bookstore, but couldn’t. Also, I wanted a creative outlet and a way to meet other writers, artists, and book lovers. I had worked with other small press owners over the years and self-published before, so I had some background with small DIY publishing. I’m a writer, too, but I also enjoy being on the opposite side of the equation. I like watching a project come together.

It was a lot of work, but not very complicated. I wanted to do it, so I did. I had set aside a small fund to pay writers and artists for allowing me to publish their work online and to pay for webhosting. Once I was happy with the first version of the website, I started soliciting and reading submissions.

 

How do you go about marketing Big Pulp publications?

I engage on social media through Facebook and Twitter, and have a mailing list that I’ve compiled over the last few years. I attend as many book fairs and fan conventions as I can during the year, which are a significant portion of my annual sales. And of course, I’ve published hundreds of writers over the past 6 years, who help spread the word to their networks of friends and fans.

 

As an editor, what qualities do you look for in submissions?

I like stories that get to the point. I read a lot of submissions that take three pages to set up their story, so I appreciate writers who have made the effort to cut extraneous details and scenes from their work. I also like work with a strong point of view. Not just a strong narrator, but an opinion or an idea that the writer wants to express. I’m not interested in “good guy kills bad guy” stories. Give me something to think about.

Of course, the basics are important – avoiding clichés and trite situations, choosing precise descriptive language, and writing dialogue that sounds like something someone would actually say.

The Big Pulp “flavor” tends to be on the dark side – abrasive narrators, black humor, bad choices, melancholy results. Not all of our stories are of that type, of course, but my editorial tastes veer in that direction.

 

How did “Clones, Fairies and Monsters in the Closet” come about, and what was your intent in publishing it?

I didn’t have any special intent, other than I thought it would be fun. While reading for Big Pulp magazine, I started getting a lot of LGBT-themed genre work without specifically soliciting it, and when I was considering adding anthologies to my line of publications, an LGBT-themed book was on my rather lengthy list of possible themes.

It was simply an area where my interests and the interests of my writers intersected at the right time. I had published a number of writers who already were working in the theme, so I was confident I would receive enough high quality submissions for a collection.

 

Do you feel that there’s still some discrimination against LGBT-themed literature in the field of genre fiction, or in publishing in general?

I’m sure there is, but I also know there are many welcoming outlets and options for writers in the field.

 

What sort of response has the anthology generated?

It’s been a consistent seller over the last year. The collection was also a recommended text for a gender studies class at Victoria University in Australia, which was a complete surprise and a real honor.

 

Are there any upcoming projects from Big Pulp that you’d like to mention?

This year, I’ve added three new periodicals to our slate of publications – Child of Words (SF&F); M (horror and mystery); and Thirst (romance).

In addition to those, my latest anthology is Black Chaos: Tales of the Zombie (June 1, 2014). This collection features 25 writers, many of them new to Big Pulp, all with a different take on the zombie theme.

 

What advice would you give an aspiring fiction writer?

Never stop learning – whether through reading, studying, or having others critique your work. Curiosity, an open mind, and willingness to learn will help you develop your craft and keep your work from stagnating once you’ve mastered it.

For those considering submitting their work to any publication, be sure to research your markets. I receive a lot of submissions from writers who obviously have no idea what I publish. Also, please properly format your manuscripts – Times, 12 pt, double-spaced is great. Don’t use a crazy font, don’t use the space bar to indent the first line of a paragraph and don’t hit return at the end of every line. Editors everywhere will thank you.

I had a great time this past weekend at Enigma Bookstore in Astoria, N.Y., at a panel discussion with fellow Codorus Press authors Wayne Lockwood, author of Acid Indigestion Eyes: Collected Essays and Musings on Generation X and Alex Segura, author of Silent City. First off, the bookstore was really cool. They specialize in science fiction, fantasy and mystery. You could just tell by browsing the selection that the owners have a genuine love for — and excellent taste in — the aforementioned genres. It’s the type of bookstore I’d make a roadtrip just to visit. And I really enjoyed sitting on the panel and talking about writing with Wayne and Alex, too. It was funny. We got so engrossed in our talk that somebody had to remind us — hey, you guys might want to sell some books, as long as you’re here.

One element of our discussion that I found particularly interesting was a conversation about how a story comes together. This mainly had to do with fiction. And while “Acid Indigestion Eyes” is nonfiction, Wayne is currently working on a novel so he was able to share some insights as well.

While I’d read and admired “Silent City” (see my review here), Alex and I had never met or discussed the writing process before. So I found it interesting that he also experienced a phenomenon I encountered numerous times when I was writing The Freak Foundation Operative’s Report. It’s the moment when my characters did something I hadn’t expected. And the book took a turn that made me say: “Whoah! Didn’t see THAT coming!” That was kind of unnerving, since I was WRITING the freakin thing! (more…)

MadMan! My friends are the best!

I went to a Christmas/New Year party last weekend, and my buddy Doug Ferguson got my 2014 off to a very good start by presenting me with the pictured issue of “Mad” magazine, signed by writer Dick DeBartolo. Thanks Doug!

Doug’s a tech guy, and he’s a fan of DeBartolo’s netcast “The Giz Wiz,” in which he talks about gadgets. I myself am not a tech guy, but I still listened to “The Giz Wiz” on Doug’s recommendation, and found it highly entertaining. By the way, be sure to check out Doug’s blog here.

My familiarity with DeBartolo comes from his status as a long-time writer for “Mad,” going back to the early 1960s. He specialized in the movie and TV satires, which were usually my favorite parts of the magazine when I was a kid. He also wrote an account of his experiences in “Good Days and Mad: A Hysterical Tour Behind the Scenes at Mad Magazine.”

So I started leafing through the signed copy of “Mad,” and thinking about how much I loved that magazine as a kid. I’d like to think that when I was writing “The Freak Foundation Operative’s Report,” DeBartolo and “The Usual Gang of Idiots” (the appellation by which the magazine’s editorial staff customarily referred to themselves) were kicking around in my subconscious.

If so, I wouldn’t be the first one to cite “Mad” as an influence. So have writers with “The Simpsons” and “The Onion.” Even Joyce Carol Oates has sung its praises.

I stopped reading it at roughly the time I entered high school, around 1981. When I was in grade school, I first started reading the new issues that came out in the late 1970s. Then I started buying second-hand issues from earlier years, as well as paperbacks showcasing material from the 1950s and ’60s. I loved it all.

Here’s the funny thing — much as I hungrily devoured every issue I could get my hands on, I always felt vaguely depressed after reading them for reasons I couldn’t understand at the time. In retrospect, I think the reason tied in with why I found them so fascinating.

Social critic Tim Gitlin once described Mad as “bubble gum nihilism,” which strikes me as a very apt description. Looking back, I marvel at the balancing act that the writers and artists of “Mad” managed to pull off. They kept it ostensibly within the realm of children’s entertainment, always toeing that line but never quite crossing it. (I noted in the issue Doug got me that they’re still using the word “dreck” as a thinly veiled substitute for “shit.”)

What amazes me, given those strictures, is how subversive, bracing, sharp and ultimately bleak they managed to make the humor. Even in gloriously sardonic comedy such as “The Simpsons” and “Arrested Development,” you get glimpses of redeeming intentions and behavior. Not so with “Mad.” Its sensibility was more analogous to “Eastbound & Down” or “Archer.” Unremitting in its cynicism. Every emotion, every action, every institution, every human impulse was ultimately grounded in venal self-interest, lust, or stupidity. Nobody and nothing was above mockery. The Usual Gang of Idiots were simply hanging back and reporting on it with knowing smirks on their faces — advising you that existence is nothing but an unkind joke, so you might as well laugh at it. I can’t begin to describe how refreshing that was for me, as a Catholic school boy from suburban South Jersey raised on Tom Swift and Hardy Boys books.

(And for the record, based on the netcast, Dick DeBartolo sounds like a wonderful human being. That’s often the case — people with the most cynical, biting sense of humor in print turn out to be the nicest people when you meet them in person. Maybe because they have a means of getting it out of their system.)

As I leaf through this recent issue of “Mad,” it looks a lot different from the magazine I remember. It’s in color, and printed on slick paper. I don’t recognize most of the artists and writers. It’s full of references to modern pop culture and technology.

But it’s still sharp. It’s still lively. And most importantly, it’s still funny.

So Alfred E. Neuman, my friend, it’s good to see you again after all these years. Thanks for the laughs. (Eccch! What a load of dreck!)


As you’ve probably gathered from this blog, I read a lot. But I pick my reading material in kind of a haphazard way, so I can’t claim to be up on the latest trends or have comprehensive knowledge of any particular genre.

So maybe this isn’t as rare as I think. But here’s the deal. With his debut novel, Silent City, Alex Segura has written a crime thriller set in Miami populated by … get this … actual human beings.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of what Dave Barry has called the “bunch of nuts in South Florida genre” of crime fiction. Love Tim Dorsey. Carl Hiaasen is like a god to me. (Jeff Lindsay’s “Dexter” is a bit more problematic. And I stopped following the TV series, which I hear jumped the shark big-time after I wrote this post. *Sigh*)

Much of the fun of the aforementioned writers is their over-the-top style and zany characters. I also admire the way that Hiaasen manages to get in touches that humanize even the most eccentric of his characters, such as the hirsute thug “Tool” in “Skinny Dip.”

That being said, you can overwork even the most appealing story elements, as I wrote about here. I love it when I’m reading a detective story published in the 1940s, and a dame who looks like trouble walks into a private dick’s office. I cringe when the same thing happens in a book published in 2013. Sometimes there’s a fine line between paying homage to a classic convention, and kicking it to death in the alley out back.

Segura’s book has many of the elements of a vintage hard-boiled detective novel. A missing woman. A mysterious killer. A hard-drinking hero with one last shot at redemption, and a cast of characters as apt to drop false leads as they are to provide clues.

And Miami’s no safer than it is in the conventional crime thriller set there. It’s still the Wild West on crank, full of drug runners, killers-for-hire and corrupt cops. This is no cozy mystery.

But “Silent City” feels refreshing in large part because the characters ring true. They’re motivated by recognizable emotions, and behave in believable ways when thrust into desperate situations. The story is set around a newspaper. And as a former longtime newspaper reporter myself, I can verify that Segura nailed the different personality types who haunt newsrooms.

One of those is the hero of the book, sports editor Pete Fernandez.

Pete’s on a downward spiral. He’s still licking his wounds from a broken relationship, mourning the recent death of his homicide detective father, and barely managing to choke back his anger at the smarmy corporate types gathering at his newspaper like hyenas to feast on newspaper journalism’s corpse.

He’s drinking heavily, sabotaging what remains of his career and pissing off his few remaining friends.

Then a dodgy columnist from his paper approaches him with an unusual request. He wants Pete to look into the disappearance of his daughter — an investigative reporter who was working on a piece about a mysterious underworld assassin known only as “Silent Death.”

Dangerous complication arise, as they will in this type of story. Nobody’s giving Pete a lot of credit. But he learned a trick or two from his father, and may have more grit and resources at his disposal than either friend or enemy suspects.

In the best noir fashion, the ensuing mystery dredges up some ghosts from Pete’s past. And it has the requisite double-crosses, edgy characters and twists.

I guess really, that’s the challenge for any writer of genre fiction. Hitting the beats that make fans love the genre in the first place, without hitting them so predictably that they’re drained of all vitality. Segura manages that balance admirably.

And he ends the story with a promise of more to come. That’s good news for fans of quality crime fiction.

duck dynastyI could be fired for writing this. By “this,” I don’t mean the words to follow. I mean that this very sentence I’m typing right now, in this format, could theoretically get me canned.

By the way — Hi, regular readers! Assuming any of you are still left. Sorry I haven’t posted in so long. I took a new job, and for a while I was commuting 90 minutes each way. I really didn’t have time to do much posting.

I don’t want to tell you where I work, for reasons that will become apparent. Suffice it to say that it’s a media-related job with a sizable corporation. I like it. I’m happy with my employers and my co-workers.

But I wasn’t happy about one stipulation that I had to agree to when I took the job. It stated, effectively, that I was barred from public communication outside the job. No books. No blogs. In light of the fact that this was a week before my book was scheduled to be released, I was less than pleased.

One of my supervisors confirmed what I suspected. The company didn’t intend to vigorously enforce this provision. It was just in place so they’d be covered in case I should decide to start a blog devoted entirely to trashing my employer. Or something outrageous that might hurt our public image, such as white supremacist propaganda.

I guess that sort of “no public controversy clause” is increasingly common. But is it right?

I started considering that when I read about Phil Robertson, the guy who got fired from the hit A&E reality series “Duck Dynasty” over his homophobic remarks in an interview with GQ.

I’ll say a few things up front. This might be a wishy-washy piece, because I’m not going to arrive at any answers here. I simply don’t have them. All I intend to do — all I’m capable of doing — is raising a few points that may be worth considering. I’m not a big TV watcher. I’ve never seen “Duck Dynasty,” nor have I ever felt any desire to check it out. I have gay and lesbian friends and relatives, and I am a staunch supporter of their rights. Robertson’s remarks about homosexuality, which I will not reiterate here, were grossly insulting to these friends and family members of mine. They disgusted me.

I saw some comments on social media to the effect that A&E’s decision to fire Robertson was a violation of the constitutional principle of freedom of speech. My first reaction, when I saw those comments, was to roll my eyes. Don’t these people understand what “the constitutional principle of freedom of speech” means? It refers to the role of government. If a government agency subjected Robertson to some kind of legal sanction for his remarks, THAT would be a violation of constitutional principles. Didn’t happen.

He has a legal right to say whatever he wants. And if I find his remarks offensive (which I do) and decide to start a boycott of A&E unless they fire him (which seems unnecessary at this point), I’m exercising my freedom of speech. The system works.

But is it really that simple?

Let’s not talk about Freedom of Speech, the constitutional principle. Let’s talk about plain ol’ freedom of speech — the ability to say what you want, when you want. The rationale for Robertson’s firing is that he entered into a contract with A&E. He was essentially serving as a public face of the company.  If he does something to make himself a liability to the network, they can fire him. Nobody forced him to sign that contract at gunpoint.

Obviously, that kind of thing is very important for TV personalities, whose entire job description is based on being in the public eye. Companies should be able to dismiss employees who become liabilities in that respect, right?

Yet, that also sounds very similar to the company policy that says I can be fired for writing this blog post. Nobody forced me at gunpoint to sign that agreement. (Although I was informed of that policy only after I’d left my previous employer and showed up for the first day of the new job. Just sayin’.)

And I can’t say I’d necessarily be opposed to that policy, under certain circumstances. I work hard doing my part to make the company I work for successful. Ideological objections aside, I would be very annoyed if a colleague negated my efforts by driving off potential customers with a misogynistic blog or self-published anti-Semitic rant tract. Even if he wrote said blog or rant tract on his own time, it would make little difference if people saw him as the public face of the company. I’d likely be happy if this theoretical co-worker got his ass fired.

But at the risk of stating the obvious, it’s easy to protect speech you agree with and condemn speech you disagree with. The problem is that it’s always a double-edged sword. Sanctions that you condone for the guy you DON’T agree with can eventually apply to the one you DO agree with. Or to you.

So let’s look at employers with the “no public controversy” clause. Like mine. Yeah, you could argue that nobody’s forcing anybody to work for them. But would that really hold any more water than the argument that nobody was forcing black people to patronize segregated diners in the early 1960s?

And say that clause went on to become as ubiquitous and accepted as workplace prohibitions on smoking. What if you had no reasonable option other than to accept it?

It’s not hard to imagine some dire possibilities arising from that scenario. For example, picture selective enforcement where bosses fired employees with blogs supporting Political Candidate A, but looked the other way when they supported Political Candidate B. Having recently worked for an employer that blatantly harassed union supporters via selective enforcement, I know that’s no abstract hypothetical.

So there’s no question A&E had a legal right to fire Robertson, and a sound practical reason to do so. I’m just wondering if I should be applauding what happened to him. Even if I think he’s wrong.

By the way — you may wonder why I’m writing this, despite what I was saying back there in the first sentence. It’s because I believe in freedom of speech.  Although I’m not always sure what it means these days.

Old Mrs. MacNamara used to live down the street where I grew up, and the kids all loved to hear her talk about the superstitions from her native Ireland. Never butter a slice of toast when it’s raining outside, lest you bring bad luck down upon your house. Leave a saucer of milk outside on the night of a new moon as an offering to the wee folk, lest they bedevil your dreams and tie knots in your hair at night. Close your eyes every time you walk past a sewer grate, lest the Screaming Purple Monkey Man climb out, burrow through your eye sockets and eat your brain. Later, we found out those weren’t really Irish superstitions. She just did a lot of acid.

I’ll be in York, Pa., tonight, promoting The Freak Foundation Operative’s Report. I’m doing a reading, book signing and TV interview at the York Emporium, 343 W. Market St. If you’re in town, feel free to come by and heckle me.

Hey folks! I haven’t been posting for a long time. Two good things happened. I got a new job and my book, “The Freak Foundation Operative’s Report,” got released. But those two things happening at the same time was kind of inconvenient. I’ve been putting in some long hours at the new job, going through training and whatnot. And I had some technical glitches getting the book up on Amazon, Anyway, I’m back and here’s the book. Yaaaaaay!