Upcoming Events: Horror Reading and Good Noise Making Next Weekend!

Just a quick heads-up for folks in Michigan: I have two events next weekend! Please spread the word, cuckoo bird!

 

1. Horror Reading!

I’ll be reading from my book There Was a Crooked Man, He Flipped a Crooked House at the Grey Wolfe Scriptorium bookshop in Clawson, MI on October 27. Details:

I’ll level with you: This is going to be a hoot. It’s a good book, it reads well, and I’m moderately hilarious.  I’ll bring snackies of some sort.

Nonetheless, I’m totally dubious about my capacity to draw an audience.  Therefore, I’m running two contests(!!!) associated with this event:

  1. CONTEST: If you are the one and only person who shows up you get a free book, a personal reading, and a free drink at the nearest bar!
  2. BONUS CONTEST: If the number of attendees exceeds the number of fingers I have (total), I will additionally read from the novel of y’all’s choosing. No reasonable request refused!

 

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2. Good Noise in the Loud Lab!

On October 28 I’ll be the featured artist in the Sonic Workshop at the Ann Arbor Hands on Museum from noon until 4pm . I’ll be running my “Loud Lab,” which includes a special installation of the Slinky Sound Forest, weird homebrew instruments and freak-out noisetoys you can rock out on, and an opportunity to craft your own weird noise-music-thingies under my dubious tutelage.  Details:

Hope to see you next weekend!

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Dave-o showing of his “non-violins

 

Michigan Voters: Please “Plunk” for Sam Bagenstos for MI Supreme Court on Nov 6

“Plunking” means voting for just one person, even when you could vote for several.

On Nov 6, Please plunk for Sam Bagenstos for Michigan Supreme Court

This is easy to remember, because he’s the only candidate who has a hobbit-sounding name.  Sometimes he wears little half-glasses while reading, which really underscores the hobbit thing, although he’s sort of a tall dude.

Voting for Michigan Supreme Court

This year we have six candidates running for two open seats in the Michigan Supreme Court. This is on the “non-partisan” portion of the ballot—that is, even though the nominees have a party affiliation, that affiliation isn’t listed on the ballot.  As a result, in general, only about 50–60% of voters even bother to vote for a Michigan supreme court justice.  When they do, they overwhelmingly pick the incumbent (who have “Justice of Supreme Court” listed under their names on the ballot—generally, the rational voters have is “Well, I can’t think of anything terrible the supreme court did this year, so whoever is on it must be doing a good job.”)

My point is two-fold: 1) It is a small number of well-informed voters, coupled with a bunch of people who just like ticking boxes, who elect our supreme court justices and 2) once you’re on, it’s easy to stay on.

Why am I asking you to vote for Sam?

  1. He’s a solid dude.  I know him a little bit, personally, and know his wife and kids much better (we’re active in the same congregation). Sam isn’t in anyone’s pocket. He is smart and fair and works his ass off.
  2. He’s a civil rights dray horse. He was a top official in DoJ’s Civil Rights Division under Obama.  In the last couple years Sam has argued and won important victories for pregnant workers and disabled children before the Supreme Court of the United States.  He’s fighting for the people of Flint to hold the state accountable for their poisoned city water.

Why am I asking you to “plunk” for Sam?

You can vote for up to two supreme court justices.  You could vote for both Sam and the other Dem nominee, Megan Cavanagh—with your rationale being that this brings us closer to getting at least one progressive justice on the court.  But this is the midwest, and “Democrat” is not a reliable proxy for “progressive.” Megan Cavanagh has actually spent her career restricting civil rights, representing municipalities, police, and businesses against the sorts of clients that Sam has stuck up for.  (FUN FACT: One time Cavanagh argued before the Michigan supreme court, representing an oil company that accidentally dumped 396 gallons of fuel oil into a woman’s basement, destroying her home.)

So, on the one hand, you have Cavanagh who worked to get an oil company out of paying $100,000 in damages to a woman whose home they destroyed. On the other, you have Sam representing the people of Flint after they suffered heavy metals poisoning at the hands of incompetent city admins.

If you plunk for Sam (voting for him and only him), you essentially double the value of your vote.  This is important because, if trends persist (and there’s no reason they wouldn’t), the incumbents are going to devour the vast majority of the votes.  Effectively, only one supreme court seat is open (if even). Voting for both Sam and Cavanagh is essentially saying that you figure it’s a coin-toss between the two, as to which will better bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice.

That simply isn’t true in this case.  Sam is your justice. Please plunk for Sam.  Please spread the word.

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Thank You, Toledo!

Had a blast at the Toledo Mini Maker Faire this past weekend; met tons of great folks—many of whom will be swinging by this space looking for the following links:

Thanks! Don’t stop the rocking, Toledo!

There is Such a Pure Joy of Expression in Richie Jackson’s Skating

You don’t have to love—or like, or even give shit one—about skating to enjoy watching Richie Jackson skate.  You don’t need to know a lexicon of jargon to appreciate it, because most of what he does has no formal name, since it’s arisen from the immediate conditions and his feelings about them.

I guess I maybe dig Richie Jackson so much because he’s kept skateboarding—a thing that, since I was a kid, has been transformed into a sport and a career—as an expressive art form.

“I for sure had a vision, but how close to it I’ve gotten, I don’t know [because] I’ve dissolved it by making it a reality, and it’s different. [laughs] The original vision has ceased to be.  I’ve replaced it with a bunch of pixels.”

Amen, brother. Amen.

Continue reading “There is Such a Pure Joy of Expression in Richie Jackson’s Skating”

On Newstands Now: The Sept/Oct ASIMOV’S with “In the Sharing Place”

The annual “spooky” issue of ASIMOV’S Science Fiction (Sept/Oct 2918) has hit newstands, and includes my apocalyptic sf/horror story “In the Sharing Place.” Enjoy!

 

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Maybe it makes me sort of a tool, but this cracks me the hell up…

The #GoogleTranslatesMTG hashtag is basically the only thing on Twitter that hasn’t made me wanna cry in, I dunno, months.

"Talk about something else."
“Talk about something else.”

Shit like this is why I always roll deep in Black, folks:

"Solving a psychological problem is very difficult."
“Solving a psychological problem is very difficult.”

(Legit, though: Tormented Soul is a fun card, in my humble—but I just love the idea that it’s the crow saying “Great features!”  It’s all, like, “Cheer up, bro! You can’t block, but you’re unblockable, and getting nicked for an extra life every round annoys the crap out of Dave-o’s kid!”)

Five Writing Exercises for @ben_brainerd (and Anyone Else Looking for a Prompt) #writing

Hey Ben (and the rest of the world),

Sorry this took so long to put together.  Life happened.  Here goes:

  1. “There is a corpse in the barn!!!”  X finds a corpse in the barn. S/he needs to go tell Y about this, but doesn’t want Z (who is in the same room) to grok the situation.  (Back when I used to teach high school, we’d frame this exercise like so: “You have found a corpse in the barn; alert your sister to this fact.  You may not use the words ‘body,’ ‘dead,’ ‘corpse,’ or ‘barn.’  Go!”)  Who are X, Y, and Z to each other?  Why must X inform Y of this situation?  Why doesn’t X (or Y or both) want Z to know?  What happens if (when?) Z figures it out?
  2. Eschew the Voodoo  We all have voodoo around our creative processes: We only work in Scrivener or with this font in Word or using that pen or writing in a Moleskine or before 8am or whatever.  For your next project eschew your usually voodoo and replace it with a totally foreign “habit.”  Write the story entirely on 3×5 cards, or in the “Stickies” app on your computer, or in emails sent to yourself from your phone, or on a piece of crap 99-cent notebook from the drug store or in Comic Sans or only working before getting out of bed or after brushing your teeth for the night or whatever.  Feel how changing tools changes the feel of writing and the piece itself–but also see how little difference it can make, how your good work is still good scrawled on a Post-It note stuck to your kitchen table, and how lazy hackwork is still just that, even when you’ve used your favorite pen in the prettiest journal anyone ever gave you for Xmas.
  3. Write in Freddish: Write your next story in a style that is a. highly constrained and b. very different from your “default” voice—for example, borrow the voice of an autoclave installation manual, or a EMT handbook, or extremely constrained vocabulary (see, for example, any early-reader children’s book, of Randall Munroe’s Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words Hardcover). My absolute favorite recent fiction application of this technique has to be Greg van Eekhout’s “Will You Be an Astronaut?  That story fucking crushes my heart every time.
  4. Rewrite What Vexes You:  Take some story that recently annoyed you by not living up to your expectations and rewrite it the right way. (I just found myself doing this the other day via text message with my Mom and sister after we all separately saw, and were annoyed by, Solo—a film that I desperately wanted to love, but could not; it has some good gags, but a thin plot that is massively overburdened by something-for-everyone, “fan service,” and box ticking.  Something that’s for everyone is for no one, and box ticking us inherently boring.  Most annoyingly: You can actually make Solo into a really good movie purely through cuts; it’s a good, lean story buried in flab.)
  5. Write to the Formula:  I usually use the 45/45/10 Formula as a tool for revising—I have something roughed out and now it’s time to make it run smooth—but you can use it to build a story from scratch.  Outline it in three sections (I. is the Setup, II. is the Tangle, and III. is the Resolution).  Flesh out each section, noting that I. and II. need to have about equal amounts of material, while section III. has only about a quarter as much stuff.  Draft from there.

Continue reading “Five Writing Exercises for @ben_brainerd (and Anyone Else Looking for a Prompt) #writing”

Rewrite What Annoys You

It is very common for artists to spend a lot of time annoyed: You love a thing so much that you want to create more of that thing, and thus invest a lot of energy in honing skills at creating that thing.  Meanwhile, since you love the thing, you keep seeking the thing out. As your skills improve—and noting the immutability of Sturgeon’s Law—you’re bound to come across plenty of examples of imperfect executions of that thing you live.  Profound, near-constant annoyance is the natural consequence of this.

You can do two things with that annoyance:

  1. You can kvetch about it (e.g., preaching to your choir on social media)
  2. You can rewrite it the way you would have written it (i.e., the Right Way, Dammit!)

PRO-TIP: Almost every working artist I’ve asked about this has landed squarely in Group #2.

Consider this SNL skit—which comes very, very close to being The Best Twilight Zone Episode Never Written:

This piece could be great, but it falls flat and is unsatisfying. Why? What went wrong?

The problem is in the Resolution (that’s the final 10% of the piece — for an overview of my 45/45/10 Formula for narrative, check out this blog post or this one). In any piece the Setup creates series of “open loops“ that need to be closed in the Resolution in order for the piece to feel satisfied. The open loops here include social isolation (which is introduced by Danny almost from go, and keyed to his goofy dream of singing his “I wish” songs with friends), a Twilight Zone leitmotif (evoked by the musical cues, camera work, and acting style, especially with He-Man and Lion-o), and also elements of sexual frustration.  This last item is lightly implied by mother’s nap, but really explicitly introduced by He-Man—and this is crucial—at around the 2min10sec mark, when he punches through a wall out of sexual frustration.  The 2:10 mark puts this bit of stage business at about 45% of the way through the piece, where it naturally transitions from the Setup to the Tangle (no clue what these terms mean?  Check the bulleted 45/45/10 Formula overview here).  Given both the timing in the narrative and the drama of having a character punch through wall out of sexual frustration, you’re making this issue seem really, really important.

And then you introduced She-Ra—already a sorta-kinda sexually charged nostalgia callback—being played by Arianna Grande.

So, to recap, here are the unresolved open loops:

  1. Social Isolation
  2. Singing/Music
  3. Sexual Frustration

And we’ve just brought Arianna Grande onstage: a very gregarious and sexually attractive young woman with a stunning singing voice.  The audience is gonna have certain sorta obvious expectations of the basic outline of how these loops should be Resolved.

So let’s look at the Resolution:  Sexual frustration is sorta addressed (but not for the primary character, just for side-characters mom, Lion-o, and He-Man). But, social isolation and the Twilight Zone aesthetic go entirely unaddressed. Watch that final scene again: It seems almost like the actor is expressing his frustration at the skit more than Danny is expressing his frustration at the fictional situation.

As an audience member, I’m kinda let down.  As a writer, I’m almost fatally annoyed because they were so close to knocking this out of the damned park!

How would I fix it? It’s so simple: First, keep the Setup unchanged (that’s the first two minutes or so).  It’s a fine Setup, really. In the Tangle (that’s the next two-ish minutes), I would keep almost everything the same as well, but would strike the birthday hug gag between Danny and She-ra. (Don’t worry; we are still going to use this gag, just later, to close the skit.)

Let’s run through what we’ve got now: Same Setup (with Twilight Zone look-n-feel and Danny’s social isolation). We introduce sexual frustration. He-Man busts through the wall after Sister. He brings back She-ra. The three toys-come-alive all start trashing the joint. Mom comes in, chemistry sparks with her and the hunks. Those three leave for the hot tub. Now Danny asks She-ra for his birthday hug. We keep She-ra’s reply as written—she doesn’t like hugs; she likes to smash!—and Danny announces: “Well, I like singing songs with my friends—even if that means singing by myself!” Unashamed, he begins belting out his “I wish” song. She-ra (who, you’ll recall, is being played by a goddamned operatic pop star) is taken by Danny’s heartfelt song; she’s a warrior princess, and has never before heard the beauty of song. She begins to sing along with him—and then returns to smashing, never flagging in her song. Danny, thrilled to have a friend, keeps singing and he starts smashing the joint up, too.

The camera pulls back, swivels, and reveals a black-&-white Rod Serling impersonator (everything else is still in color). Cue Twilight Zone bongos.  Rod Serling looks dead into the camera, puffs cigarette, and delivers a Twilight Zone-style summary outro:

“A lonely young boy.  A savage warrior princess.  An unlikely birthday wish—and an unlikely duet that could only happen … in mom’s hot tub”—Serling stomps out his cigarette and races out the door to join the hot tub orgy.

Boom.  That’s the skit this skit clearly wants to be.

These Aren’t Concentration Camps (Yet)—But That Doesn’t Mean They’re Good

I strongly urge you to watch this video:

and read this article (“Inside the Former Walmart That Is Now a Shelter for Almost 1,500 Migrant Children” ) all the way through, then call your reps.

My point here: This is not a “concentration camp” by any modern conventional standard (in that “concentration camp” connotes harsh conditions, overcrowding, and general neglect if not outright abuse). Here’s a New York Times description at what they saw at this specific migrant internment center:

Most of the boys are from Central America. Many of them smiled, waved at or shook the hands of the reporters touring the site. They were asked by the reporters and Southwest Key executives, in Spanish, “How are you?”

The constant reply was “Bien, bien,” meaning “OK, OK.” The media was not allowed to interview the children.

Some were leaning back, getting a shampoo at the sinks in the shelter’s barbershop, where a striped lit-up barber’s pole spun outside the door. They lined up in the cafeteria for dinner — chicken, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables. Some played pool, or joined a tai chi session in the rec room. One teenager sat at a cafeteria table with his head bowed and hands clasped, praying silently. Another told the cafeteria worker who served him dinner, “Gracias, Miss.”

Everywhere, some of the shelter’s more than 1,000 employees hovered nearby — they sat at the ends of the cafeteria tables while the boys ate dinner, watched “Moana” with the children in the old loading docks and escorted lines of boys in the hallways.

The vast majority, Southwest Key officials said, crossed the border unaccompanied.

That said, these certainly fit within the broad dictionary denotation of “concentration camp”—in that they are “a camp where persons (such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, or refugees) are detained or confined”.  (And we have no idea if other such centers are better, worse, or about the same).

Still, calling these “concentration camps” runs the risk of continuing to erode the general American understanding of the heinous magnitude of suffering endured by  the Jews and others interned and enslaved by the Third Reich, or the Americans of Japanese descent imprisoned by the U.S. government, or the countless others who have been confined, reeducated, absorbed, and exterminated by the smooth-grinding wheels of governments.

On top of that, calling these “concentration camps” is a disservice to progress and to these specific children.

That said, saying that “these aren’t concentration camps” is in no way meant to suggest that what’s happening here is good; it’s getting overcrowded, it’s unsustainable, they’re starting to set up tent villages (in Texas, in the summer—lack of rigid shelter and HVAC is a huge drop in livability outside El Paso). This is precariously close to starting the inevitable slide into what we all would recognize as concentration camps.

But, goddamit, right now we are very close to doing the Right Thing here: Most of these kids are showing up at the border without parents or guardians; it is right and good to shelter them, feed them, protect them, show them Moana. That’s what a country dedicated to the huddled masses yearning to be free should be doing.  With proper action, there is an opportunity here for these centers to level up to being well-run refugee centers.

We should call our reps, and say as much: I want unaccompanied minors to be sheltered and fed.  I want those who’ve been abused, or whose home places have been made unlivable by gangs or failed governments, to have access to asylum.  Kids who have braved the elements and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, they’ve got True Grit; I want to know how they can become my neighbors and fellow citizens.🇺🇸