Sunday, February 27, 2011

A New Author

I've been writing seriously for 12 years now. I say "seriously" because I hate when people say that they have been writing since they were in elementary school as if that was the question. Were you submitting your writing to editors and publishers when you were nine and ten? No? Then it doesn't count! Yeah, I started writing horror stories when I was twelve but they were far from being ready for publication.

My serious run at a literary career began in 1999. I put together a ten year plan with the goal of being published by a mass-market publishing house before 2010. I had some moderate success in the small press with a few infamous short stories, novels and novellas and then I got my deal with Leisure in 2007. I was lucky in that I got that mass-market deal three years early. Now, people expect me to know what I'm doing because I've got a few fans and I've written a few books. But I'm still a new author. I'm still learning.

Whenever an aspiring writer asks me for advice I am simultaneously flattered and terrified. Who the fuck am I to be giving advice? Ask Wilson or Ketchum or Piccirilli or Clegg or Keene or Braunbeck or Monteleone. All I'm going to do is parrot something one of them told me anyway. How did I get published? I don't know. Intimidation? And please don't ask me for grammatical advice. My proofreaders hate me. I still have to repeat "I before E except after C" to remember how to spell "piece". And I always misspell "their" because the damn rule doesn't work for "their"!

What's worse for me is that my mentors are starting to treat me like a peer. Whoa! Slow down there. I still need your help! It may seem like I've been around forever but 12 years is not a long time in the literary world. A writer grows just like a child. We don't reach maturity until at least a good twenty years have passed. I am far from a seasoned vet. I am a mere adolescent in this game.

Getting a book published is not easy and I am not trying to trivialize it. It is an amazing accomplishment and anyone would and should be proud of themselves for reaching this major goal post in their career but it is just the first of many. Getting published does not automatically mean that you have "made it". Not artistically and certainly not financially. I have so so much yet to learn about the craft of writing. I am always looking for classes and workshops to attend. That's why I attended the Borderlands Bootcamp a few years back and why I encourage anyone and everyone to attend. I'd go again if I could afford it. That's why I am excited as hell to have Mort Castle's writing workshop as part of KillerCon this year. It's why I am reading Michael Knost's anthology of literary advice "Horror Writer's Workshop" and why I read every book about the business and craft of writing I can get my hands on from Stephen King's "On Writing" to Robert Mcgee's "Story". And that's why I will probably start taking a few English classes at the local college. Because I ain't there yet and if I don't continue to learn I'll never get there. "Man is like fruit. When he ceases to grow he begins to rot." Or something like that.

My next ten-year goal is to be in a position where I can write full-time by 2020. I have a two-pronged approach to this goal. #1 Write more, get a good publishing deal, and increase my readership/fan-base and #2 help my wife get through college, get a really good job, and then kiss her ass religiously so that she'll sup;port me and never leave me. Both plans are currently in the works. Maybe by then I'll be a seasoned vet and fully capable of talking anyone else out of making all the mistakes I've made.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Skinzz

The first 30,000 words of my latest novella, SKINZZ, are complete. I've got about 10,000 words or so to go. SKINZZ is about a period in Philadelphia between 1988 and 1989 when fights between punks and Nazi skinheads in Philly's hardcore scene had reached a dangerous fever pitch. There are a lot of autobiographical elements to this story but it is not a true story. I say this because some of the events are so close to reality that some might get confused. Let me repeat, this is a work of fiction. Any similarity between actual places, persons, or events is strictly coincidental. This is not about what happened to you or me or us or them. It is a fictionalized story inspired by actual events. All authors pull from their lives and the lives of others to some degree to craft their stories and characters. That's how we do it. But we lie. That's the other part of the craft. We exaggerate. We omit. We add. We change. That's how fiction is written.

Some readers, who were actually there, might get upset at some of the liberties I've taken with the story, compressed timelines, bands and venues that have been changed, fights that have been changed from one venue to another or exaggerated to make them more or less violent then they actually were.

Some of this was done in order to make the story fit into a novella-length work. If the fights were weeks apart in several different venues, as they actually occurred, it would have quadrupled the size of the book. That's the same reason why the bands have changed because I took events that took place at several concerts and compressed them into one. That left the decision of which bands to include because they couldn't have all been there. It also allowed me to up the violence by taking three or four violent events that took place at three or four different venues and putting them all into one night. In reality, it's probably less of an exaggeration then it may seem because in a large brawl there are injuries and things that take place that you never hear about because you were too busy worrying about your own. So, you may remember one serious injury when there were actually five or six.

So, if you were there, I don't want to hear "That happened at the Fishbone concert not The Pagan Babies concert!" or "That happened in June not December!" or "He was just hurt. He didn't die!" I know. I was there. But this is fiction. So, it can happen anyway I want it to. I can up the violence a little here and there. I can change events and timelines. I can make myself sexier. I can make the villains more villainous and the heroes more heroic. Because that is how stories get written. And this one, is a doozie!

SKINZZ follows two friends, Mack and Jason (aka Demon), who are part of the hardcore scene centered around South Street in Philly, as they attempt to single-handedly win the war against Nazi skinheads before Mack leaves for college in the Spring. One night, they accidentally murder a skinhead. This sets in motion a chain of events that leads to a climactic battle between a group of skinheads called The Uprise (strictly coincidental remember?) and Mack and his friends, including a couple of skinheads who have been on a murderous spree of their own. I really think you will like it whether you were moshing in a pit somewhere in the 1980s or have never even heard the word "mosh" until you read this. It is as violent and provocative as anything I've written. Coming soon from Thunderstorm Books. Well, as soon as I finish it, get it proofread, make the changes, send it to the publisher, sign all the signature sheets, send them back to the printer, and the printer prints and binds the whole thing. Yeah, coming as soon as all that happens.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Human Rights

A recent Facebook discussion got me thinking about human rights and exactly what they are and where they come from. When I was in college, I was labeled a fascist for saying that you cannot possess a right that you cannot defend. See, I was speaking from my experiences growing up on the streets of Philadelphia not from the ivory tower theoretical viewpoint of those who have never had their human rights threatened or trampled. My response at the time was to ask, "What does it mean to say that you have the right to speak your mind without getting physically abused for it if I kicked the shit out of you for saying something I didn't like? I don't because the police would throw me in jail if I did. The government defends your rights. But, absent the police, where would your rights be? Where I grew up, you would definitely get your ass kicked for saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. You may even get shot or killed and, in most cases, no one would do a thing about it. That's why I say that rights in this country are unequal between races and economic classes." That did not, obviously, convince anyone that I was not a fascist but my point was that rights are not inherent. They are not something that you can just sit back and claim that require no action on your part and take no effort to maintain. You are not born with them. They are given to you and at great cost.

Every human right you now possess came at the price of someone's blood and is maintained at the price of someone's blood. Be it that of our millitary, our police force, or protestors who marched and often martyred themselves for it. To smugly sit back and claim that you were born with these inherent human rights belittles the sacrifice of those who fought and died to give you those rights and those who are suffering and dying right now so that you may retain those rights. It does another thing too, it puts those rights in jeopardy and causes people to take foolish actions. When people do not realize the cost of their rights they are quicker to give them away or to do things to weaken them, vote for laws that conflict with them, or for political agendas that threaten them. They even put their own lives in danger.

Back in the early nineties, when I worked as a bouncer at several nightclubs in the Bay Area, it was a common sight to see women stagger out of the club drunk and walk to nearby parking lots or down side streets or even pass out drunk on the curb. Invariably, when I would comment about how those girls were just asking to get assaulted, someone would chime in that "A woman has the right to walk anywhere she wants, drunk or otherwise, without getting assaulted." Did you catch the flaw in that logic? It lies in the word "has" as oppossed to "should have".

There is no argument that a woman should have the right to walk down any street in America in whatever state of inebriation she desires without fearing for her safety. She should have that right. The question is does she? Is it a fact that she can walk down any street in America, drunk off her ass, and not get assaulted? Of course not. So, obviously, this right is theoretical rather than literal or actual. But what's bad about statements like the one above is that it puts people in danger. There are very different behaviors associated with the woman who says she SHOULD have the right to walk down any street in America and the one who says she DOES have this right.

The woman who says she does have this right acts very much like the women who staggered off drunk into the night. They take no precautions, confident in their god given right to be an idiot without suffering for it and they often pay for their foolishness. The women who say they should have this right take precautions. They carry pepper spray or a gun. They take self defense classes. They avoid certain streets. They walk with a buddy. They lobby local government for more street lights, more police patrols, tougher sentencing for criminals who assault women. They make sure that those rights are secured, defended, and enforced rather than assuming that they are some inherent property of humanity like opposable thumbs.

In the discussion on Facebook, the word "inherent" was debated. I, of course, said that there are no inherent rights. Rights must be fought for and defended. Period. Others, argued that you are born with rights. Here was my reply:

"Not to argue with you, but what do you mean by inherent? If you mean the true definition of the word, as I do, i.e. "Existing in something as a permanent, essential, or characteristic attribute" then human rights simply are not. Something inherent cannot be taken away. As I said, a casual glance at the world would quickly prove that human rights do not meet this description. My right to think is inherent because I can actually do it. I could do it since birth and I will do it until I die. The right to live free of oppression is not inherent because many have never and will never do it from birth to death. That's what I mean by getting past the poetry. Rights aren't inherent or else they could not be so easily given and taken away. That's why we need to fight to gain and keep them. Calling them inherent, to me, fails to spurn the same call to arms as a recognition that they can be taken from you and that governments should be fighting against those who would take them away rather than being the very ones usurping those rights."

My point was that, like the girl staggering drunk down a dark street, when we don't realize the cost of human rights, we do not fight hard enough for them. We loosen miranda laws and search and seizure laws in order to "Catch those damn criminals!" not realizing that we have given away our own rights against invasion of privacy and illegal searches in the bargain. We give the government the power to send American citizens to foreign countries to be interrogated and then are shocked and appalled when innocent people wind up at Guantanemo Bay on flimsy evidence. We take rights for granted in this country, insulated against the true cost of those rights until they are slowly taken away.

Society's and governments are formed to defend our rights as citizens. We give power to the government and in exchange they are supposed to defend our rights. Somewhere along the way this has been forgotten and governments now exist for their own sake. We are assaulted and abused by police officers, illegally detained, our homes searched and practically vandalized if we happen to be the wrong color and living in the wrong neighborhood. Worse if we are the wrong color and driving through the wrong neighborhood. So, we sue and we march and we protest but, in the mean time, we take precautions, recognizing that our rights are fragile in this country. Human rights are not inherent despite all the poetry and hyperbole. Where they are not defended they do not exist as even a casual glance at the human rights abuses around the world would quickly attest to. So, why do governments exist that do not defend our human rights when that should be their sole purpose for existing? Answer that question because there in lies the answer to world peace.