Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Short Story

This is from my current project, which I've named In the Depths of the Valley. Black Box is still looking for publishers, but why not work on something else why the query letters float in the nether regions of the internet?

The children called him Mario. He was short, stocky and mustachioed, and when spoken to prone to rambling unintelligibly in a voice that seemed to start in the back of his throat and resonate within the deeper regions of his nasal passages. His custodial uniform was a light faded blue, a baby's color. There was a particular mop that he treasured beyond all things, its handle worn smooth and splinterless by his own two hands. He called it "Lucinda," but nobody knew this, though he had whispered her name around the motley crew of mentally handicapped students they sent him for help. They called him Janitor Bob, as did most of the faculty except for Mr. Jameson, who was a child. His daughter, a pale girl named Regina, had explained why they called him Mario, showing him the faded illustration on a Nintendo cartridge. She begged her father to shave his mustache, but he refused. His chin looked weak and sunken without it, and he missed feeling its bristly hairs with his tongue, a habit he performed in the dark closets surrounded by disinfectants and handled tools. He'd sit in his tenebrous abbey, perched on a stool, his spine curved, tongue slithering out to clean the mustache, a rag dangling from his back pocket, the only sounds his breathing and the wet smacking of lips. Meditation, which was what he called it in his head, took place for ten minutes every period. When he was finished, he'd go out and sweep the floors. The dirt they tracked in was tremendous. Huge chunks of mud came off of steel-toed boots; grime and gum were left by their sneakers. He could read their tracks like a huntsman, identifying the various cliques by their footwear. The Rednecks were the worst, for they seemed to live in filth. No one could ignore the mufferless roar of their jacked-up trucks as they pulled into the parking lot every morning. He had forbidden his daughter to date any one of them, for what good that did. At home he sank into a bottomless recliner and let the television sing him to sleep.
            The bell rang and he awoke from his meditation. Through the bottom crack of the door he watched and waited as they chattered and stomped into the hallway, their movements as loud and graceless as a pack of wolves. He thought of them as animals, so he tried to keep his distance. After a while he came out of the closet, hauling his cart to the cafeteria where his crew waited. They were a sorry lot. Dirty Gene Wilder, with a face like a pig and no scruples about him, clad in ill-fitting jeans and a ripped shirt and a pair of hand-me-down boots. Michael Bosnick, hopelessly retarded, sometimes found walking about with his pants down around his ankles. Borne Cleaver, thin and tall like a scarecrow, with a silent mouth and silent eyes and long pale hands that always dangled around his waist, as though waiting for something or someone to throttle. Janitor Bob surveyed his crew and gestured toward the cart. They came and took their mops and began their labor. Dirty Gene harassed Michael while he worked, telling him to eat this or eat that, Michael always refusing with a loud laugh and replying no, you eat it, Gene! Borne and Janitor Bob operated quietly, each tending to the large areas the other two neglected. Beneath the tables were all sorts of garbage: half-eaten French fries, plastic wrappers, ketchup stains dripping like congealed blood. Great piles of filth sat beneath one table that he was sure belonged to the rednecks. The smell of bleach took it all away, the odor of the children. The title was worn and patterned with the stains of a lost generation. He swept the filth into a waste basket before letting Lucinda purify what they had dirtied.  
            The cafeteria had bay windows on its western side that gave a nice view of the pine trees and the track field beyond, and one could just see the edge of the town cemetery that lay behind the school. Janitor Bob stared out those windows at the headstones while his mop wiped clean the stains of careless feet. He'd smoked amongst those stones long ago when he was a child, and his mother and father were buried there somewhere, though that had been ten years ago and he'd have to wander a bit before he located the spot. He didn't feel anything looking at the stones; he only noticed that the glass was smeared from greasy hand prints and noises, so he ambled over and sprayed Windex and began to clean, moving his hand in a circular pattern. Dirty Gene snorted like a horse from somewhere behind him. The Borne kid had been mopping the same small section of tile for fifteen minutes. Time had a habit of getting away from you in this job. Every motion of the hand, every sweep of the broom or mop loosened your traction to the earth, and you saw things through the glass, old things, people, places, long stored images that once brought forth emotion but now only quivered in the disinfectant like false reflections, distorted, unwanted, and soon to be banished once more. Janitor Bob kept his hand on the glass, moving it round and round. In front of him the track looked like a course for rodents. The tips of the headstones were black, mossy, and crumbling.
            "There's zombies out there," said Borne Cleaver, appearing by his side. Janitor Bob looked at him and saw nothing but a wan face. Cleaver's right index finger was trailing on the window glass, leaving a long smear pointing toward the graveyard. His fingernail was long and dirty and bruised as though it had been smashed with a hammer. The smell of Windex twitched his nostrils, and half of his mustache quivered upward, forming the closest thing to a snarl Janitor Bob's face was capable of. The dirty finger still touched the glass; he could not look past the finger at the graveyard. Borne Cleaver, fleshless, of unnatural pallor, stinking slightly of body odor and something indecipherable but foul. That finger was little more than a bone, and that bone defied the cleanliness of the place. Janitor Bob had a tile knife in one of his back pockets, its blade curved like the talon of a velociraptor. The air had grown cold suddenly, though it was warm and humid outside. Beneath the pine trees there was a bed of needles, brown, dry, and flammable. Dirty Gene and Michael howled behind him, fighting over some uncovered treasure, Gene yelling about purple panties, but Janitor Bob paid him no mind. The wan face was not looking at him, it was looking past at the horizon or something beyond it. Ten more seconds. He started counting in his head. The finger did not move. We all have a purpose. If that were true, was it the finger's job to remain on that pane, sullying it with its juices and germs? Borne seemed disconnected from his digit; he seemed on another plane altogether as his face stayed expressionless and pale. There were red pimples on this face; some were mauled and capped with dried blood. Five seconds. There was emotion returning to his heart. In performing my duty, it is possible that I will create more filth, which it will then be my job to clean. This thought upset him. He didn't like to put himself in their shoes, for he was apart, he was of another system, and there should be no overlapping of functions. Borne's head turned toward him; the lips parted and the large teeth began to move. They are always saying something that I do not understand. One second. He moved for his back pocket.
            Dirty Gene Wilder let out a yell that shook him from his actions. He was hopping up and down like an ape, his finger pointing toward Michael Bosnick, whose pants were around his ankles. Urine flowed forth from his penis onto the tiled floor. 
            Janitor Bob moved with Lucinda, his heart in his chest, the smeared glass pane behind him. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Simple Song

Finished and recorded this one today. I cut my hand open about two weeks ago, and it's finally healed enough to play guitar.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Query Draft

How's this sound? Does it make you want to read Black Box?

How can you convince God not to end the world when you're an agnostic alcoholic beset by a mischievous imp who bears a resemblance to a malevolent Texas Congressman?

Good question.

Louis Arlington is Vice-President of the world's most successful video game company, Huerto, nestled in a dilapidated rural Indiana town. When he is charged by the Divine to stop the apocalypse, he uncovers a government plot to utilize Huerto's best-selling product, The Game, to brainwash much of the gaming populace. Together with a humorous cast of characters, including a talking sasquatch and a love-crazed doomsday prepper, Louie must try to complete his quest while dealing with insomnia, unceasing hallucinations, and his lust for unavailable women. The ensuing tale is a meditation on modern life, the nature of God, and the role of entertainment in our lives. 

Email me if interested in Black Box.  

How Does A Book Become Published?

How does a book become published? That's a good question. This is how the process goes, or so I've gathered from reading the internet and trying to get my first novel Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere published.

First, you have two options. You can publish through Amazon and people will be able to buy your book online and through Kindle. But no one will ever read your book. 148,424 titles were self-published in 2011, and the vast majority of them were awful; too poorly-written, too weird, or just too derivative to be published in any other manner. Of course, there are success stories, like 26 year old author Amanda Hocking, who became a millionaire by selling her book for less than 3 bucks online. But most self-published authors get lost in the void. There's also the consideration that there's no paper copy of your work. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I believe books are meant to be held and read in the real world, and I think Kindles and other electronic readers are a fad that won't last. I don't know any serious readers who read solely through digital means.

The second option is the traditional method of having a publisher pick up your book. Back in the old days, you could mail a copy to a publisher and somebody would read it, but those days are gone, sadly. You have to deal with agents, and you court an agent by sending them a query letter, which is a one-page summary of why they should try to get your book published. Referrals from other writers or editors help prevent query letters from being automatically discarded, but I don't know any other writers or editors. Basically, it's a long shot getting your work published through the traditional method, because agents get bombarded with queries, and oftentimes, especially in economically tremulous times such as now, agents are looking for work that neatly fits into very specific genres; hence the rise of paranormal romance (Twilight rip offs) and the young adult genre (which started with Harry Potter).

So I'm looking for an agent for Black Box, which I've recently finished editing. The query letter writing process has yet to begin, but if anyone knows somebody in the publishing business or is in fact an agent, give me an email and I'll send you a copy of Black Box. It's literary fiction; it's funny; one of the main characters is a talking Sasquatch; its plot concerns video games and brain-washing; and there's a quest for God. I'll put my query letter on the blog when it's finished.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Four Old Poems

I haven't written any poetry for a long time, but I'd like to share four poems that I wrote during my last year of college.

A Story I Heard
He sat in his kitchen
beneath a green pop-up tent
The peyote wouldn’t let go
of his brain.
His friends put out a plate
every day, like he was
some wild jungle cat,
too wary of the daylight
to emerge from his lair,
too full of white teeth
to be approached directly.
  All the while:
        Bob Dylan sat next to him
        reeking of Highway 61
and police sirens,
        stinking of broken harmonicas
        and ancient folk-singer socks.
        The fumes burned his eyes
        and melted his own ragged garments
        into borrowed hand-me-downs.
        How he hated
        of a generation.
        But etiquette was preserved
        even in this far-out barn-seed bivouac.
So he realized that
you could never tell
Robert Zimmerman
        how badly his
no matter how much
        your lungs ache

Rosa Palm and Her 5 Sisters
I can’t monument a moment
Stop a glass
My photos are melting pockets
  Of gold.
We are children
  And I am a child wonder.
Progress lost to me
As love is to the birds.
What have I got
On my ancient fathers?
I’m an idle masturbator
And they were fingers in motion.
Generation after generation
We still jerk off.

Andrew Jackson, I love thee
In the foyer of the White House, you let anyone
 Eat of a two ton wheel of cheese
        How cool is that?
You started the spoils system in politics
        Were you proud of that?
        Were you proud of all the Indians you killed?
I don’t think you were a decent man
        (But who really is?)
You killed the best gunfighter in Tennessee
Your hands must’ve left blood on everything you touched
        Yet you never saw their ghosts
Why do I love thee?

My Pockets
I was cleaning out my pockets the other day and this is what I found:
3 balls of lint;
A crumbled receipt for a 6 pack of beer;
An ink pen drawing of a dinosaur;
A muddy glass eye;
The splinters of a toothpick;
A Christmas card from Jesus;
The dried husk of a raisin;
A lipstick-smeared love letter to myself;
A half-empty pack of Marlboros;
The petrified paw of my favorite cat;
3 whole years of my life, covered in bubble gum, tar-stained and wasted, left lying on the ground like a barely smoked cigarette, smoldering and useless.
At least I found enough change for a candy bar.
Ob-la-Di, Ob-la-Da.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Never Happy

This is a song written by myself and Mitch R. Singer, a completely fabricated character in my novel Black Box. Proceed to listen. That is all.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


Are you ready for some rawk? This is a song called Daughters. Enjoy and be merry. In other news, I believe my band Theme Park Mistress is no more. So it goes. We had Stay in tune for the inevitable 2030 reunion tour.

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Game of Thrones; Straight Man

Book Reviews

Oh Sean Bean, we hardly knew thee.

I never read fantasy; I'm pretty much a literary snob. The last couple of years, I've read almost entirely heady stuff by renowned authors such as David Foster Wallace, Don DeLillo, Julio Cortazar, and Haruki Murakami. Congrats to me, right? It's not that I look down upon anybody who reads pop fiction; it's more that pop fiction rarely concerns itself with anything besides the machinations of plot, and as a reader, I'm interested in authors who deal with life. "Fiction is about what it means to be a human being," said David Foster Wallace, and his quote essentially sums up why I read what I read. 

All that aside, my wife got me to read A Game of Thrones, and I found it both entertaining and addictive. George R.R. Martin has that pop quality to his writing that makes it hard to not turn the page, an ability that is lacking in a lot of literary fiction. There are supernatural elements, such as dragons and magic, but the book is focused on the struggle for the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms, and is in essence a political thriller rather than an escapist jaunt through a land of swords and sorcery. The universe itself is, like all high fantasy, reminiscent of Tolkien, but unlike Middle-Earth, you get the sense that good will not necessarily triumph over evil. The bad guys aren't all bad--Tyrion Lannister, a dwarf, is the best character--and the books ends by killing off the noblest character (which pretty much everybody knows by now). This work, however, is overly long, and it's only the first book in an unfinished five volume series. And I wonder how much satisfaction readers of the series will have if the saga is ever completed. Martin likes to kill his characters, and the eventual crisis that will resolve the story is telegraphed (the Others, a race of supernatural beings only hinted at, will certainly invade Westeros and drag everyone away from fighting over the Iron Thrones), so you have to consider why Martin has dragged out his tale over so many gigantic books. I have no problem with enormous books (Infinite Jest is one of my favorites), but if you're going to write one, make sure you have something important to say. I'm not sure if the material warrants its enormous scope. 

Straight Man is the story of William Henry Devereaux Jr., a middle-aged professor in a small Pennsylvanian town. It's a pretty hilarious novel--Henry threatens to execute a goose every day until he gets the English Department budget--centering around Devereaux's various mid-life problems. His colleagues bicker among themselves, his daughter's marriage is in trouble, and he finds himself attracted to three women, only one of whom is his wife. Among these issues, Devereaux has to deal with the return of his estranged father, a looming budgetary crisis, and his inability to urinate. Somehow, Russo resolves all these plot threads in a satisfactory manner. Henry is a funny narrator who is easy to empathize with, which is quite a feat, considering how mid-life crisis stories tend to be depressing. This is a book about coming to terms with one's circumstances, and in its own way, it's fairly uplifting. Russo was an English professor, so you have to wonder how much here is totally fabricated. All in all, a good book and an easy read. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Weightlifting Update

This is how I feel today.

Well, I suppose it's best to catch a problem early on. I'd gotten up to three sets of five with 270 lbs in the low-bar back squat, when I realized that my knees were going in on the decent and the ascension. Why is this a problem? When your knees don't stay out, you use less muscle and make your squat weaker. You also put yourself in danger, as this video of Ed Coan, the greatest powerlifter of all time, makes quite clear. 

So I kept taking weight off, trying to find a poundage that wouldn't make my knees buckle, until I basically said "screw it" and deloaded all the way back to 135 lbs, which I was able to do three sets of five with. At least my form was perfect; I reverted to the high bar squat because the low bar was giving me a hell of a pain in the left shoulder. I think my squat stand is too low for low bar, which is unfortunate, because you can squat more with low bar form. In conclusion, months of progress vanished today. 

My overhead press has been stuck at 140 for five reps for some time, so I add two extra sets with a little bit of knee bend to see if I can jump start progress. Deloaded the deadlift to 305 for one set of five because I was taking too long to perform reps with 325. On a positive note, I managed to do three sets of six with 215 in the bench press, which was a personal record. My one-rep max is probably over 250 now, so that's progress. I also deadlifted 350 for a single last week, so all is not lost. 

But the squat has been the bane of my existence. When I started lifting back in August, I could only do partials because I had to use a decline bench station. When I got my rack two months ago, I played with low bar form and it seemed like I was making progress, only to discover today that my form sucked. At least I know I'll be able to add weight quickly after having deloaded so much. Set backs happen. 

In other news, I think I'll have Black Box edited by the end of the month. Afterwards, the long and tedious process of writing and submitting query letters to agents will begin. If I'm unable to have the work published, I'm going to put it online through Amazon for a low price. 

I'm not sure what's happening with Theme Park Mistress. We haven't practiced since our disastrous February gig, and upcoming shows on the 9th, 10th, and 11th may have fell through.