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.