At first I couldn’t believe my eyes. Then I was hit with a wave of nausea…a short story machine? Tales pumped out of a dispenser like junk food?
Sherron, bless her heart, anticipated my reaction and printed up a number of stories to bring home for my examination. Without exception, the offerings were inept, tuneless, unoriginal, poorly executed, childish. There was no professional vetting in terms of quality and it showed. Apparently the company in question, ShortEdition, has over 80,000 stories, of varying genres and length, for potential readers to choose from. Based on the examples I scanned, you’d get more aesthetic satisfaction reading the back of a cereal box or instructions for using a pay toilet.
Awful, awful stuff, printed on thin tape for speedy consumption, as disposable and forgettable as most of the other crap we produce these days.
And the horrible thing is that we’re living in an absolute golden era in terms of the short story format. Geniuses like Jim Shepard and George Saunders are gracing us with tales that can move us deeply, while maintaining the highest literary standards. Daring, innovative prose that shatters preconceptions and offers entirely new perspectives of the world around us.
This ridiculous gadget is yet another example of the dumbing down of society, offering blatant mediocrities and tone-deaf amateurs a platform to exercise their egos. It is junk food for the post-literate, the mental equivalent of fucking Pez.
Anyone who pays for this service is a moron, anyone who enjoys the “writing” needs to stop wearing their hats so tight.
How about spending your money on real authors, men and women who devote an enormous amount of time and effort ensuring their prose is as tight and polished as it can be? Masters of the printed word.
They deserve your support, whereas the ShortEdition wannabes warrant only a snort of derision and a sad shake of the head.
It’s Thanksgiving for our American cousins—it strikes me that late November is a weird time to be giving thanks, especially if you happen to live above the Mason-Dixon Line and your kids have already built a congregation of snowmen in your front yard.
And, frankly, I don’t need the excuse of a national holiday to carve up a turkey and then subsist for the next week on turkey leftovers, turkey sandwiches and, finally, turkey soup (sorry, I just drooled all over my keyboard). Turkey, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob, with pumpkin pie for dessert. If I somehow manage to gain admission through the Pearly Gates I fully expect that to be the first meal St. Peter and his horde of super-efficient seraphim waiters place in front of me.
* * * * *
Yes, indeed, busy times here at Burns Central: Sherron seems to have been on the road since her first day back at work in September. Driving hither and yon throughout her massive, far-flung school division, giving workshops and presentations. She’s seen more of this area of the province than this homebody ever will.
Both my sons are deeply involved in their individual obsessions, namely, submission wrestling and film-making. Sam and his creative partner Sean hope to have a short movie ready to enter in the “Youth” component of the Yorkton Film Festival and are collaborating on a script. I accompanied Liam to his twice-a-week wrestling session last night and my 48 year old body recoiled and quaked when I saw how those young lads (and one lass) were bending and twisting each other, their bodies impossibly elastic. I was one of those seriously inept, uncoordinated kids who couldn’t even stand on his head so watching my athletic oldest son going through the paces with grace and strength fills me with immeasurable pleasure…and pride.
Meanwhile, I continue to labor away on my western novel, The Last Hunt. Two consecutive weeks of 12 hour days, grinding and polishing, adding in some of the research material I gathered during my Montana sojourn this summer. Still insisting that I will release the novel in late March (2012), come hell or high water. But it ain’t been easy and my body is feeling the effects of the strain.
You’d think after 25+ years I would have learned how to pace myself, manage my time and energy more effectively. Er, no. Instead, I completely immerse myself in a project for prolonged intervals, work myself into a state of exhaustion and then, literally when my body-mind-spirit can take no more, I pronounce the story/novel finished…and collapse. At that point, I usually come down with a nasty virus which lays me out for a week (complete with cold sores, intestinal problems…ah, fun).
How does that gibe with your methods?
And then I read a comment by self-publishing’s latest superstar, Amanda Hocking. Yes, she of a million Kindle sales. She states, without an ounce of self-consciousness, that she writes her juvenile vampire novels in about 2-4 weeks. That’s right, all you fuckheads who were stupid enough to download her awful tripe, a month (usually less) to write a novel. And some of you “writers” out there actually hold her up as an example of a successful author, someone you’d like to emulate. Message to you wannabe assholes: I spit in your face. You disgust me. May your fingers rot off your hands and your putrid brains liquify in your paper-thin skulls. Leprosy and ALS are too good for you. I loathe you and what you and your ilk are doing to literature. You are nothing more than ambulatory turds.
But I won’t cede the field to you, do you hear me? I refuse to allow your excremental scribbling to carry the day. To my last, dying breath I will be composing literate, intelligent, innovative fiction, even if only six people on the planet read it. I will follow the lead of the Masters, write in defiance of all the trends and market niches, write despite the Amanda Hockings of the world and the offal they disgorge. Hocking will be nonexistent in a very short time, her moment in the sun is almost up—let her have her money, it will keep her warm as she wallows on literature’s scrap heap, where all the non-talented hacks end up.
I’ll trust posterity and put my faith in the notion that as long as humankind exists, there will be discerning readers and that, eventually, my work will find the audience it deserves (even if I’m long gone).
I’d rather work for nothing than be stinkin’ rich and unable to look at myself in the mirror.
Which begs the question: what price do you put on your soul?
“B.C.” comic strip by Johnny Hart
Here’s Harlan Ellison’s take on “amateurs”.
From the documentary Dreams With Sharp Teeth.
For aspiring writers, not wannabes (and there is a distinction, y’know)…
That’s a picture of my latest acquisition, a leather attache case. Been looking for something similar for ages but the models I like are usually wayyyy out of my price range and the ones I can afford are uglier than Dan Brown’s prose or, for various reasons, just not me.
Found this beauty at a thrift shop (secondhand goods) in Saskatoon. Spotted it and let out a crow of pleasure which was slightly mitigated when I discovered that the case sported a hideous logo from some hog producers convention. Well, shit, I’m supposed to be creative, aren’t I, I figured I could come up with some method of fixing the problem. Bought the briefcase for five bucks, brought it home and immediately set to work. Taped off the edges and used black spray paint to get rid of the logo. Still left with a shiny area that had to be covered up with…something. But what? How about a patch or sticker of some kind? Which led to me going ’round and ’round, trying to think of a symbol or design that distinguished the case as mine.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading on anarchy lately, its history and proponents, and have increasingly come to see that for an independent-minded, stubborn, recalcitrant asshole like me, anarchism is the perfect philosophical system. No bosses, no hierarchy, no cant. Found a place in England that sold a sticker that was just about the perfect size to do the job and while I was scrolling through their catalogue, came across the “Kill Your Television” decal.
I hardly ever watch television, except for the news and hockey on Saturday night. We have a grand total of two channels in our house, and one of them doesn’t come in very well. No cable, no satellite, no need. That old Springsteen song comes to mind: 57 channels and nothin’ on. During those rare occasions when we stay in a hotel, I always have a quick troll through the available stations and rarely find anything worth watching, except if I’m lucky to catch an episode of “South Park” or, thanks to a tip from my sons, one of the weird send-ups featured on “Robot Chicken“.
Whenever I go into one of my tirades about television and other time-wasters, I usually get some sort of feeble response like, “well, I only watch television to relax”. A sentiment that is lost on me.
Relaxation? What’s that?
I checked my daybook last week and out of the last 365 days, I’ve taken a grant total of nine days off from writing. Nine days. And that includes weekends, holidays, everything.
And so, I suppose, I have no one but myself to blame for my recent big crash, a eight-day bout with pleurisy (lung inflammation) that knocked me on my ass. My body was simply worn out, my immune system utterly fucked. Couldn’t work, found myself stuck on the couch with a pile of James Crumley books and a stack of movies. I might have tried to work…except I read up on the condition (curse the internet!) and discovered that in severe cases, doctors have to stick a long needle in your lung to siphon off the fluid. Oops. And then I read about some of the famous people, including Thomas Hardy, who have croaked from pleurisy.
Where’s that couch? Rest, rest, must have rest!
I know writing will eventually kill me but not yet. My sons are still only teenagers and I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me before I turn up my toes and start taking harp lessons. When the time comes, I intend to go out like David Gemmell, who was discovered by his wife, sprawled across his keyboard, dead of a heart attack. That’s an author’s death.
Real writers don’t need an idiotic event like National Novel Writing Month to get them kick-started. Every year when November rolls around I cringe because I know a horde of amateur fuckwits will be filling forums with progress reports on their masterpieces, playing at being authors. Romance writers and fantasy wannabes, hobbyists who do great disservice to those of us who pay the price day after day, year after year, as we go about honing our craft. Do these fucking morons have any idea the kind of sacrifice and pain the writing life demands from its practitioners? Do they really believe their pathetic, semi-literate efforts are deserving of any kind of respect or approbation?
And listen to them scream in outrage if one presumes to set them straight: how dare a professional writer tell them that their efforts aren’t taken seriously and mock them for their silliness. Lemme tell you something, kiddies: someone who unclogs a toilet isn’t a plumber, someone who screws in a light bulb isn’t an electrician…and someone who scribbles a few thousand words into a notebook with a flowery pattern on the front ain’t an author. Sorry to prick your balloon.
I’ve been writing for nearly 25 years and each day the process of sitting at my desk and commencing work requires discipline and courage, consuming enormous amounts of physical, mental and spiritual energy. The other day, I received a note from one of my favorite authors, Nicholas Christopher (Veronica, A Trip to the Stars, The Bestiary). He wrote:
I am working my through the first 100 pages of a new novel…and finding, as always, that writing of any kind, but especially the writing of novels, is a humbling profession. You start all over again and realize it doesn’t get any easier, no matter how many books you’ve written — nor should it get easier, if you’re doing what you’re supposed to and trying to reach new places with your work.
This from a man who has more talent in his big toe than I’ll ever possess, even if I lived to be three hundred.
NaNoWriMo is a gimmick, a fallacy and a fraud. Those who play that game are beneath the contempt of the authors they’re trying so hard to imitate. For thirty days they get to pretend to have the drive, talent and passion of their betters.
Then reality intrudes. Writing, it turns out, is hard work, doncha know? Shucks, you even have to know how to spell .
For many participants of NaNoWriMo, even that is too much of a reach…