Category Archives: What I’m Doin’

I just realized why I only write short stories

I had an interesting realization this morning.

As my readers probably know, I work very fast. Inspiration hits, I start writing, and I don’t stop until the story is done. I might type for eight or ten hours straight, because if I stop for anything longer than a trip to the can, I’ll lose the holy fire of inspiration, and the story will die on the vine.

It’s really not a great way to run a railroad, I’ll be the first to admit. It limits me to short stories, rather than longer work, and undoubtedly it’s responsible for my giddy-yet-somewhat-unhinged style. It’s not bad, it’s kind of unique, but it’s also limiting.

I had always assumed this was the result of my fairly short attention span, but I just realized this morning that it’s really my anxieties.

No, seriously: I take a half hour off to get lunch, and I begin to dread going back to it. I think, “This is terrible, no one’s going to read it anyway, why am I doing this?” I begin to dread how much of the work still lies ahead of me. I put it off. I question myself. I berate my talent. (I know I have talent objectively, but the longer I postpone things, the more I begin to doubt it emotionally). I take the night off, and it’s almost a guarantee that the story will be abandoned.

That’s why, I think, I only do short stories: That’s as much as I can manage before my inherent “Randy can’t do anything” feelings grow too big to be ignored. If I do it the moment the inspiration hits, I can maybe manage to bang a story out before my subconscious notices and paralyzes me. If I delay, then I’m dead before I can do anything at all.

That’s my suspicion this week, anyway.

Curi and Patrick and Why I Suck At Closure

Recently I sent out two “Goodbye forever, please don’t write me back” letters to two of my once-and-former best friends. They didn’t do anything wrong or cross me or anything, I just needed to end stuff, and I also need closure because I’m 50, and that’s what fat, middle-aged overdramatic crazy people entering the third act of their lives do. I guess. I’m new at this.
 
The impetus was simply that I’ve had a lot of death in my life lately. Since the start of the year I’ve lost three people, plus a fourth who died a while back and I just found out about it this year. Plus a fifth who’s still alive, but is dead to me. I realize that’s melodramatic, he’s not really dead, but emotionally he went on that same pile.
 
Now, both of these people were folks I was really close to, and who were really important to me at some stage in my life. Patrick “Bad News” Hughes basically transformed me from a humorless, scared-of-girls, fanatical kid who got frightened by hearing “American Pie” on the radio, decided all popular music was satanic, and stopped listening, into, well, *me.* Then he disappeared for a long time, and turned up again around 2001, and we hit it off immediately.
 
Curi was a super-smart teenaged girl who started college at 16 and needed some positive reinforcement from a big brother figure who didn’t actually want anything from her. She inspired me to get back into music again, after many years away.
 
So these folks drifted away over time, to the point where I’d send out my rambling, hilariously profane Christmas letters, and that was about it. Every other year or so, I’d drop another letter on Patrick, just to see if he’d email me or whatever. He never did. Curi would send the occasional “I want you to know I always read everything you send,” comment, and nothing more. You never know how to take that. Is it “I like hearing from you,” or is it “My flesh crawls when I read your letters?” In any event, there was never any other follow up from her.
 
After a while, writing letters to people who never write you back begins to seem creepy and stalkerish. I hadn’t realized it, but I haven’t heard from Patrick in EIGHT years! I decided I needed to say goodbye, and have a period at the end of that sentence. Not because they’d done anything wrong, just because it was important to close out those files in my head, you know?
 
Then Patrick’s letter got returned as “undeliverable,” and I felt cheated. If I had to keep one of ’em, I’d keep Curi, who’s a loveable kid sister. Patrick is an accurately self-described asshole who is no end of fun and challenges me to try new things, then gets pissed off at me for whatever reason, and disappears.
 
So, yeah, the better of the two probably thinks I hate her and the worse of the two probably thinks I’m still pinin’ away for him to drop me a line.
 
Typically my attempts at closure end with guilt (Curi) and an absence of closure (Patrick)

I think it’s possible that I might suck.

A girl I know recently asked me which of my books was the best, so I recommended my most recent one. She bought a copy and started reading it.  As I had time to kill at the Flea Market, I opened one of my own copies and started rereading it. Knowing her as I do, I tried to read it from her perspective, and quickly realized that she’d utterly hate the first three stories, and probably be bored by a couple others.  This prompted a crisis in faith of my creative abilities.

This was ameliorated somewhat by three stories in the book that are genuinely really good, and one of which that isn’t great, but is a fun read. So I can get lucky at least some of the time, but that just puts me on the cusp of suck/not suck, it doesn’t resolve the issue. As to my friend? I’m more interested to know if she actually finishes the book than whether she likes it or not at this point, since I’m pretty sure she won’t. Basically, if she’s irritated or bored by the first couple stories, she won’t.

Or I have another friend that I gave several of my books to once. He’s not bothered to read ’em yet. This was years and years ago, back when I still only had three. He’ll never finish ’em. I don’t really blame him because he’s got a lot of crap going down in his life, but the bottom line is that if you’re interested in something, you dive right in as soon as you’ve made a little time, and if you don’t have interest, you backburner it.  This is more a question of whether I’m interesting or not rather than it is of whether I suck or not, but it still feeds into the same issue. Not being interesting is part and parcel of sucking.

All of you have read fanfic at some point. You know what I mean. “How did the Trill get their spots?” and the endless Mary Sues…ugh. I don’t write that stuff. I only do originals. Still, you get what I mean, right?

I’ve always written about what interests me, and as I’m an effortlessly interesting person (An arrogant thing to say, but I’ve been repeatedly told that by strangers over the years), I just naturally assumed my stories would be as well. In the past, when this issue has come up, I’ve blown it off and just said, “I’m writing because of the joy of writing, and if anyone reads it, that’s just gravy. It’d be nice to make some money, but I don’t care much.”  That’s always been 50% a lie, but it’s a lie I tell myself, and as long as I can concentrate on it, I can keep going.

This latest ill-advised bit of introspection is a little different, though. It’s been about two years since I’ve written anything, my longest break since I started self-publishing. I’ve got a friend’s book to finish for him (He died) and I can’t motivate myself to do it. I have a lot of unfinished stories I can’t quite get ’round to. I have friends who’ve tried to cowrite with me, and I can’t get my shit together to do it. I’m 90,000 words into a novel and too intimidated by the task to finish it. I’m not blocked, mind you, I have lots of ideas, and my writing flows when I do it. I’m just really anxious about doing it. Overthinking it. And now, on top of that, there’s the crisis of faith of whether or not it’s genuinely any good, or if I just think it’s good, and the people who’ve agreed are either just being polite, or just don’t know the difference between good stuff and drek.

And then there’s my music, which I take less seriously than my writing, but I’m still invested in. As no one ever listens to it (My latest original song has 17 views. It’s less than three minutes long. My most popular song has 360 views, and only ‘cuz it’s a Blondie cover that people discover by mistake) that’s disappointing, too. Again, a couple years ago I’d blow it off as “I don’t care,” but I do. Not as much as with the writing, but I do.

Basically I think it’s the timing. I’m 50 now. 2/3rds of my life are past. My health ain’t great. I work at a flea market, my first job in 11 years, and honestly I’m lucky to get it. The one thing that’s really distinguished me in the last 6 or 8 years is that, despite my lack of a significant audience, I’m good at what I do.  But now I’ve managed to shake myself to the point where I’m questioning that notion, and I’m just wondering if it’s worth it.

What’s the point?

I’m fishing for encouragement more than compliments here, though compliments are not unwelcome. And if you think I do suck, critiques would be welcome as well.

I just came up with the greatest Zombie story of all time.

I. Just. Came. Up. With. THE. BEST. Zombie. Story. Concept. Since Max. Brooks.

Normally I don’t brag or praise myself, but oh my gosh, bolt of lightning to the head, a huge idea, then another, then another, then another. and the core of a novel is laid out before me in the matter of maybe seven minutes. And it’s unlike anything else anyone is doing.

I have to use it, right?

Once I finish my late friend Jim’s novel (he’d written about 85% and asked me to complete it for him), all my other projects are on hold until I do this zombie thing.

I’m giddy

MY DIARY: Day 18,257 (Finishing Jim Graham’s Manuscript)

I’ve been overthinking this.
 
I just finished Jim Graham‘s incomplete manuscript for “Big Pharma,” which he asked me to finish for him a few weeks before he died. I cheerfully agreed to do it, and he was pretty happy, since he always said he liked my writing, and I was his first choice. That’s a huge honor, don’t you think?
 
It was also our last conversation.
 
I probably should have torn into the project the moment I got the manuscript and the notes, but I decided to hold off until the first of the year, during which time the specter of doubt had time to grow. Stupid, Randy, stupid. I generally work best when I leap before I look, getting something done before I realize how difficult (or easy) it was.
 
Now, “Big Pharma” takes place in the middle of a fairly intricate continuity involving three other books. I had to make sure I didn’t have a character survive who’s dead in the book that takes place after this. Likewise, I can’t add anyone of significance because they wouldn’t be in the later installments. I wouldn’t do that anyway, as it’s way too Mary Sue, but you get my point. I also can’t introduce any huge events that logically would be spoken about in subsequent stories simply because the subsequent stories are already written, and it’d be distractingly odd if, say, I blew up the galaxy in this book, and then in “Army of Souls,” the galaxy is suddenly back.
 
In our last conversation, I asked Jim how it all ended, and he said he didn’t want to tell me. He said that he knew how the book would have ended had he been around to finish it, but that it suited his present frame of mind to just hand it over to someone else and let them take it where they will.
 
Ok. No ending. Great. Still: I can do this.
 
So I started re-reading Jim’s books. I had to reacquaint myself with the characters, the events, the *feel* of the thing, right? And I took notes. Far too many notes. Far, far too many notes. You can get addicted to that sort of thing. As I said, I was overthinking this.
 
I worked my way up to the “Big Pharma” manuscript. I read it slowly. In my mind I went back to the beginning several times. I took days off. It was slow going, which just made the whole thing more intimidating, you know?
 
Well, just now I finished it, and I was certain that, yes, I can do this. And that I really *should* leap before I look, because I’m just better that way.
 
In the last few chapters of the manuscript, it changes from a 3rd person omniscient narrative to terse present-tense outline-styled notes on what happens in each chapter. There are also a few completed scenes in there which I can insert in the appropriate locations. The bulk of what happens in the unwritten portion is an action scene, and that’s cake, since I’m actually really, really good at actions sequences. I can do him proud there. And I even know how it ends! He actually did have that burred in the tail end of the manuscript!
 
So I’ve been overthinking this. Now I start actually *doing* stuff.
 
Here’s what happens:
 
– The writing starts very soon.
– I don’t think it’ll take me long to finish. It’s just shy of 90,000 words right now, and I can probably bring my portion in at 20,000 words or so. I work fast, so I can easily do that in a week. Maybe less if I get in a groove, which I often do when writing action sequences.
– I’ll send my portion (Approximately the last 20% of the book) to a British friend of mine who will help me convert any Americanisms into Anglicisms, and maybe suggest places where British slang would be likely to turn up.
– I will *probably* add a list of Dramatis Personae (There are a *lot* of characters in this book, some of whom are easy to confuse with others) and a glossary (There’s a lot of invented terminology in here, and it’d just be handy for the reader if he forgets the difference between a PIKL and an RAV).
– I would also like to include Jim’s map of Go Down City. He did such a wonderful job of realizing a nonexistent city that feels real. I think his fans would enjoy that.
– Then I’ll send my portion off to my editor.
– Then I’ll send the whole manuscript, including my portion, to Jim’s widow, for her to forward to his editor and do whatever else needs to be done to get it published.
 
And there you go. I don’t want to pin myself down to a timeline, but I think things should move very quickly from here on out.

My Diary: Day 18,198: In which I realize I’m Overwhelming

I realized yesterday that I’m overwhelming. Not in the “Oh, he’s so wonderful,” sense, but more in the “Randy is exhausting, and I just can’t deal with him,” sense.

There’s any number of examples: I’ve been in and out of bands and writing songs and making music since 1988. Why? When I started out, obviously, I hoped I’d get a big break and be a rock star. Everyone does. By 1990 or 91 I’d realized that wasn’t going to happen, but I kept on doing it. Most of my friends had already given up on that sort of thing by then, but I kept going.

My goal? Never clear. Mostly, I think I just wanted to include a song or two on the mix tapes I sent my friends to let ’em know I was still doing this. I never did, of course, because making music and recording it are very different, and recording it in 1991 was way harder than now.

Oh, and let’s take the mix tapes, shall we? I made ’em. I made a lot of them. I was very interested in very many very different kinds of music, so I made mix tapes that I sent my friends. Two or three a year. If you were unlucky enough to be my girlfriend or on the shortlist of best friends, you got more than that. We called it “The Randy Records and Tapes Club.” Eventually I switched to CD.  I slowed down a bit, to one or two a year.

I got less and less response every time, and had to keep needling people to find out what they though of “Astronauts,” by “Desk,” featuring backing vocals by Aimee Mann, or a long-lost They Might Be Giants B-Side, or a Cold Water Army song or an unfinished Roy Orbison track or my Ska obsession or what have you. Oh, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins! I don’t think anyone on the planet likes him but me, and BOY was I vocal about it.

Finally, around 2007 I sent out a really good double-disk mix, and I didn’t hear back from anyone. Not a peep. When I pressed, I was angrily told that it was just too much, that we were all 30-ish now, and weren’t interested in hearing new crap, and please knock it off. Depressing.

So I knocked it off. I started actually recording my own music, and eventually started putting it on youtube and nobody cares. If I get 13 views, that’s exceptionally popular for me. Again, if I push people, they get mad. “Nobody wants to listen to your stupid songs about Ocelots, or your weird-ass instrumentals, Randy!” Depressing.

Oh, and I write. A lot. I always have. I was head writer for Republibot for five years, and no one cared. When I quit, it folded, and nobody cared. I have this site you’re reading, and I’d be surprised if 5 people read it a month. I also had a fanzine (“Rampant Boingophrenia”) and eventually another one for heretical religious matters called “Sacrilege, Ho!” (Obviously I put a few of these online eventually) and my endless movie reviews and chat rooms and stuff. Nobody cared about any of this. Actually, I was irritating and/or scaring them. Depressing.

Then I started writing books, and NOBODY wants to have anything to do with you if you’re self-publishing books. Seriously: your friends who’ve talked about that novel for 25 years, but never actually got around to it hate you. People who actually write ignore you because they’re busy writing. People who don’t care about such things find it pretentious. People who do care about such things generally have more interesting stuff to check out than my nonsense.

Yeah, you might get a couple people who will buy the first book out of politeness, and never read it, or skim it and give you a nice “It had a good beat, and you can dance to it” review on Amazon, but after that, you’re done. I’ve got, what, eight books, seven of which are pretty good, and one of which is terrible. (No, seriously: It’s my crappy poetry. Stay away from that one) I’ve got four more in various stages of completion that I hope to have out this year.

That’s a lot of stuff! Nobody cares. Depressing.

Added to which I am reputed to be (As one person put it) a “Vigorous conversationalist.” What that boiled down to is (As another person put it), “Requiring way too much energy to talk to.” I can see that. I probably am a lot of work. I never talk about normal stuff like sports. I’m always on about whether or not Saul of Tarsus was part of the Herodian Royal Family, or my latest project that no one cares about, or what I’d do if I was making Galactica for a third time.

So, bottom line: I’m overwhelming. I produce more stuff than people can keep up with. And people don’t want to keep up with it. They want to read Dan Brown novels and listen to whatever was popular whenever they were in High School, and not have me wildly speculating about theology, or the Apollo program, or why Venus is better than Mars for colonization.

AND I CAN NOT FAULT THEM FOR THAT.

Nor do I. Maybe 1 or 2 percent of people are really interested in the giddy thrill of thinking or experiencing or seeing or hearing new things after their 20s. We’re all pretty set in our ways by the time we hit 50. We’re actually neurologically wired to enjoy learning less by that point: We’re supposed to have learned everything we need to by then. I never felt like I’ve learned anything.

This is not arrogance or elitism on my part. I don’t think I’m any better than anyone else. I’m just a flibbertigibbet. I chase after any new shiny object or idea that catches my eye, and I talk about it. A *LOT* Way too much. It’s my failing, not theirs. I don’t have a lot of impulse control in that regard.

OH, and I forgot to mention my mood swings. My mania and depression, and frequent unpredictable behavior. That’s tiresome as well.

So the bottom line here is that I’m just exhausting.

I get that now. I really do. I’m not depressed about it or anything, I’ve just finally identified the problem, and I’m a little excited about that.

The question, then, is what I do about it.

I got no clue. Please sound off if you’ve got any ideas.