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Fresh Dirt Archives: Oct-Dec 2008

Dec. 20
I loathe Hemingway. I used to want to be Hemingway, back when I was 17 and thought it was romantic to be brooding, depressed, and suicidal, all with a flint-eyed, chiseled-cheek manliness that had no room for feelings. Stand in the wind and smoke cigarettes and drink straight rum. Go fishing when it's so cold you lose toes to frostbite. Hunt so you can carry a gun. Since that golden era, I've given him a couple of chances, but I can't get past the first couple of pages. That's sad since "The Old Man And The Sea" has moments of beauty.

I just jammed "To Have And To Have Not" into the auto tape player, figuring I'd learn something about pre-Castro Cuba. Instead, Hemingway's repeated use of the word "nigger" highlighted the narrowminded stupidity of his work. Unless you are a macho, unfeeling character, then you are nothing but a prop in his world. What makes it even worse is that the "niggers" sound far more interesting than the macho, rum-swilling, marlin-reeling, womanizing boat captains that Hemingway likes to pretend he could have been, if he hadn't been impotent. And it's not because I automatically condemn the N-word in any literary setting, because it is a real word and it's part of the language, and if you embrace Chris Rock, then you know the word has it's proper time and place. Twain could use it and not be racist--I never felt Twain was using it as a condemnation and in fact I see the exact opposite: Twain was a compassionate humanitarian with a sardonic wit who acknowledged the injustices of the world.

Screw Hemingway. I'm glad he blew off his head. If he hadn't done it already, I'd probably drive to Illinois and do it for him.

Dec. 15
Standing in a coffee shop, I read Tim Burton's
"The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy," a whimsical and dark and lovely little collection of poems. The overall theme is misplaced kids ("The Boy With Nails In His Eyes," etc.) and it features fairly crude stick drawings that resemble the characters in "A Nightmare Before Christmas." From the collection, I would deduce Burton had a very strange childhood, and I would guess that it's wonderful he was able to create--he does emanate the sense of someone who was picked on in grade school, but that's true of a lot of geniuses. I adore people who do their own thing--not being mavericks because they are mavericks, but doing their thing because it's their thing. That's why Johnny Depp is my favorite actor, too. It's inspiration for would-be geeks and recluses everywhere...do your thing and stick with it and you are guaranteed to get where you're supposed to be.

I used to post a lot of writing articles here at the Haunted Computer, but I slowed down when I realized I didn't know all that much. I still offer my advice and a lot of writers ask me for blurbs and that kind of thing, which is funny because some of them are better known than I am. I've been doing a lot of self-examination and retrenching this year, and the approaching solstice feels far more like an "end" than does Dec. 31. It's easy to dwell on what I haven't achieved, but I've also been fortunate to find some great friends and allies and feel more like part of the community or writers while at the same time "doing my thing." I explained to a friend that I had a responsibility to write what I write because no one else can do it. Sure, it's easy to second guess or seek a more "commercial, can't-miss" style or subject matter, but when all is said and done, all has been said and not all that much done. Everything goes out of print but your epitaph.

The reality is that we're in a revolution of communication, with digital content becoming increasingly prominent. If you walk into a coffee shop, you see most people holding cellphones or laptops--few people are reading newspapers or books. People also are quickly becoming their own entertainment, stars of their own reality shows on places like Twitter. I don't know how many people will notice me doing my own thing, or you doing your own thing, because they're busy doing their own thing. Groove on. Do your thing.

Dec. 12
Here's an
amusing article on the benefits of a federal bailout for writers, of whom most of us agree comprise too great a percentage of the population. Thankfully we have agents, editors, and publishers as gatekeepers, but they are mostly just standing around with their thumbs in the crack of a dike (no Gertrude Stein jokes here) as the floodwaters build and everyone either self-publishes a book or decides to distribute their work on the Internet for free. Because New York "isn't ready for their genius" or they "are too cutting edge." The problem is nobody tells them "no" anymore. Or better yet, "Shut up. Stop. Please. For the sake of all that is holy."

In the good old days, editors actually typed and signed letters of regret for being unable to accept work, but then the mimeograph was invented and form letters became socially acceptable, perhaps under the notion that wholesale, generic rejection was somehow more compassionate. Then most editors and publishing houses stopped accepting queries altogether, counting on agents to serve as first line of defense in the trench warfare of literature. As recently as a decade ago, you could still get a form letter for the price of your self-addressed, stamped envelope. Now most agents simply don't respond at all "unless interested." Meaning they don't respond at all.

For years I tried to talk people out of self-publishing. It's bad economics, because the biggest stumbling block to getting an audience is getting your books in front of the readers who can buy them. After all, why else would we need a publishing industry? I've heard people who call themselves writers tell me, "I've already had three rejections, so I may as well print it up." I don't even waste my breath anymore, though I did wonder how they ended up with rejection slips in an age when ignorance is bliss. The same Internet that makes it easy for agents (and, by extension, publishers) to ignore you and still consider their profession to be genteel, courteous, and crusading also makes it easy for anybody to throw up a Web site and dump 100,000 words of Gurglish without insulting any electrons.

Luckily for those who consider themselves real writers (and the article's stated $40,000 a year "average" income would inspire most of the writers in my acquaintance to turn joyous backflips and buy health insurance for spinal surgery), not many fly-by-nights or type-by-12-packs are actually going to stick with it long enough to compete with you.

The article also touches on the plight of Ann Beattie, whose authorial good name has been hijacked by another Ann Beattie. There is another Scott Nicholson (not the real one, I can assure you) who has self-published a book called "Seeds of Achievement." In researching for this blog entry, I discovered one site that erroneously had the author's bio as mine. Hell, maybe the guy writes better than me. That wouldn't be too difficult, since I'm part of that vast subset of writers who aren't verifiable geniuses like Larry McMurtry, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Shirley Jackson, or Richard Brautigan. But the annual thirty-cent royalty checks are not making their way to my address.

It irks me when his books are listed alongside mine or when one of my readers asks me "WTF?" about that book. True, he has a right to use his name (and I'm not even sure this is the same Scott Nicholson who "stole" scottnicholson-dot-com or the one who writes board games, or a new imposter) and I have a right to change my name. Who knows, maybe these other Scott Nicholsons have been submitting badly written query letters that open with, "Dear mean agent, I know you're going to reject me, but...." And these agents, seeing the sullen and mutilated grammar, immediately block "Scott Nicholson" from their email inboxes, then real Scott Nicholsons like me can't even tell when we're getting rejected. Does that "no" mean "no" or does it mean I'm sending spam, or is it that my genius is so far ahead of its time that it's cutting edge?

The U.S. government may find it worth $40,000 a year to keep people from writing. Maybe we can then all turn to some other more-useful enterprise, like dog-sledding, porcupine husbandry, or natural-gas exploration. I figure with a one-time cash grant of $250,000, we could convince all Scott Nicholsons to rest their weary pens forever.

But, hey, if you are the one in hundred writers who actually finishes a novel and are then one in the hundred novelists who actually gets a response and then become one of the hundred "read" novelists who gets passed to an editor and then...well, you see where this is headed. Your odds are a lot better at being a Scott Nicholson than it is at being a New York-published novelist. In fact, I feel ready to self-publish a book myself. The title is "Scott Nicholson" and I will release it under a pen name. Do you have a successful authorial name I can steal? I would pay you $40,000, except I'm a writer and have no money.

Dec. 7
It's here, it's queer, and it's not going to disappear. Actually, it might, so you better snag your copy today.
Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet is newly released, with fiction from the best and brightest minds in the business. Except mine. My mind has been fogged by a patina of mint jelly since the Reagan Administration, but I scraped off the sugary coating long enough to contribute the story "The Shaping" to the GLBTQ anthology edited by Vince Liaguno and Chad Helder. It can be ordered through your local store, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Horror Mall. It features stories by Sarah Langan, Kealan Patrick Burke, Lisa Morton, and more.

Nov. 25
The first-ever Green Park Paranormal Conference was enough of a success that it will live on forever, or at least next year. We'll have it again in November 2009. It didn't go perfectly, but it closely matched my vision of a new community sharing a common interest in the afterlife. Here's an
account of the event I wrote for our local paper.

I'm on record as not believing in ghosts, though I accept the possibility. Whether a spirit is an impression of energy along the lines of a jammed film projector, a scrap of soul that has unfinished business, or merely a projection of the mind created by wishful thinking, it all fits under my cosmological and spiritual beliefs. It all comes from the same place, and is not threatening. I thought I was the right person to host the conference because I had no preconceptions of ghost hunters as either "people desperate to believe in something or anything" or debunkers who were looking for scientific, rational explanations to disprove what are largely matters of faith.

With that preface, I think I might have had an "encounter." I was in the control room at about 2:15 a.m., the video surveillance area where we were organizing the hunt teams, when I started thinking about money--how much the conference was going to cost me and how I could afford to do it next year. The room wasn't crowded, and was fairly large, with maybe 12 to 15 people standing around getting ready for hunts (these were the hardcore hunters--the fairweather ghost chasers had headed for the bed or bar long before). I had the vivid impression of being touched on the upper left buttock, near the base of my spine. My thoughts immediately went Money=wallet=someone taking my money, which if I had been in a bar, football stadium, party, Bourbon Street, or other crowded place, I would have taken as a pickpocket attempt.

I turned, seeing who had touched me. There was no one within eight feet of me, certainly no one within arm's length, and I am the kind of person who is aware of my personal space. The impression was that of the tips of fingers together in a flat line, pressing firmly but not with any intention of inflicting pain or necessarily even getting attention. I was a little freaked out and kind of embarrassed (because I don't believe in ghosts, right?) plus I did a lot of walking around the hotel alone at all hours and I certainly didn't relish the prospect of seeing "them" out of the corner of my eye. I'm an imaginative person (i.e., I'm chicken poopy) so it was better for me to just pretend maybe it hadn't happened.

The sad thing was that there was some cool equipment in the room, such as a thermal imaging device, that could have seen if there were any temperature differences or physical alterations in the area where I had been touched. Because of my selfishness and fear, we missed a chance to explore an idea and perhaps expand understanding. I am perfectly open to the notion that I imagined the whole thing, or that I created the "pressure" with my mind. The only thing I know with certainty and would make a sworn oath on was that I indeed felt that someone had touched me and that I turned to see who was behind me. After that, all bets are off.

Incidentally, the room where I was originally scheduled to stay went to someone else through a clerical misunderstanding, and it turned out that place had some "phenomena"--two people reported seeing a shadow slip across the kitchen. If I had been "touched" while alone and in a shadowy place, I probably would have jumped in my car and headed somewhere safe (although "safe" is a silly notion when you consider that ghosts have no reason to be bound by time, place, or distance). On reflection, my basic views haven't changed--I didn't see anything, nor did I see any "physical evidence," that would tell me ghosts exist. If I had seen something, I would probably accept it in the same way I did the "touching"--maybe a trick of mind, maybe a manifestation created by the energy of thought, or maybe an energy just at the edge of human perception. Interesting. I can hardly wait until next year, but I'm going to carry a flashlight just the same!

Nov. 19
Crazy busy with the Green Park Paranormal Conference so I haven't had much time for updates. Rest assured, I'm still writing and I'm still a strange man. To be continued.

Nov. 8
Cover art for The Skull Ring is ready and the book is moving into production. Preorders are going fast so beat the crowd and snag your copy of the limited edition. Makes a great Christmas present and freshens your breath while you sleep. Coming soon from Full Moon Press, signed by me and artist Alan M. Clark.

I've started a new novel--so fingers crossed for yet more Nicholson projects floating out there. We're working on issue #2 of Grave Conditions, and I've started a comics page here at ye friendly neighborhood Haunted Computer where I'll be posting art samples, script teasers, character sketches, etc. I'm still building artist rosters so any comic artist, colorist, or letterer is welcome to drop me a line at hauntedcomputer AT yahoo.com.

Oct. 30
Happy Halloween--A promo video for the haunted Green Park Inn is now up at YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqArJiFDSYY

Oct. 27
The ink is now dry on contracts for two books coming in the United Kingdom--my first novel The Red Church and a collection called The First (actually, a new version of my first story collection Thank You For The Flowers, with some bonus material) will be released in print and audio formats by Ghostwriter Publications. They're best known for distributing the work of pulp icon Guy N. Smith. I've heard a bit of their audio files and they use top-level talent. I'm really looking forward to this new partnership, and hopefully having my tales broadcast on the BBC. I will have scones and tea in celebration.

Like every American with a mailbox, I've been recycling campaign materials and found them the height of hilarity. My favorite is an NRA flyer that not-so-subtly has colored Obama as very dark--not "dark" as in the personification of evil but dark as in skin pigment. Actually, maybe they meant the former. At any rate, the NRA will pry my vote away over the cold, dead fingers of my shooting hand. Wait. Something in there isn't right. I'm also getting info from the Dole campaign lambasting Democratic opponent Hagan's "Quack, quack, duck" spending plan. I don't quite connect the dots but those little ducklings sure are cute. I'm also amused by the number of bloggers who suspect the other side is poised to "steal" the election and how the "liberal media" is being blamed for uncovering unpleasant truths about candidates. I've been in media for 14 years and I can tell you it's hardly liberal--Joe the Typer is in no shape to move into the middle class anytime soon, and all major decisions are made at the corporate level, fueled by sales, beholden to the bottom line. It's as American as any other institution. Anyway, I don't care who you vote for--really. I think we're still in for big trouble but any direction is at least a direction, and mud huts withstand the weather surprisingly well. Just vote. Or the NRA will shoot you.

Oct. 20
Wow, hard to believe nearly three weeks have passed since the last update--I'll put more here after I send out my quarterly newsletter and figure out just what I've been up to since the summer. While I've pushed some projects forward, it feels like I've done more administering and promoting than anything else. However, I'm happy to report that issue #1 of Grave Conditions is almost in the can and I'm working on the script for #2. The Web site for Post Mortem Comic Studios will be up soon and I'm also adding a Comics page here at the Haunted Computer.

I spent the past weekend as an oversize puppet called Mr. Liberty, dancing at the Lake Eden Arts Festival as part of the Elkland Art Center troupe. You can hear my audio version of "Must See To Appreciate" on Transmissions from Beyond (for free!). Also, my new story collection "Scattered Ashes" will be out probably in December, in both limited hardcover and trade paperback. I will be "bound in leather" for the first time, with 26 lettered editions selling at $89. (Actually, there have been other, less-successful and far-squishier attempts at binding me in leather, but those will be reserved for the tell-all autobiography.)

Oct. 1
Oct. 21 marks the official release of Blood Lite, an anthology from the Horror Writers Association billed as"humorous horror." Edited by Kevin J. Anderson and featuring writers like Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Sharyn McCrumb and more, it offers some biting sarcasm, monstrous silliness, and shaky funny bones. Please bug your local bookstores and libraries about the book. As head of the HWA publications committee, I helped ferry (or is it "ferret"?) the book through the publication process, from idea to release.

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