Category: Life

What’s a writing blog without a boring account of the blogger’s life and thoughts about marriage, children, and cats?

Nonfiction — “Chee Chuk”

Few people know that I grew up in Indonesia. As a writing exercise, I decided to reflect on some of my experiences in the jungles of Sumatra, specifically on my first encounter with a local lizard species.

Chevron put an oil camp in the center of a village previously unspoiled by Western advances except for Disney Princess shirts and dirty motorcycles. There they placed us, protected from friendly brown-skinned neighbors by fences and barbed wire and border guards armed with clubs and slingshots until the Bali Bombing when they upgraded to rifles.

It was always raining except the days they burned trash. Then the misted air filled with the green acids of plastic. Sometimes when it rained I would let out the cats. There was a gray sidewalk that wound around the house, kept dry by an extension of the roof and gutter. The cats, mewing softly, would scour the perimeter for shelter-seeking beetles. We didn’t have to watch them; the rain made an excellent cage.

At night, the windows went chak chak chak. Mom thought the villagers were tapping sticks against the glass.

My room takes some explaining. Our house was a one-story American imitation, but it had a porch that made an L across two sides, and this porch was enclosed, sealed by walls and long windows with metal bars that made a lattice instead of stripes. My room was created by partitioning some of the porch.

There were three doors in this room—one to the porch, one into the house, and the last led to the cement path and green furry grass. I had a strip of glass that peered outside and a strip of glass that looked into the living room. At night, I could look through the window at my parents watching television, like a forgotten child peering into a house, seeing how happy everyone is without them.

I made the discovery in the middle of the night. Lying in bed, two cats forming a ying-yang on the covers, woken by the purple-white call of lightning, I heard beyond the tah tah tah of rain the relentless sound of chak chak chak.

You have a reckless spirit when you are young with a theory and animal companions (even if they are selfish little cats). I crept to the window and peered into the wine-dark. Finding no one, I unlocked the door to the outer elements and pushed until the wood-rust cracked and the door swung open.

My impressions of this moment include the: wetslick air, the cascading wall of water, the creep of feet and paws, meows emitted by cats (meong meong in Bahasa), no one in sight but me, and still the sound of sticks.

I paused, the cats padding softly around me, and looked to the window. There, a thin, brown lizard emitted the sound: chak chak chak.

The lizard noticed us and leaped away, was caught by the cats, squirmed out its tail to distract them, and, dignity lost, escaped into the grass. Relieved, I closed the door, and as I fell into slumber, I return from the backwaters of memory to my home in Texas – a place far-flung from the fantasy of the jungle, but no stranger to mystery and the hug of humidity.

Published — “The Other World Tree”

My flash fiction, “The Other World Tree,” was published in Quail Bell Magazine. Inspired by stories set in Victorian London and the Upside Down in Stranger Things, I wrote a two-page story about a girl’s encounter with a dimension that’s not benevolent or wondrous.

Quail Bell Magazine is a literary magazine that finds and publishes seriously good writers (I should know, I’m one of them). Founded by Christine Sloan Stoddard, Quail Bell seeks “real and unreal stories,” especially stories that are “imaginary, nostalgic, and otherworldly.”

As they say in their motto:

Our go-to spell? Art + Ideas = Magic.

Published — “Water Bees”

Flame Tree Publishing included my gothic horror story “Water Bees” in their Gothic Fantasy print anthology Detective Thrillers. The anthology of murder mysteries combines classic and contemporary writers, so my work is featured alongside G.K. Chesterton and Arthur Conan Doyle.

“Water Bees” follows an elderly police inspector named Henri Monreau as he hunts through Arles, France, in search of a missing entomologist. In case the city sounds familiar, it’s where Vincent Van Gogh painted some of his most famous works and then went mad. What makes this story unique, and a tad above the typical, is the world concept—Henri lives in an alternate universe where there are only bugs and humans. No squirrels, deer, fish, birds, just ants, beetles, spiders, and people, who are theorized to be an advanced form of worm.

Flame Tree Press is a London-based publishing company that’s generally interested in science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, but also dabbles in artisan notebooks, illustrated calendars, cards, jigsaw puzzles, and other gift-friendly forms. Founded in 1992, the press’s self-described purpose, to quote Pablo Picasso, is to wash “the dust of daily life off our souls.”

Joe Hill — Writing Things

Joe Hill, the legendary offspring of the legendary Stephen King (and a damn good writer in his own right, I’m guessing his constant connection to his father must be irksome), came to the Tattered Cover to discuss his short story collection, Full Throttle, and writing in general.

With a friendly, comedic demeanor, and those classic glasses and beard, Hill spoke about his own experience in the publishing industry and read aloud an unpublished short story. The Q&A lasted an hour, followed by another hour of signatures and photos, but I was able to glean a few writerly advicey things.

Here they are:

Good ideas do not necessarily
translate into a good story.

Joe Hill cautioned that one-sentence ideas don’t necessarily make for a story. He mentioned that he was very good at making an elevator pitch, and yet “the better I got it the more I became convinced it’s completely unimportant.” Of course a good concept pulls people in. Nosferatu, for example, has a great pitch: “What if a guy had a car that ran on human souls instead of gasoline?” But, while Hill said he comes up with two or three ideas a week, “it takes me about a month to write a short story and it takes me about three years to write a novel.” The work isn’t coming up with the idea, but what the next four hundred pages will look like; and part of his second-guessing and insecurity regards whether the fundamental idea will be altered irreconcilably, or if the idea must guide the direction of the piece, or if the concept is harming instead of benefiting.

“I’m orderly on the outside,” Hill said. “But inside it’s total chaos.”

The most interesting characters
start as mysteries to the author.

When asked whether he’s a plotter or a panster, Joe Hill said he’s “definitely in the latter camp.” Outlines do not work for him precisely because the most “exciting part of writing a short story or novel is falling in love with a character and wanting to learn about them.” How could he predict in an outline how a character will interact or conflict with others? How he or she will deal with the crisis at hand? According to Joe Hill: “There’s stuff about them that I can’t see but I feel will be revealed if I put them under pressure. Plot is the instrument to create pressure that will force the truth from my lead characters. I can’t plot out a outline about what they’re going to do or how they will respond to trouble because I don’t know who they are yet. … What do they hate, what do they love, what are their daydreams? I can only find that stuff out by churning out a lot of material.”

Sometimes write scenes for the reader and sometimes write scenes for you.

For a four hundred page book, Joe Hill will write a seven hundred page draft. All of which is a quest to discover who his characters are, how they tick and tock and talk. So some of his scenes are written for readers; they’re “part of the journey” the reader is on. But some scenes are necessary only for Hill to know how his characters might respond to this situation or that squabble. Those ‘scenes for me’ get cut, of course, but they help Hill solve the mystery of his characters.

Published — “Birdu Vanilla”

365 Tomorrow published my scifi microfiction “Birdu Vanilla.” The story is a reflection on senseless gaming but don’t confuse me for a ‘video games make you hurt people’ right-winger ignoring the rightful causes of gun violence. I’m more of a flightless bird who’s too fat to fly. You’ll notice the comments are more forgiving than my last piece on 365.

Justifiably so.

365 Tomorrows is an online journal that publishes speculative fiction every single fething day. The site is an excellent complement to your morning bowl of cereal and glass of Moloko Plus.

The Novel I wrote when I was Ten — “Old Endings”

Today we finish a hundred pages of literary abandon.

When I was ten, I wrote The Hero on Foot: The War of the Bowl. It was a fantasy travesty, an attempt at fascinating narrative by an immature writer that ended in drivel. You can start from the beginning by going here.

But we’re done. This is my last post on THOF:TWOFB (huh, not as catchy as LOTR) covering the final chapters.

Thank the gods there never was a sequel.


Chapter Eight

Our ‘hero on foot’ has come a long way. Javis has befriended wizards, slain knights with silly names like Sir Venice and Sir Treacle, been healed by a pontificating ogre, ordered a ‘hot squirt’ in a cathedral dedicated to cats, and tossed an urn into the face of his deadliest foe, then beheaded the guy.

But now Javis has to deal with something even stranger.

A fight between a demon and a zombie.

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The Novel I wrote when I was Ten — “The Only Fucking Battle in the War of the Bowl”

The Hero on Foot: The War of the Bowl is a trash book. Every page, every sentence, every word. Trash. And I can say that because I’m the book’s writer (in my defense, I wrote the abomination when I was ten). The manuscript is a compilation of every overused fantasy trope bound by poor syntax and grammar. Want to start at the beginning? Go here.

Today we will look at the only battle in the promised ‘war of the bowl.’ Spoiler. The battle is trash.


Chapter Six

A recap. Our hero is chilling in a cathedral. His mentor is hanging out in a cave. The villain is unconscious, carried around by his friends.

So basically nothing is happening.

But this chapter isn’t called “The Battle” for nothing.

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The Novel I wrote when I was Ten — “The Cathedral of Cats”

This is Part III of the book I wrote in middle school. If you want to start from the beginning, go here.

In 1999, when I was ten, I wrote a book. It was called The Hero on Foot: The War of the Bowl and it was the worst thing ever written. Some twenty years later and I’ve recovered that particular manuscript from my parent’s attic—and out of my immense generosity, I’ve decided to review, summarize, and post excerpts for your general amusement.

The book was a poor imitation of Lord of the Rings with the One Ring to Rule Them All replaced by kitchenware. Tolkien’s decision to use a ring makes sense. A ring is ceremonial, has intrinsic value, can represent the union of souls, has a sense of permanence and significance. Today, we wear rings to show our devoted love, or alma mater, or sport’s team, or membership in a secret society. A bowl? I guess you use it to eat cereal.

There’s a delight in watching bad movies. I hope y’all will equally enjoy bad literature.


Chapter Four

If you’ve missed the story so far, all you need to know is that our hero is badly injured and lost in the woods. That’s really all you need to know. Seriously.

Javis Kyle is discovered by an ogre named Lars. Apparently my ogres are smart, compassionate creatures.

And this is what ten-year-old-me thinks smart people sound like:

By the way, Lars is dressed like a gentleman scholar. I hired an artist to recreate this.

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The Novel I wrote when I was Ten — “A Wizard with a Beard for a Robe”


This is Part II of my summary of the book I wrote in middle school. If you want to start with Chapter One, go here.

In Several Short Sentences About Writing, Klinkenborg says every good writer starts with a good sentence. They write a good sentence, then write another. But there isn’t a single, decent string-of-words in The Hero on Foot: The War of the Bowl. Even the title chonks like a basketball-sized cat.

But that’s why we’re here. Not to read literature, but to laugh at ugly prose. The following is the first book I ever wrote.

Enjoy?


Chapter Two

First, a recap. Our hero’s family is dead, his village destroyed. Okay, recap over.

We find our protagonist living in the woods Into the Wild style.

Is it?

Is it cool?

I imagine my fifth grade teacher writing “cool” like John Oliver says “dope.”

(John Oliver also has an unimpressed “cool” but the gifs were too grainy.)

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