Monday, January 30, 2017

The Eyes Have It

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

For the past year or more, Facebook has been drowning in political posts, and in the past week they’ve only picked up speed, like a toddler running downhill after a ball who’s just realized things are about to end badly. Usually I’m apolitical: I have opinions, but don’t want to get involved in the “discussion,” since it’s more than likely to degenerate into name calling—though, on Facebook sometimes it starts out with name calling, which does save some time. I’ve been posting less and less of my own thoughts (mostly about the people I meet at work), and simply reading the argum—I mean, “discussions” on friends’ walls and getting more and more depressed.
Then I saw it: a post on a friend’s wall, starting out with “Why not take a break from negativity and learn about each other?” It was followed by a bunch of simple questions, like “Who are you named after?” and “Last time you cried?”
Well, this looks cool, I thought. And fun. He’s right—this might be just the little Facebook thing to get my mind off the negativity. So I copied it into my own status and started replacing his answers with my own.
“Named after? My father, and his father before him. Last time I cried?” That one took a little thought. “A couple of months ago, I think.” Pop or water? Favorite lunch meat? Do you still have your tonsils? The questions went on and on, some of them fun, some of them plain, but even answering the plain ones was kind of fun. Then I got to question #20: “Eye color?”
“Blue,” I said. Then: “No, green.” Then: “Uh . . .
Look, it’s not like I can actually see my eyes, and there aren’t any mirrors near my computer desk. Hell, there aren’t any mirrors in my room, no real reflective surfaces at all, unless you want to count the windows once it gets dark. I got up and headed into the bathroom, determined to be as truthful as possible with this little Q & A, just for the fun of it. I flipped on the vanity lights and leaned in toward the mirror.
Well, that didn’t help, I thought. The lights are right above my head. All I’ve done is throw my eye sockets into shadow, and I can’t quite make out the eyes in there.
I flipped the second lightswitch. With a whir and hum the vent fan kicked on, and the light above the shower flickered to life. There, I said to myself. That’ll be behind me, and I should be able to—
Nope. With the lights above and behind me, my eyes were cast into even deeper shadow. I leaned closer. I leaned away. I turned slightly from side to side.
No dice.
I sighed.
I went into the bedroom and scooped something from the bookshelf by my bed, then returned to the bathroom. I looked in the mirror, leaning close again.
I sighed.

I sighed a third time as I sat at my desk, typing “Blue-green” into the fun little getting-to-know-you quiz. I ran through the rest of the questions without incident, feeling a little depressed. I posted the thing, stared for a moment at the slightly larger-than-usual text on my computer screen, then set aside the reading glasses I’d been forced to don for the first time out of necessity, rather than for comfort, merely to see the color of my own eyes. I caught myself trying to sigh a fourth time, then scrolled on through Facebook. Maybe I’d find an amusing political post that would cheer me up.

Talk to you later!

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Secret Laws

Greetings, WYMOP readers!
This week I thought I’d share with you a group of natural laws no one talks about . . . but everyone knows. Off the top of my head, some of them are:

  1. Sarcasm is hereditary. Dammit.
  2. There are people out there who will never simply know that it’s hot enough for you.
  3. Whenever a specialist—any kind of specialist, computer, mechanical, medical, whatever—makes any kind of non-verbal vocalization (grunt, mhmm, ah, etc.), they are trying to figure out how many zeroes to attach to your bill.
    1. Being aware of this, one may begin to weep at this point. It won’t do you any good, but crying releases endorphins, which will make you feel better, so go ahead: sob away.
  4. Yes, windshield wipers are designed to wear away faster on the driver’s side, at the approximate height of the driver’s line of sight, leaving the passenger with an unobstructed view of the back of the stopped bus they are hurtling toward that the driver cannot see.
    1. One effective—if expensive—fix for this, is to special order windscreen wipers from England, where the driver’s seat is on the right-hand side of the vehicle. Three months after installation your passenger won’t be able to see anything, but @#$% them, they should have warned you about that bus.
  5. Politics brings out the best in people.
    1. Hahahahahaha . . . no, not really. I just wanted to see if you were paying attention.
  6. Insisting again and again to someone that they are angry is an almost sure way to wind up right. And in the emergency room. So you’ll have won the argument, but at what cost? You’ll find out later, but the doctor who set your broken nose and is even now stitching your split lip just said “mhmm,” so start weeping. You’ll feel better. (Please see #3 above.)
  7. Waitstaff appear at your table the instant your mouth is full. It’s not in the training, and they don’t do it intentionally; it’s simply a natural law. This is the reason we, as a people, tend to go out to dinner in groups of two or more. The inverse can also be true, and this is why sometimes, when a couple eats alternatively (one taking a bite, then the other, and so forth), they complain of never seeing the waitstaff. It’s not their fault; it’s a natural law.
    1. For persons who habitually dine alone, I am preparing some printed cards to bring to dinner, bearing phrases such as:
      • Everything’s great, thanks!
      • I’ll have another Coke/Diet Coke/Pepsi/Sprite, please.
      • I have a nut allergy and I seem to have forgotten my EpiPen. Quick—call an ambu-awk . . . gasp . . .

I think that’s enough for now, but I may post more of these in the future, if enough occur to me.
Dammit! One more did just occur to me! I’ll hold onto it for the next Secret Laws installment, but before I go write it down, I’ll share the Secret Meta-law you see in effect:
  1. As soon as you say a list is complete, you will always, always think of another thing to add.

Talk to you later!

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Scene From Writing Life: Reality Brakes

Greetings, WYMOP readers!
This week, I bring you a scene from writing life:

At a recent multi-author event, we held a large, multi-prize raffle: each item had a bucket, and players bought their tickets and simply put them into the buckets for each of the things they were interested in, one chance per ticket. Participating authors also had buckets, winners there to have themselves written into a story by said author. It’s a neat little prize, and hey, we’re all going to be writing stories anyway, right?
At the end of the event I checked my bucket and found only four tickets, but three names—someone had put their name in twice. Flattering, yes? So it was just three names—two women and a man—and I knew all of them but one woman. I’d already planned on writing more short work for submission this year, so I decided on the spot to use all three: bang—everyone’s a winner. I put things off through the holidays, then set about thinking of a story for one of them.
But wait! Inspiration hit me like a wrecking ball—the one Wile E. Coyote used against Roadrunner, not the one a naked Miley Cyrus rode into the hearts of millions of fourteen-year-old boys.
I have a story idea I’ve been meaning to write for the better part of a year: basically a three-person play, opening with a wife storming into a hotel room to catch her husband in bed with another woman. Two women and a man, all three major characters in the story—and I had two women and a man who wanted to be written into a story. Perfect! It was a certifiably genius idea, that I would knock out of the park! I was so excited I decided to run the idea past my writing/editing partner (who also knows two of the three persons involved).
I'll somewhat paraphrase our conversation:

SL. So you have [man], [woman 1], and [woman 2], whom you do not know.
Mᴇ. Yeah, but I figure I don’t know [woman 2], so I’ll cast [woman 1] as the chippie.
SL. You can’t.
Mᴇ. Well, I mean, I’ll run it by [woman 1] first, of course, but—
SL. You can’t do that.
Mᴇ. Yeah, but she really wanted to be in my story, so I think she’d be okay with—
SL. But what about her fiancé?
Mᴇ. Uh . . .
SL. He’d be pissed.
Mᴇ. But it’s just fiction. I could add a disclaimer saying—
SL. You can add whatever you want, but if you write a story where [woman 1] is in bed with another man, stealing someone’s husband, he’s going to be pissed.
Mᴇ. Maybe you’re right. But what if I—
SL. He’ll be pissed.
Mᴇ. I could—
SL. He’ll be pissed.
Me. But he’s—
SL. Pissed.
Mᴇ. Pissed?
SL. Pissed.
Mᴇ. So, considering that [fiancé] might get pissed, I’ve decided to think of something else to do.
SL. Good thinking.

Okay, yeah, sometimes it’s really, really good to have someone else there to slam on the reality brakes.

Talk to you later!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Your Mission, Should You Choose To Accept It . . .

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

Gravel crunched as the Mini rolled to a stop in the driveway, in the spot normally occupied by the homeowner’s SUV. We got out, casting surreptitious glances to the neighboring houses before focusing on the one in front of us. It was Christmas day, after all, and the car was in a neighborhood in which it did not belong. In a driveway where it didn’t belong. And we were about to enter a house in which we didn’t belong. If one of the neighbors noticed the Mini, and the cops showed up while we were in the house, things could get . . . awkward.
We shared a nod and my partner scooped a small box from the back seat, then we went around to the front door and tried the knob: unlocked. With another glance around we stepped into the empty house, closing the door behind us . . .
Okay, at this point I might want to mention that my “partner” was actually my son, Handsome, and the house we were entering belongs to his girlfriend, Miss D (and thus his girlfriend is forever named Miss D, here at WYMOP). Okay, it was technically her mom’s house. And Handsome had gotten the mom’s permission in advance to enter the house while they weren’t home—in fact, she’d texted to let him know when the house was empty.
The boy moved through the kitchen in a cabinet-rattling tiptoe—at fourteen, he’s much larger than he is deft—and into Miss D’s room, laid the box from the car on her bed, lifted off the lid, and drew forth a squat gray cylinder, maybe four inches across and two high. He placed the thing on Miss D’s desk, wiping it down and dusting it with a paper towel. I drew a black box from my pocket, a blocky, rectangular portable charger, capable of reenergizing my tablet twice before needing recharging itself, and handed it over. Handsome plugged the cord from my block into the back of his cylinder, then went back to the box on the bed.
He came back to the desk with a small crystal obelisk, maybe four inches tall, the words I Love You running up the front and capped with a rose, all laser cut beneath the smooth face. He went at the obelisk with the paper towel, polishing away fingerprints and shining every surface. He placed the gleaming crystal upon the center of the cylinder—now a base—and stood back. He stepped forward, made a minute adjustment, then back again. Nodding, he stepped forward and flipped a tiny switch.
Light shot from the center of the base, rifling up through the crystal to highlight and split at the laser-cut words, the recently-polished surfaces suddenly suffused with all the colors of the rainbow as the opening strains of “Hotel California” filled the room.
“That should play for hours,” I said, “maybe even a couple of days, plugged into that charging block.”
Nodding once more, the boy found a paper and pencil and bent to the desk, writing quite a lengthy note. Another song came on as he wrote, and then a third. We packed up all the extraneous material and left, making our escape in the world’s smallest getaway car, grinning widely as the music continued to play in the empty house behind us.
And that was how Miss D, coming home from Christmas dinner at her grandparents’ house, and probably wearing the sweatshirt given to her earlier by Handsome as her “Christmas gift,” discovered her true Christmas present: a rechargable, programmable, 21st century music box, filled with ten of her favorite songs, the titles figured out by the boy during a conversation weeks earlier.
Yeah. I have a pretty good kid.
I’m fairly proud.
I’m understating wildly here.

Talk to you later.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Goodbye 2016—And Hello 2017!

Hey there, WYMOP readers!
So, that was 2016. Rather than go off on a rant about something 2016ish, or shout about some New Year’s resolutions we all know would basically be lies told with the best of intentions, I made two simple lists: one reminding me of things I’ve done, the other to help me remember things I want to do. I made then both pretty much off the top of my head (though I did have a little help remembering one particular thing), so if it looks like I’ve forgotten something important somewhere, I’m sorry.
Please feel free to remind me. I’ll add it to my personal lists.

Writerly things I accomplished in 2016:

  • Had Echoes of Darkness published with Books & Boos Press, then favorably reviewed on Cemetery Dance Online (among others, but this was the biggie!)
  • Managed to get the Storyside News (our newsletter at The Storyside) out on time, twelve months in a row, despite the best efforts of the gremlins who seem to enjoy screwing up everything technological about me: cars, computers, phones, you name it.
    I hate gremlins.
  • Managed to get my Monster Movie Madness column up over at Cinema Knife Fight on time, twelve months in a row. See above regarding gremlins.
    I hate gremlins.
  • Back in 2015 I partnered up with Stacey Longo to form S & L Editing, which I think has helped make me a better writer. In 2016 we edited or proofed seven complete books, as well as (possibly) keeping Stacey from actually filling all those shallow graves she digs in her backyard on the weekends. For fun. Yeah. For fun.
  • Had two of the stories in Echoes of Darkness nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I know the name doesn’t sound like much, but the Pushcart is kind of a big deal in the writing industry. Unless I lose. Then it’s really not all that important. But if I win, well, look out!
  • Only wrote and submitted three short(ish) stories for publication, with one acceptance, one rejection, and one the jury’s still out on, but that one I’m waiting to hear about was a pirate story. I edit by reading aloud. You ain’t had fun editing until you’ve read through an entire 12,000 word story—multiple times—sounding like the Flying Dutchman from Spongebob Squarepants. Arrr!
  • Penned (okay, typed) a novella tentatively titled Friends in High Places that was a ton of fun to write, but a giant cramp in the scrotum to edit. I’m still editing it. Sometimes, just to make the editing more palatable, I read it aloud sounding like the Flying Dutchman. Arrr!
  • Participated in about a half-dozen public readings (some more public than others) over the course of the year, including being the featured author for the Worcester Storytellers in October. I understand folks like when I read to them, which is good, since I enjoy doing it, despite the gut-wrenching, pants-wetting, testicles-ascending-into-my-abdomen stage fright that starts approximately a  half-hour before, and usually lasts about a minute into, any performance. I think I’d like to do more of this—except the testicles ascending thing. I’d really like to skip that part.
  • Had one of my coworkers approach me with a well-thumbed copy of Echoes, looking for an autograph. That was fun. And completely unexpected. And fun.
    Did I mention that it was fun?
  • Did some of the writing for, some of the editing on, and some of the proofreading of the next installment of the Insanity Tales anthology series coming out of The Storyside. Insanity Tales III: Seasons of Fear should be out in 2017, and will have some fantastic writing in it. Some of it might even be mine!
  • Finagled my novella, “The Christmas Spirit,” into a three-novella anthology, Triplicity: The Terror Project, Volume 1, so I have something a little longer than a short story out there in the public eye. And now I have also used “finagled” in real life, so I can check that off my bucket list.
  • Started work collaborating on a novel with a terrific writer, which is going better than I’d feared (I’m not the best team player out there). With a little luck, and a whole bunch of work, it might be ready for shopping around to publishers sometime in 2017. It’ll be fun. It’ll be funny. Did I mention it’ll be a whole bunch of work?

Writerly things I’d like to be better at in 2017:

  • Keeping up my website. I’m pitiful at it. If you could win a gold medal for sucking at something, this would be my event.
  • Working on my own stuff. I’ve already written couple of novels and a few novellas I keep meaning to get into shape to shop around. I have whole trilogies mapped out, with notes to work from and everything for when I get around to writing them down. If I have so many stories in my head it sometimes feels like it’s going to burst, shouldn’t I do something about it?
  • Working on my own stuff. And right now you’re thinking Rob’s lost it, he’s repeating himself, but that’s not the case. I only submitted three short stories for the whole year in 2016. Along with the longer stuff I mentioned above, I’d love to get more of my short stuff out there. I have unpublished shorts I’ve already written, and more I want to write—including one about the Squirrel Mafia, which should be so much fun I’ll be editing it in my Flying Dutchman voice. Arrr!

  • Doing more events. I have a hard time doing whole weekend events because I work most Saturdays, but I’ve noticed a few public readings around that happen mid-week in the evening, and those sound right up my alley. Please see above regarding ascending testicles. Yeesh!

So that’s, as Forrest Gump would say, all I have to say about that. Despite all the bitching and crying and whining and yelling I saw on social media all year, I hope you had a great 2016.

Happy New Year.

. . . now, go out and grab 2017 by the throat (or balls, if you’re feeling mean enough), and make it the best 2017 you can. You only get this one. Make the most of it.

Talk to you later.

P.S.—I was just about to hit POST when I realized I forgot to add something to that list of writerly accomplishments for 2016: I wrote this very damn blog for 52 weeks in a row, almost always on time, and they almost always made a little sense.

Holy crap, talk about missing the obvious?