miércoles, 20 de septiembre de 2017

There's an abandoned shopping cart in my brain

You know those guys in action movies who sit down at a restaurant and then remember what everyone was wearing? Well, I'm that guy. I can't take on a dozen ninjas like those filmtastic badasses, but I try to never sit with my back to the door, pay attention to exits when I'm somewhere new, and constantly look at places and people. Sometimes it's for safety, but also because stories are everywhere. In any case, last week I left home and drove past a shopping cart stuffed with someone's life. You know what I'm talking about: clothes, food, and other assorted things that let you know the owner of the cart takes everything he or she owns wherever they go. At first, I didn't think anything about it. The homeless person could be somewhere else, maybe copping a fix or sleeping in a hidden shade or maybe taking a crap while the rest of the world went about its business. However, when I drove back, the cart was still there.

The next day when I went to the gym really early, the shopping cart was in the exact same spot. That was weird. Its presence set off a few alarms. Homeless folks don't stick around the middle of the street if there's no place to lay down or a busy intersection where they can get some moola. They also don't leave everything they own by the side of the road and walk off into the sunset. In any case, that afternoon I saw the cart in the same spot, untouched and cooking under the Texas sun.

The third day made it obvious: the owner of the cart was gone. The possibilities are many. They go from the awesome to the grim. One end of the spectrum could be they scratched the right ticket and won a ton of money. The other end is their body is now worm food in some gutter or abandoned house. That afternoon, however, there was a change. Someone took the two heavy coats that sat atop everything else in the cart. You know the kind I'm talking about; those coats some unlucky folks use when it's 25 degrees and keep using when it's 90 degrees. The point is the missing coats shifted my perspective. The developing narrative was no longer about the missing owner.

That afternoon, the bags of food were gone. A few other items followed. Every time I drove by, something else was missing. I never saw anyone taking anything and I doubt folks were jumping out of their cars to grab stuff from the car and take it home, so the disappearing things were probably going to other street denizens. That fucked me up. I've stolen toilet paper when things got rough and I've eaten my share of Ramen, but I've never had to take cans that had been cooking under the sun for days from an abandoned shopping cart by the side of the road. It made me think about that line about one man's garbage being another man's treasure.

The cart is still there. I walked past it yesterday and peeked inside. The only item left is a grimy black tarp. The rest is gone. Redistributed "wealth" or whatever you wanna call it. However, the story of the cart, whoever left it there, and the folks who came after and scavenged what was in it are now all in my head. They make me grateful in fucking rough times, and they are asking to be turned into part of a story. I'll do just that, but first I had to share this and tell you to keep your eyes open at all times because the streets operate on many levels, and missing or ignoring what goes down in one of those levels means you're not really seeing the whole picture. Stay awesome, lovely creatures.   

jueves, 13 de abril de 2017

You NEVER pay to get published. Never.

There's a ridiculous anthology call making the rounds today. When I started doing this thing in English, I had a few bad experiences with anthologies and "editors" and learned a few lessons. If you're just starting out, here are some tips for you:

1. Unless you can buy food and pay rent with exposure, focus on paying anthologies. There are some situations (like charity anthologies) where this rule can be ignored.

2. Anyone who asks you to pay to be in a book is a douche. Tell those people to go die in a tire fire. You spent time and effort writing, and should be treated like so.

3. Covers matter. A publisher who doesn't get you a decent cover doesn't care about your book/story.

4. You should never pay for a cover, proofreading, formatting/layout, and editing. A real press takes care of all that for you.

5. If you read a submission call and find a handful of typos and misspelled words, forget about it and move on.

6. The only correct answer to an editor telling you that sometimes you have to "pay to play when starting out" is "Well, sometimes you gotta eat shit and die." Likewise, editors should help you make the story better, but changes have to go through you before the anthology comes out.

7. If you're in doubt, reach out to a pro. Ask questions. Folks who've been around the block a few times aren't fans of asshats taking advantage of those who are dying to see their name in print.

8. Remember that getting your work in a superb anthology is better than getting published in a dozen shitty ones.

9. Get a contract. Promises were made for religious stuff and to help dying folks go in peace.

10. A bunch of authors together in the same book = an anthology. A single author = a collection. Think twice before working with folks who get these mixed up. (Yeah, common usage beats dictionary any damn day.)

miércoles, 29 de marzo de 2017

Binge reading graphic novels

So here's the thing: I never really got into comics other than Mortadelo y Filemón and despite reading across the board, never really became a fan of graphic novels. That being said, I've always recognized that there are true gems out there, so I've read a few graphic novels and memoirs here and there. A fe weeks ago, I was staying at David James Keaton's house and started reading Torso. I liked it. Then, last weekend, I decided to stop reading the dozen books I'm currently reading and binge read graphic stuff. I went to the Yarborough Library, where I wrote my dissertation and most of Hungry Darkness and Zero Saints, and picked up Steve Niles/Nat Jone's Giant Monster, Joe Casey/Steve Parkhouse's The Milkman Murders, Gilbert Hernandez's Julio's Day, Evie Wylde/Joe Sumner's Everything is Teeth, and Jacques Tardi's It Was the War of the Trenches. I added two I owned to the pile: Corinne Maier/Anna Simon's Einstein and Jonathan Ames/Dean Haspiel's The Alcoholic. Between Saturday and Sunday, I devoured all seven. Here are my impressions:

 - Steve Niles/Nat Jones' Giant Monster: Short and violent, but kinda silly and very predictable. For fans of graphic stuff, Niles is a household name, so I'm guessing this is one of his weakest outings. Not much of a plot and too many cliches to be great. Verdict: 4/10.

- Joe Casey/Steve Parkhouse's The Milkman Murders. Smart, hyperviolent, and dark. I really dug it. They take suburbian households and expose their sometimes rotten core. I also really liked having a older mom as the (anti)hero. The intro sucked and kinda made Casey look like an ass. Verdict: 7.5/10.

- Gilbert Hernández's Julio's Day. Great concept. It packs an entire lifetime of 100 years into a graphic novel you can read in one sitting. It also deals with changing societal views of things like Mexicans and homosexuality without going too deep into it, which made it feel like an organic approach. Sad and full of death. Less characters would've been better, just like less focus on some scenes/themes. Bonus points for having an intro by the great Brian Evenson. Verdict: 7/10.

- Evie Wyld/Joe Sumner's Everything is Teeth. A heartfelt look at life and the passage of time...but with motherfucking sharks. Unique and gory. I liked how Wyld framed her childhood around one thing in order to make it very digestible. Verdict: 8/10.

-  Jacques Tardi's It Was the War of the Trenches. A labor of love. Great art. Dark. Too disjointed for my taste. It's incredible that Tardi writes and illustrates his stuff. This was the longest and most text-heavy of all the books. I think Tardi is a novelist who just likes to illustrate. I'll definitely read more of his work, but this one was all over the place. Verdict: 6/10.

- Corinne Maier/Anna Simon's Einstein. Surprisingly well researched, honest, and fun. A great graphic biography. They weren't afraid to tackle his work, personal life, and even his flaws with equal wit and candor. Verdict: 9/10.

- Jonathan Ames/Dean Haspiel's The Alcoholic. I think all graphic novels (and this one is kinda of a memoir, too) should be like this. This is a superb/gritty/honest look at loss, ego, writing, addiction, and love. As funny and touching as it is sad and depressive. Probably my favorite of the seven. Verdict: 9/10.

So, the thing is that I planned on doing this for a weekend and moving on, but I had a blast. It was a strange break from my usual weekend reading, so I decided to do it three or four times this year. That will also (hopefully) help me read way more than 200 books this year. Don't worry, I'll be honest and tell you which were graphic novels/memoirs when I publish my list at the end of the year. In any case, the upcoming weekend looked mellow, so I went to the library again today (a different branch) and picked up Emily Carroll's Through the Woods, Alfred and Oliver Ka's Why I Killed Peter, Gilbert Hernández's Speak of the Devil, H.P. Lovecraft/N.J. Culbard's At the Mountains of Madness, Si Spurrier/P.J. Holden's Numbercruncher, Jacques Tardi/Benjamin Legrand/Dominique Grange's New York Mon Amour. If I read them all, I have more onmy bookshelves. Now tell me what are some of your favorites that you think I should check out. Happy reading.

miércoles, 8 de marzo de 2017

Guide to writing your fifth novel

Guide to writing your fifth novel (yeah, it only works for the fifth one...and your mileage may vary):
1. Stand in the middle of the road in a strange part of town and scream "Everything's a construct!" at the top of your lungs.
2. Read amazing novels and get angry because you'll never be that good and maybe no one loves you.
3. Get inside your blood. Find the ghosts that ride your veins and fight them.
4. Pull your deepest fears outta the bottom drawer of your soul and staple them to your face with the sharpened bones of tiny birds.
5. Listen to your favorite music. Then listen to something impossibly darker. Listen to something new. Listen to something awful and scary. Listen to the ominous silence.
6. Eat tacos and ponder life without soy sauce.
7. Remind yourself of every fight, every accident, every dance with absolute fear, every instance in which a fucking gun made an unexpected appearance, every night spent pressing your tongue against the blood clots on the inside of your lips, every broken promise, every drop of anger, every death that crushed you, every spirit you've ever felt.
8. Punch a wall until your knuckles bleed. Lick the blood off your knuckles. Punch the wall some more. Remember no one owes you a thing. Smile. Pick up a gutter flower and put it in your hair.
9. Type as if the keyboard owed you money. When you hit a passage that means something, hold your breath.
10. Reply to the voices. Recognize aliens are real. They live in the closet and come out to watch you sleep sometimes. Scream at the moon. Understand that, if there is a hell, its fire is nothing compared to what you hide underneath your skin. Obsess about everything. Cry without shedding any tears. Finish the damn thing. Move on to the next one with a new set of neon scars.

miércoles, 30 de noviembre de 2016

In the Shower

There are three voices in my head that take turns narrating my life: Tom Waits, Sam Elliott, and Werner Herzog. Of those three, Herzog is usually the default voice. In any case, he inspired me to write some Werner Herzog erotica. The story won the 2016 Ultimate Bizarro Showdown, but I didnt get to read the whole thing because I'm an idiot and started cracking jokes as soon as I was in front of the microphone. So, here is the whole thing. Hope you love it. It's sexy and shit.

In the Shower: the first Werner Herzog erotica ever

In the shower, Johnny stood with his hands at the back of his head, like someone just arrested. His mind was full of images of prison shankings, crying men, and big bulliesturning the asses of fresh inmates into entertainment centers. Then his girlfriend, Marie, pulled the curtain aside and stepped into the shower. 
“How you doing, sweetie?” she asked. 
"About what?” she asked, taking a step forward and pressing her perky breasts against his chest, her nipples digging ever so gently into his skin. 
Life on our planet has been a constant series of cataclysmic events, and we are more suitable for extinction than a trilobite or a reptile. So we will vanish. There's no doubt in my heart.”
“Don’t be silly,” Marie said, running her hand down his abdomen and twirling her fingers around his wild, unkempt bush of jet-black pubic hair, which always reminded him of a lost lumberjack found in an abandoned mine after six years in the wilderness, his psyche fractured, his ability to speak impaired by insanity, his teeth rotten into black stumps, his breath a fetid miasma combining the smells of fresh fecal matter from the bowels of an alcoholic truck driver and the decomposing flesh of a mangy possum. 
Wanna have some fun in the shower and then get something to eat?” 
I despise formal restaurants. I find all of that formality to be very base and vile. I would much rather eat potato chips on the sidewalk.”
Marie grabbed a bar of soap and started lathering Johnny up. She worked her way down to his hardening member and took it in her soft, wet hands. After a while he shut his eyes, and Marie, wielding her fingernails now and staring at his face, helped him out with two practiced hands, one squeezing the family jewels and the other stroking him up and down. 
“You like that, baby?”
“Sure, but what are you trying to accomplish?”
“What do you mean?” she asked, her hands suddenly less sure of themselves
If you do not have an absolutely clear vision of something, where you can follow the light to the end of the tunnel, then it doesn't matter whether you're bold or cowardly, or whether you're stupid or intelligent. Doesn't get you anywhere.”
Marie kept up what she was doing, gently squeezing Johnny’s balls, but a sliver of doubt had been wedged between her intent and herself. She felt a bit lost. 
“Why do you always say things like that, baby?”
“I know you don’t like to hear these things, but facts sometimes have a strange and bizarre power that makes their inherent truth seem unbelievable.”
Marie knew where this was going. The conversation that loomed in front of her was beast murdering the blossoming wetness between her legs. 
“You need to enjoy this moment, Johnny,” she said, punctuating her words with another gentle squeeze to his genitals. “Life is too short to be so sad and serious all the time!” 
“I need to have these conversations with you, Marie. The nothingness that surrounds us it too loud and only these thoughts make me feel a bit safer. You know civilization is like a thin layer of ice upon a deep ocean of chaos and darkness. You jerking me off won’t change that.” 
“I think you need help,” she whispered, her breath as hot as the steam from the shower. 
He reached down and roughly grabbed Marie between the legs. She felt his long, bony finger slip inside her womanhood. His thumb slid into the crack of her bottom and lifted her like a bowling ball or a six-pack. Nah, make that a feather. Yeah, that works better. Oh, wait, the fourth wall. Shit. Oh, man, this is so metaAnyway, she blushed, her mind suddenly racing with phallic imagery. She felt his mancock stiffen further in her handsit was long and impressive. Yeah, I said mancock. Single words. I’ll take all the awards right now, motherfuckers. 
“I believe the magic is happening, sweetie,” she said, breathing a little bit like Britney Spears on…basically every fucking song. 
“I believe the common denominator of the universe is not harmony; but chaos, hostility and murder, he replied. 
“I need to feel your steely manhood like a thunderbolt of pleasures in the pink center of my being!” moaned Marie. 
Johnny penetrated her with his engorged member, leaned into side of her face, and asked her: “What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams.”
“Oh, tiny baby Jesus, please pleasure me with that wonderful cock of yours, my love!” Marie screamed. 
Johnny keep thrusting into her core and said: “Look into the eyes of a chicken and you will see real stupidity. It is a kind of bottomless stupidity, a fiendish stupidity. They are the most horrifying, cannibalistic and nightmarish creatures in the world.” 
Then, just as they were both about to climax, the fucking void swallowed them both and no one cried about it or thought about them ever again in this cruel, overturned piss pot of a world full of dying people, hungry children, and horrific crimes. But hey, at least they went out fucking, right? 

viernes, 11 de noviembre de 2016

Friday Night

It's relatively early on a Friday night and I'm cruisin' around Austin taking swigs from a bottle of cheap wine after yet another job interview fiasco. All of us are a few bad decisions away from being winos, so keep your judging to a minimum, jack. Anyway, I'm out here looking for ghosts and answers, fishing for options and trying to find the corpse of opportunity in some fucking gutter. I'm out here because I'm too restless to stay home and too damn broke to go anywhere. As far as interstitial spaces go, this one is on the awful side of the spectrum.

I'm listening to Nighthawks at the Diner and thinking that folks like Tom Waits, Nick Cave, and Leonard Cohen, who fucking died yesterday because Death sometimes makes horrible mistakes, made me want to write more than many famous authors ever did. "Yeah, I know, things are tough all over," says Tom. You got that fucking right, man.

I want to scream into void and punch a wall, but years of doing that have taught me that the result is a sore throat and busted knuckles. I can't afford pills or weed or a bottle of something better, so I have to inhale all this truth and deal with it without a single balm, without a bit of a filter, without a damn layer of merciful cushioning. Then I turn the radio a little louder and realize that politics and anger are noise that interrupt my usual mellow. They're like huge bees fucking up my picnic. I have a stack of novels at home and a whispering creek right outside my door. In my head I have a woman, a narrative, and a thirst for revolution. If I let them sing to me, something akin to a miracle could happen.

I look out the window and take in the city. There's a man dressed like Zorro at a bus stop. A few blocks later, a dude in a yellow wig is holding a flag and a "Vote for Bernie!" sign. At a red light on Burnet, I see an obese woman screaming at someone I can't see on the sidewalk. Just because I can't see whatever or whoever she's screaming at doesn't mean that he/she/it is not there. I find myself hoping she wins the argument. The light changes and once again, like a thousand times before, I fall in love with this city. Yeah, she has tried to kill me a few times, but true love is all about forgiveness.

Suddenly I accept it all. Tomorrow I will still be poor and the next book will still be waiting for me to write it and Trump will still be our next president despite our protests and there will still be a need for love and revolution and comprehension and empathy and people will still be upset about everything and arguing online and kids will go hungry in every country and someone will check out via a bullet to the brain and someone will kiss another human for the first time and a baby will be born and change a few lives the instant he or she appears and someone will listen to some of the songs that I keep in my head and the buzzing of a tattoo machine will turn blank skin into art and someone will devour delicious chicken tacos and someone will bleed and someone will say fuck as they twist open a bottle of aspirin and someone will get mad at a movie and someone will buy a book someone else wrote and someone will be in a car accident and and someone will have a great birthday and someone else will eat a piece of their cake and someone will look at a stranger in a public space and imagine a perfect future with them before swallowing it all and not saying a word and someone will be happy that it's Saturday and someone will drink alone in a dirty sofa and remember that thing that destroyed their life and someone will decide to go on a diet and someone will hug a loved one and someone will make an important phone call as butterflies fill their stomach with uncomfortable fluttering and someone will do their best to fight injustice and the world will be a little better because they gave a shit about it and someone will dream about taking a trip to Africa and someone will listen to Fela Kuti and someone will wake up next to a stranger an think fuuuuuuuuuuck before looking around for their shit and bailing and someone will project their insecurities on someone else and someone will hop on a plane with a rucksack full of dreams and someone will learn to forgive and someone will stab someone else for reasons that may or may not make the stabbing a righteous thing and someone will make their mom happy and someone will walk their dog and someone will peel an orange and smell its wonderful aroma and someone will put a gun in their mouth and then remove it without pulling the damn trigger and someone will see a child smile at a dog and someone will realize how fucking awesome it is to watch birds flying into the horizon and someone will dip their toes in the ocean and someone will remember an ex with nothing but love or hatred or respect or lust and someone will have a great conversation with a stranger and the world will keep spinning and I will keep living because that's the only thing we can do.

Then Tom sings and I listen and it all makes sense. You have to learn to love the world even when it's ugly and you don't understand it. You have to love the world as you stand up for what's right and stomp on the skulls of fucking Nazis. You have to love the anger you feel and the things that are wrong and you have to love your ability to fight for change.

I turn around in the parking lot of a grocery store and head back home as I sing along these words for you: 

"Nobody, nobody
Will love you the way that I could
Cause nobody, nobody's that strong
Cause nobody is that strong"

miércoles, 21 de septiembre de 2016

Saturday Morning Blood

The phone rings. It's around 2:00am. I’d like to say the phone wakes me up, but it doesn’t. I’m up, watching some band whose name I ignore doing their thing on Austin City Limits. I’m back home for a few weeks because sometimes you move out and run out of money and nothing works out and then you’re broke and sad and drunk and empty and you have to come back home for a while with your tail between your legs and the best things about that is no rent and mom does your laundry and there’s food in the fridge and you have cable for a while.
Anyway, my brain jumps to terrible conclusions.
Someone died in a car crash.
The dude calling kidnapped a family member and wants ten million dollars.
Aliens are liquefying people in the streets with strange guns.
I have to get dressed and go identify my best friend’s mutilated corpse. 
Someone decided to take me up on an offer of being the muscle for some project...
I get up, walk to the wall mount thingy, and pick up the phone.
“Yeah, put Maria on.”
Maria is my sister. Dudes like her. I say that to convey the fact that dudes calling and asking for her is not unheard of. Luckily, most of them call at regular hours.
It’s too late. Or too early. Pick one. I don’t care. The point is my brain is not working properly and depression is sort of hanging over me like those personal clouds that rain on a single character on cartoons. I'm trying to ignore all of it and, right before the call, was focusing on inventing names for the band I’d been listening to.
The Open Books
Boogie Wipes
Too Many Strings
Decorating Couplers
This Isn’t Your Band
Who Needs a Name?
The Toxic Organics
The Somewhatoriginals
Nothing Works
I go back to the call with only a third of my brain.
“Who’s calling?”
“That’s none of your business. Is Maria there or not?”
The guy at the other end of the line has an attitude. My attitude is bigger. My attitude snaps my brain away from naming the band and gets to work. I realize I’m angry. 
“Listen, motherfucker, I asked you your name.”
“Who the fuck are you?”
“I’m Maria’s brother and…”
“Well, Maria’s brother, put her on or I’m gonna pay you a visit tomorrow.”
I've seen too many fucking movies. I'm good at tough guy lines. Yeah, even when some have lead to me spitting out chunks of teeth. I drop a good line. 
“Nothing in this life that would make me happier.”
The guy says something else that doesn’t register because anger tends to fill my ears with marching ants. He hangs up before I can reply to whatever it is he said.
The funny thing is my voice is nasal (a smart line got my nose busted and one side doesn't work properly since then) and somewhat high-pitched. I sound small. I’m not small. Well, I'm short, but not small. Anyway, I tell folks I suffer from Mike Tyson syndrome.  
A few hours later, I’m still awake. The sun is out. I'm still watching shit on TV that isn't registering. Then someone rings the doorbell. My sister’s in the shower. My mom’s in the kitchen. I can smell her cigarettes in my room. That means I have to get the door. I walk to the door wearing a ratty Bob Marley t-shirt and orange boxers with tiny blue whales on them and open the door.
The guy standing outside the door is about 6’3. He’s wearing blue shorts, a yellow shirt, and a shit-eating grin.
I’ve seen him around. He lives two blocks down. Biggest house in the neighborhood. Nicest cars parked outside, too. He’s three years younger than me, a year older than my sister.
I take a step toward him and obliterate that thing folks call personal space.
The grin disappears quickly.
I’m about 5’9, but I’ve been into bodybuilding/powerlifting for a while.
The guy is probably a buck sixty. I’m about 215.
“Are you…Maria’s brother?”
The voice tells me it’s definitely the guy from the phone.
I pop him in the nose. It's a good punch, but didn't have everything I can throw behind it. 
The guy takes a step back, holds his nose. I see blood.
I grab his neck and push him back, away from the door. The guy’s defense tactic is to collapse on top of my arm.
I remove my appendage and hit him on the side of the head. He goes down.
I grab a leg and drag him out to the sidewalk.
He’s saying things, but I don’t pay attention.
I grab his yellow shirt, which now has a bit of blood on it, and yank him into somewhat of a sitting position using my left hand.
He lets go of his nose and grabs my wrist. I punch him again. This time around, I put a good dose of anger and weight behind it. Something cracks. More blood comes from his nose. I smile.
Then, surprisingly, I punch him again.
My fist smashes against the hand he was bringing up to his face. He screams.
Pop, pop. Two more. It feels really good.
The anger about the phone call is gone. I have no idea why I’m messing his face up this bad. Except I know why. I’m punching every rich asshole I’ve ever met. POP. I’m making my own frustrations bleed. I’m punching everyone who’s taller than me. POP. I’m punching the fact that I had to come back home broke and with my tail between my legs. I’m punching all my fucking class resentment.I'm punching my depression.
Then my sister and my mom are trying to pull me back, screaming things about not killing him.
I stop.
I look down at the guy. He’s gurgling blood, his eyes more white than anything else.I let him go and wipe my bloodied fist on my boxer shorts. As I do it, I look down at the tiny blue whales on my underwear. That's when I start laughing at the beauty of it all. You see, depression sucks and violence solves nothing, but sometimes life gives you small treats and you end up with a rich kid’s blood all over your knuckles and cackling like a madman on the sidewalk outside your parents’ house on a beautiful Saturday morning.