Free Fridays: Weight

There's one bit in this story that I really love.  I kind of wonder if anyone can tell which part I'm referring to.

Anywho, here's "Weight," a short story that originally appeared in the Ginosko Literary Journal and one I'm thinking of revising (but isn't that the case for everything?).

Weight for your Kindle
Weight for your eReader

Sorry about being MIA all week.  It's not so much that things have been busy lately, just evolving.

Next week, I'm thinking I'll lighten the mood a bit and post the first few pages of Master of the House, the YA book that I'm currently shopping around.  I actually feel pretty good about this book.

Have a good weekend.  I'll be spending most of mine writing and playing my new Xbox360.

The Jerks Aren't the Ones Ruining the Internet

The internet is a lot like talk radio or 24 hour news channels.  It seems that the main appeal of any of those things is outrage.  People want to be outraged about something.  They want to be righteous and indignant.  I'd honestly love to know, say, what percentage of Fox News' audience is made up of liberals who want to decry everything they say.

The problem is that this makes things that aren't stories into stories, and it makes these made up stories seem more important than they really are.

One of the more recent examples of this came when the Hunger Games movie was released.  And not long afterwards, "articles" like this start popping up: 
The Hunger Games hit by racism row as movie fans tweet vile slurs over casting of black teen actress as heroine Rue

I probably found close to a dozen articles online covering this story.  And, across the board, every single one of the articles quoted the same batch of Tweets.  Said Tweets proved one thing beyond a shadow of a doubt: that there are like 20 teenagers out there who are varying degrees of both prejudiced and stupid.

But that's not what these articles say, because in the internet age if enough people (say, more than 2) say the same thing, then it must be an issue.  And if enough articles are written about it, suddenly people are talking about it as if it's something we should all be really worried about.

I'm not saying it isn't awful that these people on Twitter are bigots (and, apparently, illiterate).  But it's not like book clubs across the country are gathering to decry the actors who were cast in the Hunger Games because of the color of their skin.  Even worse, there are actual examples of racism in this country that could surely use exposure more than a score of people on Twitter, yes?

But people want to feel righteous.

Why does Rush Limbaugh's opinion on anything matter?  Because he has a radio show?  He's not an elected official.  If he has so many loyal followers, then why doesn't he hold some kind of office of power by now?  And if the only people who listen to him are those that agree with him, than why is he in the press so often?
He's in the press so often because people want something to be outraged about.  Hey, don't get me wrong, I think the guy's an asshat, but he's only an asshat that gets attention because people keep giving it to him.  You might think his views are vile, but simply by going on and on about him you are, in fact, spreading those views.

Every once in a while, I will see someone on Twitter complain about seeing so many Tweets about something that they find obnoxious and/or ridiculous.  At first, I was surprised -- you choose who you follow on Twitter, so if these people are really that far off the reservation, why are you following them?  But it leads back to my point above: people want to be indignant.  The internet needs it, talk radio needs it, 24 hour news channels need it, and people need it.

Just imagine, though, if someone saw someone saying something outlandish and awful and simply said "that guy's an idiot" and walked away.  Imagine if that stupid thing didn't get shared by anyone.  But that's not the way the world works -- it's certainly not the way the internet works.

So, no, it's not the jerks who are ruining the internet.  It's the self-righteous, who need to learn that they are part of the problem, not the solution.

Further Lessons In Social Media

Interestingly enough, being called a racist by a comic book creator on Twitter does crazy things for the traffic on your blog.  That blog post got more views in the two hours after I put it up than most of my posts have gotten in their entire existence.

I got a lot of nice responses from people, too.  I got them on Facebook, in the comments section of a friend's blog, and even in person.  But notice what's missing from that list; I didn't really get any on Twitter.

The comic book creator in question was Steve Niles.  It occurred to me that, while I was taking the high road by not naming him, he called me a racist in a public forum, so fuck that noise.

Anyway, Steve Niles and I both have public profiles on Twitter.  We also share a few followers, which means that there were more than a few people who could have seen both sides of my exchange with him.  And aside from one person making my tweet about my blog a favorite, no one said anything, either during or after.  Nothing like "hey, man, that's not cool" or "you're really taking this too far."

This was, I will admit, a bit disheartening.  I'll also admit that it was only disheartening when my wife pointed it out to me.  The only person to jump into the fray, so to speak, was a friend of mine from high school who seldom uses Twitter.

Here's the thing: I understand it.  The fact that people who know me and know Steve Niles in some way, didn't make any kind of comments is a product of the social networking system.  I know this because I've stepped into arguments between two people that I follow and watched as it quickly turned into an argument between one of them and me.

This all leads me to a list of reasons why no one got involved:

1) Experience.  Like I said, I've jumped in to defend someone before and been lambasted for it.  I'd probably react the same way if it happened again, but I know what a pain it can be.

2) It's arguing on the internet.  There are few things as stupid as arguing with someone online.  I say that as a man who is constantly sucked into exactly that.  Even worse, I'm so neurotic that I obsess over these arguments.  Just imagine how many times I refreshed my browser, waiting to see that the aforementioned Steve Niles had read my comments.  Imagine my disappointment when I saw what he wrote.

3) Fear/Denial -- Let's face facts, a big part of my shock about this whole thing stems from the fact that I really respect Niles' career as a comic book creator.  I would imagine a lot of people who follow him on Twitter feel the same way.  So when he has a moment when he acts like an asshat, would any of those people step in?  It's far easier to write it off as a one-off, that he's still the respected creator we thought he was.  Or, on the flip side, it's easier to just ignore it, for fear that he'll block us if we speak up, because that's exactly what he did to me.

4) No one cares.  It's no coincidence that a friend I've had since high school was the only one to take to Twitter in my defense.  My wife was going to, but I asked her not to.  These are both people I know well, and who care about me.  While I've met a lot of the people I interact with online in real life, I can't say that I really know them or they really know me.  A dust up between me and some comic book writer may make them cringe, but there's no reason to believe it will bother them to the point of getting involved.

5) This happened?  Seriously, I follow enough people on Twitter to know that it's often impossible to keep track of everything that happens.  And while I managed to talk about it over the span of a few days, it's entirely possible that people who follow either or both of us didn't see any of this go down.

Still, like I said earlier, it was disheartening, and feels like a lesson on social networks.  For all the lack of civility that most people see, there's an element that swings to the opposite extreme, particularly on Twitter.  It is the easiest way for us to connect with those we admire, and no one wants to ruin that.  I surely don't.

But, apparently, I did.

When Twitter Ruins Things

Living in the age of social networking is great.  I use and enjoy both Twitter and Facebook.  I wrote about the appeal of both of them here.

The other day, though, I experienced part of the down side, at least to Twitter.

I'm a big fan of comic books, and lately I've been on a big push for creator owned books, as I believe they are the future of the business.  I follow a number of comic book creators who feel the same way.  On Monday, one of them posted a link on thinkprogress.org about the smear campaign against Trayvon Martin.


If you've been following the Trayvon Martin story, you probably know that Monday was also the day that the police department released the version of events told by George Zimmerman, as well as statements from witnesses.  It was a fairly big development in the story.

When I read the article at the link above, I thought it was a missed opportunity.  I think only people who were already biased would believe the smear campaign, and it would have been better had the column been about the questions that arose from the day's news.  So I said that in response to the aforementioned comic book creator:

I think it's the supposed witness statements that are giving most rational people pause, not what's on that list.

This is the response I got:

What are you implying? If it's what I think, that is messed up.

Given the restraint of 140 character comments, it's not unusual for things to come across the wrong way.  Since I knew what I was saying, I couldn't really imagine what he thought I meant, but it didn't sound good.  So I tried to explain myself:

I don't think it's what you're thinking. I think the people who believe the smear campaign are already biased.

I also think the fact that they don't go into detail about the witness statements and Z's testimony is a missed opportunity.

Hindsight being 20/20, I realize that saying those who believed the smear campaign were already biased didn't connect with the "rational people" comment from earlier, so I suppose it seems like I didn't explain that part of my initial response.

 Still, I thought my two, additional tweets at least gave a fuller picture of what I meant.

This is the response I got:

Are you implying I'm not a rational person? Are you implying the kid deserved death? Let me imply something. You are a racist.

As you can probably imagine, I was taken aback by this.

Now, I can perhaps see thinking I said he wasn't a rational person.  I actually mentioned "rational people" in my initial comment.  But for the life of me I can't find anything that would suggest I was saying that "the kid deserved death."  I just have no idea where that came from.

And, obviously, calling me a racist was just insane on a number of levels.

But, like I said, I have (had?) a lot of respect for this creator, so I wanted to try to explain myself some more:

What? Woa. I was calling the people who believe the smear campaign irrational.
I think most rational people would see the news that came out today and wonder what else was going on...
...like who are these supposed witnesses and why did is that just coming out now?

I never got a response from any of those tweets.  I'm not sure, but I think he might have blocked me, which is too bad.  I shared the fact that he called me a racist and that it was disheartening.  A friend of mine decided to step in and sent this to him:

@ @kylegarret I find your implication of racism to be in stunningly poor taste.

I thought that was a reasonable thing to say -- I kind of felt the same way.

My friend got a response:

(my friend) Well, he started it implicating me. Have a nice day.

(my friend) And I find his racism in poor taste as well, so I guess we're even.

I only saw these tweets by actually checking his timeline; they don't show up in my timeline, which is why I'm guessing he blocked me.

He still maintained that I implied he was irrational -- and this was like 14 hours after I'd told him that's not what I meant.  And he accused me of racism again.

I thought I'd give it one last shot:

I sent you like 5 tweets explaining that's not what I meant. I don't understand why you would jump to that conclusion.

I haven't heard anything back and I suppose I won't.  I doesn't seem like he was even seeing some of my earlier tweets, or at least I hope that was the case, because the alternative is that he was just ignoring what I said because he'd come to a conclusion about me and that was that.

It's weird.  I feel bad about all of this.  I mean, I don't think I really did anything wrong, aside from failing to articulate my point better in 140 characters.  It's just...well, I've always liked reading his tweets.  I've always like what he stands for as far as creator rights are concerned.

It's amazing that, given the constraints of Twitter, anyone would jump to any conclusions, particularly like this.

It's just sad, really.  I'm trying not to think ill of him based upon this one interaction, but given the severity of it, it's not easy.

I suppose this will ensure that I take a step back whenever someone says something to me on Twitter that seems off.  At the very least, I'll give them a chance to explain themselves before calling them horrible things.

Unrequited

I'm a bit behind on my blogging, but I'm hoping to get back to it soon.  Blame it on the strange illness I fought off this past holiday weekend.

In the meantime, I present a post from a few weeks ago, featuring a sample of my story, "Unrequited."


It was our second date when the world ended.
            This was someone’s basement once.  There’s a washer and a dryer down here and if the power were still working I’m sure we could use them.  The fact that the shower upstairs worked was blessing enough.  My clothes might not be clean, but at least my skin smells better.
            Sophy brought a few things down from the bathroom.  She found a compact.  She found some make up.  It’s still light out enough for her to put it on.  She’s just kind of sitting there, compact in one hand, eyeliner in the other.  I’d be flattered if I thought she was actually doing it for my benefit.  She’s not.  She’s doing it for her own.
            I brought a few things down from the kitchen.  I found a really big knife, the kind they only sell on the Home Shopping Network.  I found some canned goods that can be eaten raw.  I found some bottled water.
            I searched every inch of this house and every inch of the garage and the shed out in the yard and I didn’t find a shotgun or a hand gun or anything that could be considered a fire arm.  In the movies they always find a gun somehow.  In the movies they always know how to use it.
            I know she’d rather be sleeping upstairs in one of the beds.  But I feel like the rooms are too shut off with only one exit route.  The basement has a door to the upstairs and a door to the back yard.  The floor is concrete and the walls are cinder blocks.  I feel secure down here.
            There’s a small window, the kind made from a really thick block of glass.  I can see the swing set in the back yard.  I can see the sand box.

            I remember when internet dating was a joke.
            I don’t know when it happened, but at some point meeting people online became trendy.  I guess the ability to screen people was appealing.  You could literally type in the kind of person you wanted to meet and the computer would spit out results.  It was like natural selection with photos.
            That’s how I met Sophy.
            I think most people have a list of traits that they look for in a significant other.  And I think most people are smart enough to realize that they’ll never find someone with every single one of those traits.  To a certain extent, we all know that we’re going to have to settle.  You trade wit for kindness.  You trade taste in movies for taste in music.  You trade intelligence for looks.  Everyone knows that this is how it works and everyone knows that everyone else does it.  You have to sacrifice to survive.
            I didn’t feel like I was settling with Sophy.
            This holds true for meeting people online.  Go ahead and do a search for someone who has the exact same favorite movie as you.  I can guarantee that they won’t like the same music.  Do a search for someone with a post-graduate degree.  Chances are good that they’ll be dull as dirt.  When the facts are laid out and pixilated on the screen twenty inches in front of your face, you learn to pick and choose.  You learn to prioritize.
            It wasn’t like that with Sophy.  She liked the best movies.  She valued wit.  She enjoyed getting drunk.  She was nearly as aimless as me and just a few months younger.  There wasn’t a single trade to be made.  I didn’t have to pick and choose.  Everything lined up the way I wanted.
            And then, of course, there were the pictures.  As online dating had gotten more popular, more and more attractive people were actually using it.  I’m sure initially it was the last resort for the homely and misanthropic, but it turned into a veritable potpourri of beautiful people.  No matter what your type might be, you were bound to find someone to match it.  The problem, of course, is that everyone knew this.
            You get a lot of glamour shots, pictures that seemed to have been taken specifically for the purpose of having a great online profile.  You get a lot of action shots, pictures of people doing something “cool” with their friends.  Those are actually kind of intimidating because you’re getting a glimpse of that person’s entire life in one photo.  It’s a world that seems foreign and complete and not a world that needs you in any way.  You also get a lot of artsy shots, created to be mysterious and appealing when, in reality, they’re just annoying.
            Sophy was different.
            I found her by doing a search for favorite movie.  We were a match.  Her picture was candid enough (and cute enough) for me to think she had potential, so I clicked on her name to view her profile.  Not only did we like the same movies, we liked the same music, too.  It seemed to me that I had every single one of the qualities that she looked for in a person.  It seemed to me that her hobbies paralleled my own.
            Within a few minutes of reading her profile, I’d already fallen for her.

            We managed to slide a mattress down the stairs and we took sheets and comforters from the linen closet.  It felt weird to take them off the beds.  The mattress was one thing.  Sheets made what we were doing seem too real.
            Night time is always the hardest.  I watch as the last light from the sun fades away.  Sophy crawls on to the mattress and pulls the sheets up around her.  I look at my watch.  It’s only 6:30.  I wonder how much longer the battery will last in this thing.  I suppose at some point time will cease to exist.
            We sleep in four hour shifts.  I know it doesn’t sound like we’re getting a whole lot of rest, but it’s not as if either of us is getting any quality sleep.  You’re half awake the whole time, anyway.  Part of you doesn’t think you’ll wake up.
            There was one point when we felt comfortable lying next to each other.  I think we preferred it.  It was a way for us to stay warm.  I liked to think it was comforting, that I was just as comforting to her as she was to me.  But we’ve been pretty scared lately, too scared to be lying down at the same time.
            “I feel like we’re buried,” she says as she rolls over on to her side.  She always starts off on her side.  At some point she’ll end up on her back.  Gently, casually, and sound asleep, she’ll roll on to her back, no longer curled up in the fetal position, open and accepting of the world around her.  It happens that way every night.  It’s almost graceful.
            I’ve watched her sleep every night for a week now.
            I look back out the window.  The sun is going down and the last bit of light is starting to form shadows anywhere it can.  I try not to let my mind fool me.  I’ve got enough to worry about without imaging things.
Those trees in the distance are just trees.  They’re not moving.  They’re not headed this way.
            I almost wish they were.


The rest of Unrequited can be found as a 99 cent eBook, available on iTunes, for the Nook, and for the Kindle, as well as pretty much any other eReader or Tablet. Unrequited can also be found in print, as part of the short story collection, Unrequited and Other Stories.

An uplifting short story to start your week


You can find this short story in the Literary Town Hall collection, conveniently listed over there on the right.

As the saying goes, never apologize and never explain.  But this short story is eight years old and I have to admit that there are parts of it that don't really hold up.  Then again, there are parts of it that, I think, hold up extremely well.

As you will probably be able to guess when you read this, much of it is based on real life events.

Also, I think there might be some swearing in there, not to mention a few disturbing metaphors.  This is probably a PG-13 story.


Gateway Drug
By Kyle Garret

            I am a guided missile without the guidance.
I’ve never been to this doctor before.  The only thing I know about him is that he accepts my insurance and that his office is less than ten miles from my apartment.  Unfortunately, each of those miles is shadier than the next.  By the time I get there, I’m beginning to question the validity of my new doctor’s qualifications, not to mention the quality of my insurance company.
            His office is in an old brown building.  There’s no sign on it anywhere that would indicate a doctor resides there, at least none that I can see from my car.  Mathematical deduction is the only reason I even find the place; this has to be his office because the building after his has an address that is two numbers higher.
            I park and get out of my car, making sure to hit the “lock” button on my car keys.  I hear the car honk and I’m suddenly very thankful for technology.  Then again, I’ll draw little comfort that my car is safe if I’m beaten to death inside this building.
            And then I see the sign. 
The sign is a piece of notebook paper with “Dr. Daley” written on it in blue pen.  It is taped to the front door of what I’m assuming is his office.  If my wrists weren’t actually throbbing as I stood there, I would have turned around.  But beggars can’t be choosers and apparently I’ve turned into a beggar.  I suppose every girl I’ve ever slept with would attest to that.
            When I enter I immediately notice two things: two attractive young women who appear to be medical assistants and a framed picture of who I am assuming is Dr. Daley.  The assistants are nice to see; the picture is less so.  The photo is a pastel looking shot of a middle aged man in a shirt, tie, and cardigan sweater.  He’s wearing those black, horn rimmed glasses – the kind they used to wear in the 50’s and 60’s.  And in the picture he appears to be about fifty years old.  Those pesky math skills quickly alert me to the fact that this man could be over a hundred.
            “Are you here to see Dr. Daley?” says one of the assistants, no doubt picking up on my look of complete bewilderment. 
            “Uh, yeah, I have an appointment,” I say.
            “Okay, just sign in for us here,” she says as she points to the sign-in sheet with one hand and grabs a clipboard with the other, “and fill this out for us.  You can sit over there.”  She points towards the opposite side of the room.
            Suddenly I notice that there are, in fact, chairs in this room.  I hadn’t noticed them before because there’s no one sitting in them.  I’m the only patient.
            I put my name on the sign-in sheet and sit down, wondering how long I could possibly have to wait since I’m apparently the only one here.  In fact, the medical staff outnumbers the patients in this scenario, something that really can’t be good for business.  Then again, maybe Dr. Daley gets a lot of wealthy divorcees who have been coming to him for decades.  Judging by the neighborhood, I tend to doubt it.
            I fill out all the paperwork that’s required of me and hand it back to the assistant.  She smiles and thanks me and goes back to talking to the other assistant.  I’m beginning to wonder how many assistants this guy could possibly need considering his average number of patients.
The door to what I assume is the examination room opens and all of my questions are answered.
            Slowly – oh, so slowly – walks out Dr. Daley.  If he’s a day under one-hundred and fifty I’d be surprised and it dawns on me that perhaps he’s some kind of medical miracle in his own right, and that’s why he’s still practicing: healing magic through osmosis.
            He doesn’t see me as he heads towards the main desk.  One assistant scurries up to him with a folder containing all of my information as the other one heads back into the exam room.  Maybe the assistants will actually examine me.  Maybe Dr. Daley is just here to put his stamp of approval on the HMO forms.
            The assistant with Dr. Daley points in my direction and he turns to face me.  He smiles and begins to lumber in my general direction, much like a mummy or a zombie who’s just noticed how so very tasty my brains are.  I have to resist the urge to scan the room for something to decapitate him with.
            “I’m Dr. Daley,” he says in that old man voice, and you know exactly what I’m talking about.  He holds out a quivering hand to me, undead body language for wanting to shake.  I grab his hand as weakly as possible and we do a quick up/down motion before I let go.  Depending upon which movie this is and whether or not he’s a mummy or a zombie, he could suck my life force away with just a touch, so it’s best not to take any chances.
            He sticks his hand out as if to indicate that he’d like me to head in the direction of the exam room, as if he wants me to go in ahead of him.  My ADD and entire lack of manners would have made this happen, anyway, as there’s no way in hell I could have handled walking behind him at half an inch per minute.  So I eagerly walk past, fully aware that this could be the part where I fall into the secret undead death trap.
            Everything happens in slow motion.  Dr. Daley asks me my symptoms, I tell him.  He gives me what most folks would call “practical advice,” in this case holding my arms under cold water for forty-five minutes every night.  This is all well and good and within the bounds of what I was expecting.  I wait for him to prescribe me some industrial strength painkillers.
And then it happens.
            “Jarred,” says Dr. Daley as his assistant suddenly appears standing beside me, “with your permission we’d like to include you in our prayers.”
            Okay, so that’s a little unorthodox (or very, depending upon your definition of the word), but I figure that’s fine.  If this elderly man wants to say a little something to god for me tonight before he goes to bed, then so be it.  I imagine I could use all the help I can get.
            But no.
            “Sure,” I say.
            And no sooner is the word out of my mouth than do he and his assistant each grab one of my hands while simultaneously grabbing each other’s hand – in essence forming a circle of three.  They then proceed to put their heads down and close their eyes.
            There is no praying for Jarred tonight.  There will be praying for Jarred right the hell now.
            “Our Lord Jesus, through whom all things are possible,” he says and my head is almost as not down as my eyes are not closed.  It’s like I’m in another world, a crazy world where insurance companies direct you to faith healers.
            “Please help our brother Jarred, who in these trying times needs your guidance.”
            There’s an implication in there somewhere.  I know there is.
            “If you could ease his pain, Lord, make his wrists feel better.”
            I once saw a stripper put her legs behind her head while felating a cucumber.  I’m more stunned now than I was then.
            “We are your humble servants, Lord.  In Jesus’ name we pray.”
            I’m trying not to laugh.  I’m trying with every ounce of strength that I have and I am not a strong man, physically or mentally.  And I feel like a total shit for finding any of this funny at all.
            There’s thirty second of silence and they both open their eyes and look up at me.  “Amen,” he says.
            “Amen,” I say.  I’m going to hell now.
            I give Dr. Daley and his assistants the most sincere sounding “thank you’s” I can muster and make my way for the door.  I try not to look like I’m fleeing, although I do look back to make sure they’re not following me. 
When I get outside my car is still there.  I pull my pack of Camel Wide Lights out of my pocket.  I light up.  I had assumed I’d be going to the pharmacy after this, that I would then go home and vegetate on federally regulated opiates.  Instead I’m left with Jesus.
I’m a little worried; I’ve heard he’s a gateway drug.

Writer's Block

I don't get writer's block, not in the traditional sense, at least.

Not long after "Pray" was released, I did a Q&A at the library in my hometown.  One of the people there asked me how I dealt with writer's block.  I'm pretty sure Nicole smiled when she heard the question, because she knows only too well that I have different types of problems with writing.

I have written three books and I have three more in the works -- literally, I have pages of work completed for each of them.  This doesn't even take into account various short stories, comic book scripts, and the random television or movie idea.

I have more ideas than I know what to do with, but I would hazard a guess that most of them are awful.  But that's the thing with writing: you never really know until you write it.  I've spent months working on something that I ultimately kill off because it's not going anywhere.  I might later go back and pick apart the carcass to find parts I can use elsewhere, but I don't get back all the time I put into it.

This isn't to say that I don't get writer's block, because I do.  It's just that my version doesn't involve ideas, it involves sentences.

I labor over every single sentence I write.  If I manage to make it through an entire paragraph without stopping to consider what I'm doing next, it's a huge accomplishment.  I read about people who just crank out first drafts and I'm always amazed.  I see writers on Twitter saying things like "Just hit 50K words, shooting for 75K before the end of the day!"  I can't even wrap my brain around that.

There's something more debilitating than writer's block, though: apathy.  I find that apathy kills more of my writing than anything else.  At some point, whether it's a paragraph into a new blog entry or ten chapters into a novel, doubt creeps in.  Why am I writing this?  Is it really any good?  Does anyone really care about this?  What's the point?

That shit can kill you, but I can't imagine there's a writer in the world that doesn't experience it.  Fortunately, I think most writers also have the ability to rationalize just about anything, so when those doubts do creep in, they can be pushed away.  The issue is how long that takes, and how difficult it is to recover.

In some ways, I might be better off if I actually had writer's block.  Perhaps writers who struggle with such things eventually break through with only good ideas, as opposed to my situation which has a undefinable signal to noise ratio.  Imagine being able to invest in one idea that you know is good instead of ten ideas that you're unsure about.

Maybe writer's block wouldn't be so bad.

The Upside of Ditch Digging

This would all be different if I dug ditches for a living.

Back in the heady days of 2004, I got a promotion.  At the time, I was a leasing agent at an upscale apartment community in Los Angeles.  Because I had shown some aptitude with computers, and a willingness to own our online related activities, I was made the E-business Coordinator for all the properties the company I work for owned in Los Angeles.  Over time, that role would expand to include not just all of California, but all of the Pacific Division of AIMCO -- I was the EBC for the AIMCO PD ROC.

You heard me.

Anyway, the expanded job came with, among other things, an assistant, or at least that's what he was called, as Matt was never really an assistant in the traditional sense.  He actually preferred being called the "Deputy E-business Coordinator," because we both liked the West Wing.

Matt was (and is) a screenwriter.  He likes baseball.  He has vast knowledge of meaningless things.  We got along great, which was good, given that we shared an office.

Now, it would be easy for me to downplay the work we did in that office.  Matt's then-girlfriend-now-wife lived a good drive away, so he and I rotated weekends so he was actually able to visit her.  Eventually, though, we realized that no one in charge was around on the weekends, so we just stopped showing up altogether.  In other words, if you had the weekend shift that week -- which meant you officially had Thursday and Friday off -- you more or less had Thursday through Sunday off.

One afternoon we just decided to go see a movie.  It was Sideways.

I should point out that my extreme weekend hooky was initially Nicole's fault.  Not long after we started dating she wanted to get lunch on a Sunday, but I was at work.  So I skipped out and met her.  And then we went to Ikea.  And the next thing I knew, I'd been gone the whole day.

We did work, though.  Our job performance was measured in time, and it was the rare hour that at least one of us wasn't by a computer, even when we weren't in the office.  This, I think, justified our lackadaisical schedule; we were almost always working.

Still, it was a pretty cushy gig.

As I mentioned, Matt was a writer, struggling to break in, just like I was.  I wouldn't say that we talked about the process of writing a lot, since we were coming at it from different schools.  But we did talk about the work involved, and how thankless it could be.

Every so often, we would talk about the fact that our cushy jobs were probably a detriment to our writing, because it made us comfortable.  We didn't have a lot of motivation to change our current situations, at least not the extent that, say, digging ditches for a living would.

My cousin is a writer, newly graduated and out in the real world, working where she can.  I told her that such jobs are great because they don't just provide material, they provide motivation.  Seeing what you don't want to do for a living is a great way of driving you towards what you do want to do for a living.

I don't think the average person realizes how difficult it can be to be a writer who doesn't make a living that way.  Writing is hard work.  It's a second job to go along with the first job that pays the bills, but also takes 40+ hours away from you each week.  And while that day job makes demands of you that you can't ignore because you like being able to eat food and you like having some place to live and you need to read books to keep yourself sharp, writing makes demands of you in ways that you can never escape.

I'm 36 years old and I have every reason under the sun to stop with this nonsense, and yet here I am.

I'm actually okay with my current job.  In fact, it only has one real downside (aside from the fact that I could probably afford to be paid more): it's not writing.  And that's the thing.  I could have the greatest job in the entire world and it would still be second fiddle for me.

I have never had difficulty finding the motivation to write; I don't really have a choice in the matter.  As exhausting as it can be, I'd have it no other way.

Who is this guy?

Every once in a while, I like to remind people just who the heck I am.

Granted, most of you already know me to some extent.  Maybe we went to high school or college together.  Maybe we have or do work together.  Maybe you've interacted with me online.  Heck, maybe you've even read something of mine and kind of sort of liked it enough to check out my blog.

That's all pretty awesome.

I've spent the last few days trying to write a 100 word bio for Super Cool Secret Thing (that I hope to be able to talk about soon).  It made me realize what a hard time I have describing myself, which is an odd thing to realize, given how often I talk about myself.

I started with the things I would want a potential reader to know about me, like the fact that my first book, "I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At," is available now from Hellgate Press, and that it was just nominated for an Independent Literary Award in Memoir/Biography.  It's important to get that out there right off the bat, since I want this theoretical reader to know that if they like what they're reading, there's an honest to god book that was not published by me out there for them to buy.

Of course, I'd also want them to come here to my blog, because all of the aforementioned information can be found here in some way, shape, or form.  And if they want to come to my blog, they should really check out my Twitter account, too.

All of that was pretty easy to come up with.  But it also all felt pedestrian.  It didn't really give an indication as to who I am, or even why anyone should care about what I do.

This has always been a problem for me.  There's a writer named Peter David who refers to himself as a "writer of stuff," and I always thought that was great.  It neatly sidesteps the issue.  Asking a writer what they write is like asking a band what they sound like, and I have found myself in both positions.

So what do I do, exactly?

If I'm honest and, I hope, being overly simplistic, I would say that I write love stories.  Really.  Over and over again I write love stories, I just dress them in different clothes.  Add some zombies, add a few wars, add time travel, add a haunted house.  But at their core, they are all love stories, because deep down inside I am a horrible romantic.

If you've ever been in love or are thinking about being in love, then I'm the writer for you.

And, really, there could be worse things to be.  After all, who doesn't love a good love story?

I've been nominated for the 2011 Indie Lit Awards!

Well, now, this is just crazy.

First and foremost, look at the books on this list for the award in Biography/Memoir:

  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua (Penguin)
  • Bossypants by Tina Fey (Reagan Arthur Books)
  • I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At by Kyle Garret (Hellgate Press)
  • Little Princes by Conor Grennan (William Morrow)
  • Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch (Harper)
I mean, that's just insanity.  I can't believe my name is side by side with those people.  And, as my publisher said, neither of us can believe that Hellgate is up there next to the big boys like Penguin and Harper!

The Independent Literary Awards are entirely grassroots, which gives them a certain sincerity and approachability that you don't really see in awards anymore.  I mean, absolutely no one knows who I am, yet I got nominated.  That, my friends, is democracy in action!  Granted, if/when SOPA passes, I'm sure this kind of thing will be outlawed, but I got in under the wire!

I really can't thank the directors and members enough.  It's so hard to get any kind of a publicity at all when you're an unknown author with a small publisher and neither of us is based in New York.  I can't wait for more people to read "Pray!"

Thanks also has to go to all of you who are reading this blog.  So many of you bought "Pray" and then proceeded to tell your friends that they should go buy it, too.  Word of mouth is the be all and end all of publishing these days, and if "Pray" has a long life, it's because of you!

4 Books and a Writer

This occurred to me the other day: I'm currently writing my fourth book.

I'm sure a lot of people can say they've written a book, or come close to writing a book, or started writing a book.  It is the great cliche of American literature, really.  But the fact that I'm on my fourth is either really impressive or really sad, and possibly a bit of both.  After all, only one of them has actually been published.

The first book I ever wrote, now called "Through Sheer Strength of Will (and Blissful Ignorance)" started off as a short story.  Like with most of my work, I had no idea what it was really about.  All I knew is that I was living in an apartment that had been completely refurbished because the guy who lived in it before me had stayed there for twenty years.  I also knew that I was still getting his mail.  And it occurred to me that someone who lived in this tiny studio apartment for twenty years must have had reasons for it.  It also occurred to me that, given how long he'd lived there, maybe he didn't leave willingly.  Maybe he'd died there.  And maybe his ghost had stuck around.

I started writing that book (which, at the time, was called "Reliquary") in the last few months of 2002.  I "finished" it in the last few months of 2003.  In my mind, a year was plenty of time to write a book.  It was probably too much time, but that just meant it must be good -- particularly given the fact that it had all but encompassed my entire life.  Just a few months into 2004, I was already sending off query letters to any agent who was accepting new clients.

Needless to say, I got rejected.  A lot.  Looking back, it's not particularly surprising that so many people turned me down.  The book was no where near ready to give to anyone and I was really just learning how to write in a long form (something I would still struggle with when writing "Pray").  It was surprising, hindsight being 20/20, that two agents actually requested not only sample pages, but then the entire manuscript.  Both ended up passing on the book.  In fact, I received rejections from both of them on the same day.

Book #2 aka The Only Book That's Been Published aka My Only Non-fiction Book aka "I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At" has a long history, but it's one that's pretty well described in the book itself, so I won't go into it too much here.  I suppose it's not surprising that it would be my first published book, given that non-fiction is currently outselling fiction like crazy, and the little fiction that does sell is generally YA.

This brings me, funny enough, to book #3, which just so happens to be a YA book.  It doesn't really have a title at this point, and I'm not too thrilled about the working title, so I won't mention it.  I read a lot of YA, so writing a YA book seemed like a fairly organic idea.  It didn't take me too long to write the first draft, either, although I had learned over the years between my first attempt at a book and this one that the first draft is generally awful.  I left it alone, then went back and made some changes.  I left it alone again and then went back and made some more changes.

Book #3 is currently in the hands of my wife, Nicole.  Anyone who has read this blog knows that Nicole is my in-house editor and she's a damn fine one at that.  Nicole is a reader, and she knows what makes a good story.  She's also an actual editor (albeit for film and television), so she knows what is important to a story and what isn't.  The fact that she has it also gives me a handy excuse for why I haven't done anything with it yet.

This all brings us to my latest book.  It has a title, but I'm going to keep that one close to my chest for now.  I'm five chapters in and it's been the hardest thing I've ever written, at least from a craft standpoint.  I wouldn't necessarily call it YA, but there are definitely fantasy elements to it.  I think it has a chance of being the best thing I've ever done, which is also making it really hard to write; there's nothing like self-inflicted expectations to freeze you up.

So is it sad or impressive that I'm on my fourth book?  I suppose it's sad that I haven't started sending out my first book, given that I've revised it to the point where I think it's actually pretty darn good.  But I'm sure it's at least a little impressive that I have a published book out there, one from an actual publisher.  And I suppose it's a bit impressive that I've managed to get to a fourth book in just nine years while holding down a full time job for most of that time.

Like I said: It's a bit of both.

Unrequited

It was our second date when the world ended.
            This was someone’s basement once.  There’s a washer and a dryer down here and if the power were still working I’m sure we could use them.  The fact that the shower upstairs worked was blessing enough.  My clothes might not be clean, but at least my skin smells better.
            Sophy brought a few things down from the bathroom.  She found a compact.  She found some make up.  It’s still light out enough for her to put it on.  She’s just kind of sitting there, compact in one hand, eyeliner in the other.  I’d be flattered if I thought she was actually doing it for my benefit.  She’s not.  She’s doing it for her own.
            I brought a few things down from the kitchen.  I found a really big knife, the kind they only sell on the Home Shopping Network.  I found some canned goods that can be eaten raw.  I found some bottled water.
            I searched every inch of this house and every inch of the garage and the shed out in the yard and I didn’t find a shotgun or a hand gun or anything that could be considered a fire arm.  In the movies they always find a gun somehow.  In the movies they always know how to use it.
            I know she’d rather be sleeping upstairs in one of the beds.  But I feel like the rooms are too shut off with only one exit route.  The basement has a door to the upstairs and a door to the back yard.  The floor is concrete and the walls are cinder blocks.  I feel secure down here.
            There’s a small window, the kind made from a really thick block of glass.  I can see the swing set in the back yard.  I can see the sand box.

            I remember when internet dating was a joke.
            I don’t know when it happened, but at some point meeting people online became trendy.  I guess the ability to screen people was appealing.  You could literally type in the kind of person you wanted to meet and the computer would spit out results.  It was like natural selection with photos.
            That’s how I met Sophy.
            I think most people have a list of traits that they look for in a significant other.  And I think most people are smart enough to realize that they’ll never find someone with every single one of those traits.  To a certain extent, we all know that we’re going to have to settle.  You trade wit for kindness.  You trade taste in movies for taste in music.  You trade intelligence for looks.  Everyone knows that this is how it works and everyone knows that everyone else does it.  You have to sacrifice to survive.
            I didn’t feel like I was settling with Sophy.
            This holds true for meeting people online.  Go ahead and do a search for someone who has the exact same favorite movie as you.  I can guarantee that they won’t like the same music.  Do a search for someone with a post-graduate degree.  Chances are good that they’ll be dull as dirt.  When the facts are laid out and pixilated on the screen twenty inches in front of your face, you learn to pick and choose.  You learn to prioritize.
            It wasn’t like that with Sophy.  She liked the best movies.  She valued wit.  She enjoyed getting drunk.  She was nearly as aimless as me and just a few months younger.  There wasn’t a single trade to be made.  I didn’t have to pick and choose.  Everything lined up the way I wanted.
            And then, of course, there were the pictures.  As online dating had gotten more popular, more and more attractive people were actually using it.  I’m sure initially it was the last resort for the homely and misanthropic, but it turned into a veritable potpourri of beautiful people.  No matter what your type might be, you were bound to find someone to match it.  The problem, of course, is that everyone knew this.
            You get a lot of glamour shots, pictures that seemed to have been taken specifically for the purpose of having a great online profile.  You get a lot of action shots, pictures of people doing something “cool” with their friends.  Those are actually kind of intimidating because you’re getting a glimpse of that person’s entire life in one photo.  It’s a world that seems foreign and complete and not a world that needs you in any way.  You also get a lot of artsy shots, created to be mysterious and appealing when, in reality, they’re just annoying.
            Sophy was different.
            I found her by doing a search for favorite movie.  We were a match.  Her picture was candid enough (and cute enough) for me to think she had potential, so I clicked on her name to view her profile.  Not only did we like the same movies, we liked the same music, too.  It seemed to me that I had every single one of the qualities that she looked for in a person.  It seemed to me that her hobbies paralleled my own.
            Within a few minutes of reading her profile, I’d already fallen for her.

            We managed to slide a mattress down the stairs and we took sheets and comforters from the linen closet.  It felt weird to take them off the beds.  The mattress was one thing.  Sheets made what we were doing seem too real.
            Night time is always the hardest.  I watch as the last light from the sun fades away.  Sophy crawls on to the mattress and pulls the sheets up around her.  I look at my watch.  It’s only 6:30.  I wonder how much longer the battery will last in this thing.  I suppose at some point time will cease to exist.
            We sleep in four hour shifts.  I know it doesn’t sound like we’re getting a whole lot of rest, but it’s not as if either of us is getting any quality sleep.  You’re half awake the whole time, anyway.  Part of you doesn’t think you’ll wake up.
            There was one point when we felt comfortable lying next to each other.  I think we preferred it.  It was a way for us to stay warm.  I liked to think it was comforting, that I was just as comforting to her as she was to me.  But we’ve been pretty scared lately, too scared to be lying down at the same time.
            “I feel like we’re buried,” she says as she rolls over on to her side.  She always starts off on her side.  At some point she’ll end up on her back.  Gently, casually, and sound asleep, she’ll roll on to her back, no longer curled up in the fetal position, open and accepting of the world around her.  It happens that way every night.  It’s almost graceful.
            I’ve watched her sleep every night for a week now.
            I look back out the window.  The sun is going down and the last bit of light is starting to form shadows anywhere it can.  I try not to let my mind fool me.  I’ve got enough to worry about without imaging things.
Those trees in the distance are just trees.  They’re not moving.  They’re not headed this way.
            I almost wish they were.


The rest of Unrequited can be found as a 99 cent eBook, available on iTunes, for the Nook, and for the Kindle, as well as pretty much any other eReader or Tablet. Unrequited can also be found in print, as part of the short story collection, Unrequited and Other Stories.

Hey, I'm Giving Away Books on Goodreads!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At by Kyle Garret

I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At

by Kyle Garret

Giveaway ends December 04, 2011.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win

When Bad Reviews Behave Badly

Grad school was something of a mixed bag, and at some point I'm sure I'll go into more detail about that.  But one of the best things I took away from the two years I spent studying writing, was how to take criticism.

Writing workshops -- particularly in grad school -- seem to thrive upon harsh judgments.  There's a pack mentality that kicks in when a group of people are sitting around a table, discussing a classmate's work.  It's honestly kind of hard to believe, because it can be so very, irrationally, mean.  The idea, it seems, is that by tearing everyone down, no one can be better than anyone else in the room.

Eventually, you learn to take these criticisms with a grain of salt, and you learn which ones are useful and which are just spiteful.

This isn't to say that I don't still have to fight my gut reaction to criticism.  My wife will tell you that I have to take some time before I can respond to any comments she's made on my work -- and those are comments I get from someone whose judgment I know and trust.

When my book, "I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At" was released, I expect to get some bad reviews.  You can't please everyone all the time, and while I think the book has mass appeal, it doesn't have uniform appeal; I expected negative reviews.

I got them and they were understandable.  Like I said, "Pray" isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea.  But I never got a negative review that crossed the line, or that was illogical.

Never say never.

Such a review showed up recently on Amazon.  It was actually brought to my attention by my dad, who was up in arms about it.  Before reading the review, I just assumed my dad was overreacting, as he was protective of his family.  And then I read it.

It was just as bad as he'd indicated.  It wasn't just that the reviewer didn't like my book, it was that the criticisms bordered on the personal (some might say "bordered" is too kind of a word).  And even the things that the reviewer mentioned that came from the book itself revealed a gross misunderstanding, or perhaps a flat out inability to read.

What bothered me the most, though, was that the reviewer called my nephews "bratty."  I go into great (some might say too much) detail in the book of the developmental problems my nephews have for a variety of different reasons.  They're special needs children, and calling them "bratty" wasn't just insulting to me, but to them and anyone who has special needs kids in their family.

The silver lining in all of this isn't just that the reviewer purchased the book (although I'll be honest that, under other circumstance, I would feel bad about someone forking over cash for a book they didn't enjoy, but in this case I'm okay with it), but that it was brought to their attention by a recommendation on Twitter.  In other words, there's at least some marketing component out there that's working, which was great to read.

Initially, I figured I'd ignore the review in question.  Then I considered taking the high road and leaving a comment that was overly nice.  Finally, I decided to share the review with others, just to make sure I wasn't being overly sensitive.  They assured me I was not.  A few of them even came to my defense on Amazon.

In the end, it wasn't really bad reviews that I needed to prepare myself for, it was irrational reviews.  And given how much time I spend on the internet, you'd think I would have been expecting them.

Facebook vs. Twitter

Believe it or not, I'm not what most would consider an avid social media user.  Yes, I blog as often as I can and I update my Twitter and my Facebook status at ridiculous intervals, but those are the only sites that I use.  But, as I said, I use them a lot.

Given how often I'm on Twitter and Facebook, I began to compare the two, in part to figure out which one I prefer.  And I've come to a simple conclusion: the difference between Twitter and Facebook is not unlike the difference between fantasy and reality.

Facebook is the internet version of real life.  You get a much more complete picture of people.  I would say that at some point in my life -- albeit sometimes briefly -- I have actually met roughly 95% of the people I'm friends with on Facebook.  Facebook is a two way street; you have to be friends with someone to follow them and, in turn, they get to follow you.  You can have discussions on Facebook -- I've even had arguments.



Facebook is the "warts and all" of social media.  Yes, you can filter what you see, but it's all or nothing.  So either you put up with the occasional political diatribe from your friend or you miss seeing their updates completely.  That great picture of the sunset taken during their vacation is posted right next to the picture of a grown man in a skimpy Halloween costume.  You run the risk of getting too much information.

But that's reality; you take the good with the bad.

And then there's Twitter.

I love Facebook because it allows me to stay in touch with so many people.  That is really the only reason I love it.  If I want everyone I know to know about something, I post it on Facebook.  It's fantastic that way.

Twitter isn't good for any of that.  Twitter, really, is only good for one thing: fantasy.

I would hazard to guess that I have only actually meant perhaps 10% of the people I follow on Twitter.  Of that 90%, I would hazard to guess that only a hand full of them have ever responded to anything I've ever said, either to them or in general.  Twitter is entirely voyeuristic.  So where's the appeal?

For me, it's the fact that I get tiny glimpses into the lives of people I find interesting.  I follow a lot of writers on Twitter and a large number of their Tweets involve bits and pieces of what their daily life is like, a life that involves writing for a living.  That's the dream for me.  Following them on Twitter gives me these flashes of what that dream is like, or what it could be like.

Twitter is built around shared interests as opposed to real life connections.  If I follow a writer I like, inevitably he or she will retweet something from someone I don't know, and it will be interesting enough for me to read more of their Tweets.  Suddenly I'm following someone new, someone who has similar interests.  A lot of time, these people will share links they think are useful or ideas they think are worth discussing.  If Facebook is for the practical, married with 2.5 kids side of me, then Twitter is for the "I still dream of being famous" side of me.

And, really, where else could I exchange 140 characters with someone whose work I enjoy and actually get a 140 character comment back?

So which do I prefer?  I honestly couldn't say.  Facebook is strangely more practical, but Twitter supplies me with a bizarre form of motivation.  I don't know that I could really choose between them.