Call For Submissions – “Too Much: An Anthology About Excess”

We’ve all got stories of overindulgence. Yeah, everyone. Don’t kid yourself. Everyone’s got a story of a time, or a lifetime, when if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.

That time you ate your weight in barbecue pork.

Too much time on Facebook or Twitter. Like days on Facebook or Twitter.

That morning you decided to run a few miles more, and your feet were blistered, and your nipples bled. (Okay, sorry for the visual)

That weekend in Vegas, full of hookers and blow and duct tape and..

Actually, fuck your Vegas story. Everyone’s got a Vegas story. Got a different story of excess, involving a weekend full of hookers and blow and duct tape…at the Vatican?

Interested in telling your tale of excess? Then read on. My compadre Bud Smith and Unknown Press want to read your stories.

Call For Submissions: Too Much: An Anthology About Excess

Unknown Press is putting together a new anthology, print and ebook.
Send creative non-fiction, fiction, poetry, flash, interviews to:

toomuchsubmissions@gmail.com

We’re looking for writing that finds its own way, in under 5000 words. Creative non-fiction is preferred, ie. true stories that happened to you. But, we’re open to other forms. Try us.

Send as many submissions as you’d like, just keep it under 5000 words. For example, an essay at 2500 and a short story at 2000 words is perfectly fine. Wanna send 4 pieces of flash at 500 words a piece? Feel free. Please attach the sub. to the email as a word doc.

Theme:
The topic ‘Too Much’: humorous, strange, bizarre, touching, poignant. We’re looking for stories, essays, poems that touch on the most extreme experience you’ve had with drugs, alcohol, sex, any and all addictions to things considered good or known to be bad, whether that’s the internet, video games, a job, a relationship, a personal goal, even writing itself. Bring the weird. Bring the surprising and enlightening. Bring the falling over and seeing stars.

Submissions are open from 1/5/14 until 3/1/14, pub. date is estimated around July 4th, 2014.

Payment will include one contributor copy of the paperback book, mailed to you. One free ebook version of the anthology. A discount code will be given to all contributors so they can purchase copies for themselves ‘at cost’.

Thank you for your time and energy. Muchas gracias.

10 Rules For Writing By Elmore Leonard

In honor of Elmore Leonard, who passed away yesterday at the age of 87, I thought I’d post the rules for writing Leonard compiled in his now-legendary New York Times essay, Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle.

Rules #3 and 4 are ones I stick to pretty adamantly. I’m not a big fan of verbs like “growled” or “snapped” being used to describe dialogue, when “said” perfectly sums dialogue up. And #10 just might be the best rule, outside of “show, don’t tell.”

Thank you, Elmore Leonard.

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WRITERS ON WRITING; Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle

These are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

1. Never open a book with weather.

If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2. Avoid prologues.

They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s ”Sweet Thursday,” but it’s O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: ”I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy’s thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That’s nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don’t have to read it. I don’t want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story.”

3. Never use a verb other than ”said” to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with ”she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ”said” . . .

. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances ”full of rape and adverbs.”

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.

You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

6. Never use the words ”suddenly” or ”all hell broke loose.”

This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use ”suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories ”Close Range.”

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s ”Hills Like White Elephants” what do the ”American and the girl with him” look like? ”She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.

9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.

Unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you’re good at it, you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

And finally:

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he’s writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character’s head, and the reader either knows what the guy’s thinking or doesn’t care. I’ll bet you don’t skip dialogue.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)

If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character — the one whose view best brings the scene to life — I’m able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what’s going on, and I’m nowhere in sight.

What Steinbeck did in ”Sweet Thursday” was title his chapters as an indication, though obscure, of what they cover. ”Whom the Gods Love They Drive Nuts” is one, ”Lousy Wednesday” another. The third chapter is titled ”Hooptedoodle 1” and the 38th chapter ”Hooptedoodle 2” as warnings to the reader, as if Steinbeck is saying: ”Here’s where you’ll see me taking flights of fancy with my writing, and it won’t get in the way of the story. Skip them if you want.”

”Sweet Thursday” came out in 1954, when I was just beginning to be published, and I’ve never forgotten that prologue.

Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word.

Guest Post: “What Your Artistic Friend Really Thinks,” by Holly Dutch

This next guest post is a special one for me, as it’s a guest post from a dear friend of mine. I met Holly Dutch a few years ago at a Nickelback fan site Goodreads group, and we hit it off pretty quickly. It became evident quite fast that we were pretty similar in many ways. We shared common interests in books, music, and films.

We also began giving each other nicknames for one another. Truly horrible, disgusting nicknames that I can’t reprint here.

Both of us shared an ambition: to become a published writer. Holly’s made that ambition come true. She’s recently self-published her first novel, Doll of Dawson, and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am for her.

Her guest post, “What Your Artistic Friend Really Thinks,” follows below. It speaks for all of us who waited a little long to pursue our artistic ambitions, only to find discouragement from sources you least expected to. I think it’s a piece a lot of us can relate to.

Holly Dutch’s bio: “For over twenty years, Holly Dutch has been a writer for radio, print, and telecommunications. As a broadcaster, she’s written, voiced, and produced copy, radio plays, newsfeed, and newsletters.”

She can be found online at www.hollydutch.com, and on Twitter at Holly_Dutch.

Enjoy.

 

What Your Artistic Friend Really Thinks

Hi.  Remember me?  I’m that friend of yours who had a dream of doing something artistic, and told you about it hoping I’d get some encouragement.

I write, sing, make music, act, paint, photograph, do stand-up, or have some other craft that you think is great, all too happy that I had found a hobby.  Maybe when I told you that my plan was to jump in and go further with my “hobby” you felt I was making a mistake.  Were you scared that I’d foolishly quit my day job, thinking I was going have a YouTube-sensation-insta-career that usually is the kiss of death once Ellen Degeneres invites me on her show?  Did you think it seemed okay that other people—perhaps famous people—do the things I aspire to do, but didn’t think that maybe I had the chops to be as good?  What was worse—maybe you didn’t care?

You’re right.  Maybe I’m not as good.  Maybe I won’t make a million dollars.  But I want you to know about what I’ve done to get to this point and how I’ve felt.

When I first took on this project, I wasn’t looking for your acceptance or your permission.  I discovered something I loved to do and I wanted to try my hand to see if I could take it to the next level.  I began to invest in better equipment, books, and I even spent time researching with professionals.  My “hobby” was starting to take up much of my time.  I might have even missed calls, forgot to reply to text messages, or even declined offers to go out citing I was busy with my project.  I’m sorry for this, but just like you needed time to take your kids to baseball games or take those night-school cooking lessons, I too needed time to work on what I loved to do.

I became immersed in my craft.  So, naturally it was all I wanted to talk about.  Just like new parents only wanting to talk about their babies, or pet owners talking about their animals, I hoped you would understand that after all the times I was there for you when you had exciting things going on, that you would be there for me during this exciting time: my chance to make my art my new job.  If nothing else, take my art to a level where I could showcase it to the masses.

Maybe you thought it was a pipe-dream.  You offered to change the subject, or politely reminded me not to expect that success was going to be easy.  You warned me that criticism will come, and you didn’t want me to get hurt.  You thought I was taking this too seriously.  The absence of encouragement, replaced by your doubt only told me that you really didn’t believe that my dream could be coming true.  You began to think that normal nine-to-five folks don’t do interesting, creative things and expect to make a living out of it.  You continue to think that perhaps it could for others, but not me.  I’m your normal friend.  I play by the rules and don’t do crazy things like take chances.  Didn’t you think all of these worrisome things have already played out in my head as I began to doubt myself throughout this ordeal?!

No one said I was going to be rich.  I certainly didn’t.  I don’t ever recall saying I would even leave my career, and I definitely knew enough to be realistic about where my bread was buttered.  So, I began the process of marketing.  I made a Twitter account, a Facebook page, and a personal website showcasing what I can do.  Still, you had doubts.

All the blood, sweat, and tears I put in to my project—and still nothing.  You don’t “like” me on Facebook and you don’t think to retweet me.  You had no idea that the work I had put in to make my craft the best it could be.  All those nights I stayed up until three a.m. and the offerings that you would get dibs on my work when it was finished.  I.e.: the “friend fee” (which is free).

Like an obsessive fool, I’m now checking my Twitter constantly, looking for new followers.  I scan my Facebook for new likes.  I check for updates on my website hits.  I check for these things on almost a minutely-basis.  I want to be liked and want to know that what I set out to do reached the world, no matter how small the numbers are.  I worked so hard, and desperately hoped you, my friend, would be supportive and become one of my biggest cheerleaders.

Alas, I have now come full circle.  I started out something I wished to do because it was a dream.  When I worked my tail off to hone my craft, I wanted to be someone you could be proud to call a friend.

Day 1: Write Your Own Obituary (July Blog Challenge)

Day 1: Write Your Own Obituary

For the July Blog Challenge, the Day 1 challenge is Write Your Own Obituary. At first, I figured this task would be a bit daunting. Not that I would find this morbid, just daunting. How could I possibly write about myself in future tense? But I quickly got into the swing of things, and I found this to be a fun exercise.

Also, the obit is a sneak peak into another work-in-progress.

I wrote this obit in the style the New York Times would employ. Enjoy!

 

Cult author Gus Sanchez, whose satirical novels often skewered everything from corporations to politics to book publishing trends, died in his sleep after a lengthy battle with ennui and his own self-importance. It was said that much like the Velvet Underground, many people didn’t read Mr. Sanchez’s novels, but those who did read his novels were later inspired to become novelists of their own. In later interviews, Mr. Sanchez was said to be delighted that he was able to inspire a new generation of novelists to embrace satire, even if, as he said in a now-infamous Playboy interview, “a lot of those kids who cribbed my style never bothered to buy my work, since all they ever did was go on Pirate Bay and steal my books. The little thieves. I should sue every one of them for royalties!”

Born in New York City in 1971 to a degenerate gambler and Marxist-quoting heiress, Mr. Sanchez was a bright student who excelled in creative writing and being teased mercilessly. His first published short story, about an exploding hamster, appearing in his elementary school’s yearbook, resulting in the first time a yearbook was ever banned after publication by the New York City Board of Education; the story, entitled, “And the Horse You Rode In On,” contained graphic depictions of playground violence and sadism. The use of childhood games as a metaphor for adult aggression would be a recurring theme in Mr. Sanchez’s later works.

After fumbling through high school and college, and through much of adulthood, making abortive attempts at creative writing, Mr. Sanchez completed his first novel, “The World’s Greatest Superhero,” in 2014. While not a commercial success, it did find a small cult following, enough for him to begin a lifelong love affair with Pappy Van Winkle’s, a rather expensive blend of bourbon.

His most successful novel, “…aka ‘Zombies vs. Dinosaurs!’” was nominated for a National Book Award, but lost out again to yet another PowerPoint presentation from Jennifer Egan. In his novel “…aka “Zombies vs. Dinosaurs!” a failed writer who teaches creative writing at a community college suddenly becomes an overnight sensation when he posts a series of short stories written as a satirical retort to what he felt was the poor fan fiction his students continued to pass off as their own fiction. As he continues to post more and more satirical content, in which he envisages a dystopian future in which humans must fend off zombies while also evading dinosaurs who were accidentally brought into the future through a time portal, a bidding war between publishing giants suddenly erupts. For the failed writer, who once imagined himself as the bastard heir to the likes of Pynchon and Vonnegut, suddenly finding fame by writing unimaginably bad fiction, was bittersweet. So he does what any good writer would have done: he bites the hand that feeds him.

For Mr. Sanchez, the success of “…aka ‘Zombies vs. Dinosaurs!’” was also bittersweet. It brought him the success he craved, but it also brought unwelcome accusations of selling out, of which he dealt with in his usual succinct manner.

“They can all suck the hairs out of my shit-crusted ass!” he bellowed once during a speaking engagement, and then passed out after one too many shots of Pappy Van Winkle.

In his later years, Mr. Sanchez continued to write, as well as lecture throughout various college campuses. His lectures were often times unplanned affairs, degenerating into, depending on his mood, stand-up comedy, full-throated rants on the state of the book publishing industry, impromptu burlesque theatre, or cheery sing-alongs. He also took to the social media platforms of the time to engage in various public spats and feuds with several authors, many of whom he’d befriended on the blog site WordPress; apparently, his insecurities about his own writing led him to lash out at writers whom he’d admired

Mr. Sanchez was survived, and we do mean survived, by his wife Jaime, his daughter Sophia, several grandchildren, and way too many pets. Per his request, the hundreds of thousands of pages of manuscripts left behind were to be burned immediately, never to see the light of day.

 

 

(For another take on the Write Your Own Obituary, check out Jcc Keith’s take; she’s written a dandy of a self-obit.)

Guest Post: “Red Apples Like Baseballs” by Kathleen Donohoe

Kathleen Donohoe is up next in my guest blogger series. Kathleen runs the blog BookStory, which she describes as “…every book you read has at least two stories. There is the one the author has written, and the one about how it came to be in your hands.  This blog is about books I have read and books I am currently reading, and why.”

Her guest post, “Red Apples Like Baseballs,” isn’t about baseball, sadly. It’s a recollection of when she first realized she was a writer. But it’s more than mere recollection, it’s a conjuring of images and sights and sounds and smells that a good writer should always incorporate into their writing. For me, a native New Yorker, I could feel so much about where this story takes place, the borough of Brooklyn.

It’s an excellent story. But don’t just take my word for it.

Kathleen’s bio: Kathleen Donohoe has published short fiction in several literary journals including Washington Square, Harpur Palate, New York Stories, Web Conjunctions,SNReview and The Recorder: Journal of the American Irish Historical Society. She grew up in Brooklyn, New York and now lives there with her husband and son, Liam.

Now, without further ado…“Red Apples Like Baseballs.”

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Red Apples Like Baseballs

November Before It Gets Grim

The Muppets and St. Dymphna

In our kitchen, a statue of St. Dymphna sat on a shelf rarely dusted. She kept company with a beer mug full of pennies, a little yellow dish that held nickels and dimes for the Flatbush Avenue bus, an old can of Billy Beer and a piece of Palm, grown brown at the edges. About six inches high, she wore vivid robes of red and blue and a crown. She had long, light hair. An open book lay across one palm and in her other hand she held a staff. Her contour made me want to fling her into the air with a spin, a holy baton, just to see if I could catch her. She is an Irish saint, patroness of the mentally ill, runaways and knitters. I was standing beneath her feet when I realized that I was a writer.

I was eight years old, the middle daughter, the dark-haired one between two blondes. It was a bright, chilly afternoon, early in November. Winter coats were hibernating deep inside the house. Boots were not a thought. But my father had already put the storm door in and the sun lit the scratches on the glass so that they looked like confetti, tossed in the air and stilled. We’d gone apple picking recently in an upstate New York town with enough open space to astonish girls from Brooklyn, where backyards come in slices and running is done from curb to curb. Against the wall beneath the shelf, there were three paper bags of McIntoshes, red apples the size of baseballs.

That day, I was fetching an apple and thinking about what I wanted to be. My third grade teacher had recently asked the question. Mrs. T— was feared throughout Our Lady Help of Christians. There was a rumor that she’d been a nun and I believed it. She yelled, threw books to the floor, banged boys’ heads against the blackboard. Most of the class gave the same answers: cop, fireman, teacher, nurse. Nobody, however, said priest or nun and Mrs. T— got mad. Often she interrupted her classes for tirades that grabbed her like coughing fits and we all froze like rabbits in knee socks and neckties, hoping to escape a predator. She was angry that never, ever had one student of hers had a vocation. Didn’t any of us give a thought to the church? We needed to pay attention in case God gave us a sign. He might try more than once. God is persistent.

I had lied and said nurse because my mother was a nurse. Girls weren’t firefighters in those days. And there, beneath the statue, beside the apples, I panicked. What else was there? What did you do if you didn’t become what your parents were? Then I thought, I’ll write books. There was no epiphany involved, only a certainty that still puzzles me, though I’d loved books for a long time already, and the need to write belonged to me at once, like something bequeathed. How do you write a book?

A week ago, I’d turned eight, and the new girl in my class, a blonde with a flighty voice had built up her gift to me throughout my party. Her mother picked it out, she said. She wished she was getting it. I opened it to find a packet of Muppet stationery and matching envelopes–the worst present I’d ever gotten. I did not write letters. But obviously, a book deserved better than notebook paper. The stationery became provident. I left the apples behind as I dashed from the kitchen and up the stairs to the bedroom where my birthday gifts sat in a pile beneath my bureau, as yet unassimilated into the room at large. On sheets of paper that had Muppets cavorting in the red borders, I began to write.

The story had been in my head since the second grade at least. I’d titled it The Secret Tree. I told it to myself during class, but had never thought of writing it down, something that astonished me that day. I was not prepared for it to be hard. Yet I quickly discovered that the words on paper could not live up to the images in my head. But with the crackpot optimism every writer must have, I put that book aside and began again, something new. I’ve never stopped writing.

And after that day, I read books differently too. They became textbooks that taught by example, maps that illustrated how a story unfolds from beginning to end. Writers must possess the ability to be still, an appreciation of silence, and the courage to fill it from their own imaginations. Reading is practice.

The white letters, bright against the building’s pale brick read, “Brooklyn Public Library,” or they had until the B, the P and the L were stolen one Halloween night. I would go to the gunmetal gray fiction shelves, find the place where my name would come and slip my hand between two books, creating a space, a void to fill.

Scoffing at Dan Brown’s “Literary Success,” Or: A Shameless Plug For My New Book

51i1GQblq4LMay 14, 2013 marks another momentous day in the annals of literary history. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the new Dan Brown novel, Inferno, has arrived. No doubt many of you have marked your calendars; some of you may already be reading Brown’s latest thriller. Or have downloaded it to your Kindle or Nook or whatever e-book reading devices you fancy.

If you are, then you and I shouldn’t be friends.

Why am I talking about Dan Brown? Because a few years back, during the release of his last novel, The Lost Symbol, I wrote a piece called “Scoffing at Dan Brown’s ‘Literary Success’,” summarizing my immense dislike for Dan Brown’s writing. I take that back: his lack of writing.

I’m also taking this opportunity to shamelessly promote my new book, Out Where the Buses Don’t Run, now available in both paperback and Kindle edition on Amazon, because, not so coincidentally, that very same piece I was just talking about appears in the book.

But enough of me shamelessly plugging my new book – which you should read, by the way – because this isn’t about my book, it’s about Dan Brown’s new book, which will no doubt rocket to the top of the best-seller lists, and be savagely eviscerated by literary snobs everywhere; in fact, Flavorwire has an early list of some of the funniest and most vicious takedowns on Inferno so far. Inferno will sell very well. And then you’ll see hundreds of copies available at your local used book store, sitting there forlorn, waiting to be bought at a heavily discounted price. But what the hell does it matter? Dan Brown’s got your filthy money, and he’s laughing all the way to the bank.

That fucker.

Oh well. Screw him. I am going to peddle my book a little harder now. Here now is the piece I wrote about Mr. Brown and his shitty writing, which, once again, is featured in my new book…okay, seriously, if you don’t know what’s it’s called by now, then I really haven’t been talking much about then?

Alright, read on then.

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Scoffing at Dan Brown’s “Literary Success” 

 

September 23, 2009

  

You’ve all no doubt have heard that Margaret Atwood, highly-honored author of such literary masterworks as The Handmaid’s Tale, The Blind Assassin, and Oryx and Crake, has a new novel out called The Year of the Flood…right? You’ve also heard that Joyce Carol Oates, prolific super-author of such literary masterworks as Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? and We Were the Mulvaneys, has a new novel called Little Bird of Heaven…right? You’re all aware that Thomas Pynchon, reclusive superstar of postmodern fiction and the author of Gravity’s Rainbow, has a new novel called Inherent Vice…right?

No?

Okay. You’re all aware Dan Brown has a new novel called The Lost Symbol, his follow-up to his phenomenally successful The DaVinci Code, right? Of course you know this. You can’t go anywhere without reading about how expectations are high for Brown’s new novel, and you’ve seen him interviewed on everything from The Today Show to Funny Car Weekly. And, most tellingly, The Lost Symbol sold an astonishing 2 million copies in the first week of its’ release.

2 million copies sold is pretty impressive when you consider what an astonishingly bad writer Dan Brown truly is. The consensus among the literary snobberati is works like The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons are spurred on by a decent story (conspiracies abound!), but buried under an avalanche of utterly clumsy writing. Reading The DaVinci Code, I wondered, what editor wouldn’t have been tempted to take a red pen all over his manuscript? Or, better yet, does Dan Brown have a clause in his contract that excludes him from any copy editors desecrating his manuscripts? This sentence is my favorite awful Dan Brown sentence, from The DaVinci Code, one that, were I a copy editor, would correct:

 

“The vehicle was easily the smallest car Langdon had ever seen. ‘SmartCar,’ she said. “A hundred kilometers to the liter.”

 

“Easily the smallest car Langdon had ever seen”? How do we know that car was “easily?” Was there a previous mention to some of the smaller cars Langdon had ever seen? Take out the first sentence – “The vehicle was blah blah blah – and the sentence isn’t weighed by exposition and adverb. But, since Brown seems to be paid by the word…

Criticizing Dan Brown’s writing has become a cottage industry of sorts. The majority of people I’ve met who’ve read any of Brown’s work all agree his writing sucks a wet one. Me, I have a way to gauge a bad novel; if it takes me about 2-3 days to read it without stopping to reflect on a passage or pause to think about what the writer is saying or where the story goes, then the novel really hasn’t engaged me at all. The DaVinci Code was like that for me, something that took me 2 days to read in its’ entirety and leaving me perplexed as to why so many millions of readers were actually reading this junk.       

I would be tempted to be ultra-critical of those who read and actual enjoy Dan Brown’s work, just like people flock to see the mind-numbing mediocrity of Michael Bay’s films, or swoon to the news of the return of Creed as a performing act. The collected works of Brown, Bay and Creed represent something completely foreign to me or others who prefer their arts with more substance than the aforementioned trio are willing or capable of providing. So what is it, then, that’s driving readers to buy The Lost Symbol in such record numbers?

First, I think it’s wise to break down the numbers posted: of the 2 million people who have purchased a copy each – and I’m assuming there are relatively few who’ve bought 20 copies of The Lost Symbol and are planning to give those as unwelcome gifts – let’s say half of those are actually fans of Brown’s work. Of the million remaining, let’s say half of those are casual readers who don’t mind The Lost Symbol taking up some of their time as a quick summer read. Of the 500,000 remaining, who knows? Maybe they’re vociferous anti-Brownists who bought the book out of spite and are going to spend the next few weeks grinding their teeth and taking a red pen to every page in the book. Granted, my numerical analysis makes little sense to you, and even to me, but it’s helping me try to understand Dan Brown’s success.

But in order to truly understand the extraordinary success of Dan Brown’s literary output, it helps to realize that Dan Brown’s novels are a sign of our times. In this day and age when so many of us are consumed with thoughts of nefarious conspiracies in place – the Bildebergs, the Illuminate, Opus Dei, the faked Lunar Landing, 9/11 Was An Inside Job, Obama is a Muslim Nazi Communist, etc. – Brown’s captured the collective zeitgeist and crafted novels that both entertain and look into our conspiratorial fears. I’m reminded of the success Tom Clancy enjoyed a decade or two ago. Clancy, another writer who brained you to death with his encyclopedic knowledge of the minutae of Soviet-era nuclear submarines but couldn’t fashion two coherent sentences together, played brilliantly upon our fears of constantly being on the brink of war with the Soviets. When the Cold War came to an end, Clancy quickly shifted those fears to other not-so-imagined enemies – terrorists, drug cartels and global criminal organizations. Again, like Brown, Clancy’s novels served to entertain. Could either author’s output be deemed worthy of the utmost critical respect? Hell no. Both Clancy and Brown mastered the art of butchering the written word while making millions.

And if you’ll read some of the more positive reviews of The Lost Symbol or any of Dan Brown’s previous works, the positive reviewers don’t seem to mind the bad writing, as long as there’s more conspiracies to read about. So maybe 2 million book buyers can’t be wrong, can they?

I don’t know. The truth is, I’m ambivalent about Brown’s books themselves. They’re crap, let’s just leave it at that. If my neighbors prefer to read The Lost Symbol to Thomas Pynchon’s newest novel, so be it. The people have spoken, just like when they spoke about Ruben Studdard or George W. Bush, and there’s not a damned thing any of us can do about it. And there’s not a damned thing you and I can do about Dan Brown’s success.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I’m not resentful as fuck about Dan Brown or his success. He can shrug his shoulders or smugly suggest that all he does is write books people like, but the fact that he writes as if he couldn’t be bothered with the basics of grammar and the proper basics of fiction writing irk the living shit out of me to no end. I’ve gone through one writing class after another. I wrote a 350+ page manuscript that, thankfully, will never see the light of day (as I set fire to it one day in a massive fit of anger) as long as I live. I’ve subscribed to literary journals and paid attention to the rhythm and cadences of every writer I’ve read. But if Dan Brown can’t be bothered to write one fucking decent sentence, then I can’t be fucking bothered to give Brown any respect, no less be bothered with reading the idiotic conspiracy yarns he spins.

Some Very Exciting Publication News!

There are moments in your life that you’ll remember for the milestones they are. Your first kiss. The day you got married. The birth of your first child. That day you told your boss you had enough of his shit and he could fuck off and go ahead and fire you already. Real important milestones.

Another milestone is approaching, and it’s one that I’m really excited about. So excited when I received the news, I just about crapped my pants. Okay, I really didn’t crap my pants, but I was extremely excited. There might have been some accidental peeing. Maybe not.

 

So, without further ado, I am really excited to announce that my first book, “Out Where the Buses Don’t Run,” an anthology of blogs written between 2005 and 2012, will be available for sale via Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, as well as CreateSpace’s e-site, starting next week, in both paperback and Kindle formats! AWE-FRIGGIN’-SOME!

cover copy

The description of the book, from the Goodreads book page:

In this first – and hopefully last – collection of thought-provoking essays (read: blogs), minor Internet blogging sensation Gus Sanchez tackles a variety of hard-hitting topics such as marriage, parenting, politics, racism, your lousy taste in music, hipsters, bad writers, rude supermodels, sex scandals of the rich and famous, and, um…Phil Collins.

Culled from seven years’ worth of blogs taken from such blogging platforms as MySpace, WordPress, Blogger, and Open Salon, Out Where the Buses Don’t Run is a collection of some of the best and most memorable blogs Gus Sanchez has ever posted. Well, the ones worth reprinting at least. With such classics as “How ‘Brokeback Mountain’ Ruined Male Bonding,” “I Think I’m Gay, Or: ‘I’ll Take ‘Musicals’ For $1,000, Alex!,'” “How Leggy Supermodel Christy Turlington Made Me Self-Conscious About Smiling at Strangers in Public,” and “On James Patterson, Or: You Can Shove Your Words of Wisdom Up Your Ass, You Hack!” this anthology will read less like a self-absorbed missive and more like a thoughtful yet outrageously funny insight into the human condition.

 

In the coming days and weeks, I’ll post some more details about release dates, where you can buy a copy (you know you want to), some giveaways I’ll be running on Goodreads, and other news involving the book. Additionally, I’ll post a sneak preview before the end of the week, an excerpt from the book that I think you’ll find both hilarious and highly disturbing. I might even do a video read of one of the pieces from the book. Stay tuned.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank you, my dear readers, for your support and generosity. You gave me the encouragement to pursue this project, as spur of the moment as it was.  From inception to completion, it took four months to go through nearly 600 previously written blogs, choose 32 of the ones I felt reached a larger audience, and then edit those for content and grammar, proofread, re-edit, re-proofread, re-edit once more, and design the cover. Not a Herculean task by any stretch, but it gave me a strong indication of what putting a book together, from a self-publishing perspective, feels like. And I’d do it again and again and again.

Thanks, you guys!

Getting to Know You, Fellow Writers: Stan Mitchell

Entry Number Five in the ongoing Writers and Bloggers Interview series features perhaps one of the most interesting and willful people you’ll ever meet. Stan Mitchell, author, blogger, former Marine, newspaper tycoon (seriously!), and all-around force of nature, comes across as quietly self-assured, but definitely someone whom you’d better think twice about getting in his way. Stan’s got his goals, and, by God, he’s going to meet them.

I’ve had the chance to interact with Stan for a few months now, and he’s a real down-to-earth and humble guy. And he’s dead serious about wanting to become a better writer, even with two novels under his belt. That’s an admirable quality to find in a writer, I must say.

Our interview took on a range of topics, from his four years as a Marine, a hair-raising combat experience, the newspaper he publishes, his writing (naturally), and his mancrush on Jesus’ favorite quarterback. Now, without further ado, I give you Stan Mitchell…

Stan R. MitchellBio: I write tough-as-nails, fast-moving fiction, and I’m the author of Sold Out and Little Man, and the Dixon County War. Readers have (thankfully!) compared my works to Stephen Hunter, Lee Child, and Tom Clancy. Besides writing fiction, I also maintain a moderate, political blog called Fix the Divide.

And here’s some basic information about me, which I managed to squeeze into Twitter: I’m a writer, entrepreneur, & former 0311 USMC SGT who earned a Combat Action Ribbon in 97. I’m also a nice guy who’s addicted to Shaolin Kung Fu & weight lifting! (My Combat Action Ribbon was earned when my Platoon took part in Operation Silver Wake, the evacuation of U.S. citizens from Tirana, Albania.)

First off, I want to thank you for your service to our country. You served four years in the US Marine Corps. I’m curious, how has your experiences in the Marines, and as a former Marine, helped shaped your writing?

Well, the Marine Corps allowed me to experience much of what I had read about in books! I learned about M-16s, ambushes, recon patrols, helo insertions, and even emotions that go along with life and death situations. And since I write what I call “action fiction,” that is key.

It also allowed me to meet some of the best bad asses our country ever created: Force Recon Marines, Navy Seals, and even a few Snipers, who never really say much…

So, getting to know how some of the most professional, elite warriors really talk and carry themselves was worth more than I could ever put a price on.

Finally, those four years — the substantial majority of which was the epitome of pure hell (Ooh-rah! Get some!) — also put me in lots of locations where there was nothing. No internet. No way to call home. No distractions. And so I read tons of books during those four years, which probably did more for my writing career than my degree from college.
What books did you read while you were in the Suck? (Hey, I read “Jarhead.” I know what “The Suck” means…)

Mostly books by Stephen Hunter and Tom Clancy. (And there there are quite a few authors similar to Clancy who write about war that I also read.)
You mentioned earning a Combat Action Ribbon. How did you earn that? What’s the story behind that?

It was earned when my Platoon took part in Operation Silver Wake, the evacuation of U.S. citizens from Tirana, Albania. Basically, the government of Albania — a small country near Bosnia — nearly collapsed. Much of its police force and military called it quits after not getting paid and the people over-ran several military bases and armed themselves. None of this would have mattered — after all, who even knows where Albania is? — except that we had about a thousand Americans there, as well as an Embassy to protect.

So, with the Albanian military and police force essentially gone, these Americans were unprotected and in great danger.

Our platoon flew in and helped secure the Embassy and the State Dept Compound. We took some fire going in. We took some fire while we were there. And like all combat situations, the pure holy-shit moments were interspersed among hours of complete boredom and misery — it was freezing and raining, so we spent much of time standing in muddy fighting positions.

I was 19 and I thought it was a huge deal. We put ourselves in harm’s way and left thinking we’d be hailed heroes. Turns out few knew what we had even done. So much for winning medals and impressing all the chicks!

When did you first discover you had a knack for writing? Did you want to be a writer from an early age, or was this something you learned about yourself much later in life?

I started writing when I was about eight or nine, and it began as a form of escape. I was a small kid and was bullied a fair amount, so I read all the time to help me escape. And I soon transitioned from just reading to actually writing. Partly because I wasn’t happy reading the stories that were out there – I’m a notoriously picky reader still to this day — and partly because in these stories I changed from a little boy to a young man who was tall, strong, and desirable. And brave. Always brave…

You’ve written and self-published 2 books so far – Sold Out and Little Man and the Dixon County War. One’s a conspiracy thriller, the other a thriller set in the old West. What inspired you to write both?

Well, like most writers, these are the final products of about thirty starts and stops over the past twenty-plus years.

“Sold Out” was inspired by Stephen Hunter’s book Point of Impact — still one of my all-time favorite books of all time. “Sold Out” is a Marine Sniper/CIA Thriller that is in many ways similar to Hunter’s book. I loved how fun Stephen Hunter’s book was and I wanted to write something similar: Just pure pace and action and setback-after-setback.

But “Sold Out” was super difficult and took me twelve years to write. (The plot is ridiculously complicated and covers multiple states.) I probably would have never finished it had I not finally just let it go and thought, “I need to just write a simple book and get an easy win.”

So, I wrote “Little Man, and the Dixon County War,” which is a thriller set in a Western time period — think Django Unchained. Then, once I had finished “Little Man” and began feeding off its positive reviews and sales, I picked up the book that had taunted me and mocked me for more than a decade.
What’s been the most successful part of writing for you? The least successful?

I think my strength is plot and coming up with great book ideas. For me, this is the easiest part and I’ve never understood how many writers struggle to come up with them. I get most of my ideas from reading The New York Times each morning. I’ll start reading an article and then stop halfway through it and find myself imagining the people involved. The angry. The desperate. The hurt. The crooked. These great stories, right in front of me, every morning. And with just a few twists, you’ve got some great plots (or “what if’s?”) and some great insight on character motivations.
My biggest weakness is character, which coincidentally, my super-talented wife Danah is great at. So Danah helps me bore down into the character motivations, their pasts, their weaknesses, etc.
When you’ve found your inspiration for your stories for your novels, do you outline it all the way through, or just wing it and see what happens?

I do both. Earlier in my writing career, I was all about just winging it, but now I try to outline a bit more as I go along — I do NOT outline the entire thing in the beginning, as that would prove nearly impossible for me; plus, I’d hate going for possibly weeks without writing while I just outlined.

But I think it’s important for writers to know that they should just do what’s most comfortable for them. It can work both ways.

Authenticity is real important in the kind of novels you write, especially “Sold Out.” Have you gotten any feedback from former Marines, even former (or current) Marine snipers? I’d be curious if anyone has read it and said, “Yeah, he got it right.”

Absolutely! I had personally fired nearly every weapon described in “Sold Out,” and I consulted with two Marine Snipers on the scenes in which a sniper rifle is used. I then followed that up by having some other Marines beta read it — accuracy in books is as important as accuracy in gun fights!

Some writers find writing plot to be difficult, or character development difficult. Why do you find writing characters a weakness?

I wish I knew. I think some people just get others better. (My wife being the perfect example of that.; She can read people better than anyone that I know.)

I have found in recent years that it’s easier to loosely base a character on someone you know than it is to build one from scratch on just a sheet of paper. And I’ve also — thankfully — vastly improved my skills in this area, just by studying plenty of writing books.

Not only are you a former Marine and a published author, but you’re also a newspaper publisher. What prompted you to start your own newspaper? How’s being the publisher of a newspaper treating you these days?

I had worked at a small weekly newspaper after college. I loved how tenacious and tough that paper was, so when I moved to work for a daily newspaper, I always found myself missing that weekly pace to news. With a daily newspaper, you have to rush from breaking news story to breaking news story.

With a weekly, you’re not as focused on breaking news and can take the time to get the full story.

And being a publisher treats me well these days. We have a great product and incredibly talented staff. It never ceases to amaze me how much talent there is out there, just waiting to be given a chance and show off their skills.
What else are you working on these days? A follow-up to either of your novels? A new novel?

I plan to write sequels to both“Little Man” and “Sold Out.” I’ve started both and I’m trying to focus on finishing “Sold Out,” but I struggle to stay focused. Besides characters, a great weakness of mine is staying focused on my current work in progress. (For instance, I’ve worked on four different novels since finishing “Sold Out,” something I know I shouldn’t do… But as I said, my problem isn’t coming up with ideas. It’s staying excited and focused on whatever I’m working on.)
What’s the hardest part of writing for you? (For example, not enough time? Staying focused? Bouncing from ideas to ideas?)

It’s changed for me. Before I got my first novel done, the hardest part of writing was that doubt that ate at me, wondering whether I could finish one. (After all, I’d started nearly 30 and never finished one before the story fizzled out or came to a crashing dead end.)

And then after the euphoria passes of finally finishing one, you gain some confidence, which is great. And for me, I tackled the second one with great energy. But at some point, you also lose some motivation. After all, you hit your goal. You’re an author. You spent decades trying to reach that goal, and you finally crested the peak.

At that point, you have nothing to prove. Your critical “friends” no longer laugh at you and you feel proud. And I think for most, once you’ve hit this level, you’ve got to do a real gut check. You’re no longer a wannabe, but you’re also about a light year away from being as famous as whoever your favorite author is. So, you’ve got to look in the mirror and decide whether you’re willing to go after that next peak. Yeah, sure, you’ve got confidence and more skill, but it’s a bit daunting to see that next peak is just as high (if not higher).
You’re someone who takes an active interest in many other things besides writings and running a newspaper. What are some of those interests? How do some of those interests coincide with your writing?

Mostly, it’s weight lifting and Shaolin Kung Fu. And I’m not sure how they coincide (maybe, I’m training to be an action hero!), but they do get me up from the desk and help me build up my energy and focus. And maybe if I’m honest, they’ve helped toughen me up and give me confidence to reach my goals.

Alright, I gotta ask: so what’s with the whole adoration for Tim Tebow?

First, it has nothing to do with religion. For me, it’s about leadership with Tim Tebow. I started out hating him in college, but over the years he earned my respect by how hungry he is. He’s a warrior who literally outlifts his offensive lineman and tries to win sprints against even his receivers. He hates to lose and is one of the most competitive players I’ve ever seen. In my mind, I want to be that hungry, that crazy, that determined to win. Here’s a longer answer for those who really care: Why I’m a Tim Tebow nut…

My A-Z of Literature

I saw this idea on JessMitten’s blog – My A-Z of Literature – and liked it so much that I’d thought I’d steal the idea and post my own A-Z.

A

Margaret Atwood. No writer combines the uncertainty and terror of dystopian fiction with humor and satire the way Margaret Atwood does. Some would dismiss The Handmaid’s Tale as pure fantasy, but in some parts of the world – and, if some will have it, in this country – the tale of Offred is very much real. Love, love, love Margaret Atwood.

Paul Auster. My favorite New York City writer. Brooklyn represent! The New York City Trilogy is simply mesmerizing.

B

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz. My favorite novel of the past decade, and one of my favorites ever.

Charles Bukowski. See below.

C

Raymond Carver. I’ve read hundreds, maybe thousands, of short stories, but no one writes (well, wrote) a better short story than Raymond Carver. “Cathedral” is perhaps the finest short story ever written.

The Catcher in the Rye…ah, yes, this book spoke so loudly to me during my disaffected…OH FUCK THAT SHIT. AND FUCK THAT BOOK. AND FUCK YOU IF YOU FIND THIS BOOK PROFOUND. IT’S OVERRATED AND YOU KNOW IT.

D

Don Quixote. The first of the great classic works of literature I read. This is one that’s very close to my heart, a novel that’s funny and wistful and tragic. Often times considered a contender for one of the best novels ever written, and rightly so.

Dune. I would not be lying if I told you I’ve read Dune at least 20 times.

E

L’etranger (The Stranger). Yes, I’m cheating. Still my favorite existentialist study. It floored me in high school – I still think my 11th-grade HS English teacher for making me read this – and it still floors me today.

The Elements of Style. You can’t claim to be a writer, even if what you write are technical documents, if you’ve never read this. Essential reading for every writer and budding writer everywhere.

F

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. Oh, irony: I remember my entire 10th-grade English Lit class pretty much hating this book, and thinking it would be perfectly alright if we lived in a world without the printed world. There’s no telling what these geniuses are up to these days.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. “We were somewhere outside of Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.” Best opening line to any novel, if you ask me.

G

Neil Gaiman. Just oozes cool, doesn’t he?

Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon. I’ve read it 3 times. I still can’t tell you what it’s really all about. But I can tell you no novel has ever enthralled, puzzled, humored, and sucked me in like this multi-thread post-modern head-scratcher.

H

Nick Hornby. Many writers write about obsessions, but only one writes about the things that I obsess over – music, film, books, and football (soccer) – the way Nick Hornby does. He understands how obsessions form the male psyche, and how important – and debilitating – those obsessions can be.

Ernest Hemingway. My first literary hero. Still one of my heroes.

I

Ignatius J. Reilly, the main character of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. He’s obnoxious, ill-mannered, a legend in his own mind, yet I love him to death, because, hey, I too can understand what it’s like to be a misunderstood genius. Okay, maybe not.

Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace. You read it, right?

J

James Joyce. Yeah, I haven’t read him, either.

K

Karamazov, as in The Brothers Karamazov. GREATEST. NOVEL. EVER. WRITTEN. Seriously. The “Grand Inquisitor” scene is the finest chapter ever committed to paper by a single novelist ever.

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. Murakami loves to play with symbolism and metaphor. Kafka on the Shore, just from the title alone, is chock-full of said symbolism, and it’s a hoot of a read. One of my all-time favorites.

L

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov. Do I need to describe or defend it? If you’ve never read it, then what are you waiting for?

M

Moby-Dick. The Greatest American Novel? Maybe. But it’s one of the best novels ever, and better than you think. Yeah, it’s long-winded. So what? Read it, if you haven’t already.

N

Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell. Not so fantastical after all, huh?

Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs. Man, I still have trippy flashbacks. I don’t think I’ve read a book that unnerved me as much as this novel has.

O

One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I used to use this novel as my litmus test for women if they were date-worthy material. If she’d read it and loved it, then she and I would get along fabulously. If she read it and hated it, then she paid for dinner. If she never read it, date over.

I’m kidding. Somewhat.

Flannery O’Connor. Her masterpiece short story “A Good Man is Hard to Find” taught me there’s no such thing as a need to politely and cleanly wrap up a story. That story, and O’Connor’s embrace of the beauty in the grotesque, helped shape my writing to some large extent.

P

Portnoy’s Complaint, by Philip Roth. True story: I was reading this on a subway train ride one day. A little old lady was sitting next to me, snooping peeks at what I was reading. I was pretty aware she was trying to steal a peek at what I was reading. I got to a chapter with the following title – “Cunt Crazy” – and all I heard was “OH MY GOD THAT IS DISGUSTING WHAT YOU’RE READING!” I flashed a knowing smirk and got off at the next stop.

Q

Quasimodo. I’m stumped. That’s all I got.

R

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. This novel scared the living hell out of me in ways no Stephen King novel could ever frighten me, yet it’s also one that’s a novel of hope and perseverance in the face of absolute destruction. I sobbed after reading this.

Salman Rushdie. Any writer that lived more than a decade with a price on his head – still does, actually – and lived to tell about it, with his dignity, sanity, and sense of humor still intact, will always earn my undying respect. Rushdie is the living example that the pen will always be mightier than the sword.

S

Slaughter-house Five. Has there been a novel written in the past 50 years as influential as Kurt Vonnegut’s darkly comic, humanist, anti-war screed?

Super, by Aaron Dietz. The best novel you’ve never read. Do yourself (and Aaron) a favor and read it.

T

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. One, it’s the best story ever about heroism in the face of the odds stacked so badly against you, knowing you’re going to lose, but sometimes heroism comes from a result of the character you demonstrate. Two, being it’s the only novel Harper Lee’s ever written, it’s one hell of a novel to be remember for.

Hunter S. Thompson.

U

John Updike. His “Rabbit” Angstrom novels are so steeped in, well, whiteness, as in White Anglo-Saxon Protestantism that they can be a distraction, yet Updike was a vicious voyeur into the private lives of public people. I could never identify with Rabbit Angstrom’s “struggles,” but I sure as hell loved reading about them.

Ulysses, by James Joyce. Look, I already told you haven’t read James Joyce!

V

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.  Anything more needing to be said?

Jules Verne. Science fiction writing begins with him. Some 125 years later, his influence is still being felt, especially within the steampunk genre.

W

Where the Wild Things Are. Still the one single book that’s best described my world view to this day. And now that my daughter’s reading it, I can only hope it forms her world view as well.

White Noise, by Don DeLillo. Post-modern suburban existentialist dread. Written in 1985, just as relevant, if not more so, today. There’s so much irony oozing in every page – the technology that supposed to make our lives better and more efficient is really making our lives worse and less efficient, and in turn building walls between us – that it’s disarming and unnerving at times. I’ve read it several times. I think I need to read it again.

(PS – the band The Airborne Toxic Event got their name from this novel)

X

Uhh…

Y

The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion. Oh, Jesus Christ, I hope I never have to undergo the confusion of grief she underwent. Wow.

Z

Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing. His essays may be a bit self-serving – after all, he only uses his own work as examples – but his advice is absolutely indispensable.

Zone One, by Colson Whitehead. There are too many damned zombie books out there. If you’re going to read one that’s profound and funny and frightening, this is it.