Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What it Takes and Something FREE

If you’re only here because you saw the word “FREE” you can stop reading right now.  Hit this link and get my latest novel on your Kindle for absolutely nothing.  From now until 11:59 p.m. on Christmas Day, you pay $0.00 to get a full-length novel wirelessly delivered to your Kindle or Kindle reader.  Ever thought about what it takes to write a full-length novel?  If so, read below the break for my story.  If not, enjoy my holiday gift to you.


It started with a thought, a feeling.  “Preta’s Realm” came to life on a frigid night in Cleveland, Ohio.  It was one of those nights when the furnace never turns off and yet you can still taste the chill in the air.  I awoke around 2:00 a.m. and swore someone was walking around my house.  I thought I saw shadows in the hallway and thought I heard the slight cracking of the oak floor in time with footsteps.  I could have been dreaming.  I could have been half-awake.  It could have been a Gaki.  I began to think of reasons why I might be visited by spirits.  Not the Ghost of Christmas Past, but the kind that emerge from previous generations, the kind bearing witness or trying to save me from myself.  I had peeled back the corner on a story that had to be told.  Writers don’t create stories, they uncover them.  They tap into the same creative space as painters and musicians; artists that channel work instead of birthing it.

From there I spent two hours a day for the next two weeks doing research on Gaki and Preta.  These “hungry ghosts” appear in many Asian cultures and I needed to learn more about them.  The Gaki or Preta, are wandering spirits, never satiated, eating human feces.  They have bulbous heads, distended abdomens, and represent human greed.  The description convinced me that Preta was skulking through my house.  Utilizing the BIC method (Butt in Chair), I committed to 1500 words a day for about six weeks.  I got up at 4:00 a.m. and forced myself to type at least 1500 words by 6:00 a.m.  This blog post is in the ballpark (1200 words).  I’d match this word count, at four in the morning, every day for six weeks.  Some days the 1500 words flew off my fingers.  Other days I cried over 600.  If I fell short of the 1500 in the morning, I’d try again before I went to bed.  If I didn’t hit it at night, the word count carried over to the next day.  I surmise that this is the point where most people that say they’re “writing a novel” tend to have the idea die.  Even if you are perpetually stuck at 3000 words, technically, you’re still “writing a novel.”  At the end of each writing session, I wrote a two to three sentence summary of the 1500 words which served as my guiding outline.  I never plan or outline my stories in advance as I find that utterly boring.  Being the first reader of my books, I want to be surprised too.

After six weeks of composing the first draft, I set the manuscript (really a Word document) aside and did not touch it for another four to six weeks.  In my morning sessions that were previously spent crawling to 1500 words, I wrote essays, blog posts, song lyrics; anything else not related to my manuscript.  I needed to give it time to percolate.

The initial reading of the first draft became a glorious experience as I read the story I had uncovered.  I owned the words but the story belonged to the Muse.  A trip to Kinko’s with a twenty dollar bill got me a hard copy of the manuscript.  I read it in one sitting which took eight hours and required me to clean the house for a month as repayment for my wife dealing with the kids.  I scratched a note or two in the margins, but I tried to simply read it.

For another four to six weeks, I used my 4:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. time slot to edit and revise the first draft with a red pen.  I circled, underlined, crossed out; all the excitement of a high school English Lit teacher.  When I reached the end, I sat back down at the computer (BIC) from 4:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. for another two to three weeks and made the changes from the printed draft to the second draft Word file.  Back to Kinko’s for a hard copy.  Back to the red pen.  Back to the chair for another round of making changes on the Word file.  I did this three to five more times over three to five more months.

Now I had a draft worthy of sharing.  I went to Kinko’s again to get a print out that I gave to my friend Adam.  The guy is my first reader, a trusted friend, and gives great advice.  We spent a few hours discussing it.  I scribbled notes and then went back to tweak.  This took a few weeks.  Another trip to Kinko’s and I had a final printed version which I edited for grammar, punctuation, and tone.  Back to the chair where I created another Word document, probably the eighth or ninth file by this time.  I knew the story inside and out.  I could recite lines from memory.

Done?  Not even close.  I took the final Word document, blasted it open in an HTML editor, and began formatting it for the Kindle.  Line by line, over 90,000 words, I edited each one to make sure it looked clean and properly formatted on an eBook.  In the meantime, I had hired a graphic artist to design the cover.  The Kindle conversion process took several hours a day spread over two to three weeks.  Like the writing, I ended up with seven or eight Kindle versions before I considered it worthy of an upload.

Finally, I uploaded the finished product to Amazon, viewed it one more time on my own Kindle, and released it.  By now, it’s been a year or so since I saw ghosts in my house and I have spent hundreds of dollars of my own money at Kinko’s, on graphic art, coffee, and Percocet (not necessarily in that order).  I have lost count of the number of hours spent researching, writing, editing, and formatting this story.

And the speedy endeavor unfolds like this if I don’t get sick, don’t have family obligations that get in the way, don’t have any technical glitches that cause me to lose work, don’t get divorced by my wife that doesn’t see me for days at a time, etc.  This is “best-case” for one novel.  I’ve done this six or seven times and will continue hopefully until I die, maybe even beyond that.

Whether it’s a novel or an album, the process involves investments of time and money for an artist that cares about the craft.  So please consider my story the next time you scoff at paying $0.99 for a Kindle novel and please enjoy “Preta’s Realm” for free through Christmas Day.  It’s probably best to pull the covers over your head instead of investigating the shadows in the hall.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hoser

J. Thorn in 1993
On September 26th, 2011, Patrick Borally drove his catering van from a Cleveland suburb to Niagara Falls.  He crossed the border heading north, deeper into Canada.  On October 2nd, 2011, near Fork Lake in McVittie Township, Ontario, a passerby saw a rubber hose running from the exhaust pipe to the van’s window and called the police.  This was Borally’s third attempt at suicide since he disappeared from Richmond Heights.  The family attorney addressed the media, calling off the regional search conducted by hundreds of volunteers and law enforcement officials.  "His doctor told me that Pat has a serious brain disorder that could be related to his spinal meningitis that he had as a child," his wife, Kathy Borally, said. "He is getting help. Thank God he doesn't remember anything, and he seems positive now. And he's ready to get home to us, and God was with him through all of this."  God made it through the border crossing without his birth certificate or passport, apparently.

I think I have the same brain disorder as Patrick Borally.  The last flare-up occurred in 1993 when I worked as a defense contractor going by the nickname “D-Fens.”  All I wanted was breakfast from Jack-in-the-Box.  I remember saying to my wife, “I've passed the point of no return. Do you know what that is, Beth? That's the point in a journey where it's longer to go back to the beginning. It's like when those astronauts got in trouble. I don't know, somebody messed up, and they had to get them back to Earth. But they had passed the point of no return. They were on the other side of the moon and were out of contact for like hours. Everybody waited to see if a bunch of dead guys in a can would pop out the other side. Well, that's me. I'm on the other side of the moon now and everybody is going to have to wait until I pop out.”  And then she told me that the police were there.

There’s a pretty good chance I’ll die in the latter stages of a zombie apocalypse.  Being a vegetarian, I’m worried about what the other zombies are going to think when I turn my undead nose up at raw human flesh.  But then again, there’s also a good chance I’ll implode, bursting into a flaming ball of hair, obscenities, and dead Canadians.  Why Canadians, you ask?  Because some mornings I have to drag myself out of bed and resist the urge to go Borally.  I have to convince myself that driving to Canada and detonating a car bomb along with some Mounties as collateral damage isn’t easier than dealing with my mortgage, debt, mid-life crisis, and the end of Judas Priest.

I dedicate this post to my new digital friend, Jason, the long-lost third McKenzie brother.  If you got here from his blog, help yourself to Preta's Realm for only $0.99 (for a limited time).

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Say Hello to Yourself

You devour epic fantasy and seize the opportunity to transcend worlds through books. It’s not unusual for you to sink into a recliner, in the most secluded corner of your house, and read for hours. And interspersed between trilogies set in distant worlds, you come back to this one, drawn to the mysterious, dark realm of supernatural thrillers and horror. Exotic settings must jump off the page and come alive in your mind, especially stories of survival; life on the fine edge of existence. You cheer for the reluctant hero, the common man thrust into obligation and you also cheer for the villain, the arch nemesis.

Episodes of “Ancient Aliens” clog your DVR while you anxiously await the return of “Cities of the Underground” on History. You can recite verses from “The Raven” but get more excited when someone wants to talk about “The Rats in the Walls.” Heavy music fills your iPod. Those shiny discs that the kids no longer recognize lay scattered on the passenger side of your truck. You are a fan of Black Sabbath and Aerosmith, not “reality show” Ozzy or “American Idol” Steven. You prefer “Master of Puppets” over “The Black Album,” and like Cliff more than Jason or Robert. The rumble of a Harley Fatboy makes you smile and you know Detroit will never produce anything cooler than a 1977 Corvette. When you have the choice, you opt for Guinness over Budweiser and Starbucks over Dunkin Donuts. You can’t hang a picture without a power tool. You can’t purchase a power tool without hanging it in your garage.

Louis C.K. makes you laugh while the memory of George Carlin makes you cry. You love vampires and hate Twilight. You know the difference between a hip check and a cross check and despise golf unless it includes a home video of a Tiger mistress. You prefer Suicide Girls over Playboy Playmates, long hair over short hair, curves over rails. Ten years later, you don’t necessarily believe the full-on conspiracy theory surrounding 911, but you also know an F-15E Strike Eagle could have prevented anything from hitting the Pentagon.

Too young to give up, too old to start over. Too immature for Johnny Walker Red, too mature for a case of Busch. You’ve been around long enough to get tired of mainstream entertainment and yet you’re still excited by a new author, band, or movie. This is you, my ideal reader. Let’s hang out sometime. I want to be your ideal author.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Your Khakis

I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.
Fight Club, 1999
Two wars, a bailout, and waves of recession have left the past decade licking its wounds. You’ve felt it. Palahniuk was a prophet. It’s why “Fight Club” has such a tremendous cult following, even with Brad Pitt immortalizing Tyler Durden. Let’s cram more “Dancing With the Stars” down the wife’s gullet to keep her from realizing how much debt we own. Let’s make sure the N.F.L. never strikes again so I don’t have to face my shitty life, at least on Sundays and possibly Monday nights if I can still afford cable. Give me that new Droid so I can tune out my annoying kids.

It’s more than a bunch of hippies in drum circles down there on Wall Street. Regular people are getting pissed too. We’re tired of having the government steal our money and hand it over to corrupt CEO’s that pad their own severance package with millions. I want the bastards involved in the Cuyahoga County corruption scandal to pay. I’m making my monthly mortgage payment, barely, while financial advisors tell clients to let the house go into foreclosure if they can’t afford it. Follow the rules and you get screwed. Break them and you get rewarded.
You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your khakis.
Then what the hell are you? Are you a human trying to survive or are you Preta, mindlessly consuming without satisfaction?

The first rule of the blog is you don’t talk about the blog. On second thought, a comment or two would probably be fine.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Hungry Ghost

Watching Louis C.K. perform is like watching an old lady fall and break her hip; you will laugh no matter how inappropriate or sad it might be.  The degree of pessimistic self-loathing in his work is nothing short of painfully hilarious.  When I saw Louis C.K. interviewed on television, I cried.  But the more I thought about his bit, I got the joke on a different level.

“When I read things like ‘the foundations of capitalism are shattering’ I'm like, maybe we need that. Maybe we need some time where we're walking around with a donkey with pots clanking on the sides, ya know…because everything is amazing right now and nobody's happy.”

In Eastern beliefs, the “hungry ghost” represents this idea.  Sometimes called Gaki or Preta, the pitiful creatures have enormous stomachs, tiny necks, and suffer from intense cravings that cannot be fulfilled.  Their torture stems not from what they lack, but from the pain that comes from clinging to material objects that do not fulfill desire.  Pretas wander, stuffing their faces with tasty treats like piles of human feces.  Many can’t swallow or they find the act of eating painful.  The ghosts survive on the fear of the living.  Think Gollum in Lord of the Rings.

The new car, Harley, job, cell phone, Gibson SG, flat screen, pill, house, spouse.  They are all hungry ghosts.  They never completely satisfy, only increase the craving for the next new car, Harley, job, cell phone, Gibson SG, flat screen, pill, house, spouse.

Living with Preta isn’t easy.  Take some time away from yours to indulge mine.  If this novel doesn’t raise the hair on the back of your neck, maybe you ARE Preta.  Here’s the link.  Click it.  Leave the donkey with clanking pots for another time.