Archive | January, 2014

Lying for Fun & Profit, pt. 1

31 Jan

I don’t know why I’m so bad. Maybe I started out with poor upbringing and lack of proper supervision. It was probably all that negative reinforcement I keep hearing about. There are times when my impulse to create obscene and terrible things is very strong – it feels like an mischievous urge – and I am compelled to act. Perhaps my own muses are perverts and villains? I do not know. All I know is that on occasion I am impelled to LIE.

When I say ‘lie’ I am not talking about pedestrian, everyday sort of lies. I conjure up fantastic tales, with credible (or almost-credible) details. How good the lie is depends on how smart I think my target is. Kids are pretty easy, naturally. But in the days of the internet and modern cynicism it’s very easy to pull the wool over the eyes of anyone.

Due to some of the foolish things I’ve heard and read from people in the past week, I’ve dredged up three of my favorite lies. They are big, but they share some common elements. 1.) They concern well known, public figures – whom you could easily look up online. 2.) The lies could almost be true. And 3.) People have actually believed these lies. I know, I shouldn’t feel proud, but I do.

LIE #1: Bob Seger is the disowned son of Pete Seeger

Seeger & Seger

These men are not related.

The story goes like this. Bob Seger was the ‘wild child’ of Pete’s who rebelled against Pete’s down to Earth, folksy ways. Bob went crazy, jumped into rock n’ roll, drugs, and supported Nixon. Bob changed the spelling of his last name to spite his old man and sold out. They never truly reconciled their differences, but music experts say that there are references to Pete and his music all over Bob’s best known songs. The lie works so well, it makes me sick.

LIE #2: Carly Simon used and ruined Paul Simon

Simon & Simon

Not John and Yoko.

Here’s the story. After Simon & Garfunkel rose to fame & fortune, Carly Simon wooed Paul. She drove a wedge between him and Art, leading to a breakup of the amazing duo. Carly used Paul to get a record contract, filed for divorce and got half of everything Paul ever made – plus alimony. And naturally, she kept his last name. I cap the lie off by telling people that the song “You’re So Vain” is actually about herself. This lie plays on the Yoko Ono perception of celebrity couples. In particular, the misogyny that is prevalent in mainstream fandom, and the internet in general. I don’t feel too bad though.

LIE #3: Neil Degrasse Tyson is the father of Mike Tyson

Tyson & Tyson

I know, it sounds pretty thin. But take a look at this picture of Neil – when he was young and buff:

So much macho!

So much macho!

Aha! No so far-fetched now, is it? You didn’t realize how buff young Neil was, did ya? Well, he was pretty athletic. And the lie goes that he was a big hit with the ladies, but nature went the way it usually goes. Little Mike never got to know his dad and turned out… Well, Mike turned into an unstoppable fighting machine. It’s not the best of the lies – mostly because their ages don’t work out right – but it’s a nice one. The stark difference in the two men makes people resist it, but then become attracted to the notion.

You’re probably wondering why I do this. Or, maybe you’re wondering what the hell this has to do with “misinvention” or writing or anything at all. Well, lies are the mainstay and primary ingredient in any good writer’s toolbox. Telling a convincing lie has more to do with the context and perceived background of the lie than anything else. I will admit that I actually don’t lie as much as I could. Part of me feels genuine regret for deceiving people – even about these kinds of trivial matters. But I do love a good story. And if making these kinds of wild, unsupportable assertions helps me figure out how to tell a better story, then I think it’s a good thing.

This should be a good reminder to be vigilant in your own travels. It seems like this quote is very apt at the moment:

Believe only half of what you see and absolutely nothing of what you hear.
-Edgar Allan Poe

Of course, some people attribute that quote to Benjamin Franklin. Which is natural, since he was Edgar Allan Poe’s real father. A lot of folks don’t know that. Alcoholism and the creative spirit ran strong in those genes, I guess…

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How to not write

27 Jan
A face full of bad ideas.

A face full of bad ideas.

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Sometimes, I try to build up a strange construction of ideas. I want to stack them up, until they are teetering on top of one another, just on the edge of collapse. And then – through the magic of my own rhetorical brilliance – I prop it all up with just the right missing piece. Partially, it’s just to see if I can do it. It feels pretty good when I can pull it off – like a mad scientist of words. But when it fails, man it sucks like the cold vacuum of space: in all directions, painfully.

See, there’s this beautiful image of a crappy hangover remedy. It’s like ice cubes stuck all over your head! That’s crazy, right? I mean, sure it could work, but that’s not high up on my list of things to do when I’m hungover. Ice on my freakin’ face: Ugh. So, I take that idea and I start building up my ludicrous notion. The ingredients come to me pretty easily:

Superstitions; home remedies; Old Wives Tales; the subconscious, mythic ‘power’ of Bad Things; some high-horse pontification; very sloppy psychological assumptions; humorous diversions; and, of course, some kind of perfect insight to pull it all together.

Except I can’t come up with any particularly genius fix to it all. There’s nothing there to make it all hang together. I’ve pushed and pulled and thrown a bunch of half-formed ideas at the problem. All I’ve got to show for it is this: sometimes, the obvious solutions are hard to see.

For example, putting ice cubes on your head while you’re hungover is a BAD idea. But just being a “bad idea” never stopped anyone from doing things. In fact, that might just make people attracted to the thing. It is a clear answer, even if it’s uncomfortable – at least it’s not wishy-washy. And for some folks, the illusion of movement/change is better than nothing. The obvious solution here is that something really is better than nothing. Whether we’re talking about crazy hangover cures, or getting words down on paper.

So that’s me. Mea culpa. Maybe somewhere in this mess of a post there is something useful for someone else. I’ll be over here, with the ice cubes all over my freakin’ head. Hey, at least I’m trying to do something.

 

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Keep It Simple

22 Jan

Like a lot of young men, I was smitten with Ernest Hemingway’s work. I almost kicked a hole in the wall when I first read Old Man and the Sea. Of course, as I’ve grown and matured, so have my tastes in books – but I have never lost that affection that I had for Hemingway. His words still grip me and inspire me, unlike any other author I’ve come across. More and more, I return to his work and come away with fresh insights.

hemingway1

Crisp, refreshing Hemingway brew – why hasn’t this been done yet?

I love the idea of building up my prose to lofty heights. And sometimes I do revel in the eloquence and flexibility of our language. You can’t throw a rock in this here internet without hitting some advice on how to fluff up your piece, add to your word count, or attempt to make everything a set of three. I’m not saying it’s all garbage, because it’s not. Everyone who has a craft needs to work at it, to hone their skills. That’s how we become better.

But the truth is often simple. Easy, little words can hold so much power, if you know how to use them. And when I have trouble getting my fingers to work on a story, it’s not the weird, or the convoluted that gets me moving. I think about the words above and find something real to pin my words onto. It might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s pretty easy. I’m sure this means different things to different folks. Is it Faulkner? Twain? Atwood? But for me, reading Hemingway helps me to separate the wheat from the chaff – helps me to get at the truth of my own words. That’s the highest praise I can offer.

The List

19 Jan

Σ

I have a List. It would be nice if it had a cool name. “The Master List” maybe. Perhaps something like “Codex Apocryphus” would give it a nice, important feeling. For now, however, I simply call it the List. And it keeps me writing, every damn day. For a guy like me – with my mighty powers of procrastination – anything that gets me to write every day is a good thing.

Rather than throw myself into one writing project, I work off the things on the List. And I can work on anything that is on the List, in any order that I please. If I come up with a new thing to work on, I just put it on the List. Naturally, I am frequently nagged by doubts: Maybe I should have a ‘kick’ date, when I kick stuff off the List? Should I have an Old List and a New List? Ooh, or maybe several Lists, for different moods/months/seasons? No.

No. No. No.

I have a simple, single, beautiful List. I can work on anything I want to, on any given day. A novel, flash fiction, or a script all have the same urgency – depending on my situation. The only firm rule I have about the List is this: I have to write something, every damn day. I can’t think of a single day in the past few months that I have been physically unable to get work done. Work on something, anyway. And yet, without the List, I found myself struggling to be inspired by anything I worked on. I am as mercurial as a cat (I want in. No, I want out. Maybe I want in. Can I just sit in the door for a bit?). After planning and meticulous note-taking on a long project, my traitorous brain refuses to do any actual work on writing. Instead, I get inspired to do some fluff piece that takes up all of a page and a half. So I switch gears, start working on short fiction only to find myself sandbagged again. Now my brain starts working on long-form; grandiose, epic tales of blah blah blah. It drives me crazy.

the aftermath

the aftermath

So, this is my way of dealing with my own, inherent madness. All the Lego pieces are strewn across the floor. It is not the result of a single plan, but the ongoing aftermath of a continuous artistic atrocity. I don’t feel like I have a lot of choices. I’m just using whatever pieces are around me, to do whatever work I can. Sometimes I end up cannibalizing whole parts of one project, just to advance another one. It is weird, but oddly fulfilling. The door is no longer open or closed – I took the door off the hinges.

It is much better than a ‘To-Do’ list, which reminds me of all the things I have yet to do. My List reminds me of all the things I want to do.

Σ

The End

15 Jan

Finishing a novel is a little like breaking up with someone. You’ll see each other again (you still have stuff to work out/rewrite) but the main part of the relationship is over. You’ll no longer be around each other every day. At odd moments, your mind automatically turns towards working on the ‘problems,’ only to realize you don’t have to anymore. It’s done. You feel both relieved and lonely. You wonder if you’ll ever have the strength do it again, but deep down, you know there won’t be a choice. The next time, just like this time, it’ll hit you out of nowhere and captivate you and you’ll think this time won’t be as hard and you’ll fall headlong once more.