I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream – RIP, Harlan Ellison

Sad news in sci-fi land. Harlan Ellison has left us. After 84 years of manic, mad whimsy … our Harlequin is no more. John Scalzi has written a touching essay that’s available over at the LA Times and I link it here because I can’t do the man justice, myself. Tim Minear has a hysterical Harlan story over on Facebook.

For all the crazy stories about Ellison, one fact remained crazier – they weren’t stories. He really was a madcap bohemian rebel, determined to annoy, destroy, and disrupt any conventional piece of wisdom he came across. I never met him personally, perhaps this was a good thing. In memoriam, here is Harlan doing an audiobook reading of his famous short story.

Goodnight, you strange beast.

Emotional Authenticity: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day

Emotional Authenticity: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day

I picked up a copy of one of my favorite children’s books at the second-hand book shop here in town. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day was one of my favorite books as a kid. It’s like sunshine for the soul to come back to it now. One of the things that stands out with this book is its emotional authenticity. I didn’t notice it when I was eight, but it’s positively gripping to me now.

If you’ve never heard of the book, or if you’re only familiar with the movie, you owe it to yourself to check it out. The synopsis says it all: “From the moment Alexander wakes up, things just go wrong in his way. As he gets up, the chewing gum that was in his mouth the night before ends up in his hair. He trips on the skateboard and drops his sweater in the sink while the water is running. He finds out that it is going to be a terrible, horrible, no good very bad day.”

For a book that’s older than I am, the story holds up remarkably well. In 1972, there weren’t many stories that focused on the non-bucolic parts of a child’s life. In simple, pen-and-ink drawings, Alexander navigates the complex world of breakfast cereal, school, friendship, siblings, dentists and lima beans.

Although this sounds like it might be patronizing, the reality is that it isn’t. The book’s author, Judith Viorst, pulls together simple, powerful truths about the world from a kid’s perspective. Sometimes life sucks, and things go wrong, and it hurts when that happens. Even though the book ends on a quiet note, it hits the right tone: sometimes the best you can do is finish the day and try again tomorrow.

You leave AaTTHNGVBD feeling settled, happy, and understood. You can relate to Alexander, and you can feel like Alexander would understand what it feels like when you have a bad day, too. That level of connection is what makes this book so popular. That’s an important lesson for any author to know: we must relate to our readers if we want our readers to relate to our stories.

Emotional authenticity is one of the tools I need to wield correctly as I polish Mesh. As I noted elsewhere, the story has to capture the readers’ heart. If I don’t do that, then Mesh will die on the vine. This is too important to me, so I’m focused on making Mesh work and using different ideas and writing techniques to bring the story of Roman and his geeky pals to life.

So Alexander, I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to say it, but here’s what I want you to know: I’m sorry you had a bad day. You deserve to have a good day every day, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. But if it does, don’t worry! Things can get better tomorrow. In the meantime, we still love each other.

We would miss you if you went to Australia.

 

Author Nightmares – Write Anyway

Another episode of ‘if you’re an author, this is terrifying’ happened this week. Chuck Palahniuk reports that he’s ‘close to broke’ after his literary agency’s accountant was arrested and charged with embezzlement. This kind of story is a nightmare to me, so I’m trying to explain why I have to write anyway.

I can’t expand on details beyond what’s available in the paper. It just feels compelling to say that a story like this represents my worst nightmare as I move forward with Mesh and other projects.

Look, it’s one thing if you’re crazy about money like Johnny Depp. But for a guy who just wants to tell stories and not go broke in the process, this is frightening. How am I supposed to justify this difficult path toward self-actualization, knowing how many risks are involved?

Continue reading

What’s Wrong With Every User Community Ever

Whoa – I did not expect that. On a side thread about keto dieting, I stumbled upon an answer to a question I’ve been asking ever since the late 90s. In three paragraphs, a justifiably-angry Redditor outlines what’s wrong with every user community ever.

This Sub Has Really Gone Downhill

This doesn’t just apply to people on /r/keto, or Reddit. Forum trolls are a thing no matter where you go. User communites are designed to support an interest, and the benefits of welcoming new members should be self-evident. Not so, in the day and age of trolling. As the Redditor brings out, working for the greater good seems to be in decline, and toxic behavior leaves many communities with a bad name, as people leave discouraged, and defeated.

But you already know this.

This isn’t another point-at-the-problem post. God knows you’ve seen a ton of those. The real question we should be answering is, how do you avoid this behavior? How do you pull back from this reality? Good user communities are good tribes, and good tribes come from good tribal leadership. Let me share this Ted talk on Tribal Leadership with you, and I hope you find it useful in your community-building activities.

 

 

 

 

Evil Genius – New Scifi Microfiction

Now it’s time for some new scifi microfiction – I wrote ‘Evil Genius’ in response to the writing prompt: ‘You are an Evil Overlord about to conquer the known world, but there is a catch: You are competent.’

Writing a good bad guy is harder than it looks. You find yourself mentally filtering out every movie villain ever, because they usually fail at the end, and you want to make sure you don’t set them up for failure.

In the end, I thought of a guy with the charisma of Barack Obama and the evil intent of Admiral Thrawn. After that, the story just flew out of my fingertips. I hope you enjoy …

Evil Genius

If You’re an Author, This is Terrifying

Sometimes I weep for the species. Jimmy Kimmel did a bit, where they asked random people if they could *name* one book (“The Bible, 50 Shades, whatever …”). You’d think that a question like this would be a lay-up, right? Not in 2018, muchacho. The conversations did not go well, and if you’re an author, this is terrifying.

 

Of course, maybe I shouldn’t worry – they were asking these questions in LA, after all.  It’s no secret that literacy is in crisis in America. As difficult as the problem seems to be, the answer is actually simple: Read. Pick up a book. Read Reddit. Read the paper. Read one viewpoint on an issue, and then go find another side and read that too.

Reading makes you happy. Reading is a relaxing habit. You can read anywhere: the train, the john, in line at the supermarket. You can make it into a gamified social experience. However you do it, just go read. It’ll make your life better.

Hitman’s Daughter – New Microfiction Part II

Some jobs are tougher than others. I saw the fiction prompt: ‘A retired hitman finds out that a contract has been placed on their kid, who disowned them years ago when they found out their profession.‘ and the story wrote itself. Real hitmen are guys you’d barely notice, people you’d run into the grocery store. I used that when I created Tomas, a retired professional killer who spends his twilight years selling ice cream to tourists. I hope you enjoy …

The Hitman’s Daughter

 

Stop Trying to Kill Hitler! – Microfiction Part I

I’ve been submitting short stories over in /r/writingprompts – today I’m going to share two shorts that I wrote this week. First one is in the morning, and the other will come out later today.

The first story is in response to the prompt: You are getting seriously fed up with all the time travelers from the future constantly trying to kill you. I channeled my inner Mel Brooks and started banging out prose. Hope you enjoy …

Stop Trying to Kill Hitler!

Making Better Stories With Diagrams

While working on Mesh, I noted some gaps and opportunities to improve my story construction so I wanted to take a blog post (or two, who knows) and talk about story diagramming. Movies, TV shows and other projects benefit from storyboarding or other forms of story diagramming so I wanted to see if it would help me build a better novel.

How do you go about story diagramming? I decided to start with another novel to see how it worked, so I picked one of my favorite technothrillers (and inspirations for Mesh), Day of the Jackal. Continue reading