When not blogging or writing fiction, my other creative outlet is a podcast called TELL THE DAMN STORY. Here’s a promotion for it that my co-host, the legendary Alex Simmons, created on his phone from his hospital bed.
Worth a look.and the podcast is worth a listen, gotta say.
I have a break from my day job as a teacher this week and have been filling it as a student of writing. And yes, it has been a thrilling week.
First, I am getting more involved with writing associations and, when they are cooking, writer Zooms are truly engaging. For example, readings from the Mystery Writers of America – New York and the Horror Writers Association – New York/Galactic Terrors killed this month. Witnessing writers perform their work is always a treat, but having them talk process afterwards delights both the writer and teacher in me.
Monthly meetings can be a mixed bag but I am learning to participate more and that improves with each round. Highly recommended.
I did learn about the Alliance of Independent Authors from this month’s MWA-NY meeting (thanks, Victoria Weisfeld), and it already seems to be a true resource after years of disappointments. It is difficult to wade through all the webinars, outright hustles, and “get successful quick” pitches flooding the market these days, and I am grateful to find more and more solid ground via these associations.
Writing is an ongoing education and multiple lessons can be learned with each activity. I am discovering which opinions are given sincerely and which are serving some other agenda, and how to benefit from both. I am seeing that sometimes improvements to a creative environment are more complicated and frustrating than the initial situation, and all of it teaches. We take what we need from each experience and we grow from there.
And there are ways to learn from masters and professionals further along than you. Associations have value, and they are numerous. Pay the dues and reap the benefits. MasterClass is worth the annual price. A curated list of podcasts can offer weekly instruction, information, and/or inspiration (which is exactly why I still mourn the suspension of regular episodes from The Horror Show with Braine Keene).
Similarly, curated social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook can provide an important writing community to sustain you, offer support, advice, and growth. Unfollow the frivolous or overtly political and follow creatives who can inspire, educate, and whom you can support with likes and encouragement; it is an entirely different online experience than screaming into the doom and gloom. Additionally, YouTube has a growing list of reader/writer oriented shows to explore (I love the deeply philosophical analysis of pop culture on Implicitly Pretentious). And I am sure many can offer additional insights about shows, people to follow, and/or worthwhile platforms in the comments below.
My point is that while I have barely left the house this week, I have traveled extensively, witnessed many stories, gleaned useful information, saw many friends, learned so much, and was entertained often. It has been a refreshing week, and I am grateful.
So much is out there, brothers and sisters. Go get you some and use it to fuel your own creativity.
So the goddess and I are supposed to hit the malls for Black Friday. In previous years, I would follow my ritual of wandering around wherever she wanted to go and do people watching, picking up snippets of conversation or body language or just character studies that I would use to cast my short stories and novels. This year, the specter of our national health crisis casts Black Friday as a darker and more ominous outing.
I used to feed off the bustle of the crowd, the energy of so many people packed into one space. That thought now unnerves, revealing scars that coronavirus is leaving on me, and maybe some of you.
With so many medical companies close to vaccines we cannot help turning our heads towards a future free of the ‘Rona. But will we ever be completely free, or has this disease marked us forever?
As I fight a low-key dread on the way to the mall, with my thickest mask in my pocket and hand sanitizer at the ready, I can’t help but think that I will be a meeting little wary of crowds, enclosed places, movie theaters, and malls for the rest of my life. I don’t think 2020 will ever completely leave us.
But I am willing to try and shove it into the dusty corners of my mind, locking it in some old battered trunk of memory where I keep childhood scraped knees and puppy love broken hearts.
And to be honest with you, I can’t wait until the day when we all can do that.
Until then it’s masks up, distance kept, and hand sanitizers at the ready.
The late fall evenings have been deeply dark, like dusk got fired and midnight was forced to come in to work early. Night descends quickly around 5 pm and that seems to figure into all that 2020 has been.
We need the lights.
Driving around town, we see many families have lit their holiday decorations early this year, and it inspires gratitude.
Alex Simmons and I do a podcast for creatives, especially writers, called TELL THE DAMN STORY. Since COVID-19 took away summer writing conferences this year, we decided to create one for you.
We invited pop culture author and journalist Caseen Gaines, spoken word poet, children’s author, and songwriter Toney Jackson, and, for panels three and four, newly published slam poet legend and co-founder of Black Nerd Problems Omar Holman to help us.
With a ton of humor and anecdotes and do’s and don’ts, we offer insight and advice on major areas of the creative process.
Panel 1 (episode 146) focuses on inspiration and where it comes from.
Panel 2 (episode 147) is all about the discipline of getting your butt in a seat and writing.
Panel 3 (episode 148) focuses on editing your work, from first draft to final polish.
And in Panel 4 (episode 149) we discuss promotion, social media, and getting your work out there.
There are no strings attached here. The whole series is offered free for nothing as our way of helping to take up the slack because COVID-19 came to the party and spat in the punch bowl.
Enjoy the panels, recommend them to aspiring writers who may benefit from them, toss a link to here on social media if you want. It is all about helping each other cope, grow, and improve individually and as part of the greater writing community.
Here’s a slightly rewritten free short story for your enjoyment.
By Christopher Ryan
He ran a hand through thick gray hair as he peeked out the window at the holiday barbecue his sons were throwing. “They’re not kids anymore, ya know?”
“Honey, they are in their mid-twenties,” his wife said at the television room’s door before beckoning him toward their bedroom.
He crossed after her. “I know, right? When did that happen? Just the other day they were…”
“‘Time is fleeting,’” she teased, entering the solace of their room.
He closed the door, shutting out anything and anyone but them.”’Madness takes control,’” he responded, falling onto the bed, laughing with her. “We thought we had all the time in the world back then, Connie.”
“And suddenly here we are with responsible grownups where our kids used to be,” she shook her head. “All of them out there; we knew them when they were so little. Now they have careers and lives.”
“And we’re sleepy,” he laughed.
She turned out the light. “That’s okay. It’s their time now and they are making the most of it.”
They found each other in the dark, and hand-in-hand, fell asleep.
He was up early the next morning, running his miles as was his custom, amused that so many cars were still parked in front of their house. By the time he finished, two were already gone, and two were left.
When he entered the house, one of his sons was lurching toward the coffee pot. “How many slept over,” Dad asked.
“Responsible thing for all of them to do.”
“Walked? He lives in the next town now!”
“That’s what I said, but he wouldn’t listen and we were busy cleaning up. The walk was probably good for him.”
Sunday passed bright and hot, with an even hotter encore on Monday. One car remained, amusing the dad. “Hey,” he told his son, “if it’s still there tomorrow, we put a ‘For Sale’ sign on it.“
“I’ll text Steve about it.”
“Tell him the walk back is equally good exercise.”
Tuesday morning, the dad got up even earlier, trying to beat the rising temperature on his run. He decided to just do laps around the block, making it easier to bail if the heat got to be too much.
He used Steve’s car as his marker. At least it would be of some use to somebody, he chuckled, seeing as Steve apparently didn’t need it.
He noticed a whiff of backed-up sewer on the third lap. As he came around for the fourth, he took a good look; the sewers were clear.
He glanced around for another source of the stench. There was nothing. No overflowing garbage, no road kill, no…
He dismissed the idea instantly, but slowed to a walk. Couldn’t be. Maybe some local wildlife got hit by a car and crawled under there to die. Maybe it had been lying in the heat for a few days, ripening.
Or maybe the horrible smell is coming from the car itself.
The dad shook off that ridiculous thought. Or tried to. Maybe Steve had brought hamburgers to the party but forgot them in the trunk or backseat.
He forced himself closer, each step landing on a weaker leg, his knees shaking by the time he inched to the rear driver’s side window. His eyes studied the roof of the vehicle, fighting against moving lower. But he had to know. Had to. I’ll just check under the car, he lied to himself, eyes finally lowering…
Steve hadn’t walked home.
The dad stumbled back, clutching his chest at the shock of what three days roasting in the summer heat had done.
He crashed to his knees, grabbing at his phone with suddenly clawed and quaking hands, managing to dial 911 before collapsing on the street. “Help him,” he gasped into the phone.
Everything became a jumble. Feet running. His wife screaming. His son pulling at a car door. A howl rising either from the approaching police cruiser or his own throat….
The story expresses a belief in the economic power of the non-elites (“under class, middle class, working class, poor, minorities”- none of these terms feel right anymore as we are the majority in all things but economics merely by being humans with common desires: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) and is offered again to support the cause.
But faith in the power of collective economics has been a theme for this author before. Compare this poster and the cover of the latest novel:
That book, a social horror novel set in our potential near future, follows the accidental eruption of an economic protest in the two phases: a sick out and a spending blackout to protest a government that has so lost touch with humanity it is “detaining” entire communities of color in confirmation camps and hunting LBGTQ people on live television. It was published in 2017.
But belief and support of using economics of the masses as a weapon against those who would see people as others, inferior, or unworthy is not enough. The word must be spread. So here it goes:
With every dollar left unspent today, the collective voice grows. And yes, everyone can contribute today by staying home and off Amazon, etc., and not ordering from DoorDash, etc., and not hitting “purchase” on demand for a movie, etc. The less that gets spent, the bigger the impact will be. All can contribute by literally not doing something. Clearly, today can truly be a quiet coup and a simple rebellion.
So some geniuses celebrated American freedom on Saturday by attacking a statue of Frederick Douglass. Nope, this was not in the Rebel South and it wasn’t a bunch of Confederate wannabes chanting, “The South will rise again!” This was in Rochester, New York (yeah, way up the left-leaning north), on the sight of a famous speech given by the abolitionist on July 4th.
The chronology is pretty easy to assume. Some freedom-loving whiteboys enraged by the recent destruction of American heroes of the slave era decided to get some payback by turning this …
… into this.
Probably seemed only fair after all the white guy statues that have been pulled down and desecrated and otherwise “removed from our proud history!” But the problem with that logic is the assumption that all history is proud. Nah. Never the case. Go over Germany and count the number of official Nazi statues. Or go to Africa and take the “Great Kidnappers and Slave Traders of Our Past” tour. You can’t because other countries keep the darker parts of their history in their history books.
We don’t. We keep honest accounts of our history out of our textbooks and instead erect statues to slavers and Confederate Civil War “heroes” and take revenge when those racists are torn down. And we seek justice by attacking monuments to those who dared to move this nation forward.
What’s next? How long until every statue in America is torn down or desecrated? When are we going after tributes to those evil bastards Lincoln and Jefferson? Let’s tear them suckers down! And then, when all the stone and metal historical monuments are ruined, let’s turn on each other. Yeah! Let’s get those Republican bums and Democratic mongrels, those Conservative clowns, and Liberal leper’s! Then let’s kill journalists and hunt down gays and cage Muslims and turn our whole country into this book…
I wrote it as a parody, a dark comedy exploring the near future as a warning of where we could wind up if we continue along the nightmarish path we are on. And then elements of this fiction started coming true to varying degrees. A Simple Rebellion is becoming less a dark comedic parody and more a desperate plea for all of us to take a breath and consider what we are doing to each other, who we are allowing to form our thoughts, and, most importantly, where we go from here.
Today I would like to share a podcast I do. @How to TELL THE DAMN STORY Summer Series” launches today with @BlackjackAD (Alex Simmons), @caseengaines, @herhymeswithme (Toney Jackson), and I discussing inspiration, focusing on how we get it and use it to create. Totally free. All are welcome.
Neil Young has been contributing to pop culture with great songs full of catchy hooks and deep meaning for sixty years. Sixty years! Respect, right? To continually contribute positively to society for six decades is a truly memorable feat that others might crave, but Neil did it. You might even say Neil Young deserves to be on the #mountrushmore of rock songwriters…
Nope, that’s not Neil…
Still missing Neil…
Oh forget it!
Let’s try this another way. Neil Young should be celebrated for his great songs. The first thing we notice is that they have great hooks. Two examples that may come to mind are “Like a Hurricane” (who doesn’t want to be powerful like a hurricane?) and “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World” (c’mon, that’s an anthem for success and power and greatness, am I right or what?).
But those of us who listen to Neil know it’s his lyrics that really make the song memorable. One reason is that they often offer a message significantly different than one would glean if they only skimmed, like, the hook. For example, “Like A Hurricane” might seem to be about power and supremacy, but if we consider the lyrics, the truth is very different:
Here we see that the speaker wants to love the person being addressed but instead needs to be somewhere safer, apparently due to the damage that person brings to the relationship. How devastating!
And then there’s “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World” a title so winning people might put it on a list of songs to play before major events to get the crowd psyched.
But you would never use this song that way if you understood that the hooky chorus is ironic and actually serves as a blistering critique of failed leadership. Worse, the lyrics spell out those failures:
Wow, devastating lyrics that depict the many horrendous government failures at the time of its release. So we see the irony that the chorus sets up in contrast to the lyrics. Blistering and intelligent and easy to catch, if you bother to listen, of course. So blistering, in fact, that if the song was used to set the tone for a major event, it would be humiliating for the star attraction. I mean, she or he would know the meaning of songs used to represent them, right? The star would know at least that much, yes? Surely, they would because otherwise the reaction of the informed public would be laughter at such a buffoon. Who would willingly set themselves up for that? And imagine if such a clown stepped on a rake in this way while standing, say, a national monument? Can you imagine the national reaction?
Well, I am glad that didn’t happen. Happy birthday, America!