Author Archives: root

My younger son enters the workforce OR He took our jorbs!

There are certain cliché times when a parent feels his age creeping upward. The first time someone calls you sir. The first gray hair. That first weird pain you just can’t figure out where it came from. But if you have kids, more often than not its some milestone your youngest one reaches. He loses his last baby tooth. He “graduates” from some level of school or other. He gains or loses his first love.

I’m happy, proud and honestly horrified at just such a milestone my younger son has just reached. Horrified mainly because he’s unusually young to have reached it. He’ll be fifteen in a couple weeks.

The boy got his first real job. He’s the new lackey/busboy at the Broadway location of Local Coffee, my long-time office away from home.

He had volunteered to mop up around the Sonterra location after school a few nights. That became one of his favorite things to do. Pretty soon he was donning a rag and a bottle of cleaner and hitting every surface that he could find. At the time, I didn’t think too much of it at the time. The Sonterra location served beer and wine, so he couldn’t get on until he was eighteen. Certainly this was a phase — he’d get tired of working for free at some point in the next three years. Then, while visiting the new location in Alamo Heights, I learned that because they were situated close to an elementary school, they would be dry. One thing led to another and his the boy’s rag and bottle became permanent and paid.

I guess I should have seen this coming. His older brother was a funny kid, a real money grubber. It was a no-brainer when he was fourteen that I should do anything I could to find him a way to make his own money. I got him in as an unpaid floor-sweeper and general shadow at Bicycle-Heaven where he still is today, more than five years later, now obviously paid as a skilled bicycle mechanic.

Seeing his older brother’s example, the exposure he had to cool people and cooler opportunities, had to affect my younger son pretty strongly. That was how things were done, right?

So, horrifying or not, I am proud of him. Some say that the real purpose of college is to learn how to work. Here’s to hoping that work will teach him the same thing. And instead of us paying for that lesson, he’ll get paid instead, allowing him to focus wholly on the learning part of college when that time comes.

Thank you to Local Coffee and the wonderful people behind it, Robbie and Neesha Grubbs. And a huge thank you to Matt Hamlin, the owner of Bicycle Heaven, without whom all this wouldn’t have begun.

In these lean times, it’s all about discipline

We’ve all — okay, most of us have — been swept up in the frenzied pace of modern life. We’re pulled in a million directions trying to do the right thing, improve ourselves, buy a little quiet, save for the future. It never seems to end.

I find myself in a particularly difficult time right now. The company I work for is in transition. Each of my growing sons’ need and deserve my time, money and other assistance. My wife is recovering from surgery — no matter that some would describe it as minor. And now I’m sitting over the last 20 uncritiqued pages of about 50. I simply couldn’t get to them with things going the way they have. Now I have tonight and maybe an hour tomorrow, depending upon how things go.

I can do it. This post steals away about 10 minutes. I seldom allow myself more time than that for my posts. And that speaks to what this article is all about.

Discipline.

If you have a pile, no sense wasting time looking at it. The only thing that’s going to make it go away is the shovel. So dig in, you lazy bastard.

UPDATE:
I DID IT. Got the pesky pages critiqued. Sloppy notes that need to be transferred to the actual manuscripts, but I did it, dammit!

05/22/2012 3:32 PM

Thursday, 17 May 2012
Kindle cover for a friend and fellow author Lisa Compton
I was pleased to have the opportunity to design a friend’s book cover recently. It’s a self-pubbed title by Lisa Compton, an author who has written a Star Trek novel, a number of TV scrips among other projects.

“Epiphany” is a novel about a woman who sees her husband, a former rock star, knifed to death in front of her outside the revolving door of a NYC hotel. It deals with her confusion and grief over the event and the tribulations of finding the man who committed the murder. Everyone is a suspect, even the woman herself who suspects for a time that the trauma may have skewed her memory.

The process of arriving at the cover idea was interesting to me. I used to think that one needed to read a whole novel to know what is necessary to include in the cover. I mean, how could one know if he was on the mark. But I knew this wasn’t going to happen. I’m a painfully slow reader, I have my own writing to do and to be honest, I didn’t want to put down the book I’m in the middle of.

Instead, my wife and I had the luxury of sitting with Lisa. After sharing drinks and about an hour of back and forth Q & A I understand what the heart of the story was — the inciting event, the murder itself and the specific nature of the main character’s learning of it.

So my challenge was to suggest as many relevant cues about that event as possible without confusing the potential reader as to the type of story being told. Simple. For all practical purposes, that’s what I do in my day job. The added difficulty of an e-book cover is designing it so that it is both genre-identifiable and legible — both title and author — in both the full-sized and what we in the print/web industry call “thumbnail” size.

This will be my first e-book cover design to end up being sold. I’ve designed others for projects that have died on the vine or remain alive but on indefinite hold, so I’m pretty excited about it in my own nerdy way.

Kindle cover for a friend and fellow author Lisa Compton

I was pleased to have the opportunity to design a friend’s book cover recently. It’s a self-pubbed title by Lisa Compton, an author who has written a Star Trek novel, a number of TV scrips among other projects.

“Epiphany” is a novel about a woman who sees her husband, a former rock star, knifed to death in front of her outside the revolving door of a NYC hotel. It deals with her confusion and grief over the event and the tribulations of finding the man who committed the murder. Everyone is a suspect, even the woman herself who suspects for a time that the trauma may have skewed her memory.

The process of arriving at the cover idea was interesting to me. I used to think that one needed to read a whole novel to know what is necessary to include in the cover. I mean, how could one know if he was on the mark. But I knew this wasn’t going to happen. I’m a painfully slow reader, I have my own writing to do and to be honest, I didn’t want to put down the book I’m in the middle of.

Instead, my wife and I had the luxury of sitting with Lisa. After sharing drinks and about an hour of back and forth Q & A I understand what the heart of the story was — the inciting event, the murder itself and the specific nature of the main character’s learning of it.

So my challenge was to suggest as many relevant cues about that event as possible without confusing the potential reader as to the type of story being told. Simple. For all practical purposes, that’s what I do in my day job. The added difficulty of an e-book cover is designing it so that it is both genre-identifiable and legible — both title and author — in both the full-sized and what we in the print/web industry call “thumbnail” size.

This will be my first e-book cover design to end up being sold. I’ve designed others for projects that have died on the vine or remain alive but on indefinite hold, so I’m pretty excited about it in my own nerdy way.

Early Thomas McAuley caught in the act of old-school writing

While I was cropping, aligning and color-correcting some old pictures of my sister and myself for this year’s Mother’s Day, I ran across the picture to the right. It’s me in sixth grade in Tennessee during the fleeting two month period an Optometrist convinced my folks I needed to wear glasses.

But the cool part is that my folks caught me writing some early story or other on the living room floor in front of my sister’s cello. I used to write ALL the time during certain stages of my childhood, writing on the desk my father made for me by converting our living room closet into a space that opened into my bedroom. So many hours. I think about how television, computers and phones are such a huge part of my boys’ lives and it makes me want to shoot our TVs.

I mean, what really differentiates people if they all have exactly the same experience?

Seeing this picture also got me thinking about how I had written my first “book” when I was four. It was a single sheet of paper folded in half four times, giving me 32 pages. I recall being as excited about creating the book as I was about the story, which speaks to my grown up split between graphic/web design and writing.

I’m sure I’ve blogged about that book before. Search something like “The Last Little Buffalo” if you want to read more about it.

How much would I give to know what I was writing when this picture was taken.

In praise of Goodreads.com

As a writer and a website designer, I should have included, in addition to the Facebook and Twitter icons above, a similar link to my Goodreads home.

Today, that is remedied.

Unlike a LOT of writers I know, I’ve never been addictedd to reading, outside of a few individual books. I’ve gone through reading and non-reading phases, a couple or three months in any given year in which I tear through three or four books.

Do the math, I’m a slow reader.

I happened not to be in such a reading phase when I created the last redesign of my site, so Goodreads never occurred to me. In fact, I hadn’t visited the site in over a year. But I did so just a couple days ago and was so happy I had. I had forgotten all that I loved about it. Note that like any social media site, the way one uses and, necessarily, the aspects about it one enjoys varies from person to person.

For me, the first thing I fell in love with about Goodreads was being reminded of that I had read tons of books. That went a long way toward combatting my inadequacies compared to other writers who seemed to read a book a day since they were born. Next, Goodreads’ Amazon-like “if you like this you’ll like these” feature helped me narrow down the sort of books I should be reading, titles I’m sure I wouldn’t have found so easily without their help. Being able to punch my preferences, starting with wide-net genre categories but also adding my own niche ones — absurdist, bizarro, experimental — has been a reading godsend.

Last on my list of things I now love about Goodreads is the social networking aspect. Initially, I couldn’t see the benefit of the network of readers and writers. But now, after discovering a legitimate market for my type of writing, I’ve dived into learning about other similar writers, their works and their own reading histories. Doing so has proven not only interesting but hugely educational. Titles that may not have come up, being too far removed from my own reading history, suddenly become available.

During my most recent visit to the site, I chose to invite everyone I follow on Twitter to follow me on Goodreads, some 15k+ people and almost exclusively writers, readers, agents, publishers, etc. In the days since that choice, my personal Inbox has been overflowing with folks “accepting my friendship.”

That seems like such a warm way to put it.

Anyway click the image or the icon and follow me. *ahem* I mean, accept my friendship.

It doesn’t matter a hair, but maybe Absurdist is closer to the mark

After all my talk about Bizarro, after finding Matthew Revert so much to my liking, and frankly so similar in style to my own writing, I’m wondering if I’m not actually an absurdist writer with bizarro leanings. They’re arguably very very similar, but there are differences.

For those differences, look to the left column here. Both wiki definitions are there.

The main thing — after the Revert discovery — is that the list of absurdist writers includes my all-time favorite book, Patrick Süskind’s Das Parfum. That’s the book that, more than any other, is responsible for my interest in writing.

I’m haven’t yet committed to this list, but I’m thinking that after finishing Matthew Revert’s works, I’m going to tackle the titles on this list that I haven’t already read:

  • Franz Kafka – The Trial (1925)
  • Svetoslav Minkov – The Lady With the X-Ray Eyes (1934)
  • Albert Camus – The Stranger (1942), The Plague (1947), The Fall (1956)
  • Eugène Ionesco – The Bald Soprano (1950), Rhinoceros (1959)
  • Samuel Beckett – Waiting for Godot (1952)
  • Harold Pinter – The Birthday Party (1958)
  • Edward Albee – The American Dream (1961)
  • Joseph Heller – Catch-22 (1961)
  • Kurt Vonnegut – Cat’s Cradle (1963)
  • Tom Stoppard – Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead (1966)
  • Luke Rhinehart – The Dice Man (1971)
  • Tom Robbins – Still Life with Woodpecker (1980)
  • Patrick Süskind – Perfume (1985)
  • Paul Auster – The New York Trilogy (1989)
  • M. John Harrison – Light (2002)
  • Ray Fracalossy – Tales From the Vinegar Wasteland (2006)
  • Rhys Hughes – The Postmodern Mariner (2008)

The good news is that anyone who writes absurdist certainly won’t be kicked out of a bizarro party.

Enjoying the transformation OR Write Thee in the Correct Genre or Suffer Mightily

I only recently learned that the closest thing to what I’ve been writing all these years  has been in a genre called bizarro. I had this clarification dropped on me less than a month ago. Yet I’m already witnessing the effect that knowing my genre has on my writing.

In the last two weeks of 2011 I wrote the half of my nose-fetish story. At the time, I did not know my genre. The story was based on an interesting enough idea and it was written well enough, but something was missing. Or something was unneeded. Or something was mismatched. It was hard to tell.

I believe that first draft was not aimed at a specific target. I had a weird idea and was trying to fit it into a horror slot or a magic realism slot. I’m not sure. Regardless, it was the wrong slot.

Even though during the first rewrite, I still hadn’t been told about my  bizarro leanings, I had found my footing with the story in letting go more than I ever had. There was something very right about the direction I was going. At the time, I thought that I had simply found the real story, but I think I something else happened. Something snapped. The stick in my ass broke. I found my “fuck it.” At least the tip of it. There’s plenty more.

That the story, at its admittedly high level of sickening, actually worked was relieving, gratifying, enlightening.

Since that critique, I’ve been on Cloud 8 (borrowing a term from Gary Larsen). And my writing has been freer. Maybe not quicker. Certainly not easier, but at least I’ve removed a lot of uncertainty from the equation. Now I know what I’m writing. And I know the market I’m writing for.

At least as much as an author can ever know that stuff.

A treasure trove of twisted tales OR A month of bizarro reviewed by a man with an enormous head

Well the title of this post pretty much tells it all. All this month Nathan Filizzi — who, by the way, describes himself as generally lazy and his own head specifically as big — devoted himself to bizarro fiction reviews for the entirety of April 2012.

Nathan’s blog, Yoyogod’s Reviews of Books and Stuff I Like, is possibly the best concise starting point for anyone interested in or entering the bizarro genre. The man didn’t miss a day. In fact, someone sent him a copy of All Monster Action and he couldn’t resist reviewing that one, too. So, technically, he not only gave us something for every day in April, he gave us an EXTRA DAY in April.

Lazy my ass.

I piss in a bowl and wash your feet, Nathan, ’cause I’ve heard that’s how it’s done in the big leagues.

Please stop reading this shite and head over to his blog. But if you’re actually lazy, here are the links to Nathan’s bizarro reviews. All in one pretty little pile, Gomer.

Links to Nathan Filizzi’s bizarro fiction reviews

Meshuggah / Baroness / Decapitated: Amazing yet bizarre show tomorrow

If you heard, “Meshuggah Baroness Decapitated,” you would think it was a news headline — albeit a highly unusual and disturbing one for today’s world. But no, it’s not a headline but the acts in tonight’s marathon show in Austin.

Decapitated is the opening act. I’ve only heard a few of their tracks but what I have I’ve liked. They’re a death metal outfit from Portugal. They lost their long-time drummer recently but they picked up Slaughter’s guy and never missed a step. It’ll be well worth getting to Emo’s early to catch them. They’ll set the table nicely.

Baroness, however, is amazing. Start with Mastodon but pick out the tedious, dull bits — not a big fan. Add a heavy dose of High on Fire. And stir in just a little Catherine Wheel. Dude, that’s all you need to enjoy these guys. They’re highly listenable and provide plenty for the close listener with a musician’s ear. They could easily have been the opening act, the finished cake.

But no.

Now Meshuggah takes the stage. They’re…let’s see…hard and intricate and heavy as hard, intricate and heavy get. There’s simply nothing like them. Or, rather, there’s nothing like them that is close to their equal. Musicians try an fail to unwind their insane timing. The guitars each follow their own patterns, each separate from the bass. The vocals attempt zero melody, no harmonizing. Nothing but pure driving, throaty apocalyptic calls to give up, to succumb, to bow and follow…something. Then the drummer, the engine behind the whole operation. It’s as if he’s been double-labotomized. His left hand complements the lead guitar’s uber-complex riffs while his right hand taps away a damned near danceable metronome. And his feet match a separate complexity that parallels the bass. No overdubbing, no programming, no additional band members off stage. One guy. Amazing.

So with the table set by Decapitated and the bizarro cake fashioned by Baroness, it’s Meshuggah’s job to screw in a giant red horned dildo into the top and pour black blood over the thing.

Can’t. Wait. To dig. In.

But stop the orgy because…wait for it…it’s an all-agers show.

*horned dildo deflates*

*cake collapses the table*

So I guess it’s not the devil fest I thought it was. It’s freakin’ family night.

Ah, well. Rock on anyway.

Writing simultaneous stories OR artistic circuit training

For the last month or so, I’ve been writing on two projects simultaneously. This is the first time I’ve done so — certainly the first time  successfully. I’ve tried before but each time, I met with confusion or frustration. I’d go as far as to say that this time around has been pretty effortless.

Before I get into my guess why this time has been different, let me recap the projects.

The first is a rewrite of my nose-fetish short story, a bizarro tale about a man who impregnates his sinuses. Don’t ask — it’s a sickfest. It’s written in third person in very natural language — for me, at least. Almost casual, even snotty.

The other is a historical series of vignettes, recollections of an old man about his rise and fall though addiction to viewing sleeping women. It’s told in possibly the thickest language I’ve ever crafted as it’s intended to have pieces extracted and performed for an audio project with Joe Frawley, a neo-classical composer slash ambient artist in Connecticut.

Both stories are admittedly weird and deal with different aspects of imprisonment in addiction, so logic would say that there may be enough overlaps as to cause cross-story seepage. But that’s not the case.

The key, I believe, is the two works’ difference in style and tone. One is set in the present and told with natural, even rough language while the other takes place in mid-19th century England and utilizes highly formal language with an apologetic attitude.

And that leads me to the phenomenon I mention in the title of this post: the artistic battery.

I write, design websites, play guitar. I have painted, crafted leather, etc. Why do I mention all that? Because for years, I have noticed that if I’ve been deeply engaged in, say, a heavy block of website design, I can emerge, grab the guitar and nail a piece of playing without thinking about it. I imagine what’s going on is that all the while I’ve been tweaking away at type and pixels, I’ve been storing up creative energy. I don’t know it grows from the frustration of such minute work over hours or if it is the result of resting the part of my brain used for playing the guitar.

And the phenomenon shows up between any two of my work and artistic outlets. For instance, I can end a guitar session feeling energized to write, write for a few hours and find I have the mental energy to work on leather. I should be wiped out but it seems to be an endless spring.

Or I’m artistically circuit training, going the rounds in the creative gym, spending time on different mental muscle groups.

And what I’ve discovered is the same phenomenon holds true for simultaneous writing works. I think the circuit training analogy is apt. Not only CAN I write two stories at the same time, but I find that doing so actually improves the writing in both cases. Each seems more focused, as if I want to switch between modern prose and stodgy quasi-poetry. In fact, I wonder if I were only writing the nose-fetish story, whether my language wouldn’t inadvertently drift toward poetic. It seems to want to be relieved, like having to express both teats even though baby only digs the left one.

John 5 guitarist for, at different stages of his career, Marilyn Manson, KD Lang and White Zombie seems to have found the same to be true. He’s said in interviews that he tends to practice his country style when he’s on tour with the rockers and the heavier stuff when he’s on a country tour.

Makes perfect sense to me now.

Is it a battery that needs to be charged and drained? Full teats? Or is the circuit training analogy best? There’s probably a case for any of them but that’s not what’s important. Know that you CAN write simultaneous stories — so long as they’re different enough from one another.

A new look for my writing site to go with my new genre awareness

In my previous posting, I related how, during my last critique group meeting, I had learned that I’d been writing bizarro stories all the while. I was so elevated by that knew knowledge that I felt a new website look was in order. And, since the website design company I work for — ICG Link — released version 2 of our Build111 cms framework, I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone. I’d create the new look and today to fit it over that new, fuller-featured content management system.

I’m pumped about it. It actually fits my writing mentality better than any of the previous looks thomasmcauley.com has ever seen.

Since I write weird stories, I wanted the site to reflect strangeness in as many design elements as I felt I could get away with without losing the usability of the site. This is pretty much what I’ve learned the bizarro genre is, too — a world populated and driven by what-ifs but the language is straight-forward (if literary language counts as straight-forward).

Bizarro, here we go!

Since I’ve been writing with a serious eye, I’ve been in a constant struggle to categorize the sort of stories that I produce.

Why the need? Shouldn’t you just write the stories you want to write and not worry about it. Wouldn’t that be great if I worked that way mentally? Wouldn’t that be great, too, if that’s the way the publishing indusgry worked?

First, I need to know who to send my stuff. There’s no more certain waste of time than sending material to the wrong publisher or publication.

Second, I can’t possibly be the only one writing the stuff I do and, frankly, I’m not interested in being the trailblazer of a new genre if I am. So, assuming I’m not alone, I’d love to read others’ works and chat with them about how best to proceed professionally.

The problem then is what is my work exactly?

Well, it’s two things — literary and weird.

I’ve got a story about a man whose head lives on a stump in a remote forest; one about a man locked in a giant sphere with thousands of semi-immortal flying demons; another about a fellow who mistakenly orders a bib so large that it stretches across a whole city. There are too many more to admit.

For our last critique, I submitted a rewrite of the first part of my nose-picking fetish story in which the lead impregnates his own nose. It seemed to be well enough received and, afterwards, Joe McKinney mentioned that all but one story that he could remember my having shared fit neatly into a genre I’d only heard of but hadn’t really paid too much attention to for its sounding like a dead-end, dadaist venture. Sanford Allen agreed and both began suggesting that I read Carlton Mellick III and Cameron Pierce, authors of “The Morbidly Obese Ninja” and “Ass Goblins of Auschwitz” respectively, among many others, if you can say respectively after noting such deliciously disturbing titles.

I listened, noted the authors and asked the probably obvious question — what is bizarro?

Instead of trying to remember the discussion from that point, I found this February 2010 thread in the Bizarro Mondo forum that does a terrific job of explaining it and the likely follow up questions that might arise afterwards.

So what is Bizarro anyway? (Didn’t I just ask that?)

Bizarro is a genre of film and literature.

Is Bizarro a new thing?

Bizarro isn’t really a new genre. Just a new term. For decades, people have been going into bookstores and video stores looking for the weird stuff. To them, “weird stuff” is a genre, just like horror or science fiction. But it has never been given an official name before. Until now.

What makes a book or film Bizarro?

Basically, if an audience enjoys a book or film primarily because of its weirdness, then it is Bizarro. Weirdness might not be the work’s only appealing quality, but it is the major one.

Isn’t this stuff just weird for the sake of weird?

The comment “weird for the sake of weird” is just empty rhetoric used to devalue work of this kind. Would you say punk bands are punk for the sake of punk? Or does Stephen King write horror for the sake of horror? Bizarro is a genre of the weird so it is weird. Sure, there might be some authors who puke blobs of nonsensical words onto paper and call it weird. But that’s not Bizarro, that’s just bad writing.

Are there any subgenres of Bizarro?

Bizarro encompasses a limitless number of styles and subgenres. From irreal westerns to romantic absurdism to surreal splatterpunk to post-apocalyptic avant-garde crime noir porn. There’s a wide range of possibilities.

What are some popular examples of Bizarro?

Eraserhead, Alice in Wonderland, Naked Lunch, Visitor Q, Bartholomew and the Oobleck, Tromeo and Juliet, Ichi the Killer, Fando & Lis, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, Dellamorte Dellamore, Uzumaki, Conspirators of Pleasure, Lost Highway, or anything described as Lynchian.

Why bother labeling this at all?

It’s all about the audience. A lot of people love this type of work but have difficulty finding it. They don’t even know what to call it. Well, by creating the Bizarro genre this just makes it easier for readers to find Bizarro books and films. It also makes marketing to the Bizarro audience a bit easier.

I left this last Wednesday critique hungry to read more about the genre and to read titles IN the genre. I’ll be damned if they weren’t right on the money. Everything I write is at least quite odd. I thought that too much of it was too odd. I guess there isn’t such an animal. And boy am I happy as a lobster to hear that is the case.

I’ve got Andersen Prunty’s “Jack and Mr. Grin” and may hit Pierce’s “Haunted Vagina” afterwards.

The book, btw, not his actual vagina.

Writing, grace and priorities

Family and other commitments “kept me away” from writing more than a couple hours this weekend. In one respect, it’s a shame, because I woke up Saturday with a strong hunger to hammer out a ton of words. I even had pretty good momentum, having written at least an hour for the previous days.

But my plan for Saturday fell on its face when I learned that I had gotten the timing of my older son’s bicycle event wrong, that I COULD head to Gonzales for his afternoon criterium. So, being the good dad that I am, off I went. The day gave me three hours of genuinely relaxed fun in the car with my younger son on a beautiful day to and from a beautiful town I’d never been to before. Though my older son didn’t fare as well in the heat and against the strong field of riders, the event was well run and we had plenty of shade. By the time we got back to San Antonio, I didn’t have more than an hour’s worth of writing energy left in me.

Sunday started out well enough, allowing me a couple hours of writing at Local Coffee in Stone Oak, but even that got cut short with my having to leave early for my younger son’s soccer game. Afterwards it was dinner and The Hunger Games with the family and the Tour of Flanders until bedtime.

I could mourn the loss of writing time but I can’t. I got three hours in — a small number, I know but it’s better than zero. l certainly would have felt bad about it if I had been sitting on the couch watching TV. But how can you mourn a] getting as much as you CAN get done and b] spending such a great, active weekend with the people you love.

Writing is my most important avocation, undoubtedly, but I figure you can’t write well if you neglect life. I decided not only to give myself a pass but a pat on the back. Going into this week with a positive attitude should serve me well.

Putting craziness in perspective in relation to writing


I once asked a fellow author whether the hardest part of knowing/working with me was “the crazy,” meaning my regular and varied crises of confusion, aimlessness, overediting and self-doubt. The unnamed author answered me with an creative and apt confirmation.

“We’ll say that.”

Since that exchange, I’ve learned a bit more about myself, about writing and about art in general. And crazy seems to be a vital part of good art. In fact, folks who don’t run on and from and with a certain amount of crazy are either mailing it in or they are lying about how easy and enjoyable the process was.

Mailing it in?

Yes. Good art is an honest facing of creativity’s fire and it’s necessarily maddening — at least to a point — if you’re doing it right. Of course, those who have gained success can afford to rely on momentum and brand after they’ve produced their signature genius work. And if they can live with some mailing it in in order to manage their crazy, good for them. I can attest that too much crazy will leave you chasing your tail — it’s no longer inspiring but crippling.

Lying?

Well, yes, but I get it. You can’t say, “This book/story/whatever was sooo difficult. I struggled and wept and peed myself. I had to write the first chapter seven times before I got it to where I could live with it but it’s still not as good as I wanted it to be.” No one would buy the damned thing. So you HAVE to fib a little. For whatever reason, society wants its authors to be not only producers of terrific work, but they should also produce it while yawning. So, for marketing purposes, you have to play that game, I guess.

But since I’m still well away from the million word mark, the point at which some brilliant man or other said one much achieve before he is an actual writer, I can freely admit that my crazy infects every aspect of my work. I have good days where the words flow and where I don’t question whether I should be engaged in this craft, but they are few and infrequent. I used to worry about that being weird — it was only I who suffered so much over his art. But craziness is just like the proverbial heat in the kitchen. It’s part of the scene if you’re going to do the work.

My first writing collaboration

I’m excited about the new project I’ve taken on. For the first time, I’ll be working with another artist on a work. I am not at the point yet where I can talk about the specifics — even with whom I’m working — but it’s a project which will use my written work as background for themed album-length audio work.

The subject is spooky/creepy and historic. For me that’s fun + fun + funner.

The historical — mid 19th century — aspect and the fact that my work will be spoken — at least that’s my initial understanding of how my writing will be used — I can finally afford to utilize the thicker language that no one these days, outside of prose poetry fanatics (both of them) would take the time to read. It works dramatically, though. There may be some sort of printed piece that accompanies the physical versions of the finished work, but there’s no need or guarantee of that.

I am more contributor than equal collaborator — again, if I understand my role correctly.

We’ve only begun but already I’m enjoying seeing this weird work take shape. The new and unique nature of the project is the sort of refreshing aside I’ve needed for a while.

Picture: Amadeo Modigliani – Nude of sleeping women (Le Grand nu)

A great setup for on-the-go writing

I admit that I’ve taken on or said yes to too many activities. But what am I supposed to do, though. It’s the century of mad rushing for little or no benefit, right?

I take my younger boy to and from school, soccer practice and games, club events, and whatever other fun stuff is going on. I attend my older boy’s races, often a long drive away. I still shop with and date my wife. Given my work flexibility, I pretty much do all the shopping for groceries and other necessities. I try to watch as little TV as possible but Manchester, Fulham and Tottenham games (okay, and Price is Right) aren’t going to watch themselves. Then, I’ve got my critique group and my new intern.

Oh…there’s more, I’m sure, but I’m bored with the list, too.

That should leave too little time for writing. But I’ve got the killer set-up — a way to squeeze writing into my life. I didn’t invent the idea, but I’ve field tested it and can say unequivocally that it does work well enough that you can make it part of your busy writing life.

Ideal setup:

Bluetooth keyboard,
Bluetooth compatible smart phone (or tablet)
Plain text app — I find the app, PlainText, to be the best because it’s DropBox compatible and FREE, too
Lap Desk (optional) — IKEA makes great cheap ones
They keyboard is tiny and the phone fits in my pocket. The text is large enough to read while it’s sitting on my steering wheel, too.

Now, instead of being personable, I sit in my car during his practices — 1.5 hours — and write. Same for the run-up to my older son’s races. Until the bikes start rolling, there’s no sense in wasting time sitting, looking at trees or clouds. Anywhere you’d otherwise be looking at the clock, whip out your keyboard and device and go to it.

I mentioned DropBox before. I find that it is what makes this sort of setup possible because whatever I write is immediately accessible on my laptop as soon as I return home. All I have to do is cut and paste the text from the PlainText document there and do some quick formatting. Or I can continue editing/adding to the PlainText document so it’s ready in its latest state for the next time I’m caught in any of life’s waiting room moments.

I’ve taken on a new high school writing intern for the Spring ’12 semester

I’ve taken on a new high school writing intern for the Spring ’12 semester
Toward the end of last month, I again took on a writing intern from International School of the Americas, a magnet school here in San Antonio. She is a frighteningly intelligent senior who enjoys tennis and anime and describes herself as “the clumsiest person you’ll ever know.”

The internship will last only through this spring semester. I’m happy about the abbreviated time. The last internship seemed to last too long — a whole year. We’re only required to reach 60 hours, more than enough time to get her pushed in the right direction. Also, last program required that the intern collect a huge number of “sources,” which could be about anything related to writing. I didn’t see what all of that sourcing had to do with the act of writing, and it definitely subtracted from the learning that should have been taking place.

This program is appropriately loosely structured, which, in my opinion, serves a prospective writer better. Since 90% of writing is…well…writing, having the freedom to say, “I need you to work on your synopis (or elevator pitch or first paragraph or first chapter)” has already proven to be hugely helpful. The silence after the assignment is exactly what she’ll be facing.

Oh…and it’s been terrific fun starting her on caffeine. After all, that lovely chemical is a productive writer’s best friend, isn’t it? We meet weekly (during tennis season) at a local coffee shop here in town, the source of that sin. It’s like working at a gas station.

If I have any reservation about mentoring a young writer, it’s knowing how painfully incomplete I am as a writer myself. But a willing teacher is better by far than a perfect one who’d rather not show up, I figure. But having an intern who relies on my good example can only serve to push me past my current shortcomings.

So here’s to a wonderful semester!

Everything (in your story) happens for a reason

Too often, beginning writers hear is, “Story must have conflict.” The later understanding is that the conflict can come in many shapes and sizes. Conflict can be a direct interpretation of the word, like someone being chased by a knife-wielding crazy person, or an argument or a quest like you have in Lord of the Rings. But it can be, and often is, more subtle — a man with ADD’s struggle to appear normal.

Hrm…too close to home, perhaps.

The point is that every effective story has to have some reason to have been written. A story about a man standing, walking across the room, pouring himself a glass of water and sitting down at a table isn’t a story at all. It’s a description. It might even be written poetically, but to be a story, there needs to be some…conflict. Dammit.

Possible conflicts in this simple scenario:

The man would need to have some difficulty in moving.
He has made a bet that he could go a whole day without drinking water, so he knows that drinking the water would mean losing the bet.
Maybe he’s locked in the room and the crazy person who put him there only gave him water laced with drug that will force him to reveal a secret, thus making the decision to alleviate a trade-off.
Fun. This, really, is the part of writing that I tend to like — the planning and justification of motivation and action.

And THAT’S why I was so shocked that I had totally neglected to do so in a recent story. I had an evil force descend on a situation and do a bunch of cool nasty stuff. The nature nasty stuff was so cool by itself, thought, that I forgot to give a reason why this particular evil person had decided to descent in this particular place and torture this other particular person.

Crap and damn.

Looking back, I realize that not only does the story have to have a conflict, it also has to have a reason for the conflict and a reason for selecting a place, and selecting a victim.

For the same reason that a character’s actions must follow a logical stimulus, every element of the story must also have a logic justification for existing in the place and with the other characters in the story. Otherwise, you may as well be rolling dice.

So, I had a great story concept and a couple of great characters (all imho) but I failed to show why they were there and why they were pitted against one another. No concept or characters can overcome such a vacuum.

Moral: Right up front, give every story character specific, uncontrived justifications for his/her presence and deeds. The same can be said of setting, time, and plot.

Righting my writing: 2012 promises to be the year for effective writing

The break over the holidays can officially be declared a success. For the first time in — well, ever — I was disciplined enough to actually step away from work for the full two weeks and dedicate the same number of hours each day to writing. I can say that not since my days painting in the loft studio overlooking 1st Avenue and the Cumberland River (before the Titans statdium, mind you) have I enjoyed, in essense, full days dedicated to art.

In that time, completed a 3500-word story and a 5000-word edit. If you knew anything about my writing struggle over the last few years, you’d know that one of these would have qualified as a huge accomplishment, but to have pulled off both — unthinkable. Completed a story in less than a month has felt like a turning point. Finishing a satisfying story in fewer than 5000 words also feels like an important event, but I haven’t wrapped my head around it yet. The finished edit to the other story, just proved that I still have the discipline to do the thankless part of this craft.

So, as this is a writing blog, I feel obligated to share what made this time successful. I wouldn’t have thought much about it had I not been asked about my writing by an author recently moved to San Antonio.

In my response to him, I realized that I can be blind and stupid and slow to manage my emotions.

(In the interest of humor, I should stop there but I won’t.)

No…I just related that I had never written a story until ’06 when I first decided to begin writing seriously and professionally. I wrote and wrote, sucking every inch of the way, until in ’08, I wrote my first good story for a contest, Spirit and Speck. It won honorable mention in the contest I entered it into and the rewrite got published in an online mag.

Enter emotions. Foolishly, but not entirely unexpectedly, I felt that I was unstoppable, that anything I wrote would knock people over. I had just begun. I wanted to show the world how great I was and that meant entering contests.

Not too quickly, after a series of better-than-average but not winning results in 24-hour contests, I learned that I’m not at my best when I write quickly, that my strength comes from my passion and ideas, not my speed. I believe that the contest stage also damaged my writing psyche. Now, instead of thinking entirely about the story, I found myself thinking more than I ever had about people’s reactions to my work, as if I had people waiting for my next work. I believe it took finally completing Forever By His Side, the 15k work that took me a year and a half to finish, to bring me back to my right artistic mind. But it wasn’t until the two weeks at the end of 2011 that I was able to use that new, smarter energy to some productive end.

For the first time since before Sprit and Speck, I feel like an artist. And that HAS to continue to be what it’s all about. It just sucks that it took me so long to get back to this point.

A terrific app for calming, focusing and drowning out distraction

I began this his blog back in January of 2008. The very first post was called My Writing Process and Environment. in which I spoke highly of Monroe Product’s wonderful ambient slash meditative product called The “So” Chord. It’s a two-track CD of ambient noise with their trademark Hemi-Sync sound underneath that is designed to “balance and focus the mind.”

Whether or not the tracks balance and focus my mind is up for debate. I can only say that I’ve written pretty much non-stop for now nearly four years and The “So” Chord continues to be in my heavy writing time rotation. It effectively blocks out the surrounding spiking sounds of a busy coffee shop and a home life filled with barking dogs, the idiotic goings-on of two teenage boys and too-frequent reality TV.

But as man can not live on bread alone, or in this case, two ambient tracks, I’ve spend a good deal of my non-writing time finding other sources of ambient and atmospheric noise blocking…noise. I can now rely on a collection of 43.2 hours of audio tracks — yes, I did the math — two Internet radio stations and one usually terrific podcast (Ultima Thule) all of which help me create an ideal writing environment no matter where I choose to BIC (that’s Butt In Chair).

That should seem like enough, right. Well I write most days and I write for hours at a time when I do. So again, relying on our friend, Math, we can easily figure out that since January of 2008, I have written somewhere between three and four thousand hours. That means I might have listened to every one of my ambient tracks somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 times in those years. Suddenly my vast audio collection seems rather…vlow (slow, for the vlow among us).

Well, I found another source. I finally got my iPhone at the end of November — you can’t imagine how much I hated my old phone, but that’s a story for anther time. Since getting it, I have been poring through the immense catalog of available apps.

Recently I found a terrific app that called my name. It’s called Relax Melodies. And I’m talking about the Premium version — $1.99. It is a collection of “white noise ambiance for sleep, meditation & yoga,” according to their own description. Its intended use is to give you something to meditate to or to relax to as you go to sleep, but it’s turned out to be a wonderful tool for my writing.

Here’s what it does. Primarily, you have a group of 82 smoothly looping ambient tracks that — I estimate — run about 5 minutes long, so you never really feel even a minor jolt at the start/end point. You can listen to any one of them by themselves. Fine. But the real power is in being able to not only play as many of the sounds as you like simultaneously, but in being able to mix the level of each sound you add. Then, on top of the 82 sounds, you get those extra spooky Hemi-Sync-esque underneath tracks: Concentration, Relaxation and Pre-Sleep. You can create the perfect bled of sounds from nature, hippie music and laboratory magic then save your audio cocktail into a sound library. Genius.

FYI…Right now I’m listening to a mix I named Concentration with Brown Birds. It’s, perhaps obviously, the Concentration track mixed with very low “Birds” and something called “Brown Noise,” a lower-toned, less staticky version of “White Noise” and a touch of “Light Rain.” Ahhhh.

Ambient? More like Damn-bient.

Buy Relax Melodies Premium in the app store for $1.99 and tell them Thomas McAuley sent you.