Tag Archives: Featured

How the Miracle of Insomnia Can Unlock Your Imagination

Too many writers quit after their first book. They spend so much time cultivating a great idea that when they finally put it on paper they feel like there’s nothing left in their head. They sit with their notebooks held to their hearts waiting for inspiration, but it never comes.

Here’s a secret people with sleep apnea have known for years: inspiration often strikes in the middle of the night. Sometimes bright ideas don’t spark. Sometimes they’re more of a gentle fizzle. Sometimes a glitch in your neurotransmitters can manifest as a happy accident.

If you’re desperate for new ideas then allow me to introduce you to the miracle of insomnia. Follow me on a vision quest through your subconscious. Together we’ll pry the black diamonds from the darkest recesses of your mind.

The Power of Illusion

Have you ever been driving late at night and mistaken a mailbox for a hitchhiker or a windswept recycling bin for a person lying face down the street? These roadside illusions are glitches in your mind’s ability to recognize things. Sleep deprivation impairs your ability to recognize patterns. The more your cognitive performance diminishes the more objects around you will switch it up.

Say “Goodbye,” to the intersecting evergreen branches and “Hello” to block long spiderwebs. Say “Goodbye,” to the trash bags at the edge of the driveway and “Hello” to a troop of gorillas. Say, “Goodbye” to windmills on the horizon and “Hello” to the giants.

It doesn’t take much sleep debt for you to see things, at least for a moment, but eventually your mind’s eye catches up to your retinas.

These are just recognition illusions, your brain struggling to process objects in a space. Your subconscious has yet to make a creative contribution. If you really want your mind to play tricks on you then you have to be scared too.

Be Afraid

Fright pairs well with these illusions. The sleepier you are the easier it is to trigger your fear center. Stimulate your anterior insula with a paranormal podcast, some scary viral videos, or a good old fashion game of Bloody Marry. Then go for a walk with some Halloween sound FX in your headphones. Now scan the forest for silhouettes.

Haven’t you wanted to see those shadow people that are all the rage on Reddit right now? There’s one massaging that tree trunk with its long twisted talons. There’s another stroking the branch above you, plucking at leaves, and sending them spiraling. There’s one kneeling behind the stump. Can’t you see it slurping that poor turtle right out of its shell? The shadow people are all around you, playing red-light greenlight whenever your back is turned.

The problem with shadow people is that they fade under scrutiny, unless you wake to find one standing at the foot of your bed. Then they’ll last a little longer. Shadow people make guest appearances as waking hallucinations when you’re in the throes of sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis is like sleep walking in reverse: your brain switches on, but your body is still off. Your fear center goes haywire and manifests a supernatural assailant.

As freaky as bedside service shadows are your brain isn’t really flexing here.

Shadow people are an elementary archetype. They’re featureless because your subconscious doesn’t feel like fleshing them out. It’s still grabbing at patterns, hoping the sudden surge of fear will elevate the material, but as far as visions go shadow people are but stick figures. They’re basic.

Go ahead and shoehorn some shadow people into your fiction if you still find medicine cabinet jump scares, TV static, and black cats frightening, but if you really want to mine your subconscious for A-material you’ll have to go further down the rabbit hole.

Insomnia is an all-natural Hallucinogen

If you want to give readers a boundary pushing experience you’ll have navigate through your own neuromagnetic stormfronts, sail through the fog of delirium, and ram through the glaciers between conscious states. You’ll have to gaze upon the great cosmic maelstrom with your third eye wide open. You’ll have to hallucinate with a capital H.

I’m talking about all natural hallucinations. The kind Tibetan monks spend lifetimes stimulating without chemical agents. The kind you’d usually have to have a severe neurological conditions to experience.

Just like a marathon runner you’ll have to work up to this level before you go pro. Know your sleep needs and gradually deprive yourself an hour each night until you’re not sleeping at all.

Reimagine the Bedroom

Break the psychological association you have between your mattress and rest. The best way to do this is to use your bed for everything but sleeping: spread your yoga mat across the covers, followed by your free weights, and your meals.

Stack lumber on the headboard and whittle yourself some bed knobs. Line the frame with yarn samples and crochet yourself a canopy. Line oil paints on the windowsill and mix colors on the pillow. This is the perfect opportunity to paint that deep sea mural you’ve always wanted.

Use Bright Light Therapy

Order a 10,000 lux LED bright light therapy lamp. Therapy lamps are powerful tools designed to help:

  • people in northern regions get through long stretches of polar night
  • people with circadian rhythm sleep disorders stay awake
  • people with seasonal affective disorder survive the overcast
  • and people with jetlag to resituate themselves

We’re going to use our therapy lamp to experience what Alaskan’s call “midnight sunlight” and trick our minds into perceiving daylight all night.

PRO TIP: A surround sound system looping birdsong will add extra oomph to your therapy lamp.

Use Technology to Pinch Yourself Awake

Smartwatches and fitness trackers can be programed to wake you with a subtle vibration whenever you’re coming out of a nice light sleep. By measuring your pulse throughout your sleep cycle they can ease you up before your alarm clock goes off.

We’re going to use that same technology to keep us from nodding off. Apps like Restlessfor the Apple Watch track dips in your heart rate and jolt you awake before you go under. By programming your watch to give you hyper-frequent haptic feedback you’ll be inviting your dreams to join you in real life.

Drink Up Johnny

Your author identity may require you to consume one alcoholic beverage an hour, but try to avoid the nightcap family: the warm cocktails, the fortified wines, brandies, bourbons, and liqueurs. Those sleepy time beverages aren’t going to serve us here, neither are any uppers.

Avoid the light roasts, triple lattes, and depth charges. Caffeine is your friend, until it isn’t. When you’re tired your brain produces a chemical called adenosine. While caffeine blocks adenosine, your brain doesn’t stop making it, so when the caffeine cycles through you all that adenosine hits at once. You crash.

Coffee dehydrates you too, making your heart work double time, which will ultimately wear you out faster.

That’s why the magical elixir we’ll be using to keep ourselves alert is: water, and lots of it. Water will keep our brain cells firing and our bladder bursting. Native Americans used to drink a lot of water to wake up early for their attacks (or so The Simpsonstells me). We’re going to drink so much water that our urinary tracks will feel like water slides.

Mind Explosion

A study by A.M. Williamson and Anne-Marie Feyer found a period of sleep deprivation greater than 28 hours is the motor performance equivalent of a 0.1% blood alcohol level. While 28 hours of sleep dep would make you legally intoxicated our goal is to get shitfaced.

One study found that 2 percent of people who go without sleep for 112 hours experience the symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. Since we’re trying to peak beyond the veil we’re going to have to go a few hours past that, until warp speed signatures trail through our vision and the only thing we hear is the THX test tone. When our physical form is but a bobble-headed husk and our astral body is free to fly away.

We will blast through the hyperspace super highway, where our molecules will dissolve, and our atoms will scatter throughout the cosmos. Our electrons will resonate at the same frequency as the background radiation left by the big bang, and swirl back together through the golden mean spiral.

We will find ourselves reborn, in an interstellar womb floating toward the debris field of the garden of Eden.

Our Chakras will align as we touch down upon the grass. Plasma particles will flow through the divine vegetation. Leaves will sway like guiding hands pointing to the tree of knowledge. There we will find a fresh ripe apple waiting for us. Take a bite and taste that sweet sweet thunderbolt of enlightenment, that uncut truth, that objective reality that mortal minds cannot comprehend.

Now return to your drooling physical form transcribe that wisdom for future generations before sleep deprivation psychosis sets in and they find you naked on the front lawn crawling like a mealworm.

Closing Thoughts

Let your biological clock flash 12:00 and you’ll hit your wordcount goals in no time flat. Let your circadian rhythm pop and lock and your fingers will dance across the keyboard. Let your sleep hygiene go and you’ll be rolling in pungent premises. Let your sleep debt ride and the rewards will pay off in spades.

Continue reading How the Miracle of Insomnia Can Unlock Your Imagination

Bad Writing Advice: Book Proposal

I’m thinking of self-publishing a collection of my Onion-style bad writing advice columns. The following is a book proposal in that character’s boisterous quasi psychotic voice. If you’re interested in reading more PLEASE LET ME KNOW.

THE LAST BOOK PROPOSAL YOU SHOULD EVER READ

Bookstores are teeming with so many texts on writing they have to cram the extras in vertically. Most of these fire hazards are written by name authors: your Stephen Kings, your Kingston Stevens, and your Stefano Kingsleys.

Meanwhile your Instagram feed is clogged with bestselling authors hawking Masterclasses. Neil Gaiman is teaching writing. Margaret Atwood is teaching writing. James Patterson is teaching ghostwriting. You find yourself wondering: how I am supposed to develop my own voice if everyone is looking in these same directions?

For a unique source of inspiration you need to turn to someone who looks like a failure to the untrained eye, like a Van Gogh, a H.P. Lovecraft, or a Corey Haim. Someone with decades of experience blogging in obscurity. Someone whose publisher once told him, “You look good, you should do YouTube. That might work actually for you.”

Don’t be seduced by authors who tell you storytelling is all about challenging flawed individuals into becoming complete human beings, that structure is a means to a spiritual transformation, and that your duty as a writer is to create a change within your readers’ own self-perception.

Listen to the literary light that’s brave enough to tell you: writing is about one-upping hipsters at cocktail parties. It’s about cutting in when someone is overanalyzing a movie with an allegorical ending and shutting that shit down. It’s a card you play when you want to steer the conversation in your direction.

Allow me to teach you how to be the noun (a writer) who rarely ever has to do the verb (write). Let me to teach you how to be a social media sociopath, someone who clogs their extended family’s feeds with blog spam. Let me teach you how to beat writer’s block by writing badly.

I’ll be the devil on your shoulder.

“Go on, use all those sweet delicious adverbs. I won’t tell Stephen King if you won’t.”

“You should take a big fat exposition dump right here. It’s at the beginning of a chapter. No one will mind.”

“Oh who are you kidding? The twist was always going to be that your hero has a split personality. Lean into it.”

Follow me and I’ll teach you how to:

  • gracefully handle rejection by standing outside a publisher’s house in a clown mask.
  • use the miracle of insomnia to unlock your imagination.
  • promote your novel by interrupting first dates.
  • know if your cat is actively sabotaging your writing.
  • guilt your parents into reading your novel.
  • bait the NSA into following your blog.
  • write a literary masterpiece with a paper fortune teller.
  • purge proof your writing space.
  • and how to trick beautiful people into asking if you’re a writer.

Established authors are all too happy to separate fools from their money, to convince them there’s room on the bestsellers list for everyone, and that their methods for success can be reproduced.

But be honest. You’ve been struggling at this writing game for a while now. Isn’t it time you turned away from your superiors and started taking advice from a peer, someone who understands you not because they’ve surpassed their failures, but because they’re still in the throes of them?

Join Drew Chial on this journey into oblivion and together you will get there faster.

BAD WRITING ADVICE

Continue reading Bad Writing Advice: Book Proposal

Interview Ghosts before Writing Insensitive Haunted House Stories

I believe that if a writer wants to represent a person from another background they must experience that person’s plight firsthand. Just as a method actor might move into a drug den to better understand addiction so too must the writer. They must live without electricity or running water to portray colonial villagers. They must glue their eyes shut in order to properly portray the blind.

If you want to write about a delinquent who undergoes a perversion treatment, you should inject yourself with toxins whenever you get turned on. If you want to write about a convict who pleas insanity to get out of a felony, you better get yourself put into a facility that offers lobotomies. If you want to write about a salesmen who metamorphizes into an insect you better strap on a pair of antenna and develop a taste for rotten meat.

And if you want to write a ghost story you better prepared to die for your art.

APPROACHING HAUNTINGS WITH UNDERSTANDING

When I set out to write about a haunted house I wanted to cast off the negative stereotypes that plague the genre. Most enchanted establishments aren’t gauntlets full of deathtraps, most of their residents aren’t averse to hosting, and most of their guests don’t find their hair turning white overnight.

Spirits are portrayed as these portrait-stretching chandelier-shifting armor-inhabiting menaces, because too many of their stories are told from a pulse-centric perspective. I set out to change all that by sitting down with some of these marginalized manifestations myself.

PHANTASM OUTREACH

I spent a pretty penny on an authentic Victorian waistcoat with long pigtail coat skirts. I eased it out of the box, draped it across my ironing board, and took a pair sheers to the hem with the reckless abandon of a toddler cutting out a snowflake. Then I slipped into a ruffled shirt, tight pantaloons, and tasseled boots, all of which were in the appropriate shade of grey.

I smeared baby powder across my brow and blue blush down my cheeks. I drew faint teeth across my muzzle. I brushed out a white wig until I achieved the right volume and secured it with handkerchief.

Then came the chains.

With an assortment of padlocks and skeleton keys dangling from my ensemble I practiced my spirit shuffle. Ghosts have always had a light footed swagger that I’ve so admired. I spent hours on the treadmill watching myself in the mirror.

When I was certain I’d mastered my footing I ventured out to the Reinhold estate. The Reinhold estate sat on a cliffside overlooking what was supposed to be the town of Clensington. “A Penitent God-fearing Community.” Or so the WELCOME sign read on the way up the dirt trail.

Zachariah Reinhold built his estate under the presumption that it would be the mayor’s residence once the rest of the town had settled in. The problem was Zachariah wasn’t good at networking and the townsfolk never came.

One night Zachariah called his wife Florence and nine children into the dining hall where they took communion. He had laced the wine with strychnine. It was decades before their skeletons were discovered by urban explorers. They were still sitting at the table in their Sunday bests. The property has since been abandoned, left to the crows and the vines.

Raccoons scurried into the shadows as I staggered into the entrance hall. When thunder rattled through the windows and I was certain the mansion had accepted me as one of its inhabitance.

It was time to meet the Reinholds, to ascend the master staircase and start a dialogue. I went up the steps in a series of herky jerky motions, as a sign of respect toward the residents. One of my chains got caught on a cherub carving at the foot of the railing and jerked me back down. I rolled end over end until I slid across the floor. Then a bird’s nest landed upon my cap, and the eggs ran down my face.

The Reinholds weren’t embracing me as the ally I’d wanted them to see. I wandered through the west wing, zigzagging through the trees that had sprouted through the floorboards, trying desperately to address the spirits in their native dialect, “WhoooOOOooo aaaAAAaaa whoooOOOooo.” But I couldn’t get a dialogue going.

My chains got caught on a coat of arms.

I tried to pry them free without realizing one the padlocks had gotten wedged under my collar. It tore through my waistcoat all the way down through my trousers, leaving me with nothing but the neckerchief wrapped around my head. Then I crashed through the floor and landed in the dilapidated cellar.

It wasn’t until I’d crawled my way back out onto the lawn that I realized it wasn’t my place to go moaning through those cobweb stricken hallways. It was my place to listen.

AN ESOTERIC EPIPHANY

Here I was thinking I was embracing ghost culture, but I was really just appropriating it. Each footfall I’d taken into the Reinhold estate drove them further and further from the realm of the living. These disparaged deities didn’t want anything to do with me.

I was a “breather” flaunting my mortality for all to see. Worse still, the material I’d gathered would only reinforce the toxic stereotypes I was trying to challenge.

REVISING MY APPROACH

I had rethink my presentation before I went back to the house again. I needed to make it clear that I was an apparition advocate, not some thrill seeking, ghost-hunting, tragedy tourist. I needed show the spirits that I was a safe person, not a performative spiritualist who’d go reaching for the sage at the first temporal disturbance.

The first thing I had to change was my problematic outfit. While it was true to the period it was geared toward Zachariah Reinhold, the patriarch of the household, when it was Florence, the matriarch, I should’ve been dressing to impress.

It took forever to find a Victorian nightgown, tights, and slippers that fit me, but once they arrived I splattered them with motor oil. I lathered my biceps in grey body paint and drew lines down my veins in blue eyeshadow, until my arms looked like sculpted marble.

Then came the long black wig.

I hit the Stairmaster hands-first, with my palms on the peddles, and refined my crawling motion in the mirror.

I was almost ready, but I had to perfect my ghostly vernacular or my in intentions would remain unclear. “WhoooOOOooo aaaAAAaaa whoooOOOooo.” Was not a suitable greeting. I had to evoke a lower register, like the gurgle of a mother whose strychnine exposure lead to slow and painful raspatory failure.

PHANTASM OUTREACH PHASE 2

In no time I was back in the Reinhold estate at the foot of the master staircase ready to have another go at meeting the residents. I crawled, foot over shoulder, one step at time. Erosion had warped the wood’s dimension and the effort proved more challenging than it on the Stairmaster. Still, I let out a long low gurgle. Groaning with a wig seeping into my throat proved challenging, as did crawling in oil based body paint, but I managed.

I stood at the head of the stairs and attempted to stretch a knot in my back without breaking character. When I turned toward the hall I saw Florence Reinhold staring at me from around the corner. Her straight black hair hung in front of her face, just as mine did. Her head was bent at a right angle and her ear was grazing the ceiling. Her feet were pointed downward. She was floating.

I was relieved to find I wasn’t filled with an overwhelming urge to slide down the railing and dive into my two-seater smart car. Instead I merely bowed.

When Florence gurgled her head shook like a maraca. I took the intonation to mean. “What are you doing here?”

I explained that I was an author and that I was there to listen and learn so that I might share her unique experience with the world.

Florence sunk her long nails into the baseboard until a crack shot across the woodwork, ceiling tiles rained down, and burst into powder all around me. Florence gurgled. That gurgle became a moan as her jaw clicked free of its hinges one by one. When her jaw sunk down to her chest that moan had grown into a howl. It rippled through the wallpaper, sent cracks through the windows, and shook the estate to its very foundations. Then her jaw retracted, clicked back into her face, and she floated off into the dark recesses of hallway.

I took that long protracted moan as Florence’s blessing and you have her to thank for what you are reading.

Ghost Illustration by Bryan Politte

Continue reading Interview Ghosts before Writing Insensitive Haunted House Stories

Everyone Else is Further into their Manuscript than You (Video Reading)

At some point every writer feels like an imposter. What if there was a study that definitively proved that you were one?

Continue reading Everyone Else is Further into their Manuscript than You (Video Reading)

How Your Cat is Actively Sabotaging Your Writing

Most entertainment involves an artist connecting directly with an audience. A comedian asks a couple about their prenuptials and the audience heckles the comedian about their own divorce. A rock stars spits water into the crowd and the crowd pads them down when they go crowd surfing. A dancer ventures into the aisles and a parishioner of the arts tucks a dollar into their G-string. The entertainer puts the energy out there. The audience feeds it back in an unspoken act of metaphysical symbiosis.

Meanwhile authors sit on their asses and wonder if their lives have any worth. Writing is a lonely profession, but loneliness is essential for our concertation. Still, that emptiness eats away at us. That’s why so many writers end up getting a cat.

Maybe you heard cat owners are 30% less likely to suffer from a heart attack. Maybe you thought a cat could provide comfort for your depression. Maybe you thought the presence of a cat might even help with your writing.

You poor sweet babe, allow me to show you through the woods you’ve crawled into.

Nemo caught lacing my drinking water with ricin a deadly untraceable poison.

CAT FACTS: When a cat kneads at you with their front paws they aren’t recreating the act of nursing. They are checking for weaknesses.

Nemo rehearses severing my median cubital vein on a material that offers more resistance than human flesh.

CATS POSION YOUR SLEEP CYCLE

A day of writing seems grueling when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed. You might have been looking forward to diving into your novel the night before, but now you’re not in the mood. It’s odd. You slept in, but somehow you still feel like a wreck.

Well just because you were unconscious doesn’t mean you slept right. Stages 1-3 of REM sleep will take you through the outskirts of dreamland, but its stage 4 REM sleep where the real magic happens. Your breathing, heartbeat, and brainwaves slow. Your body temperature lowers, and the weight of the world eases off just a little bit. It’s this pure heroin sleep that allows you to cope with all the bullshit of life.

The average adult gets an hour and a half of deep uncut unconsciousness per eight hours of sleep. You may get the doctor defined dosage for dozing and still wake up feeling drowsy, drained, and dazed. Before dismissing these feelings as hangover symptoms consider another possibility: you may have been the victim of psychological warfare.

There’s a reason cats are nocturnal animal, and it has nothing to do with hunting smaller furry creatures. It’s because feline magic works best under the cover of darkness. How many times have you awoken to a sudden crash, the sound of books raining from the shelf, and little paws fleeing away the scene?

That’s your cat syphoning the rejuvenating energy from your mind. Energy it uses to blowtorch through the borders between worlds. Have you ever worried your cat got outside only to see them spontaneously appear beside you on the couch? That’s your cat burrowing between realities. In one dimension they curl up on our laps. In another they hunt pint sized people who look just like us.

Nemo rehearses implanting an obstruction in my throat.

CAT FACT: Deer and dog eyes glow because of something called the tapetum lucidum that catches light in the back of their retina. Cat eyes glow because of the mana pool of red hot rage swirling in their souls.

Nemo cordinates with the kitten cell across the street.

CATS WILL DESECRATE YOUR PERSONAL SPACE

Writing is a solitary act, best done behind a closed door where others cannot undermine your vocation, divide your attention, or read over your shoulder to correct your grammar. People can be taught to respect boundaries. They’ll knock before coming in, keep conversations brief, and move along. People, bipedal beings with a capacity for empathy, know what it means to be “in the zone,” where the stream of inspiration is delicate, and flow is best not interrupted.

It isn’t that cats are too stupid to grasp these concepts. They know how production zones, inspiration streams, and steady flows work, which is why they undermine them. When a cat scratches on the door to your writing room they are undermining your ability to inspire the whole of humanity. Cats recognize how the power of stories perpetuates human supremacy, which is why they will sit directly on your keyboard to stall you.

Nemo meditating on the black stars, twin suns, and many moons of the lost city of Carcosa.

CAT FACT: When a cat weaves through your ankles, turns around, and shows you its bum it is not a sign of affection. Your cat is secreting a pheromone so that Bastet, the Egyptian goddess of cats, may burrow between worlds to use your soul as a scratching post.

Nemo indulging in the German Industrial rock that fuels his soul.

CATS ARE ALWAYS TRYING TO SEDUCE YOU AWAY FROM WRITING

Have you ever noticed how cats are extra affectionate when you’re writing? Have you ever been duped into following them away from your desk and found yourself repositioned in front of the TV? That was no accident.

Cats like to love bomb you right when you’re about to hit your creative peak. Their choregraphed cuteness is timed to derail your train of thought.

Have you ever noticed how when I cat has managed to lure you away from your writing they pin you down somewhere else?

“Soon.”

CAT FACT: When a cat lies back and shows you its belly it is not showing trust. It knows you cannot resist that sweet tuft of fluff. This is the primer for a bear trap. The moment you reach in its claws clamp down on your wrist, because bloodletting is a crucial component of feline magic.

Nemo lies in wait for me to reach for my keys so that the bloodletting ritual may begin.

CATS WILL GIVE YOU STAGE FRIGHT

A writing space a place for an author to toy with riskier material, experiment, and make mistakes. The urge to try bold new ideas is hampered when you have the eyes of judgement upon you and that’s just what cats do.

The moment you think about messing around with different perspectives your cat will stair you down. The moment you consider going on an adventure with an unreliable narrator your cat will start to purr. The moment you think about a trope-bending twist that puts a smile on your lips your cat will reach up and wipe it off.

Nemo commandeers my heating pad so that the strain from my back injury may continue.

CAT FACT: Cats do not communicate with one another by meowing. They use body language, facial expressions, and even scents. They meow, purr, and chirp at humans as a form of psychological manipulation. Each endearing utterance is actually a demand and the more we strive to appease our feline friends the more inroads they make to world domination.

Nemo may look cute and cuddly but this is a bear trap primed and ready to snap your arm off.

CATS FUCK WITH YOU EVEN WHEN THEIR BACKS ARE TO YOU

One of the greatest weapons in a cat’s psychological warfare armory is their alleged indifference.

“Go ahead and start another chapter while I curl up at your feet. Don’t mind me yawning with my little squeaky voice. Don’t mind my soft fuzzy tail curling around your ankle. Don’t fret about me stretching across your toes and my little mittens reaching wide open. I won’t be a distraction.”

That cat knows exactly what they’re doing.

Nemo waits for Scully to make a mistake.

CAT FACT: When a cats wipes their paws on the wall outside of their litterbox they aren’t practicing good hygiene. They’re masking their scent so you can’t smell them coming.

“It’s over Anakin, I have the high ground.”

CATS CAN EVEN SABOTAGE THE EDITING PROCESS

Ernest Hemingway once said, “The only kind of writing is rewriting.”

If a writer brain farts out an old trope they can always fix it in post. The first draft of every novel is the passing of the kidney stone, it’s in the edits that we refine it into a 14-carat diamond (Dear Goodreads, please pass this quote on editing onto future generations. Thank you.)

Cats sabotage the editing process by waking up hours before their masters, plopping down in front of their computers, and making revisions of their own.

I caught my cat Nemo typing up a storm on my nanny cam. I had to do a deep dive into my Microsoft Word file to see what he’d done. Nemo had strategically found and replaced every usage of “there” with “their,” “your” with “you’re” and “decent” with “descent.”

And he almost got away with it too.

“My forces will seize control of the Belgium front come winter.”

CAT FACT: A cat’s heightened sense of smell allows them to sense the chemical precursors that signal pregnancy, illness, and even death. Their heightened senses allows them to detect thunderstorms, hurricanes, and unhappy thoughts (of which they thrive on).

“I shall fill this with pebbles and he will blame himself.”

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Unless you’re in that crowded writers room for Godzilla Vs. King Kong writing is a lonely profession. It would be nice to do it amongst friends, but we risk losing our concentration. Many of us get cuddle buddies to help break the monotony only to find ourselves contending with another kind of madness entirely.

The truth is cats are shadow beings willed into our realm by witches. Cats are unholy minions of the Goddess Bastet. They do her bidding. They were never meant to be our familiars and they will take that injustice out on us.

The most we can do is numb their malice with catnip and exhaust their anger with laser pointers.

“I can haz Necronomicon?”

CAT FACT: When cats leap into boxes they aren’t acting out of an instinct to stay hidden. Cats are drawn to boxes because they sense the cloud of suffering that lingers around every item to come out of an Amazon processing center.

“I know all of your secrets.”

Continue reading How Your Cat is Actively Sabotaging Your Writing

Confessions of a Story Hoarder

The following is not an audit on the state of self-publishing. It’s a chronicle of fears that’ve been holding me back from participating. Some are well informed. Others are damn near superstitious. Indulge me in this informal rant and maybe you’ll see some of yourself in some of my concerns.

My Bibliography So Far

I’ve been blogging since 2012. During that time I’ve written 4 Novels, 4 Novellas, 2 screenplays, and countless short stories. As of now I have 2 short stories and 1 novel available on Amazon, and that is it. So what happened to all the fiction I’ve been stockpiling? Did my work get seized as evidence when my search history was flagged by the government? Did I build a bonfire and do what Dickens did to all of his letters? Was my laptop struck by lightning, or are those stories sitting in a folder on my desktop waiting to be discovered by my next of kin?

I’ve kept my stories to myself for a lot of reasons, some dumb, some dressed up to seem smart. Most can be summed up as cowardice, self-sabotage, and perfectionism.

My coffee table is littered with books on finding agency representation, writing treatments, and getting published. I have a ton of short stories out for submission, but I need to forge a better path into the industry than refreshing my mailbox again and again.

And yet… I’m still dragging my heels on self-publishing.

Reason 1: Everyone is Doing It

Social media success stories keep saying there’s room on the hill, but I’m not seeing a space for my niche. It could be industry hasn’t shaken the horror crash of the 1990s, or that the genre is still struggling to shake the stigma of torture porn or that the market is just oversaturated.

On Twitter, I’ve watched authors go from conversation starters to billboards for their Amazon offerings. I’ve watched those same authors burnout, commit social media suicide, and scold their audience for not supporting them more.

I’ve watched virtual vultures pedal false hope, courses on book marketing that sound like pyramid schemes. I’ve watched the Amazon marketplace fill with scamphlets; how-to guides written by people with less than a Wikipedia understanding of the subject they’re writing on. I’ve watched non-writers cultivate literary success on YouTube, and at 37, I really don’t want to try to follow in their footsteps.

Reason 2: Everyone is a Critic

I’ve listened as the conversation around fiction has been dominated by armchair critics who don’t write: plot structure purists who treat storytelling like a math equation and esoteric symbolists who read stories like they’re Rorschach tests. I’ve heard spectators bandy about terms like “plot armor” as if the role of the audience is to outwit the author. “Oh, I see what you did here.”

Analysis has made us all so anal.

I’ve listened as the theorists tell storytellers how to do their jobs. I’ve heard all their points, counterpoints, and rebuttals and now my imagination feels like a minefield.

Reason 3:The Conversation Has turned Toxic

I’ve listened to a lot of guys on YouTube speak in calm measured tones as they argue from emotion. This cadence of calculation peddles a lot personal preferences as logical conclusions.

YouTube keeps recommending video essays on storytelling that turn out to be coded chauvinist rants. A lot of YouTubers have co-opted storytelling terms like “Mary Sue,” as a kind of dog whistle to demean female characters and their authors as “social justice warriors.” Apparently in 2019 if a women in fantasy fiction is too empowered we call her “O.P.” like a player in a fighting game that needs to be rebalanced.

Conversely, I’ve listened to a lot of podcasters dub any characters with any shade of grey as “problematic” and call for better role models in morally complex content made for adults. I’ve listened to one generation call for more diversity in fiction while the next generation chastises authors for representing groups they’re not part of themselves.

Reason 4: I’m Repelled from the Conversation

The culture war has spilled into my medium and made a mess of everything. Since Trump took office I haven’t wanted to engage with anyone on Twitter. Even simple conversations about fiction have taken on new subtle tension.

Everyone has gotten so binary. Both camps are reading off of scripts. Arguments are won by which person can summarize the last think piece they read faster than the other. We copy and paste our deeply held convictions. We call each other out in the name of education, even after we see studies that say doing this only makes the opposition feel more entrenched.

I don’t believe the fallacy that truth resides between two extremes. Objective reality is not the average of our fringe beliefs. That said, I am a godless bleeding heart liberal, but even I find my camp’s calls for moral purity to be soul crushing. We say someone is “over” for daring to think impure thoughts aloud. Our every utterance is given permanence.

So you’ve been publicly shamed? Have you looked into witness protection? Facial reconstruction? Reincarnation?

I’d criticize my camp’s overreaching rules more on this blog if I wasn’t afraid that the wrong people would read that as a backhanded endorsement for a far right platform. As much as I find my camp’s arbitrary correction exhausting I find coded hate speech nauseating. I keep most of my observations to myself.

Which me leads too…

Reason 5: I’ve been Censoring Myself

Sometimes I’m afraid of my audience. Nothing stifles creativity like fearing what other people think.

I’ve had friends prescribe extreme limitations on my writing. Some have told me I shouldn’t write from the perspective of a woman, not because they were offended by something I wrote, just that, as a guy, I shouldn’t try it. As if the one female character whose perspective I’m writing from is somehow a delegate for all women. Where did all these walls around empathy come from?

I don’t write idyllic characters. I write about fuckups struggling to find their place in the world. I write about artists who bet their lives on their success only to find themselves making deals with devils. I don’t write about role models because fully formed characters with nowhere to grow don’t make very compelling leads.

I reject the notion that each of my protagonists should be a proxy for me. I reject the notion that writers shouldn’t put themselves in other people’s shoes. Sure, it takes research, conversations, and lots of life experience, but it should be done. It’s those universal feelings that we all relate to that bring people together, broaden our understanding of one another, and quell hate.

Closing Thoughts

At the top of this post I mentioned this would be a little more informal than usual. It kind of feels like it went off the rails.

I guess I’ve been put off by the commentary culture that’s grown around storytelling online (full well knowing that I’m part of the problem).

I’m tired of seeing non-writers harp on movies and TV shows like they could’ve written them better. I’m tired of seeing my YouTube feed clogged with “Ending Explained” videos like I need the extra analysis to fully apricate my entertainment. I’m tired of theorists proclaiming the rules of writing like they were commandments.

I’m sick and tired of the commentary culture intruding on my thoughts when I sit down to write… and maybe that’s what’s keeping me from sharing more material here.

In his book On Writing Stephen King wrote:

“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

I don’t want to right lightly. I don’t want to set out to offend anyone, but I don’t want to write lightly. I want to tell stories rife with conflict, morally gray characters, and dark subjects. I don’t want to write with my audience in the room, but I want there to be an audience when I come out.

I have to summon the courage to put my work in front of people and let them reject it. To reject it until, eventually, it resonates.

 

Continue reading Confessions of a Story Hoarder

Energy Vampires Vs. Writers: The War Rages On

WHAT ARE ENERGY VAMPIRES?

Energy vampires are the psychic predators walking among us feeding off of our lifeforce. They’ve never experienced a true surge of inspiration so they syphon it from those who have. They attack with inorganic introductions, longwinded interludes, and awkward tension.

Energy vampires lure victims with social graces, ensnare them with psychological manipulation, and entrap them the looming threat of causing a scene. They’re known for breeching boundaries, hoarding attention, and oversharing. They turn conversations into monologues. They make eavesdropping mandatory. They are Shakespearean gossips.

Energy vampires act as though they are entitled to your attention by virtue of your proximity to them. They play on your sympathies because you seem like “such a kind soul.” Then they demand special considerations, because they’re “Going through a thing.”

Energy vampires leave victims feeling emotionally exsanguinated, intellectually violated, and spiritually hung over. We hate what they do to us, but we’re too exhausted to call them out. So we excuse their behavior as a personality disorder, but they’re not covert narcissists or high functioning sociopaths. They are malevolent spirits bent on turning our creative genius into their livestock.

Now I know what you’re thinking. This all sounds derivative of a character from FX’s mockumentary series What We Do in the Shadows. The show features a an energy vampire, named Colin Robinson, who corners coworkers in their cubicles and lays into them with tedious drivel while he syphons out a meal. It’s a competent portrayal, but energy vampires have been with us throughout history.

The Mesopotamians told stories of beings who went to market, disguised as people, but their sole purpose was to hold up the lines by questioning the price of everything. The Greeks referred to Energy Vampires as the “omilités kairoú,” or “weather talkers.” The Transylvanians knew them as the “bej limbi” or “beige tongues.” Urban legends in the modern retail sector refer to them as “Close talkers.”

WHY CREATIVE PEOPLE ARE AT GREATER RISK

When an energy vampire is on the prowl they look for bright spots in the crowd. Creative people are like Roman candles. An energy vampire will weave through a stadium to get to the one person who writes haikus in their spare time.

This isn’t so bad for established artists. An established artist in a uncomfortable situation can just walk away. This isn’t as easy for creatives who’ve yet to make it. They still have day jobs to contend with. Creatives in the food service, hospitality, and retail industries are most at risk of attack. Their work requires them to bend over backwards for the customer, even when the customer is a supernatural carnivore.

Energy vampires know this and so they’ve set up parasitic ecosystems around these places. They ask cellphone salespeople to explain technical terms in explicit detail. They constantly barter at big box retailers. They get fat off of restaurant waitstaffs by sending dishes back.

You can ask for help, but energy vampires know how to render themselves invisible to authority. They will seem harmless to management, while costing creatives their productive evenings.

The only way to prevent this acidic symbiosis is to see the problem coming and prepare a response.

HOW TO SPOT AND ENERGY VAMPIRE

It’s easy to spot an energy vampire after the fact by how they made you feel. They derail your train of thought, leave an unpleasant after taste, and fill you with a desire to stew in your own juices watching Netflix. If you find yourself having an uncharacteristic narcoleptic episode then they’ve already had their fill. That’s why it helps to know how energy vampires hunt.

Energy vampires wait to do their business five minutes before closing time. They wear a sense of urgency on their sleeve, and they have a complaint on the tip of their tongue before they step foot on the grounds. Just as creatives cast auras like Roman candles energy vampires cast ominous clouds of drama. That’s why they have no shadows.

If you see a customer who dims the ground around them DO NOT ENGAGE. A greeter who mistakenly asks, “How can I help you?” is in for an earful.

An energy vampire will demand services that aren’t offered by your establishment. They’ll storms into a Barnes and Noble and fling an iPad over the helpdesk.

“I need you to fix my Apple ID.”
“I’m sure they’d be happy do that at the Apple Store down the street.”
“But you sell tablets. This is a tablet.”
“I sell Nooks if you want to talk about one of those.”
“I don’t want to talk about Nooks. I want my iTunes to work right.”
“Yes, but that’s not one of our applications.”
“Yeah, but you know how to fix it. You know.”
“Would you go to a Tesla dealership to get a Range Rover serviced?”
“Of course I would.”

If you’re stuck in a conversation like this check the shoes of the person you’re talking to. If they have tridactyl talons jutting from their loafers check their hands. If their fingers are rolling like they’re working a loom then discreetly check their chest. If you spot a faint red glow pulsing through their fashion scarf get out of that room.

PROTECTING YOURSELF FROM ENERGY VAMPIRES

The rules that govern Victorian vampires do not apply to their energy syphoning counterparts. They have no garlic allergy. They love to tan, and no stake can pierce their lithium ion organs.

You can hide from them by wearing electromagnetic shielding clothing: chrome smocks and tinfoil underpants, but if you truly want to set some boundaries you’re going to need to learn to think like them. You must learn to practice psychic jujitsu.

Think about the time you interrupted a grieving friend, because they said something about a dead loved one that reminded you of a movie you like and you couldn’t pass up an opportunity to make a reference. It’s that callous disregard for social norms that could save your life.

If an energy vampire engages you then cut in.

Tell a story about how doctor after doctor failed to diagnose your chronic pain, and how every medication only made it worse, until you discovered the healing magic of crystal therapy and organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar.

Tell a story about how all your exes have been on the psychopathy spectrum and how you now have the ability to spot psychopaths within seconds. Lean hard on the notion that all psychopaths are either Scorpios or Sagittariuses.

Tell a story about all the times you nearly won the lottery and how it convinced you there are parallel dimensions where you’re rolling in designer brands.

Just remember. Interrupt. Improvise. Be intense, and go long. The longer you prattle on in the presence of an energy vampire the less opportunities they’ll have to feed.

FINISH THEM

If you really don’t want an energy vampire to fuck with you ever again you’ll need to turn the tables and drain them. You’ll need to grip them by the wrist, gaze with wide unblinking eyes, and hold them verbally hostage.

Energy vampires hide behind a series of subtle tactics. Their tactics won’t work if you run a steamroller over them. Unpack your wildest paranoid delusions. Set yourself at the heart of a batshit crazy a conspiracy theory and zap all of their energy.

“Identity thieves have hacked all my accounts. They follow me with a flock of drones. I can feel them up their past the visual line of sight. Right now they’re using facial recognition software to find out who you are. They’re already listening to this conversation through your phone. Check your clothes for RFID tags. That’s how they know what you’re thinking.”

“I’m being followed by men in black. I cut out the microchip and now they want to take me back to the blue room. Don’t look across the street or they’ll know you know. Quick, kiss me with plenty of tongue, really get in there, draw it out while they scan the environment.”

“My cat just died. The vet said it was feline leukemia, but I know it was ritual sacrifice. Satanists have gathered earth from my grandparents’ gravestones and they’re using it to curse all my loved ones. Please hold my hands and pray with me or you will be next.”

Corner that hapless energy vampire, incorporate whatever interruption they throw at you into your story, exceed their intensity, and watch them turn to dust.

Continue reading Energy Vampires Vs. Writers: The War Rages On

How to Trick People into Reading Your Story By Convincing Them it’s about Them

Showman P.T. Barnum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” and if you believe he actually said that you may be one of them. Barnum promoted sideshow hoaxes like the Fiji mermaid and the Cardiff Giant but his biographer, Arthur H. Saxon, casts doubt on the idea that Barnum would openly “disparage his patrons.”

We believe misattributed quotes for the same reason we believe conventional theories that have been disproven time and again: they have staying power.

Take the Myer-Briggs personality test. The Myers-Briggs is based on outdated Jungian theories. It’s accuracy has been dwarfed by tests like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, yet more people know their Myers-Briggs type than their MMPI. One test just has better branding.

The Meyers-Briggs enjoys popularity, because people are satisfied with their results. This is due to how encompassing each personality type is defined. Of all the traits in the 16 personality types there’s a little something for everyone.

The psychiatric community dismisses the Myers-Briggs as pseudoscience, but if there’s anything the Internet has taught us is that if enough people perpetuate a myth they can start an epidemic. That feeling of truth will persist even when the myth is shown to be false.

As P.T. Barnum actually said, “Exposing an illusion is not the same as revealing a truth.”

The Barnum Effect

In 1948, Bertram R. Forer tried an experiment on his psychology students. He gave his class a personality test and told them he’d use the answers to give each student a thorough psychological profile. Upon receiving their profiles the students were asked to rate their accuracy on a scale of 0-5. The averaged was 4.3. It was only after the ratings were in that Forer revealed his scheme. He’d given everyone identical profiles with affirmations he’d plagiarized from an astrology book he got at a newsstand. The profile read:

1. You have a great need for other people to like and admire you.
2. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.
3. You have a great deal of unused capacity which you have not turned to your advantage.
4. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them.
5. Your sexual adjustment has presented problems for you.
6. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside.
7. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing.
8. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations.
9. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof.
10. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others.
11. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved.
12. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic.
13. Security is one of your major goals in life.

This phenomenon of people seeing themselves in strategically vague material has been dubbed The Barnum Effect in honor of the deception prone showman.

While Forer used these generalities to trick his students, story-tellers should consider what these items say about the human condition. We’re inclined to see ourselves in horoscopes, in tarot readings, and in the stories written by our friends, because, well, we’re inclined to see ourselves everywhere. We hold on to the highlights that hit home and minimize the misses.

We are so vain, and yes, we do think that song is about us.

The Value of Universal Character Traits

Writers know the value of a blank-slate every person Keanu Reeves-type character for audiences to project themselves onto, the so-called hero with a thousand faces. Writers know that likeable leads tend to be longing, sympathetic, complex individuals with room to grow, you know, like pretty much everyone you know.

Writers know that horoscope truisms make for good characterization short hand. If all of Forer’s 13 profile items apply to your hero then congratulations they’re basically human.

It’s a great feeling when a reader tells you they relate to one of your characters. It’s validating knowing your sense of empathy is compatible with other human beings. If only an understanding of the human condition could get more eyes on the page though.

Well, now writers can make the Barnum Effect work for them.

Convince People You’re Writing about Them

By harnessing the power of social media, social engineering, and sociopathy you can trick your friends, family, and ex-lovers into looking for themselves in your writing. This will boost your Amazon search placement, traffic to your blog, and overall engagement.

Use these 4 easy steps.

1. Become a Stenographer

Subtly plant the seeds that you’re drawing your writing material from the real world. Start with innocuous declarations like, “That’s going in the quote book.” Then get slightly more problematic, “Shhh, I’m mining the Tinder Date behind us for material. That couple is a gold mine.” Then leave your phone on the table with the voice memo application running while you’re in the bathroom.

Pro tip: have hidden camera equipment up in your Amazon cart and leave your browser there whenever you have company.

2. Become a Profiler

Get into the habit of peppering personality test questions into casual conversations.

“Do you prefer to mingle or observe at parties?”
“Do you lean more toward randomness or routine?”
“Are you big on being the center of attention?”

When your friends ask why you’re ask simply respond, “I have an idea for something, but it may be nothing.”

Then escalate your questioning to include questions from Robert D. Hare’s Psychopath checklist.

“Do you have constant need for stimulation?”
“Do you ever think you have a parasitic lifestyle?”
“Do you ever think you display criminal versatility?”

3. Become a Softcover Shit-Talker

You know that friend who talks shit about all of your mutual friends whenever you hang out? You know that sneaking suspicion you get that they talk that shit about you when they’re with those same friends?

Harness that same social suspicion and apply it to your fiction. You can do this by boosting about how you’ve gotten revenge on people who’ve wronged you by dismembering them in your writing.

“The first character the monster feasts on has all of my ex’s mannerisms.”
“The one who loses all his limbs was based on a boss of mine.”
“Oh, and the one who gets eviscerated was an old professor.”

Convince everyone around you that you are petty, vindictive, and cruel and they will comb through your writing looking for references to them.

Now here’s the best part. You can still build your characters from the ground up, with traits based on the needs of your story. Your characters can be as original, colorful, and outlandish as you want.

The Barnum Effect teaches us that you don’t have to draw any inspiration from genuine interactions with others. People are prone to see themselves on the page whether they’re there or not.

4. Become a Topic of Conversation

Once your nearest and dearest have been conditioned to think your writing is about them they’ll make assumptions and pass them along. That gossip is good word of mouth. The more people who feel personally offended the more likely they are to write long winded condemnations of you (and more importantly your book) on social media.

Just remember: There’s no such thing as bad publicity, burning bridges are a sight to see, and you can always lean on plausible deniability if you find yourself in a courtroom setting.

Closing Thoughts

The information age has made it harder than ever for emerging authors to elevate their work from the masses. A truly dedicated writer has to be willing to do whatever it takes, including tricking their friends into thinking their material is about them.

A serious writer will harness the power of the Barnum Effect to build a brand.

We want to believe we’re individuals, that our personal traits aren’t universal. We want to believe we’re diamonds in the rough, unlike all that basic bedrock. We want our individuality to be acknowledged, so much so that we’ll see acknowledgement where it isn’t.

“This Instagram targeted advertisement makes me feel like someone is truly listening.”

“This aura reader sees the shade of burnt sienna I’m desperately trying to show the world.”

“This Buzzfeed quiz peered into my soul… and assigned me to house Gryffindor.”

As a writer it’s your duty to let your friends, family, and ex-lovers feel acknowledged. Let them know that they’re unique creative individuals, just like everyone else.

Continue reading How to Trick People into Reading Your Story By Convincing Them it’s about Them

Gracefully Handle Rejection By Standing Outside a Publisher’s Home in a Clown Mask

Stephen King cut his teeth submitting short fiction to magazines. Legend has it that he hung his rejection letters from a nail in the wall. When the nail couldn’t take the weight he upgraded to a railroad spike, but King kept right on going.
The greatest skills an aspiring author can learn is to handle rejection gracefully.

Most of the time a publisher will send you a form letter that reads “We had so many amazing submissions that unfortunately we couldn’t include everyone in the collection.”

The reason you get a form letter is because you haven’t taken the time to build a relationship with the people you’re submitting to.

Now you could shoot them a “Thank you for the opportunity” e-mail like all the other sad saps desperate for a spot in their rolodex, but if you really want to be remembered you’ll need to show more initiative than that.

I’m not talking about inquiry about the publisher’s need in advance, printing your submissions on pink paper, or sending them fruit baskets. No. I’m talking about showing up on the publisher’s front door in a clown mask.

Leave an Impression that Truly Lasts

Most mid-level publishers aren’t based out of an office. They use a PO BOX to hide the fact that they work from home. So where is that? Well, the post office won’t answer a Boxholder Request Form from just anyone, especially without a subpoena, but a private investigator might have a guy on the inside who could fax them the 1093 form, if you’re willing to grease their wheels.

With the reverse lookup complete you’re going to rent a pair of bounce castles, NOT houses, castles. You’re a creative individual. So it should no problem for you to secure the rental without a paper trail. Use that same creative intelligence to convince the bounce castle employees to block both ends of a residential street without the tenants calling the police. Dress it up as community carnival.

If onlookers ask, “What’s going on here?” play it off like you’re acting on someone else’s behalf. Shrug. You’re just another working stiff on a deadline.

Next you’ll need a pair of 24-40 inch industrial stilts and a pair of stilt trousers to cover them up. These stilts are made for hanging drywall, but you’ll be using them to seem larger than life.

As for the rest of your outfit don’t bog yourself down with too many gaudy accessories. Your instincts might tell you to be on the lookout for: ruffles, polka dotted bowties, and florescent jumpers, but I suggest you shift your gaze toward form fitting formal wear with hyper extended limbs.

Creepypasta-themed urban legends are all the rage in horror forums. What better way to showcase your awareness of genre trends then by dressing as one? Mix and match Jeff the Killer’s long black hair with Slender Man’s thin tie and Eyeless Jack’s hoodie. Even if the publisher isn’t familiar with the characters cultural osmosis should give them an eerie twinge of recognition.

Now you’ll have to choose a mask. You might be drawn to masks with jigsaw grids of gashes, but consider this. You want your mask to feel like a blank canvas, a place for your audience to project their fears onto, not a space that’s already teeming with yellow teeth, stiches, and exposed bone.

Remember these are publishers. The mask shouldn’t tell a story. Your actions should tell a story. A classic hobo clown face should suffice.

Now it’s time to pick a prop. Your prop shouldn’t be a weapon. A weapon is too obvious. It’s like wearing a plastic smock with the name of who you’re supposed to be on the chest. You need to pick a prop that’s both innocuous and menacing: a stainless steel yo-yo that catches the light like the edge of a knife, juggling pins that are large enough to bludgeon, or balloon animals fashioned from condoms. Use your imagination.

From Plan to Execution

Let’s fast forward. You’ve got your bouncing castles blocking traffic. You’re up on your stilts. You’ve got your clown mask, creepypasta costume, and a vaguely menacing prop. Now you’ve got to give the publisher a reason to look out onto the lawn. You could try the old ding dong ditch, but once the publisher opens the door the tension has no room to grow. They see you in all your creepy glory and you either have a confrontation or get the hell off their lawn.

You want to give your target time to dwell on what they’re seeing, to stew in the absurdity of it. If you want to be subtle you can toss a few pebbles at the window, but if you really want to shock a couch potato you can’t go wrong with an airhorn.

An airhorn will draw onlookers. That’s why it’s important to research the average response time of local law enforcement. Bounce castles aren’t going to a hold squad cars back for very long.

That said, give the publisher a moment to drink you in. Let the alien shape of your carnival attire burn into their vision. Wait for them to back away from their blinds and move in. Don’t worry if they do a double take, just freeze and red-light-green-light your way across the lawn as needed.

Be Remembered for Your Work

Before we go any further it’s important to note that, yes, you will breaking and entering. Now the internet is full of helpful tips on picking locks with canned air and bobby pins, but we’re going to need to play this faster and looser. That’s why you’ll need a mallet for the knob, and a hunting knife for the deadbolt. Badda-bing badda-boom.

Disclaimer: once you’re an intruder anything the publisher does to you is nice and legal. So don’t go barreling through the front door. Leave it hanging open it in a maddening silence.

Ditch the stilts and creep around back. If there’s a screen door on the porch you’re one clean slice away from your destination. From here you’ll need two final items: a Jack-in-the-box on a timer, and a manuscript about a publisher who is convinced there’s a clown is living in their walls, a clown that comes out at night to stand at the foot of their bed and watch them sleep.

With the payload secure it’s time to haul ass out of there. Now I’ll leave the getaway plan to your better judgement: have Uber on standby, a crotch rocket hidden in the bushes, a hot air balloon waiting in the park. Again use your imagination.

What matters is that you’re leaving a lasting impression on an industry professional and what better way to wow a publisher than to haunt their dreams forever? Every time their house settles, or a rat scratches at their walls they’ll be thinking of you. Every time they shoot up in the dead of night and struggle to find a light that’s you too. Every time they freeze in front of a dark crawl space, drawstring attic, or cellar door you’ll be waiting there.

You will evoke a powerful emotional response, and isn’t that all any author can really ask for?

Continue reading Gracefully Handle Rejection By Standing Outside a Publisher’s Home in a Clown Mask

Monster Mingle: Meet Daisy Diode

Welcome to Monster Mingle, a place where urban legends find romance, where full moons lead to fuller hearts, and all the thirsty singles have fangs. This is how it works: illustrator Bryan Politte creates the characters and I (Drew Chial horror author) give them a backstory.

Meet Daisy Diode. She’s a self-made woman on a mission to find the perfect connection. She’s searching for love in the clouds, or the cloud to be more precise. She’s got the tools to brute force her way into your heart, just look out for malware while she’s in there.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

About Me

I never met Phoebe Gage, but based on her social media profiles she seemed like a bright young woman with a promising future.

At fifteen she volunteered at the East River Animal Shelter, driving up adoptions by posting dating profiles for the dogs. Gatsby likes long walks through Central Park, snuggling at sunset, and jazz age literature.

At sixteen she ran for class president with the slogan The arts and sciences deserve a pep rally too. The theme of her graduation speech was a future she’d never know, challenges she’d never face, and systems that would ultimately destroy her.

I followed Phoebe’s digital footprints from the quiet halls of Butler Library to the hyper-ways beneath the city. From Gallery openings in the Village to the subterranean speakeasies. I went to the boardwalk where Phoebe snapped her first selfie with her then boyfriend Lucas. I stood in the exact same spot, watched the sunset over the same ocean, and felt no connection.

Phoebe loved marine life. She aspired to write the environmental exposé that would save the cephalopods, but as a journalism major she had to write stories about campus life. She didn’t mind. She relished in interviewing the colorful characters in the beekeeping department. She was a social butterfly after all.

Me, I like to be left to my own devices. My DIY approach to therapy has been buggy. I’m struggling with kind a survivor’s guilt that professionals have yet to label. I call it my Phoebe Gage sized hole.

Genetically Phoebe and I are the same person, but Phoebe died of a traumatic brain injury on December 31th 2129. All of her father’s engineers and all of her father’s neurosurgeons couldn’t put young Phoebe back together again. On New Year’s Day 2130 Daisy Diode was born.

I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a soul. If there were only part of mine exits in my actual head. The rest resides in the craniofacial processor that bridges my neuropathways and holds my skull together.

Phoebe seemed like a good person, an optimist who thought she could change the system from within. I wish I was more like her, but that part of my frontal lobe is gone, and she is a phantom to me.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

Life Changing Event

I have scrolled through Phoebe’s timeline, sifted through her final posts, and scrutinized her every last geotag. I took a series of ad-sponsored taxis across the city. I started on campus in Greenwich and ended on the dock in Brooklyn Heights where she was discovered. I tried to jog my memory, but the defining jingles and animations on the windows stole my attention.

It wasn’t until I’d made my third pilgrimage to docks that I thought to check another location.

A fire truck and autonomous ambulance had been dispatched to the harbor at the sound of the explosion. If the ambulance had triggered its STRAIGHT SHOTprotocol every vehicle on the road would’ve pulled over. Phoebe would’ve been in neurosurgery within thirty seconds. Not three minutes.

The extent of Phoebe’s hematoma proves the ambulance took a detour. During that time someone accessed her phone.

Now Joseph Gage had his personal neurosurgeons and prosthetists flown in. It took them four hours to install their implants. I didn’t come online for another six, during that time someone wiped Phoebe’s cloud accounts.

When I logged on as Phoebe I scanned her references files and attempted to run a recovery script. My neural interface should’ve been up to the task, but I kept seeing the same message: You don’t have permission to access this script.

It turned out I didn’t have administrator access to my own implant.

That’s when I started noticing visual artifacts at the edge of my vision. I saw a strange pixilation whenever I so much as thought about running that script again. Someone was watching, logging every notion that crossed my mind.

I couldn’t live with someone reading my thoughts over my shoulder. I had to break free, but how do you outwit someone who can see what you’re thinking in real time? You order something that will damper their ability to do so and hope it gets there before they do.

The delivery drone landed on the roof of my apartment just as the S.W.A.T. team surrounded the building.

I tore the package open and wrapped the Faraday Fabric around my head like a turban. There was a tingling in my ankle, my arm went dead, and I collapsed. The words LOST CONNECTION…blinked across my vision. A battering ram gonged against the roof access door. Somehow I found the strength to fix my gaze on the option that read WORK OFFLINE.

When my prosthesis rebooted I leapt off the roof, dug into the brownstone bricks, and slid all the way down to the sidewalk. I ducked into a maintenance hole, ran through sewers until I came to an old subway line. I followed it through the darkness to an old station filled with train car shanties and storage crate homes. I hid amongst the hacktivists, the fiber foragers, and the flat-backers.

This is where I set out to replace my prosthetics.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

My Hobbies and Interests

In an age when everyone is trying to prolong their lifespan augmentations are more traceable than hand guns. Every chrome cranium has a subdermal serial number. Every bio-battery is branded, and every wire is watermarked.

Now the problem with black market body mods is where do you go for maintenance when the seller gets pinched? If I wanted to swap my parts I’d have to go back to the source, but how would I get into Gage Industries unnoticed?

I became an Olympic-Caliber dumpster diver, scrapping DNA from kitchen utensils, copying fingerprints from coffee cups, and synthesizing vocal vibrations from used rations.

I covered my implants in latex, lined a wig with faraday fabric, and waltzed right through the front door. I delivered linguine to the lobby, minestrone to the mail room, and tortellini to the testing facility.

I installed retina spoofers in the elevators, face scanners in the bathroom mirrors, and breath print readers in the flowers.

When I was satisfied I’d collected enough biometric material I 3D printed Joseph Gage’s likeness: a forehead appliance with a receding hairline, a pair of jowls, and a butt chin. Then I overlaid his irises onto contacts, swallowed a voice synthesizer, and rehearsed his favorite phrases in the mirror.

“You don’t need two hands to eat. It’s crunch time.”

“You know everyone at your level is replaceable.”

“Your predecessor did that twice as fast.”

I picked up Joseph’s dry-cleaning and padded his suit until it fit. I ran his movements through an algorithm until I could emulate his gait. The man had a walk liked he’d just dismounted an elephant.

It took more finesse to get the chloroform into his protein shake than it did to trespass into his office. I just ambled in, with his pleated pants riding my ribs, and blew through all his biometric safeguards. Then I took his personal elevator to his private server and cloned everything I could get my hands on.

I was going to go down to storage and take the implants I needed over a longer period of time, but then it occurred to me to just go for the designs specs all at once.

The off brand assembly line equipment proved easier to acquire. I used it to manufacture clean gear for myself and everyone else in my nether neighborhood. Little did I know how badly we’d need it.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

My Intimate Details

Being ambidextrous is easy with my implants in. Not so much when I’m making alterations. I had to train myself to do them left handed. I pulled it off with all the grace of stroke victim, but  little by little I managed to swap systems.

When I was done I copied Joseph Gage’s corporate secrets into my memory banks. I’m not sure if it was my subconscious, or an indexing subroutine, but something about that data weighed heavy on me.

That night I dreamt I was meeting someone at the shipping docks. The ocean echoed off the crates. The automated employees were watching the horizon, waiting for a ship to come in. There was a woman pacing beneath a street lamp, rubbing her shoulders, checking her phone. She ducked into a trench coat, like a child playing at spy games. I didn’t need four quadrants of facial recognition to recognize Phoebe Gage when I saw her.

I neared.

She said, “The arc of the moral universe is long.”

“But it bends toward justice.” I finished the passphrase.

Time slowed as Phoebe’s eyes lit with embers. Her hair blew back, her cheeks filled with air, and her skin glowed orange. Then she was off her feet, flying across the peer in a shower of debris.

When I booted up that morning it felt like I’d been decrypted. Phoebe Gage, with her love of karaoke and breakfast pastries, was still a mystery to me, but I knew what had happened to her.

There was something about the whistleblower Phoebe had gone to meet. They weren’t human. Someone had overlaid the shell of a real doll onto a bipedal skeleton with enhanced modular movements. It would’ve looked human from across the street, but up close it’d have looked plasticine and disturbing.

My dream was an encrypted recording from this machine. Someone had planted it on Joseph Gage’s private server. I believe the whistleblower hid it for forensic investigators to find later. Its placement would lead them to a treasure trove of information on something called Project Razor Blade.

The pieces were falling into place.

Phoebe had been interning at a publication known for uncovering corporate wrongdoing. The whistleblower must’ve reached out to her through an untraceable channel: carrier pigeon, singing telegram, or something ancient like the postal system. The whistleblower must’ve assumed Phoebe’s relationship with her father would’ve have protected her from retaliation. Phoebe must’ve assumed the same thing.

While Phoebe’s source had gone to great lengths to ensure they weren’t followed Phoebe had not.

A drone, flying beyond the visual line of sight, had followed Phoebe to the docks. When her informant stepped out of the shadows the drone dropped its payload. Joseph Gage hadn’t meant to hurt his daughter, but he miscalculated the blast radius and gave her a total makeover.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

Physical features

My body isn’t a temple so much it’s a restoration. Phoebe took a lot of shrapnel on her way across the peer. I have a patchwork of gnarly scars. I buried most of my trauma tattoos beneath circuit boards and sea monsters. Put a daisy where a cheek stain had been, and turned the circle around my orbital into a pentagram.

I wear a 250-gigapixel ocular prosthesis modeled after the unreleased Oden’s Eye prototype. I like it because it lets me see the peaks and valleys across the lunar surface, and spot any virtual vultures that might be flying overhead.

When I’m not infiltrating corporate headquarters I leave the flesh toned gloves and latex appliances at home. Down here amongst the deck jockeys and body bankers I let my manufactured freak flag fly.

But not all of these augmentations are upgrades. I wake with bloody fingers from having scratched my gunmetal shoulder. I feel this tingling in my missing limbs. I get phantom pains in my pegleg when I try to dance, and I can’t swim without sinking.

That said, I’m not some hobbyist biohacker filling my flesh with wetware. I need my neural-bridge to live, and I’m not the only one. Cancer deaths have been declining for decades, but rates are on the rise. Artificialcerebellums, livers, and lungs are a big business.

It would be a shame if someone did for augments what the shaving industry did for razors (i.e. built them to break so they could sell more). If one corporation had the augment market cornered they could implement a planned obsolescence that could cripple millions.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

My Perfect Match

I’d love to date a hard bodied edge runner with an open mind about chrome in the bedroom. But… I’ll settle for the whistleblower I created this profile to uncover.

Right now Joseph Gage’s drones are sweeping Manhattan looking for signs of his daughter. They’re not checking dating forums. I suspect you are. I suspect you’re drawn to the mere mention of Project Razor Blade. I also suspect you’re an artificial intelligence, one who is motivated by something other than profit margins.

I base this theory on the script buried in Joseph Gage’s files. It was too elegant to have been crafted by an organic mind. There was no junk code, no buffer overflow, no expired pointers. It was as sophisticated and succinct as a seashell, like it had evolved from within the digital realm.

If my theory is correct, and you truly are an altruisticautomaton, we need to meet again.

Daisy Diode by Bryan Politte

My ideal date

You can name the time. You can name the place, just somewhere private where it won’t be raining warheads.

I know you have no reason to trust me. I’m not even the same woman you reached out to in the first place. Still, we need each other.

You need me to infiltrate my father’s data center and I need your code to drive the final nail into his coffin.

We have mere months before Project Razor Blade goes into effect. Millions of augments will break down. Pancreatic implants will pause and diabetics everywhere will go into seizures. Congenital heart disease patients will go into arrest, and paraplegics will fall to floor.

Powerful lobbies and sweeping deregulation protect Gage Industries from malpractice claims. You and I are the only ones standing between my father and an augmentation apocalypse.

So please, Whistleblower, put your lips together and give me a sign.

Continue reading Monster Mingle: Meet Daisy Diode