Taking a break

Blogging has become quite tedious for me right now. This post is something I am typing out to effectively give myself permission to take a (hopefully brief) hiatus. The issue is that I don’t have much that I really want to say on this blog right now, and I would rather invest my creative energy in something constructive as opposed to fretting about my lack of recent blog posts.

I have no intention of deleting this blog, however. Links to my writing will continue to live here and original posts will (eventually) resume.

Bukowski on Mickey Mouse

Charles Bukowski hated Mickey Mouse. No. Seriously. 

With that in mind I found this 1963 Chicago Literary Times interview somewhat amusing.

Arnold Kaye: To get down to more serious matters, what influence do you feel Mickey Mouse has had on the American imagination?

Bukowski: Tough. Tough, indeed. I would say that Mickey Mouse had a greater influence on the American public than Shakespeare, Milton, Dante, Rabelais, Shostakovich, Lenin, and/or Van Gogh. Which says “What?” about the American public. Disneyland remains the central attraction of Southern California, but the graveyard remains our reality.

Jabootu Lives!

I am a sucker for movies of the so-bad-they’re good variety (die-hard MST3K fan here).  Given all the doom and gloom in financial markets recently I was excited to discover Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension is still alive and kicking. A point of light in the darkness, as it were.

To encourage you to check out this site (“Devoted to savoring films at the bottom of the cinematic bell curve since 1997”) I now present an excerpt by editor Ken Begg, describing Steven Seagal directing Michael Caine in On Deadly Ground:

The audience, on the other hand, is chagrined when Jennings opens the other door of the helicopter and reveals that he’s being portrayed by a slumming Michael Caine. Jennings remains such a stock cartoon villain that one concludes that Caine was only hired after both Bluto and Snidely Whiplash were found to be busy on other projects. In the end, it’s somewhat of a surprise that he never ties heroine Joan Chen (using the Hollywood “exotic actor” law to play an Eskimo here) to some railroad tracks. Caine’s hair is dyed a very weird oil-slick black, except for a few scenes when it inexplicably turns dark brown instead. He also wears a bolo tie throughout, apparently to help look like an “oil man”. Jennings pretty much proves to be the worst performance in Caine’s long and busy career (and he’s been in The Swarm, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure, The Holcroft Covenant, Jaws IV, etc.). I’ve no doubt that this is entirely due to Seagal’s direction. I’ve always pictured this scene in my mind:

Director Seagal: “OK, Michael, you’re the Bad Guy. So act really, like, Evil here.”

Caine: “But look, Steven. You know that, in my character’s mind, he’s not the bad guy. To him, he’s the hero, see. He believes totally in what he’s doing, and in his right to do it. In fact, to him, your character is the bad guy, not he.”

Director Seagal, after staring at Caine for a very long time without changing expression: “OK, Michael, you’re the Bad Guy. So act really Evil here. Oh, and more Awe when he sees me enter the room.”

In addition to being very funny (at least in my own humble opinion), many reviews feature pretty insightful commentary on effective plotting and characterization. I’ve always felt you don’t learn much in terms of “craft” from great books and movies. They’re inspiring, but for me they exist on another plane from what mere mortals such as myself can produce (I am reminded of Hunter S. Thompson typing out sentences from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books to see how it felt putting those sentences together).

In terms of creative education, it’s the crappy stuff you learn from: books and movies that lack polish and run with important bits missing and sparking wires exposed. The least talented decile of your local writing group serves much the same purpose. In fact, an interesting creative exercise is to try and FIX a terrible book or movie. There’s no better way to hone your editorial instincts.

May The Great Jabootu smile on all your endeavors!

Steal this novel idea!

Book of Revelation art

End of Days, per the Book of Revelation

While reading some dire prognostications about artificial intelligence the other day I came up with an idea for a novel I have no interest in actually writing.

Specifically it was this passage from Tim Urban’s article (see link above) that got me thinking:

What we do know is that humans’ utter dominance on this Earth suggests a clear rule: with intelligence comes power. Which means an ASI, when we create it, will be the most powerful being in the history of life on Earth, and all living things, including humans, will be entirely at its whim—and this might happen in the next few decades.

If our meager brains were able to invent wifi, then something 100 or 1,000 or 1 billion times smarter than we are should have no problem controlling the positioning of each and every atom in the world in any way it likes, at any time—everything we consider magic, every power we imagine a supreme God to have will be as mundane an activity for the ASI as flipping on a light switch is for us. Creating the technology to reverse human aging, curing disease and hunger and even mortality, reprogramming the weather to protect the future of life on Earth—all suddenly possible. Also possible is the immediate end of all life on Earth. As far as we’re concerned, if an ASI comes to being, there is now an omnipotent God on Earth

So the idea is this: it turns out that all that crazy Book of Revelation-type prophecy was basically right all along about the End of Days. It’s just that John the Evangelist was tripping balls and had no clue what machines looked like, so his batshit writing obscured the fact that was he was really describing were hyper-intelligent machines vying for control of the Earth, and that the Anti-Christ and Jesus he saw in his visions were actually God-like AIs. As the singularity happens some astute scholars figure this out but of course not quite in time to prevent it. Chaos ensues. The central question of the novel is that if machines have replaced God what prompted John’s original vision? And if there is another, non-artificial God out there lurking in the cosmos, how does it stack up against the machines?

I have no interest in actually writing this. In fact it’s kind of a rip-off of the movie Prince of Darkness, a terminally goofy (if under-appreciated) horror flick that also hinges on mixed-up Biblical prophecy.

So feel free to steal the idea! I only ask you let me know what you do with it.

Adaptation is scary. Even when it’s fictional.

I’ve watched or listened to work I’ve written be performed exactly four times now. The pieces consisted of two one-act plays (one staged in two different productions) and, more recently, my flash piece “Frankenstein’s Monster” narrated in podcast form. I consider myself fortunate in that I’ve never been totally disgusted with any of the final products. In fact, on the balance I think they’ve turned out quite well (which isn’t to say I’ve always agreed with every choice made in the production process).

Nothing is quite so exciting (or terrifying) as handing over your work with the knowledge that someone else intends to bring it to life. I say this after two one act plays and a podcast. I can only imagine what it’s like for authors who have their work turned into feature films.

I suspect many people find the process frightening because it necessarily requires you to give up creative control. It takes many people to bring even a short fiction piece to life, and like it or not you are trusting them not to deliver any cataclysmic fuck-ups.

Personally I am not overly concerned with control. What gives me anxiety is that a team of actors and others will breathe life into my work only to demonstrate that… well… the work itself is stupid.

There is a certain cognitive bias called the Dunning-Kruger effect

wherein unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than is accurate. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude. Conversely, highly skilled individuals tend to underestimate their relative competence, erroneously assuming that tasks that are easy for them are also easy for others.

So the really horrible thing about being a no-talent hack is that you are much less likely to realize you’re a no-talent hack. And if there are enough deluded, no-talent hacks out there some of them may decide that your crappy story would make a great (by great what they really mean is crappy) podcast/play/film/television series.

Of course this fear is completely irrational. You’ll probably never know if you’re actually any good, or if the work based on your work is any good. Which is why the only  measuring stick I hold to any performance based on my work is whether I enjoy it.

By that standard I guess I’m pretty happy with how things have turned out.

“Frankenstein’s Monster” podcast goes live July 7

Just an update that the podcast of my flash story, “Frankenstein’s Monster,” is set to go live on Far-Fetched Fables on July 7. I’m looking forward to listening to the show.

The story was originally published on Every Day Fiction.

Interestingly, Far-Fetched Fables is one of several podcasts run under the umbrella of District of Wonders. Since checking out the site I’m also quite interested in the horror podcast: Tales to Terrify.  I like the fact that they consider work between 1,000 and 9,000 words, which offers a lot of flexibility. The downside is that it’s a non-paying market. Still, I plan to keep it in mind for the future. I definitely have some ideas that fit the market.

Writing is more athletic than artistic

The more I write the more I realize writing is less like some hippy-dippy journey of self-discovery and more like training for a marathon. Maybe a decathlon. There is nothing dreamy or romantic about coming home from a ten-hour workday to sit down in front of a laptop and hammer out that night’s thousand words.

Writing is a caffeine-fueled endurance test. It requires a tremendous commitment of mental and physical energy. It requires discipline and perseverance.  I would venture to guess that even the loopiest, spaciest artiste possesses these qualities in spades. Otherwise he’d never get anything done.

Back in action!

I’m back in action after taking the CFA Level II Exam this past weekend. Basically preparing for the exam completely took over my life from early April through the first week of June (on top of that I am taking a class so I can take the CFP Exam in March 2016). This is all great stuff for my professional life — not so much for my writing.

The good news is that I will have several months before CFP prep kicks into high gear, which means I can get my writing back on track. First thing I have to decide is what to do with a couple works in progress: whether to go the indie route or try to get some exposure in a more traditional market.

Just an update

Just as an update, posts will probably be sparse for the next two months. I take the CFA Level II exam in early June and have CFP education classes every other weekend till December. As such my writing time will be mainly dedicated to producing new work. I look forward to picking the blogging back up with more vigor when my schedule calms down.