Archive for the 'Working Conditions' Category

18
May
19

9 Tips for Writing Better Short Stories — A Writer’s Path

(Reblog. Comments are disabled here, please visit the original post.)

by Allison Maruska In April, I was a judge for two writing contests – Dan Alatorre’s Word Weaver contest and Ryan Lanz’s short story contest. I was honored to be asked to fill the role once, let alone twice. And while I enjoyed judging great stories, I also learned a few things about […]

via 9 Tips for Writing Better Short Stories — A Writer’s Path

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10
Jan
19

What I’m Afraid Of

I call myself a writer. When pressed as to what type, I typically fall back to “horror,” mainly because I have a tendency to throw in all kinds of oogity-boogities. Just my nature.

But that doesn’t scare me. I may believe in spooks, and there may be times when I hear a noise in the night and suffer a brief flash of worry. There may be games, books, or movies that make me a trifle anxious or give me a “nuh uh, not going in there” mentality. But that’s not real fear.

Sometimes I worry that my asthma will get the better of me and I’ll just drop dead at some point, having been unable to get to my aspirator in time. Or that I’ll go to sleep and just not wake up, a fit of apnea doing me in quietly with no fuss, muss, or bother. But that’s not really fear, either.

Instead I fear judgement, the judgement that seems unique to the last few years. I am paranoid about every word I write and say, and most of those I think, because at any moment it feels like one wrong word can summon the mobs to crucify me and leave me with nothing, a very special kind of nothing that clings to you for years, decades, potentially the rest of your life, and all for the crime of voicing an opinion that ran counter to the current “acceptable” ones.

But that’s not all. I fear that I may have said, done, Tweeted, blogged or commented somewhere years or decades ago, and something in that might be considered offensive and worthy of assault for mindcrime or wrongthink. Even if it was off-hand, written in anger, an opinion I no longer hold, humor – pathetic attempt or otherwise – or just baiting someone.

I fear that what is acceptable today will become unacceptable tomorrow, and some screengrab of something that was totally okay and unoffensive when I said it will turn into criminal evidence a decade later.

Result of that fear? Complete mind-freeze. A couple of my projects have gone into the trash drawer, not because I don’t like them or because they stalled, but because I was informed that I didn’t have a right to write about certain things. Once upon a time I would have told someone saying that to me to go fuck themselves, but now doing that is a great way to get blacklisted.

It seems like a ridiculous situation, especially given that the apparent thought police who have created this situation are frequently claiming to be on the side of free speech, free expression, anti-fascism, diversity, and inclusion.

I don’t get it. I don’t know what to do about it. Do I throw Lune de Amant away because it’s apparently criminal to include Marie Laveau in a book set in Louisiana during the 19th century with werewolves and ghosts about? According to a pair of e-mails I have received, yes, yes I must. Removing Ms. Laveau and inserting some fictionalized version isn’t allowed, either; I’m culturally appropriating voudoun at that point. Make them a generic white sorcerer of Hermetic traditions? Now I’m whitewashing. Given that one needs a wizard character, and one really likes the late 19th century New Orleans vibe, there doesn’t seem to be a way to do it that isn’t sending the trigger police out in droves. So into the trash my darling goes.

There’s other examples. I choose not to speak about it right now, because honestly, I think I’ve probably said too much as it is. I’m not going to be surprised if even posting this gets me a target of some kind, or leads to being referred to as regressive, a Nazi, a racist, or god knows what else. It doesn’t seem to take a lot. But I had to get it off my chest.

What about you out there? Are there subjects, characters, concepts or stories you’d like to write about but can’t, either due to fear or the reactions of potential readers? Do you think the way social media and the public trial of any opinion currently operate is good or bad for artistic pursuits and creativity, or society at large? Let us know down below.

03
Jan
19

Thanks to My Patrons!

Just wanted to take a moment to thank my Patrons and give them a bit of a shout-out! Your support helps keep me alive – figuratively and literally – and keeps content coming!

Thanks to OhNoTuxedoMask, who does some streaming on Twitch; drop by and give her a subscribe if you have a minute!

Thanks also to Hayley Bault, who does YouTube videos and makeup tutorials; you can find her site right here.

Want your name, tag or site listed here? Want to help out? You can stop by my Patreon and join the club! Help is always appreciated!

02
Jan
19

Fiction – Bones

This… is a bone. Some people will know why it’s here, some people won’t. That’s okay. But think that you find an old, derelict building. Maybe it used to be a fortress, or a castle, or something important… but it’s fallen into disrepair and rot, neglected and used for target practice, the stones and things of value stolen or destroyed, the ground salted over and cursed by some Gypsy woman long in her grave.

And maybe in the middle of that, down a spiral staircase lined with a soot-coated silver rail and made of pitted glasslike steps that might have been ebony, or onyx, or basalt before time and vandalism wore away what made them special, there’s a small clearing. In what might have been the basement, nestled in a natural valley. Maybe there you see a well, or perhaps it’s a fountain. But no water runs from this place, nothing clean and cooling and refreshing. The ring of the well is lined with marble and silver, perhaps once arranged to resemble the gaping maw of the old draculs, but now the teeth are curved in and broken off, the silver is tarnished, and the scale motif of the well walls has become chipped, moss-eaten. The only thing that doesn’t appear to be centuries old and gone to seed are the chains, driving down into that black maw. Wrought of brass and iron, barbed with cruel spikes and locked into place with sturdy rungs of unidentifiable material that pulses a sickly green.

Maybe, because something demands you do it and, in the way of dreams, you can’t resist it, you lay hands on one of those chains and begin to pull. Somewhere below you, ancient gears begin to turn, and you hear the patter of stagnant water dripping for perhaps the first time in a thousand years. Your hands are pierced by the blades between the chain links, and your blood flows freely, staining the cobbles at your feet. Pain twists up from your palms to your shoulder blades like a horde of ants burrowing into your flesh from the open wound, and still you pull. From somewhere you hear the caw of a raven, and on the broken walls above you see dozens of corvid shapes taking roost, watching you with their black and somehow knowing eyes. Still you pull.

After a time, the bucket finally rises. You reach out and pull your find from within it. A single bone. Small, like a child’s; a shoulder blade with no spine or arm to support it. It’s covered in moss, scorched in places, chipped in others. You bring it to your face and inhale deeply. The scents of rot, age, death, dust and rancid water fill your lungs, but bring with it an image. A memory. The dusty smell… it’s not decay and powdered bone, it’s chalkdust.

In a classroom. Everyone midgets, barely two feet tall. No, not midgets. Children. Laughing. Singing. Scrawling their first disastrous attempts at their letters and giggling with glee each time the teacher pats them on the head or affixes a sticker to their papers. But one child stands away from the rest. This one isn’t giggling. This one is only watching, an expression of cold hatred gleaming in his green eyes. You come closer, and realize he can’t see you… but you can see inside him. See what’s wrong.

He’s been in that position for the better part of an hour. When asked to draw his letters, he did. All of them. Upper and lower. And the teacher looked at the paper, told him he must have cheated, and gave him a new paper to make him do it again. When he did it again, she gave him a harder paper; write words, and say and spell them. Which he did. Rather than a sticker, or a pat on the head, he was sent away from the others and told his parents will have to be talked to. He has been waiting since then.

When recess came, he wasn’t allowed to go outside. He has afflictions, they tell him, that mean he can’t run and play with the other children. His mother – or the woman he calls such, as the supposedly real thing left him long ago – is on the playground. Watching the other children. She has done it for years, and will continue to do it for years. She will hug them, pat them on the head, tell them how proud she is over each rock they turn up or each time they put the ball through the oversize hoop. But when she comes to the classroom, to examine the boy’s paper and talk about it with the teacher, she will only purse her lips and glare. Later she will take the boy to another place, where he will be poked and prodded and asked questions he doesn’t want to answer and pricked with needles and made to read and write things that will be thrown away and discarded as lies. He knows, because it’s happened before.

You’re pulled away, brought back to the courtyard and the well as the smell fades. But then you see the scorch mark, the place where someone or something must have burned the bone – or it’s owner – and you reach out to it, rubbing your finger against it for a moment, then placing the soot into your mouth. As the taste overcomes you, that flavor of death and decay burning into the roof of your mouth, you go away again.

You’re in a room; austere, with little to recommend it in the way of furniture except for a lamp and a crib. The boy is there, asleep in the crib though it’s much too small for him. Curled into the corner of it as best he can, thumb in his mouth, tear tracks on his dirty face and a bandaid with gaily dancing cartoon characters over a seeping needle mark on his forearm. Lying next to him is a stuffed animal, big and blue and strange-looking. Another figure enters the room. Smiles coldly. And pushes the uncovered lamp into the crib, resting the hot bulb against the faux blue fur. Nothing can be seen of this figure, only that it is tall, vaguely female, and wearing a nasty smile as it surveys its work. As the first tendrils of smoke come from the stuffed toy, it walks away.

You feel the heat baking your skin, cooking the tears that are yours as much as the boy’s. Feel your lungs start to close up as the cloud of burning plastic and polyester invades your nostrils and works its way down your throat.

Again you come back to the courtyard, and see one last thing that makes this bone different from the shoulderblades of any other dead thing. A gouge, running down the back of it. Deep, jagged, not quite straight. You dig your fingertip into it – it’s deep enough for that, and nearly wide enough, and you’re again somewhere else.

A living room. Brown furniture. Shag carpet. Family scene. On one couch an older couple – the ones the boy calls mother and father. On the other, a teenage girl and a boy, barely out of diapers. Sitting at the corner of the table between them, the boy is there. The tear tracks are gone, the bandaid no longer in evidence… but blisters are on his cheeks, and the angry welt of the needle is still on his arm. He is rocking, staring at the television the others are watching but not really seeing it. The urge to urinate comes over him, and he goes to rise.

The table, you see, has a jagged corner. You know the boy did that, broke it off when he was younger by running into it. That corner points at the boy’s back like an accusing finger, dangerously near to the soft place at the base of his skull each time his head rocks backwards. When he sat down, perhaps it hadn’t been so close, but the kicking of those he calls his siblings pushed it closer, or perhaps his rocking scooted him back. Regardless, when he goes to stand, that broken-off bit of old wood and plastic finds flesh… and bites.

It digs into his shoulder, but his upward momentum won’t be stopped; his shirt splits alongside his flesh, unravelling and hanging in two ragged flaps like tattered wings. The boy begins to shriek as blood begins to soak into the atrocious carpet. Time skips. The mother is behind him, cursing at the boy for being clumsy, for having an accident. The father is before him, laughing at the warm, wet spot that has formed on the boy’s jeans. More pain. Another shriek as the wings that had once been an unmarked spot of flesh are yanked back together and taped down. Liquid, burning and sizzling at the flesh, feeling like teeth chewing at the place where the skin ends and the pain begins as iodine and bactine are applied. More tape. Finally he is given a pill – the pink and white ones that make him tired, because that’s all they know to do with him – and sent back to the still-scorched crib.

He curls up – biting down further cries when the movement tugs at the tape they’ve given him instead of the stitches and real medicine he probably requires – and puts his thumb in his mouth. He pulls the blue thing – the face now mostly gone, a knot of melted plastic that reeks of it’s own destruction – closer to him. And sleeps.

You come back at last to the courtyard, and set the bone down. Part of you wants to toss it back into the well, but you know that’s not right; you bled to get this, your shoulders are still quaking with the effort of pulling the chains, and you feel a curious sense of gratitude as you lay it on the ground before the well, turning to walk away.

You found what you came for. The memory. The bone belongs to someone else.


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01
Jan
19

How Broken Am I?

Happy New Year, everyone. December, and by extension 2018, are finally gone, leaving us a fresh 365 days to try to do better.

I hope to all higher and lower powers it’s better. In 2018 I missed roughly 8 months of work due to illness, saw progressive decay in my physical and mental state, and spent quite a bit of time wondering just how sharp the knives in the drawer were. That is not exaggeration, nor is it an attempt to elicit reactions. Merely truth.

Most followers know I’ve got quite a lot wrong with me. For those who don’t, here’s the laundry list:

Asthma. I’m on three kinds of steroid and two kinds of “as needed” meds so I can pretend to function at least semi-normally. Walking down the stairs or across my parking lot on a good day is liable to end with a severe coughing fit and potential vomiting, followed by an hour or more of wheezing. On a bad day it’s impossible and may result in crawling when I try to push myself to do it anyway.

Bipolar Disorder. Apparently I’m on the low end of this one, for which I should be grateful I guess. Doesn’t mean that I can’t go from feeling “okay” to “staring at the knives” in 10 seconds under the right – or wrong, depending on your viewpoint – circumstances. It can also go from placid and considering the knives for… ahem… personal use to contemplating how many times you can stab someone before they just…shut…up. Yes, I am unstable and sometimes not a pleasant person to be around. I do my best, and they gave me a bottle of lovely pills that I take to “even it out,” which helps… but not always.

Chronic Depressive Disorder. On top of being prone to psychotic mood swings, I’m also almost permanently stuck in a depressive state. That means I get all the negatives of the bipolar without the fun and occasionally useful manic periods. I’ve got pills for this, too, but even when they’re working on my brain there’s a lot of factors involved in depression besides just not having the right chemistry lab in your skull. Being a practical invalid, constantly being stressed about bills as you fight with your company’s disability reps – a situation that still hasn’t been resolved – and seeing nothing but doctor’s offices, the gas station between your house and those offices, and the walls of your tiny apartment for months on end, with similarly limited human contact takes its toll on one’s mood and ability to cope just as much as a lack of serotonin and dopamine.

Carpal Tunnel / Arthritis. My wrists and hands are turning into barely functioning hooks, and I spend the first two to three hours of the day – once I sort out my morning candy bag of pills and huff on my assorted aspirators, anyway – with alternating numbness and agony twisting through my forearms and hands. It’s not considered severe enough for medication at this point, and they’re afraid to try surgery due to my lung problems, so I chew naproxen sodium and ibuprofen like they’re going out of style and spend a lot of time trying to type or game with big clunky braces on (which then gets me frustrated and causes problems with the mental/emotional disorders, and what a merry-go-round that is.) I’m supposed to wear them to bed, too; problem is that I have a nasty tendency to strip them off and hide them when I’m asleep. Which leads us to our next issue.

Restless Leg Syndrome. I used to think this one was a joke. Then they did some tweaks on my other meds and I discovered that, hey, this is a thing. Your body will jump around and just do things whether you want it to or not. You can feel the muscles in your thighs and calves thrumming, begging to be flexed, and if you give in to it, it only gets worse. You then get two choices; endure it, and fight for every minute of sleep you manage to get, risking waking yourself up by kicking yourself, the wall, the cat, your sleepmate or whatever, or take the tranquilizers they prescribed, which stops that and helps you sleep, but tends to cause early-waking insomnia and general grogginess for a bit when you wake up. Which also leads to another fun one.

Severe Acid Reflux. With the asthma and allergies, I wheeze and cough a lot in my sleep. With a sensitive gut, sometimes that leads to nausea. More than once I’ve woken myself up with vomit burning in my throat, almost choking as I make a mad dash to the bathroom. Now do that with numb legs and a groggy head because of the tranquilizers you had to take to get to sleep at all and you have a fun situation. More pills for this, but I can’t take them all the time because apparently they can dissolve my stomach lining, so that severely limits diet and when it’s “safe” to eat. Combine with an odd work schedule – when I’m actually capable of working, ha ha – and I get to literally starve some days. Hooray.

Mild Schizophrenia. At least, that’s what they’re debating right now. The docs are teetering on whether they think it’s harmless delusions that should be death with via therapy, just an overactive imagination and lack of stimuli, or actual psychosis that needs more magical pills, but regardless of the final diagnosis, I see shit that’s not there, I hear shit that’s not there, and my memory is only to be trusted about 80%. Fun.

I’m not trying to complain, though I’m not going to lie and say it’s a bloody picnic or anything. The meds help, in as much as they can, and I’m doing my best. But when I disappear for long periods, or the output seems to be suffering, one or some or all of these things are likely to blame.

As noted, it’s a new year. New chance to try again and post as much as I can and try to grow my YouTube and Twitch channels, and publish a new book and finish the one on the burner like it deserves to be. That’s my resolution. To do my best to do those things.

I can always use a little help; like, share, subscribe if you’re of a mind. Follow me on Twitter (or fill my timeline and DMs with vitriol, if you like!). Watch me play games badly here on Twitch. And if you are taken with the spirit, you can help keep my stuff working and my meds on order via Patreon or GoFundMe.

If you can’t – or just won’t – do those things, that’s okay, too. You read this, which means a lot. You’re still paying attention, even with all my bitching and long silences, which is pretty impressive. So thank you.

What about you folks out there? How broken are you, and how does that impact your creative endeavors? Got tips for helping others through those times? Drop your thoughts down below, if you’re of a mind.

Happy New Year!

07
Nov
18

Twitestinal Blockage

Twitter is an interesting place. Reminds me a lot of the digestive system, really; throw a bunch of stuff in, let it churn in heat and acid for a while, and hope something nutritious comes of it.

But it’s like that in another way; to be crude, a lot of what comes out is just shit. Now, that’s not all bad; gotta get rid of it to keep functional, after all. But some folks, like some eaters, have a problem. They’re all blocked up. So they keep jamming the same thing in, until they’re stuffed to the brim with it, but then due to blockage, they never actually get rid of it or try anything else. That can’t be healthy.

I’m talking about the folks – and there are likely hundreds, if not thousands of them at this point – who just slap blocks on people for no discernible reason. It may be that the blockee followed someone the blocker doesn’t like, or “liked” a YouTube video, Tweet or Facebook post that the blocker didn’t like (or one that was made by a person the blocker didn’t like), or maybe just because. But one thing I’ve noticed is that it is very rarely due to something the blockee directly said or did in relation to the blocker.

It’s fascinating, really. What’s more fascinating is how folks of this particular stripe enjoy playing the victim and claiming that nobody wants to listen to them or have rational discourse with them. Neglecting to mention, of course, that they slap that block on so many folks before those folks are even aware of the individual that it would be impossible for the people they seem to want to reach to actually hear the message or discuss it. Frequently, the only people allowed to follow such individuals are those who already subscribe to the same worldview and are typically already aware of the blocker’s ideology and personality and are in line with it to a greater or lesser degree.

Continuing with the poop analogy, one notes that someone suffering from intestinal blockage spends a great deal of time in the loo, attempting to pass said blockage. I also note that many modern bathrooms, being covered in tile, tend to provide excellent acoustics. Not unlike an echo chamber, eh?

I really think the “block” feature needs an overhaul. Sure, there’s reasons it’s there – abusive commentary, doxxing, criminal stalking, all things to be avoided – but the way it unilaterally says “you can’t see what I said, neener neener neener,” especially when one may be interested in learning about a public or semi-public figure’s opinions and attitudes on things seems rather foolish. Especially because such individuals wield it like some form of sterilizing club, ensuring that they don’t have to interact with anyone who just possibly might disagree with them while simultaneously ensuring that those potential fence sitters or genuinely curious individuals who like to hear both sides of something will never be able to. Further, it seems really counterintuitive; “I am on the interwebs to explain my philosophy, religion, political stance or social commentary to the masses! But I only let people who already agree with my stance on those things see it!”

Er, wot, mate?

Anyway. Only crawled out of the hole for long enough to vent my frustration in this department. What’re your opinions? Is a complete ability to both silence and blind your potential dissenters a proper way to deal with the internet, or should some changes be made? What should those changes be? Drop your thoughts down below! I’m back to my nebulizer and scouring Twitter to see who else might have decided I am unworthy of their knowledge…

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16
Oct
18

Breaking Dreams

Something I – and many other artists, I imagine – struggle with is the feeling of worthiness. That my ideas matter, or might be of interest or value to someone else. I can’t speak for everyone of an artistic bent, but that feeling is compounded for me by numerous mental issues.

I do tend to believe that artistic folks tend to have a greater incidence of mental illness, but that’s probably a topic for another day.

But those issues pile up, combine with self-esteem problems, and the constant wondering if the work is good enough and the desire for input so you don’t feel like you’re creating in an echo chamber.

That’s when I get the most discouraged. I’m sure I’m not alone, here. You have what sounds like a really cool idea. You need a little input, or an opinion, or maybe just a sounding board to talk it out with so you can clarify it in your own head. You go to a loved one, a friend, a message board or whatever, and before you’ve even finished articulating whatever it was, someone whips out a hammer and crushes it.

Now, those people may not have known what they did. They may not have done it maliciously, or even meant to be harsh at all. But in my own depressed, fragile, constantly doubting mind that quick dismissal is like a knife shoved between my ribs. It kills discussion regarding that idea, and frequently reverberates through later ideas, shattering them before they even have a chance or form or subjecting them to “well, the last one didn’t fly so why bother with this one?”

For those like myself, those rejections and dismissals become grains of sand around which black pearls form, tended and brooded over for years after the fact, often receiving far more attention than the idea that led to them until they are so large there is no room for any actual creativity. It’s not healthy, but it’s true. Again, I’m pretty sure I can’t be alone in this line of thinking.

Two that I remember: While mulling over Ioudas and where it needed to go, having started with the premise that the concept of “sin” was a type of “energy.” Attempting to determine where that energy would need to go, and how one would ultimately get rid of it, I commented “So Jonas would have to fight literal, physical manifestations of the Seven Deadlies.” I got that far before I was cut off. I had more; images of what those sins would mean to Jonas, how those manifestations would be dealt with, almost a whole story complete and ready to go. Before I could do so, however, the person who I was speaking with said “Oh, the Seven Deadlies. Really fucking original.”

Ioudas has been sitting at 25% complete since then; about three years. Every time I open the manuscript and think about working on it, I hear that voice again and slam the iPad shut, snarling.

The other was in reference to “Little Miss No Name.” Now, she’s fared better than Ioudas, with actual progress occasionally being made, but she hasn’t had the exposure she deserves because of it, and the greater world hiding behind her remains a few scraps of paper at the bottom of the desk because of it. Someone asked what I was working on and I said “It’s a story about a doll who…” Instant cut off.

“Sounds like crap. Like Annabelle. Who gives a shit?”

That person then went on to explain how a real good story would involve JFK time-traveling and killing dinosaurs, which really puts in the wheelhouse of “Consider the source,” but that’s never been my specialty. It left a scar, one that I still pick at and worry at, and rub salt into, far more than any of my physical self-mutilation injuries.

One can always go back to “grow thicker skin” commentary. Certainly an option. But that’s not something that magically happens, or makes every previous wound just vanish.

So if any of you out there are close to an author, a painter, a designer, a creative of any stripe, and they start sharing an idea… please, for just a second, pause and consider your response. I’m not saying you can’t be negative… maybe even mean. There are times when we need those things. But there’s a difference between negativity to a bad or malformed idea and offhand dismissal without even knowing the nature of the idea, and the latter is what rankles me and leaves me awake at night, brooding over the grim treasures spawned from such dismissals.

If you have a creative in your life, let them finish their thought. Ask a question or two, if only to give the impression that you were actually listening. Don’t just break out a verbal hammer and crush it straightaway or – worse – throw up a wall and walk away without a thought.

Please.

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