Monday, October 24, 2016

Take Names, Not Prisoners!

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

A friend of mine was running a sale table at a convention this weekend, and I tried to send him a good luck text. Break a leg, I typed, but then sat there looking at it. Awfully violent, I thought, and backspaced it out. Kick ass and take names, I tried, but still stared at the screen all squinchy faced. “Wow,” I said, “why don’t I just get it over with and tell him to stab someone?” So I sat there and ran through some of the different phrases we use to wish someone success.
My God, we are a head-banging, face-smashing people.
“You have a thing you’re doing? Well, break a leg! Kick ass and take names!”
Seriously? We’re equating success—of any kind—to doing someone (or even ourselves) bodily harm? Look, unless you’re talking to a professional boxer or MMA fighter, personal physical damage shouldn’t be something you’re wishing on anyone. Unless, of course, you’re driving—I am a Masshole, after all. But aside from loudly praying a stroke, internal hemorrhaging, or a blitz-attack myocardial infarction on the driver of the slow-moving car in front of me with the left directional that won’t shut off, what’s with the destructive (and largely illegal) pro-victory expressions?
I’m not saying there aren’t any non-violent ways to wish someone good luck—look, there was one right there, simply saying good luck—but when we see someone beginning an endeavor we’re very likely to tell them to fight the good fight, or maybe take no prisoners. These are, of course, merely gateway sayings for the harder stuff: knock ’em dead, slay ’em, and the ever-popular gun reference, blow ’em away. Would any of these, if taken literally, have been appropriate for my friend, who’s a writer trying to build a fan base? Hmm . . . kind of hard to have repeat customers if everyone you deal with winds up a corpse littering the floor behind you.
Some might argue that you’re really wishing for them to whip some serious ass over their competition, but sometimes our competitors are actually contacts, and it’s called networking, not gravedigging. Also, I don’t know about you, but as a customer I think I’d find it hard to deal with someone who was dripping with the blood of their enemies, Conan the Barbarian-style. Might be just me.
This odd penchant for violent metaphor continues even into success. Someone who has done quite well has hit pay-dirt and made a killing, maybe with a smash hit. Failure is even worse, because the venture might blow up in their face and kill their chances, leaving them dead in the water—and if it was all over a decision they knew might be bad, or that went really wrong, then it might just be said that they cut their own throat.
Slay ’em? Make a killing? You cut their own throat? Jesus Christ!
More than slightly horrified, I tried to text my friend in a different way, tried to counterbalance some of the more traditional—and terrible—wishes for good fortune. I keyed in wishing you fluffy bunny success . . . then backspaced it out. He’d think I’d gone insane. I tried hugs and kisses, dude! Nope. Wrong message. Remember to be kind to the competition! Who was I, Stuart Smalley? Slowly, I keyed in the most basic non-violent wish for success I could think of:
Wishing you success!
My God, that looked like either a fortune cookie or one of those cheap-ass cards you can pick up at CVS at the last minute, when all the really good cards are gone. It wasn’t the kind of message usually sent by someone who claims to have a way with words. I hung my head and gave in, deciding to simply throw a twist into an old standby.
Kick ass, and remember to take names, not prisoners! I hit ꜱᴇɴᴅ. There, a twofer.
I’ve been thinking about it, trying to come up with something along the lines of wishing you fluffy bunny success that wouldn’t have people thinking I’d lost my mind, or were on drugs, or lost my mind on drugs, but I’m coming up dry. Everything either sounds crazy coming from me or has that last-card-on-the-rack blandness that, as a writer, I’d really like to avoid . . . so screw it, I’m going to follow another old standby saying: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. But like some reformed smoker who’s swung completely the other way and can only talk about how bad cigarettes are for you, I want to go at this violent wish thing whole hog.
So I have a reading tomorrow night, and I’m really hoping to talk the colons right out of those people, you know? Just leave body parts everywhere. I’m at a book sale in Salem this weekend as well, and I hope to puree the competition, and then eat them after making sure they’re cooked to a proper, safe temperature, before pooping them into the swamp behind the old power plant while reading reviews of their work.
Yeah. Take that.
What’s your favorite way to wish someone good luck in something? Do you have a creative way to buck someone up for success? If so, tell me about it, I’d love to read it—and it doesn’t have to be violent, though apparently we really don’t mind if it is.

Talk to you later!

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Lowest Form

Greetings, WYMOP readers! This one’s short, but sweet.

It was Sunday afternoon, and I was at the New England Horror Writers’ booth at Rock and Shock, the weekend horror/hard rock show at the DCU Center in Worcester, MA.  We’d been selling there since Friday, and Sunday meant day three. Day three meant I was tired. Tired meant I was punchy.
Punchy meant I was punning.
The people I was with did not find this funny. Or punchy. They found it somewhat sad.
“I think I’m the only one here without a novel,” I said. “Well, I did write a vampire novel, but it sucked.”
They stared at me.
A couple walked by the booth dressed as walkers—zombies—from a popular horror show on television. I pointed. 

“Looks dead in here.”

Pinhead (well, a reasonable facsimile with a teenager inside) from the Hellraiser movie series walked past. “Hey,” I said. “That’s a sharp costume.”
I grinned. “Get the point?”

“Look,” one of my companions finally said. “What are you doing?”
“I know that,” he said. “But why? They aren’t funny.”
“Well,” I said, “that depends on your—” My phone buzzed. I looked at the screen. I laughed. Looked again. Laughed again.
My friend was watching me, and eyeballing my phone. “What?”
I held the screen out to him. “Check it out. It’s a text from my son.”
He read, glared at me, read again, then shook his head and walked away.
I looked back at the message:
Dad, be proud of me! Three loud motorcycles just went by,
and I said “Look! The Three Mufflerteers!”

And my heart grew three sizes that day.

Talk to you later!

Monday, October 10, 2016


Greetings, WYMOP readers!
I'm currently working on cleaning up a new novella so I can start shopping it around, and I'd love to tell you about it, but even while I'm working on that I still have this funny kid . . .
“So! What do you think?”
I stood by the foot of my son’s bed in the classic Superman pose: feet spread wide, fists knuckling firmly into hips, chest outthrust, chin up with face turned slightly to the side and a grin; all that was missing was the stray ray of light to glint off my pearly whites with an audible ting. It’s a heroic pose, meant for heroic men. I’m a mailman/writer who’s pushing 48, though I could easily pass for 50. I did my best.
“That’s what I want to know,” I said. “What you think. So?” I shifted slightly, spreading wider, knuckling firmer, and outthrusting, uh, thrustier. I think I even heard a faint ting. “Well?”
“Dad, what are you talking about?”
I deflated somewhat and cast a hand across my body, a self-absorbed Vanna White. Well, even more self-absorbed. “The shirt, man. What do you think?”
I wore a very thin, long-sleeved shirt done in black, gray and off-white, the colors forming a long-toothed skull that covered my torso. Anyone who knows a thing about comics or has even a passing knowledge of NetFlix at the moment knows the image means one thing, and I practically shouted it:
“Punisher, man!”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “The shirt is cool, but, uh . . .”
“Well, those.” He pointed a finger toward my waist.
“That.” He pointed closer.
“Do you mean—”
The pointing finger actually stabbed me, sinking in past the nail.
“Ow! You mean—dude, I think the phrase you’re looking for is muffin top. You evil ass.”
“Well, yeah,” he said. “But it only shows ’cause you’re wearing a belt and have the shirt tucked in. Why do you have the shirt tucked in?”
“I’m going to put a short-sleeved shirt over it, and I don’t want it to hang out the bottom. But that one will cover.”
“Well . . . well . . .” He waved his arms the gesture encompassing me from head to foot. “If you’re going to wear another shirt over that one, why are you showing me that one?”
“Because dude!” I struck the pose again. Ting. “Punisher!”
He leaned back on his bed again. “Looks like the only punishment is being handed out by that belt.”
First reaction: Ow.
Second reaction: Well, at least I know he inherited my smart-assedness.
Third reaction: Ow!

Final reaction: “You know I want to be mad, but that’s too . . . I just . . . evil ass!”

The moral of the story: I gotta buy some shirts that fit.
Talk to you later!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Great Pumpkin!

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

It’s October, and though for me as a horror writer that means Halloween, it means something a little different to every single food company out there that distributes in the United States.
Pumpkin. Pumpkin everything.

So today was the first time I went food shopping in October 2016, and I was reminded of the Great Pumpkin Takeover just as soon as I pulled into the lot and tried to find a parking space.

There weren’t a lot of options left, but luckily I drive a Mini. I managed to wedge myself into one of the cart corrals, climbed out the sunroof, and made my way past the bulbous orange gourds, kids scrambling about screaming “I want this one! I want the biggest one!” as parents measured trunks to see just what kind of pumpkin poundage they could handle.
As I entered the store, though, I was buoyed up by the thought that yes, one of my favorite things is part of this seasonal pumpkin bullshit: Market Basket Pumpkin Donuts™. Yessiree Bob, just imagining slapping two or three boxes of those babies in the cart and cracking one of them open on the drive home was enough to put a bounce in my step. I wheeled my cart along quickly, deftly avoiding the other pumpkin-crazed shoppers as they stumbled along with glazed eyes, slowly filling their carriages with every pumpkined-up item imaginable.

I, however, resisted the temptation, keeping a sharp focus on the one pumpkiny item I’d set my sights on as I whipped through the shopping list.

In Frozen Foods, I—with difficulty—turned a blind eye.

In the cereal aisle, I breathed deep, and remained calm—though not so calm as the drooling-faced zombie man who was trying to put just one more box of pumpkin Captain Crunch™ into his cart, to give him an even dozen.

I made my way past cookies . . .

 . . . and coffees . . .

 . . . okay, that’s going a bit far.

Thank God I don’t drink.

Seriously? Have you lost your damn mind?

But finally, finally I’d made my way through the whole pumpkin—uh, store, and I was rounding the bend toward the registers. And right there by the registers they had their seasonal display, where I’d be able to give in and shovel in a few boxes of . . . of . . .

What the—?


Son of a bitch.

Talk to you later!

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Butterflies Were Kung-Fu Fighting . . .

Everything’s fine until I walk in the door at Koto, the Japanese grill in Salem where we’re doing our author reading.
I chose what I’m going to read a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been practicing since then, reading it aloud almost every night—sometimes twice, just because it’s fun—even though I’m pretty sure I have it down cold. I tell myself I’m just trying to make sure the piece falls within my allotted time, even though I know it does. Hell, it only takes half the time. I’m sure of this: the clock in my phone has a well-used stopwatch function. I’ve been looking forward to this since I signed on for it. I like reading to people!
But now I’ve walked through the door and, well, there are people here. For the moment there are just a couple of customers, a couple of staff, a couple of writers who have come out to support the event, and three of the other writers who’ll be reading, so it’s not, like, you know, a crowd, but . . . people. This isn’t like speaking the words alone in my room, or even when I used to do storytime with my son. I know I’ve practiced, but what if I flub a line in front of watching eyes? And Christ, there’s a microphone up there, set in a tall stand. I talk with my hands a lot—what if I knock the damn thing over? What if I . . . this is just me thinking here, so no need to put a fine point to it: what if I suck?
It’ll be okay, I tell myself. It’s just a few people, and I know half of them . . . though I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse. I look around. Pretty empty in here so far. Maybe it’ll stay this way?
Look, it’s not like I want the event to fail or anything. I don’t. But for all the times I’ve written something to the effect that one of my character’s bowels “turned to water,” as a couple more customers come in and take seats back here by the stage, I start to feel just a little bit . . . liquid.
I get directions to the restrooms and have some success dehydrating myself. My insides still feel a bit cool and sloshy. I try to go again—better to be safe than sorry—with minimal success. The third try is a complete failure—there’s nothing in the tank—and I’ve already read everything written on the walls four times in an effort to distract myself; I now know more than I ever wanted to about a girl named Alana, and my advice to Rashid, should that little bit scribbled in the corner be true, would be to go see a doctor. Fast.
Okay, I can’t put it off any longer, I have to go back out there. Besides, it’d look really weird if I went into the bathroom and just never came out—though there are a few people out there right now who would turn that into a story, so I’d really be doing them a favor if I . . . no, no, I have to go back. So I exit the restroom, walk to the other end of the hall, open the door leading back into the restaurant proper, and holy shit where did all those people come from?
I’m not even kidding, the place has started to fill up. I tell myself I’ll be fine. I wanted to do this, remember? I volunteered, I helped promote the event, I practiced, and I have it down cold, right? No worries. I’ll just make my way to my seat—
My seat has been taken by a spectator. It’s getting that full.
Deep breaths.
I wind up over at the bar when the readings begin, nursing a Cola so as not to require another trip to the bathroom. I’m scheduled to read fourth in the list of six, so I have a little time for the butterflies to quit kung-fu fighting in my colon. Then, midway through the second reading, the staff sets up an extra banquet table right in front of the stage to accomodate the growing crowd.
Perhaps I could slip off to the restroom again?
I stick to my guns at the bar—actually, I’m afraid that if I walk too far that liquid feeling will get the best of me, and I’ll have to change my pants—and watch the readings on stage. One after the other these authors get up there, they all look so damn comfortable, and their readings are terrific. Part of me hates them, but most of me is merely really aware that it’s my turn.
The emcee introduces me, and I step up behind the mic, Kindle in hand. I look out at the crowd and my sphincter quickly goes so tight I’m pretty sure the people at that table right up front can hear it squeak. So, I think, this is what it’s like to have fifty, maybe sixty people all staring at you in anticipation. I stare down at my Kindle, and I can’t make out the words. I didn’t think it was possible, but my sphincter actually tightens more. I thought I’d set the text to be large enough to read easily on stage. What did I do, make it smaller?
Oh, no. My hands are just trembling so much the text is all a blur. I take a breath, will them to be still, and I begin.
Less than a page into my reading, it happens.
My voice steadies. My hands may be still be shaking, but it’s hard to tell because they’re darting about as I gesture. I begin to smile. To scowl. To feel. I know the story cold—in part because I wrote it—but this doesn’t feel like I’m just repeating what I wrote; I’m almost part of the audience, along for the ride, because this isn’t me telling a story anymore: this is the characters telling their story, and they tell it like they were there. Because to them they were. When we wrote their story I was their pen, and now that we’re telling it I’m their mouthpiece, and as I let go, and they take over, telling their story through me, the reading becomes what I signed up for. It becomes what I was looking forward to.
This is fun.
When the event is all over I have to say I feel pretty good about it. Better than pretty good: fantastic. I don’t understand why I always get so nervous before I perform a reading when I usually wind feeling great about them afterward. Maybe it’ll be different at the next one I do, which is . . . oh, that’s right. I have another reading in a week.
Oh, damn. I have to go home and read over the story I chose for that event. Maybe I’ll practice twice—even three times—just because it’s fun. Right? I mean, after all, I have a week to get it down cold, don’t I?
Aw, crap. Here we go again . . .

Talk to you later!