Category Archives: Literary Endeavors

Life Isn’t Fair and Then You Die. The End.

throw_computer.jpgI’d like to write for a living. That’s always been my dream. At various points of my adult life, I’ve earned deaux to write, in various media. I even get the occasional royalty check for Olde Works. But it’s far from money I could eat on.

Writing for a living is not essential to my well being, since I have other abilities/experience that keep me employable. Plus, for all I know, getting paid to write full time might totally sap the joy and love out of it. Maybe the dream would turn out to be a nightmare.

Writing is lonely. It’s solitary, requires a ton of time to perfect your craft and complete projects, and can have very few dividends (or none at all). A writer who taught at Brooklyn College once told me, “The world doesn’t need your stories.” (He meant the third-person you, not me personally.) You have to realize that no one’s chomping at the bit, waiting for your next tome. You have to realize that no one’s going to pat you on the back, even when you accomplish something.

It is a vocation that requires a lot of self control, because validation probably won’t come from the outside world for a very, very long time, if ever. In fact, most factors from the outside world will be horrifyingly discouraging. Like these two items that passed over my transom yesterday.

Continue reading Life Isn’t Fair and Then You Die. The End.

The Subway Novel Project: Hot Dog, We Have a Wiener!

About three seconds after I posted my Subway Novel Project intro, my brother reminded me that we’d had a discussion about just such a novel: BoneMan’s Daughter by Ted Dekker.

What prompted our earlier discussion: He had seen an ad for the book in the subway, with this tagline:

Would you kill an innocent man for a chance to save your daughter?

As he pointed out on his own blog, this question barely warrants a response. Any parent would do this without thinking twice. I know I would.

Mind you, I can talk tough because the situation implied by that tagline would never happen. But in the extremely unlikely case that it did happen, there would be no debate whatsoever. “What, kill this guy and you’ll let my daughter go? Okay.” *bang* “That was easy!”

As ridiculous as that tagline is, I was even more intrigued by this Amazon description of the book:

A Texas serial killer called BoneMan is on the loose, choosing young girls as his prey, His signature: myriad broken bones that torture and kill – but never puncture.

Military intelligence officer Ryan Evans is married to his work; so much so that his wife and daughter have written him out of their lives. Sent to Fallujah and captured by insurgents, he is asked to kill children not unlike his own. The method: a meticulous, excruciating death by broken bones that his captor has forced him to learn.

Returning home after the ordeal, a new crisis awaits. A serial killer is on the loose, and his method of killing is the same. Ryan becomes a prime suspect, which isn’t even the worst of his problems: Ryan’s daughter is BoneMan’s latest desire.

I smell a masterpiece!

Also promising: Mr. Dekker’s bio says he’s written 22 books. I don’t think anyone should write a novel when they’re 18, but let’s assume that he’s been writing novels since he became an adult. He’s now 47 years old, meaning he averages 1.3 novels per year.

I have a theory that an author’s ability to write quality fiction is indirectly proportional to the amount of books they put out. To a point, anyway; just because someone writes one novel every 20 years doesn’t make them a genius. But if you’re churning out books at a Steven King-ian rate, chances are those books aren’t very good. Why? Because writing a novel is excruciating.

So BoneMan’s Daughter it is! I shall purchase a copy posthaste. But any of you folks have an idea for a future installment, speak up.

The Subway Novel Project: Intro and Solicitation

subway_novel.jpgBecause I don’t have enough meaningless self-imposed projects, I’ve decided to put something else in my inbox: The Subway Novel Project.

Being an eagle-eyed, New Yorker, I’ve noticed that novels are often advertised throughout the mass transit system. I’ve also noticed that these books tend to not be written by authors like, say, Paul Auster or Joyce Carol Oates.

No, they’re usually either brand-name best-selling authors like John Patterson, or people aspiring to be brand-name authors who get blurbs from guys like John Patterson because they have the same imprint at ConGlomCo Books.

Or they belong to the totally ignored world of Urban Fiction. These are authors with only one name, who have no qualms about naming sequels to earlier books the same way you would a movie (e.g., Around the Way Girls 2 through 4). You will never see these authors in the NY Times Book Review, even though their tomes outsell Phillip Roth’s last 14 novels.

The reason I’m doing this: I’m trying to get back on the Fiction Horse. I’ve spent much of the last few years writing non-fiction, and I’ve been stuck at 100 pages of a novel that needs to be finished before it has any hope of seeing the light of day. Because this is such a fantastic time to be working on fiction. (For those unfamiliar with entertainment market fluctuations, it ain’t.)

So why read this stuff? Because years ago, I did some freelance copyediting/proofreading for mass market fiction. And next to earning an MFA in fiction writing (pause to pat self on back), reading this stuff was the best writing instruction I ever received. No, of course the writing in these novels wasn’t very good. But what was so instructive was how they weren’t very good.

One hallmark of all the books I read: An obsessive-compulsive urge to use adverbs, especially when “describing” how people talk. (“‘I bet you get around,’ Frank said devilishly.”) Rather than insert clues about your characters’ true motives, or describe a compelling scene, just throw -ly at the end of the word and call it a day. It’s so much easier!

Or, start a chapter with someone doing some mundane everyday task–walking the dog, taking out the garbage, etc.–while reminiscing about something that’s happened between when the last chapter started and the next one began. What tense is that? I think it’s called past-imperfect-and-totally-unnecessary-framing-device.

Romance novels were the worst, although not for the reasons you might think. Sure, the love scenes were overwrought and full of some of the most ridiculous prose ever. My favorite line of all time, describing how a woman felt as she stared into her man’s eyes while in the throes of passion: “She felt captivated, as if by a wizard.”

A WIZARD! That killed me. I had a mental image of the cover of this future masterpiece: Woman: bodice ripped, cleavage heaving. Man: shirtless, ripped, leonine hair. And behind them, a totally bitchin’ Frank Frazetta poster.

But what really bugged me about the romance novels: they constantly endangered their characters for no discernible reason except to move the plot. The author’s handprints were smeared on everything they did. And the only kind of danger that existed in this world were a villain (more often than not, a villainness) who existed for the sole reason to stand in their way. Or the threat of physical danger, the cheapest arrow in a writer’s quiver.

Once the villain(ess) had been dispatched and the lovers had no more obstacles, one (or both) of them would get into a car accident. I must have read 20 romance novels over the course of my freelance work, and this happened in at least 15 of them. All because the author had ended the book too soon and had no idea how else to threaten their characters. And had no idea how to write a book in which their characters were not constantly threatened by their mighty pen.

Long story short, I think I’m in need of some of this instruction again. So I’m going to pick a Subway Novel, read it, and review it here. Then do it again and again until I either finish my novel or kill myself.

But before picking a book, I wanted to solicit the audience and see if there’s any book you’ve seen advertised on the subway. I will also accept books you’ve seen people read on the subway. And I will also accept books you’ve seen on the bus. I will not accept books you’ve seen people reading while driving to work, because I hope you’d call the cops if you saw someone reading while behind the wheel.

However, in order to maintain what little integrity this project has, I’ll need some sort of evidence that you’ve seen this book on the bus or subway. Presumably of the photographic variety. Or a drawing. Or just describe the scene really well.

So, any suggestions? Speak up.

You Hate Me! You Really Hate Me!

I got a fresh piece of hate mail yesterday, something I haven’t received in quite a while. When you write for the web as much as I do, it’s like yelling in a vaccuum. It’s hard to gauge if your words have any impact at all. So it’s nice to know that someone read your work and was touched by it, even if the work touched them in such a way that they want you dead. 

The hate mail had nothing to do with Scratchbomb, but a piece I wrote at the now sadly defunct Freezerbox.com, a site I contributed to for several years. The emailer didn’t specify the source of his/her ire, but they were very clear about what they wanted me to do myself, or have done to me.

I’m not going to reproduce the hate mail here–not because it’s filthy, but because I’d rather not give the writer’s words any more fame than they deserve. The gist of the message was:

1) I am on drugs because I disagree with this person politically, and also because, unlike them, I peppered my work with proper spelling and fancy punctuation.
2) They hope America gets taken over by Muslim terorrists so I’ll get what I deserve. It’s funny–I never hear liberal commie types like myself wish that the US would succumb to foreign aggressors, but AMERICA: FUCK YEAH! types say this all the time. That would totally be worth it–the beacon of Western democracy should fall to teach me a valuable lesson.
3) I should go back where I came from. I don’t know where they thought I came from; Jihadist Russian Homo-ville, I guess.

I was mildly upset at first. I thought, Wait, I’m such a wonderful person! Who could possibly hate me? But hey, I’m not exactly innocent when it comes to writing really angry stuff online. Plus, in thinking these things, I’ve put more thought into the hate mail than the sender had.

In the old days, if you decided you hated someone, you’d have to type or write a letter, go down the post office, and spend money on a stamp before you could possibly express that hatred to them. Most people didn’t bother, because they knew some secretary would read this letter and throw it out. And because taking all this time out of their busy day interfered with their elaborate masturbation rituals.

So in volume, I’m sure there was far, far less hate mail in those days than there are angry emails/comments today. But the instataneous nature of the Intertubes is a good thing on this front. Because if someone reads a post that pisses them off, they can fire off a snotty email or comment, and that’s pretty much the end of it.

Read the comment sections of any site–political or not–and you will see some of the angriest, hate filled language ever written this side of the Aryan Nation. And yet, as far as I know, no blogger has ever been murdered a la Eric Bogosian in Talk Radio. 

Way back when, people were less inclined to publicly declare their hatred. But then all that animus built up over time until they started picking off people from clock towers. So I like to think of the Internet as a safety valve for the Crazy Steam that builds up in some people’s brains. They let it off, and then they’re close to normal for another few days.

Hey, I’ve been there. I know that if I don’t post here often enough, I start getting pains in my head! But then I vent my frustrations and the neighbor’s dog stops talking to me for a while!

Profiles in Righteousness: Joe Posnanski

If you’re a fan of baseball, or a fan of sports, or just a fan of good writing, do yourself a favor and start reading Joe Posnanski’s blog at SI.com. Or his own blog, which publishes a lot of his SI stuff plus some other tasty bits.

Posnanski belongs to that rare breed of baseball scribe who isn’t allergic to numbers and doesn’t hate things invented within the last 50 years. And he is also a joy to read, prose-wise. The only other writer I’d put in his category is Tim Marchman, who–near as I can tell–remains unemployed now that the NY Sun has folded, which is a shame. (Marchman’s joblessness, I mean. The defunctory-ness of the NY Sun is neither here nor there for me.)

Prime example: A recent post wherein he argues that just because a particular stat wasn’t considered important during a player’s career (or didn’t exist), that doesn’t mean said stat isn’t important. In Posnanski’s opinion, new stats (or renewed focus on older stats, like OBP) recognize that certain things are not random or unimportant aspects of a game, but skills that should be recognized as such.

He’s been around for quite a while, most notably as a columnist for the Kansas City Star. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m coming late to the Joe Posnanski Is Awesome Party, but I figured I’d pass it along. My first New Year’s Resolution for 2009 is to berate people for doing things I should have been doing all along.

Authors Cornered! L.X. Magruder, Creator of The Darkening

library.jpgHere at Scratchbomb HQ, I get a lot of review copies of upcoming books. Oh my yes, I’m practically inundated with literature. But while I love to read, I rarely get a chance to speak with the authors behind these works. But that ends today! Because today begins a regular feature on the site, Authors Cornered!

My first interviewee is L.X. Magruder, best known as the creator of dozens of young adult novels. He’s the man behind such beloved children classics as The Sleepover Pals and Wikipedia Jones. Next month, Slapdash Books releases the first volume in his first series for adults, a twisted universe of vampires and other monsters called The Darkening.

First off, I’m surprised you decided to write a series of vampire novels. It’s quite a departure from your previous work.

I’ve always been a huge horror fan, so I didn’t see it as such a reach. If you go back and reread at my books, you’ll see many elements of the supernatural.

Even though your last five novels were in the Johnson High Cheerleader Squad series?

The supernatural elements are subtle, to be sure, but believe me, they’re there. I mean, there’s no way those really complicated pyramid moves could have been accomplished without the occult.

How did you come up with the idea for this new series?

Vampires are huge in publishing right now. Particularly, books where vampires fight humans and/or other types of monsters. While these works raise some intriguing issues, I don’t think they explore them as deeply as they could. That’s what I hope to do with The Darkening series.

What kind of issues?

Like, what would happen if a werewolf did it with a mummy? How would that work? I’m sure you’ve wondered about that before.

I can’t say I have.

That’s the role of the artist–to ask the questions no one dares contemplate.

Continue reading Authors Cornered! L.X. Magruder, Creator of The Darkening

Tim Marchman: One of the Good Ones

There’s a lot of snark on this web site, particularly where sports media is concerned. Thanks to one professional endeavor or another, I spent several years immersed in the stuff, so it’s hard to wash the stink off.

That makes it even more important to stop the presses when I spot a rare example of Truth
and Justice in sportswriting. So I take time out of my regularly schedule bile to declare the following: Tim Marchman is awesome.

Tim Marchman has written for such lofty outlets as the New Republic and such not-so-lofty ones as the New York Press (a weekly that once let this asshole write for them). I know him best as a baseball columnist for the New York Sun, and if you enjoy the game of baseball even slightly, you will love his writing. I’m usually not so absolutist in my opinions, but I feel confident making this statement.

Continue reading Tim Marchman: One of the Good Ones