Category Archives: Author Stuff

2016 Retrospective

I

So. 2016. What a fucking year.
 

II

Last night I played a video game that horrified me.

Stephen King defines three elements of fear: terror, horror, and revulsion. In the interest of expediency, I will re-define them briefly. Terror is the build-up of fear, the suspense and dread that precedes the actual scare. Horror is the moment of revelation. Revulsion is the “gross-out,” a sort of gag reflex or antipathy.

To use practical examples, terror is when the heroine is exploring the abandoned mansion with a flashlight. Every shadow looms with menace, every floorboard creaks underfoot, the mansion is silent except for the heroine’s own breathing and anxious heartbeat, and we know that the killer is watching her but we don’t know from where. Horror is when she turns the corner and the killer is there, as tall and as broad as a bear, blood-dripping knife in one hand and the severed head of the heroine’s boyfriend in the other. Revulsion is when she turns to flee, opens the wrong door, and the corpse of one of the killer’s older victims falls on her, all writhing maggots and rotting flesh and liquefying organs and so forth.

We’re all on the same page? Good.

Last night I played a video game that horrified me. Maybe you’ve heard of it: The Beginner’s Guide.

Now, here’s the thing about this game. It is not a horror game. Not at all. There’s a lot of things going on beneath the surface of this game and one’s enjoyment of it hinges on experiencing the last fifth or so unspoiled, so I won’t go into detail. But here’s the gist of it: the narrator, Davey Wreden, is presenting the short little video games made by a friend of his, Coda, and talking about the history of the projects, sharing his thoughts on what it all means, relating some stories about their relationship, and so forth. Throughout the course of the game, Davey presents a picture of the rise and fall of a creator. Coda starts out with a lot of small and strange ideas that are played with some and then put away. Except for the good ideas, which get iterated on and developed. But after a few years, even as the games themselves get more polished and the mechanics and the themes more fully developed, the person behind them begins to dissolve. Davey shows us Coda struggling with creativity, with depression, with isolation, with internal and external pressures to succeed. The games become bleak, impenetrable, self-deprecating to the point of nihilism.

And I was horrified, because I understood Coda perfectly. I was horrified because I’d turned the corner of my haunted mansion and found myself staring into a mirror.

 

III

2016 has been my most unproductive year as a writer in recent memory. Certainly since I graduated from my MFA program back in 2011, possibly since I first started seriously considering myself a writer in late high school/early college. This felt… bad. It felt bad to be unproductive. Like I was letting down the folks who had randomly stumbled across my writing and enjoyed it and wouldn’t mind seeing more. Like I was letting down anyone who’d ever believed in me, whether they still do or not. Like I was letting down myself most of all. If I’m a writer, I have to write. If I don’t write and being a writer is a cornerstone of my self-identity, then what am I?

Nothing, I guess.

Once a posting schedule started slipping away from me, everything kind of did. The stories I began didn’t hold my interest and so went unfinished. The ideas I had for new stories excited me for only a moment before I dismissed them as dumb or unoriginal or boring. In 2014, I published every Goddamn day of the year. 366 posts published in 2014 (that last one being the year-in-review post.) This past year, I published barely a sixth as much. So what changed?

Well. In 2014 I was deeply, profoundly depressed, for starters.

 

IV

I’m not going to go into the reasons why. If you know me personally, then you know why. If you don’t, you could probably guess if you went looking for recurring themes in my writing during that period. Suffice to say, I spent large portions of 2014 unhappy, and that unhappiness informed a lot of my writing. Whether in attempts to confront it or escape it, it drove me to put pen to paper.

2015 was a better year. I was less productive. 2016 was a better year still. I was even less productive.

There’s reams of literature out there, both philosophical and academic, on the links between creativity and depression, writing and substance abuse, yadda yadda yadda. I’m not going to rehash it. But I will admit to fearing in the back of my head that my creative impulses required me to be unhappy in order to achieve their full expression. Is writing something I can only do if there’s a knife in my gut and someone’s twisting it?

I don’t think I’ve articulated that fear before. To anyone. But hey, since I’m laying it all on the line here, let’s go a bit further.

While I’ve produced relatively little new content this year, one thing I have done is work on my novel lots. Remember The Beast? I started it in November of 2014 and finished it in July of 2015. Nine months for a novel. That’s not bad.

That was the first draft. As of December 30th, 2016, I’m currently about a third of the way through editing draft number five.

Which I suppose still isn’t bad, necessarily, but I’ve been working on the same damn story going on two and a half years now. To be fair, I think it’s leagues better now than it was when I first set it down (I don’t see how it couldn’t be. Most of that first draft was written while drunk and frantically trying to finish it for the NaNoWriMo deadline.) But at the same time, I’m frustrated that it simply isn’t done yet. I’ve printed out the novel four times now and edited it with pen and pencil before typing the changes into a new doc and beginning again. That’s over two reams dedicated to this thing and more man-hours than I care to estimate. It’s not exactly an albatross around my neck, but there’s some weight to this. And it’s not that I’m working on it to be done with it and move on to something else, I’m working on it because I want to see it completed and try to get it published, and I want to get it published because I want to see my name out there, see something real, see something that proves once and for all that the time and effort I’ve invested these past two, or four, or eleven, or twenty-nine years was worth it.

I mean, what if I die?

 

V

Yeah, I’m not ready to talk about this particular set of neuroses. I’ll be brief and you can draw your own conclusions.

At this stage in my life, I’ve got friends that are married, that have kids, that are engaged, that live with their significant others, et cetera. People walk in and out of each other’s lives, going from flesh and blood, to echoes, to ghosts, little wisps of memory that haunt the forgotten corners of your mind. I don’t think that I’m a nihilist, but I’ve called myself an existentialist for years, and a substantial part of my world view is informed by an unshakable belief in the impermanence of all things. I don’t think that I’ll ever be rich and powerful, and that’s fine. I grew up before reality TV really caught on and I’ve basically always been smug and self-important enough to think myself above the culture of celebrity and fame worship, so this was never something I had to make peace with. I don’t need my name on the side of a building, I don’t need statues in my likeness. But as I get older and I have no family of my own, no children or anything like that to show for it, I do wonder what my presence on this planet will have amounted to. Another ghost in the memories of my friends and family, I suppose. But a book with your name on it, I see it like a diamond, shining in the dark, hard and rough, that I can pick up and touch in my hand.

That last line was a quote from Death of a Salesman. Make of that what you will.

 

VI

Okay. Right now, this is two and a half pages single-spaced. It’s as long as anything I’ve written in one sitting all year. So where have we landed?

On an individual level, 2016 was actually not a bad year for me. I spent a couple weeks in Japan; that was rad. I saw a buddy I hadn’t seen since college, I visited Minneapolis in the summer and met one of my favorite musicians, I made some bold (and stupid) career decisions. I even got one of my older poems published (and somehow forgot to mention this at all. Go check it out here: http://www.defenestrationmag.net/2016/08/to-a-distant-lover-by-thomas-cavazos/)

Actually that last bit is, I think, a perfect example of my relationship with my writing this year. Even the good things didn’t get recognized for how frustrated and disappointed I felt over my lack of productivity, and my attempts at being productive were hindered by self-doubt. I tried to write down my thoughts in reaction to the US presidential election this year, the way I had in response to the shootings in Paris last November, and nothing I set down was good enough for me. The election required not just insight but eloquence, and I believed myself unequal to the task.

 

VII

Well, fuck it. If I’m unequal to the task, so what? Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin? Then let the Medes and the Persians come.

Even when I sat down to write this retrospective, even when I was playing The Beginner’s Guide with a ball of horror in the pit of my stomach, even at my most frustrated and writers’ block-y moments this past year, giving up was never an option. The impermanence of all things cuts both ways, you see. If the good things never endure, neither do the bad. This too shall pass, as it were. The sense of uncertainty, the self-doubt, the teleological angst are nothing new, even if they were particularly bad this year.

What comes next? Well, I’m going to finish this revision of The Beast and then pronounce it done. From there I will start sending out query letters to agents and small presses. I’m setting a deadline of deluging the inboxes of others by January 23rd. That’s a week to finish this round of editing, a week to proofread for typos, and a week to write the query letters.

Then I think it’s time to write some horror. The last few months of this year have left me pretty pissed off, and if my spite and anger could run a steam turbine, I could probably single-handedly replace fossil fuels. Surely that coupled with the receding tide of lethargy I’ve been feeling and a growing restless, borderline manic energy ought to produce some new content. Will it be good? No promises. But I won’t write it if I think it’s going to be bad.

The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. Once must imagine Sisyphus happy.

Happy New Year, boys and girls. See you in 2017.


Cazador, Pt. 5

Surprise! I’m back from my unannounced two-week hiatus! Well, it was less of a hiatus and more a matter of me being frustratingly busy with my professional and personal life (something I don’t see abating anytime soon, unfortunately.) The situation hasn’t really changed, but I’m annoyed with myself for not posting. And so, here I am! Expect to see posts on Mondays and Friday for the foreseeable future.

The novices were silent. Doubtless their minds were racing with images of Maria and Pol descending upon their wards, hacking them to pieces. The arterial spray of blood bright with life ebbing away, the venous gush, the stink of spilled bowels. Every novice imagined what it would be like to battle a beast and lose, Iohan knew. He certainly had. It was an ending that was easy to imagine, simple to understand. But it was a betrayal of everything the boys had been taught to think that they might meet their demise on the sword of one of their brothers, one of their sisters.

“Return to the city. Facing beasts is one thing, but you don’t stand a chance against a cazador hunting you down, let alone two.”

“I’m not afraid!”

“You can’t send us back alone! What if they’re still out there?”

“Iohan, you don’t know what happened here. You can’t face an unknown enemy without backup. It’s dangerous.”

The boys shouted over each other, each convinced that what they had to say was the most important. Iohan only paid Jimeno’s words any mind. “I know. But I am trained and you three are novices. You will only get yourselves killed if you come face to face with Maria or Pol.”

“And if you come face to face with both of them at once?”

Iohan was silent. The twist of his lips, the frustration he felt at knowing the boy had a point, said more than his words ever could.

Iohan turned his back to the boys and walked deeper into the woods, gesturing with his hand for him to follow. “I suppose you are right. With four of us, someone ought to get in a killing blow before Maria and Pol can kill us all.”


Living with Ghosts

This poem is a tritina, a form inspired by the sestina (which is an absurdly complex form.) I intended for this piece to be a companion to “How to Haunt a House,” which I wrote for NaPoWriMo two years ago (almost to the day, in fact!) I thought, “Hey, that was a sestina, this one can be a tritina, the forms are linked, the subject matter is related, and so forth. I’m so clever!”

Except “How to Haunt a House” was actually a pantoum, not a sestina. I wrote a few sestinas back in my grad school days (I believe one of them was about zombies? Or cannibalism? Something about flesh-eating, at any rate,) but there are actually none on this blog.

Whoops.

Anyway, please enjoy this tritina!

I felt your touch on my mind this morning,

Your fingers running down my cheek, gentle

And sweet and loving. Then the claws came out.

 

Walk the streets. This city is something out

Of a nightmare pop-up book. The morning

Can’t dispel the dream, the sun too gentle.

 

Same old memories, echoes as gentle

As a sledgehammer to the face. Out, out,

Damned spot. Let me be done with my mourning.

 

You were the more gentle by far, creature of the morning, out and apart and above. I haunt myself.


Theophory, Babel (2016)

I haven’t had time to write a new post, unfortunately. I’ve been revising some of my older work to submit to a couple different places. Are they improved? I think so, but who can objectively appraise their own work. Anyway, links to the originals are below and the new drafts are below those. Enjoy!

Theophory

Flax hair and lapis eyes

I created you

 

You, my beautiful heterodoxy

You, my graven image

You, my one who is like God

 

I ate of your body

Drank of your blood

 

I built a coffee shop altar

Where I could kneel before

Your laugh, your smile

Where I could make myself believe

 

(That I did not

Do it backwards

That I did not, in my apostasy,

Create a goddess to save me

Instead of finding one to believe in)

 

Babel

Do you remember the language we spoke then?

A wild tongue, squeaks and growls and moans,

A language of the body, muscles vibrating like taut strings.

We held each other and we trembled

At what we had built

 

Soft promises piled up to reach the sky,

Towers topped with choirs,

Mouths singing syllables of love and praise

To spite the whole world, singing so even

Angels would have to say,

 

This is not right. This is not allowed at all.


Voice-Acting Script

Temporary pause on your regularly scheduled programming. Instead, here’s a script I wrote for my friend for them to use in a voice-acting audition. They created the characters and their basic personalities, and I came up with the scenario. Citizen Kane it ain’t, but it’s meant to showcase my buddy’s various character voices rather than my writing. Maybe if the audition goes well or they ever record the reading, I’ll post a link to it. In the meantime, enjoy!

EXT. “NOT NEW YORK” CITY
MELVIN, S.O.N.N.Y., and DOCTOR GESUNDHEIT stand on a street
corner.

ANNOUNCER
The setting – a bustling American
city. The time – modern day. The
people – one well-meaning but
insane scientist, his robotic
sidekick, and his young lab
assistant. The situation – well,
you’ll find out.

MELVIN
Gee, Doc, what are we doing out
here? I thought you said we were
doing important lab work today.

DOCTOR GESUNDHEIT
Ve vere! But zen I thought to
myself, “It is such a nice day, vhy
don’t ve do some field vork
instead?” So, ve are going to test
my superhero serum!

MELVIN
Oh, okay. Wait a minute, what?!

S.O.N.N.Y.
The doctor has prepared a serum to
turn ordinary individuals into
superpowered specimens of human
perfection.

MELVIN
Gee, Doc. That sounds… uh,
interesting… but why?

DOCTOR GESUNDHEIT
Because ze evil Lord Drax has sworn
zat he ist going to come to zis
spot und kill us all!

MELVIN
What?! Oh, my God! Why?

S.O.N.N.Y.
Because the doctor got drunk one
night a week ago and used the
transdimensional communicator to
insult Lord Drax’s broodmother.

MELVIN
Doc!

DOCTOR GESUNDHEIT
Ach, stupid robot! Look, it doesn’t
matter who insulted who’s
broodmother or who made disparaging
remarks about who’s carapace. Ze
important thing is zat ve stop ze
alien menace.

MELVIN
How are we going to do that?

DOCTOR GESUNDHEIT
Simple! Ze superhero serum vill
give you incredible powers and you
will use zem to crush ze alien and
see him driven before you!

MELVIN
Me? Well, I guess that’s cool, but
I don’t know that I’m the best
person for the job.

DOCTOR GESUNDHEIT
Nonsense, my boy! You’ll do
vunderfully! And besides, I already
put ze serum in your cereal zis
morning. It should be kicking in
any second now.

Melvin falls to the ground and starts making noises as if
he’s alternately in immense pain and pleasure. The sound of
a rift opening in space-time can be heard growing steadily
louder.

OL’ MAN JENKINS
Doo doo, just going for a walk.
Lovely day for a walk. Lovely day
for an ominous portal in the sky
like a bleeding wound in the very
fabric of reality. Lovely — OH, MY
HIP!

LORD DRAX
TREMBLE, PUNY HUMANS! YOUR
DESTRUCTION IS AT HAND!

OL’ MAN JENKINS
Oh, God, you’re standing on my
chest!

LORD DRAX
BRING ME YOUR WORLD LEADERS! BRING
ME YOUR WEALTHY AND YOUR POWERFUL!
BRING ME THE ONE WHO SAID MY DEAR
SWEET BROODMOTHER WAS AS FAT AS A
GAMORREAN LARD EEL!

OL’ MAN JENKINS
Why won’t you get off my chest?!

DOCTOR GESUNDHEIT
Ah, right on schedule! Alright,
boy! Get him!

Melvin continues making odd, unpleasant noises.

DOCTOR GESUNDHEIT
Hm. I may have made a
miscalculation.

S.O.N.N.Y.
Doctor, I tried to tell you this
plan had less than a 10% chance of
success.

DOCTOR GESUNDHEIT
Vell, vhy didn’t you try harder!

S.O.N.N.Y.
You threatened to erase my memory
and use my motherboard as a
coaster.

DOCTOR GESUNDHEIT
Ah. I see. Vell, only vun zing to
do. RUN AVAY!

The sound of Doctor Gesundheit’s shoes slapping against the
pavement can be heard, followed by a mechanical sigh and the
sound of S.O.N.N.Y. clanking as he follows.

LORD DRAX
YES, RUN WHILE YOU STILL CAN! IT
WILL NOT SAVE YOU! I SHALL LEAD MY
ARMY FROM THIS VERY SPOT, ATOP YOUR
MOST BELOVED SENIOR CITIZEN!

OL’ MAN JENKINS
Oh, my lumbago!

END


2015 in Review

Holy crap, did 2015 go by fast. Yeah, that’s the kind of thing you always here around the end of a year, but when I say it, it’s different because I’m special.

This was my most unproductive year yet in terms of my writing, which man, that kind of sucks. I finished my first novel ever back in July, and that was rad, but the process was so long and draining that it messed up my productivity basically from January through to August. I’m pleased that the thing is done, but I’m of two minds about the final product. It definitely needs another round of editing before I can do anything with it, and there will always be a lingering fear in the back of my mind that I’m too close to the subject matter to be as ruthless as good editing demands.

Or that the content is simply uninteresting, but hey. You guys are here so I’ve got some kind of audience at least!

While I’m unhappy with the quantity of my creative output, this was actually a good year for interacting with people. The blog got more comments than last year (yay!) and nearly as many views (wow, really? I mean, yay!) I’m pretty terrible at self-promotion and reaching out to others, but if you share your thoughts or ask questions, I will respond.

I also didn’t really submit any of my work anywhere this year. I didn’t expect that to bug me, but it did. I suppose there’s a part of me that cries out for recognition, to be pet on the head and told that I’m good. But in lieu of that, $20 and a publication credit will suffice.

This year’s NaNoWriMo tanked harder than ever before, which is kind of astounding, because I had this year relative to all others, I had the clearest sense of where I wanted the piece to wind up. I think my goal for January will be to finish it.

Okay, that’s enough about 2015. What will 2016 bring?

  • More of a focus on short fiction. Between the novel and the poetry, I didn’t really write much short fiction at all this year. Let’s change that.
  • More focus on pulpy sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and adventure stuff. Remember when this blog was created under the premise of crafting pulp for the 21st century? And now it’s about feelings? Feelings are boring. More pulp.
  • Submit my work to more publications. That’s more of a behind-the-scenes sort of thing, but dang it, I’m going to do it.
  • The editing and collecting of earlier work. While I’m generally kind of lazy and self-interested, I’m actually pretty bad about taking time off of work and keeping up on my hobbies other than exercise and reading and writing. I’m going to make it a goal to give myself a proper vacation this year and spend some time revising some of the earlier stories and arranging them in a more convenient format.

Alright, I think that’s a good little recap for now. As always, thank you for reading, random internet stranger. You mean a lot to me. I hope you’ve enjoyed your time here, because I’ve definitely enjoyed writing for you. Hugs and kisses, yo.

Oh, and according to WordPress, the most popular search terms that led people to discovering my blog were basically all related to pussy pumps. So hey, thanks for that, misguided youth of America and your propensity for sucking on shot glasses!

See you all in January!


Sisyphus Beneath the Boulder Again

My, but it’s been a while, hasn’t it? I could go on at length about how busy I’ve been, and frustrated with my lack of progress on the novel, and blah blah blah, but that’s boring. Instead, here’s something new. And on Monday, there will be something new as well. I’ve actually plotted this novel out more than any previous work, so Goddamnit, we’re going to finish that thing. M-W-F updates until the end of the year.

Scared and alone, hungry and sick with thirst

But Stone, I swear you will grind to dust first


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