The Golden Ticket

One day does not a year make.

But, doesn’t it?

I had intended on writing a blog today about the maddening mess of mental malady that was my 2013. It was awful. Nothing seemed to go right. Plans were not merely rerouted, but torn to shreds by this monstrosity of a year. Short of 2009, which saw the close of my beloved Wordsmiths Books (as well as another unmentionable dissolution), there has been no other year spurning more depression and anxiety than 2013.

Then today happened.

Can one day really undo the damage the preceding 364 brought?

This once, I can say undoubtedly so. After all, being lost in a desert might be a continual trek through despair, misery, and pain; a plodding journey toward inevitability. Yet, find your way free and wouldn’t the memory of it all seem somewhat diluted? You survived, right? That has to cast some light upon the shadow of your anguish.

My light arrived by way of the Georgia Center for the Book. I am pleased to say that, as of January 6th, 2014, I will assume the post of GCB  Assistant to the Executive Director. I’m not sure if that’s the official title, but it sounds Schrutian (Schrute-ian?) enough for me, so I’ll go with it. If I can walk around screaming, “Michael!” then they can call me whatever they want. Regardless, I’m beyond excited to be joining this organization. As a writer, as a reader, as an individual who longs to see a greater emphasis on literacy, this is the job I have longed for. This is the place I belong. Additionally, it places the Moss and I back in Decatur, a city we have missed quite dearly in the year we’ve been away.

What is the Georgia Center for the Book, you may wonder? There’s a lengthy description here, but to summarize, here is a list of the Center’s Activities:

Sponsoring over 100 programs each year bringing authors from around the nation and the state for free year-round public appearances.

Sponsoring the 2012 Georgia Literary Festival November 9-10 at Jekyll Island.

Sponsoring state student literary competitions in two national programs,Letters About Literature and River of Words

Developing programs to take nationally known authors to libraries around Georgia with a “We the People” grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities through the Georgia Humanities Council. The first “We the People” program was successfully held at Young Harris on January 29, 2007.

Co-sponsoring major state literary awards including the Townsend Prize and the Lillian Smith Award.

Georgia Center for the Book

It doesn’t fully encapsulate the enormity of the organization’s purpose or impact, but it offers a nice glimpse into their reach. I look forward to assisting them in their work, helping to generate further awareness, and joining with the GCB Executive Director, Joe Davich, in expanding and evolving its reach.

This is not Joe Davich. But it really is.

This is not Joe Davich. But it really is.

2014 seems to be opening with a bang, offering an array of possibility, leaving the memory of 2013 as but an exercise in endurance. A period of brutal pain and misery, suffering and depression, yes, but also of survival, of resilience, and of the rewards that come from a refusal to lay down against the weight of it all.

This is no way detracts from my writing, or from my desire to reach as many readers as is possible. Book One of The Storyteller is still moving forward, the reissues of Anointed and Flutter are in the pipeline, and the initial response to my current manuscript, Specimen A, is glowing. 2014 is, indeed, lining up nicely, and I more than look forward to the adventures it will offer.

The Bookstore, Episode 6

Here’s the latest in The Bookstore series. This one is called French Stuff is Hot, and is a step further in the evolution of the characters. I’m just happy that Stacy isn’t bashing Anointed. I don’t know what I’d do if she didn’t like it.  Kill her I suppose, but even for a God that’s a pretty harsh reaction.  Anyway, and stuff, Jericho doesn’t know French.  He just knows it’s pretty hot.

Cross Fudginating

My latest post on the Southern Author’s Blog, A Good Blog is Hard to Find:

“My biggest problem is my brother, Farley Drexel Hatcher. He’s two-and-a-half years old. Everybody calls him Fudge.”

That was all it took.  Twenty words.  Three sentences.  And from that point on, I knew I wanted to have books in my life, and that someday I would write books that made people feel the way I felt at that moment.  It wasn’t so much that Judy Blume had launched into the introduction of a character I would fall in love with, nor was it that I knew, right then and there, that no book would ever be as thoroughly awesome as Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing.  Rather, it was that it took less than five seconds to accomplish it.  It was that my life’s path could be so irrevocably altered in the span of a breath.  I might have only been seven, but I knew that was a power I wanted to have.  To have and to master.  Jedi style.

This was my face when I read the line, as it happened.

I began to pour through books, looking for more examples of this power to influence, this directional wind vane of literary might.  I wanted to know if this was a gift that was solitary, handed but to the great mastery of Judy Blume, or if there was a community pool of creation that all authors could simply dip into when they were ready.  When they reached that point in the book, wherever it might have been, where they could lean back in the chair, crack their knuckles, say, “This is about as good a spot as there can be!” and dip into that basin of beautiful phrasing, and monumental simplicity.

Turns out that doesn’t exist, just in case you were wondering.  I looked.  Ponce de Leon had nothing on that search.

Which meant, quite simply, that it was a matter of skill, rather than fortune.  That was good.  After all, I could learn skill.  It’s much harder to learn fortune.  Most often, you’re kind of left standing out in the open, your arms wide, waiting for something pleasant to hit you.  Which is a funny thought, because I’ve never been hit by anything pleasantly.  It usually hurts.  Quite a lot.  So, I snapped out a pencil, grabbed a notepad, threw away the broken bits of the pencil that didn’t care for the “fortunate” hit it took while waiting to be grabbed, gently picked up another pencil, and began writing.  I wrote a story about a young boy, walking his way to a Little League baseball game.  He was nervous, distracted, lost in thought about how the game would play out, and what his ultimate hand in it would be.  He hoped his team won.  It was the championship, after all.  As luck would have it, though, he was so engrossed in thought, that he stepped in a hole, and twisted his ankle.  It was tragic.  It was catastrophic.  It likely meant he would have to sit the game out, if he could even make it to the field.  Somehow, our young hero found the strength to hobble his way, and then the courage to take the field late in the game, when his team needed a hero.  He got the hit that won the game.  All was well.  My pencil, and I, were very happy with what we had created.  I was a writer.

Of course, it didn’t have a Fudg-errific line, or series of lines, but it was mine.  It was breathtaking.  It was, well, it was horrible mostly, but it was the beginning of a great career, I was sure of it.

I discovered, some time later, that not only can this power be utilized in the story, but it can also kick you in the seat of the pants as soon as you open the book.  Kate DiCamillio demonstrated this, as well as any writer can, in her book, Because of Winn Dixie. Behold:

“My name is India Opal Buloni, and last summer, my daddy, the preacher, sent me to the store for a box of macaroni-and-cheese, some white rice, and two tomatoes, and I came back with a dog.”

It was this opening that educated me fully on the power, and importance, of an opening sentence.  In the beginning, just wasn’t going to cut it anymore.  Hence, when the day finally arrived that some crazy person boldly decided to pay actual money to put my work into print, they did so even after I threw everything I had into my first sentence, and managed, in that moment, to completely miss the point.  Instead I re-created the opening line of a rather old joke.

When the Anti-Christ and Satan entered the bar, nobody took notice.”

That was it.  There it was.  My Fudgey Winn Dixie moment.  It wasn’t horrible.  But it wasn’t Judy Blume.  It wasn’t anywhere in the pool of really cool things that authors write when their brains are on fire.  It was…good, but not necessarily great.  So, I kept at it.  I keep at it still, I should say.  And I continue to tell myself that I can do this.  I can write that memorable, life-altering line.  I can change lives with twenty words, and five seconds.

Or I could try stand-up.

You should always keep your options open.  Just don’t stand out in the middle of everything and wait for them to hit you.  That hurts.

Forgetting the Wheel

Sometimes you forget how the car moves.  That’s when it helps to look at the wheel and remember that it spins.  Naturally, you then wonder how the wheel spins, and that’s when you look under the car and freak out.  I mean, there’s something keeping the wheels attached together, and then there’s all these little spinny things, and all of that goes somewhere up front, and that’s all attached to the mountainous nonsense under the hood, and, well, sometimes I get religion.  It must be a whole let better to just say, “Oh, hey the wheel spins,” and then let the rest fall into the hands of a suddenly all-knowing (and mechanically divine) God.

So, the present spins the future into the past, is something of what I’m getting at here, albeit in a disassociated car-to-God-analogy kind of way.

You are distracted from the bad analogy...

So, I was feeling nostalgic today, as I wrote a new bio for my publisher’s website, and I dug up an interview that the irreplaceable Russ Marshalek conducted, on behalf of the fantasmic book blog, Baby Got Books, when Anointed first came out. Here it is, in its grammatically correct entirety:

A completely non-biased and properly-punctuated interview with Zachary Steele, author-type person of Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO

Baby Got Books: Describe in 5 words the plot of Anointed. In another 5 words, tell me why i should read it again. Then, in 5 more words, tell someone who hasn’t read it why I should read it again.

Zach Steele:Reluctant man becomes corporate Christ.
Because it’s freakin’ funny, man.
You won’t get it anyway.

BGB: Who all would you say you ripped off in writing Anointed? And by ripped off I mean in terms of both intellectual content and money.

ZS:I ripped off a lot from God, you know. He’s pretty much the author of the Bible, right? So, I have to include him. Aside from the that, it was pretty easy pickings with Terry Pratchett, Christopher Moore, Kyle Watson (though you wouldn’t have heard of him) and some finely-detailed intellectual hotness from Marisha Pessl. As far as money, that’s pretty easy. I ripped off my publisher, but she won’t figure that out for a while, and likely all of my readers (once they’ve read it and realize what dreadful crap it is).

BGB: On a scale of 9 through 10, how awesome is Anointed?

ZS:All of my scales go to 11, so that’s pretty much where I’d put it. It completely redefines “awesome”. In fact, the use of “awesome” is now outdated and has been replaced by “Anointed”. As in, “Man, that sure was an Anointed movie, wasn’t it?” I would wager that, when I am old and fading away–or perhaps even dead already–people will still be discussing how Anointed completely altered the methodology of writing and saved the publishing industry. But I’m pretty modest about it all, actually. I’d rather not discuss it any further.

BGB: If you end up on Bill O’Reilly, and he’s all screaming in your face and cutting your microphone’s signal and stuff without listening to you at all, what will you have for dinner after?

ZS:After? How about during? I’ll be sidestepping his questions while waving a fork in the air and taking my time dining while he rants about stuff I surely won’t be listening to anyway. Steak au Poivre with Dijon Cream Sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, a nice Chardonnay, and a bowl of cheese to throw at him when he stops talking. No wait. I wouldn’t do that to cheese. Maybe I could get a soufflé or something instead. After, I might go for an Icee.

BGB: In terms of your writing style, what books would you say influenced your second novel? oh wait you haven’t written it yet.

ZS: Ha! Good one coming from the man who hasn’t even written his first book yet! Look out David Sedaris! This guy’s a riot!

BGB: You solicited quotes about the book, aka “blurbs”, from your Facebook friends. Are you just too lazy to actually hunt down famous people?

ZS:”Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.” ~Winnie the Pooh~ There’s a famous quote for you. Happy?

BGB:Your press materials all begin with “Satan and the Antichrist walk into a bar”. Tell me a good joke about a pope and a rabbi. Or a pope and a rabbit.

ZS:The Pope (not ‘a’, you idiot) walks into a bookstore to look for a book about Catholicism, because he doesn’t understand any of his followers, but before he can make it to the section oddly marked “religion”, he is distracted by a sharp sound from the back of the store. When he goes to investigate, he finds a large cage with a fluffy, bouncy rabbit inside, and a sign atop the cage that reads, “Cadbury Rabbit, Bookstore Bunny”. The Pope smiles and leans to the cage and says to the rabbit, “Hello there, little rabbit. I am the Pope. How are you today?” To which, the rabbit bounds in a quick circle, stomps a foot in a loud thump, stares at the Pope, and says, “Nom, nom.” The end, joke over. A POPE AND A RABBIT? ARE YOU SERIOUS? Do you get paid to come up with these questions or did you pawn it off on an 8-year old?

BGB: How freakin’ awesome is your publicist?

ZS:Question #7 may answer that better than I can. It’s very difficult to answer this question though, now that Anointed has completely redefined what is understood to be “awesome” and taken over its use entirely. I suppose I can say that my publicist is less than Anointed, more Anointed than “awesome” (in its former form), but not as Anointed as my book minus me. Hope that helps.

Touched by the Long hand of God

You’ve all heard this one already, so I’m not going to tread over ground that’s already been flown around the world, massaged, and molested.  But the facts are the facts (at least the facts that are being reported): Eddie Long, Pastor of the Atlanta-based mega-church, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, has been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple teenage boys.  The charges imply that Long coerced the young boys into sexual relationships, and…this is where I just add, yadda yadda yadda, because what more is there to say?  Then I say, “Of course, these are simply allegations, and Justice is Blind, and ants can’t carry celery, and stuff,” which is meant to pacify you into believing that I haven’t already prejudged the pervert.

If it didn’t work, then maybe you should eat more celery.

There are many issues at play here, not the least of which is the idea that a professed man of God, who has marched against homosexuality, is accused of homosexual acts with underage boys.  I can’t gloss that one over.  There’s also the fact that we have, in Pastor Eddie Long, a man who has accumulated vast amounts of wealth, and assets, from people who are offering their very wallet’s end, simply to give unto the God they believe in.  This man, who has been quoted as saying, You’ve got to put me on a different scale than the little black preacher sitting over there that’s supposed to be just getting by because the people are suffering,” has bilked these people of their meager earnings, and has done so with a sense of purpose and divine right that even the one he supposedly speaks on behalf of–that Jesus fella–did not.

Jesus wore sandals.  Just sayin’.

Eddie Long also offered up a quote that completely justified Anointed, for which I am eternally grateful. Behold:

“We’re not just a church, we’re an international corporation.”

Ah…it just smells like redemption.  I may have missed the boat.  The Christ Corporation should have replaced Timmy Christ with a handsy black preacher-man.  Oh, well.  There’s more writing yet to be had.

Is there anyone else that finds this a little creepy, in retrospect?

But, for me, the real issue is that Bishop Pastor Molester Man Eddie Long has now–whether guilty or not–joined the long line of evangelists, who preach, and thrive financially from, the supposed Word of God that they cannot possibly, or are not capable of, believing in themselves. And in doing so, he has further alienated Christianity from those who are either agnostic, atheist, or simply wavering in between.  Yes, I’ve heard countless times already that he is but one voice amongst millions.  But he is one very prominent, and visible, one.  Much like Falwell, or Graham, or Hagee, or Mr. Toothy Shine, Joel O’steen.  He is the Tom Brady, the Barry Bonds, the Kobe Bryant, or any member of Congress, of Christianity.  He is to be held at a higher standard, whether he–or you–likes it or not.  Such is our culture.  And when you have something as virulent as religion, especially one that loves to jam itself into your personal space in order to share a message you might not have even asked for, you get emotional reactions that ultimately define lives.

We look to those who have succeeded, as possible glimpses of what we can be.  Likewise, we also look at those who have succeeded, where we believe they should not have, and scrutinize their acts, analyze their words, and fill the webber-nuts up with blogs, updates, and posts about how much we disagree with them.  This is natural.  This is human.  And this is what Eddie Long, and his misbehaving band of Christians, has done: He is the nail in coffin for many, many, people who were on the fence about Prince Jeebus.  He has removed any desire that they might have had to possibly give Christianity a chance.  If they were in the back seat of the car, listening to the debate up front, they opened the door and jumped.  Is this right?  Is this fair to the entirety of a religion?  Well, hell no, but it’s reality.  Unfair stuff happens all the time.  I think that might have been omitted from the Bible, but I’m sure God would like you to know.  Shit happens, and we have to deal with it.

Christianity has to deal with this.  I don’t.  It just gives me more to write about.  And what Christians around the world should take from this simple statement, is this: Back off.  Let people find their way.  Let go of the notion that you are some holy crusade to bring people to God (and it’s important to note that the word, ‘crusade,’ has some links to The Crusades that you might want to be familiar with).  And for God’s sake–no really, He’s getting a little miffed–quit giving life to mega-church evangelical poopyheads (that was for you B).  You want people to respect you as a faith, and look to you for guidance, and perhaps even walk alongside you?  Then don’t feed the pandas.  They will eat you.

I remember watching this movie and thinking, “This is why religion sucks.”  The video’s a little wonky at first, but evens out.  For some reason, I can’t seem to find a better one.  Hmmmmm.

Imaging Googe

Here’s the Googe image I referenced in a previous blog. Thanks to the ever vigilant Katie Moss for taking five seconds of her time to locate it for me.

It’s the simple joys in life…

Speaking of simple joys, I have somehow, over my time, managed to completely miss out on Chick Publications, which is not at all what it presents itself as.  There are certainly no chicks to be found on this site at all, which is always a bit of a sad, if you ask me.  But the chick-less nature of Chick aside, it’s an utter win to find a piece of religion that so insists that you pay it heed.  Apparently, as I am told, this Jack T. Chick person created these books–slightly more than a comic, I guess, but far less than Superman can offer me in such a short blast–that are handed out at various religious functions, on street corners, or at the Gap, if it’s a particularly slow day.

There are quite a few to browse through, or buy, if you’re in a festive mood.  I’m collecting the whole set.  They’ve presented me with a Michael Corleone moment.  I thought I’d finish up with Flutter, and leave Timothy, and gang, be after that, but they’re pulling me back in.

Here’s a little peek into the glory of Chick Tracts:

He has a Little Black Book, has he? Hmmm...must be quite the dater.

Ahh! Zombies! Oh, wait, never mind...they're flying away.

Fire, fire, fire! Hey...who's getting married? Jeebus?

Is it just me, or does the Beast look like Rob Zombie? I didn't know he had an army.

A thousand years? Awww...I can't wait that long! Mom, why doesn't God have a face?

The End?

Anyway, I have a new love.  Chick(less) Tracts are basically going to be responsible for a few more devil fiction books that I had no idea I absolutely had to write.  A lesson to all writers: Inspiration is everywhere.

A Genesis of Lolcat Proportions

I was reminded this morning of one of the best movies that no one has seen.  Well, ok, not exactly, “no one,” but definitely a smaller set of people than the movie deserves.  Sometimes, for whatever reason, movies sneak under the radar, and are on DVD before you ever get around to noting it exists.  It’s likely to be in the $5 bin before you ever see the cover (which is not a horrible thing, mind you–for you, anyway), or maybe TBS/TNT is handling it like a child on a sugar high, showing it to you every five minutes for three straight days.

For whatever reason, the movie Suicide Kings, just never got noticed.  How could it possibly have gotten by?  Christopher Walken, Denis Leary, Henry Thomas (Phone home!), Jay Mohr, Jeremy Sisto, Brad Garrett, and Johnny Galecki (from Roseanne, and is phenomenal as the hyper-nervous toss-in).

EVR=”I’ve never wanted a busket so badly.”

Not only is this movie well written, expertly crafted, and obviously directed with a hands-off approach that allows the superb talent to do its job, but it also includes one of my favorite movie lines ever, from the irreplaceable Denis Leary.  Out of context, and without Leary’s patented delivery, and expression, it’s a bit lost on most, so I offer the video instead:

Additionally, Christopher Walken is in his element, and doesn’t need to carry the cast along, and yet manages to do just that in one of his better roles.

Go spend $5, and buy it.  Watch it.  Then, if you missed it, find Big Trouble.  These movies need love.

Oddly, my post today was not going to be at all about Suicide Kings.  I’ve actually been looking for a home for some Lolcats, and decided today was as good as any.  If you’re not familiar with the website, or the books, then you’ve obviously been without internet for the past few years, living in a cave, hiding from American forces, and hoping the world thinks you’re dead, so that you won’t suddenly be so.  It’s a tremendously hilarious site, and has spawned several others in its wake, and keeps hard working people around the world occupied for hours while they’re supposed to be working.

On top of it all, this site has spawned an entire language of speak that makes text speak look like it was invented by juvenile prunes, who have no comprehension of the Engrish language, and wouldn’t know a contraction if it comma-spliced their soul…oh, wait, that’s real, isn’t it?

Sheesh.

Well, anyway, the Lolcat gang has simply made my world with their latest project.  The Lolcat Bible has arrived.

I’m sure, by now, you’ve heard of the Bible, or at the very least, have had a few solicitous stays at a hotel, and saw it in the drawer where you might keep your condoms (at home, anyway…still packaged I hope).  Well, the Lolcat crew have outdone themselves this time, translating the Bible into the aforementioned created language of Lolspeak.  Want a sample? Here’s the Genesis of Ceiling Cat, and the creation of all that you know (and maybe love, unless you’ve stayed at too many hotels, or save used condoms or whatnot):

Boreded Ceiling Cat makinkgz Urf n stuffs

1 Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem.

2 Da Urfs no had shapez An haded dark face, An Ceiling Cat rode invisible bike over teh waterz.

3 At start, no has lyte. An Ceiling Cat sayz, i can haz lite? An lite wuz.4 An Ceiling Cat sawed teh lite, to seez stuffs, An splitted teh lite from dark but taht wuz ok cuz kittehs can see in teh dark An not tripz over nethin.5 An Ceiling Cat sayed light Day An dark no Day. It were FURST!!!1

6 An Ceiling Cat sayed, im in ur waterz makin a ceiling. But he no yet make a ur. An he maded a hole in teh Ceiling.7 An Ceiling Cat doed teh skiez with waterz down An waterz up. It happen.8 An Ceiling Cat sayed, i can has teh firmmint wich iz funny bibel naim 4 ceiling, so wuz teh twoth day.

9 An Ceiling Cat gotted all teh waterz in ur base, An Ceiling Cat hadz dry placez cuz kittehs DO NOT WANT get wet.10 An Ceiling Cat called no waterz urth and waters oshun. Iz good.

11 An Ceiling Cat sayed, DO WANT grass! so tehr wuz seedz An stufs, An fruitzors An vegbatels. An a Corm. It happen.12 An Ceiling Cat sawed that weedz ish good, so, letz there be weedz.13 An so teh threeth day jazzhands.

14 An Ceiling Cat sayed, i can has lightz in the skiez for splittin day An no day.15 It happen, lights everwear, like christmass, srsly.16 An Ceiling Cat doeth two grate lightz, teh most big for day, teh other for no day.17 An Ceiling Cat screw tehm on skiez, with big nails An stuff, to lite teh Urfs.18 An tehy rulez day An night. Ceiling Cat sawed. Iz good.19 An so teh furth day w00t.

20 An Ceiling Cat sayed, waterz bring me phishes, An burds, so kittehs can eat dem. But Ceiling Cat no eated dem.21 An Ceiling Cat maed big fishies An see monstrs, which wuz like big cows, except they no mood, An other stuffs dat mooves, An Ceiling Cat sawed iz good.22 An Ceiling Cat sed O hai, make bebehs kthx. An dont worry i wont watch u secksy, i not that kynd uf kitteh.23 An so teh…fith day. Ceiling Cat taek a wile 2 cawnt.

24 An Ceiling Cat sayed, i can has MOAR living stuff, mooes, An creepie tings, An otehr aminals. It happen so tehre.25 An Ceiling Cat doed moar living stuff, mooes, An creepies, An otehr animuls, An did not eated tehm.

26 An Ceiling Cat sayed, letz us do peeps like uz, becuz we ish teh qte, An let min p0wnz0r becuz tehy has can openers.

27 So Ceiling Cat createded teh peeps taht waz like him, can has can openers he maed tehm, min An womin wuz maeded, but he did not eated tehm.

28 An Ceiling Cat sed them O hai maek bebehs kthx, An p0wn teh waterz, no waterz An teh firmmint, An evry stufs.

29 An Ceiling Cat sayed, Beholdt, the Urfs, I has it, An I has not eated it.30 For evry createded stufs tehre are the fuudz, to the burdies, teh creepiez, An teh mooes, so tehre. It happen. Iz good.

31 An Ceiling Cat sayed, Beholdt, teh good enouf for releaze as version 0.8a. kthxbai.

After you go buy Suicide Kings, go to your local independent bookstore (it may take a few more minutes, or cost you a couple of extra bucks, but for the love of Ceiling Cat, support them!), and spend the $13 to own this book.  You can also buy a copy (or have one ordered!) of another awesome book called Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO, whose author would greatly appreciate your support.

The End.

And Now Here’s Something We Hope You Really Like!

I was a huge fan of Rocky & Bullwinkle.  I still am, even if I’ve forgotten just about every episode, or clip, I’ve ever seen.  But what I do remember, and what I will always remember, is the opening sequence, and the theme music that goes with it.

A flying squirrel?  Are you kidding me?  How awesome is that?  Only slightly less awesome than a clumsy, but witty, moose, that much I’m certain of!

Hey, as a side note, I had a flying squirrel once.  His name was Quirkus. 

 He was awesome.  And he liked grapes.  And pockets.  And urinating on my shoulder.

But anyway, Rocky the Flying Squirrel got me to thinking about openings.  And squirrels.  And it occurred to me that, just perhaps, there’s a lesson in there for aspiring writers.  As always, there’s a story, albeit a short one.

The fact of the matter is that a story–any story–requires a handle for the reader/viewer to grab hold of.  Something to ensure that they grip that opening, and hang on until you reveal what all meant.  What that opening sequence had to do with anything.  And don’t fool yourself, it has everything to do with your story, and its ultimate end point.  Watch any movie, and in the first ten minutes, if it doesn’t give you something to grab onto, you’re done.  You don’t want to invest yourself in it, but in all likelihood, you spent the money to watch it, so, well, you endure it, and offer it a tepid, “Meh,” when the end credits roll.

In a book, you have the first few pages to hook the reader, if not less than that.  For the prospective agent, or editor, you have as little as the first paragraph.  You want to tell a story to begin your story.  You want to give the reader the feeling that they just unwittingly jumped into a car on the most exhilarating/frightening/horrifying roller coaster they will ever know. 

I journey to Richmond, almost every year, in October to attend the James River Writers Conference, where I have yet to fail to leave wiser than I arrived.  They have, for the past few years, opened the conference with something they call, “First Pages,” which is nothing more than a critique that is as much Sumo wrestling, as it is Pie in the Face.  As a writer, you anonymously submit the first page of your manuscript, or story, and two extremely talented readers perform your work before the 150 attendees, and a panel that usually consists of an editor, an agent, an established writer, and a roll of the dice.  I boldly submitted the first page of Anointed at one of these sessions, leaned back in my chair, and awaited the praise that was sure to come.

M-hm.

I was butchered, and justifiably so.  My opening was droll, rambling, and nothing happened.  It was a horrible opening.  It was a serviceable third chapter, but it did nothing to offer hope that it would be anything but what it appeared.  Who really wants to endure 336 pages of rambling?  Of course, the book isn’t 336 pages of rambling, but that opening that I offered left the impression that everything to follow was precisely that.  So, that weekend, motivated by the crudely horrible things that they panel said of my opening (not the work itself, but the opening), I wrote a scene in which Satan, and the Anti-Christ walked into a bar.  There was dialogue, there was some idle rambling (as it is a great tool of humor I employ), but there was also action, as the characters worked through the scene, and there was intrigue.  There were characters that immediately offered questions, and a story within the story; a story that played out through the entire work, and resolved itself in the end.

It was like stepping into the car of the roller coaster, and anticipating what was to come, rather than the feeling that the ride was over before it ever really began.  Give your reader a moment to look forward to the ride, give them a glimpse of the rails, the precipitous climb to that first drop, and perhaps even a few twists, and turns, beyond.  But don’t drop them in the car along the way, somewhere on a flat plain, where the only thing they can possibly feel is apathy for the ride.

Fluttering Your Way This October

I killed a man.

Well, actually I killed several people, but to keep to the point, I killed a man by the name of Timothy Webb.  I thought this would be enough to keep him forever out of MY life, but, alas, I was mistaken.  Apparently, God took quite a fancy to him, and his actions as Christ, and CEO, at The Christ Corporation, and decided to make him an angel.  He gave Timothy his metaphorical wings, granted him the gift of a Key that supposedly held the power of Jesus, patted him on the back, and sent him on his way.

His first act was to show up on the doorstep of MY imagination, and demand that I do something about it.  I just kind of stared at him, in terrible disbelief, and shrugged.  This did nothing to satisfy him, so he invited himself in, began rambling about being ill-equipped to be an angel, and something about Natasha–the maligned angel known as Satan in our world–recovering well from her temporary bout of humanity.  So, for the next few hours we sat, until it became apparent to ME that the only way I would get rid of Timothy would be to write another story for him.  I proposed the idea, made up a completely fabricated storyline, waived him on, and then proceeded to forge onward with a plot that, in no way resembled the idea I had discussed with Timothy.  From this was born, Flutter: An Epic of Mass Distraction.

It now has a release date: October 1, 2010.

What is Flutter?  Well, it’s more devil fiction than Anointed, has significantly more explosions, plenty of characters who don’t survive to see the end, and an angelic system of social networking that is eerily familiar to Twitter.  But that’s not much of a description.  Kind of leaves you wanting, I admit.  So, instead, I offer you a brief look at some of what I wrote for my publisher, when I turned over the reigns of my baby:

In my eyes, it carries the same voice, and some of the feel, but none of the story structure of Anointed.  I wanted to write something, on the heels of a book that was philosophical, and, at times, rambling, with something a little more adventurous, a little more off the wall, and a lot more explodey (I really like that word all of a sudden)…I have included references, or creatures, as follows: Quantum Leap, Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Back to the Future, The Matrix, a dragon, a vampire (tee hee…I like him!), a bobsledding monkey, a wizard/piano duel , zombies, and a chocolate hot tub.  Ok, the last may not be fantasy in terms of the genre, but you find me anybody who doesn’t like everything listed before it, that isn’t as fond of the hot tub, and I’ll quit writing.  Oh, also, there’s a reference to swine flu, and to Google Buzz (which is mistakenly called Fuzz).  That, along with Natasha in a bikini, a porch made of cheese (it’s Gouda than you think!  Ugh…), a God who thinks he’s a child, a video game of explosive proportions, ugly angels, an escalator in the sky, a prison in Heaven, the rebirth of Jesus, and a very unfortunate moment for the masters of The Christ Corporation…there’s so much activity, and no break to sit in a restaurant to discuss the history of Satan, or in an office to discuss the history of Christ.  What I hope I have created is a book that you really just can’t put down, and one that makes you both want to read its predecessor, and anxiously await what is to come.

I like that I can be a complete tard when I write to her.  Granted, she published the first book, so it’s not like I’m going to fool her at this point.  It’s not quite back copy material (that bit you might read on the back of a book that summarizes the story), but it covers most of what I consider to be cool about Flutter.  I’ve been asked what this book is meant to lampoon, given the generalized lampoon of Christianity in Anointed, to which I say it’s predominantly a lampoon of social media, and how easily distracted the world has become by it, and to technology in general.  I’d like to think that I can wield this tale like a weapon, and waggle it in the face of all those who have fallen prey to its mighty grip, but, well, I’m one of them.  Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Goodreads, email, blogging, texting, computer games, anything and everything that occurs on the cell phone, and so forth–I’m there.  Or, at least, mostly there.  So are you, most likely.  Be warned: The angels know, and they’re about to do something rash.  Ish.  Rash-ish.  More in the vein of rash, but less rash than rash might be.  Kind of, severe, in that, “Don’t make me come down there,” kind of way.

So, I’ll keep it at that for now.  I hope to offer a few snippets in the coming weeks.  The first will likely be a scene that takes place in God’s Office, as He prepares for a trip to Earth, with the ever-present moan of the Holy Ghost guiding the way.

Until then, I need to go lock the door.  I’m sure Timothy wants to know what to do now.