Thanks to Midnight Mosaic for publishing my dialog-only story Demon Zone for their 13 Days of Dark Lore contest. I’m so happy to see one of my darkest and experimental writings find a home online. Midnight Mosaic publishes on Medium, so click this link to go give it a read.
Some of you might remember this story when I listed it as complete for my 2018 weekly writing challenge. It’s one of my dialogue-only stories, though it’s less of a conversation than a cramped room where three voices are vying for authority. Whether you think this is a story or poem in dialogue, I hope you find it an enjoyable, albeit disturbing, read.
My computer broke. It became extremely slow of a sudden. I did manage to finish typing up chapter 7 before the thing became unusable, giving me disc error messages when I boot it up.
I’m not terribly upset. Yes, I need a computer to type and edit, but I really don’t miss the internet. I’m actually enjoying the extra hour(s) of book reading now that I must wait until a work day (like today; I was called in) to do anything online. I already refuse to own a smartphone. I really don’t want to deal with the constant presence of social media in my pocket. And the computer that went kaput is also the same one that for years didn’t have internet, functioning as just a useful word processor. I was forced to add internet functionality back to it when my tiny laptop with a half-broken screen finally died. The truth is, I’ll probably get the thing fixed come winter. Maybe. The Spring and Summer months are really the worst months to be staring at screens anyway.
I spent over a week typing up chapter 7. I ended up with 71 double spaced pages with 21,577 words. My novel is now past the 100 thousand word mark. Chapter 8 was written before chapter 7, so I took a weeklong break to just read, which corresponded nicely with my computer going to shit.
During this break, I also contemplated what to write next. I thought I knew where I wanted to go. In fact, I still want to go there. But there’s been this character, Kimmie, who has been sitting in my mind since the beginning, and I wasn’t sure if there’d be enough room to squeeze her in and flush her out like I wanted. I’ve toyed with cutting her out altogether. But this book is a “cast of many,” and so I never entirely snipped her out and, in fact, mentioned her in the last chapter, basically daring myself to find a way to give her some page time.
So I was sitting in my library, thinking about how to start the next chapter, and this big old monologue from Wesley formed in my head. I had problems with it though. The first problem was that it simply didn’t feel right for the next chapter. Though maybe it could be slipped in somewhere, I couldn’t imagine where exactly. The second problem was that chapter 8 already had a heavy dialogue-only section toward the end. It would make a good beginning of a chapter, but not a good start to the next chapter.
The idea of Kimmie’s displaced narrative suddenly bumped up against this monologue, and I could see thematic resonance. While I still couldn’t start the next chapter with the monologue, it could certainly follow Kimmie’s section just fine. And once I had set the monologue behind my other character’s story, I realized I had a new chapter—an extra and previously unplanned chapter.
With this extra chapter squeezed in, will my book fall apart under its own weight?
No. I don’t think it will. In fact, Wesley’s monologue will be a great segue into chapter 10. It’s an accident of inspiration, and the novel will adapt to fit it. Just like I’ll adapt to only having access to a computer when at work on the weekends. My experience of the sunny months will be better without a computer in my house. My novel will be better with this extra chapter nestled happily into the middle of the story. Everything will adapt just fine.
Today I’ve decided to do something fun by giving you a Literary Listening list, which includes podcasts, steaming radio, and YouTube. If you’re a book lover like I am, but also someone who enjoys book talk like I do, then these programs might be worth checking out.
I decided to do this blog post after I asked for literary podcast recommendations in my Literary Fiction Writers group on Facebook (if you write lit fic, please join us!). From the interest the post generated and the lack of submissions from the group, I realized that either we’re all reading books all of the time or, more likely, we writers are just as prone as everyone else to binging on (let’s face it) social media garbage. So, if we can’t always turn to books, at least we can entertain ourselves with something intelligent. And while there is actually plenty of great content online for learning science, art, history, and whatnot, this is a literary blog, so it’s my Literary Listening list and not my other brain-expanding lists I’ll be sharing today. On this list are things I listen to and watch when I’m in the mood for book talk. There’s also programs I recently discovered and enjoyed. Some of these are well-known, others are not. So, in no particular order:
I think I discovered this podcast waaaay back when only a couple of episodes were released. I promptly forgot about it and am quite surprised that I didn’t discover it again earlier. I’ve listened to couple of episodes this week and I really like the content. It’s informative, informal, and the host’s voice is soothing.
It looks like the podcast covers individual books, authors’ oeuvres, and short stories with a smattering of interviews and other topics of literary interest.
This PBS produced show features Lindsay Ellis, a YouTube-famous video essayist. On her own channel she covers mostly the big screen. But in It’s Lit, she talks books. These videos are binge-worthy short, and you can probably spend an easy evening watching them all. The animation is good if a little dorky, and the same can be said of the topics Ellis covers.
Hosted by Michael Silverblatt, this KCRW produced radio program is all about the author. Featuring interviews with authors for over the last two decades, this show is a treasure trove of the talented and the famous. If you’re interested in hearing one of the most well-read interviewers speak with great novelists, poets, and even some of our great essayists, then this show is a must for you.
Mattia Ravasi loves to talk about books. On his YouTube channel you’ll find book reviews, a deep read of Gravity’s Rainbow, and more. I like to watch his channel both to discover new books and to see what he has to share about my favorite classics. His videos are a bit rough around the edges, but I still encourage you to give him a try. He’s bound to improve over time, especially if we support him. And we all want our literary booktubers to improve, grow, and thrive. What I really like about him is that he often loves the books and authors I don’t, and vice verse. And yet I still find what he has to say compelling.
Another YouTuber who loves to discourse about books. Ryan talks about great writing and great authors. I especially like when he does close readings of short fiction. He’ll provide a link to the story so you can read it before finishing his video. More recently he has been doing a reading challenge and livestreams. You can see Ryan’s passion for literature on his face when he’s talking about his favorite authors. Like most amazing book nerds on YouTube, he could use more support. So, for the love of Ryan, check him out.
Hosted by Sarah Rhea Werner, this podcast is all about the the writing process and the author. Broken into two types of shows—interviews and monologues—you’ll easily find an interesting episode. I personally love her monologues. Hearing Sarah give advice and reflection on the writing life gives me a boost when my inner-muse is feeling lethargic. The Coffee Break episodes feature authors Sarah has interviewed. You can even find an interview with me somewhere in the archives. Out of all the shows on my list, I’d say Write Now is the most open to all types of readers and authors.
Hosted from the campus of Stanford University’s KZSU radio station, this program is all about life and literature. Entitled Opinions may have a pretentious name, but the expertise of the host and those he interviews give the title another meaning, one that speaks to a lives lived in pursuit of knowledge and deep learning. Not all shows could get away with a name like Entitled Opinions, but this one most certainly can. The show revolves mostly around literature, philosophy, and art with occasional forays into science, politics, and other topics that anyone interested in the world them will also enjoy.
This podcast was recommended to me in my Literary Fiction Writers group on Facebook by a friend of the podcaster. The first season is pretty bare bones, but it picks up quickly from there. Interviews, literary readings, and literary ramblings are in store on this show about books and life. Episodes are currently listed at the bottom of the home page.
This seminar-related podcast was founded in 2018. Sadly, it only has four episodes, but I kind of love it. It’s generally a Q&A format covering a range of contemporary literary topics. It’s student-led, having different interviewers running each episode. This might be why there’s not too many of them up yet (no one particular host whose vision runs the thing). So take a listen and maybe even contact Melanie Micir at firstname.lastname@example.org to ask about upcoming episodes.
This YouTube channel is an amazing source of writing advice. If you’ve ever wanted to know about the how in writing fiction, this is a great resource. From plotting to editing, from developing characters to incorporating flashback, this channel has some practical advice for all writers. Now there are probably tons of great writing channels out there on YouTube, but I’ve gravitated to this one because she’s so often focused on aspects of the writing process I either don’t think consciously about or don’t use at all; I find it intriguing, plus it gets me examining what I typically do by instinct.
You’ll also find a good mix of recent reads and writing vlogs on this channel, so you’ll not only get advice but also get to know Shaelin along with receiving some great book recommendations.
I do have a list of about 9 other podcasts and programs I want to check out. As I listen to these and make my assessments, I’ll add them here if I like them. If you have any recommendations, please do share them in the comments. I promise I will give them a gander.
Remember, if you can’t feed your brain books, book talk is a great alternative. Goodnight and happy listening.
Thanks so much to Public House Magazine for publishing “Therapy” in Issue number 9 of their amazingly transgressive print publication. This is a super special issue because the magazine turns into a full 2019 calendar. Yep, read it, fill in the crossword puzzles, and then hang it up as useful wall art.
“Therapy” is a piece of fiction from my dialogue-only collection, Dialogues: A Collection of Creative Conversations. Public House has published it under the title “Pissing Therapy.”
It finally happened. I’ve heard of it from other writers, but I’d never had the experience myself before now.
I dreamed my characters.
Not only that, but I was writing them. It was an odd, but thrilling experience.
When we dream, our brain does this thing we call sleep spindles. As tuck.com describes them: “sleep spindles are sudden bursts of oscillatory brain activity . . . that occur during stage 2 of light sleep. These brainwaves are called sleep spindles because of how they look when printed out on an EEG reading.”
Scientists have linked these sleep spindles to areas of the brain that have been used during the day. So if you do a task for a prolonged period of the day like sewing, teaching a class, shooting hoops, mindless factory work, or writing then your brain “practices” this activity at night in your sleep, giving you sleep spindles in the exact same area of the brain.
Those who sleep talk are oftentimes acting out their sleep spindles. My wife, for example, is a frequent sleep-talker. She is almost always teaching, admonishing kids to quit goofing around, or gabbing with other educators in her sleep.
I imagine that since I’ve been writing even more each day than last year, that my brain has been spending ample time exercising my writing muscles while I sleep.
Here’s the thing about sleep spindles and your sleep talking dreams: you shouldn’t be able to remember them. It’s only your rapid eye movement (REM sleep) that you remember. These are typically the more exciting dreams where you’re trying to find something, accomplish a task, get somewhere, are maybe flying, or (if it’s a nightmare) trying to get away from something. In fact, when we talk about dreams and dreaming, we’re almost always talking about REM sleep.
So, while I’ve been brain spindling it up with an increase of 2 to 3 more hours a day at the writing desk this year, it’s still surprising to see my characters come to life in my dreams. While it’s most likely that I was in REM sleep, just the manner of my dream makes me wonder if I hadn’t somehow managed to remember a sleep spindle dream. If I did, then my writing sleep spindles look pretty cool.
I won’t give every detail, but here’s the gist of the dream: I was dreaming about two of my characters—the two which are the principle characters of the current chapter I’m writing.
Jazzy and Miles were at a white wrought-iron table in an outdoor cafe, and Jazzy was being offered alcohol. I wasn’t in the dream, but I could hear myself narrating what was happening in exactly the same manner that I hear myself think when I write. The scene had to do with whether Jazzy would accept the alcoholic drink or not due to her Christian beliefs which don’t forbid alcohol but do frown on it in practice.
Then my dream switched to a scene with Maha and a more minor character. It’s a parallel scenario with Maha at a wooden table in at a bar and restaurant in the heart of Delhi. In this scene, Maha is having the same issue, except her Islamic beliefs don’t allow her to drink alcohol at all. I again hear my voice narrating the scene and the actions. Like with Jazzy, I can see my character fully, both from a distance and up close. Her face is troubled because she’s in a delicate situation of appearing rude if she doesn’t accept the drink but will be sinning if she does.
Then, suddenly, a line comes to mind that has to do with Miles back at the previous scene. The dream jumps over to Jazzy and Miles who are sitting at the same outdoor table. This one beautiful line flows out of me so intensely that I see it being written in my handwriting at the bottom of the scene below their table. I don’t see my hand, I just see the words appearing in my unique chicken scratch. After this, the dream goes immediately back to Maha’s dilemma, and I wake up right before I’m about to narrate what she decides to do.
Note: neither of these exact scenes appear in my book, but the characters I envisioned do exist in my mind. What was so cool was that they appeared exactly as I picture them. In fact, they seemed even more vivid and lifelike in my dream than they do when I’m writing their story. They looked much more human. The sweat on their brows, the pores on their faces were all clear when the dream was examining them closely.
It was a crazy positive experience that tells me I’m doing something right. And that thing is writing. If I’m writing enough in the day that I spend time writing in my sleep, this means I’m really giving myself over to the thing that I want to do with my life, which is bring a book into existence through words in my mind being transferred onto a page.
Let me know if you’ve ever dreamed about your characters in the comments below.
All photos except the sleep spindle graph are from Pixabay. The graph is from Goodnights.rest
I also want to make it clear that sleep spindles appear to do more than help us learn. We’re actually still learning about them. Sleep has always fascinated me, and I think sleep spindles and the unconscious processes of learning are some of the most amazing aspects of unconsciousness—even more interesting than REM sleep. What I’ve written above is what I remember about sleep spindles. So do your own research to see what’s new and what other studies might have to say in agreement or opposition to sleep spindle learning.
What the hell is this book about?
I’ve been working on my novel for a couple of years now, yet until recently I never tried writing out what it was about in any succinct but descriptive way. The most I’ve said about it is basically an evasive log line: It’s about a rock band that gains fame through infamy. Yeah, that doesn’t tell you a lot. I finally decided it was time to write out what the hell this book is about when someone in a Facebook group asked members to pitch their books.
The death metal rock stars of Overdose II, known for the on-stage suicides of their guest artists, are looking for a new permanent lead guitarist. Will Wesley Hartsell, the sole survivor of a band whose concert was attacked by terrorists, be willing to take their offer? What he doesn’t know is that the mother of one of the band’s “victims” is out for revenge, the wife of their music producer has begun a destructive emotional affair, and Overdose II’s next guest music artist may just be someone Wesley cares about.
Now I’m no expert at writing pitches. And I’m certainly not recommending anyone use my pitch as any kind of template. For a Facebook comment, though, it held up well enough that I was contacted by a member of the group who happened to be an acquisitions editor for a publishing company.
I’m really flattered that there’s already some interest (well, someone interested) in my book. I jumped the gun a bit and agreed to send the manuscript in May when the book is closer to done. After really looking into the publisher, I won’t be considering them. While they print quality books, I see that their marketing plan doesn’t include getting their author’s books on bookstore shelves. In other words, I’m looking for better distribution and marketing than they can offer.
In truth, I’m going to end up needing an agent. This means I’ll need a query, but I can wait until the book is completed before I begin to write one.
You’re in a elevator with either your dream agent or a decision maker with a major publisher. You’ve got their full attention, but the ride is short. In 50 words or fewer, pitch them your unpublished masterpiece.
That’s the setup for the elevator pitch. You’ve got to sell it with something brief, enticing, and true. It’s the true that’s hard for me with this novel. It’s hard because there’s so much crammed in it—characters, plot lines, digressions, regurgitations, non-diegetic narrative—that any pitch I write is lacking a major piece of the book-shaped puzzle. Even my slightly lengthier pitch makes Wesley sound like the main character, when in reality the plot isn’t revolving around him in the way that pitch suggests.
“Step back and breathe, Randal.”
Good advice to myself from myself. I need to remember that if a whole plot summary can really really fit inside a pitch, it’s probably a plot belonging to a children’s picture book. A pitch is for selling the book, not revealing all the nuances. And it’s possible that it might even leave out whole plotlines that don’t fit into the short pitch very well. And when you have an elevator pitch, well, you’ve got even less to work with. So make those words count, even if something rather important is left off in the 50-word pitch.
Again, I’m no expert, but here’s my elevator pitch: The death metal rock stars of Overdose II, known for the on-stage suicides of their guest artists, are looking for a new, permanent lead guitarist. Will Wesley Hartsell be willing to take their offer? It’s a musical affair of wills where revenge and love collide.
What’s here?: One of the main plots.
What’s missing?: The other main plots.
Does what’s missing matter?: Not for an elevator pitch.
Mock me, not my book.
Feel free to send me your thoughts, suggestions, and corrections. I’d love some feedback on the pitches and my pitch-writing abilities. But be nice to the book—what little you know of it; the novel is, after all, a sort of paginated fetus right now. You can beat up on it after publication.
TL;DR I finally wrote a pitch for my novel-in-progress. I’m by no means an expert at pitches, but my pitch did capture the attention of someone in the publishing world (ultimately, I’m rejecting them). I also prepared a 50-word elevator pitch. Pitches leave out a lot of information, but that’s okay as long as they’re brief, enticing, and true.
The Serial Killer Epidemic: Interview Transcripts is my FINAL DIALOGUE for the series. This means that I’ve written my whole short story collection! Yesterday’s post was actually my 52nd dialogue . . . I just didn’t realize my count was off. So this 53rd dialogue is the last piece I’m adding to my 2018 writing challenge. Now that doesn’t mean as I’m finalizing my short story collection that I won’t write another dialogue or two (or dredge up some old piece of writing and convert it into a dialogue). I do have dialogue ideas I just never got around to writing.
Out of all the stories I’ve written over the years, The Serial Killer Epidemic: Interview Transcripts is one of my favorites. Like Expire and The Defining Attribute of a Girl, I actually wrote this piece years and years ago. In fact, I wrote this story even before marijuana was legalized anywhere in America. I guess I felt it coming, since legalized marijuana features so prominently, though my fictional trajectory toward legalization is rather different than it is historically happening.
It surprises me really that this story hasn’t been picked up anywhere yet. Maybe it’s too sci-fi for most literary publishers? Possibly it’s too experimentally literary for most hard sci-fi publishers? Or maybe it has a flaw that 25 drafts hasn’t smoothed out (if there is a flaw, I’m not seeing it)? But I’ll keep sending it out because I really want this dialogue, this short story to appear in print somewhere. And I’m pretty much set on only publishing it in a paying market, which is likely the real reason it hasn’t yet found a home, since places that actually pay writers for the work they do are extremely competitive.
image credit: © Ostill www.fotosearch.com
The Serial Killer Epidemic: Interview Transcripts is a story in Q&A format. The interviewer, is trying to get to the bottom of a wave of child serial killers. Drugs to video games are blamed. But the truth may be more complex and conspiratorial or—worse—simple and endemic to the nature of modern society. This is just an interview; you’ll have to decide for yourself is the answer lies in between or outside these questions and answers.
FINAL THOUGHTS: I just want to thank everybody who has given so much as one like to any of my posts about this 2018 writing challenge. I’ll be working hard to polish up my 52+ dialogues so I can get some more of them published here and also have a book ready to send out to publishers or agents at the end of 2019.
This isn’t the last you’ll hear of my dialogues, but it is the last official post of my writing challenge. So thank you again for reading, liking, subscribing, and commenting. It’s been an awesome writing journey.
HOLIDAY BOOK HAUL
The holidays are over, and I got a few new books. First up is Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human. This one was given to me by my wife. It was the only book on my holiday wish list I actually received. We started a new tradition this year where we exchange books on Christmas Eve and spend an hour or two before bed reading our gift. I got her Hello Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly. We’ve both already read our novels! Libs will be adding hers to her Middle School classroom library. Mine will be finding a space under the D’s on my shelves.
The next two, from my in-laws, are by Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles and Circe. I hadn’t heard of these books before, but my librarian mother-in-law insists they’re getting a lot of attention in the literary world right now. I’m sure I’ll get around to reading these at some point long after they’re either cemented into the literary canon or are a forgotten fad.
The fourth one is Whose Names Are Unknown by Sonora Babb. This was given to me by my best friend, Michael Convery. It’s a book I discovered from this article about how John Steinbeck stole from Babb’s notes to help write The Grapes of Wrath. While it wasn’t on my wish list, I did tell him I wanted to read this novel, so was not surprised when it landed in my hands right before Christmas. For Mike’s gift, I bought him a Swedish translation of Gravity’s Rainbow. It’s a bit of a novelty item, but he was really pleased with his gift. He’s been studying the language recently, and he usually explores languages by translating poetry. I figured a favorite, huge novel in Swedish would be equally both a surprise and appreciated.
The last one is Latin Verbs, a book that my mother-in-law was culling from their family library. I have studied Latin on and off for fun, so I totally appreciate this gift. Maybe 2019 will be my year of Latin??? Though from the looks of my daily schedule, I have my doubts (Just trying to be realistic, ya know).
I would have time to study Latin if I didn’t wish to prioritize reading over straightforward studying. I read a lot of books. Way more than my goodreads page would have you believe; I never listed all the books I read or was reading when I was actually active on goodreads. While I want to get back to studying Latin again, writing will be taking up both daytime and evening hours this coming year. And I won’t trade in study for reading at this point in my life. In fact, I want to read even more books in 2019 than I did this year.
It’s always been a goal of mine to have a big personal library from which I could choose a wide range of authors. If you’d like to support me this dream, you can also buy me a used or new copy of a book. (When selecting the shipping address, don’t accidentally select your own. My masked address will appear under your “Other addresses” section.)
Of course, the best way to support me is to buy a book of mine from Amazon or from your favorite bookseller (Descriptions of Heaven, my one book for sale right now, is never unavailable to buy; if Amazon says out of stock, it simply means out of warehouse copies . . . Barnes & Noble and the publisher carry copies too). The second best way to support me is to leave an honest review if you liked the book. But if you still want to do a little more between book releases, make sure you’re subscribed and gift a book to me, the GreenGuy.
Thanks for all the support! Happy New Year, bookworms!
I got this book of poetry before Christmas, and tweeted about it already, so I decided to add it as a bonus at the end of this Book Haul post. The book is Blud by Rachel McKibbens. This one also came from my mother-in-law who, like a good librarian, is always introducing me to new and interesting literature.
In this dialogue, a policeman tries to understand the otherworldly horrors experienced by a woman whose husband has been killed by a strange monster roaming the countryside.
To learn more about my creative dialogues, please visit this page. There are a number which are free to read online.