We Chicagoans share many similarities with the Eskimos, besides our subarctic climates. The Eskimo language, they say, has sixty-two different words for snow. I would venture to bet we Chicagoans have sixty-two words for snow as well. Very few of them, however, are appropriate for use in polite company.
In light of some television networks and news agencies publishing Olympic
updates from Sochi before they have been officially aired in prime time, The
President, Congress and the FCC are dropping all other matters to address the national outrage over ‘Spoilers.’
Most citizens agree there should be a Standard National Spoiler Disclosure
Protocol in place, regulated by the FCC, which would force broadcasters to use a ‘SPOILER’ tag or similar disclaimer when revealing sensitive information, or face fines and penalties and possibly have their license revoked for repeated infractions.
Americans are outraged, not only for the irresponsible handling of medal counts
at the Olympics, but for other recent infractions including the Game of Thrones
season ending cliff-hanger, the Breaking Bad finale, and the almost instant
reporting of ‘more trite nonsense’ that accompanies any new Twilight movie
After years of being splintered by national debates on political matters such as
the economy, national security, employee rights, voter rights, civil rights,
entitlements and government spending, it seems the American people finally have
an issue we can all come together on, and rally as one voice for some real,
The Director of the NSA, Gen. Keith Alexander, addressed the press today, saying, “After reading countless personal emails and private messages, we are aware that the Spoiler issue is the number one priority in the agenda of the average American household, and it should be ours as well.”
Congress announced it is pulling manpower and money away from immigration, the
drug war, maintaining Guantanamo bay with an eye toward its decommission, and
the crumbling infrastructure of the nation, to focus our minds and our finances
on how to properly identify and warn about Spoilers, and other related
matters such as how long is the statute of spoiler limitations? Is giving away
the plot-lines of Firefly, now ten years in the public eye, still a
prosecutable offense? How soon is too soon?
The President, Congress, Senate and other government VIPs are said to be forming
an expert committee to deal with this emergency, and promises to put all other
matters aside until this is dealt with to mutual satisfaction.
Joe Krumpnall, an out of work auto mechanic and ex-vet we interviewed today
seemed to reflect the Government’s and the people’s beliefs. “I have no job and
no money and I’m sick but I can’t go to the doctor because I have no insurance.
And I’m currently playing a sort of roulette game; will my electricity be cut
off before my television and phone service, or will my landlord beat them both with his
ten-day notice to evict? I tell you what, the only thing that keeps me sane recently after a long day of hunting for work and begging for
help is to come home and watch some young girls sliding a rock across the ice
and sweeping it home. Now that’s ruined, since they announced all the curling results and medal winners already on the five o’clock news.”
American officials are consulting with the British Government and the BBC. They specifically want to find out how the Doctor Who Fiftieth Anniversary Special was handled so adeptly. For the better part of a year secrets were kept under lock and key, even from cast and crew. There were denials and rumors and denial of rumors, but in the end it was kept mostly a secret on a level with most matters of National
Security, until Tom Baker made his return to the show for the first time since
Oh, have I said too much? There’s a helicopter overhead and a black van in the
driveway. Someone is pounding on the door. I’ll be right back…
I save my black pen for hate mail. I could never write, “You dirty bastard batch of corporate bitch slime, you’ll burn like whisky farts in hell,“ with my blue pen, except of course in retrospect.
I save calligraphy for paying bills and writing checks. Cursive only when writing in the bath.
When I occasionally wait tables I use a shorthand hieroglyph system that all the line cooks seems to intuit and easily recognize. I spend most of my time carving woodcuts which I stamp on the back of postcards and drop into the confession box. The best thank you note is wrapped around a brick.
With the Snowpacolypse we have been experiencing here in the Midwest, driving has become especially trying. I commented in a thread recently that it took me nearly forty-five minutes to get my car out of the driveway the other day.
It has been snowing all year, and there is quite a bit of it accumulated on the ground. The subarctic temperatures makes everything a little tricky, and it seems to freeze the snow into a solid sheet of ice. The following day more snow falls, adding a new layer, and reenforcing the solid frozen foundation.
I said in my comment that I may have saved myself time and aggravation had I taken the wheels off the car and fashioned skates of some sort or possibly a sled.
A friend soon replied. She said she never knew what to expect from me, and this comment, the image in her head, had her laughing near hysterically. She noted that she is not known as the easiest person to draw a laugh from, her son had told her she only laughs ‘once every seven years.’
So I was flattered, I take that as high praise.
Later in the thread there was another note from the same friend. It seemed she was rethinking her reaction, and she wasn’t certain I had intended my words as a joke, and thought she should maybe apologize for take my comments as a joke.
I was able to reply that it was, indeed, a joke. I said I thought it was a defense mechanism of sorts; no matter how terrible I feel, no matter how bad my day may be going, I am usually able to find something funny, some tiny little aspect I can twist into the ridiculous or otherwise see an opportunity for humor.
When I can’t, when I stop smiling and cracking wise, I said, that is probably a good time to turn around and run away.
I’m really not sure where this comes from.
People have remarked on my writing. A lot of my stuff is comical and filled with one liners and comedic occurrences and situations, but even in my most dry and somber, deep and reflective, serious efforts, there is almost always at least a little glimmer of the light shining through.
Readers do remark on this. Some writer friends have said they wished I could teach them how to write ‘funny,’ or how to develop their sense of humor. And believe me, I do wish I knew how. For many reasons.
Believe me I wish I had a marketable skill I could pass along to others and provide a decent living for myself. It’s one thing to be funny and make people laugh, but if you could teach humor and make people funny… I almost relate it to the ‘give a man a fish, teach a a man to fish’ proverb. Plus, if I could teach a good portion of the population and instill my sense of humor, I would probably personally find the world that much more enjoyable.
But I’m really not sure where it came from and I’m less sure how to pass it along.
I will sometimes say I was exposed to Monty Python at too early an age, but if was all it took, there’d be an island of comedians, comic actors and humorous writers when in fact these currently make up barely a majority in England.
I sometimes say the circumstances of my early years forced me to find the humor in the small details around me, but in truth –while I have had a few rough patches over the years– I haven’t had anything close to a tragic life, I definitely count myself as one of the luckier ones on this random and confusing planet.
So I’m at a loss. It begs the question, is your sense of humor something you are born with or something you develop or maybe a combination of the two? Nurture or nature, if you will. I can’t say.
I never intentionally learned to write a joke, but I did read hilarious authors and can usually only stand a movie or TV show that makes me laugh, and I certainly take note of what works and what doesn’t.
But I never took a class to develop my comedic styling. I never had any routine for working out my funny bone, other than reading, watching, and sampling, and then trial and error with paper and pen. I was mostly too shy in school to be the class clown, but I usually sat next to him and fed him lines. At first this was great because when the joke failed, it wasn’t me that was met with that hot, red silence.
The only thing I can really do is hope it’s contagious, and sometimes it seems like it might be. Sometimes it appears like my twisted sense of humor may be rubbing off on friends, a wry remark or snarky line comes out that I doubt they would think of, speak aloud, or find funny prior to meeting me. I hope so.
If I could consciously teach the world to laugh a little more I know I would. But maybe the best I can hope is some of it seeps in through prolonged exposure to my funny little tales and osmosis.
There is a method to my madness. I write what I do to try to show a part of the world I truly believe in, a part of human existence that doesn’t often get a spotlight, and some will say doesn’t exist.
I grew up with the word ‘CAN’T‘. You can’t do this, can’t do that, that can’t happen, people can’t fly.
“BULLSHIT!” I say, and I am glad I never listened. Sure I have run into some brick walls being defiant and proving to myself I can’t walk through walls, but I never let the ‘CAN’T‘s keep from trying or doing anything.
I believe this world, this reality, is a lot more magical than we usually give it credit for. This is why I write the weird things I do. To show possibilities, to show that there are miracles in this world.
I have done impossible things. I have seen things that shouldn’t exist. I believe in miracles and magic, and I think if everyone else believed it as well, we could move forward as a species.
So, look at my works as silly little tales about Spanish speaking cats who moonlight as copy-editors, ridicule me for the stories about talking furniture. But I am trying to show something real, I am trying to convey a truth that I cannot easily put into words.
This world is magic! If you believe it.
Sometimes the impossible is a lot more attainable than the highly improbable.
Only fifty years or so ago, it was improbable that we would ever find life on another planet, but it was impossible for man to walk on the moon.
We still haven’t found life elsewhere, but we have all seen Neil’s footprint in the regolith.
I often use the New Year, New Years Day, as a common theme in my work. More so in songs, it’s a pretty standard symbol of change and rebirth and starting over fresh. But in reality, it’s just another day.
I think we set ourselves up for disappointment. Many use the New Year as a catalyst for change. New years resolutions are the perfect example, many make them, few follow through.
Instead of standing as symbol for change, New Year can take on an ominous feeling that we are stuck, no change is possible, might as well not try.
But this, I think in part at least, comes from applying too much power, or too much weight, to the date. Nothing is really different about today, compared to yesterday, other than the arbitrary number we have assigned to it.
Changing the calendar won’t change our lives. I think it sets many up for disappointment and an acceptance of their lot. We can change, it is possible, but it takes more than a cosmic odometer rolling over.
If I want to quit smoking once and for all I will make a plan, talk to a doctor, put some steps in place, change the way I approach some situations and thoughts.
Change is not easy, it is possible, but let’s look at it realistically. Let’s look at what steps need to be taken, let’s put a plan in place to affect some real, actual change. Let’s not leave it up to the calendar, and expect the world to be as fresh as January’s brand new page, which is, after all, just a number jotted on paper.
They sat for moment, gazing at one another. Her head bobbing slightly, rhythmically; a smile dancing on her face. He was happy just to watch her, to look upon her and take it all in; her shyness and when it melts, such as now, when she was honest and earnest.
He was happy just to sit with her, to see the way she looked at him.
The dark woods around them, almost silent but still alive. A million little crickets went about their nocturnal day, chattering and clicking and chirping, this was their rush hour. Quieter bugs made up the chorus, a few billion back-up singers.
Above, in the treetops a few lines of bird dialogue would break through the night occasionally; the rustling of leaves when the wind danced through them, the low long creaks from the wood, young trees stretching their branches toward the sky, the older trees crumbling, leaning over, falling back to the Earth.
And in the center of it all, her. He watched her head bob, she was singing a song to herself now, barely audible– partly her demeanor and partly not knowing the words. He noted her contradictory nature, she was quiet and shy, but she was outspoken about it and unashamed.
The wind blew her lazy hair in random tangents, adding their steps to this dance. Behind her and above, the canopy of stars, all of creation framed in sky– absolutely everything else that existed in this Universe on display and in its rightful place behind her, the center of his world. He noticed a new twinkle in her eye, like she had captured a falling star.
© Robert Emmett McWhorter
One day he was in the coffee-shop early, muttering, scribbling a few words with his quill, and then invariably scratching them out.
Randy and Mandy came in, and were standing in line to order coffee. Randy noticed God first, he gave a little tug at Mandy’s elbow, and gestured for her to look. They both stood silently, watching God fret and fume with the page in front of him. They both smiled a little to see him so agitated.
“Does he have fun?” Mandy whispered at Randy, “I mean, he does know a hobby is supposed to be an enjoyable activity doesn’t he?”
Randy shook his head, shrugged, “I admire his dedication, and sometimes envy his intensity, but I don’t even take my job as seriously as he takes writing.”
Mandy chuckled. They both ordered their drinks and joined God at the table.
“How’s the story coming, God?” Randy asked, smiling a little too wide to be mistaken as sincere. “Looks like you’re still having a little trouble there.”
God grumbled and waved an obligatory greeting, consumed by the words before him.
“It’s a rough spot, you’ll get through it,” Mandy tried to placate him. “It will make a good book, I think you have a winner. You were very excited about it, and that first week of writing was incredible, almost miraculous.”
“Yeah…” God let the word out as a long sigh. He put his quill into the barrel, rubbed a fist at his tired eyes. He looked at his friends finally, and attempted a smile.
“Some of those characters you’ve introduced…” Randy didn’t finish his thought. He let the fragmented idea linger, let the silence convey what he hesitated to say.
“They’ve taken on lives of their own,” God said, “I can’t get them to behave, and to stay within the story I have planned.”
Mandy hit God on the shoulder, softly, “You see? God knows what I mean! Sometimes the characters do surprise us! No matter how much you outline, when you get into the writing you can be surprised by who your characters really turn out to be, and the places they’ll go when they should be moving the plot forward!”
Randy clicked his tongue, rolled his eyes. “This again. You are the writer, you made the characters, anything they do is a product of your imagination, and to believe otherwise, to talk about them like they are sentient beings, it is delusional, and possibly hints at a serious mental imbalance.”
“So you are never surprised by any of your characters, or any of your stories?” Mandy kept her gaze on Randy, awaiting his reply, but also removing her laptop from its case and opening it on the table.
“No, I have been surprised,” Randy replied, still smiling wide. “But I recognize that the surprises are a product of my own mind, I don’t pretend that my characters are acting on their own.”
“You are so literal,” Mandy moved styrofoam cups and a glass of water away from her computer. The screen lit up and a phrase of warm piano let her know the laptop was now awake. “You are one to talk about God taking things too seriously.”
God was still immersed in his work, writing three words, and then crossing out four. But at mention of his name he looked up, and glanced between Randy and Mandy.
“I know it comes from me,” Mandy continued, “It’s just a bit of fun, really. The ideas come from our subconscious, we are not actively making these choices, so it seems like the characters are doing it. Plus, it sounds vain if I say ‘Look what I thought up!’ rather than ‘Look what my characters did!’” Mandy laughed as she finished her last thought, and involuntarily kicked at a table leg, jerking the surface and knocking over a glass of water.
She threw the few available napkins on the puddle spilling out, and got up quickly to find something better to clean up the mess.
God looked at Randy for a few tense moments before he spoke, “I really don’t control what my characters do anymore. I let them go. I think you read the garden scene where I gave them all freewill.”
Randy regarded his friend, curious and somber, his wry smile was now replaced a relief map of worry lines on his forehead and a slight squinting of his eyes. “You do know that’s not true, don’t you? There is no ‘Free will.’ You do know that is only a plot device, don’t you? You do know you are doing all of this, it’s from your mind. You are the writer of this story.”
God said nothing, but stared back at Randy. There was something new in his eyes, but Randy couldn’t place it. It unnerved him, but he couldn’t say why, or what it was.
God glanced at the overturned glass still laying on the table and the slow pool of water on the table and soaking into the napkins.
“Maybe you’re right, Randy,“ he finally replied, quiet and calm and steady. He took up his quill once more and hunched over the page, returning to his work, “Maybe you are right. Here comes the flood.”
© Robert Emmett McWhorter
A few days ago I added a new piece called ‘A Writer Calls in Sick.’ It was a spontaneous collaboration between myself and a writer friend P.T. Wyant. If you haven’t read it, go read it now– it’s a quick, funny little piece.
The response to it has been a little overwhelming. I came online the following day to find it had been liked and even shared all over the place, and I was getting comments from folks I had never met thanking us for the laugh.
We were talking about how we should collaborate again, a few people commented as such. I’ve let my mind wander as it does looking for possible paths to follow toward this end, we could make a whole series of ‘Writer & Editor’ pieces, a web series or a book or both, who knows. I’m open to any options, but I am having a hard time grasping how to even try to repeat this effort. The whole thing was born so spontaneous, there was no intention stated of working together or trying to write something or work on a bit. It grew out of such a tiny spark and came to life so fast, and completely unexpected.
Over the last few months I have been typing nearly non-stop, back to writing after a few dry years. I have been writing new stuff and transcribing some old scribblings from the notebooks.
I have files I keep, like a junk drawer for thoughts and ideas, I was going through it recently, and I don’t even recall writing this little line. Where it came from or why I thought it was important, but there it was, this off little half-thought:
It struck me as an odd little thought, so I posted it on facebook, just to see what sort of reaction it might get.
A few minutes later I saw P.T. had replied, in character as the Editor, responding to the post. We traded lines back and forth for twenty or thirty minutes, I was laughing and she has commenting she was laughing the whole time too.
And then there it was, as simple as that. A piece was born. I messaged her and asked if she would mind me making it a bit and posting it. She asked if I had intended this when I posted the blurb. No, I answered honestly. I had no motive to post the little random half-thought other than to see if it made anyone chuckle.
So, how does one repeat that? How do you recreate an activity that seemed to happen on its own. This is one of those intangible sides of art. You can learn and study and read and practice and develop and repeat. But there are just some things you can’t prepare for or train for or practice, things you never expect, things you may struggle to explain.
It has been a while, but it is not the first such experience I’ve ever had. Strange things happen, miracles occur, and I strongly believe there are some songs out there floating in the ether, some stories just waiting to be plucked from the air and told. Sometimes the stories get tired of waiting and manipulate events to bring about their creation. Why not?
As I’ve said, I’ve seen things of this sort before. Not common, and I don’t think it is something you can ever get used to. Sitting here thinking about it now still gives me a little chill down my spine and tickles the hair on my head ever so slightly against my brain.
It reminds me what I love about being a writer, an artist. Yes, you get to build your own Universe and play god with your characters and recall the stories exactly as you would like them told. But sometimes you got to see something like this, even better when you find yourself participating in it. It is a form of magic, really– the story literally appeared out of thin air. I truly believe it’s a tiny miracle, a wink from elsewhere, reminding me to wonder at the wonder; and proof that occasionally the Universe keeps something up its sleeve.
©Robert Emmett McWhorter
Happy 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
Anyone who has heard me talk about writing at least twice has doubtless heard me say ‘less is more.’ I strive to write efficiently, to say as much as possible with the fewest words. Call it minimalism, call it laziness, call it cutting corners. It forces me around to what I mean to say.
My writing in general began with simple, short entries, poems and songs and little slivers of storytelling, mostly whatever could fit on one page. It seemed the most empty space I could deal with at the time, all the attention I could manage, the thoughts I could handle were just enough to fill up a single sheet of paper, one side.
Over the years my stories have gotten longer, I’m not certain if the ideas have become more complex or if its just the grinding of seizing gears. To this effect, I have formulated a list to consider while we write.
THE THREE ESSENTIAL RULES OF EFFICIENT WRITING:
1. Tell only the parts that move your story forward.
And that is all you need to know. Simple, effective. The rest should go without saying.
2. Skip over the boring bits.
3. Omit any irrelevant information.
By leaving these off we are saying much more, especially reinforcing the notion of brevity. It conveys the idea that some assumptions is necessary, on the part of the reader it helps involve us in the story, it moves beyond a simple attempt at entertainment. It leads us to think a little deeper about the words we read.
As they say in English, the exception proves the rule. Consider what this really means. What if the all the important parts are the ones we end up leaving out?
It leads us to the idea that for every sentence we write, there are two we can cut out later. There are many ways to express essentially the same idea, and we can easily become prone to repeating ourselves. Say it right, say it once. Make your words mean as much as they can; not different definitions, but degrees of description. Every word matters and should speak about as many parts of the story as possible.
This is where writing is different from math. Here we are graded on output, not effort. You need not show your work, in fact it is strongly discouraged. Some sleight of hand is indeed expected, certain tricks we use to maintain the suspension of disbelief. The reader should be able to jump from a string of words to a few pointed conclusions.
Recently the group I write in came upon a new prompt, “Describe someone you know, using their age as the number of words you are allowed.” We drifted apart to ponder, some scrolled through their friend lists on facebook, a few took off their shoes to add up complicated ages. I could write about myself and use up forty-one words. My cat would require sixteen. My niece just had her second birthday and would be the easiest option.
“She’s two.” I wrote, and turned in my homework.
Some may consider this cheating, taking the easy way out. But strictly speaking it is efficient. True, I say very little about the subject of my essay, but it’s worth noting that I am following the rules literally, some would say to an illogical fault. My answer is creative and clever but really gives no information. No work was required on my part as long as I met the qualifications of the challenge.
As a writing lesson, I easily received a high, passing grade. As a math problem it would have been marked ‘zero’ or incomplete.
I had written what was asked and nothing more. I could very easily expand on the subject I chose and would be more than happy to share about my niece for a few happy pages. But it wasn’t asked, and here is the slightly quieter second part of the point; adding any words at all to my answer would have made it technically incorrect.
Use the right words, use your words right. Tell your story and nothing more. Speak your piece and get out. As I always say, “less is more.” Know when to get out, and how to quit while you’re ahead.
©Robert Emmett McWhorter