Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Penultimate Installment of The Dickensian Serial. . .

Addio, psico asini d'addio!

Tune in next week for the Grand Finale.

Thought I forgot, didn't you?

But Then Again, You'll Have This . . .

Monday, October 23, 2006

Forty-five Boxes . . .

Honestly, I expected it to be more.

They're hiding somewhere. I missed a nook, or a cranny, or perhaps, they're lurking in the huge closet I can't get to yet because of the towering stacks of comics (and don't even get me started on the comics; I can't wait to see the bill for at least a dozen new long boxes).

There are two benefits to today's marathon boxing session. One: I got to see exactly what I own, and there were some pleasant surprises, mostly along the line of "Oh, I didn't remember having that!" or "How the hell did I get three of those?" I'm officially declaring a temporary moratorium on book-buying; I'll never live long enough to read everything currently in my library.

The other benefit? Now my office looks like a cross between a maze and a fort, and I didn't have to use any sofa cushions to build it.

But Then Again, You'll Have This . . .

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Object Lessons . . .

We taught our daughter something important today.

We taught her that there are crazy people in the world. We taught her that the insane don't just live on network TV. We taught her that sometimes you have to stand up for yourself in the face of idiocy and paranoia, even if your actions effect no change.

Sometimes, you just have to stand up.

We also demonstrated that violence is -in most cases- the reaction of a scared, dumb animal when confronted with a superior adversary. When the higher functions don't -or can't- function, the reptilian brain assumes control and lashes out. It's a defense mechanism for those without the mental capacity to address conflict as mature adults.

The trick is knowing when to respond in kind and when to walk away.

After all, it's cruel to abuse the mentally defective. It's pointless to debate with the intellectually challenged. It's counterproductive to attempt to undo years of false persecution and pathetic rationalization by way of intelligent discourse.

We hope our example serves our child well in the future. We hope the restraint and dignity we show in the face of provocation penetrates the core of her being. We hope our daughter never has to encounter such a stressful situation again, but prepare her for the inevitable eventuality.

It's a lesson for everyone: Never argue with crazy people.

However, it is permissible to poke them with a stick.

But Then Again, You'll Have This . . .

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Sometimes, You've Already Said It . . .

Two of my most favorite ladies in the world have made a startling discovery, but it’s only startling to them. To me and the rest of the people in our little circle of friends and acquaintances, this is old news.

That doesn’t make their discoveries any less noteworthy.

In honor of Marcy and Meghan, I’d like to dust off the following Vent, taken from But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .

Here’s my take on what you’re experiencing. I hope it properly conveys what I’m thinking, and how much I respect you both.

I’ll Add It to My Collection. . .

The other morning a woman approached me in the bookstore and asked about diet books. As we walked over to the section, she informed me that a friend had recommended one to her, but she couldn’t remember the exact title. Based on the limited information she gave me, I handed her a book by the author she mentioned. It’s one I’ve been selling a lot of lately, so I was reasonably sure it was the correct selection, although I did suggest she double check with her friend before making the purchase.

“That’s all right,” she said. “If it’s the wrong one, I’ll just add it to my collection.”

Her collection? Was I hearing this right? Was this woman saying that she collected diet books like Bill Clinton collects sexual harassment suits? And of course the next question sprung unbidden into my brain. Was she reading all these diet books, or was she just displaying them on the wall between the Shirley Temple Dishes and the Banana Republic Commemorative Thimble Set? I didn’t say anything more to the lady, but I was betting she could pass out Deal-A-Meal cards from a four-deck shoe.

Later that same day, I was talking to our babysitter while she waited for her ride. She was very anxious for her mother to arrive, so she could get home to prepare for a date. She told me that this would be her first date with this boy, and really, really couldn’t believe he had asked her out, because he was, as she put it, very gorgeous and a real sweetie. And just in case you guys have forgotten, “real sweetie” is some of the highest praise you can get from a sixteen-year-old girl.

Now perhaps I was more in tune on this subject because of my previous encounter with the Collector, but when I asked Mandi why she was surprised to be asked out by this junior stud-muffin, I figured I already knew the answer. And sure enough, I was right. “What would somebody like that want with someone like me?” she replied. And this from a girl my son thinks is a total babe. (I know this because he did a perfect Homer Simpson Woo Hoo the first time he met her). I tried to share my elderly wisdom with her, relating my own lamented high school years, and the truths my father had bestowed on me about so-called “unattractive” girls and the four or five years after graduation, but she just smiled, knowing in her mind that I was just an adult . . . what did I know?

Well, I can remember the days when a new girlfriend really didn’t gain official status until she was paraded in front of the other guys in the group and proclaimed, at least, cute. Many girls, whom I thought I would enjoy spending time with, were never even asked out, because of negative reactions from the rest of the pack, and these reactions, sadly, were always based on physical appearance. I’m not proud of this, but hey, you try thinking with a sixteen-year-old brain flooded with hormones.

The older, wiser me knows differently. What is important isn’t the physical, but the spiritual. And before you start accusing me of taking a weekend road trip with the Promise Keepers, let me elaborate:

The physical fades, the mental grows and the two balance each other out.

Ever since the birth of our daughter, my wife has obsessed about this little tummy she has. Even though she’s in no danger of playing Kanga without a costume in a revival of Pooh and Christopher Robin, you would think she has the Guinness people knocking down our door with a camera and a piano hoist. I learned a long time ago that any statements to the contrary by me will be dismissed as a loving, but dishonest, attempt to make her feel better. She has some need to be that same, rail-thin woman she was before the pregnancy. What she doesn’t realize is that to me, she still is.

Have you ever seen a completely mismatched couple? One of them looks like a runway escapee from a fashion show, and the other looks like an escapee from the pound. You’ve probably wondered, what the hell does he/she see in him/her, or he/she could do soooooooo much better than that. Have you done that? I know I have. Well, I think I’ve discovered the answer.

I’ve spent time with women who were truly gorgeous, and couldn’t hold up their end of a conversation with the previously mentioned piano hoist. I’ve been intimate with physically stunning ladies who had all the passion of a bowl of wet Ramen noodles. Conversely, I’ve had truly romantic evenings spent gazing at the sky with women who will never grace a magazine cover on a checkout stand, and been swept away in ecstasy by women who will never have the opportunity to share their turn-on’s and turn-off’s with Playboy readership. When the phone is answered or the lights go out, your eyes become secondary, and you can really see what matters.

Does the fact that my wife is an intelligent, witty, passionate and incredibly beautiful woman make me a hypocrite? No, I think it just makes me incredibly lucky.

And would I still love my wife if she suddenly gained two or three hundred pounds? Well, of course I would.

Except maybe not as often.

But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Sure Sign of the Apocalypse. . .

There was a package waiting in my mailbox today. When I opened it, I discovered this my contributor's copy for the book at the right.

Thou Shalt Not... is the initial offering from Dark Cloud Press, a small press specializing in horror without an abundence of sexual content or profane language. In addition to 36 phenomenal stories, it includes my short piece Our Souls Abide on This Ocean's Tide.

Now you see what I mean about the end of the world. . .

Seriously, this is a gorgeous book, the project was a dream and Lee Howard from Dark Cloud was a true professional who restored my wounded faith in Small Horror Publishers. No small feat on any front.

I'm sure this will be available from other sources eventually, but if you can't wait (and you can't, can you?) you can order a copy directly from Dark Cloud. 100,000 words for $17. That's a hell of a deal at twice the price.

Hell? Oops, I did it again.

But Then Again, You'll Have This. . .

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

But Then Again, You'll Hail Saten. . .

Bestselling Author Brian Keene, in addition to his Stoker Award-winning fiction, has a regular column that appears at the appropriately named Hail Saten. Mr. Keene has taken the last few weeks off for some deadline maintainence, and invited several authors to fill the pundit gap.

Anyone care to guess where this is going?

The link's been on the right side of this page since its inception, but if you haven't clicked it yet, I'll ask you to do so now.

You never know what you'll find.

But Then Again, You'll Have This...

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Dickensian Serial, Part Three. . .

And then:

αποχαιρετιστήριος αποχαιρετιστήριος παχύς γάιδαρος.

Coming soon: Chicken and Beer!

But Then Again, You'll Have This. . .

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Dickensian Serial, Part Two...

And now, for the next installment:

прощальный прощальный ишак грома.

Stay tuned for more.

But Then Again, You'll Have This...

Saturday, August 05, 2006

In The Finest Dickensian Tradition . . .

. . . a serial in several parts.

Part One:


Stay tuned.

But Then Again, You'll Have This . . .

Saturday, July 15, 2006

If The Shoe Fits. . .

Soon after But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . . was published, I received a phone call from the Buyer in our corporate office who had placed it in our stores. Deanna had read Central, liked it, and seemed quite energetic in her support for the Vent collection.

But, there was some hesitation in her praise for But Then Again. “I liked it. I really liked it,” she said. “But . . .”

Here it comes, I thought. The denouncement I’d been waiting for, ever since I wrote the first Vent set in the bookstore. Like Jack Webb used to say every week: “The following story is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent,” but my motivations were always a bit different.

I believe in protecting the innocent, but the innocent are rarely the subject of a Vent. Innocence and Vent-worthy are mutually exclusive states of being. Perhaps one could argue that by exposing and ridiculing the guilty, I’m protecting the innocent, and if anybody puts that on a t-shirt, I’ll wear it proudly, but beyond the role of championing the innocent, I’m a much stronger advocate of covering my own ass.

This was my fear when I took Deanna’s call. Finally -inevitably I suppose- the higher-ups had discovered that one of their own had not only identified the elephant in the room, but had taken a picture of it, commissioned a million wallet-sized prints, and distributed them to everyone in the world. I held my breath and waited for Deanna’s next statement.

“Steve,” she said. “Remind me to never piss you off.”

Now, if more people thought like that, my life would be a lot easier.

I remembered this yesterday afternoon. Synchronicity is an amazing thing. Things fall out of mental RAM, but when one incident pulls something out of deep, dark storage, there’s usually another one to cement its place back at memory’s forefront. I was helping a customer –a regular- who had approached the counter hesitantly, as if she wasn’t entirely comfortable asking whatever question she needed answered. She prefaced her request with a string of qualifiers and apologies, a sure sign that somebody’s about to ask for a book by color, or some other obscure identifier.

No worries. Her question was succinct and easily answered, and we proceeded quickly and with zero frustration. At the counter, I questioned her earlier reticence, and her reply nearly floored me.

“I’m always afraid to ask a question because I don’t want it to be stupid and I definitely don’t want to be in a Vent.”

Ahh, a fan.

We shared a good laugh, and when she left, I thought about Deanna’s call, and the laughter continued. I had told this lady that she’d have to travel a far piece to even make the semi-finals for Vent consideration, and then I remembered the final paragraph from the author’s note in But Then Again.

And finally, to any readers who might recognize themselves in the subsequent pages, I promise nothing you’re about to read is specifically about you. After all, you’d never do anything worthy of a Vent, would you?

Wow. I always wanted to quote myself.

The point is: If you read a Vent, think “Hey, Steve’s talking about me,” and are correct in that assumption, that ought to tell you something. If you’re willing to take credit for asinine behavior, what are you saying about yourself? By identifying with the ignorance and stupidity of an anonymous yahoo, aren’t you validating my position?

Case in point:

Yesterday evening, the magic of coincidence appeared once more. I was talking to a friend who I hadn’t seen in a while, and she informed me that a mutual acquaintance had attempted to engage her in a recitation of all the wrongs and injustices I’d perpetrated against her. My friend begged off, taking the Swiss’ position in the ongoing war (but not really, since she immediately reported the exchange to me).

Part of this acquaintance’s litany included several Vents, which said combatant maintained were written with the specific intent of belittling and ridiculing her. Again, my friend demurred (and again, not really, because she was already familiar with the entries in question). My friend came to the same conclusions I’ve listed above: Why claim it, if you didn't do it?

Which again, proves my point.

The prosecution will stipulate to a certain propensity to asshole-ish behavior on his part. It’s an integral part of his genetic make-up, and the biggest reason you’re reading Steve’s Vent instead of –let’s say- or But (and this is a crucial but), it’s all fun and games and laughs and chuckles until you find yourself in the crosshairs. It’s reassuring to see someone else squirm at the end of an accusatory finger. It’s scary to have that same finger pointed at you.

I should know; I’ve been on the cuticle end of quite a few digits over the years, and many times rightly so.

And as for any alleged subjects of over 100,000 words of venting? Take a deep breath and have a seat. Comfortable? Good. Read the entries again. Still want to take credit for inspiring my muse? Do you want to publically proclaim your status as a Poster Child for Inanity? Are you comfortable as the owner of a lifetime pass on the short bus?


Then go right ahead. Nobody’s stopping you.

Especially me.

But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .

Monday, June 19, 2006

See Thee All The Photoshop God...

...and tremble.

His name's Scott, and he whipped up this little gem in less than a day.

Pretty impressive, huh?

By the way: I'm the third one from the left, holding Teddy's place for him.

Makes one wonder what other photos might be hanging around the hard drive needing a quick edit by the Master...

At least it makes me wonder.

But Then Again, You'll Have This. . .

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Sound of One Neuron Firing...

Listen . . .

In a doctor’s office sitting area, while you wait for the test results that’ll explain exactly what that thing is hanging from the end of your Johnson like a cliff diver waiting for the tide to come in.  Sitting on a bench in the mall, waiting while Grandma receives yet another in a weekly series of blue rinses that will transform her carefully permed and teased hair into an aerodynamically sound and architecturally impermeable helmet.

Listen . . .

In the queue at the buffet, watching a gargantuan diner stretch the spatial boundaries of the wire basket strapped to the handlebars of the motorized scooter your tax dollars paid for, because God forbid Gigantor might have to make two trips to the steam tables, because despite their best efforts to violate the laws of physics, there’s only so much room on a standard-sized dinner plate.  Or in the check-out line of the local bookstore, while the overworked and underpaid employee explains for the seventeenth time that there are reasons authors have first and last names, books have titles and shelves are arranged by category or an archaic system known to the grand viziers of the publishing industry as “Alphabetical Order,” and not according to who Oprah shared couch time with yesterday.

Listen . . .

What should you listen for?  Well, other than the sound of your pulse thrumming through your skull while your blood pressure soars to heights guaranteed to pop an aneurism in the most structurally cohesive artery, you should listen to what people around you are saying.  If you’re a writer, consistent eavesdropping can hone your dialogue skills to an edge keener than most twelve dollar, twelve bladed disposal razors.  Even if you have no literary aspirations, you should still practice surreptitious snooping, if for no other reason than to get a couple of cheap yucks.

To be honest, writers enjoy cheap laughs as much as anyone else.

There’s a side benefit though.  By listening to those around you, you’ll discover a hidden truth that might do something to ameliorate the insanity that threatens to overwhelm those of us still maintaining a fingertip grip on coherent thought and behavior.

Nobody sets out to be a villain.

I’m not talking about the Joker strapping The Batman to a giant roulette wheel with a bomb attached to Double Zeroes (although I have seen several women strolling the mall who seem to share makeup tips with the Clown Prince of Crime).  Exaggerated wickedness like this resides exactly where it belongs: In comic books and Dubya’s White House.

True villainy is more subtle, and much more prevalent.

I doubt a thief rolls out of bed in the morning and makes a conscious decision to steal just because it’s wrong.  I’d be very surprised to discover a domestic abuser who’d confess his or her abuse by admitting they were trying to accumulate sufficient negative karma points to score themselves a Fast Pass to Hell.  There’s no way you’ll convince me that the walking witless whose numbers seem to be growing exponentially sit down with a bowl of government surplus Corn Flakes and decide to be Rain Man for the day, besting Cliff Robertson’s Oscar-winning performance of Charly by a country mile.

Listen . . .

You’ll hear the answer.  You’ll uncover the secret.  You’ll unlock the vault of reason that explains how so many people can perpetrate so many wrongs and still sleep at night.

Rationalization, rationalization, rationalization.

It’s the “IF” game.  I wouldn’t cheat on my husband IF he’d wash the occasional dish.  I wouldn’t beat my kids IF they’d stay quiet long enough for me to watch wrestling.  I wouldn’t steal from the Wal-Mart IF I could find a better job than jockeying lottery tickets at the local Quickie Mart.  I wouldn’t act like such an imbecile IF-



Nope.  You can’t answer everything by listening.

Everyone’s the hero of their own story, and this is the fact listening will prove.  Every conversation you hear will be peppered with more “I’s” than anything, except for “ums” and “y’knows.”  People take the axiom of “everything happens for a reason” beyond its etymological limitations and twist it into “there’s a good reason for everything I do.”

Sorry.  Huh-uh.  Not buying it.

You can’t justify abuse.  You can’t justify neglect.  You can’t justify mental or physical battery any more than the Nazis could justify Dachau.  You can explain it.  You might even be forgiven for it, but don’t expect me to sing along with your chorus of IF.

As for stupidity?  Give me time; I’m working on it.

But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A Brief Commercial Announcement . . .

For anyone in shouting distance of my homebase in Uniontown, PA: Mark your calendars!

Saturday, June 3, 2006. Noon until 5 PM. The Borders Express in Uniontown Mall.


Finally, a reason to come to Fayette County that doesn't involve an arrest warrant.

Bring your Zombies! Bring your Terminal cases! Bring your Worms!

Brian will have his with him.

But Then Again, You'll Have This. . .

Friday, May 19, 2006

Riding On A Pony* . . .

Yeah, I’m a parent.

One of the best compliments I’ve ever received came from my Number One Road Dog Vince (Keith Pridemore, to any of you who’ve read Oogie Boogie Central), who told me, “Man, I don’t like kids in general, but I really dig hanging out with yours.”

What makes that better is that I’ve heard the same thing from a lot of people.

I never had a parenting strategy beyond the standard “I’ll never do THAT to my kids” we all vow during the heights of teenage angst.  With my sons, the influence I wielded ended early thanks to the divorce and visitation.  You can only exert so much control on alternate weekends.  Still, both boys have turned out relatively well, and if I close my eyes while they’re talking, I can hear myself in their words, attitude and inflection.

I’ll leave it for posterity to determine whether my influence has been positive or not.

Lex is a different story.  After a lengthy gap in my day-to-day parenting experience, I was confronted with another child, and this one was GASP! a girl.

Tremble, all, for the fate of a young woman consigned to my care.

From the time we brought her home from the hospital, I spoke to my daughter like I speak to everyone, although I did edit out most of the profanity that normally peppers my speech.  I always had a captive audience, thanks in part to the unusual pitch of my voice, which seems to attract babies like a Zwieback buffet.  The goo-goos and gah-gahs have their place, I’m sure, but intelligent conversation with a listener that can’t call “bullshit” has its moments as well.

I also believe it explains Lex’s off-the-chart verbal skills, but that’s just Daddy Pride talking.

But there’s a part of me that worries about her development and my contribution to it.  How many four year-old Kevin Smith fans do you know?  How many seven year-olds cry “Plagiarism!” and demand copyright credit?  How many eight year-olds invite bestselling authors to a round of HALO and proceed to gleefully whip their ass.  How many nine year-olds want to sit in on a poker game (not to play with the chips, but to critique your hole card management skills)?

And how many ten year-olds want to hang out with a bunch of authors at a writers’ convention?

Yep.  That would be my little princess.  On all counts.

I want her to know that life is filled with possibilities.  I want her to take chances and push boundaries.  I want her choices to be a product of her desires, not the limitations imposed by narrow-minded gender restrictions.  I want her to see obstacles as opportunities, not conspiracies orchestrated by the faceless THEM that keeps everybody down.

If she plays with her dolls one minute and reaches for the XBox controller the next with equal enthusiasm, then I’ll consider myself fortunate.

I tell myself that her boldness will serve her well as an adult.  I hope that her fearlessness won’t be confined to the bungee/trampoline ride on Pier 39.  I pray that her exposure to the world will fire her imagination and expand her horizons.

I also wouldn’t mind if she chose a life of contemplative celibacy, but I’m not holding my breath.

Remind me to tell you about the young man who knocked on my door two weeks ago.

But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .    

* If you were at WHC this year, you probably understand this.  If not, buy me a beer one day and I’ll explain it.  Trust me; it’ll be worth the brew.    

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Ghosts Of The Intraweb . . .

Oh, the joys of the Information Superhighway.

While surfing the other day, I found a reference to a little-known, never-seen, lost Simpsons Pilot.  According to the site, the animated family we all know and love had a much different genesis than the one first viewed on the Tracey Ullman show.

For starters, the family was much smaller than the current version.  There were Homer, Marge and Lisa; that was all.  No Bart.  No Maggie.  No Snowball Number Two, although Santa’s Little Helper was present and accounted for.  The neighborhood was different too.  Rather than a population of quirky Springfield residents, the Simpsons were surround by an eclectic –yet totally normal- mix of families.  Fathers, mothers, singles and children.  No Flanders.  No Wiggums.  Not even a Milhouse (which makes sense since there wasn’t a Bart).

In the original version, the Simpsons were the anomaly, the twisted MacGuffins amidst a sea of the mundane.  Perhaps, the creator’s intention was to paint a picture of the bizarre on a canvas of normalcy, hoping the surrealistic portraits would shock and awe the audience sufficiently to ensure his vision’s continuation.

Thankfully, this wasn’t what happened.

Homer was his recognizable lazy self, but the extent of his slovenliness was too unbelievable, even for test audiences.  His life –beyond the sporadic responsibilities required by his position at the nuclear power plant- consisted of nothing but meat and pizza consumption, sitting on his ass and walking Santa’s Little Helper to the curb and back.  Pathetic sure, but not the stuff of comedy legend.  It’s no wonder this version of Homer was changed to include some –albeit minimum- redeeming qualities.

Marge’s ultimate characterization underwent a metamorphosis as well.  Her first visual interpretation would be recognizable to any suburban witness: A generic, unremarkable middle-aged woman, one of the thousands of invisible housewives that inhabit small town America.  Perhaps this was the reason for her transformation into the blue-haired, pearl-wearing, enabling, but ultimately sympathetic, cartoon icon instantly recognizable by even the most casual observer of pop culture.  Because underneath this preliminary façade of the status quo, a sea of hormone-fueled paranoia, persecution and psychosis raged, and the dichotomy was too sad to please the American television viewer.

Note to future writers: Your protagonist must possess some positive qualities or your project will fail.

The Lisa Simpson of today is virtually unrecognizable compared to her progenitor.  An only child became the middle of three, her foibles and peccadilloes distributed among three different characters to lessen their negative impact.  Her intelligence remained her own, as did her lovable geekiness, but her anti-social proclivities were bequeathed to a younger brother or discarded altogether, lest the amalgamation of shortcomings overwhelm the sensibilities of fans everywhere.

So, three became five.  A sad commentary on the American family became a hilarious parody of everyday life.  What could have been a window into the miserable existence of three insular mouth breathers became a well-loved mirror in which we could all see reflections of ourselves.

I’d say we should consider ourselves lucky.

After all, who would tune into a weekly dose of dysfunction (except for the most hard-core reality junkies, and God knows there’s enough of that dreck available already)?  Maybe someone whose television only received one channel, but even they would get cable access eventually.


Fortunately, the question is moot.  Soon after I discovered this poorly crafted website, the URL returned a 404 error on a subsequent visit, so there’s no chance for further investigation.  Even the mighty Google would not divulge a hint of this elusive information, and if Google doesn’t get it, then nobody will.

Perhaps I imagined the whole thing.  Maybe I fell asleep at the keyboard one night and dreamed of a world where one of the longest-running sitcom families began their lives as a trio of piteous losers, unloved and unlovable.  Maybe my memory has been infected by a nightmare and I’m having trouble clearing my subconscious.

And maybe I’m just having a little fun.

But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .

Friday, March 31, 2006

Recycling . . .

Jesus, take me now. I’ve seen everything.

Several times a week, I receive solicitations from authors hoping to get their book(s) carried in my store.  While I’m a big believer in self-promotion, I’ve discovered that (as in any other endeavor) there’s a right way and a wrong way to approach it, and the differences between these two methods are small, but significant.

Two years ago, at the World Horror Convention in Phoenix AZ, I spent an afternoon drinking and sermonizing about the ins and outs of the book business, concentrating on what grabs my attention as a manager and a merchandiser.  Some highlights included:

  • If you send me a letter, make sure to follow the basic, minimum tenets of Strunk & White.  If you can’t write a simple letter, why should I believe you can write anything else?

  • Always get a wedge of lime for your Corona. It just doesn’t taste right without it.

  • Never call a bookstore and promote a fictitious appearance or media interview just to generate an order.  This pisses the management off, and ensures you’ll never get shelf space in my store.

  • Don’t bother sending me a copy of your book cover unless there’s a copy of the book attached to it.  You think most authors are poor?  Booksellers are even more destitute and fewer people offer to buy them drinks at conventions. We’ve got to stretch the budget where we can, and free books are one of the few perks of our gig.

  • Access to a copier, construction paper and a stapler do not make you a publisher, no matter what the documentation that came with your computer says (unless, of course, you’ve written a story about zombie strippers, barber shops and mullets, and you blackmail . . . <ahem> . . . persuade a two-time Bram Stoker Award winner into drawing the cover).

  • When you come to visit my store, under no circumstances should you allow your agent/manager/spouse to rearrange my displays to better feature your book.  I get paid to shelve things and I know where they go.  Your wife doesn’t.

That was the gist. Some of the audience listened. Most didn’t.

J A Konrath does it right.  Brian Keene (the aforementioned Stoker Winner with a penchant for art) understands.  So do a lot of the writers I call peers and friends.  It’s one of the reasons we’re friends.

And then, there’s Fred.

Of course his name really isn’t Fred, but I’ll bet all the money in my pocket against all the money in your pocket that if you saw him walking down the street, you’d think he looked like a Fred.

Fred’s written a book and Fred would like me to carry his book in my store.  Fred spent some coin and took the time to assemble and mail a query packet to my store touting his book.  He included a personalized letter with all the information I’d need to order his book and attached several clippings to entice me to do so.

So far, so good.

As I read the material, I noticed that Fred had listed several endorsements for his book.  Some were collected on a single sheet and others had photocopies enclosed.  I recognized several of the names, but one of Fred’s blurbs really caught my eye.

In his letter to me, Fred mentioned a particular review, and while the man’s name didn’t ring any bells, his company did.  Again, I won’t mention the business’s name, but anybody who reads more than two books a year probably has a few of their paperbacks on their shelves.  This puzzled me, since the business in question had nothing to do with the publication of Fred’s book.

I quickly discovered the connection.

This review went a little something like this:

     Although your concept is interesting and you obviously have great skill as a writer, your book does not fit our current needs. Perhaps another, smaller, publisher might be a better match for your work.  I wish you much luck in the future and great success with your writing career.

After I read the letter, I checked the letterhead.  Then I read the letter again, just in case my suspicions were wrong.

They weren’t.

Anybody else have a drawer full of these in their desk? I know I’ve got a bunch, and I’m a notorious (and unrepentant) procrastinator when it comes to submissions.  Any writer who has more than a casual interest in publishing possesses at least one of these, and I know people who have bound volumes of them.

They’re the most frustrating missives a writer can receive.  They’re the most disappointing letters the postman can deliver.  They depress us.  They discourage us.  Sometimes they inspire us or motivate us or instruct us, but they usually give us an excuse to take a day off from the keyboard and play video games or catch up on our TIVO.

They’re rejection letters, and Fred had included one in his press kit.

I did a little more research and discovered that Fred’s book was published by Fred’s Publishing, which made the faux pas a bit more understandable, but no less funny.  It also gave me a new topic in case this year’s World Horror Convention included an impromptu discussion of how to get a book on a bookstore’s shelves.

It also provided me with a new strategy for my next round of novel submissions.  After all, if it worked for Fred . . .

But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Recharging . . .

There are times when I’m ready to quit.  Really.  Chuck this frustrating, maddening, consuming avocation and find some shaggy hedges to prune.  Or patterns to sew.  Or cakes to decorate.  Something –anything- other than the constant keyboard pounding that only serves to keep the levees of my mind from breaking in a Katrina-like flood.

Eventually, I get over it.

Usually, I’m recharged by reading or watching something that inspires me, and I’m not talking about Dr. Phil or Oprah.  There are a lot of talented storytellers out there, but only a few that can break the doldrums and push me back in front of the keyboard.

Tonight, I’ve added Shane Ryan to that short list.

We all loved Dirty Harry; he did the things we wanted to but couldn’t.  We all loved John McClane; he was a maverick that wouldn’t kowtow to the system or the pricks that ran it.  Burke’s a thief and a con-man, but he has a mission that mitigates any peccadilloes he commits along the way.   Anti-heroes abound in literature, on television and in the movies.  They’re rough around the edges.  They’re tough and gritty.  But penetrate the choppy perimeter, hose off the grime and smooth out the gravel and you’ll always find a good soul with pure motives and a moral center.  You have to; who wants to care about a bad guy.

If you’ve never watched The Shield, I’d advise you to rectify that situation immediately.  If you’re a faithful viewer, no other explanation is necessary.

Don’t trust my opinion on this one; check it out for yourself.  Set your Tivo for SPIKE TV on Friday nights.  Throw a DVD on your Netflix list.  Watch the first episode (and yes, the first episode will be enough to convince you you’re not watching anything related to Law & Order or CSI) and I guarantee you’ll be hooked.  And here’s the real wonder:

After five seasons, it just keeps getting better.

There’s your homework for the weekend.  Catch an episode of The Shield.  Then, when you’ve caught up on that, we’ll talk about the some of the other creators whose work you should be reading/watching/experiencing.

It might just be enough to make you think you could write something worthwhile.  It usually works for me.

But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Peek-a-Boo! I See You . . .

Since THEY come here every day –twice a day- I thought I’d give THEM something to make their visits worthwhile.

There are many pharmaceutical solutions for paranoia and martyr complexes. These new wonder drugs can allow those with afflictions such as yours to live nearly normal lives (or what would pass for normal in your world). There can be some risk of sexual side effects, but really, that’s not much of a concern, is it?

For the rest of you, keep on keeping on.

But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .

Monday, February 13, 2006

Memoriam . . .

I didn’t do anything yesterday.

After crawling out of bed, I alternated between sitting in the recliner and lying on the couch, surfing the web and staring at the television. I hugged my daughter. I ate dinner. I smoked.

I watched the clock, and remembered.

I remembered the room. I remembered the people. I remembered leaving the hospital and sitting in the car, frozen in time and space between the man I had been when I arrived and the man I’d be once I left. I considered the mistakes I made in the aftermath and wondered how things might have turned out if I was as smart as I pretend to be.

And I watched the clock. Eventually 10:39 PM came.

I marked the occasion in silence. The minute seemed to last forever, a lifetime compressed into sixty seconds. The irony didn’t escape my notice.

I remember, even if I remember alone. My arms were the only ones to cradle him. My lips were the only ones to kiss him. Is it any wonder then that I mourn in solitude? I used to call her every year. I don’t call anymore. We didn’t talk about it then, when the discussion might have salvaged what remained in his wake. Why talk about it now?

I didn’t say anything, and no one said anything to me. If I cried, it was a tear or two that went unnoticed. The ache still claws at my heart, but the tears dried up nineteen years ago. I haven’t really cried since.

I’m afraid I won’t be able to stop.

10:40 came and then 10:41. Tonight –just like then- the clock still ticked and life continued. And I thought about what could have been-

No. What should have been.

I didn’t do anything yesterday, not a damned thing I haven’t done at least once during each of the past six thousand, nine hundred and thirty-five days.

But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .

Sunday, February 12, 2006

February 12, 1987

Happy Birthday Alexander. Daddy loves you.

Friday, February 03, 2006

A Brief Law & Order Moment . . .

This morning it occurred to me (in the bathroom, the birthplace of many important realizations) that I should clarify the origin of the post immediately below.

The following is fiction. It does not reflect actual events or portray any persons living or dead.

Carry on . . .

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Somebody's Listening . . .

On my way to the car this morning, I found a ratty old notebook lying in the alley. There was no name on the cover, and nothing on the pages to indicate ownership. There were small indentations all over the cover, as if someone had chewed on it. The whole thing was bent –almost twisted. I could almost imagine a demented soul wringing their hands while holding it.

What was more interesting was what I found inside. Scrawled across the pages (in Hillary Pink Crayola) were copious notes, scribbled in venomous fury. Most of the entries were unintelligible, but I could make some of them out.

6:00 PM – They’re laughing. Laughing! What’s so funny? Who are they laughing at now? Is it me? I bet it’s me.

6:23 PM – I heard a pot clink against a skillet. Cooking again. That’s so like them. “We’re too good for drive-thru and pizza delivery.” HAH!

7:01 PM – Dick Cheney is kind of sexy.

7:45 PM – They’re using the steps again. What’s so important up there?

8:22 PM – I’m trying to match the sound of my TV to theirs, but I can’t adjust the coat hanger fast enough to keep the voices clear. Damned static.

9:00 PM – They moved their chairs again and made me cut outside the dotted line on my Uncle Buck Whole Grain Soybean BOGO coupon. Sliced right through the bar code. Now it’s ruined.

9:39 PM – If I squint hard enough, I can see light shining through the crack in the molding. Don’t they know people are trying to sleep?

10:17 PM – Is there such a thing as a lethal dose of Midol?

11:05 PM – Heard walking again. Damn them straight to hell.

11:48 PM – Heard urinating, but no final drops. Bastard must not shake it off. Yellow stains in underpants, I’ll bet.

12:27 AM – Heard some strange noises from their bedroom. Might be moaning, but I don’t understand. Who would be moaning this late at night? And what’s that squeaking noise? Wouldn’t catch me moaning like that, and nothing over here squeaks that way.

2:57 AM – God, how loud does that man snore? Jesus, it sounds like a freight train. And the smell – wait! Was that a fart? Oh my God, I can’t believe . . . Oh, that’s from this side. Disregard entry.

4:13 AM – The wind is blowing. Whistling. Who can I call to complain? How can I blame this on THEM? Maybe their window’s cracked open, which could explain the whistling.

4:19 AM – I like Jello.

5:59 AM – Why do they wake up so early? And a shower? In the morning? It’s almost like they have someplace to be, as if they had a responsibility to someone or something. Like their livelihood depended on them showing up at a certain place at a certain time. Nah. Who would do something like that?

7:50 AM – More walking, and the sounds of doors opening and closing. Damn them, how can I organize my notes with all this noise?

8:00 AM-5:10 PM – Oh, now I see how it works. They think they’ll drive me crazy with the quiet. No walking. No doors opening and closing. Sure, they say they have jobs, but that’s just a convenient excuse. But I won’t fall for it.

I’d transcribe the rest, but it’s only more of the same. I’m assuming this is someone’s sorry attempt at fiction, because the other possibility is too sad to contemplate. I mean, nobody in their right mind would spend this much time in such a pointless endeavor.

Would they?

But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Moldy Oldies...

It occurs to me that the new Vent format, location and incoming links (thank you Mr. Konrath) may have brought new visitors to the site. If you’re a recent arrival, I thought you might enjoy this little blast from the past. If you’ve been around for a while, you might enjoy reading it again anyway.

So, here’s a little number I like to call:

Don't Call Me Darling...

In my day job, I talk to a lot of people. I speak to customers at the counter, converse with folks on the phone and have long thoughtful discussions with my staff (which shouldn't be confused with my house-bound staff discussions, which occur more frequently the older I get and tend to cross the boundary of discussion and venture into pleading, but that's a different Vent). I consider myself a gregarious person-a reasonable classification when one considers the number of book buyers who loiter about my store hoping to catch one of my frequent discourses on the nature of insanity- but lately I find myself grimacing when approaching a customer or answering the telephone.

Especially if polyester is involved.

My mother put a great deal of thought into naming me. For those who might have wondered, the M. at the beginning of my signature stands for Mark, a name only used in reference to me by elementary school contemporaries and telemarketers. Even Mom, who saddled me with the moniker, never called me Mark, not even in moments of furious rage, a situation usually requiring the parental use of first, middle and last names. As a child, I was Stevie; as an adult, I'm Steve. Before my writing career, there were only two people who regularly addressed me as Stephen: My aforementioned mother and my oft-mentioned ex, and as I've explained to my employees who field phone calls for me, it's very easy to tell the two apart.

And if I may be allowed a small digression, the correct pronunciation of STEPHEN is STEVEN. Only in Bavaria is it acceptable to pronounce it STEFAN no matter what Big Bird and Grover taught you about the PH=F equation. There are exceptions to every rule and after all, readers aren't chomping at the literary bit awaiting the latest Dark Tower installment by STEFAN King, although I'm asked for it several times a month.

But this isn't a Vent about pronunciation either.

Every name has a diminutive and every diminutive has a root name it's derived from. Elizabeth becomes Liz or Beth; Alexander gets shortened to Alex or Lex or more recently Xander, and Richard -for some obscure reason probably having to do with the negative qualities of a universally known and universally disliked Richard- becomes Dick. We won't even go into the John-Jack or Margaret-Peg conundrum, because frankly, neither Jack nor Peg has the comic possibilities of Dick.

However, Jack and Peg used in conjunction with Dick is an untapped vein of comedic gold, but unfortunately, a topic for another day.

Proper etiquette requires the use of a person's full name until such time as permission (either explicit or implied) is given to use that person's preferred diminutive. When I receive e-mails from readers, the first one invariably uses the salutation of Stephen (except for the ones addressed to Mr. Lukac which -while registering high on the Respect-O-Meter- freak me right the hell out). Once I've replied with a casual Steve appended to the bottom of my e-mail, future correspondence acquires the necessary tone, and we're both happy.

Taking the diminutive dilemma a step further, I've developed the unusual habit of lengthening short first names and shortening long first names when addressing friends and associates. I'm not sure if this is an unexpected manifestation of my muse or a symptom of my desire to re-shape the world according to my own twisted design, but the identification of this trait has done nothing to curb it. I do however, now warn new employees of its existence, which sufficiently prepares them for their new identity and alleviates any confusion generated by my referring to Assistant Manager Penny as Penelope.

And while there may be no mnemonic pedigree connecting Penny and Penelope, at least it makes more sense than Margaret-Peg and has successfully steered this Vent back into the bookstore where it belongs.

As a result of my parents' tutelage, customers at my counter are addressed as Sir or Ma'am unless we've developed a rapport over the years and assuming I remember their names (a skill my formidable memory for all things obscure seems unable to learn). Thanks to the plastic pin I wear, they always know to address me as Steve. It's a good system, unless I happen to pick up the wrong name-tag in the morning and spend the day masquerading as Peggy (which is not, in this case, short for Margaret).

Then what causes my recent grimacing? What sends a confirmed people person into spasms of hesitant shyness? What sets my teeth to grinding with a force sufficient to undo all the dentistry inflicted upon me in recent weeks while my nerves are cradled in an overly-generous dose of prescribed Valium and my mouth is numbed by a Gatling gun hypodermic dispensing gallons of Novocain?

Having my greeting of "How can I help you today ma'am?" responded to with a nasal "Sweetie, I'm looking for a book," a muffled "Honey, I'm here to pick up my order," or a strained "Darling, where's the nearest bathroom?"

This annoys the shit out of me.

I know men have inflicted this sort of torture on women for years and some testicularly burdened misanthropes continue to perpetuate the atrocity, but I'm not one of them, so I'd appreciate not being stuck with the check for my predecessors' feast at the sexist buffet. I'm required to poke holes in every shirt I own in order to be easily identifiable as an employee; I'd appreciate it if everyone who didn't get the memo clarifying that just because an article of clothing comes in double-digit sizes doesn't mean it should be worn in public would take the time to read the label affixed to my chest and address me accordingly. After all, it's a bookstore; if you don't like to read, then why are you here?

My mother gets to call me sweetheart. She gets to call me whatever she wants. Nine months of having her kidneys used as my footstool earns her that prerogative. My wife calls me Honey, which is also my favorite name for her. "Honey" has a special status in my lexicon; at no time in my life has there been more than one. Sweetie, kiddo, darlin', and hon are all acceptable appellations after reasonable exposure and a certain degree of camaraderie. I don't even mind babe; it's been known to pepper my speech quite heavily at times, so why would I object?

I'm making a new rule. I'm exercising Head of Steve's World authority and issuing the following decree, which is non-negotiable and hereafter inviolate.

If you call me Darling, I get to see you naked.

I figure I'll be gouging my eyes out soon.

But then again, you'll have this...

An Annoying Commercial Message...

January, my favorite month.

As far away from Ch- (nope, still not going to say the word) as you can get.  Things get back to normal, and there’s time to breathe and more importantly . . .

. . . write.

Just received a chunk of a collaboration I’m doing with a WELL-KNOWN AUTHOR (trust me, but I don’t want to name drop) and I’m trying to figure out what the next chunk is.  Legerdemain is at 40,000 words and climbing and there are two queries out for Oogie Boogie Bounce.

The Vent I promised a while back is coming, but I need to decide the best way to present it.  One must be careful when dealing with cowards, especially psychotic cowards.  Rage is good, venting is great, but sometimes short-term gratification isn’t worth long-term repercussions.

But it’s coming (hopefully around the same time the psychotic cowards are going).  Bet on it.

After all, I never let proximity stop me before.

But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .