Thursday, February 28, 2013

Publishing Update

So it looks like a novel that's been on the burner for a while is going to drop in March. It's an urban fantasy/humor book called The Necro-Files: $7.50/hr + Curses. As you can surmise, it's (hopefully) the first in a series. I'm pretty excited about this one.

The book follows the exploits of a college student (Daisy Janney) who takes a part-time job at a funeral home that happens to have a very odd clientele. Ever wonder what happens after the hero kills the monster in all those fantasy/horror books? What happens when the mortician pulls the stake out of the vampire's heart or digs the silver bullet out of the werewolf during an autopsy? Well, Daisy's about to find out. Unfortunately, before she realizes the true nature of her new job, she inadverdently finds herself cursed and pursued by a demon intent on destroying her. And she's got finals coming up.

The Necro-Files is set in Baltimore. If you happened to read my recently released zombie/comedy novel Last Stand in Zombietown, you'll recognize a similar flavor of humor. Here's a little teaser, more from the comedy side than the horror side...

 Chapter One: The Crap Factor

There comes a time in a person’s life—maybe several times, depending on how bad that life is—when you realize you’ve hit your nadir. The party’s over. The bloom is off your rose. Everything is going to change, and it will never be the same. I call this The Crap Factor. The thing is, The Crap Factor is like the Spanish Inquisition: no one expects it. Imagine you’re eighteen years old. You graduated from high school three months ago and spent the summer partying—okay, maybe you spent most of it playing video games because your boyfriend dumped you the day after graduation, but still, you partied a little. I mean, you drank some Tussin a couple times and had too much chocolate once or twice. And you really improved your scores on a couple games. Finally, you started college. Your mom came with you to help you move into your dorm and everything, which isn’t saying so much since she actually lives in a nice little row house right around the corner from Johns Hopkins, but whatever. So you settled in, started your classes, and even started to make friends. OK, your roommate turns out to be a party girl, who is annoying as hell when she’s around, but luckily, it leaves you in a single most nights until two or three a.m. So, really, everything is golden.

And then your dad decides to get remarried, so he can’t afford to help you with college quite as much as he promised. So here you are, walking up to a McDonald’s near the campus for an interview. Okay, now that I look at it, maybe I was wrong. Maybe my life wasn’t so great to begin with.

I stood in line at the counter and waited my turn. I was thinking I might order something, to seem more gung -ho, except that McDonald’s’ food makes me vomit, which probably wouldn’t set the right tone. I stepped up to the counter, and a very bored-looking teenage boy, gave me a bored smile. “May I take your order?”

“I’d like a job, please.”

“You want fries with that?” he said before his brain caught up to his mouth. He looked me up and down, a little more down than up. Slowly, like the flow of a glacier, he reached under the counter and rose back up to thump an application on the counter without ever changing expression. I held up my already completed one. He sighed—I got the feeling his was a life measured in sighs—and called over his shoulder, “Nadine!” Then he twisted around so he could see the woman standing behind me. “Welcome to McDonald’s. May I take your order?”

I stepped to the side and waited. Nadine appeared, eventually. She was completely the opposite of the boy—he was fat, she was thin; he dawdled, she executed every movement with frantic haste; his face was devoid of expression, hers shifted from worry to annoyance in regular cycles. She caught the boy’s eye, and he pointed at me. I felt like I was in a lineup. She motioned me over to a table and snatched the application from my hand.

“So tell me about your prior work experience.” She didn’t bother to look up from the page.

“I have none. I mean, I’ve babysat and everything, and I can cook. I fry hamburgers all the time.”

She glanced up at me after that one. “Do you feel that you would be able to adapt to the fast-paced work environment McDonald’s?”

I looked at the boy at the register. He was standing mostly still, staring at nothing, waiting for a customer. The other employees I could see were acting similarly. I looked back at Nadine whose expression had shifted to annoyance. “I will do my best to keep up with what’s expected of me.” I tried to not sound like a zombie.

She blinked.

“Yes.” I smiled. “I feel that I will be able to adapt to the fast-paced work environment of McDonald’s.”

She lowered her eyes back to the page and made a little checkmark on it.

“Look.,” I leaned towards her. “I’m a hard worker, and I’m not on drugs or anything. I know how to work.”

She nodded. “All right. Thank you. We’ll be in touch.”

I rose. She didn’t even want to shake my hand.

“Nadine!” the boy at the register called out before she could leave. “You got another one.”

An older man stood at the register. He looked like he’d just come straight from Burning Man;: his hair was long and tied back in a dirty ponytail. He wore jeans and a T-shirt with a band I've never heard of emblazoned on the front. He walked over to Nadine, shook her hand, and handed her his application. I approached the counter and the bored kid and ordered a strawberry milkshake.

“Have a lot of people applied?”.

He shrugged. “Not really.” He handed me the milkshake. I took it over to a table not too near Nadine but near enough.

“I do my job,” the guy said, “but I’m not going to take any shit from any kids, you know? Some punk comes in here causing trouble, I’m not going to tolerate it.”

“What would you do?” Nadine searched his face.

The man shrugged. “Whatever it takes.”

I smiled into my milkshake, which tasted suspiciously of grease. I figured I was a shoo-in. They talked some more. Nadine asked him about some gaps in his employment.

“Shit happens.” He tapped the table, annoyed. “So are we good?” I thought, there’s no way this guy’s getting hired. Then Nadine stood and shook his hand. My stomach dropped.

“Come in tomorrow at eight.” She spread her lips in something approaching a smile. “We’ll get you a uniform.”

He left, and she went back to the kitchen. I caught the bored kid smirking at me. I tossed my empty cup in the trash and walked out.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Beth Fehlbaum interviewed me...

This is an interview Beth Fehlbaum did with me for her blog several months ago. She's switching blogs, and this will disappear, so I'm copying it here.

What's your book about?

Sunlight is a story about innocence and holding on to the idea that there’s magic in the world. Sol is a teenage boy whose mother recently died. His father can’t handle him, so he dumps Sol off on Sol’s aunt and uncle, who live on a sunflower farm Sol’s mom grew up on. But once he gets there, weird things start happening, and Sol starts to realize a fairy tale his mother told him when he was a child just might be true.

What inspired you to write it?

The book is set on a farm in Arkansas, which is a similar place to where I grew up. I wanted to capture the tone of Arkansas, which is something I haven’t seen in many books. It’s an odd place – mostly very rural. The people tend to be fiercely independent.

Has the reality of being published been different than you thought it would be?

I’ve been publishing stories, poems, plays, etc. in journals for about a decade. I’ve got a couple of poetry collections out, and a short story collection, in addition to Sunlight. I’ve also got a novel and another poetry collection coming out next year. I don’t really know what I expected from publishing, but what I do know is that publishing, itself, isn’t that difficult. Promoting books is difficult. You’ve got to get out there and do readings, interviews, blog, etc. etc. I love doing readings – I try to do them as often as I can (1-2 a month) but it’s been difficult since my daughter was born.

Do you write from an outline or are you a "pantser"?

I have a really tight schedule – I work a lot, my wife and I have a 1 month old daughter, so I don’t have a lot of time. So I tend to write from outlines just because of the time issue. I do a lot of work up front getting ready for the book, so that when I sit down to write, I can move through it pretty quickly.

Who's your favorite author? What is it about his or her writing that has made you a fan?

I have a few favorite authors. One who comes to mind is Terry Pratchett, who writes the Disc World books. These are sort of parody fantasy books. Pratchett is hilarious. I highly recommend him. I also love Italo Calvino, who wrote magical realism. Lately, though, I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction, mostly historical books on race, anthropology, and some philosophy. Oh, and zombie books.

Are you a full-time writer or do you have a "day job"? What do you do in your "day job"?

I’m a high school teacher and college counselor. As a college counselor, I work with mostly juniors/seniors to help them find and apply to colleges. I also visit lots of colleges so that I can get a feel for them and figure out if they’d be a good fit for my kids. It’s very time consuming in the fall, though around the beginning of the year, I have a little bit of time to write.

What's the last book you read that you still haven't been able to shake off? What was it about the book that stayed with you?

Right now I’m reading After the Apocalypse by Maureen McHugh, which is exactly what it sounds like – stories set after ‘the apocalypse,’ whatever that means – some of them are about zombies, some occur after a plague. The thing that makes this stand out is they’re really smart stories with a global perspective that use the conceit of being post-apocalyptic to deal with some really important issues like globalism, xenophobia, etc. I’m about halfway through it. I review a lot of books for various journals when I can, so I read a lot of recent small press poetry, short story collections, and novels. Honestly, most of these don’t stand out.

Why YA as opposed to some other genre?

I don’t tend to write YA. I wrote Sunlight as YA because that’s what the story was. I think the teen years are some of the hardest to get through because there’s so much change going on, and that makes for great stories. Also, teenagers’ brains are different from adults – they’re still developing, which means they have different and interesting perspectives. I think I have a couple more YA books in me, though I will continue to write non-YA books as well.
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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Thoughts on Stephanie Barber's Night Moves

Night Moves, by Stephanie Barber. Baltimore: Publishing Genius Press, 2013.

Stephanie Barber is a performance artist and filmmaker known for examining the relationship between audience and art. In her latest book, she’s furthers this idea by transcribing user comments from a Youtube video of Bob Seger’s “Night Moves.” She’s included 75 pages worth of comments, complete with typos, malapropisms, poor punctuation, basically warts and all, except most of the user names. Clearly, she's edited it to remove the "junk." But beyond that, it purports to be fairly authentic. So should Barber be credited as an author or an editor? An argument could be made for either. isn’t writing simply a collecting of ideas and experiences which frequently aren’t are own anyway? No? Well, I thought it was worth a shot.

At first thought, this project sounds like a trick, or maybe the joke is on the reader. One can’t help but wait for the other shoe of irony to drop. After all, seriously, Bob Seger? How vanilla can you get! And how passé. But reading through the comments, one is arrested by certain recurring themes: sure, there are a few people who’ve posted apparently simply to “see themselves talk” by posting negative comments simply to stir up a reaction. Some people simply quote certain lyrics that seem meaningful to them or question the meaning of certain lyrics. They argue over completely self-indulgent ideas like the value of rap music. Also, a few people posted simply to name-check some TV show or something else that referenced the song (kind of an "I was here") but most of the posters simply share their stories. They reference first loves, summer romances, parents who’ve turned them on to the song, experiences they’ve left far behind but which are brought back while listening to the song. There’s an honesty to these stories. In a sense, Barber has collected a series of brief love poems inspired by the song. The bulk of these people have come together in this forum to say that they were touched by this song, and there’s something really, profoundly beautiful in that.

Barber has actually done something pretty amazing. She’s divorced the crutch of irony from the project entirely. She’s also divorced herself; there’s little to tell us how she actually feels about any of this. Does she even like the song? Does it matter? These are simply people sharing stories about how this song affected them and remembering past times. It’s such a hokey idea, but it works. After reading the book, I thought about other songs this might work for, or other videos. It seems like such a simple idea, what Barber has done, and it works so well. But she’s the one who thought to do it. I wonder what Bob Seger would think about this project. In a way, I hope he never finds out.

-CL Bledsoe

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Selected lines from Hibernaculum, poems by Sean Patrick Hill.

Selected lines from Hibernaculum, poems by Sean Patrick Hill.

From where I stand, I could kill the wolves with sleep. There’s enough of me to light a few twigs, sometime, if necessary. The sky will open for anything, without prejudice. You could almost respect it for that, if it weren’t so foolish in its defenselessness. You can mistake a pigeon for a hawk, but the hawks will not make the same mistake.

The raven is largest of the songbirds. I mean to suggest we are the homeless of two countries at once. We kept going, following two black lines into the west. I know this true because I wept. Because my body is so god-damned heavy with grief. Because what we do not acknowledge we know is in there honing its grin. Of course we are constantly breaking ourselves, breaking some useless trail over snow in the direction of some jay in the peak of a larch crying thief, thief, theif.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

When I'm Supposed to Be Writing 1

A lot of people talk about writing, but not that many  actually do it. Even those who do write spend a lot of our supposed work time avoiding writing. Why? Who knows. Maybe we're all lazy fucks. But when you have a writing schedule every day, that means you've got a lot of avoiding to do. So I thought I would share a few of my favorite ways to avoid writing. This time, let's focus on Youtube.

5. Daym Drops. This guy reviews food, mostly fast food and junk food. He has a lot of personality. At times, it can be too much, but he's so enthusiastic about what he's doing that it wins me over. He's done over a hundred, including his "Ghetto Food Network" spots which include making grilled cheese with an iron. Of course, you may have seen his breakout Five Guys Gregory Brothers review/remix Dayum.

4. Pronunciation Manual. There are several parodies of how-to's on Youtube, this one is for pronouncing words. There are a couple hundred short videos. Eventually, it devolves into meaninglessness, but some of them are surreally funny. My favorites would be Bleach, Armoire, and Nietzsche.

3. ZeFrank. This guy has a lot of stuff, but his True Facts series is awesome. It's another parody, this time of informational videos. My favorites are Morgan Freeman, Sloths, and, of course, the Angler Fish.

2. Gregory Brothers. We've all seen these autotune remixes: they take news segments, political speechesor whatever and autotune them. A couple of my favorites I keep coming back to are Sweet Brown and  Bed Intruder.

1. Bad Lip Reading.  So this guy basically does bad lip readings of songs and things and re-records vocals or dialogue based on that bad lip readings. He's done a ton and is still going strong. My favorite is still the Michael Buble whatever Russian Unicorn. But there are a ton of good ones.

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