Why Reading and Writing are a Collaboration

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

People don’t passively consume books, they participate in them. They cast themselves in the lead role, acquiring the hero’s goal, going through their evolution, learning all the same lessons. They feel the protagonist’s sense of urgency. They wait until it’s safe to set their bookmark in the page.

Authors need not write choose-your-own adventure novels to get their readers in on the action. When the author sets the scene, the reader chooses the angles. When the author determines the perspective, the reader adjusts the focus. When the author describes the environment, the reader provides the soundscape.

Writers should leave room for these contributions.

I disagree with any literary theory class that convinces students there’s only one way to interpret a story’s symbolism, that only the astute will walk away with the right understanding. I hate discussions that turn everyone’s translation into something uniform, that homogenize the imagination, that turn text into fixed images.

A line of description is worth a thousand pictures. We all see stories differently.

My reading of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness is going to differ heavily from yours. My mind’s art department added some after market modifications to the giant penguins, making them more disturbing. Since those blind birds were livestock for something in the shadows, I decided to see them with their eyes seared shut, wings clipped, and ankles fused together in crystalline slime, their feathers dripping with oil and blood. Lovecraft drew up the creature designs, but it’s my inner Industrial Light and Magic team that assembled them.

At the Mountains of Madness

At the Mountains of Madness

What Reading and Filmmaking have in Common

Film is a collaborative medium. Screenplays are maps, they are not the terrain. There are discoveries to be made by every artist walking down the screenwriter’s path. The screenwriter might have the hero catch the villain’s punch and twist his arm, but the fight choreographer might think it’d look cooler if the villain flipped himself free.

This is why screenwriters are told not to use camera directions like:

PAN TO SILHOUETTE

ZOOM IN ON KNIFE

or EXTREME CLOSEUP – EYES FULL OF PANIC

These lines do the cinematographer’s job for them. Specifics limit the director of photography’s artistic contribution, taking the discovery of the shots away from them.

Screenwriters shouldn’t do the actor’s jobs for them either. Using a parenthetical, a writer could specify the tone of every line, but they shouldn’t. The situation should dictate the delivery. It’s up to the actor and the director to suss out the emotions themselves. Good dialogue leaves room for spontaneity, for the little gems actors give in the spur of the moment.

In the same sense that screenwriters shouldn’t direct from the page, authors shouldn’t do the readers’ job for them. Like film, fiction writing is a collaborative medium.

Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451

How to Leave Room for Your Reader’s Imagination

As writers, it’s our job to illuminate just enough of our environments to let the reader play set designer, matte artist, and lighting department. We layout just enough of our characters’ costumes to leave the reader in charge of tailoring. We identify sounds, but we don’t mark every noise with an onomatopoeia. That’s where the reader gets to play foley artist. We evoke the sound effect, they pull it up from their memory archives. Who are we to debate with readers, when they turn our “muffled thuds” into thunderous crashes in their heads?

When it comes to writing supernatural stories, it’s often best to leave room for abstraction, to describe something seen out of the corner of your hero’s eye, to describe a silhouette, teasing the reader with the details in the dark.

Read Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane for a masterclass in supernatural writing. Gaiman doesn’t describe the creatures in this novel down to their molecular level, instead he gives you an impression. Sometimes they’re shadows that disappear the moment the narrator focuses on them. Sometimes they’re so horrifying that the narrator’s memory wipes their image the moment he looks away.

Gaiman gives you an idea of the creatures and asks your imagination to do the heavy lifting. One of my favorite descriptions was something along the lines of, “These ancient creatures weren’t dinosaurs, but rather the buzzards that fed on dinosaurs.”

He leaves just enough of a Madlib for his readers to fill in.

One of my favorite tricks in Gaiman’s tool box is when he has the narrator question his recollection. The narrator wonders how he could’ve ever mistaken his nether-realm nannie’s face for anything but a pile of strategically placed rags, until the light shifted and she was beautiful again. Those fluid descriptions had my mind staging grand productions.

Upon finishing Gaiman’s book, I adored the movie the two of us made in my head. I know The Ocean at the End of the Lane has already been optioned for the big screen, but I suspect I’ll prefer my adaptation to the theatrical one.

When people say, “The book was better than the movie” what they’re really saying is, “My interpretation of the book was more vivid, more involving, and more layered than the movie had time to be.”

They’re not arguing the worth of one medium over another, that’s like comparing apples to oranges, they’re arguing the value of imagination over tangible representation. They’re arguing for their version. This is why I’m not afraid of a scenario like the one found in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, where books fall so far out of fashion that they’re burned. Too many readers care about their own artistic contributions to let that happen.

Films have the power to invoke the imagination, the best leave spaces for their audiences to wander in, but books are always wide open, waiting for your input, your vision, and your additions.

Stephen King says, “Writing is telepathy.” I’d say the best of these messages evolve upon delivery.

All artistic mediums invite participation from their observer, but few offer as much creative freedom as literature.

The Depression on My Shoulder

Depression has been a pressing issue on the news these days, with newscasters talking about mental illness like outside observers, despite the fact that 1 out of 4 people experience some form of it in their lifetimes. I won’t claim to have insight on the individuals they’re discussing, I can’t tell you what Robin Williams was thinking, but I can offer a metaphor to explain why some of us don’t come forward.

Allow me to borrow a plot line from an episode of The Twilight Zone (I’ve included a link to the entire episode at the end).

There's a gremlin on my wing.

There’s a gremlin on my wing.

There’s a gremlin on my wing, pulling out the systems I need to function. He’s dug beneath my skin, undermining my self-esteem. He’s ripping out memories I have no need to see, bringing things to the surface I’d prefer to leave buried.

Whenever I venture outside of my comfort zone, he tampers with my fuel gage, convincing me I don’t have what it takes to go the distance. Whenever I get off to a flying start, he tinkers with my propeller, convincing me I’ll crash and burn the longer I keep talking. Whenever I’m riding high on possibilities, he brings me down to sputter out, crashing on my pillowcase alone.

Between my neckline and my clavicle he’s dug his claws in, a hijacker issuing demands. He’s got me in a holding pattern and I can’t seem to shake him. He wants to go south with the conversation. He wants to go nowhere fast. He wants to go crazy. He’s my first class saboteur, my snark passenger, my very important burden. He’s a collar crawler, a nightmare at five-foot-four, the Depression on my shoulder.

He puts new acquaintances on standby, when I actually have the time for them. He leaves copilots out on the tarmac, when I could use some direction. He cuts off my support systems, when I could use help navigating the turbulence. His no fly list is ever expanding, banning ex-room mates, ex-coworkers, and ex-girl friends from getting anywhere near his captain.

Waving his security wand, Depression scrutinizes everyone. He finds contraband in the form of narcissistic tendencies, codependency, and disloyalty. He uses x-rays to detect second faces. He performs cavity searches of micro-expressions.

He says, “We’ve already got too much baggage. As it stands, this craft is only equip for fair weather. These people will just bring us down. We have to fly solo until it’s safe to start letting people in.”

I want to offer my friends a shoulder to cry on, but its occupied at the moment. I want to offer a sympathetic ear, but someone’s whispering into it. I want to offer stability, but my rudder is off balance.

Marking up the flight maps with negative associations, Depression says, “The girl who stood you up goes to that coffee shop, now it’s in a no fly zone, so is the club that wouldn’t take your card, and the bar that made you feel your age. Oh, and don’t bother going home for Christmas, that whole area is in hostile airspace.”

Depression never lets me reach a certain altitude without putting me down.

Depression never lets me reach a certain altitude without putting me down.

Bad News Flies First Class 

Bad news travels at supersonic speeds. It’s Depression’s fuel, it’s his inflight entertainment. It’s what he’s got up on all of my instruments. The displays play an in memoriam montage without end. There go beloved childhood icons, actors, and musicians in their prime. There go fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, husbands and wives. There go captains who took directions from their gremlins.

Depression stares at me from the aisle, with a microphone wrapped around his fingers, his face set aglow by a backseat screen.

“This is your Depression speaking, please turn on all cell phones and automatic devices. Then get on social media, because tragedy is trending. To your left you’ll see an ongoing story that will make you feel like you’re losing your faith in humanity, and to your right you’ll see comments that will help you lose it completely.”

The world is in chaos. There are so many headlines stacked up on the window, I can’t see the horizon. I’m internalizing the external, flying blind. It’s not that Depression lies, it’s that it isn’t very well informed. It senses patterns in limited information, then speculates with confidence. It finds scary stories to reinforce its suspicions, then emerges emboldened.

Depression booms over the speakers, “According to the radar it isn’t safe to land anywhere. The ice caps are melting. The runways are flooding, and people are rioting. They’re invading everywhere. They’re shooting planes right out of the sky. It’s open season on anyone with a pilot’s license.”

He walks down the cabin, pulling things out of the overhead compartments: unfinished screenplays, lyrics I never sang to girlfriends, and manuscripts I never had the courage to send. Depression performs a one man show for his captive audience, mixing and matching lines from what he’s found.

He’s got me facing the wrong direction.

I make my way for the dining trays, chowing down on whatever’s around. Whether it’s  cheese slices straight from the wrapper, pepperonis from the bag, or Ben & Jerry’s, the in-flight meal is always my feelings.

3. Flicking the little bastard off

Depression at 20,000 Feet

Depression never lets me reach a certain altitude without putting me down.

He says, “If you were any kind of pilot, we’d be there already. Instead we’re lost in the storm.”

I grip the controls a little tighter. “Sometimes the only way out is through.”

Depression grunts. “Or in circles, apparently. How’s that tailspin working out for you?”

He’s the peanut gallery I carry with me. My own private Friars Club. My personal heckler. He’s a passive aggressive parasite, a bullying barnacle, a foot on the coattails of my ego. He’s the alpha male dominating the conversation, the monkey stabbing me in the back, the jockey that’s riding me.

His stigma allows him to get away with his destruction. No one else sees him, because no one is looking.

I’m afraid to yell, “There’s something on the wing!” because sometimes there’s no sign of him. Sometimes I forget, there was ever turbulence. I keep the truth buried in my black box.

My friends might not see him, but whenever I examine myself his big ugly mug is staring right at me. I’m afraid to call attention to the damage he’s done, for fear I’ll run out of places to land.

I’m afraid to yell, “There’s something on the wing!” because whoever’s listening might bind my hands, giving Depression free rein to pull me apart in silence.

I want to shine a light on him, to hit him with the flare gun, I just don’t want to lose cabin pressure in the process.

I’ve learned to live with him, to adjust for the added weight, to divert energy into other systems, to compensate. The things that come easily for others, take more fuel than you might expect for me. The things others do to stave off boredom, I do just to keep myself functioning. The things others think are routine, I do with all of my engines firing.

He’s the reason it’s not so easy to straighten up and fly right, to man up and snap myself out of it. My Depression, my gremlin, my stigmatized stowaway.

There’s something on my wing. You might not see it, but I assure you, it’s out there.

The Problem with Comment-Sized Blog Posts

"You promised to tell me everything I needed to know about self-publishing, but only delivered a few measly paragraphs."

“You promised to tell me everything I needed to know about self-publishing, but only delivered a few measly paragraphs.”

Have you ever clicked on a link only to discover it failed to provide any information beyond a definition of the subject in question? The article took a few paragraphs to confirm the topic’s importance, before wrapping up with a handful of links. You clicked on one to find a post that was virtually identical to the one you were just reading; short, simple, and useless.

You’ve uncovered a network of bloggers attempting to establish their authority by dipping their feet into conversations without diving all the way in. Underestimating their reader’s attention span, they figured you’d stop skimming a few paragraphs in. They end before coming to the conclusions promised by their headlines. What’s worse is you got the sense they knew what they were talking about, that they had the information, but were hoarding it for themselves.

They hold their advice back so they can sell it to you, but you’re not sure of its value. How could you be, when these writers cut themselves off in the middle of showing their credentials?

I come across these placeholders when I follow links on self-publishing more so than when I seek them out on my own. Sure, these marketing masters try to fill their paragraphs with buzzwords for search engine optimization, but the articles on self-publishing that show up on Google, benefit from having engagement. Their commenters elevate the conversation.

There’s no shame in offering quick tips, micro sized posts to raise awareness of a fresh topic, just label it as such. Don’t be liberal with the phrase “Everything You need to Know About Self-Publishing.”

The word “Everything” implies something longer than an essay answer.

If you have genuine knowhow share it. If you think traditional publishing is dead. Show me your data. I don’t care if you’ve felt that way for a long time. Have you had industry experience? A hunch is not a credible source. Observations from the outside looking in do not make us expert witnesses.

"False advertising is not a great way to establish your brand."

“False advertising is not a great way to establish your brand.”

The Self-Publishing World is Filled with Empty Advice

I love the idea of self-publishing, doing everything on my own, and cutting out the middlemen, but just because that feels like a great way to share my work, doesn’t mean it’s the most effective one. I don’t need another opinion to reinforce that feeling. I need hard stats to help me examine my options. Many of us shopping our manuscripts around are wondering the same things.

Bloggers, if you found an effective formula for promoting your self-published works, take us through the steps.

What are some of the best ways to get the word out? How effective are book trailers, local readings, and short term discounts? Should we wait until we have several books for sale before giving anything away for free? Should self-publishers take to Twitter to ask for reviewers? Should we swap reviews with other writers? Is there a conflict of interest there?

If we use social media to target our audience, which sites get the most engagement? Everyone says Reddit is where it’s at, how do we establish ourselves on that? What percentage of our time should we devote to social networking versus content creation? Can blogs really raise an audience’s interest in their author’s voice for narrative?

For every one of these questions I’ve found answers to I’ve found ten comment-sized articles that acknowledge their importance, but little else. As if to say, “That’s a great question, but can I ask you something? What’s that over there?”

"Give me all your thoughts on the subject, even if you have to break it into parts."

“Give me all your thoughts on the subject, even if you have to break it into parts.”

The Right Way to Do It

Something happens when too many bloggers adapt the quantity over quality philosophy.  Readers notice. Some would-be bloggers emulate the format, echoing the same vague statements of encouragement, plagiarizing platitudes, devaluing their brand before it’s been established. Others get discouraged, wondering, “What’s the point if every blog offers the same thing?”

Of the self-publishing advice sites I’ve found, there is an article format that works great. Successful self-publishers spend a month focusing on a specific subject, like formatting eBooks or making good cover art. They write a long form article, filled with pictures, deep technical insights, and they break it down into a series of weekly numbered posts.

This is the best of both worlds.

Rather than blowing their load on one big information dump, these bloggers have a month of fresh content. These segments are short enough to hold readers’ attention, they deliver what they promise, and they give a guy like me something to dive into once the whole shebang is online.

The Truth About Where Writers Get Their Ideas

I'm plagued with ideas

I’m plagued with ideas

Writers are always asked where our ideas come from. Our answer is usually a deflection in case potential rivals are listening in. If we told the truth, everyone would be making a play at our game.

Of course we know where our ideas come from, we just want to keep our inspiration in house. We have a monopoly on our muses, exclusivity deals with our delusions, and first rights with our figments of the imagination. Our creativity is under contract. We lie to keep poachers off our lots, to keep talent thieves from ensnaring our rising stars, to leave headhunters scratching their own.

Writers are the rulers of our own entertainment empires. We keep our spark moving through our internal studio system. Non-disclosure agreements forbid us from discussing our process, but today I’m feeling generous.

The majority of my ideas come from Daydream Agents tirelessly pitching their clients. My job is to choose which one I want to spend the next several months with. Writers are really producers deciding which bright ideas to green light.

Hearing Pitches from Daydream Agents

As a producer, I don’t live behind my desk, nor do I need a room full of Evian swirling executives to tell me when a story has potential. I hear elevator pitches everywhere I go.

When I page through the terms of service on my brand new tablet, a Daydream Agent appears in the reflective surface.

Leaning over my shoulder to scroll through the fine print, he smirks. “What if there was a clause that claimed your soul just by tapping the ‘agree’ button, maybe just a fragment of your spirit so you wouldn’t notice it was missing? You go about your routine until you realize something about you was gone. Not a memory, but a sense of understanding.”

I arch an eyebrow, “I’m listening.”

Having whet my appetite, the agent earns my business card. We set up a meeting for whenever I’m having trouble sleeping.

I'm haunted by ideas

I’m haunted by ideas

Later that day, I’m at the bookstore looking to expand my library, when I overhear a pair of women talking about how a certain memoir ought to be labeled as fiction.

Flipping through the pages, a woman shakes her head at the book in her hands, “Go Ask Alice was written by a psychologist trying to make a cautionary tale for teenage girls. She dressed it up as this anonymous diary to make it more authentic than an after school special. I’m telling you, she wrote a whole series of these. Her next one, Jay’s Journal, was about this dude who got seduced into a Satanic cult. It read like a bad found footage movie.”

Watching the women through the bookshelf, I’m startled to find I’m joined by someone else: a Daydream Agent with a stack of memoirs in her hands.

Snapping her fingers, she turns to me. “What if someone hired a ghostwriter to forge a memoir, but instead of scaring teens straight it kills them with a curse? It’s Go Ask Alice meets The Necronomicon.”

Grabbing the Agent’s shoulder, I shush her. “You had me at a curse that kills teenagers.”

Ensuring this idea has an opportunity to build a rapport with me, we schedule a meeting for the next time I’m stuck in a long line.

I'm surrounded by ideas

I’m surrounded by ideas

That night I’m out at the bar, listening to a group of hipsters talk about the dark side of viral video: gross-out porn, gore memes, and the disturbing snuff footage posted by trolls in random comment sections.

A Daydream Agent slides into the stool beside me. He speaks without making eye contact, like a confidential informant. “What if someone shot a snuff film and a tech savvy viewer set out to exact revenge on behalf of the victim?”

I roll my eyes, “Like in that Nic Cage movie?”

The Agent raises his finger, “This is different, because it turns out the hero’s online allies, the ones helping him track down the killer, are the producers of the original feature. Our hero unwittingly helps them make a second, delivering them another victim.”

I sip my beer like it’s a fine wine. “Sounds complicated.”

The Agent rubs his hands together, “That’s because there’s a twist. Our hero realizes this group has been in the snuff business for some time and according to their pattern he’s   slated to be the star of their next production.”

“That’s pretty downbeat.” I cock my head, he has my ear but it’s on the move.

The Agent slaps the bar in a desperate attempt to keep the energy up. “Okay, knowing that he’s marked for death, the hero stages evidence that points the next vigilante patsy to the creep that showed him the footage in the first place. The producers accepts this dummy offering and our hero goes into hiding.”

“Sounds like a novel.” I rub my chin. “Right now, I’m more into producing smaller features.”

The Agent snaps his fingers, “How about a novella? No subplots. No more than nine chapters. We could give it a micro-budget and streamline the whole thing.”

I shrug. “Now that’s something I could see happening.”

Daydreaming 24/7

A person like me doesn’t get the luxury of going for a run with headphones on. I have to be available to hear pitches everywhere I go.

What if a boogieman stalked a little girl only to find he was being hunted by her imaginary friend?”

Boom, I wrote it.

If only time travel was possible, a publisher could go back and hire a whole hosts of writers before they died in obscurity.”

Alright, here’s the treatment.

If this NSA surveillance continues a rogue agent is going to develop feelings for someone he’s watching. What happens if he tries to make contact with her?”

Let’s find out.

They pitch me in the shower, they pitch me on the John, they captivate their captive audience before I even put my clothes on. They pitch me in my sleep, but dream logic always needs a few dozen rewrites before it ever makes sense. It’s hard to suss out substance from the surreal. I buy the rights to a few visual elements and leave the story to float back into the ether.

My favorite Daydream Agents are the ones that comeback without a callback. I want a fantasy with the confidence to knock on my door after my assistant has told it I’m out. The kind of idea that doesn’t care if I’m working, driving, or in the middle of a conversation.

The best daydreams are the ones I remember without having to write down, the ones with staying power. They’re memorable but timely enough that there’s an urgent need to rush them into production. After all, every author running a private entertainment empire has a slew of summer release dates to lock down.

Idea man blows his top

Idea man blows his top

Ideas are the Easy Part

When readers ask, “Where do your ideas come from?” they don’t realize they’re asking the wrong question. The right one is: “Where do you get the tenacity to flesh your ideas out?”

I’ve been warned that I shouldn’t share my ideas with strangers. I say, why not? There are no million dollar ideas, they’re a dime a dozen. A good idea doesn’t write itself on its own. You still have to write scenes that flow into acts that fit together into something greater.

Hearing story pitches is the easiest part of a writer’s job. It’s putting them into production, keeping them on schedule, and getting a final edit that’s the real challenge. Anyone can say they want to tell a story, it takes skill and dedication to finish it. A good idea doesn’t guarantee memorable characters, witty banter, interesting settings, or good pacing. That’s the real work writers do.

What to do When Your Characters Rise Up Against You

Writers, whatcha gonna do when your characters come for you?

Writers, whatcha gonna do when your characters come for you?

Nothing scares first time writers more than the outlining rituals of their peers. Enter a career novelist’s home and you’ll find evidence of all this stuff you’re supposed to be doing: trains of thought streaking across white boards, flowcharts linking every strand of plot twists, and family trees getting to the roots of character relationships.

You cower beneath these looming physical manifestations of their author’s brains: real calendars doubling as fictitious timelines, maps filled with tacks marking scene locations, and paper dolls modeling the cast members’ fashions.

A laymen might think the author is working on a conspiracy theory, but you know these hieroglyphic diagrams illustrate a story.

Dustin Lance Black, the Academy Award winning Screenwriter of Milk, used a table that fit a finite amount of notecards to keep his scene count down. William Faulkner wrote his outline on his office wall. J.K. Rowling had a database with columns for every chapter of Harry Potter.

My screenwriting professor made us fill out fifty character details, a set of five questions for every walk on role, a summary treatment, and an elevator pitch before we could ever touch our scripts.

To an outsider, these rituals make it seem like drafting is a full time job, like there’s always a writing mechanism that alludes them. With all these mind maps, graphs, and spread sheets, you wonder how much accounting goes into writing? Just when you thought you had the process pinned down, there’s something else you’re supposed to be doing.

Don't look down

Don’t look down

Why waste time with an outline, when you can write by the seat of your pants?

You dabble with plot points, but leave your characters blank. You believe in fate, but not love at first sight. You aren’t ready to commit to a cast member until they show you what they have to offer, until they prove what they can endure. You make their lives dramatic to see what makes them tick.

While other writers define their characters to the genetic level, you want to develop yours organically. While others scrawl their hero’s physical features into series bibles, you want to get to know them over time. So what if you forget their hair color a few pages in, that’s what editors are for.

While other writers fill out personality tests for their characters, you smile at your word counter. While they conduct field research, you skim Wikipedia. While they interview subjects for first hand accounts, you find what you need on TV.

Convincing yourself all your hero should start with is a powerful goal, you toss his bio out the window. Fearing a profile might make him one dimensional, you infuse him with your own soul. Wasting no time on a backstory, you take comfort in knowing you’ve lived one already.

3. Creepy Blue Eyes

You have a vague idea of where you want your story to go, but your hero wants to explore his setting. You let him wander off for a chapter or two, before planting signs to correct the corse he’s on. Too bad the hero has worked up too much momentum to take a U-turn now. The story needs him to confront the villain, but that no longer jives with his motivations.

Refusing to take direction, your hero questions your writing. Venturing outside the lines, he finds his own path. Poking holes in your plot, he dives through one of them.

Becoming three-dimensional, he breaks through the fourth wall. Sensing no future in your imagination, he resorts to meta migration. Bleeding through space and time, your imaginary protagonist becomes a reality. If only you took the proper precautions.

As any published author will tell you, once a work of fiction becomes sentient, it hunts down anyone who had a hand in its development. Realizing his cruel God is just a prick at a keyboard, your character comes a-knocking. Telling their own story, your hero casts you as the villain.

This is where the real writing advice comes in. Before you go filling your grocery basket with notecards, you’re going to need to stock up on ammunition. A writer without an arsenal isn’t going to be a writer for long, not when their Frankenstein’s monster of memories and emotions knows where they live.

This plotless pod person believes he has the upper hand, after all he knows he’s everything you’ve aspired to become. You’re going to have to reel him in by pandering to his motivations. His goal isn’t some literary abstraction. He’s driven to your destruction.

You need to plant a paper trail. All those outline elements you’ve been avoiding, you need to scatter a few of them on the coffee table, enough to let an intruder know that you’re plotting an ending. Give your de facto hero something to go on, then find a place off the grid to stage a final confrontation.

From Ray Bradbury to Stephen King, they all say the next step is the hardest part of writing. Once you’ve arrived at your destination, you’ll have to conjure up a dark portal, one that allows you to step into your story’s reality. King has a genetic anomaly, a congenital clairvoyance, that allows him to do this at will. King’s not a writer so much as a transcriber of other worldly events. We’d all be so prolific if we had the same ability to slip through the multiverse whenever we felt like it.

My method for crossing over involves wine, mood music, and pacing, lots of pacing. Whatever way you cross over, you’re going to want to leave an opening, a tear into the fabric of reality a bystander won’t notice.

The last thing you need is a passersby wandering into a first draft.

If your de facto hero follows your breadcrumbs, he will charge headlong back into the plot. All you need to do is give your villain a makeover to look like you. Swap your garments, then sit back and watch your creations duke it out. By the time your hero realizes what he’s done, you’ll be long gone pitching your manuscript to everyone.

This is where many writers realize their ability to breach parallel realities renders outlining unnecessary. Who needs all those notecard trees, when you can just open a portal and report on the goings on of a neighboring dimension? Still, there are writers who prefer to plan without resorting to quantum entanglements. Whether you write sprawling outlines or manipulate metaphysics there’s no wrong way to do this.

Blogger for Sale: On Sponsored Content

Let me be your billboard

Let me be your billboard

The internet is changing. Readers are spotting sponsored content on the pages they frequent: advertisements inside the margins, formatted to look like headlines. Commercials have moved from popups to the page, from banners to block quotes, from expanding ads to the editorials themselves.

Sidestepping filtering measures like Adblock Plus, marketers are going undercover, posing as endorsements by real writers, hoping reader’s won’t realize one of these articles is not like the others. Resizing their photos to the site’s dimensions, companies show themselves in a positive light. Composing their text to match the site’s layout, companies leave no room to read between the lines. Curating comments, they muzzle descent.

Tech blogs feature glowing reviews of the latest smartphone, long before the editors get their hands on demo models. News outlets endorse corporate mergers, before their business journalists get a chance to weigh in. Secular magazines find religion, before the staff can decide on the right one.

The Church of Scientology paid to have an article with the title ‘David Miscavige leads Scientology to Milestone Year,’ featured in The Atlantic, days before a book criticizing the church went to print. The problem with their piece was that it was too self-congratulatory to be believed. Advertorials are obvious because they have no bite, they’re flatter-fiction, transparent by design.

If your advertisement is going to pose as an article, it needs an angle. It needs conflict, death, and sex. It needs a writer with the courage to criticize every aspect of your business, but still make it look squeaky clean by the end.

That’s where I come in.

As someone who’s built a brand criticizing bad netiquette, I’m in a unique position to pander for payments. I’ll disguise your native advertisements in the same off-color tone as my own rants. My mockery is waiting to be monetized. My contempt is waiting to be cashed in on. My sarcasm is for sale.

Who better to shill your products but someone critical of the practice?

Let my smug mug be your pitchman, hawking your wares with back handed compliments. Let me drag you down to my level, to help raise brand awareness. Together, we’ll test the theory that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

As the Emperor of the sovereign nation of Blogsylvania, I assure you there is no division between the church of currency and the state housing my stories. I have the moral flexibility to bend over backwards. So let’s get this limbo party started.

Put my moral flexibility to the test

Put my moral flexibility to the test

Here’s a title that would make an endorsement of Scientology sound a little more plausible:

“I think L. Ron Hubbard was full of shit, but some of my best friends are Scientologists”

Right out of the gate, a little profanity adds a lot more authenticity. The client takes one step back, to take two steps forward. It’s a patient form of manipulation, planting seeds for delayed gratification. It tricks the reader into thinking this cynical asshole is coming around to the religion. It’s a subtle bandwagon argument, from someone who appears to be above that sort of thing.

Anyone can pay for celebrity endorsements, but to get an aging Gen-Xer’s approval, that’s an accomplishment.

***

Not all advertisers are offering salvation. Some of you are snake oil salesmen, exalting a magical elixir that doesn’t do a thing. The very names of your products get flagged as spam. Our brains are conditioned to skim past them. That’s where my reverse psychology smear campaign can do wonders for your brand.

If I tell my readers that your all-natural male enhancement supplement causes bloody diarrhea, they’re more likely to believe it does what you claim. How could it be a placebo if it causes irritable bowels? After all, side effects mean it does something. Let’s pile a bunch on so they take up half the advertisement. It’s hard for customers to be skeptics when they’re too busy weighing the costs and benefits. Now that’s clever marketing.

***

Ideas just like these are up for auction. If an advertorial sounds too good to be believed, readers know it probably is. It’s time to add authenticity to your sales pitch by passing it through the filter of my self-righteousness.

I know what you’re thinking, who’s this guy to spit in the face of our strategy? I’m someone who raises interest in the hardest product in the world to market: a personal blog.

If I can sell this, I can sell anything.

The Anti-Clickbait Movement and the Return of Long Form Writing

Fishing for another click

Fishing for another click

Depressed by the rise in Clickbait, One Blogger Does Something to Restore Readers’ Faith in Humanity

Bloggers have it tough, working long hours, paying to play, for an audience that may never stay. The world sees our failure as the punchline to an elaborate joke. As far as they’re concerned, our words are selfies for snobs, journals masquerading as journalism, vanity press that wouldn’t exist without the internet.

Scroll through your Facebook feed, compare the choices to what we’re offering. If readers have to pick between our editorial on net neutrality and a report on the death of The Walking Dead’s lead, it’s hard to compete (Andrew Lincoln is alive and well, but that article will be accurate eventually). Sure, we might have important information on OK Cupid’s psychological manipulation plan, but there’s a report going around that Orange is the New Black has been cancelled again.

There’s new footage of a goat/sheep hybrid. This ‘Geep’ is too cute to be ignored. What are we offering that’s so much more enlightening?

While these eye catching links score the page views our latest efforts becomes old news.

When the person next to us is reading clickbait, it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever read one of our long form articles. They may find the experience more rewarding, but they know it’ll be time consuming. While we offer food for thought, they’re choosing junk food instead.

Plenty of bloggers have come down with a case of viral envy. Seeing our friends post lackluster links, we start ‘share shaming’, combing through articles like ‘Things You Never Noticed About Famous Movies’ for factual accuracy.

Spoofing BuzzFeed's logo to make a point

Spoofing BuzzFeed’s logo to make a point

How this Blogger handles Sour Grapes Over Clickbait is Genius

People enjoy reading lists, but do they ever recognize the authorship? They like the format, but would they ever pay for a book written by a contributor? These sites are tailored for turnover. After churning out top ten lists, where can a BuzzFeed freelancer go from there? How many agents are knocking down their door?

People keep telling me there’s no money in long form writing, but how many of these clickbait contributors are rolling in it? How many of them have a long term plan? It’s hard to imagine there’s job security in what they do. The format is so easy to replicate the satirical UpWorthy Generator could replace the headlines on Upworthy proper.

We bloggers, aspiring to be authors, keep telling ourselves that we’re the tortoise and these viral writers are the hare. They’re beating us in traffic but we have a far better chance of getting to our destination. We just have to keep inching along without the instant gratification of watching our stats surge.

We love Memes, but Viral Content Might Be Making Us Sick

In his book The Shallows, Nicholas G. Carr says all this constant skimming is affecting the way we think. Exposure to the internet changes how our minds work offline. The neuroplasticity of our brains shifts, increasing our appetite for entertainment, reducing our attention spans, making it tough to embrace a mere moment of silence.

We’re hungry for information, but only in bite sized little chunks.

Clickbaiters are at the forefront of exploiting this phenomenon. Their science is in composing titles our curiosity can’t help but click on (i.e. everything in bold in this article). Each page view generates revenue. UpWorthy writes 25 headlines for everything they share, meticulously placing hooks readers can’t ignore.

While UpWorthy’s headlines inflate their videos to epic proportions, other sites resort to outright fabrications. If the internet teaches us anything, it’s that the common denominator can always get a little lower.

3 Click Bait

There’s a New Condition that Causes Sufferers to Confuse Lying with Satire

There’s a gullibility test going around Facebook. The way it works is one of your friends posts a link to an article with a headline that’s too amazing to be true, like:

CONFIRMED: HPV Vaccine Linked to Dementia
Neil deGrasse Tyson: Sixth Extinction Event Will Happen in Our Lifetime
Woody Harrelson Shot and Killed Outside of Vegas Nightclub

Here’s where this becomes a test: do you do a quick Google search for more information, see if the New York times has weighed in on these developments, or do you just hit ‘share’ to inform your friends?

If you hit ‘share’ you should look up, it says ‘GULLIBLE’ on the ceiling.

One of the biggest culprits of this technique is EmpireNews.net. Every article on their home page looks like a scoop, big developments every major news outlets are trailing behind on. The headlines are crazy, but not too far outside the realm of reason.

EmpireNews.net bills itself as “a satirical entertainment website.” Like The Onion without the irony, exaggeration, or social commentary.

Here’s some examples of their “jokes”:

- Jimmy Fallon Fired From The ‘Tonight Show’ After Feud With NBC Executives; Will Jay Leno Return?
‘Ghost Adventures’ Star Gets Fired, Reveals Disappointing Truth About Paranormal Television Series
Facebook Announces New Design Changes, Massive Overhaul Coming In October

These are works of fiction, but unlike entries from The Onion they’re too banal to be satirical.

The idea of Jimmy Fallon feuding with NBC Executives isn’t ironic. TV personalities posture for raises all the time. There’s no real mockery. A satirical headline would’ve read:

Conan O’Brien Fired From ‘The Conan O’Brien Show’ After Feud with TBS; Jay Leno to Take Over Title Role.

It would feature a Photoshopped picture of Leno sporting Conan’s iconic red hair, and it would’ve come out over a year ago, when it would’ve been timely. Empire’s title is designed to upset Fallon’s fans, tricking his viewers into sharing the bad news with their friends.

Faking TV show cancellations, celebrity arrests or deaths, is a cheap way to find success. It get’s clicks, but those clicks don’t guarantee engagement. At the time of this writing none of the articles on EmpireNews’s main page feature a single comment. Either no one has anything to say, or the admins delete anything critical of what they’re doing.

Empire News is looking for contributors. Nowhere on their hiring page do they mention humor. Part of me wants to apply, submitting the dictionary definition of ‘satire’ as my writing sample.

4 Click Bait

Long form Journalism is making a comeback, You’ll Never Guess Where

If you visit BuzzFeed’s main page, you’ll find something funny. Above the trending titles, footage of celebrity fisticuffs, and videos of kittens, is news. At the time of this writing, the ceasefire in Gaza is the top headline. Next to that is a thorough article on Uganda striking down its Anti-Homosexuality act.

While local newspapers are doing everything they can to turn themselves into printed versions of websites, BuzzFeed is dabbling in 2,000 + word articles. Two years ago BuzzFeed hired former SPIN and Details editor Steve Kandell to edit their long form content. Kandell’s goal was to produce sharable editorials, after all it’s the title that gets the click, but he realizes that it’s the depth that gets the engagement.

I knew none of this when I started this piece. I assumed BuzzFeed was the big bad and traditional media was picking up its habits. A little research, spun my thesis on its head.

My friends in local news outlets tell stories about editors begging for more top ten lists, drooling at the prospect of getting BuzzFeed’s traffic.

Traditional media is destroying traditional media by confusing reduction with adaptation. By shifting their efforts to quick consumption, they abandon topics worth sharing. By curating someone else’s content they diminish the value of their own. While CNN fills their main page with videos of puppies, in a desperate attempt to beat BuzzFeed at their own game, BuzzFeed is dabbling in real news.

This is something to keep in mind whenever someone tells you, “There’s no room for real writing in a post-BuzzFeed world.”

BuzzFeed doesn’t seem to think so.

Long form writing isn’t a dated practice, it’s a niche, one in need of writers willing to embrace it.

Bloggers, if you can’t fit your thesis into 500 words, go longer. Complete your thought. Your intriguing headline deserves an equally compelling closing argument. It’s easier to get readers to click on your page than to follow it. Show them that you have what it takes to go the distance.

John Constantine in: Gambling with Souls

1. Nostrils

The following is a demon possession story with an unconventional outcome, a pitch black horror adventure with a whole lot of comedy.

I’ve written about how I’d like to see a fresh take on the exorcism genre and how I’d like to see my favorite exorcist, John Constantine, depicted on TV. Here’s an original short story that hits both birds with the same stone. It doesn’t matter if you’re fans of the comic, the show, the movie, or if this your first introduction to the character; this piece stands on its own.

John Constantine in: Gambling with Souls

Ravenscar had been remodeled since my last bout of electroshock. The patients’ wing had been done up like a walk-in candy cane. The hall was a spiral of blood, streaking across the floor, up the wall, arching over the ceiling, then back down again. This paint job must’ve taken muscle, a steady hand, and a cadaver.

The hall stunk like a thawed out, abandoned meat locker. The smell intensified with every step, but the spiral beckoned me forward, a red carpet leading to the room at the end.

The door was ajar, daring me to step inside.

Fishing my phone out of my pocket, I set the flash to ON. Holding it into the unit, a chill moved down my wrist. Taking a snapshot, the flash revealed something at my feet. Recoiling, I felt the chill pass in an instant. Flicking my lighter across my thigh, I examined the threshold.

Turns out, I wasn’t the first mage in Dr. Huntoon’s rolodex. These sigils were drawn by an artist, someone versed in the mediums of salt, mirror shards and mercury. This was hybrid magic, a fusion of fringe spiritualism and esoteric witchcraft. It’s not unusual to find an etching of the Eye of Horus at the scene of a paranormal event, but it’s rare to find it accompanied by a nose and a mouth. This had Zed’s finger prints all over it.

Zed was a budding sorceress, rebelling against her evangelical upbringing by sticking her nose into these sorts of things. We’ve been riding each others coat tails ever since we ceased being an item.

Whatever lurked behind door number one hadn’t given me frostbite, Zed’s ward did. It was overkill, like using an EMP to take out the enemy’s communications, only to find you’ve disabled all of your weapons systems. This was arse about a face. Sure, it put up borders around bewitchments, but it was kryptonite for conjurers.

Here I was with a trench coat lined with magical trinkets. One step forward would render them useless, putting me at the mercy of Ravenscar’s latest tenant.

Ducking into the hall, I unloaded my arsenal. Pendants, potions, pentacles, rings, relics, runes, incense, ironweed, and insect repellant. What can I say? When I go in blind, I like to keep my options open.

The only things I kept in my pockets were a phone, a zippo, a pack of Silk Cuts, a tin filled with business cards, and a bottle of OxyContin I’d nicked from the doctor’s private stash. You know, the essentials.

Peeking at my phone, I saw what I’d expected: a tall lump beneath a sheet on the mattress. Expanding the image, I noticed something that didn’t sit right. If this was the bed, where were the pillows?

Pushing the door open, I felt Zed’s invisible fencing suck the magic from my skin.

“House keeping.” My voice echoed off the walls. It was a familiar sound, almost comforting, like coming home.

2. Newcastle

The lump under the covers remained frozen. My gaze followed the blood trail to a pair of legs beneath the bed frame: white orderly pants stained rusty brown. There were teeth marks at the ankles, exposing the Achilles’ tendon. Flies had colonized the bed. Here I left my insect repellant in the hall. The sheets dripped with black, brown, and yellow sludge. Whatever was living in here was nesting.

I wondered if Zed was so gobsmacked with the presentation, that she opted to just lock the bugger in.

Screwing a cigarette into my lips, I lit it up and took a puff, paying close attention to the direction the fire was leaning. Fire is attracted to two things, oxygen and demons. Let’s just say this flame wasn’t stretching for the door frame.

Clipping the zippo to my sleeve, I rolled my shoulder, cracking my neck to conceal my movements. Waving the cancer stick like a conductor, I hoped the ember would hold my audience’s attention. Inhaling as much as I could, I blew a smoke cloud overhead. Adjusting my coat, there was nothing up my sleeve, not even an arm. My fingers were up near my collar, ready to catch whatever life had to throw at them.

Reaching for the comforter with my free hand, I found a corner that had yet to be tainted by bodily fluids. Tearing the sheet away, I tilted my head straight up. I already knew where the pillows had gone. Raising my arm through my collar, I caught my attacker as she came down.

She fell right into my grasp. I flung her into her stuffed stand in. The pillows scattered. She landed on all fours, a cat with perfect balance. Her gown dripped with the same septic sap that oozed over the bed frame. You’d think smoking since primary school might spare my nose the smell. It didn’t.

The tenant smiled, revealing a face full of talons, claws in place of canines, a fine piece of skeletal transmogrification if I’d ever seen one. Her eyes were milky white. Her veins had turned black.

Digging her nails into the mattress, spittle seeped from her teeth. “Why can’t we read your mind?”

What is it with lesser demons and the royal we?

Shrugging, I took a puff, exhaling through my nostrils. “Because you’re illiterate.”

Zed might not have exorcized this demon, but at least she’d rendered it mind blind.

The tenant rubbed its eyes. “We read Dr. Huntoon’s mind. Did you know he has an ongoing fantasy about reviving Carl Jung’s sexual therapy? He longs to help push his patient’s traumatic memories down, deep down inside,” she cackled, “over and over again.”

I shrugged. “That’s just a lucky guess.”

The tenant shift her weight from shoulder to shoulder, a predator primed to pounce. “Are you one of his, or did your condition bring you to us like a moth to a flame? Maybe you suffer from some kind of savior complex? Either way, we can make the hurting stop.”

I chuckled, “‘Savior’ is not a word I hear that often.”

“So you’re not some Papist come to play Jesus?” The tenant squint, sizing me up with empty eyes.

I blew a smoke ring, “Nope,” I waved the nub of my filter. “although my meat suit does have the same initials.”

The tenant’s head cocked to the side, shaking like a maraca. “Your meat suit?”

Flicking the filter, I reached into my coat. “Oh yes, his name is John Constantine. John Constantine!” I flung a handful of business cards at her. “It would be remiss of me to rob him of a branding opportunity while he’s away.”

Leaning forward, the tenant’s hair fell into her teeth like floss. Her head bobbed up and down, tracing my aura from the floor to the ceiling.

The tenant shook her head, casting off dandruff. “If you’re really wearing this Constantine, why aren’t there any stretch marks? Why is their color in his cheeks? Why can we still see the light in his eyes?”

I pointed to her “There are puppeteers” then I pointed to myself, “and then there are ventriloquists. You know what you are.”

The tenant nodded. Pigs squealed in the bowels of her throat.

“We’re the devil.”

She spat brimstone at my feet, it sizzled on the tile, but I didn’t flinch.

I reached into my trench coat. The tenant perked up in a painful looking yoga pose. Its elbows bent the wrong way. Its bones stretched the skin. Her flesh was ready to rip right open.

Rolling my eyes, I tapped my phone. The tenant’s forked tongue tasted the air. I raised a finger, signaling for the demon to hold on a second, before flipping the screen to face her.

It was on a freeze frame from The Exorcist. It featured young Regan tied to her bed, skin pealing, her pajamas covered in pea soup. I tapped play.

Regan’s demon voice shouted, “The devil!”

Setting the phone back in my pocket, I ran my fingers through my hair. “Linda Blair circa 1977. There was an actress, you on the other hand, I’m not impressed with. Who’s your agent?”

The tenant smirked, giggled to itself, a child busted for lying. “Why does a fellow traveler need to know our name?”

I cracked my knuckles. “I don’t want your name, you walked into someone else’s home and started eating their food. Your name is Goldilocks. I want the name of the one who told you where to find the free lunch. Give me that and I’ll leave you with a limb to limp home on.”

Smiling, Goldilocks’s jaw sagged, like melted putty, revealing a second row of teeth behind the talons. Leaning forward, she was primed to bite my head off. “Oh, you’d be so merciful.”

She snapped at my ear, grazing the skin, ran her nose across my forehead, sniffed my brow, then snapped at the other one. I’d been knighted by demon. Blood trickled down my earlobe. She’d barely pierced the skin, but the pain was fleeting.

I grit my teeth. “The limb offer is off the table. Cooperate and I won’t reroute your intestines to fill your genitals with bile,” I shrugged, “or don’t cooperate, I’m feeling creative tonight.”

Rolling her head back, Goldilocks spewed a geyser of oil at the ceiling, spreading an inkblot across the tiles. Exhaling, Goldilocks elbows bent back into place, she fell into a heap on the mattress.

Lightning flashed. Thunder struck. Squealing pigs echoed down the hall behind me. I lit another Silk Cut and checked the time.

3. Rubbing Eye

“Doctor?” Goldilocks’s voice had lost its bite, she sounded human. “Who’s that under the bed? What’s wrong with his leg? Why isn’t he moving? Oh my God, is he?…”

This was Angie. The wee lass Dr. Huntoon thought might benefit from my unique approach to therapy.

Angie backed into the wall, huffing and puffing, panic wrought. “You’re not Dr. Huntoon. Who are you? Are you real?”

“I try to be.” I swat the flies out of my face.

The air was thick. It stunk of rotten eggs and charred cinder. A clammy sensation traveled from the small of my back, up my spine, coiled around my neck, and settled on my scalp.

Sucking down my Silk Cut, I gave the poor girl my best poker face. In a game with stakes this high, empathy is the enemy.

“Is it gone? Did you get rid of it?” Angie’s gaze followed the claw marks on the ceiling.

Sweat dripped down my face, pooled in my palm with a white sticky residue. It smelt like hair product. I felt my spikes to find they’d drooped down into bangs.

“Is it safe?” Angie dipped her foot on the floor.

Grabbing her wrist, I checked her forearms for black tracks, ink bubbles riding the ventricles.

“Say ah.”

She did as instructed. Her tongue was solid again. Her teeth had returned to normal. Her gums showed signs of gingivitis, but that’s not my area of expertise.

Prying her eye open, I checked her iris for signs of dilution, but it was something in her pupil that demanded my attention. Seeing my reflection, I spotted a row of fingers on my forehead, bat claws digging into the skin.

“He’s still here.”

Spinning on my heel, I scanned the room for reflective surfaces. Zed had to have gotten those shards from somewhere. There were mirrors on both sides of the wardrobe, one had been shattered, while the other was still intact. Stepping into view, I got a good look at the monkey on my back.

The little bugger looked like an abstract artist’s interpretation of a demon: an emaciated monkey’s body, with a ribcage so sunken it left no room for lungs. Goldilocks’s shoulder-blades were so pronounced they cut through his skin. He had lopsided bat ears, talons for teeth, and the contours of a man’s head.

A crown of bone jut out from a wet gash in his scalp, bleeding down his face like a mask.

His tail hung between my legs with links of exposed vertebras, wagging with amusement. Goldilocks was having himself a piggyback ride. If he’d suspected a vacancy in me, he’d have slipped inside already. He was testing me.

Angie dug into her gown, watching the shadows for signs of movement. “He’s been following me since I burned down the chapel. It wasn’t until you came along that I realized he was the Devil.”

I chuckled, blowing secondhand smoke at Goldilocks’s perch on my back. “A demon calling himself the devil is like a clerk calling himself the manager. Lesser demons invoke the name to inflate their stature. This mug is just a common imp trying to live beyond its means, using the majestic plural to compensate for something.”

I felt Goldilocks’s claws dig into my skull, stopping just short of my brain. I had to drive it back into Angie if I was ever going to stand a chance.

Taking a deep breath, I said, “He’s an enforcer sitting in the boss’s chair, a tapeworm pretending to be a python, a barnacle on a whale’s back, thinking it’s the king of the ocean. It has no grand ambitions, no role in the apocalypse. It’s up here hiding, soiling its knickers at the thought of being dragged back to hell.”

That got the weight off my shoulders.

***

Angie’s eyes rolled into her skull. She arched her back, cracking it. Lightning flashed. Her shadow transformed. Spikes shot out of her lips again.

Shaking the pack of Silk Cuts, I realized I was down to the last one, the final link in a chain of smokes.

Goldilocks crawled forward, staring me down with empty eyes. “Who are you?”

Puffing on the Silk Cut between us, I let the embers flare. “I’m the one whose porridge you’re gobbling. Since Ravenscar was established, I’ve peaked in, nibbling on an obsessive compulsive here, a paranoid schizophrenic there, never taking more than I needed, never announcing my presence. Then you came along and shined a big bright light on my operation. Now my buffet is at an end. Soon they’ll have priests on retainer, buckets of holy water in every doorway, and crucifixes as far as the eye can see.”

Goldilocks’s tongue shift from cheek to cheek, then from eye socket to eye socket. “If that’s so, then we’ll step out of your way. You can have this one’s soul, our treat. We’ll stand guard as you suck it dry.”

Goldilocks raised a finger, “But if you can’t, if you’re not the demon your swagger says you are, then we reserve the right to pick your meat puppet clean.”

I nodded, “Deal.”

Flicking her wrist, Goldilocks slammed the door behind me. When I turned back from the sound, I found Angie scurrying away.

Goldilocks had called my bluff.

4. Looking Back At

Tears streaked down Angie’s cheeks. “Just make it quick. The things it shows me… The things it wants me to do…to people I care about… I can’t go back.”

A breeze passed through Angie’s hair. The strands hung in the air. This time Goldilocks wanted me to know exactly where he was standing.

I could’ve grabbed a shard of mirror, sliced Angie’s throat, and hoped that Goldilocks would sod off out of it, but that would be a draw and I was looking for a win. That’s when I remembered the prescription in my pocket.

Sighing, I put my hand on Angie’s shoulder. “The only way to spare you from his torment is to transfer ownership. His is the realm of venial sins and mine is the realm of mortal ones.”

I pointed to her, “Mala Prohibata,” then to myself “Mala in Se. He deals in sins that are forbidden by man, like playing with matches. I deal in sins that are forbidden by the divine.”

Cupping my hands around Angie’s, I left her with the bottle of OxyContin.

“He will fragment your personality from your memory, turn one aspect against the other, until your soul is a snake eating its own tail. You will devoir yourself. He’s a petty demon. He doesn’t collect souls, he collects tragic outcomes. You’re just another notch on his belt.”

I pointed to the pills. “Come with me and I will hurt you. I will devastate you beyond your comprehension, but I will let you retain a semblance of your identity. This I promise you.”

Angie struggled with the childproof lid. “Who are you?”

My smile flattened. “The true lords of hell do not go by names. We go by numbers, and I my dear, am the first of the fallen.”

If I couldn’t sell the lie to Goldilocks, I’d have to sell it to his target audience.

Angie muttered a prayer.

I shook my head. “With everything you’ve done? No. God’s turned a blind eye and a deaf ear. Your damnation is a foregone conclusion, but you still have a choice in which hell you’re going. Go with Goldilocks, and he’ll pass you around the prison. Go with me, and you’ll be mine alone.”

I practically put the capsules in her mouth myself.

She swallowed them down, and the staring contest began. While Angie searched my eyes for traces of humanity, I searched her hairline for signs of movement. Angie was Goldilocks’s link to the land of the living. Would he go down with the ship or wait for another to come along?

As Angie’s eyelids shut, her hair went limp. I felt Goldilocks’s demon grip on my shoulders. All he had to do was slip into my scalp, possess my body, and he would’ve won, two souls for the price of one. Instead, he leapfrogged over me, looking for a place to hide until the next sad sap wandered in.

The wardrobe creaked.

Walking backward, I cracked my knuckles. Turning to face the mirror, I saw Goldilocks in the reflection, gnashing his teeth, his forehead perpetually bleeding. We stared at each other head on. He won that contest. I couldn’t help but wink.

“Here’s to seven more years of this.” I drove my fist into the mirror. It shattered, trapping the little bastard there.

Leaping onto the bed, I felt Angie’s neck for a pulse. It was fading, worse still she was barely breathing. There were only a few capsules left in the bottle, but I’d underestimated their effect. Gambling with Angie’s life, I delivered her soul to the genuine first of the fallen, tossing her out of the frying pan and into the volcano.

Scooping Angie up, I carried her across Zed’s invisible fence. Panicking, I ran past my arsenal of enchantments. I had one last option.

***

Kicking the door open, I announced our presence.

The electroshock chair was already occupied. The patient seized up in the throes of his session.

A nurse shot up from behind him. “We’re in the middle of a procedure!”

Laying Angie’s lifeless body on the floor, I said, “So am I.”

Plucking the electrodes from the patient’s head, I made a makeshift defibrillator. Cranking the dials up past I eleven, I yelled, “Clear!”

***

When Angie came to, she spent the first few minutes staring daggers at me. Even after they fit her with an I.V. full of Buprenorphine, she kept her gaze fixed.

“So, are we in hell?” She asked.

I gave her a so-so gesture. “Not exactly.”

She exhaled, filling the air with tension.

“You told me to kill myself, to commit a mortal sin. You persuaded me to play an active part in my own damnation. You told me you were the first of the fallen.”

Making my way to the door, I shrugged. “Listen love, I say a lot of things.”

5. Smiles

For more on the adventures of John Constantine check out my review of the pilot episode for the Constantine TV Show.

For more of my stories on demons and possession check out:

Eviction Notice – The tale of landlord tasked with tossing out a tenant possessed by a demon.

The Great American Tell Off Speech – The story of the hiring manager from hell interviewing a genuine demon.

Terms and Conditions – The story of an artist who tries to steal his inspiration back from the devil.

For my thoughts on the role of exorcisms in modern fiction, check out: Horror Clichés in need of an Exorcism.

Drew Tube

1. Drew Tube

I’m thinking of entering into the world of video blogging, but I don’t want to be another run of the mill media critic. I need a gimmick, a hook that let’s the viewer know that I have no shame and I’m not afraid to prove it.

The following is a collection of v-blog pitches, some are sheer brainstorm brilliance while others are train of thought train wrecks. At the end, you can vote on which ones are which.

Genre Fiction Mad Libs

Author, Christopher Booker believes writers keep recycling seven basic plots. Let’s prove him right. Collecting over-used film tropes I’ll outline the templates for making a romantic comedy, a home invasion horror movie, and a dystopian teen empowerment fantasy. I’ll compose five minute mad lib plot lines and invite the audience to help fill the character details in. A week later we’ll see the results unfold.

Pitch Perfected

Viewers suggest the worst movies they can think of and I’ll pitch them like they’re awesome, polishing these steaming turds into Oscar statues.

Listen to me pitch The Phantom Menace as a political intrigue thriller. Jar Jar Binks, a Gungan without a country, assumes the role of bumbling imbecile to trick members of a religious order into saving his world from a genocidal conspiracy.

Listen me intellectualize The Room as one woman’s descent into terminal narcissism, an unflinching examination of how personality disorders play into infidelity, a film that holds a mirror to society, forcing us to take a critical look at ourselves.

Listen to me call Gigli a shocking exposé of the mental healthcare industry, a rallying cry for the handicapped, and a mature look at sexual identity.

Listen to me nominate Troll 2 for inclusion in the Criterion Collection, calling it a film with a strong message about the environment.

Nostalgia Nostradamus

Nostalgia Nostradamus predicts which beloved children’s cartoon will be turned into Michael Bay’s latest series of sunsets and tracking shots. Thunder Cats? Voltron? Gargoyles?

The trick in Nostalgia Nostradamus’s tricorn hat is his ability to predict how producers of these reboots will get everything wrong:

- He-Man cries, “I have the power” as he raises the barrel of his new lightening gun.
– She-Ra’s wind resistant skirt is replaced with pants.
– Filmation’s Ghostbusters get’s rebooted. Not the team with Egon, Ray, Peter and Winston, but the one that drives around with a gorilla in a talking ghost car.

Nintendo controller by Bitter String Art. Check them out at https://www.etsy.com/shop/BitterStringArt

Nintendo controller by Bitter String Art.

Feminize a Video Game Franchise

I come up with plots for female leads in male dominated video game series. For example:

An Assassin’s Creed game starring Vultur, a Romani woman struggling to save her family from the Spanish Inquisition. Vultur uses theatrical weapons to strike fear into the hearts of Templar witch finders.

A Zelda game where Zelda takes the starring role. The sorcerer, Ganon abducts Hyrule’s princesses to use their blood to open a doorway to the dark world. Breaking out of her cell, princess Zelda works her way through Ganon’s dungeons, collecting weapons, freeing her fellow captives, and ascending the dark lord’s tower for a final confrontation.

A God of War game that takes place in the aftermath of Kratos’s resignation. Goddess of War follows a Spartan woman who stumbles upon the Blades of Olympus while the minions of a new crop of Gods burn her village down.

Stock Photo Theater

Original programing made with unoriginal pictures. Stock photo sites are all too happy to provide the cast, their blank business figures are begging to be turned into actors. All I have to do is supply the dialogue.

Shutterstock already has so many images of people laughing, isn’t it time they put out a sitcom? How about a whodunnit? Turns out the boardroom meeting, in this picture, is a gathering of all the suspects. How about a science fiction series where angry desk jockeys fight their technology? With all the shots of people shouting at their screens, we already have everything we need.

3. Point the finger at

Batman or Ingmar Bergman

A game where viewers guess whether a line of dialogue came from a Batman movie or a film from existentialist director Ingmar Bergman.

1. “… the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death.”
2. “One day you stand at the edge of life and face darkness.”

3. “I wake up from a nightmare and find that real life is worse than the dream.”

4. “There is something out there in the darkness, something terrifying, something that will not stop until it gets revenge… Me.”

Answers:
1. Batman
2. Bergman
3. Bergman
4. Batman

Franchise Fixes

Franchise Fixes

I pitch reboots for your favorite ailing film franchises, raising Hellraiser, reviving Highlander’s immortality and calling Howard the Duck back to earth. Find me a series that’s at death’s door and I’ll bust out the defibrillator. Just call me Dr. Drew.

Writing Confessions

I list all the dirty tricks I use to ensure my output, like describing a setting before I know the characters or conflict that will fill it, writing dialogue with the intention of discovering the action, or planting the setups for my plot twists in later edits.

I’ll confess everything from how I spare my darlings to how I repurpose fan fiction.

Wednesday Watches

I recommend low budget, soon to be cult classics, for you to uncover on Netflix. They’re not always great movies but they’re entertaining enough for a Wednesday evening.

Clickbait Writer’s Room

A sketch comedy series, where a team of freelancers set out to ruin journalism, in order to rase their demon master Mammon. Writing titles with cliff hangers, the clickbaiters target would-be Nobel Prize winners, distracting them from their discoveries. Upsetting viewers with the first half of their captions, the clickbaiters promise to restore the world’s faith in humanity with the other, but they never do.

This coven of content creators will churn out listicles, slideshows and viral videos. Casting darkness over everyone’s newsfeed. Once they’ve sacrificed enough of our time, Mammon will rise up and claim his digital dominion.

4. Error Drew

This is my first round of ideas. Please vote on the ones you like and leave suggestions in the comments.

Sadder Batman (Design Gallery Updates)

Gothatrex for managing the symptoms of Sad Batman Syndrome

Gothatrex for managing the symptoms of Sad Batman Syndrome

See Sadder Batman and the rest of the insanity in my design gallery.

Check out Sad Superman and find out if you or someone you love are living with Batman Syndrome.