Category Archives: Writing

#Calexit Diary, 2016 – 2020

canstockphoto22366211I used to occasionally get paid for thinking about the future, and this whole #Calexit thing has tickled my fancy. So I decided to dust off those arcane skills and have a go at the old crystal ball. Here’s what I’m thinking.

NOVEMBER 2016 – Dissatisfied with the results of the election, many Californians begin a movement to break off from the United States.

MARCH 2017 – The initiative to secede appears on the primary ballot and passes. Succession is to take place within the year.

JUNE 2017 – The northern part of the former California decides that they have never been properly represented by the urban south, and vote to break off and go back to the United States.

AUGUST 2017 – In their first election, the new nation tries to decide their name, whether or not to have an army, what the flag and national anthem should be, and if Aaron Sorkin should write their new constitution. There are so many initiatives on the new ballot that voting takes two hours per person.

SEPTEMBER 2017 – Election finishes and results that come in at the month’s end are inconclusive. Everyone wants to do their own thing, man. The new nation immediately splits into 37 sub-nations, known collectively as, um, The Collective.

OCTOBER 2017 – Hillary Clinton invited to be the first Presydent of The Collective.

DECEMBER 2017 – The Winter Solstice is chosen as the first day of the Presydential Term and the beginning of the new nation. The party begins!

FEBRUARY 2018 – The party finally winds down.

MARCH 2018 – The last of the hangovers finally clear, in time for the first anniversary of the birth of The Collective. The party begins again.

APRIL 2018 – Fryncysco declares itself the world’s first micro-aggression free zone.

JULY 2018 – President Trump cancels the wall between the former California and Mexico and extends it between Arizona and The Collective and Upper California and The Collective.

AUGUST 2018 – In their second election, The Collective legalizes objectophilia. Toastersexuals from around the world rejoice and flock to The Collective.

DECEMBER 2018 – The first anniversary of The Collective. Party!

MARCH 2019 – As hangovers clear, the next election declares December a holiday month and January a work-option month for recovery.

MAY 2019 – Presydent Clinton’s progressive Parkinson’s disease makes it difficult for her to rule. Her brain is transplanted into a new body grown from fetal stem cells. The new Presydent immediately receives more than 6,000 marriage proposals, even some from toastersexuals.

JULY 2019 – The last taxable business in The Collective goes under. In an emergency election that lasts through August, The Collective votes to become The Commune. It’s a groovy thing.

SEPTEMBER 2019 – Incessant partying has driven the price of legal weed up to $120 a joint. Protesters take to the streets. Presydent Clinton assures them that everything will be cool, and they all go home.

NOVEMBER 2019 – A Chinese submarine lands a small scouting party of troops on a beach near Los Angylys. After 48 hours of reconnaissance they return to the sub and nothing further is heard from China.

JANUARY 2020 – Democrats in the U.S. invite Michelle Obama to come back from The Commune and run for President. She considers it.

FEBRUARY 2020 – Texas considers succession if Michelle Obama becomes President. They look at how The Commune turned out and change their minds.

MARCH 2020 – Michelle Obama turns the Democrats down. Her new body is still in the growth chamber.

APRIL 2020 – U.S. Border Patrol guards along The Commune wall report it’s been awfully quiet in there.

MAY 5, 2020 – Mexico annexes The Commune.

Cicadas and firearms and stolen doughnuts…

…and more. For those of you still not on the bandwagon, the Kindle version of Drawing Down the Moon is on sale for $1.99. Get it before they run out! Oh, wait, it’s an e-book. They won’t run out. What kind of call to action is that? Anyway, just buy the thing. I’m about to submit another book to them and want my sales figures to look as good as possible. And you want to read that next book, right?

The Smart One – Chapter 5

The Smart One
A Wapakoneta Novel

armstrongSign
Author’s Note
Wapakoneta, Ohio as seen in this novel is an alternate universe, entirely fictionalized version of an otherwise very fine and beautiful community. It is not their fault that I fell in love with the name.

Eventually Paulie roared the Mustang out of the parking lot, mad by the way he was driving and Dink couldn’t really blame him. From a distance the Mustang looked like the driver’s side was covered with some kind of tribal tattoos. Dink thinking, still, couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

He was rounding up the shopping carts – again – checking to see if the ones that hit the car had any paint transfer, but it didn’t seem to stick to the chrome, or maybe the rain flaked it away. Looked back over his shoulder to see old man Spangler, looking down at where the Mustang had been, kicking at the wet asphalt with the toe of his shoe. Had to be looking at those paint flakes.

Dink clattered the carts into their bay at the front of the store then held the customer door open as old man Spangler approached. He waggled a finger at Dink, and Dink walked back out into the rain.

“You’re going to pay for this, young man.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Dink said.

“My insurance premiums went up after Louetta Holzer took her tumble in the produce aisle and my agent is going to have a cardiac if I have to call him about this.”

“It wasn’t me.”

Old man Spangler spoke through gritted teeth. “Look, you’re lucky I don’t fire your sorry ass over this.”

“My sorry ass? C’mon–”

“I saw you flipping Paulie Spitale off as he was walking into the store. That bad enough, but if one of my customers had seen it? A lot of church ladies shop here. No, maybe you didn’t push the carts, but you’re mixed up in this, I can tell.”

“Sir, you heard what Crystal Beekman said. This is so unfair.”

“If you want fair, you can go find another job. I can’t account for Crystal Beekman, maybe she was in on it.” He turned, looked across the parking lot. “Which car is hers?”

“I don’t know,” said Dink.

“Well find out so I can check the bumper. Anyway, I don’t want the claim on my insurance, and if Paulie Spitale wants his car repainted, it’s coming out of your pocket, so find a place to do it cheap. Not too cheap. Paulie did it cheap and that’s why you’re in trouble now. So no watercolors, okay?”

“This is not okay.”

“I’ll pay cash, take it out of your pay, twenty-five, thirty percent per check till we’re even. You don’t like this, you got a better way to do this, you go talk to Paulie Spitale’s dad, see what their lawyer has to say. But from what I hear, his daddy probably won’t waste the lawyer’s time dealing with you. Hear what I’m saying?”

Dink nodded. It made rain drip off of his nose.

“You been a good worker these last couple of weeks, that’s why I’m not sending you kicking rocks down the road. I was gonna give you a raise after ninety. You keep your nose clean here on out, I’ll still do that. Get your debt off faster.”

Dink nodded again.

“Good. Any questions?”

“Before or after tax?” Dink asked.

“Don’t be a smartass,” said old man Spangler. “That’s why you’re in trouble now.” He turned and walked into the market.

Dink trying now to do the math in his head, two times twenty-nine times minimum wage minus one-third. It made his head ache. By the time he took groceries to Albanee for rent there wouldn’t be a whole hell of a lot left for–

Now wondering how much it would take to repaint Paulie’s car, how long he’d be short for, how long to pay it off at one third times minimum wage times twenty-nine times two. Heavy with the sadness of it, he looked out across the parking lot, at the cluster of carts that had been left out there since he’d rolled the others back, the job of that sissy guy again.

Maybe if he hadn’t been a sissy. Punched Paulie Spittle a good one in the nose when he said that about Albanee, strangled him right there in the rain and left him lying in the lot, taken the keys out of his cold dead fingers, hopped in the Mustang and gone for a nice, long drive–

“You’re getting wet.”

Crystal Beekman saying this, standing in the overhang of the market, two pink bags from Spangler’s dangling off one hand.

“Suits my mood,” Dink said.

“I heard the old man ranting about you in the meat department,” Crystal said. “What he’s doing to you, that sucks.”

“Could be worse.” Dink wiped rain out of his eyes, decided he was being stupid standing there and getting wet, stepped up under the alcove next to Crystal. “But hey, thanks for sticking up for me. I owe you one.”

“Darn right you owe me one. That car I described? Belongs to my boyfriend.”

“Damn it, Crystal–”

“It’s all right. He deserves it. He’s cheating on me. I just haven’t gotten around to breaking up with him. Gotta find a place to crash before I make my move.”

“I hear that.” Dink wishing he’d been that smart, he wouldn’t have ended up in this situation with Albanee, though it did have its benefits.

“So who was the genius pushed the carts into Paulie’s car anyway?”

“My big brother,” Dink said.

“What the guy who went to Afghanistan, something weird like an army cook, but ended up getting decorated?”

“Andy,” Dink said. “No. This is my other big brother. Brad.”

Crystal’s upper lip twitched. “Brad? He’s kind of–”

“I know,” Dink said. “Whatever you’re thinking. Whatever you’ve heard. But he’s family and Paulie Spitale would have taken him apart, so thanks for covering.”

“You owe me, Dink. I’m serious.”

“You name it. I’m serious.”

Crystal looked out across the parking lot. Lips turned up into a smile. “I do need to get moved.”

“With your boyfriend around? He won’t get the wrong idea?”

She laughed.

“Don’t get me wrong. I meant anything, but you can probably understand that after right now I just want to keep my head down and my nose clean.”

Crystal laughed, deep and throaty, didn’t match her looks at all. “Nothing like that. I mean, if it came to that you could take him down easy. But that’s not it. This is something else, needs to be done by the end of the day. Quick in and out–” She stopped and looked at his face. “Nothing illegal, nothing risky. Just need a hand with some business.”

Dink nodded. “Okay.”

“When you get off work?”

“They close at eight, I do some cleanup. Call it eight-thirty?”

“That works.”

“You want me to meet you somewhere?”

“I’ll pick you up here. It’s close by. Bring you back when it’s done. Lemme think about it, maybe I can think of something to help you out with this car thing. Might cost you another favor, though.”

Dink studied her face, one corner of her mouth turned up like she knew a secret, wasn’t telling him everything. “Let’s see how this one goes before we commit to anything else,” he said.

“You got it, cowboy.” Her lips went to a full blown smile. “I see why they called you the smart one in high school.”

Dink surprised. “Who did?”

Crystal shrugged. “My crowd.”

“Was that before or after I dropped out?”

“There’s more to smarts than book learning. Guy I know with his doctor’s degree in something something is working a Mickey Dee’s in south Lima. ‘Would you like fries with that?’ Two roomies in a slum and he sleeps on the couch. You sleep on a couch, Stapleton?”

Dink shook his head, glad she hadn’t asked that a couple of weeks ago.

“All right. Pick you up here, eight-fifteen then?”

“Eight-thirty.”

“Right.” Back down into that half-smile again. “No putting one over on you. You really are the smart one.”

Her turning and walking across the parking lot, strings of denim covering the bottom corner of her ass, Dink realized. No clue on that tan line thing. Thinking he wouldn’t cheat on that, what kind of a guy was she hooked up with do something like that.

And when she ducked down into her car at the far end of the lot he sighed and stepped back into the rain, toward the other loose carts, off to push that ball of dung or whatever it was back up that unending hill again.

Upgrade

If you’re here reading this for not the first time, you’ll notice there’s a different look about the place. Yeah, it was time. I was on the page updating things that should have been done long ago – can you believe I never did a book page for Drawing Down the Moon? – and one thing led to another. The place was in bad need of an update all over the place as it turned out, so I tweaked copy all over the place and then decided to give the site a facelift.

So here you have it. And there’s more coming. I’m working now on getting the Kindle and trade paper versions of the Angel’s Luck trilogy done. I’m collaborating with an illustrator friend of mine, cleaning up a book that has been mouldering in my unpublished manuscript file. Hopefully we’ll see some action on that soon.

Plus, of course, I’ve got about three new novel projects dangling, and at least one more on the farthest back burner I have. I just have to pick one, plunk myself down, and do it. Oh, and I have a proposal for a 33 1/3 book, too. Will probably hear something back on that in another couple of months.

To tantalize you while I’m making up my literary mind, here’s a sample illo from the above-mentioned illustrator… the proposed cover art for the project.

And in the meantime, if you’ve read Drawing Down the Moon, thank you! If you haven’t yet reviewed it on Goodreads and/or Amazon, it would be appreciated. Not only is the feedback welcome, but it also helps sales. An important factor from my point of view, and from yours, too – especially if you want to see more Faustian novels.

z cover

Real or Fake?

jackalope1So I’m reading a Kindle sample of a novel and in the beginning pages a character is listening to a song on the radio. The singer’s name is made up, the popular song being sung is made up, as are the equally unimpressive lyrics1. Then I find out that the singer got famous when she was on a TV program called Popstar! and, well, that along with some of the other problems I felt the book had, it kind of did me in for wanting to read the rest. I mean, why not just say American Idol?2

Why not indeed? I mean, doesn’t Stephen King, who some people praise for his immersive style of writing, sometimes drown you in brand names – Louie sat in his La-Z-Boy recliner with a Budweiser and a bag of Doritos, and turned his Sony flatscreen on to ESPN, waiting to see the start of the Boston Red Sox game… I think King’s point is to have people believe his creepy stuff could happen in the real world, so he throws in real world stuff in the name of verisimilitude. And it works for a lot of readers.3

On the other hand, you have writers who throw in fakes, and, well, I can’t really explain why. Years ago I was really excited to start reading James A. Michener’s Space, his novel about the U.S. space program. But early on it described a character going outside to look at the night sky “in the state of Fremont” – and my suspension of disbelief came crashing down like a house of cards. I mean, yeah, it’s a novel, but it’s a novel about NASA, it takes place in the United States and some of the other characters are real people, like Werhner Von Braun and Lyndon Johnson… then why make up a state fercryinoutloud? Why not just say Kansas or Nebraska or Iowa?

Now there are times when you definitely want to fake it. If you’re an insider to history or popular culture and you want to vent your spleen on the subject from an insider’s point of view, the roman a clef is the way to do it. Just change the names and everything is good to go. And if you want to keep your job, better fake your name, too – Anonymous is very popular among this set, and you can join novels like Primary Colors and Elimination Night4, along with all the attendant “who wrote it?” publicity.

Unfortunately, to me novels like that become a jokey guessing game with no real point. Everyone knows which Presidential candidate is really Bill Clinton, which recently rehabbed rock star grasping for relevance is really Stephen Tyler. if you’re going to this, I have two pieces of advice: first, make sure you have a really good lawyer. Second, if you’re going to fake the names, go all the way. Don’t play the assonance game and make William Clinton into Wilson Fenton (Primary Colors makes him Jack Stanton). Doing that strikes me as being too cutesy and cloying. Make him Frank Stevens instead. And if you’re going to have a cameo by an iconic figure, you have to be consistent and play it out ’till the end, changing his/er name, too. Just don’t call him Rob Snopes.

In Science Fiction it’s easier to get away with fakery. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing about things that sound different in the future because, well, things will sound different in the future. Except when they stay pretty much the same, as evidenced by the brand names that pop up in films like 2001 and Blade Runner.

Still, when you’re in the future you need to play nice. While working on the Pembroke Hall novels, my editor asked me to change the way that I talked about Timex in the book. They were afraid the watchmakers would be offended by things and the lawyers would come out. I made the alteration because she had a point, it was an easy fix, and I didn’t really have anything against the company or their products.

If you’re writing Historical Fiction, then it’s probably best not to fake it at all. Readers of Caleb Carr’s The Alienist partly did so to watch how the characters interacted with a future President who at the time of the novel was Police Commissioner of New York City. They didn’t want to guess which leader Theophilus Rosenfeld turned out to be. The trick to not faking it here is use the real person’s character to enhance the goings-on – a recent episode of Downtown Abbey centered around a meeting with playboy Prince Edward, whose womanizing ways contributed to the plot in an ironic way.

So if you’re going to be real, play nice and be consistent. And if you’re going to fake it, well, go in all the way and don’t be ridiculous about it.

That concludes my thoughts. This is Joe Clifford Faust, signing off from the state of Midlandia.

  1. But then, I’m at the age where most of the lyrics I hear on the radio are unimpressive.
  2. And I have problems with ALL these shows that grind out cookie cutter singers, but I’m not going there today.
  3. See, I can write about King and not say anything nasty!
  4. Which I always thought was a really lame fake name for American Idol. Popstar! is much better.

Cannibalism

literary-cannibalism

Okay, that might be off-putting.  Perhaps a better title would be recycling. Repurposing. Reusing. Renewing. Resuscitating.

But I like the word cannibalism because it brings to mind a survivalist mindset – They cannibalized the wrecked vehicles for parts and were able to get one working.  Kind of that whole Flight of the Phoenix sort of thing.

I’m talking here of course about literary cannibalism.  Not the kind where you ingest, say, something by Stephen King, and the parts that don’t stay down are used for something of your own creation.  No, I’m talking about where you take parts out of something you’ve already created and recycle, repurpose, resuscitate it for use in a new project.  Yeah, self-cannibalism.  Ewww.1

Part of this comes from the admonishment for writers that I make from time to time, namely never throw anything you write away. True, that novel you started and got 140 pages on before you realized it was, alas, misbegotten2 may never get finished and see the light of day, but there may be something in it – a character, a scene, technology, some bit of great writing – that would have a great life in a future project. You just never know what it might be until you get there.

For example, when I was writing The Company Man, I came to a scene where Andy Birch walked into a greasy spoon and started to chat up the waitress there. I stopped with my fingers on the keys, staring at the screen, and had an epiphany: I’ve already written this scene. And with that I dug out an old, dead pre-Desperate Measures3 unfinished manuscript provisionally titled Book of Dreams and there, 25 manuscript pages in, was the scene I needed. So I put the pages next to my computer and typed them in (the manuscript being from my typewriter days), changing the names on the fly, and there it was.

There are riskier forms of cannibalism. I once came to a point when writing the Pembroke Hall novels where I started to strip The Mushroom Shift for parts. It was an easy decision to make – at that point in the mid-1990s, Mushroom had exhausted the possibilities of where it could go. Editors were shaking their heads over what they could do with it, and my then-agent wasn’t as enamored of the book as I was. It looked at the time like it was one of those novels that would forever remain in the closet under the bowling shoes, so I put it up on blocks and started taking out parts.

Fortunately, I didn’t strip it completely. One of the conceits in Mushroom was two characters with the first name of Steve, both on the same shift. In the we-band-of-brothers mentality of law enforcement, they became one unit, the Steve Brothers. I pulled this out and translated it into Pembroke Hall-ese to show something similar – not the bonds of camaraderie, but how a bunch of creatives treat their own when left to their own devices. In a company where everyone is known only by their last name (and, occasionally, the department in which they work), two employees, Upchurch and Churchill, get branded as… ah, but you’re already of me. This didn’t cause a problem because nobody had read Mushroom, and at the time I thought nobody would. But now I’ve published it myself and run the risk. It’s okay, though, because I’m confessing now… and because not that many people read the Pembroke Hall books.4 And speaking of that…

There is such a thing as cannibalizing yourself a bit too much. I’m thinking of John Irving, whom I discovered as a college student via that made-for-college-student novel, The World According to Garp. I loved the book at the time, and sought to familiarize myself with Irving’s earlier work. I was disappointed to find that each one was the same combination of writers, wrestling, bears, unicycles, and motorcycles, all pillaged from Irving’s personal life5, all of which made Garp so much fun, all of which now seemed so… derivative. It was like this for novel after novel, even into his first post-Garp book, The Hotel New Hampshire, and it felt to me like Irving had just recycled the same elements over and over and over until he hit the lottery.

Now I have to come clean and admit that I have done this myself. And I actually got caught at it. See, the Pembroke Hall novels rolled over and played dead on their release, so badly so that Ferman’s Devils was taken out of print the same month that Boddekker’s Demons was released. In the ensuing years when I was working on Drawing Down the Moon, it occurred to me that I needed to throw readers a curve about a character’s sexual orientation. I knew I had done the same exact thing in the PH books, but I figured – hey, nobody has read them… I can get away with it.

Except I didn’t. See, one of my first readers of Moon had gotten her hands on the PH novels and read them, and so it wasn’t long before I got an email back from her on the former saying, “Do you have a ‘thing’ for lesbians? Just asking since one has featured in both novels (wink, wink)6

Mousetrap, meet fingers.

All said, there’s a fine line to tread when pillaging your literary past for parts. If you use them enough times they can become a trope, and then a cliche within your writing, like Irving’s writer wrestler bears (although I think he has since left these behind), Dean Koontz’s noble dogs, and Janet Evanovich’s wrecked cars. And while some people might find these recurrences comforting signposts, I personally think it’s lazy writing. But then, I’m not a bestselling writer. Take from that what you will.

Meantime, no more similarly named co-workers or surprise lesbians from me. At least, not until I hit the charts.


1 Now you know why I chose Stephen King as an example.
2 In my case, a little thing called Bellvue Seven, which withered and died between A Death of Honor and The Company Man.
3 Desperate Measures being the novel I wrote before A Death of Honor. The order of publication was, of course, different.
4 Outside of Russia, that is.
5 But we all do that, which is fodder for another essay.
6 Paraphrased to make more funny.

JCF TV #4 – Manuscripts