Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Tag: stephen king

End of the year means time for lists. I’ve seen lots of book lists over the past few weeks, but they’ve hewed to conservative choices like the new Stephen King time-travel novel or Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding. I’ll be honest: I tried both before I got distracted (Kindle’s make it easy to get distracted by another book. Just a few pages that don’t grab and suddenly button-click I’m back to my home library with all those other books I wanted to read . . .).

I’ve also seen lots of discussion about the top-selling indie (or “self-published”) books of 2011. Notable: two of the top ten bestselling books at Amazon this past year were independent novels (and fine books to boot).

But I haven’t seen any lists of terrific independent novels–and by independent, I mean what people with corporations would call “self-published.” And I thought, hey, I’ve read some great independent novels this year. Why not talk about them? Of course, I probably should be less declarative and more accommodating and title this something more generic like “My Favorite Indie Reads of 2011,” but none of the other lists I’ve seen have done so, so I figure why not?

I don’t really think in lists, so I’m not going to make one, but here are some independent books I thought highly of. A caveat: through social networking, I’ve “met” a lot of the authors on this list, as we run in the same circles, but they’re not here just because I follow them on Twitter. I follow them on Twitter because they’re here.

Continue reading

Titles seem to be one of the elements of writing writers fret over most, and justifiably so. Chances are, titles are the first thing readers see, so they take on a lot of importance. Under ideal circumstances, they somehow carry the whole theme and story all in a quick phrase. My favorites include Needful Things, American Gods, Peace Like a River, and The Silence of the Lambs. All are not just effective but evocative; Stephen King’s Needful Things, in fact, begins with a character discussing the name of the new shop in town, which happens to be Needful Things–“What do you suppose something like that means? Why, a store like that might carry anything. Anything at all.”

And indeed it does. It’s where you can buy anything your heart desires–or at least the fantasy of it. For a price.

Knowing how important a title can be, I always fret over them. Which was why I was relieved when The Prodigal Hour finally came to me.

Continue reading

As Amazon takes on more roles and responsibilities in the book world, many wonder if that’s a great thing. I remember back when Amazon sold only books, before it was the retail powerhouse it has become, the online equivalent of big-box stores. Now, it’s refocused on books, first with Kindle and then with publishing-related endeavors, setting up imprints as it has become both retailer and publisher in some cases.

Lots of smaller, independent bookstores–by which one means bookstores that are privately held, and not part of a chain, which means anyone besides Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, basically–don’t like this. They see Amazon as they saw Barnes & Noble when it was first beginning. The big boy on the block who set up shop next door and ultimately drove them out of business.

As a reader, it saddens me. As guy with a business degree, it makes me wonder.

Continue reading

I often note that I realized I was a writer after I finished Stephen King’s Needful Things, and while that’s not untrue, it neglects all the other elements and stories and media that played a role and influenced me as a storyteller. Stuff like Where the Wild Things Are and The Hardy Boys. Don’t forget Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back and Quantum Leap, and that’s not even mentioning Infocom games.

And that’s what Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is all about, and it’s brilliant.

Continue reading

It’s that time of year again!

I’m surprised to realize I wrote “A Writer’s Alternative to NaNoWriMo” two years ago now.

Looking back, it’s fun, but I realize I’ve been reconsidering my opinion of it, especially in light of recent posts and novels.

Continue reading

The other day I mentioned you have to decide for yourself what “good enough” means to you. I want to elaborate.

I opened this “Add New Post” page with the intention of noting that I don’t mean it’s okay to be mediocre.

But then I got to thinking, “What’s mediocre?” Just like we wonder “What’s ‘good enough’?”

Continue reading

After debuting at $2.99 and having a 99-cent pre-/post-9/11 sale, The Prodigal Hour is now on sale for $4.99 at Amazon.

Now that Kindle’s Direct Publishing platform has allowed so many authors to bypass both literary agents and corporations’ acquisitions editors in favor of connecting directly with readers, many conventions long simply rotely accepted are being questioned.

One is pricing.

In a corporate-type situation, it’s not difficult to determine pricing. Probably due to a confluence of complicated factors too boring to really contemplate, we all know about how much a trade paperback costs: usually between $12.99 and $14.99, right? I think that’s about the upper limit. Hardcovers are, what, $27-ish? Maybe $30?

(Which prompts a question: who pays full price for a hardcover? Don’t all hardcovers [and most trade paperbacks, nowadays] come with some discount or other? Back when I was a proud carrier of a Barnes & Noble card Members Receive An Extra 10% Off books already discounted by 30% or more.)

Continue reading

A couple weeks ago, I caught this article, “A Self-Publisher’s Manifesto,” by Martin Lastrapes and posted to the Self-Publishing Review. I thought it was a fairly good post, with a cogent argument presented, in which Lastrapes discussed the perceived “stigma” associated with so-called “self-publishing,” and made this claim:

So if the readers aren’t holding onto this stigma, then where exactly is it coming from? Unfortunately, the answer is it’s coming from the writers themselves.

Now, I disagreed, there; I remain of the mindset that the “stigma” associated with independent publishing is propagated mainly by the people who argue that independent publishing shouldn’t be called that, because IT’S DIFFERENT AND YOU ARE IGNORANT. Generally, the people who do so are agents and editors, or at the very least people who have some bias toward the late twentieth century distribution model as a result of being tied to it. I’ve also seen it from authors who have signed with corporate publishers after first finding some success via independence. MJ Rose, for example, has tweeted that authors should “own self-publishing.”

I think Lastrapes does have a point in that a lot of authors go indie first but yet never give up the hope of that elusive publication contract, that rockstar book tour, that etc. I’ve seen a lot of authors pursue independent publishing as a means to an end, rather than as an end itself; that is, that many seem to hope that rising up the Kindle charts will attract a corporate publisher.

But before I get off on too much of a tangent, the point of this post; shortly after I commented on Lastrapes’ article, to much the same effect as I elaborated above, he contacted me personally about the possibility of stopping by this site to do an interview.

I’ve never done that before. And I thought, well, okay. Why not? But, I thought, before I do anything, I should read his book. Which was just less than a buck.

Continue reading

I first started using Kindle on my phone, a Samsung Vibrant on T-Mobile’s network, last summer while commuting into Manhattan every morning. I’d had the app on my iPhone but never used it; cellular displays just aren’t really meant for long-form reading, and I don’t really read much besides books. Usually novels, but lately more non-fiction, too. But it was much better to read my phone than to lug around a paperback everywhere I went, and I quickly discovered the convenience of using a device that built-in bookmarks every time you close a book.

Which is awesome. I love that. I never used to use bookmarks, anyway, but I always used to end up thinking I was on a page ten before the last one I’d actually read.

When Amazon announced the third generation Kindle, I knew I was going to buy it, because I knew I wanted to put Meets Girl on it. I also knew I was lusting after it.

I went sort of nuts downloading samples via Amazon (on the web. Because the device purchasing side of Kindle sucks), and was enjoying a lot of what I was reading. Neil Gaiman’s were among the first books I bought, and Amazon, knowing my predilection for Gaiman, suggested Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. So I downloaded the sample and began to read.

And the thing about the samples are: it takes about as long to read one as to commute. Long-form reading of books on a device blows. But reading samples is about the same as reading short stories, and reading samples is awesome.

I had picked up the book to browse (I think at the Strand, maybe?), but never gotten past the first couple of pages. Now, with the sample and a train ride, I had the better part of two.

And the better part of two was good. The better part of two were so convincing that I decided to make The Magicians the first novel I actually read on my Kindle.

Continue reading

That was one of the search phrases that led someone here. The actual phrase was “is blogging worth it writer,” but it immediately rewrote itself as a question in my head. I’m going to figure the seeker in question found “The Trouble with Blogging,” which remains one of the most popular posts on this site.

That post discussed the dilemma sharing writing online, for free, poses to the professional writer–and by “professional,” I’m meaning both those writers who are aspiring toward bestsellerdom and those who have already achieved it. Actually, though, I’ve realized, more accurately, it’s really only a dilemma for aspiring authors, less so for ones who’ve gotten publication deals already; certainly, J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, Stephenie Meyer, and Stephen King don’t really have to worry about any such dilemmas, given how much money they make from their books already.

Then again, none of them blog.

(Can I note, as an aside, how much I loathe the word? “Blog”? It sounds like the Internet drank too much. It sometimes reads that way, too.)

The prevailing dilemma I wrote about was a simple question often raised in other contexts: why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? If I–as a guy who’s endeavored, over the past few years, to become a professional writer, and, indeed, has a master’s degree in it–continue to post good, well thought-out, well written essays on my site, why would readers want to buy my books?

Of course, the answer is right there; because my site is not my book. Because my books–while well written and well executed and occasionally full of essays–are mostly not what is on my site.

But is it worth it?

Continue reading

Last week, I had a few hours’ break at work. I’m now working at the Equinox gym on 12th and Greenwich, which may well be the premier and largest, most active gym in America; I think we get thousands of members coming through every day. It’s a really nice gym, too; I worked at Easton Gym Hollywood while I lived in LA, and it was a small, private, boutique gym–Equinox has that same private, boutique feel but is probably four times as large.

Working on 12th and Greenwich puts me in the heart of the Village, and so, with a few hours off, I made my way just a bit north and east, to Barnes & Noble Union Square, which is even larger than the B&N at the Grove in Hollywood.

Going there made me think a lot about books. Not just because I was surrounded by them.

Used to be, if I went to a B&N, I couldn’t leave without an armful of books. Last week, I had no inclination to buy any at all, and not just due to lack of fundage. Lots of books getting some buzz: I know I need to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo relatively soon, but otherwise? I heard a lot about The Imperfectionists, but I browsed it and didn’t make it past the first half-dozen pages, after which I gave up out of boredom.

This troubles me.

I used to read a copious amount of books, read books the way some people chainsmoke, beginning a new one even before I’d finished the previous one, letting the last few pages of one blur into the first few of the next.

Lately, I haven’t been so interested.

Continue reading

I know, I know: I said I was going to return to consistent form, managed several posts, and then disappeared for months. I mean, I’ve been on Twitter and writing monthly for The Nervous Breakdown, but haven’t really been here since early February, looks like.

Lots of stuff going on these past several months. Early on, much of my attention was focused on my mom, who was sick.

One day I’ll write about all that.

Today is not that day.

Today I want to write about turning 32.

Continue reading

I just caught a tweeted link to this blog by Mitch Joel on publishing and blogging.

Those of you who’ve read my “The Trouble with Blogging post know that this is something I’ve been thinking about. Hell, it’s part of the reason I’m doing an MBA.

Right now, I’m teaching my students about structure and plot using Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone as a demonstration of a Hero’s Journey plot archetype. Reading it, I’m rediscovering just how excellently Rowling hits every plot point and necessary element note for note, from the Call to Adventure to the Crossing of the First Threshold etc. Harry Potter is really an excellent example of someone who becomes a hero; he certainly doesn’t start out that way. Yesterday, while teaching, I was asking my students what makes people heroes. What do we look for as a demonstration of heroism?

One mentioned worthwhile purpose, and intention.

Continue reading

Not a book deal. Yet. Hopefully soon there. Querying and such.

Sitting there in Miami airport, which currently has free Google wifi that doesn’t actually work, or didn’t on my iPhone. My phone goes off with a number I don’t have stored in my contacts. Usually I let such calls go straight to voicemail. Usually it’s a creditor or something. I’m a writer, so payment due dates are like deadlines, both of which I love for the whooshing sound they make as they shoot past.

I’m glad I didn’t. It was the chair of the English department at the college where I’m currently teaching composition. Or was teaching composition last semester. There’s been a lot of alteration to my schedule; when they asked me onboard, they offered me two classes, but they only had one for me by the time the semester started. I took it anyway. This semester around, they’ve switched me out of not one but two classes. I get it, of course; there are a lot of other faculty members who have been there for ages, so seniority gets dibs. I’m still a new guy, only having been there for a semester, and it’s not like I’m tenured or anything. Technically, in fact, I’m still an adjunct instructor, and not a professor, even though they still call me a professor.

The chair told me there was good news and bad news. The bad was that they had shuffled me out of the composition class. I was disappointed by this; they had begun me in one only to shuffle me into the second-half of my first semester class, which I was actually looking forward to as a challenge; I’ve never taught a two-semester course. Never had any student for more than one semester.

The good news, though, was that they had a prose fiction course offered. Which is, like the composition course, a part of the core curriculum, but which is an actual literature course.

This is ludicrously exciting for me. Then again, I’m a giant geek, so of course it is.

I’m leaving in a moment to discuss the syllabus and book choice with the chair. So far I’m hoping to use a few stories by Poe, one by Hawthorne, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Stephen King’s Night Shift and Different Seasons collection (for my money, the finest collections ever published, in any language), and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I think this will work. I know Gatsby will fly, and I saw a few other syllabi include both A Thousand Splendid Suns and What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, both of which are rather contemporary and the former of which is decidedly popular (if not exactly genre), but I have a good feeling.

I have a great feeling, in fact. This is gonna be fun.

Edit to add: All books approved. Also given a big book of short stories I can select from. So there’s my week/end.

Just read a post by Jane over at “Books as a Business”. It’s a mostly good article with some interesting analysis, though I would change the title, at least; books are what we read, while publishing is a business.

Which aligns with my previous couple of posts, staying on the theme of writing as creative endeavor and publishing as business endeavor. The other day, I was chided on Twitter by dietpopstar for using the word “monetizing” with regard to writing, and who told me I’d “lost my way” as I’m supposed to be “a fucking artist,” and such considerations were “vulgar.” She’s arguably right about my using the word “monetize,” I admit; I probably should have chosen a different word or phrase, like maybe “I gotsta get myself paid, too, yo.” Which, at least, is funnier.

And that’s the trouble with blogging. Not the funnier part. The part about having to get paid.

Continue reading

Because, you see, in the midst of clearing shelves in my closet, where I plan to place some of the clothing I still need to put away, even after having done my laundry on Friday, I come across many items of interest, including:

-The complete set of cards from Lois & Clark, including all holofoil inserts. I’d forgotten my Teri Hatcher crush, and now thank Heaven I never got my Superman deltoid tattoo I wanted for years.

-My track jacket, from 1995. With 200m and 800m on the sleeve, which is kind of rad because it makes it look like it says “zoom boom.” Like I was running fast and passed the speed of sound. Which, of course, I didn’t, considering that I never actually ran track so much as attempted unsuccessfully to keep up with all the other dudes running.

-My silk Superman robe.

-My Norton’s Anthology of English Literature, Volume 1, which includes work from the Venerable Bede straight on through to one William Cowper, of whom I’ve never heard, but whose name makes me wonder if he is somehow related to the Cowper’s gland, and Wikipedia would be cheating. I think I remember once hearing a teacher say that the Cowper’s gland is what prevents men from urinating while they’re erect, but I also think I remember it’s responsible for pre-cum. Mileage varies. But from Norton’s:

There are no saner poems in the language than William Cowper’s, yet they were written by a man who was periodically insane and who, for forty years, lived day to day with the possibility of madness.

Whoever said literature wasn’t exciting?

-My father’s copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. I should probably return it to him.

-A 120-sheet lined notebook, which I think my sister gave to me. Its inscription: “-Bill, I know you will succeed but this stuff is just to get you off on the right foot. I -heart- U.” Perhaps as a graduation present? Not sure. I was “Bill” then, though, which is kind of funny. Also: I -heart- my sister.

The Science of Vampires. Which is research for my next major work-in-progress, Smile, a novel I’ve taken to describing as “Dracula meets American Psycho, but funny.” Which, obviously, can’t miss. It’s predicated on two semi-related but distinct ideas I will not yet divulge (you have to read it. You know. After I write it), but which made a friend of mine’s jaw drop when she heard them.

-My collection of Manon Rheaume sports cards. Drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Rheaume goalied in an exhibition game to become the first woman to play in one of the four professional leagues, after which she played for the Atlanta Knights, in the Lightning’s farm system. I was a big fan, because I was 16 and she was gorgeous. Among the collection is a signed copy of the program from the very first game she ever goalied in.

Beyond Zero Hour, which is, apparently, a comprehensive look at DC Comics and its universe. You know, I’m sure, at some point, I knew more about Crisis on Infinite Earths than its name (well. And the fact that there are multiple Earths in the DC Universe, or were, anyway, which is why the Flash sometimes has a bowl on his head when he’s not wearing his red costume with the mask), but nowadays I’ve got very little beyond that. Looks like Alex Ross drew the cover, though, which is of Batman and Mullet Superman standing back-back and looking, I don’t mind telling you, more like WWF guys than superheroes. No, for seriously. The Superman on the cover bears more than a passing resemblance to Mickey Rourke’s character in Aronofsky’s The Wrestler.

-The first draft of my first novel, which was not The Prodigal Hour. All 400 single-spaced pages of it. ~groan~

A fun article:

Axl Rose’s favourite books | Books |

What would Axl read, indeed.  Somehow his list of four (?!) books surprises me a little, at least given the presence of Dick (whom I’ve always found a little weird) and Stephenson (whom I’ve always found a little baroque).

The article fixates on the similarities between Rose and J.D. Salinger, basically on the whole “reclusive genius” thing.  Me, I just like that someone’s saying Rose is a genius.  Too often, I think, people who create extraordinarily popular work are looked down on, which has never made sense to me; people acknowledge the Beatles are geniuses, but Stephen King is not?

NB- I would love to somehow get The Prodigal Hour into Rose’s hands.  That’d be so rad.

Besides two quotes, one from The Prince and one from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” those are the first three words of my novel. They occur as a thought when the protagonist, Chance Sowin, crosses his parents’ front lawn and sees that the front-door lock has been shattered. He’s been there before, you see, and in several ways, all of which those of you who know that it’s a time-travel novel might be able to conjecture, but it’s more than that.

When I was eleven or twelve, I stole Stephen King’s Needful Things from my father’s small bookcase and began to read it. It was the first adult-level novel I had ever read, and it rewired me in some very important ways. Not only was it the book that confirmed my lifelong addiction to reading and words, but it was also the book that made me realize I wanted to write. I had read the Hardy Boys series and A Wrinkle in Time, but they never suckerpunched me quite like Needful Things did. I felt that moment in the same way I realized I wanted to go to grad school; moments like that come with some absolute and incontrovertible certainty.

It is, perhaps, not altogether ironic that my first novel begins with the same words as Needful Things. There are so many cliches to go along with it: the circle of life, and what goes around comes around, and etc.

Continue reading

Apparently, the selfsame self-righteous people who worked themselves all atwitter that Bill Clinton got a blowjob once (and investigated said act for, what, two years, and then impeached him for it) and basically ran poor John Edwards out of town are summoning every ounce of their moral outrage and righteous indignation now, because how dare anyone talk about Sarah Palin’s family. Most seem to miss the point that the speculation about who Trig Palin’s mother is was never about Bristol Palin but rather about Sarah; it was never so much speculation that the kid belonged to Bristol as it was that he might not belong to Sarah.

Oh, cesspool, they say! Outrageous rumormongering!

These, of course, are the same people that frothed at the mouth that Bill Clinton might have done pot, but never batted an eye that Bush had DUIs out the wazoo.

We should be looking at policy, they say.

So fine.

Let’s. Straight from the horse’s mouth.

Palin on healthcare: “Take personal responsibility for personal health and all areas.”

Palin on the environment: opposed protection for salmon, wants to sue US government to stop listing the polar bear as endangered, encourages timber, mining, and drilling.

Palin on energy: global warming not manmade. Supports off-shore drilling.

Palin on education: teach creationism alongside evolution in schools. Let parents opt out of school books they find offensive. Teach abstinence, not sexuality/reproduction. Inspired a librarian to resign after the librarian refused to help Palin ban books, including works by Heller, Huxley, King, Rowling, and Shakespeare. That’s right: Sarah Palin wanted to ban Shakespeare.

Palin on civil rights: supports preservation of definition of “marriage” as between man and women. Okay to deny benefits to homosexual couples. Oh, and let’s not forget: anti-women’s rights. “Pro-life,” except, of course, when it comes to the death penalty.

Palin on Budget: entered Wasilla with balanced budget, left the town with more than $20 million in longterm debt.

Palin on Foreign Policy and Immigration: oh, wait. No real policies recorded for that yet. Her son’s in Iraq, though, and everyone knows McCain wants bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran.

(source: On The Issues)

Forget the kids: does Sarah Palin really sound to you like the type of candidate America needs? I swear it’s like McCain chose a female mini-Me who couldn’t possibly be any more ignorant concerning any other issue around. There is not a single policy for which either Palin or McCain stand that could possibly justify anyone calling either a “maverick.”

And you know, just once, I’d like Barack Obama to show up to a speech in a kilt, because it seems all the damned PUMA people want is a candidate in a skirt.

I came late to Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box, but as they say, better than never, anyway, because holy shit is it a good book.

I’m not sure why I never picked it up before; I’m familiar enough with Hill’s family that I probably should have based on that alone. You see, Hill’s real name is Joseph Hillstrom King. He is the son of Stephen (yes, that Stephen King) and the brother of Owen, which means that his father’s Needful Things is the reason I’m a writer, and I’ve shaken his brother’s hand and heard him read. On the other hand, that was probably Joe’s intention; he dropped his surname in favor of an abbreviated version of his middle name to distance himself from his family’s legacy. To which I really only say two things: why?, and mission accomplished.

Actually, that’s a bit disingenuous; I sort of get why he might (though I don’t know how I should refer to him? King? Hill? I’m going to go with Just Joe, if only because I don’t think he’d mind. Also: because this is one of those rare novels that makes you want to have a drink with its author, and for that reason alone it is fine). His brother Owen’s novella/collection, We’re All in this Together, was terrific on its own but markedly different from anything his father might have written; Heart-Shaped Box, on the other hand, is not so much, though that doesn’t mean it isn’t as good. In fact, it’s awesome.

Heart-Shaped Box‘s premise is simple; an aging rockstar named Judas Coyne buys a haunted suit off of an eBay-knockoff site, and chill-inducing story ensues. To tell you many details would be to give too much away; suffice to say, what makes H-SB so truly excellent is that it’s not just a ghost story; it’s a story about haunting, and all the different things that can haunt a person, in as many ways as a person can be haunted. Judas is a haunted man, but he’s haunted long before the ghost shows up; by his former career, by his family, by his past, by his former lovers . . .

The novel is partly confronting the ghost (as any good ghost story ought and need be), but also about confronting the past, and confronting yourself, and that’s why it ends up becoming more than the sum of its words. As I said, I get why Just Joe published away from the King legacy; there are marks of King all over this book, from its pop culture references to its repetition of certain phrases to its ghost itself. When the ghost tells Jude it wants to “ride the nightroad,” well, if that doesn’t conjure early-era Stephen King, you must not have read him back then. Nowadays it’s all “smucking” and lame-o Lisey or whathaveyou, but Stephen King used to be able to write the bejesus out of most stories, and Just Joe has certainly inherited that trait.

The book is not perfect, mind you; the ending, I thought, was particularly flawed, but then again, that’s another mark of Stephen, who can tell stories better than anyone else until he gets to the end. But besides that, there are so many subtle touches, so many graceful notes . . . it really does work. And though it wasn’t a book I couldn’t put down, it was a book whose characters I cared about when I did, and that, I think, is even more important. Just Joe’s descriptions of his characters can border on too spare, but that ends up working because I ended up conjuring them in my head; I’m not sure there ever was a full-on, dead-to-rights description of Judas Coyne, but still I feel like I know the guy. Hell, more than that, I feel like I’ve listened to his music, and that, that, right there, is a sort of sleight of hand most writers simply cannot pull off.

Also, that I can say you totally need to read the Acknowledgements section is another coup. I mean, how often do you say that? “Dude, the book was awesome. And the acknowledgements page? Totally rocked.”

Yes, well done sir. Well done indeed.

I know I’m supposed to rate the book, because I always see book reviews doing so, so, on a scale of Black Rain to Paranoid, I’m giving it a “Crazy Train.”

Click the link to buy the book at

Heart-Shaped Box: A Novel

I’ve mentioned before I’m currently in the submission process with my novel, The Prodigal Hour. So far it’s okay; not spectacular, but not terrible, either. Of course, “spectacular” would probably be defined as “offered representation,” and I’ll be sure to let you know when that happens. I considered talking more about the submission process itself, but I think I’m going to do so more after I’ve been offered representation, and not before.

I’m going through the process as you’d expect; search the Internet and Writers’ Market and etc. for agents who are either actively seeking new clients or sound like they may be vaguely interested. And then I send a query, which looks pretty much as you’d expect a query to look: intro, synopsis, bio, and out. The intro gives me some trouble, though, because that’s where I mention the title, word count, and genre of my novel, and boyhow is that last characteristic ever a trouble spot. Many might think it’s easy: time travel automatically = science fiction.

But not so fast, I say.

Because I don’t feel like I wrote a science fiction novel. I don’t generally read science fiction novels. Science fiction is all wars among and treks across the stars, and it has a long and illustrious history I don’t feel a part of. Growing up, my choices for reading material were all Dean Koontz and Stephen King pretty much straight across the board, with digressions into Douglas Adams and Christopher Stasheff. Given that among my first experiences with Stephen King was a short story called “Strawberry Spring,” after which I read Different Seasons, I always had trouble thinking of him as a ‘horror’ writer. I never read It and never got to his straight-up horror until after I’d already read “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” and “The Body.”

Try showing someone with no previous knowledge of their origins the movie adaptations of The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me and then explaining to them they were both based on books by a horror writer.

Because they certainly aren’t horror stories.

Admittedly, King is a bit of an exception; he himself is pretty much as much a genre as “horror”. People buy his books for his name, not for the genre.

Few people are going to buy The Prodigal Hour for my name, and you’re probably already reading this, anyway.

So far, I’ve been calling it a techno-thriller, but even that is a bit of a misnomer. It is thrilling (well. That’s the hope, at least), but character and plot work in pretty much equal measure, and it’s certainly not just about the thrills.

I sort of understand the requirement; it determines, basically, where your book is placed on bookstores’ shelves, which is key. I rarely venture to the scifi/fantasy shelves except to grab Neil Gaiman’s newest book, and again, I’m buying the name, not the genre.

I’m also thinking ahead. This one may be about time travel, but my next two big ones are about vampires and then werewolves, and both do things with those myths I’ve never seen nor heard done before. You can lump them all into science fiction/fantasy, I suppose, but I certainly wouldn’t, and I honestly think publishers and booksellers do more harm than good in categorizing books. Yesterday, Mitzi Szereto wrote about how publishers label books and how those labels can affect their sales, specifically related to erotica.

One of the things that’s gotten me thinking about this, too, are the writers who write stories that seem pretty categorically genre but whose books are not placed there. Lethem started out writing mostly weird science fiction tales. Crichton’s got Jurassic Park and Timeline, at least, not to mention Sphere and The Andromeda Strain. Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones was narrated by a dead girl, while Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time-Traveler’s Wife seems like science fantasy.

And then there’s Michael Chabon. He just won a Hugo for The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. The Hugo is a major award so known for science fiction that, when a handful of fantasy novels won (including JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Gaiman’s American Gods), some controversy got stirred up.

I haven’t heard any such controversy about the award having gone to Chabon’s novel, which is mostly an alternate history set in the present (I haven’t read the book. I tried. Got about twenty pages in before I gave up on it). But Chabon is an author with both mass appeal and a Pulitzer under his belt, and, in fact, more so than controversy, the win has mainly stirred up discussion like here, where IO9 asks which mainstream authors its readers would like to see write science fiction.

Personally, I don’t want any mainstream authors to deign to write anything they don’t enjoy. Personally, I’d like someone to point out, hey, wait a minute, twenty of the twenty-five movies with the highest worldwide gross ever have been genre movies, and, arguably, science fiction or fantasy movies. The only exceptions are Titanic, Finding Nemo, The Lion King, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and The Da Vinci Code, the last two of which are certainly genre movies (adventure and thriller, respectively) even if not science fiction or fantasy.

Seems like it’s mainstream to me.

It’s like people expect good entertainment from all media until they hit books, and then some weirdo mechanism steps in and says that it must be “literature” to be any good while preventing the memory that the whole reason Shakespeare is awesome is because he wrote swordfights and fairies and witches so damned well into really exciting stories.

Earlier today, I got an e-mail from Cheryl Anne Gardner of POD People. I queried their site a while ago in the hope that they might review Entrekin. I figured they were just so backed up with books and reviews that they hadn’t had the chance to respond, which I understood; authors, self-published or otherwise, always hope for reviews of their books and so always query reviewers to do so, and I’d wager a book reviewers pile of books to read is similar in size, scope, range, and even quality, to editors’ and agents’ slushpiles. But the good news is that Gardner wrote me to let me know that she was going to review it probably shortly.

Which I’m just thrilled by.

So look for that soon.

I bring it up, though, because part of the reason Cheryl wrote was what occurred on the occassion of my first ever review. It was at the PODler (you can find a link in the archives here. Sorry, but I’d rather not link there myself; it only just fell from number 1 Google result, and I’d rather not put it back up there), and it was the sort of excellent for which a word like “glowing” is an understatement (“This is the writing of bestsellers.” So rad), and it was a thrillingly and overwhelmingly positive experience until a handful of anonymous commenters showed up to attack me.

Not my writing. Not my book. Me.

The most prevalent was the one I mentioned yesterday: “I won’t argue that Entrekin is a great writer,” which then went on to comment that I was “full of” myself.

I mentioned it yesterday and that I was happy it no longer came up as the first Google hit because can you just imagine an agent being intrigued by my query enough to hit Google only to find that as the first hit? I’d wager their first thought would be that I’m some prima donna author who thinks I’m the heir apparent to Stephen King and Jo Rowling and will become resentful when others don’t bow before my literary genius.

To which I say, in my best Wayne impression, shyaah!, not to mention: not!

Because seriously. I mean, what do you say to that? “Quite frankly, I resent the implication that I am full of myself. In fact, I am half-empty of myself, because I am a pessimist, and to fill the rest I seek meaningless sex, excessive alcohol, and the adoration of a whole bunch of people whom I will probably never meet except via the Internet (unless they come to an author signing).”

It’s kind of like being called defensive; if you defend yourself . . .

It’s probably silly to worry about, but I’ll admit it: I’m now past thirty and still worry about what other people think of me. I keep hoping that I’ll outgrow it someday, but someday continues to elude me so far.

But here’s the thing about one being full of one’s self:

I once heard that the difference between Eastern philosophy and Western religion is that the Western mode seeks external validation: from God, from the church, salvation through Christ, etc., whereas Eastern philosophy looks, instead, inward–toward the self. Toward the soul.

And that appeals to me. Which leads me to wonder if, according to Eastern philosophies, being full of one’s self isn’t a good thing? Or, at least, a goal to pursue?

I don’t know either way, but I’ll be personal for a moment, in a way I’m not usually, to tell you a story.

I went to a Jesuit college where I studied, among other subjects, theology (that my professor was a Jesuit priest trained as a Zen roshi might be why Eastern philosophy appeals so much to me). During that time, I became comfortable in my role on campus, in my role as a student, and then again in my role in commercial production. I won’t say I thought I had things pretty well figured out, and I read now the words I wrote then and I inwardly cringe, but, in a way, I felt somewhat full, I think. I was, largely, satisfied with my life.

And then September 11th. Which, I think, both emptied me out and made the vessel with which I was working larger (which, in turn, made it more difficult to fill). Suddenly, what had made sense before no longer did, and four years passed before I could really claim happiness again. Four years passed before I can really claim I felt full again. Satisfied.

And I remember the moment it changed again, when I realized I wanted to go to graduate school. It didn’t empty again, just made my vessel grow again, and so I drove across the country to Los Angeles, and I studied writing, and I began, again, to fill it. My vessel hadn’t grown so much as to require much fill, and then I published my book, and that helped it grow yet again.

And so I feel like the past few years have been a constant challenge of a growing vessel which I seek again and again to fill with my self. Each time my vessel grows, I seek new experiences, or new ways of seeing old ones, so that I can grow and fill it again.

It’s a challenge I have to admit I enjoy.

Full of myself? Sometimes, maybe. Perhaps. But when I’m really lucky there’s a little more room in the vessel yet to be filled, and the challenge of looking inward to do so is simultaneously one of the most difficult and most rewarding.

“I awake from a long, deep sleep
In a leaky little boat on a wide blue sea
I spy no islane, rock or shore
And the sea, she’s a-comin’ to me through a hole in the floor

And the tide come in and the tide go out
And the waves they came toss my little boat about
And the sky turn black and the sky turn blue
I got no pail, no sail, no anchor, too
Just a leaky little boat

And as I wake I look around
I have no notion where I’m bound
So many different colored boats I see
Are all leaky, lonely, and driftin’
Just like me

And the tide come in and the tide go out…

I spy no island rock or shore
And the sea keeps a-comin’ to me through a hole in the floor
Of my leaky little boat

Alone, adrift together are we
Slowly sinkin’ in a deep blue sea
But we smile and we wave
And we say, “I’m afraid…and I love you…and here we go…”
Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, “Leaky Little Boat”

(update: edited to paraphrase the anonymous quote in question, for Google-rific reasons)

I will admit that I nearly opened with a joke about being given the keys to the Impala, but I figured, best just use that one to the once.

I don’t remember how I first encountered Supernatural; I’m sure it was an online discussion somewhere, but I don’t remember the specific pointer like I remember The Shakespeare Code. In fact, the first thing I remember about Supernatural is its Wikipedia page, which notes that its creator, Eric Kripke, cites Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and American Gods as influences.

That was really all I needed. I’ll state a caveat here in the interest of full disclosure: Neil Gaiman is the only person on Earth who has ever sent me into total fanboy catatonia. I had been 23 just a month when my best buddy trekked up to Jersey City from regions farther south so we could see Gaiman open for The Magnetic Fields at the Bottom Line in Greenwich Village. I had been corresponding (roughly) with Neil for nearly a year by then on The Well, but still I couldn’t bring myself to say hello (it took an introduction from Claudia Gonson of the Fields to actual render me speechful).

I had, by then, read everything Gaiman had written except Sandman, and I was totally looking forward to American Gods (the copy on my bookshelf, just a few feet away, was the first one signed on the American Gods tour, and it was signed at the Borders WTC. It has, of course, become somewhat of a talisman in my life).

I wanted to love American Gods, but I’ll admit, back then, I didn’t; my visceral reaction was that it read very much like exactly the debut novel it was–a writer learning how to write a novel as he did so. While it has grown on me in the years since, I still think Coraline and Anansi Boys are better, novel-wise, than American Gods was (Anansi Boys is, I believe, one of the greatest novels ever: very nearly fully achieved and perfect for what it is. It seems like it understands, in a way some few books do, what it means to be, and quite successfully achieves it).

My point is that I’d been reading Gaiman for a few years by then, and that he’s one of two novelists I continue to both read and enjoy (the same I cannot say for either King, Koontz, Carroll, or Pratchett [the other novelist is Rowling]). Which was why, when I saw that citation of influences, I just had to check out Supernatural.

Supernatural: two slightly dysfunctional but also very cool brothers drive around in a vintage Chevy Impala while listening to Asia and hunting things that go bump in the night.

And if that’s not very nearly a perfect logline, I don’t know what is.

Over three (so far) seasons, Supernatural has followed the brothers Winchester, Sam and Dean, as they drive back and forth across the country hunting . . . well, just about everything for which a season does not exist. Vampires? Check. Werewolves? Check. Djinn, changelings, and killer clowns (though not from outer space)? Check, double check, and wait, let me confirm–yep, check all over again.

And I think it’s way better than it has any right to be. I mean, one of the brothers is best known for a recurring role in the Gilmore Girls while the other has the sort of suitably pouty lips directors hire make-up people to moisten every ten minutes, but hell if it ain’t Tiger Beat heartthrobs battling evil, and boyhow does it work.

Don’t get me wrong; there are a couple of things about the series that, ultimately, unfortunately, fall flat, the single biggest being that the series seems to have an undue amount of trouble letting characters stay dead. Perhaps this is a reaction on my end, in that both television shows I’m currently most into (Supernatural and Doctor Who) don’t seem to want to let anyone actually die. And, of course, there is some wriggle room in Supernatural; when you’re dealing so much with things that go bump in the night, you are, story-wise, generally allowing that things do bump in the night, and the things that bump in said night probably used to be alive in some way, which means that there is acknowledgement of the afterlife. Especially when you’re dealing with demons and Faustian bargains and a bunch of characters who care about people they love more than they care about themselves.

When people keep dying but keep not exactly staying dead, it reduces tension for the viewer. It makes suspense and danger (not to mention: death) not mean nearly so much. You stop worrying when a character seems about to die, because you think, well, no biggie, they can just bargain that out of the way.

In most cases, the stakes are at least changed (and sometimes raised), but still, I feel the creators stumbled a bit with all the dead-not-dead stuff.

Even still, I remain impressed by the adventures of the brothers Winchester. Most of the episodes are self-contained, which is a hallmark of the shows I love (e.g., Doctor Who and House, MD), with development over arcs contributing to but not overwhelming the self-contained nature of each episode (or two-parter). I’ve always been the sort who avoids anything in multiple parts each of which can’t be enjoyed on its own, mainly because I’ve always felt like I’m being strung along (part of the reason I’ve always enjoyed TPBs to single-issue comics. Fuck single issues. Fuck waiting a week (or worse) to find out what’s going to happen next [the Harry Potter series is the notable exception, but then again, reading Harry Potter is a bit like watching a season DVD all in a go]).

Which is the other nit I pick with Supernatural; apparently, renewal goes to the creators’ heads, as each season pretty much ends on a cliffhanger of some sort. There’s a way to pique interest to keep people watching (or reading) and there’s a way simply to infuriate them.

But Kripke and McG (who exec produces) manage to avoid trouble by consistently putting together terrific, clever episodes. Some of my favorite bits: the names the Winchesters use to pose as detectives (Landis and Dante, Page and Plant, Bachman and Turner); the way Dean Winchester is written; uber-hot chicks in just about every episode; and layers. I’ve watched straight through Season 3, and all the characters seem so fully realized; the highest compliment I can pay, I think, is that you believe these characters had lives before you started watching, and you believe they had lives after the screen goes dark. I tend to think that in addition to the cited influences, Stephen King’s canon casts a long shadow across, at least in terms of character dynamics and interactions, as well as humor and story (and that’s one of the single highest compliments I would pay. Say what you will about Stephen King’s writing [hey, I like it], but you can’t claim he’s not a great storyteller).

I worry about next season; three seemed a bit uneven, though I wonder if that was mainly because it was truncated due to the writers’ strike (a lot like House, MD).

(cross-posted to

Man, have I ever been blocked. Totally for seriously.

And one thing about me is that I’m a Taurus. Remember I hit 30 last month?

Okay, so here’s my story about writer’s block.

Usually, when asked about writer’s block, I say I don’t believe in it. Because I don’t, really. I tend to look at writing not as a talent or matter of inspiration but rather of craft, and that if you sit down and do it, it works. I try to work on multiple projects simultaneously, though, because I also know that you just can’t force anything, or maybe shouldn’t.

And I have been. I’m finishing The Prodigal Hour, and at the same time working on two projects that I’ve mentioned before even if never in much depth; one is tentatively titled A Little Heaven, the other Meets Girl. Both are marked changes of pace for me, as a writer; both first-person narratives (despite that nearly every piece in Entrekin is told first-person, it’s not my usual mode for writing. I tend to prefer third-limited, probably because I grew up reading Koontz and King and Crichton before I moved onto Gaiman. You can trace some lineage, not to mention influences, there). I’ve tried to switch back and forth between projects when the going got tough.

This time, I failed. Because I wanted to finish my novel so much. Because I like it so much. And so normally, when I would have worked on something else as I felt the story klurge to a halt because it just wasn’t yet ready, the stubborn, belligerent, dammit-do-you-know-who-I-am-and-what-I-can-do Taurus in me kicked in, and seriously, yo, fuck that bull, man.

Anyway, I spent a few days anxious. Restless. The sort of days that inspired the old exchange between James Joyce and his wife–

James’ wife: What’s the matter, honey?
Joyce: I wrote seven words today!
James’ wife: But that’s great! That’s almost your usual tally.
Joyce: But I don’t know what order they go in!

I’d write a paragraph, and then realize, no. Then do it again. Then open previous drafts and try to flip through–

Anyway. Long story short, I’m making my way out of it. More slowly than I would like, but with some certainty. And no, I didn’t finish by July, as I had hoped, but man, I can taste it.

(sometimes that’s the most fucking frustrating feeling in the entire damned world)

So that’s where I was.

And that’s where I’ll be. Wrestling the fog. Because that’s what it’s like, really; it’s a slippery, elusive little fucker you just can’t find a decent grip on to save your fuckin’ life. In its way like happiness, or love, but in its own way again more frustrating than either and, in a way yet again, more rewarding.

This, I think, would be the Internet’s definition of humility.

For the most part.

(Neil Gaiman muses on his spot at #3 on this list.)

Actually, I think Neil’s right. The list seems a little… off. I mean, J.R.R. “motherfuckers walking, my novel’s are the literary definition of plot coupon” Tolkien at number 2?

I do like Pratchett, though.

My top five, in no particular order, would be Neil, Terry, Stephen King, Jo Rowling, and Jonathan Carroll. With a further five to Joe Hill, Jo Walton, Richard Cox, Will Shetterly, and Audrey Niffenegger.

I realize I’ve been a bit quiet; I’m acclimating to another new city (my third home in as many years), and I’m still processing the differences. I’m still learning a new state, and trying to commit to Denver in a way I never committed to Los Angeles. It used to take me 45 minutes to drive to USC from my apartment–now, 45 minutes takes me through, like, seven towns, and let me tell you what, they’re all purdy. There’s something about being able to look down certain streets and see, in the distance, white-capped mountains that’s pretty spectacular. I’d say “Of course, I used to be able to see the Hollywood Hills, too,” but honestly, often not so much, what with the air quality.

The air here is different, too: crisp, and clean, even if thin. I had a scare the other week when I went running in the park literally behind my apartment and had my first-ever asthma attack. Felt like my lungs had ossified. Not so much fun. It didn’t bump over into anything full blown, but it’s made me realize: hey, take’er easy, right?

I’ve been taking lots of pictures. I know I’ve been a little lax posting to either Imagery or et cetera, but I only just unpacked my harddrive, like, two days ago. Some of my stuff is even still in my car (and yes, I’ve been here, what, two weeks by now? Very nearly, at least). What can I say? More pressing matters lately.

So far, I’ve already been playing phone tag with a local personal training facility. I’m hoping to go in for an interview this week. It seems to pay pretty decently, and then again, I don’t need much right now, anyway (I’m set for the next several months, luckily. I earned a bit of a cushion [though I’d love to not have to use it]). So wish me luck on that; the only reason I left the fitness industry all those years ago (has it really been six? My, how the years go. As my roommate once wrote, “The days drag on/but the years fly by,” and sometimes I think there are fewer more apt descriptions of time available) was that I thoroughly disliked the “prospecting”/sales aspect the position requires at Bally Total Fitness. I loved the gig itself.

Looking back, I probably should have just changed gyms. But had I, I might never have taught, never have edited, never have gone to grad school, never have gone to Los Angeles.

Who knows?

Certainly not me, and that’s part of the fun.

Anyway, I’ve got a really cool post coming; just a few days ago, I stayed at the Stanley Hotel, in Estes Park, which is the historic site where Stephen King first started writing The Shining.

And I swear to God, I heard a bump in the night.

It was awesome.

My full memory of the following story is somewhat fuzzy, as is where I first heard it, but the cotent is what counts and has to do with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (hereafter: IJ4), which is what I wanted to mention. I’ve read several people lament the direction the series has taken (and from what I’ve read about the movie, I tend to agree), but I’ve also read about a direction it didn’t take. That latter is cited with sighs of relief that “It could have been worse,” but still I wonder.

So, the story: I think it was in On Writing–I’m fairly certain it’s Stephen King’s memory of the moment he was sitting in a movie theater, enjoying the serials before the actual flick, when the house lights came on and the theater manager’s voice crackled over the loudspeaker to announce that the Soviets had launched Sputnik, the first man-made object to orbit the Earth. This was in 1957, after the spectacular failure of a couple of American attempts, and, obviously, a full eleven years before the US managed to get a man on the moon. This in addition came during one of the worst periods of Communist fear in American history (McCarthyism began in 1950, when Joseph McCarthy began his investigations etc.).

I bring this up because both Spielberg and Lucas often cite those serials as the foundation for Indiana Jones. Raiders of the Lost Ark began the franchise in 1981, and became, at first blush, pretty much one of the most commercially successful movies of all time. Its reception was better than I would have given it credit for: for a blockbuster, it was critically received well, and was nominated for a go-jillion awards, to match the go-jillions of dollars it made. Lucas and Spielberg based the story on those old serials, which both had watched when they were children.

And the trilogy did well. IJ2 and IJ3 both continued the tradition of the first, though Temple of Doom is kinda the oddball, darker in tone and scope. The Last Crusade featured Indy’s dad, not to mention: Hitler. The Nazis were the villains throughout those three. There was the face-melting tornado in Raiders, which mostly just affected the Nazis, and who can forget when Indy punched the Nazi on the zeppelin in Crusade.

And now IJ4. I have no inclination to see it; I learned my lesson from the Star Wars prequels, thanks much, and to quote ole’ Dubya, “fool me once, shame on… fool me twice… you can’t fool me again.” The reviews I’ve read have been mostly mixed, and the spoiler material has seemed to hit the two cardinal sins of entertainment: both dumb and boring.

But I’ve also read that Lucas had a different idea for the next installment: Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars, and I wonder if that wouldn’t have been the better direction. Those serials often went from action and Nazis in the forties to suspense and science fiction and Commies in the fifties, didn’t they? By the 50s, we obviously had our eyes to the heavens–we were in a space race, after all, which was why Sputnik came as such a kick in the can. The Day the Earth Stood Still came in 1951.

My point is, it’s obvious the tide was turning, and being that Indy is of that era, the best way to continue the franchise might have been to turn him, too, to his next logical storypoint: out of archaeology and Nazis and into space and Commies. Sure, it’s not really consistent with the character from before, but this movie seems more of a transition, anyway (if Indy doesn’t hand his fedora to Shia by the end of IJ4, I’d be surprised); Indiana Jones and the Saucer Men from Mars could have represented the 50s, when we were petrified with the Red Scare (and where better for the red scare to originate from than the red planet?); from what I’ve read, IJ4 is set in the fifties, anyway. And plus, it could have made a parallel between the red scare and the current political climate (PATRIOT act, al qaeda, terrorists, et al.; was it Twain who said that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does echo?).

Indy’s world has always been exaggerated, from boulders and idols to madman ripping hearts out and 500-year-old knights of the Holy Grail. It’s always been a caricature, the ideal representation of its world, and really, the best way for it to continue is to follow its own lead by continuing to caricature its world (and not in a bad way; Indy’s always been a caricature, mostly, which is why you can recognize him by his hat alone).

Of course, I’ll be the first to admit that going in that direction could have sucked. But, then, from what I’ve read of the latest installment, it ain’t all that great, and shit, if it’s gonna be bad, it might as well go for broke, no? If you’re going to jump the shark, why not use a jetpack?

Caught this article on the New York Times site this morning. Seems to be a day or so old, and it’s supposed to be about a movie that takes place in academia, but the article seems to be about how strange it is for a fiction writer to work in Hollywood, and what a difficult time of it said fiction writer would have.

I actually get that, at least considering the author in question, one Mark Jude Poirier. I’ve never actually heard of Poirier, but he’s apparently got two short story collections and two novels under his belt, and he studied at both the University of Iowa and Johns Hopkins, both of which have renowned writing programs, though the article doesn’t mention what Poirier studied. It does mention what Poirier writes about, to some degree:

His published writing, which also includes a second story collection, “Unsung Heroes of American Industry” (2001), and a second novel, “Modern Ranch Living” (2004), is distinguished by good, dry jokes, a fine appreciation of messy families (he is one of 11 children), a tremendous affection for teenagers and losers, and a strange fascination with amusement-park rides. Only the last is missing from “Smart People.”

I could see why that might not work in a movie, or at least might become one of those pointless, “character-driven” pieces that inevitably come up for Oscars. Rafferty uses this dichotomy, though, to make some blanket statements:

But mostly nothing happens, except in the sense that novelists and short-story writers understand. For them moving a character from not knowing that he’s unhappy to sort of acknowledging it qualifies as a pretty momentous event.

And that may be why so few writers of fiction manage to succeed, or even to be minimally comfortable, in Hollywood. There was a time when the studios, hankering for prestige, would throw money at well-known literary figures and set them to work on projects to which their actual talents were almost risibly irrelevant: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Nathanael West, William Faulkner, Gore Vidal and Truman Capote, among others, all did their stints and went home, for the most part, baffled. (Playwrights, with their expertise in dramatic construction and ingrained audience-pleasing instincts, usually fared better.)

These days Hollywood — even “independent” Hollywood — doesn’t frequently come calling on novelists of any literary stature. John Sayles, who directs his own screenplays, has had a productive career, and Richard Price and Larry McMurtry get work too, but it’s a short list. Producers care less about prestige than about marketable stories, and what in the world do fiction writers know about stories?

The fact that “not knowing that he’s unhappy to sort of acknowledging it qualifies as a pretty momentous event” for many current writers of short stories and novels is I think, for the most part, why some many current short stories and novels suck worse than a gaping chest wound and are crappier than a sewage treatment facility.

I can’t argue with Rafferty’s list of writers of the golden age, nor with the quality of their output; I’ve often said that the best thing William Faulkner ever wrote was The Big Sleep, and the thing about it was that Ray Chandler had already done all the heavy lifting for him. Most successful novel adaptations weren’t written by their novelists; The Shawshank Redemption was written by Frank Darabont, and Jo Rowling hasn’t touched any of the Harry Potter scripts (well. Except to approve them). There are a few writers I can think of who do both successfully: Alex Garland (The Beach), David Benioff, and Neil Gaiman are, roughly, it, but the thing about them is that each seem to have an understanding that, for stories to work, something must happen and someone must change.

If nothing happens and nobody changes, is it really a story?

Or is it actually just a handful of competently composed sentences, told by idiots full of sound and fury, ultimately signifying nothing?

I’d argue most fiction is the latter, nowadays. Which I suppose makes Rafferty right, in his way, but for all the wrong reasons.