Word of the Nerd: Radio Free Albemuth – June 27th

RFA-fromthemindI have a new article this morning on The Word Of The Nerd Online. Radio Free Albemuth, the lastest Philip K. Dick film adaptation, is set to hit theaters June 27th. Discovery Films has released a new extended trailer which gives a pretty decent glimpse at the movie. I’m really looking forward to this one. It could be the one that finally gets PKD right.

The film’s writer, producer and director, John Alan Simon, was kind enough to sit down and chat with me. We talk about the film, his approach to writing, and all points in between. It was a great conversation and only bolstered my excitement for the film. Look for the interview soon. It will be coming to The Word Of The Nerd Online as we get a little closer to go time.




Postcards from the End of the World

A new series for the twentieth anniversary of Postcards from the End of the World by B. Slogan, the  mad/opus masterpiece from last days of the last century. Recently unearthed texts all us to present the complete text for the first time ever, and I will be dissecting the texts and providing background information and extensive study notes and annotation.


Judging books by their cover

catacombsI think it’s one of the most used metaphors in existence, ‘You can’t judge a book by its cover.’ And while I agree with the sentiment, in general it’s not wise to judge people or things on appearances, the truth is — at least as far as the world of book publishing — this rule just does not apply anymore.

I think the saying comes from the not too distant past, when all books had hardcovers, and the most decorative thing you could manage was splurging for the good leather.

These days the cover seems like a vitally important part of the book, I would say they are as important as cover art for albums back in the day when albums mattered.

I have seen many authors lately sharing some of their cover ideas. Some are better than others. Many authors still just do not recognize the importance of this step.

We spend countless hours writing and rewriting and then editing and re-editing, I think it is important to give the book cover the same degree of time and devotion. These are the containers we use to package our product, and they are so much a part of the product themselves. A good cover can persuade sales, and likewise a bad cover can keep a great book from being read.

I learned a lot putting together Meowing on the Answering Machine. I am glad Kat Mellon jumped in when she did, otherwise I would be on the other side of this article and probably simmering.

There was a time when book reviews in newspapers or magazines were not accompanied by a picture of the cover, because at the time it wasn’t considered important or relevant. These days are gone. It’s probably the internet to blame once again, the market is cluttered with publishers and independents fighting for a sliver of attention for their work and will use any means they have to hook a potential reader. And these days so much of our retail world and social lives are online, the chances are good that a majority of people will first encounter your book as a thumbnail.

This is important to keep in mind when you design your cover. Besides looking at how it will look when printed at say 6 by 9 in paperback format, you want to also make sure it looks good, the title and your name are legible when the image is reduced to 110 x 75 pixels.

I believe it’s important to recognize what the cover is and what its purpose is. It is meant as a representation of your product, if you are writing horror your cover should convey this. If the image and feel doesn’t complement the story, you run a risk of frustrating your readers.

When we get down to basics, your cover is the packaging of your product. Every detail should be aimed toward describing the product, as well as attracting attention and persuading people to take a chance. Your blurb should be short, direct and intriguing. Give them some mystery, a struggle or a contradiction, something to make them want to investigate further.

It was a dark and stormy night,‘ and almost any talk about the weather or the atmosphere or the ‘tension in the air’ probably should be snipped out of your sixty thousand word manuscript, descriptions such as these have absolutely no place in your two-hundred-words-or-less blurb, where they will stick out like a sore, but boring, thumb. Show us conflict and intrigue, make us want to crack the book open.

Get professional help if you can. I generally believe in the ‘you get what you pay for’ adage. But there are a ton of cover artists on the internet with a variety of different skills and a wide range of prices. Some of them are authors themselves and may be willing to help out a fellow writer, especially if they believe in your work.

But even if you do it yourself, take the time and do it right. If possible, don’t do it with the cover creator programs that createspace and lulu offer. These are functional and ‘okay,’ but do not give you many options and make it difficult to get a really professional look. I believe even using free software like GIMP, or even Paint, will let you make a more professional looking product.

But recognize what your cover is, it will be the first impression many people have of your work, and in some cases it will be the factor between tossing it in the cart or putting it back on the shelf. Make sure you honestly represent your work, and take this opportunity to hook a new reader, make it impossible for them to put that book back down.

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fist

trophyHappy Thanksgiving to everyone world-wide who recognizes the day. Holiday or not we all have things we can be grateful for, probably more than we would immediately think. It is important to occasionally take note of these things and give a little thanks where thanks are due.

We are also nearing the end of November, and all the Nano participants are pushing through toward the finish line, or they have already finished, or they are coming to grips with the fact that there is not enough month left to finish the stories they have attempted to tell.

I’ve been reading some of the comments, some of the folks out there are having a particularly trying time right now, some of you have become discouraged and depressed, especially for those who now know that December will indeed soon start, whether or not they have reached their goal. A few have even started doubting the validity of the contest and the goal, or whether it is really an achievement worthy of mention or celebration. There are many among us who have become jaded and cynical and wish nothing more than to infect the rest of us and spread their shitty outlook.

I take issue with a few aspects of the whole concept of the National Novel Writing Month and some of the virtues it seems to encourage. I think word count is over emphasized, the goal of fifty thousand words in thirty days says nothing about quality, and can almost be said to condone sloppy writing as any novel length story pounded out in just one month is surely going to be missing some of the more delicate sensibilities a good piece of literature can convey, and many of the more celebrated works of literature have been tinkered with and pored over meticulously sometimes for years.

So while I do not fully endorse some of the tenets of the challenge, I do not want to belittle or trivialize anyone who has actually attempted the feat. As I have stated before, fifty thousand words in a month nothing at all to scoff at.

No, it’s not a finished project, surely it will need a coat of bondo and a few appointments with a cold, hard chisel to chip it into better shape; any book done right is the result of a rough draft improving through a succession of rewrites and editing. Even if you manage to crank out the fifty thousand words there is no guarantee at all that your story will be in any way a good story or well written manuscript. Very little instruction is offered about how to develop a story or build a believable world for your characters to play in.

But no one who has participated in the challenge, whether they made it to end or not, whether they stumbled upon their masterpiece and published the work for a crowd eager to read, or whether they scraped out a few clumsy pages and threw their hands in the air and gave up when they ran out of road and couldn’t think of a way for their story to proceed. No one here should feel like a loser, like they wasted time, or like they had committed their energies in a worthless venture. No one who wrote one more word than they had yesterday should feel like a failure.

In my mind, from this perspective, the whole design behind the Nano challenge is to get people writing who wouldn’t otherwise, encourage an artistic attempt from a group of people who would not otherwise take the time. How many of us hear friends or family say they’d like to write a book one day. How many people ever do it, or even ever try? How many bucket lists get filed away forever with certain items still not crossed off.

No one who made an attempt here should be too disappointed if they didn’t make the fifty thousand word goal, as I have said and as I am sure you are ready now to agree, it is no easy feat. It can achieved if it’s trained for, but to the uninitiated and unprepared it can quickly turn into an unscalable wall. 1667 words a day, everyday.

This little piece I am currently writing just passed seven hundred words, to give you an idea of the amount you have to write everyday. And I am seasoned and I am used to cranking out a few thousand words in a sitting. I have a personal pledge to write at least a thousand every day. It ranges, for me, between half an hour if I am well prepared or really inspired, to a few hours if I am struggling. And it does take some focus and determination to keep developing and invented new things to say everyday.

Anything that encourages us to think a little more, to read a little more, it is hard for me to consider this a bad thing. Anything that gets the general public to read more, I can’t begrudge anyone who would participate in such an endeavor. On this one, we all win. We all truly deserve a pat on the back and a round of applause.

No one here should feel at all like a failure. If nothing else, we can write again next year. No no one who played along walks away empty-handed, we all have earned a consolation prize; a new novel to edit, some new ideas to work on, or a new favorite author or genre to investigate, or indeed even just a better appreciation for the written word, and the art and craft of creation.

© Robert Emmett McWhorter

A breathing sigh of repugnance

Postcards from the End of the World
7th fit: Bad Circus Night/ section ii.
‘a breathing sigh of repugnance’

374112_10150475755354595_182892415_n“It is a dark summer evening looking much like a winter evening on acconda all the snow,” Never bending logic bespooled from Freon’s gaping maw as he conveys his distinct memoirs of the bad circus evening.

In the mind of Freon, the night is filled with dreams of lonely melons, but he is embarrassed of oedipediacal implications, and instead makes up a wild exaggerated stinky.

The inquisitors of the waffle headed pope on a rope dessed up like rats and began to cover him with Fat Elvis stamps. His faces were covered with their thick moorish saliva, frying his flesh like a big, wet cow being shoved into an electrical outlet.

“Meester Freon!” they shouted. “Tell us what we want to know!”

Freon spun the thin spools of his memory, but it had run out again. ‘Damn,’ he thinks, ‘I wish I could remember to refill that damn thing.’

“Meester Freon!” one of the inquisitor rats steps forward, whipping him with the six whips he holds in his six arms, obviously the buddhist of the group.

“Stop whipping me!” shouts Freon, “I’d tell you what you want to know, but I can’t remember. Do you have any skull filler paste?”

“Why Yes! Of course!” an especially cheery and handsome rat steps out from the crows, holding a large blue plastic bottle. “We always keep a large supply of Krompelfesterheeganman’s concentrated skull filler. For all those times you need to remember, and better than a brain enema.”

There is a whisperous tremor amongst the inquisitor rats.
“What the shit man! It’s a stinkin’ commercial!”

The rats all walk off mumbling things about lawyers and unions, leaving everybody disappointed because it was just about to get to the good part.

©Robert Emmett McWhorter

How to Win the Race

runnerThose of you keeping score at home know I have been watching from the sidelines, cheering for everyone participating in the Thirty Day Novel challenge. Quite a few members of the writing groups I haunt are playing along this year, each of them committed to completing a fifty-thousand-word first draft of a novel in the month of November.

To be sure, this is no easy task. Pounding out a thousand words in an evening on facebook in itself is not a particular difficult challenge. Anyone who has participated in any of my reddit arguments knows to come with a bucket full of adverbs and a readiness to type, fast and loose. But keeping that sort of pace, well over a thousand words a day over an entire month, many will admit it is far easier said than done.

So, the same as every year, the race starts out fast and strong, I scroll through the pages and see the reinforcements of will power and the inspirational rants, and almost as soon as the starting gun is fired, the resignation letters start to trickle in. Fifty thousand words is too many, the month is too short, the day job leaves no time to write, there’s nothing left to write about anyway. The days progress and more people question their ability to remain committed as more casualties fall off at the sides. It can be disheartening. Here at the end of the month the comments I read are split in three; the folks crossing the finish line with the challenge completed and a clumsy new pile of sentences, spaghettification on their harddrives, the people still writing and pushing through the days and the doubts, and the stragglers who have fallen behind and have given up, some committed to finishing their tales when they find the time, others have grown to hate the words they were writing and the act of creating, and have vowed never to write again.

There is always next year.

And I think I should reiterate here that I don’t think the challenge is in any way impossible, it is not easily accomplished by the uninitiated.

I know a few of the little pieces I have put together have given hope to some writers and seemed helpful, the ‘Two-Headed Writer’ and a few other writings about writing, but I think perhaps I should have started my lessons earlier.

Here’s the thing, we have to complete the training before the start of the race.

And the best lesson I can give and the only one that can be shown by example, is the lesson of consistency, of writing every day.

After a considerable dry spell, I have returned to writing consistently, everyday for the past few months. I made a pledge in one of the writing groups to pound out a thousand words a day, everyday. At first it was a struggle and a task. But once my mind started moving again and my fingers started tapping easier, the movements became fluid and the activity flowed easy. The words seemed to pour out of my head where once I had to pluck them from their vines. Clumsy and awkward.

But the real secret of this trick is, the more accustomed you become to writing everyday, the more natural it becomes, the more a part of you it feels. It becomes more than just typing, it becomes something you have to do. These days, if I am not writing my brain begins to race, my fingers itch and feel cranky. I want to write, I feel congested and interrupted if I don’t.

Writing everyday becomes easier because I recognize what it takes to write everyday and so I seek out inspiration and attempt to employ every writing prompt I encounter. If I’m not typing my fingers get fidgety It’s a bit of a catch 22 or the horse-before-the-cart, but that probably only proves its validity.

So really the lesson to learn here is before you take on a commitment to writing every single you we should first get in shape by writing every day. Exercise for the brain. The marathon is finished one mile at a time. I could scramble to the end of my street if the house were on fire, but a race of any duration would double me over and shoot cold sweat from my forehead.

But when my fingers are accustomed and my words get used to wrapping themselves into intelligible patters, it becomes an engine that likes to keep running. My fingers want to type and so my mind looks for thoughts to throw together and attempts all the different combinations that might make them work.

The easiest way  you can prepare for the Thirty Day novel challenge is to get used to writing everyday. Sixteen hundred Sixty Seven words a day will put you at the finish line on time. The best analogy for this race is how closely it resembles running a marathon. Get your fingers folding easily and set your brain to sort your ideas. Start early, write often. Learn to run, for we will race another day.

©Robert Emmett McWhorter

November Novel: Finnegan’s Haiku

nanoStarting at midnight, when the Calendar flipped over to November, it marked the beginning of the ‘National Novel Writing Month’. I’m not sure how long this tradition has been going on, I think it dates back to the late 90’s. And it’s not National, it’s World Wide now.

I was thinking of participating this year, especially as I just found an outline for a novel I thought I lost, but I decided against it. Really, I want to use this time to edit my short story collection and possibly ‘Aftermarket Soul’, get that beast ready to face the public.

So my goal is to use the energy and inspiration from the NaNo participants to get me through my edits. But as midnight started to strike in the different time zones, the excitement really was palpable. It’s a sort of literary marathon I suppose. The goal is 50,000 words in a month, a rough draft of a novel in 30 days. Really, it’s not too much, it comes to 1667 words a day, which, when I know where I’m going, is maybe 45 minutes of typing.

It is a great participatory event that gets people writing who wouldn’t otherwise write, get’s people to finish a novel that they otherwise wouldn’t. Tonight I am happy to cheer from the side and tell them all to ‘Keep typing! Don’t look back! Don’t edit, and Don’t blink!’ I’m actually having a whole lot of fun encouraging them to keep going.

A few people, of course, have to up the ante. I know of a few who are pushing for 50,000 words in 5 days. Some are pushing up their personal goal, 150,000 words for the month.

scribeSo in my sleep deprived too-much-Halloween-candy obnoxious state, I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, I told people I would participate, but that I would write the fifty thousand words all in Haiku.

Someone figured out that it would be 2942 Haikus I would have to write to get to 50,000 words. But that wasn’t ridiculous enough for me. I announced that my NaNo project would be to rewrite James Joyce’s experimental ‘masterpiece’ novel ‘Finnegan’s Wake’ in Haiku form.

And I got a few down before I fell out of my chair laughing in a chaotic fit of self-satisfaction.

river run past Eve
and Adams, from swerve of
Shore to bend of bay

the fall: ba-ba-ba-

Yes, I do have a very bent and twisted sense of humor, I think I was exposed to Monty Python at too young an age, but this is some of the best fun I’ve had in ages.

But it’s harmless fun, I’m not trying to demean anyone or the mission. I think it’s a great event to get people writing, and I will continue to cheer everyone on as I trudge through my edits. I hope everyone achieves their goal, as I said a few thousand words a day really is not that much.

Keep typing friends! And I hope next November that I may join you.

© Robert Emmett McWhorter

Advertising Animals

374112_10150475755354595_182892415_nPostcards from the End of the World (excerpt)
Fit 2 Whereabouts, Section VII

You are standing in the sundial garden. It is dark. Presently, you look about you and find that you are enclosed by walls and a high ceiling, you are underground.

You see now a dim, distant light, probably originating in the middle of the giant, horizontal clock. Intently listening, you hear whispering. Half inaudible, silence and rustling of leather, and… something gelatinous.

You are blinded by a sudden light. When you are able to refocus your eyes, you inexplicably find yourself standing in the parking lot of a supermarket, surrounded by shopping carts and cars. You compose yourself, deciding to legitimize your visit by going in and buying something.

“I’ll beat them at their own game.” you mutter under your breath, grinning at old frozen ladies drolly rolling past you with full carts, “I needed to go shopping anyway.”

Entering through the auto-let-in Transec X-ray carbonizing smell-o-vac system, you find yourself surrounded by large, colorful species of advertisements, jumping around their metal jungle, feeding on the weak shoppers; welfare prunes and food-stampers.

These strange animals (known commonly as Andees) are the result of scanning living organisms, such as rabbits and chimpanzees, onto a computer. The mad scientists and IBM jerks mess around with the animals digitized genetics to form new and peculiar animals whose main purpose is to catch your attention at any cost and sell you their clients product, whose name is usually spelled out, along with their logo, in the animals hide.

“Oh, look at the cute monkey! What does it say on his back? Oreo’s? Oh, let’s get some!” Also, some Andees talk.

Wondering around to the pay lanes, you quickly scan the headlines of the newspapers and magazines, only one catches your eye: a news article reporting the mad escapades of several gangs of dogs who, ex-domesticated and forced to earn their own keep, have taken to breaking into humans homes and stealing food and such.

You pause, not stopping but just barely walking with your head turned to read about how some of the dogs had adapted nicely, and were working government jobs, child care occupations, and tobacco farming.

Suddenly, a small green blobby melon-shaped cat catches your eye and immediately starts toward you. You veer to the left, picking up your pace as you head for the produce section. Almost directly behind you is the feline Andee, digitally intent upon making a sale. Vegetables are much safer.

“Hey, darlin'”, the cat purrs from behind you, “C’mon baby, gimme a chance!” On the cats back you see that against its green fur is a patch of purple that reads: “Instant Death brand cigarettes” with their world famous logo; a man intently and calmly contemplating a rather phallic looking cigarette while simultaneously being stabbed, hung, drawn and quartered, guillotined, axe-murdered, drive-by’ed and biochemically annihilated. The cat light up a smoke and offers you one. You decline with silent contempt.

“Have you ever even tried Instant Death brand cigarettes?” the cat looks away and purrs lithely, blowing out sensual blue smoke rings.

“Shut your hole and get outta my face! I’m not interested,” you quicken your pace.

“Aw, come on, you fachin’ hypocrite! At least give it a try before you piss on it and condemn it to hell! That’s all I’m Asking!”

You try to get ahead of it, heading for the onions and apples. More people are being harassed by a large group of dog-like Andees, which is gathering around them, barking and dancing, trying to desperately entertain. But causing the people to freeze in fear, screaming, shitting and pissing themselves.

“Isidro!” you shout, seeing the little man wearing the stores uniform, sweeping up the produce aisle, “Get me out of here!” You see the cat still approaching, but it is becoming nervous because of the ill entertaining dogs. Isidro smiles and nods at you in utter incomprehension.

“Um, uh…¡Necesito me voy!” you say.

“Oh… ¡oh, si!” he drops his broom, still smiling, and rushes over to the lettuce display. You walk up to him and see that Isidro has uncovered a secret passageway behind the bin that hold the lettuce. You stare at him, dumbfounded, as he gestures for you to climb up into the bin.

Quickly, you climb up onto the rack, over the desolate lettuce, crushed, and set yourself down the hole, sliding.

© 1993 Robert Emmett McWhorter