On this day several decades ago my parents attended a ceremony in the woods between the graveyard and their newfound home. They knew the moon was waxing despite the overcast and they wore but wolfskins despite the chill of autumn. They were drawn off the trail by an chorus of windchimes and a network of twine. They came upon a clearing marked by stacks of stones. There they found the local homeowners association pacing in a circle muttering in tongues. Each member wore an identical wolf skin and each one held an old oil lantern high above them.
At the center of the circle was a long stone slab jutting from the earth like a comet. It was lined with objects of power: ruin covered relics, gemstones, and pendants. My parents took their places at the base and the head of the slab. There they were blindfolded and told to listen for the object that called to them. My father says he heard a flute. My mother says she heard a bell.
My father reached for something cold and cylindrical. When he lifted his blindfold he saw a jar full of grass stems. When he raised it a dozen green lights flickered awake. One of the homeowners had captured and cultivated fireflies over the long humid summer.
My mother reached for an object and recoiled. She felt her fingertip and found it wet with blood. It turned out the object that was calling to her was a long curved dagger.
The homeowners association instructed my parents to use these objects to procure a sacrifice before the new day’s sun came creeping over the horizon. My father twisted the lid off of the jar and set the fireflies free. Together he and my mother followed the lights into the thicket.
One deer carcass later and the night was won. I’ll spare you the gory details. Suffice to say the stone slab was red before dawn. The blood trickled and pooled onto the earth below where two tiny hands emerged from the dirt and viscera. My manger was a circle of rock salt at the foot of the slab. I wasn’t born so much as I was summoned and I didn’t cry so much as exhaled smoke rings.
Oh, and the hit single on my birthday was Endless Loveby Dianna Ross and Lionel Richie.
Every day author Drew Chial hikes 25 miles to ensure his novel HE HAS MANY NAMES has a place of prominence in every little free library across the city of Minneapolis Minnesota.
“I started carrying these microfiber gloves to make sure my magnum opus doesn’t look like it’s been gathering dust.”
While most of the Dan Brown and James Patterson titles stand spine to spine Chial positions HE HAS MANY NAMES with the cover facing outward.
“I want the occult iconography and Andy Warhol color scheme to bedevil readers into exploring further. HE HAS MANY NAMES? Ooh. Who might that be?”
This Monday Chial’s efforts finally paid off.
“My blistered bunions bore fruit! I couldn’t help myself. I took a selfie next to the gap where my novel used to be. My mother said she could barely recognize me. I’ve never looked so happy.”
While many think pieces are lamenting the death of the novelist Chial is an entrepreneur in a changing literary landscape.
“I went to Barnes and Noble with a trench coat lined with copies of HE HAS MANY NAMES. I’d slit holes in the coat so I could leave stacks in the endcaps. I didn’t even have to take my hands out of the pockets. I’d snatch a handful of copies of The Secretand leave my little devil book in its place. A week later I’d check on my contribution to the store’s visual merchandising. At first I was overjoyed to see that every copy of my book was gone, until I found a stack beside the dumpster with torn covers. That’s when I realized publishers paid to have their books featured on those endcaps. HE HAS MANY NAMES didn’t have a chance next to John Grisham or Khloe Kardashian so I went back to the white board and got to brain storming.”
Lightning must have struck because if Monday’s news is any indication all 300 hundred copies of HE HAS MANY NAMES Chial in little libraries throughout the city are about to be snatched up.
Chial hosted a celebration at the Minneapolis Marriott banquette hall to commemorate his victory. He toasted all 150 authors in attendance. “Neil Gaiman once said, “The model for tomorrow is… to try everything. Make mistakes. Surprise ourselves. Try anything else.’ And that my friends and colleges is exactly what I have done today.” Chial raised a glass of Dom Perignon. “To me!”
Success is a subjective thing, especially when it comes to artistic accomplishments. For a lot of writers finishing a novel is cause for celebration, as is getting it published, let alone it becoming a bestselling author. Most of us have realistic expectations. We know it’s unlikely a stranger will recognize us from the photo on the back flap of our books. We know our asses will never grace the guest chair of The Late Show, and we’ve got a hunch that we’ll never get blisters from signing autographs.
The pragmatists among us aspire to cover our expenses with our work. We hope for fandom amongst friends, and for our parents to acknowledge the legitimacy of our work. That’s the biggest benchmark we strive for as artists. Sure your fiction isn’t your primary source of income, but your mother can introduce you as “my son the writer” at family functions.
Okay, that last one might be a bit of a lofty ambition. It turns out a lot of parents don’t want to spend their retirement reading metafictional horror satire even if it was written by their son. They need a little persuading, some subtle guidance to steer our work to the top of their reading list.
Here are some ideas to help you with that.
Leverage Peer Pressure
If your novel is geared toward a younger audience give your siblings, cousins, and family friends free copies. Then when you’re together, at like a baptism or a funeral, shoehorn one of your novel’s themes into casual conversation, not your book itself, but one of the subjects a reader might recognize. Leave it to your extended family to actually bring your book up. If you’re lucky one of them will ask your parents what they thought about that part.
Quiz your parents like a middle school teacher honing in on a student who didn’t do the reading. What did you think of the setting? Did you find the heroes voice too grating? What did you think of the twist?
If your mother says, “It was nice. It was all nice.”
Pause for a moment to let all the awkward looks sink in. Give that peer pressure a moment to really boil over.
Then turn to your father. “What did you think of military father? Did you think his portrayal was one dimensional or did you think it was fair?”
If he says, “I thought it was fair.” Then call him out.
“There was no military father, but there was a rather explicit sex scene. What did you think of that?”
Let that ellipses waft around everyone in the room like a bad fart.
Push Notifications on Them
The next time your father needs tech support for his phone take it, change your photo in his contacts to your cover art and your personalized ringtone to “I’m writing a novel” by Father John Misty. Then set a reminder for the day it comes out and change the alert sound to “Cats in the Cradles” by Harry Chapin to play on his heart strings.
If your father asks how these changes occurred tell him that you’ll take a look at it. Then ring the bell on your YouTube account so he gets a notification when your book trailer drops. Set his phone to follow every Podcast you’re due to appear on. Open his photo gallery and link to your book tour photo stream so he sees you with fans.
When an author blurbs your book text the quote to your parents followed by. “Whoops! Sorry, I meant to send that to my publisher.” Then send your folks a link from Goodreads and caption it with “Hey look, another five star review!” Then follow that up a few minutes later with. “Sorry, that was meant for my publisher too.” Then forge an email from a fan who was so moved by your prose that they decided not to take their own life, but rather to forge on, and become a veterinarian. Then forward it to your parents. Followed by, “Whoops. Wrong email address.”
Pwn Their Computers
Sure you could buy targeted advertisements to play between the World War 2 videos your father watches or the Carpenters songs your mother listens to, or you could just take over your parents’ computer and make them see what you want to.
Use a browser based caller ID spoofer to appear as though you’re calling from regional tech support. Utilize the spoofer’s voice changer FX, stick to a tight script, and lay the urgency on thick. Leverage the data breach headlines the media is always frightening your parents with.
“I’m sure you’ve heard about the vulnerabilities to our OS in the news. Well, I’m sorry to report your machine is one of the ones affected. Hackers are already using your IP to host a dark web marketplace, mainly drugs and some photos I’d rather not discuss, but don’t worry. I’m going to walk you through a simple fix and we’ll have you safe and secure in no time.”
Then direct them to a website you’ve cobbled together with flipped assets: a stock photo of a smiling technician with their headset on, a pair of senior citizens looking ecstatic at their computer desk, and some copy and pasted cybersecurity jargon (something about catfish caught in a botnet, it doesn’t matter, so long as it goes over their heads).
Call your link URGENT UPDATE DOWNLOAD IMMEDIATELY and advise your parents to do as it says. Your trojan should contain a rootkit to give you remote administrator access to you parents’ system.
Assure your folks that they’ve nipped the problem in the bud without compromising their social security numbers and that they can rest easy. Now wait until they’ve gone to sleep and get to work.
Install a plugin that reroutes local news sites to a profile on you: Local Author Makes Headlines with Latest Magnum Opus.Install a plugin that switches their Amazon recommendations to your bibliography, and another that makes it so that every other Facebook post they see links to your blog directly.
Use the Postal System
If your technological tactics prove too subtle try going old school.
Send your parents complimentary Kindle download codes, in small envelopes with elegant rose gold seals. Order cards with an illustrated border of laurels, cherubs, and hearts. The cursive script within should read:
Together with his publisher
Invites you to join him
In the celebration of his book launch
(enter release date,
Followed by the download code)
You should ask them to RSVP just so you know they got it.
Forge Orpah’s Book Club stickers, slap them on a boxful of your novels, and plant copies at a supermarket you know your mother frequents. Write up a Staff Picks card and slide a copy into the window at Axe Man. It will subconsciously register with your father when he passes it.
Don’t fret if either of your parents bring your book to the front counter. As long as your book has an ISBN number that shit should scan. Sure, it might not be in the store’s inventory, but a nervous cashier will push that transaction through when they realize the customer’s son wrote it.
Take Over Your Mother’s Book Club
So this long con is going to take a bit of commitment. Have you ever seen Mrs. Doubtfire? Robin Williams plays a recently divorced father who wants to see his children so he does what most people do, he gets fitted for an elaborate latex prosthetic and takes on the persona of an elderly British woman. You’re going to be doing pretty much exactly that.
The best way to sell your senior citizen persona is to rent a house in your parent’s neighborhood, build relationships around their block, and gather intelligence. Invest in a small yappy puppy. Trust me the puppy will do the introductions for you. Hang out around those Little Free Libraries people leave in their lawns. Inquire about a book club, bring home baked cookies, bide your time, and drop you metafictional horror satire on everyone.
The best part about this scenario is get to hear your parents sing your praises when they think you’re not in the room.
Click Bait and Switch
Post an ultrasound on Facebook. Caption it with WE’RE EXPECTING in all caps. Doctor the photo so that the fetus’s fingers are holding your novel. This shouldn’t be a thumbnail image. It should be large enough for the fetus to feasibly read the book from within the womb. After WE’RE EXPECTING write this novel to crack the bestsellers list. Then tag your parents in the photo. Tag the whole extended family too.
If this doesn’t get your parents’ attention then nothing else will.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.