I’m pretty horrible at promotion. I’m pretty happy or whatever passes for “happy” just scribbling in the corner. Ideally, I’d love to figure out a way to get paid for writing without ever being read. (Maybe academia?) In spite of all that, every once in a while, I sort of take a pass at promoting my work. Then I horrify myself and give up. Having said all that
That’s right. I’ve gone and changed the named of my Patreon. I wanted to make it a little snappier and, well, I think this is a better name. I tried to punch up the presentation a little bit. Prices and all that are still the same and I couldn’t bring myself to add different tiers.
There is only one tier.
SUPER NUCLEAR LEVEL HYPER MEMBER!!!
As a SUPER NUCLEAR LEVEL HYPER MEMBER!!! you receive bulletins from THE NOCTURNAL LIBRARY. THESE WILL APPEAR AS NEEDED. ADVISE CAUTIONS!!! You will learn what SECRETS are being held in THE MUSEUM OF A BILLION COSMIC OBJECTS!!! You will TRAVEL THE NEXUS OF MISERY and RETURN A CHANGED PRIMATE!!! COMMUNE WITH THE ANIMAL AND THE DEAD! JOIN NOW! SHOP NOW! JOIN AND SHOP NOW!!!
If that sounds like you’re sort of thing, it’s just $3.33 a month. My posting has been a little more erratic than I’d like lately but it’s still fairly steady and there’s already 86 doses up.
That should be more than enough to keep you busy for some time.
And, all in all, I’m pretty happy with this work. I understand that in some cases it’s probably unreadable and it’s often uneven and I don’t know what anyone would get out of reading any of it, but I dunno – I think it’s pretty solid sci-fi of a type I like. A plotless assault on decency, good taste, and rationality. Like, whatever its problems, being commercial is not one of them. It’s probably pretty fucked up! Some of it, I’m not even sure it’s legal.
So, if you’ve been a supporter, are one now, or if you’ve even just gone to the trouble of sharing a link to my book or The Doomtown Gazette, under whatever name, I’d just really like to say thank you. The little bit of money I make from this really does help. Aside from that, it’s nice to think that there might be some batshit niche for this stuff.
And like, if you ever want to use any of this stuff for your stuff, just let me know.
My first glimpse that something was deep wrong in America came while driving across it. It wasn’t the bullet holes in the door or blood covered sink in Kalamazoo. It wasn’t even the incredible parched surface of the drought stricken Midwest, where heavy machines ploughed useless dead wheat back into the dirt, and earth born again as an alien plant inhospitable to human life. Those things were real. And American reality has always been haunted, violent, and terrible. The problem was in the fantasy. In the fantastic America.
I’d always pictured driving across America in a certain way. Nothing so glamourous or exiting as a Beatnik road adventure but still a fantasy. I thought the food would be good. After all, America was built for the road. Without even trying to imagine it, I’d always believed there’d be an assortment of burger joints, hot dog stands, rib-spots, and strong coffee served at truck-stops. You can probably imagine the sort of places I pictured. Quirky little feats of architecture. Diners where the waitress calls you “hon.” Independent operators. Good grub. Big servings.
Those places do exist. Rarer every day but they are out there. I’ve been to them. But along the I-80? No. Along the I-80 it’s the same thing again and again and again. Fast food. Chain motel and meth-head parking lot. Corporate gas station. The same service center again. Again. Repeated on a loop from Michigan to California. Again and again. A constant return to the same place. Every time, more tired, more frayed and sketchy. More worn out from the same hamburgers. More tired from the same motels. More on edge from the same energy drinks. And here we are again. In the same place. Again and again. The skin wears off.
The American road fantasy was as parched as those wheat fields. Dead. Gone. Still there.
I hadn’t thought about this for a while. But thanks to the charity of a friend, I’ve been able to catch up on some TV. I’ve finally been able to see Twin Peaks, The Return.
It might be the best TV show I’ve ever seen. Even before I’d finished the series, I’d watched Episode 8 three times. If it were up to me, there would be whole channels of television that were like that episode. Just ambient dream channels. That would be most of TV.
I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds of why I liked the show so much or all the things I think it did so well. And, I should be clear, I’m not even a huge David Lynch fan. I like some of his stuff a great deal and other things I’ve just never been able to really get into. I love the original Twin Peaks, I like Blue Velvet, and The Elephant Man is pretty damn good too. That thing were he talks to the monkey on Netflix makes me laugh. I do think he has a really special set of skills. When it works for me, it works so well. There’s nothing like it.
The thing I want to talk a little bit about is the show’s sense of the American suburb. It’s not my favorite thing about the show (not sure I have one) or even what I think the show did best, but it’s one that resonates with me. That might be because it’s a sense of it that I tried to capture in some of the books I wrote while in California. You’ll never read these books. They’ll never be published. That might be for the best. I mean, my agent read them and then he fired me so, well, that’s the sort of thing that gives a person some pause. God knows, it sent me into a hot shed to drink a cold beer, listen to Johnny Cash, and think.
The sense is –and I’m not totally sure how he accomplishes this– is that the suburb feels both abandoned and fortified. It’s like a set. Unreal. Then sudden explosions of incredible violence. A neighbor you never see. Their house suddenly raided by police. A shootout. A weird Thomas Kinkade energy to the whole thing. Houses without humans. Stand outside on a hot Sacramento day and it’s bright and clear and hot and no one is there. Just the loud hum of air conditioners. It all feels inhuman. And it’s gone sinister.
I’d never lived in a suburb before California. I was raised in the country, then in a village, then at 18 I moved to the city. To me, the suburbs felt what I imagine living in Soviet bloc housing must have felt like a decade after the fall of communism. Like living in an abandoned monument to a dead dream. I’d heard that many of the houses made money by allowing porn shoots. Others were just called ‘ho-houses’ and others ‘dope houses.’ You can imagine what happened in there and in there was about every third house. Every time I raked my lawn, I’d find empty plastic drug bags. Never really saw where they came from. Come home, there might be a single high heel shoe and purse in my driveway. For some reason. It just remained a mystery.
Suburbs are often thought of as affluent places. Now, one I lived in wasn’t like that. It was blue collar. A sort of base level for the American Dream. Hollowed out by 2008. But I knew people who lived in more moneyed suburbs. And while their neighborhoods felt less like occupied territories and more like fortified management zones, they were under lockdown due to GUNMAN ON THE LOOSE just as often as we were. Maybe more.
There’s a sort of longstanding narrative trope about the suburbs They’re places where there’s a sort of oppressive conformity on the surface and a deep yet materialistic perversion below the appearance. Ballard did a lot of stuff like that, I think, but the trope is pretty widespread and, I think, predates him by quite a ways. It’s a lot of noir, Stepford Wives, Desperate Housewives, and just a bunch of fiction. It’s all sort of Peyton Place.
But The Return seems to get that the appearance is gone. Or different. That the neighborhoods themselves no longer look desirable. They look unhuman and unoccupied. There’s no keeping up appearances because there’s no one even looking. It’s a psychotic and paranoid zone where everyone had retreated deep inside. A place where people can only communicate with each other through violence. It’s all borders and isolation.
To be sure, Twin Peaks has its fantastic and surreal elements. But The Return is solidly grounded in truth. It’s not dealing with obsolete narrative tropes. It’s grounded. It’s the actual psychic terrain. And that’s the sort of science fiction or, Satan help me, “art” that I like. I can’t pretend to do it near as well as Lynch but it’s what I try to do. I don’t give a shit about predicting how things will be in the future, I only want to capture some of how things feel in the present. Speculative elements are often required. A more talented writer could probably do without them. I can’t. Nor can I sell any of it. But, I’m fucking thrilled someone can.
And it’s awesome to see it on TV. To see TV that expands the possible.
It’s unusual to see anything like The Return on television. I think a lot of that is because to get something on TV, even to get something published, you have to be able to pitch it like “this is like _____ meets ____.” But so much of ____ is just so fucking obsolete.
And fiction is stuck using obsolete methods to communicate with dead tropes. It just keeps bringing us back to the same fucking place. Again and again. And again.
Just got my first payment from Interdimensional Puncture Wounds, and it’s the first time I’ve been paid for writing anything in a really long time. Last time that happened, I think, it was a baseball thing written with Leigh Cowart aka @voraciousbrain. So, seriously, thank you. I feel like a criminal. (And I think Leigh has a science book about pain coming out sometime so you should probably go buy that.)
I hope you’re getting your money’s worth. On the bright side, I don’t really know any other place you can be kept up to date on the discovery of haunted film growing inside a child’s stomach, workplace raffles on the moon, ghost markets uncovered by stocktrading bots, and the selection of parasitic seaweeds lurking in Motel 6 restrooms.
So there’s that, I guess.
I feel pretty confident in my ability to keep up the two piece a week pace with one piece a month from the first launch cycling back into view. If I could do this long enough, I’d like for it to all to become some sort of automated decaying and mutating organism.
Mainly, it just feels like a good fit. Feels right to write something built for internet.
It’s like, I guess I could post novels or whatever but those feel like paper forms to me. I don’t even fuck with e-readers. Nothing against them in principle, I just like paper books. And if my novels can’t be published the old fashioned way and on paper, I’m not really into throwing them online. It’s just not how I write them or where they belong.
These pieces are sort of b-movie, zine trash, type shit, and I don’t want gussy them up with a fucking plot or suspense. I just want to let them be them.
So this all feels like some sort of fit and it’s nice to see some money for a change. It’s been a while.
I don’t know how many, if any, of you remember Today’s Bulletins. (Worm God Zero, We Await the Comet, etc.) But, if you do remember those and if they were not only a thing you liked but a thing you want more of, that part of my brain has gotten a bit itchy again. So I’m going to scratch. And you can read them but just not for free. $3.33 a month.
Waste of money, if you ask me, but that’s the deal.
It’s going to be something like short fiction. I don’t really think of them like that — I sort of believe terms like “fiction” and “art” are just words capital uses to appropriate divination. But, I guess you could call it short strange science fiction, if you like. No skin off my ass.
But I got the urge to start assembling these things again and, well, I thought, fuck it, maybe I’ll try to put them into the world. And maybe I’ll actually try to get paid.
I feel a little guilty about that tbh. Writing is goddamn embarrassing and charging for it feels criminal. But I can’t think of how I would want to distribute them or of anyone who would ever publish them, and given the trouble of doing all that, and considering just how many words I’ve given away for free over the years . . .
Well, fuck it. $3.33 a month seems like a deal.
Anyway, it’s here if you want it. In the sidebar if you want it later.
From Marshal Matt Dillon (Gunsmoke) to Marshal Raylan Givens (Justified), Sgt. Joe Friday (Dragnet) to Detective Vic Mackey (The Shield), television’s endless flood of cops has accomplished two things. Early on, it presented police officers as infallible heroes who are professionally and temperamentally equipped to handle any delicate situation. Then eventually, it began depicting less admirable cop behavior, but in ways that tended to explain it — and, after a while, to normalize it. These fictional stories have rewired many of us to assume cops are always acting in good faith, and to ignore or wave away those moments when they’re clearly not.
This is a pretty good piece about the dominance of cop shows in American media. General sort of rule, there’s only shows about three professions – cops, lawyers, and doctors.
Now, I like cop shows pretty well, some of them at least, but there is just too much of the shit and a lot of them are just shit. And they’re not the only possible show. Like, here, I saw part of some drama that was like a CSI but for park safety. It was like the haunted, gruff genius head of the department would look at a fence and FLASHFORWARD ZOOM ZAP and he’d see how it would break, and he’d imagine someone falling through the fence, and put his team of dedicated lieutenants to work on fixing that fence. It was like a cop show but about civil servants. Not a bad idea. Why not glamorize those jobs? Fences probably save more lives than cops. At the very least, they don’t shoot people.
And, also, I fucking love The Shield. To me, that is a show about dirty cops that, by its end, totally subverts the cop show, and the act of watching cop shows. It just nails the cops and nails the viewers of cop shows. It gets you rooting for these pigs or at least used to them, and it has you, on some level, seeing their point of view. It has to do that to do the thing it does. And then it does the thing. Boy, does it ever do the thing. Just a great fucking show.
There’s also a problem, a big one, touched on here.
But the protagonist problem applies just as well to shows about villains as it does to ones about heroes and antiheroes: We form attachments to the characters with whom we spend the most time, and we come to understand them and even root for them in ways we might not like, and that the creators may not have intended. (See also the “Skyler White is the true villain of Breaking Bad” truthers.)
This is a problem I’ve thought about a lot. Too much, probably. I thought about it before, during, and after writing Technicolor Ultra Mall. It’s not a problem that I have any satisfactory solution to. The problem is this: People root for so-called antiheroes. Making it worse, if you write anything, any male character, that is meant to criticize, satirize, or make male violence clear and obviously bad, men will fucking root for that character. They cheer not in spite of the fucked up shit but because of it. No matter how debased and fucked up you make that character, men will root for them. The worse you make the character, the harder they cheer. This is disturbing in and of itself. To my mind, it gets worse. I think men and art has to interrogate male violence. But the method we use to do it is totally inadequate. It’s like we lack the words to have the conversation we need to have. Something is wrong.
I hate talking about this book shit, and I think an author’s point of view is of no more value than a reader’s but, it may have some value here, and, in terms of what I was trying to do with Technicolor Ultra Mall . . .
At the time, even back then, I felt like there was a risk that people would just enjoy the violence. I thought, if I didn’t have a really terrible and painful ending to the thing, one that knocked the gloss off, the book would end up glamorizing violence and misogyny. And, Satan knows, I did not want that to be the message. Aside from my personal reasons for doing what I did, and, to me, writing is basically a personal act of divination which is appropriated into a concept of “art” or “writing” or whathaveyou, that was my arty-shit reason. It had to hurt and be senseless to destroy the glamour. Violence could not have a point or be moral. I never even thought Budgie was a hero. I don’t even think about characters in terms of hero or antihero. Least of all him. I don’t even like him. Never have.
(Like, in my head, his gang is a basically a bunch of fucking cops. That’s why I dressed them like mounties. And the protection rackets? Well, Toronto cops have some experience there too. They’re not rebels. He’s not a rebel. He’s just trying to get a different job and will do just about anything to get it. And that sort of ambition (I really distrust ambition) is what fucks up the world in a lot of different ways. His ambition is manipulated and appropriated. The kid is a fucking stooge of a corrupt and destructive system, and when he tries to improve his position, even more so. Technicolor Ultra Mall is not supposed to be a cheering read about the value of dreams so much as the danger of them. It’s not “hopepunk.” I don’t like hope. Don’t trust it. But try putting that shit on the back of a book.)
The issues I’ve worried about with that novel, I’ve since seen play out on television. I don’t think Walter White from Breaking Bad was really meant to be a hero. But he sure becomes one. I don’t even like that show — really, to be it’s some weird white power fantasy about how even a chemistry teacher could be a better gangster than cartels — a kind of racist trope of ‘we’re scared so we’ll be the really scary ones.’ It’s like, again and again, you see these plainly villainous male leads get cheered on. No depravity or abuse of power seems depraved or abusive enough to turn people off power. It just makes power more attractive. And so it is with cop anti-heroes. No matter how corrupt and fucked up you make them, people cheer for the shit. The more fucked up, the louder the cheers. It’s a problem. If you mean something totally different, it’s a little heartbreaking, tbh.
A show that, I think, does a much better job than most at looking at male violence thing, is Better Call Saul. It makes his villainy feel like failure. Makes it pathetic. His success never feels like something to be cheered or the overcoming of an obstacle. It feels like failure. You get the arc of becoming a monster but it’s not about overcoming problems. It’s just falling flat on your fucking face again and again. The wrong thing feels wrong, you know? It hurts. And there’s no redemption. It just fucking hurts.
That model, to me at least, feels like a way forward on some of this. But like, what the fuck do I know? And if we got to give up some cop shows to get the cops defunded, small price to pay. There are other sorts of stories to tell about other sorts of people. I’d like to see more of them. I do like Monk tho.
If you ever have the misfortune of mixing with the “the writing life” crowd at one of their little summits or stumble upon a lost member of this tribe, wandering lonely and disoriented, in the concrete wilds of the real world, there’s something you’ve probably heard them say. They say it a lot. The words vary but the substance remains the same.
Listen – does it sound familiar? It goes like this:
“There’s no such thing as inspiration. Writing is work. You have to view it as work.”
This is usually followed by the ritualistic invocation of word counts. Targets, goals, the usual sorts of quantities and whatnot that one may find at a job. One is instructed to meet these goals, day in and day out, until they die, their life wasted.
And the argument does have a certain appeal. It makes the whole thing seem less airy-fairy and mysterious than it might otherwise be. Gives the whole endeavor a veneer of blue-collar dignity. (Tell your blue collar parents you want to be a writer and see how long that lasts.) There’s even some truth to it. You do need to write –if writing is, for some fucking reason, what you want to do. You do need to show up and put the work in. There’s no way around that. But there is a lie here – the lie is that’s all you need to do.
I might be a dying breed here. I believe in inspiration. I believe in the muses, though I don’t call them that, I just call them the ghosts. I’ve written with them a few times and without them a lot more often. Sometimes the ghosts are talking to me, sometimes, they’re howling, other times, they’re whispering. Most often, they’re silent.
In California, the ghosts just wouldn’t talk to me. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the climate. It might be that whole place has been so mined for fiction that it basically is fiction. The ghosts there might just be exhausted. I may just not be up to the task of finding anything to say about California that wasn’t beat into a cliche in fiction before it even really happened. But I showed up and did the work and have a few novels to show for it anyway. I never really know if anything I write is good or not –or if other people will think it is– but I do know when the ghosts are with me and, there, they weren’t.
Now, four or five years ago, Wife and I headed to Seoul, and the ghosts talked to me. I came back and wrote the only book that I liked while I was in the states. In Cali, I had to hunt for ideas and never really liked them when I caught them. But two weeks in Seoul? I was suddenly, dirty word here, inspired.
I don’t really know what that means. (If I did, I would call it “ghosts.”) It might just be the climate. Quite possibly, I just think better in humidity and with weather. This would make sense. Weather is such a fucking obstacle in Canadian fiction. It’s a thing that must always be dealt with, usually by moving your characters inside. I might just be built for that style. Or it could be the visual and human density of these cities. God knows, in Cali, my senses felt generally underwhelmed. They were attuned to danger and not much else. The whole place felt empty. The spaces were too big, the views too long, the sky too blue and big and the background just too much the fucking same thing day after day after day. I had to hunt for ghosts in that big flat empty and, when I found them, they never spoke to me. But I showed up anyway. Wrote my daily words and fucked off.
It’s a good thing I did. Ghosts or no, every time I write, every time I fail, I learn how to do something. I’ve written whole books just to teach myself some new trick. That’s where the work matters. It’s there so that if the ghosts show up and start talking, you have something to say back to them. You can hold a conversation. All that talking to myself came in handy. When they spoke to me, I was there. I could deal with it.
Of course, that book, working title, “Three to Zero”, never sold. No one would buy it. People stopped returning my emails, unfriended me on the SNS, and my friends won’t even read the fucking thing. My wife read it. She liked it. I mean, she did hate the ending but she hated it for the right reasons. It’s a bit like how she feels about me. I did hear back from one publisher. They’re not looking for pessimistic fiction. They want optimistic stuff these days. And it’s too long. So they say.
Now, that shit hurts me. That’s like a real punch in the stomach. I write a lot of stuff, most of it without the ghosts, and I might try to sell it, but when the answer is “no” I don’t really mind. These things are usually experiments or attempts and I’m not that connected to them. But when I write something that I think is good –something better than I’m even capable of writing alone– and that gets a “no”? That hurts me. Especially when the thing is getting rejected for being itself. When it’s too much what it is.
I’ve been through this before. With “Technicolor Ultra Mall.” It took ages to sell. Like five to seven years or something. I can’t remember. But a really long time. And it kept getting rejected for being too violent. In some cases, people really liked it but they didn’t think they could sell it. That fucked me up. I just don’t know how to cope with that.
I mean, you do the best you can do, and it’s good but that doesn’t matter?
Well, those writer’s life types have another mantra for that – you have to be able to deal with rejection. I’ve heard that one a lot. There’s some truth there, I suppose. But, at the same, time, it seems to select for the most pig-headed, insensitive buffoons, in the writing community. And then we wonder why so many of our writers are pig-headed, insensitive buffoons. Like, if ignoring people and refusing to listen is a job qualification, you probably shouldn’t be surprised at who makes the cut. But there’s some truth there.
You do have to keep showing up.
But I’d say it’s not about selling books. (I have to say that, I sell so very few.) You show up and write because you like writing more than doing other things –even when the ghosts aren’t talking– and because you want to be ready if they do. Writing is not a job. It’s not even like a job. You show up to a job to get paid. This writing shit has to be its own reward. That’s why I keep doing it even when no one is reading. When the books don’t sell and won’t ever get published? I don’t even give a fuck. I do it for me.
But the business part? The selling part? For that part, I need to get paid. And, if I don’t, I don’t sell. I just try to keep the two things in different compartments. I don’t make writing my job and I sure fucking don’t make getting published my passion. Hell, when publishers ask too much of me, vis a vis, guidelines, I just say fuck it. That’s time better spent writing. And we don’t have endless time on this planet.
On that note, I’ve got to go. I’ve left California and the ghosts are whispering. I don’t want to keep them waiting. They’re moody fuckers.