Hi, pandemic survivors. I’ve been gone from this blog and author website for so long, when I sat down at my computer to write this update, I couldn’t remember the name of the website.
It’s my own name.
I was going to write the next installation in Corporate Torsos-related non-fiction blog content, but then I thought maybe I ought to update you on personal matters. I see other authors doing that with their newsletters and I admire them for keeping it real.
I was out of the country for about a month from mid-January into February. When I got back, I hosted an awesome leap year extravaganza as practice for my upcoming book launch extravaganza. We went to hibachi, we came back to my place for a dessert house party, we went indoor skydiving. It was fantastic. Best leap year ever.
While I was gone from home, I got evicted. I tried to find a new place to live while I was away, but nothing worked out. I had my eye on an emu sanctuary Air BnB to stopgap when I accidentally leased an apartment through an automated application portal. So I moved into that accident.
Then the plague hit. I traded blogging for journaling so I could contribute to the written record of pandemic life.
Here’s a cross-section of entries:
- Slept 12 hours
- Virtual drawing competition w/Emily: rainbow, tree + unicorn, tomato, heart
- Play Boggle
- Work on puzzle
- Zoom kickboxing class, give up halfway through and work on puzzle
- Climb on kitchen island to see what that’s like
- Break kitchen island
- Go out to car to get tirejack and jack up kitchen island
- Make horrific Frankenstein mug brownie that fizzes in mouth for unknown reason
- Read restaurant menu for 45 minutes
- Put dishes away
- Scream into pillow
Anyway, things are pretty good here. I’m on track with my final edits, and I’m going to start sending advance copies next week (let me know if you wanna be my beta reader!); we’re less than two months away from publication date. Releasing an apocalypse-themed novel in the middle of an apocalypse-themed time is just about the worst thing a writer can do for sales, but then, I should have thought about that 24 years ago when I started this novel.
When I tell people I’m working on a cli-fi novel, I’d say about 80% (alert: made-up statistic based on anecdotal and half-remembered evidence) ask, what’s cli-fi?
I used to get excited about this lack of awareness around cli-fi as a genre, because I thought I’d invented something. But ever since sci-fi (and the more recent Psi-Fi, which we’ll get to in a bit) and probably even before that concept was phrase-captured, there was an apocalyptic climate element involved. Why? Because that’s the worst thing that could happen to us, and humans are great at imagining the worst. Creating the high-tech, fantastic part? That’s more work.
As usual, I had not invented anything (yet…I’m not done trying, there’s still time!). I had Columbused a thing that already existed.
Also as usual, Jules Verne appears to have started it, with the first science fiction novel about climate change due to axis tilt.
Side note: I’ve never read any Jules Verne, but the book I’m referencing here has an amazing plot and it sounds like something I already wrote, I swear I did not plagiarize him, we just think alike. It also has a fantastic calculation error plot twist reminiscent of the Mars Climate Orbiter debacle of 1999.
Anyway, let me get back to my original point, that the catastrophe part, the cli-fi, is really, really easy to imagine, but the fantastic, inventive part, e.g., is tough. Or, it was tough for 24-years-ago me. Since then, life moved on, and actual inventors created the technology I was straining to imagine when I started this novel in 1996.
Which brings me to Psi-Fi. Later renamed Iris, it’s a program (now an app) that enhances music based on an algorithm to recreate the sounds and effects of live music. It may also improve mental health? We’ll see!
Unlike Psi-Fi/Iris, all the tech in my book, including the ubiquitous headset, is harmful to humans and their brains. What a bummer! I’ll never be a tech innovator (or get shot into space, my real goal) if I don’t step up my game like the ‘hippie inventor‘ and ‘royal-adjacent entrepreneur‘ who made Psi-Fi.*
Even though I didn’t invent cli-fi or psi-fi, still pretty excited to follow up on both. Next time I’ll work on tech positivity. Just kidding! My next novel is an international biomedical espionage thriller. But maybe the one after.
*Phrases quoted from the article by Jonathan Margolis in 17 Feb 2020 print ed. Financial Times [+online link]
I walked into the Petra Museum gift shop to pick up a few postcards, in case I was too tired after my visit to make those kinds of decisions.
“How are you?” the shopkeep said.
“Great,” I said. “How are you?”
“Glad to hear it.”
“What’s your name?”
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Nope. Totally serious. That’s my name.”
“I had a horse named Jessica! Old horse. An Arabian. Jessica!”
“It’s a pretty good name,” I said.
“She was the best!”
“We’re hard workers,” I said. “Jessicas. The horses and the people.”
The name Jessica was invented by Shakespeare. As an author, I’d also like to invent a name that becomes curiously popular for no obvious reason 500 years in the future too.
I’ll let you know if I ever come up with something.
Names are important. I wish I could remember when or how I came up with the title of my first and upcoming debut novel, Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply. Did it drive the plot or did I already have all those ideas? I’ve been working on it and thinking about it for so long I can’t remember. I do know it wasn’t intentional that the acronym CTNNA is also a gene, but when I found out I incorporated it into the book.
You never know what drawing the parallels is going to get you, if anything, but sometimes if you share the name of a guy’s horse, it brightens both your days.
After a few hours of walking and a couple of coffee stops in Petra, I got to the top, The Monastery. I’d gotten a tip that you should walk past for about ten minutes, where there was an impressive view. So I started. Rains came. A wind kicked up. I was running late in getting back to my ride. Should I carry on?
Then I saw a sign that said, “End of the World Coffee Shop” next to another sign that read, “BEST VIEWS.”
I couldn’t say no to that kind of advertising. I continued on, through the wind and the rain, to find this coffee shop at the end of the world.
“I’m going to die out here,” I thought.
I didn’t die out there. I made it. But there was no coffee to be found.
Deep down inside, I still applauded the concept. The marketing. The name.
When you’re trying to finish up the edit on your near-future cli-fi corporate conspiracy action-adventure comedy that you’ve been working on for 24 years, it gets you thinking about all the things you thought would be around by 2020, but aren’t.
The Jordan Times read my mind today (that technology probably exists) and re-published a USA Today summary of 20 Predictions for 2020.
It’s interesting to see what people got right and wrong, regardless of the amount of time between their prediction and 2020.
1. Life expectancy will rise to over 100.
Nope, Ray Kurzweil, in 1999, it didn’t.
Or how about:
3. Books will be dead.
Suck on it, Ray Kurzweil! They’re still around, 675 million of them in 2018 [according to that same article].
Apparently, in 1968, Stanford University professor Charles Scarlott thought we were going to replace natural gas with nuclear.
And, also in 1968, Ithiel de Sola Pool of MIT thought nationalism would wane.
Wrong and so wrong!
Lot of expectations on 2020. In the 1990s I didn’t think books would be dead by 2020, and I thought I would have published some of them. I was wrong so far, but I still have the whole rest of the year to be right.
PS: I’m throwing a launch party for my self-publishing endeavor, actual launch included, so send me a note if you want to join…it’s part of my 2020 Leap Year Extravaganza!
…and other dumb rules. That’s what this blog post is about.
Those of you who know me (and let’s face it, that’s basically all of you. If you read this blog, you’re a personal friend) know that I go to great lengths to procrastinate writing. This year I picked a doozy: running a marathon.
I went out, a few months ahead of time, I bought a new pair of shoes with a new pair of insoles. I strapped all that on. I got out on the street, ran four miles, immediately contracted plantar fasciitis (again) and a mystery knee pain (well, either a mystery or an ongoing part of the 1999 Juarez cave bar incident).
And after that, I never really trained for the marathon.
There are a lot of rules in life. One of them is, don’t try to run a marathon you didn’t train for. Another is, don’t end a sentence with a preposition, like for. One of these rules is kinda dumb. The other is smart and great advice.
Guess which is which?
Anyway, I went to Honolulu and I did the marathon. I wouldn’t say I ran it. Maybe the first third. The second third, I trudged. And in the third third, I bargained with a higher power, hallucinated a bit, and tried to figure out if I was dying.
This was a stupid ploy to get out of finishing my novels.
This year I’m doing a triathlon.
And I’m publishing two novels.
Do people read your work differently if they think you know what you’re doing?
Yes. Here’s my proof.
I entered the first 30 pages of Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply into a contest where the work was scored by a panel of agents.
There were two categories: apprentice and master.
I entered both. I wanted the most feedback possible back then, in those early days, only 20 years into this project.
What happened next was a surprise.
I scored noticeably hire in the master category, across the panel, than I did in the apprentice category.
Now, it wasn’t the same panel of judges, so you could chalk it up to personal preference.
But all the scores were hire, which led me to believe personal preference wasn’t at work. Most people feel differently about a work of art if you think the artist is a tried and true professional versus a beginner, right?
Except for that piece of art in the Hirshhorn that looks like a blank canvas. Everybody hates that. Still sold for $20 million though. I hope my book sells for that much. If it does, I’m gonna buy a coffee farm and grow the most amazing coffee this world has ever known, which is my true purpose in life.
I guess the other question here is, what was I? Was I an apprentice or a master? I’d not yet been published for money, had won some writing awards a long time ago, nothing for full-length novels. I had been already been working on that novel for decades, and consistently tried to learn how. But if you don’t have multiple novels, you’re not a master: that’s the prevailing view.
The point they make in the link above is that modern art can be more about the concept than it is about the skill. (…but come on, blank-looking canvas, $20 million?! Why? No!) Maybe if you read my book as a concept…?
I would say there isn’t room for that anymore, there’s no 2019 Naked Lunch.
No 2019 A Void.
No 2019 Infinite Jest.
Oh, but what about this 1,000 page book made of only a sentence?
The bottom line is that it’s better to be viewed as a master than an apprentice because you get away with more. But it’s better to actually be the apprentice, because you try more. Can you retain an apprentice mind and earn master money?
I would like to write a concept book, like that one about the house that’s getting bigger and the book gets bigger and it totally messes with you. But unlike concept art, I don’t know where concept books are at right now. Oh, who cares? I’m gonna do it anyway.
Okay, I convinced myself. Concept book it is. Like, a book with built-in smells? How about that? Maybe not. I’ll start crowdsourcing ideas.
“Every human being is wired differently. In our behaviors, sure, we’re all regressing to the mean. But in our heads, we’re living life on the fringe.”
Alice’s camel screamed out a belch. It smelled like rotting grass from two years ago.
“And it’s getting fringier all the time,” Bob said. He kicked at the sand.
“Son, if you think variation among human thought is a problem, you are the problem.”Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply
Are sloths an appropriate mascot for this novel because it took me 24 years to finish it? You betcha.
Did I write the only near-future cli-fi conspiracy action-adventure comedy to incorporate sloths as a major plot point? Maybe.
All the senators were in the boardroom, seated except for Massachusetts. He’d won a sloth in an exotic animal gambling event last week and carried it around everywhere like a baby, despite several accidents with its claws.
Either it smelled or he did.
Hell, could have been one of the others. Bob’s stomach turned over. He took a seat next to Sam.
“Hey, Bob. I think that thing’s taking a crap. It’s not sanitary.”
“Who is this guy? Do you know? Am I being replaced?”
“A really slow crap.”
Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply
Nobody in this cabal had any focus.
Sloth love has seized everybody.
I took a bunch of naps today and pinned it on their holiday.
In this fast-paced, driven time period, we can all get behind something that’s so slow, it’s rotting a little bit. Just like me and this novel.
Happy international sloth day, sloths!
I’m taking a Facebook ads class and the cardinal rule our instructor is trying to get across is people hate being sold to. You have to add value to their lives with your product, even if that product is an ad. Especially if that product is an ad.
And yet, for some reason I can’t stop writing clickbait. Why?
Anyway, I found a list of ideas for stories I had when I was in a Gotham Writers Workshop the last time I lived in New York City.
Here it is.
- Ex-cons working on a chile pepper farm
- Opening a branch of the FDA in Afghanistan
- A love story between a businessman and a cheetah
- A microwave salesman discovers his husband’s affair with an oven salesman
- Heist at a pot-growing commune
- Inside job serial killing at a prep school
- The great artist destroys all his art and becomes an economist
- The prisoner in solitary confinement attacks his handler
- A coming of age story about a lobster
- A pediatric nurse fights cancer with a magic bakery
I wish I’d already implemented all of these ideas, but I’m happy to say two of these are already under way.
My last publishing heyday, I’m sad to say, was 15 years ago. I was in a flurry of writing and submitting work. I got a short piece of fiction in the University of New Mexico literary journal, Scribendi, won their staff choice award, was invited to come speak at the opening…and never enjoyed the same level of success in writing for the next 15 years.
Until now! Next year’s gonna be big for my writing output. In advance of my upcoming novels, Corporate Torsos Need Not Apply (coming June 2020) and Love in the Time of the Improvised Explosive Device (coming December 2020), I republished my favorite old story, Vegetables.
Social proof is the currency of online transactions, so write me a review when you get a chance. Then I don’t have to hire a clickfarm.
Check Vegetables out here at Smashwords and reminisce about what our lives were like in 2004.
It was another beautiful night in Kabul. I was on the terrace, watching the bats flit around a neighboring floodlight and thinking over a few things. Earlier in the evening, in a kind and thoughtful gesture from the government of Afghanistan, a Colonel with the National Directorate of Security (NDS) stopped by and informed me they had received intelligence that I was the target of a kidnapping plot. Unfortunately I wasn’t noteworthy enough to be a political kidnapping; this one was going to be for financial purposes. These would-be kidnappers obviously hadn’t seen my 2009 income tax returns.
A kidnapping would be a big fiasco for me personally. Maybe if it had happened earlier in my stay, I would have had the energy for that sort of thing, but I had been living and working in Kabul for months already. I was tired and frayed around the edges. Besides, I had led the majority of my loved ones to believe I was in India and it seemed hurtful for them to learn the truth from a Yahoo! news brief.
What to do? Well, Kabul Conference was coming up, which meant lockdown was at hand in a few days and movement around the city would become nearly impossible. The Colonel from NDS had suggested I disappear for a week, possibly take up residence in another hotel such as the Serena or the InterContinental. Both seemed unlikely options, as they were not within the budget of a civil servant such as yours truly and would soon be loaded with guests who were political kidnapping worthy. Besides, I already knew the risks at my current site: it was haunted by freaky ghosts and people were trying to kidnap me. Who knew what I would face at the new location?
My visa expiration was rapidly approaching anyway, and my departure from Afghanistan was imminent—less than a week away. Although I was going to miss my Central Asian home, it was time for a vacation.
I never thought I would be the kind of person who was intimidated by or jumped at loud noises, but propane accomplished its mission of fully scaring the hell out of me when it somehow ignited and exploded in the shower this morning. Luckily I was practicing the wasteful western habit of letting the water run for no good reason while I accomplished other tasks at the time. I made an executive decision to stop trying to take hot showers, as they get tepid at best anyway, it’s July, and the rise in temperature isn’t worth the accompanying skin graft.
G: How are you?
J: Good. Just got back from a UNDP meeting. I am like not entirely excited about going places in a car marked with UN in big letters on the side of it since that one got attacked.
G: Yeah, don’t go high profile. Keep it low.
J: There’s no way, they put a gigantic UN on all the vehicles. A car was attacked last week, the driver was shot. I don’t know the details. Maybe a gambling debt. But they always blame the T.
G: We’re always using soft shell local vehicles with local drivers. That’s a lot safer than a big hard shell with idiots.
J: Yeah, if we rode around in taxis with cracked windshields and no AC I guarantee there would be no attack. People would realize we had suffered enough.
G: That’s right.
J: They would probably offer us some funding from their kidnapping money so we could be more comfortable.
My car pool had determined that as a native English speaker, I was obligated to teach them two new words a day. The program seemed to be going well.
On Wednesday the driver pointed at the windshield.
“Windshield,” I said.
It came out the next day that this had been a misunderstanding. The driver had actually been pointing through the windshield at a horse and cart.
I explained the options for animal-pulled transportation and their various conditional uses: cart, carriage, buggy. The lesson was satisfactory and met with some approval. Later on in the day the lesson became more relevant when Kenta needed to change money on the way home, and a donkey-pulled cart collided with our vehicle as we were stopped on the side of the road.
“I never should have asked to stop for my personal reasons.” Kenta shook his head regretfully.
“At least the English lesson will be useful,” I said.
That afternoon I stopped by a French development organization that had offered me a job.
Me: As headquarters explained it to me, they can’t hire me until this other key position has been filled, or it’s like putting the cart before the horse.
Them 1: Right, except in this case, we don’t even have a horse.
Them 2: There is no horse.
Things haven’t been the same around home since My Friend left, a key staff member at my hotel. He was a vital component to interests near and dear to my heart, like breakfast. I don’t really know what My Friend’s real name is. There was a Japanese woman around for a few days who has been coming to Afghanistan since 1996, and one time she called him Hussaini, but I never heard him introduce himself as anything other than My Friend.
At first, none of us took My Friend’s alleged departure to the south seriously. “He’s been saying that for two years,” Abdullah said. Still, I threatened to hobble him, and Ged and I discussed some sort of captivity plan. Eventually My Friend escaped anyway. As a former teacher, he had to fulfill several more contracts before he could receive his pension. They sent him to Kandahar along with ten other teachers, perhaps Helmand and Uruzgan to come. I haven’t really been able to secure a breakfast since, and the days of two cups of coffee in the morning are long gone.
Above: My Friend gleefully shows us his plane ticket, as we all voice our disapproval. “I’ll take a picture in case you get kidnapped,” I offer. “Okay,” My Friend says. “Thank you.”
A pond of fecal waste material, complete with decorative fountains, outside a military installation in Kandahar.
Photo complements of Paul Junior, reporting from Kandahar.
The concrete wall I usually face when I walk outside was totally missing this morning. It was visually shocking, but I knew its disappearance was coming. The cranes had been working on it all night, removing the cement barriers that ran the length of the road, the same that hid virtually all the buildings in Kabul for security purposes.
Mustafa came into our sitting area when they first started to remove the wall yesterday afternoon. He said Karzai signed a deal with the Taliban and both sides were making concessions: no more suicide bombings, no more barriers. The old foreigners I live with all grumbled something like: “…grumble grumble….until the next suicide bombing….grumble grumble….,” but I celebrated the peace agreement, because even fifteen minutes of peace agreement seemed better than no peace agreement, and I was looking forward to seeing what some of these buildings looked like after all.
I searched for some news on it later in the day, but there was nothing, and like most things here in Afghanistan, I had absolutely no idea if it was true or not.
“I was at a meeting with an NGO and I asked ‘Is the assistance going to the poorest?’ and no one answered.”
-Resident of Kabul
At home, I was still trying to rack up support for the filming of a new movie about the hotel. I needed a host for the segment. I thought about it every day when I went out onto the roof. I was smoking up to a pack a day, sometimes more, cleverly edging the dust out of my lungs with smoke, which was especially useful lately, as the dust had been swirling around us at an even more frenzied clip. I was watching some birds build a nest in the bathroom window down by my portion of the fourth floor. Between that and the ledge outside my bedroom, these pigeons had me surrounded with their habitat. My living space echoed with a persistent cooing at certain times of day.
In the old days, the Soviets used the building to hold, interrogate and torture potential enemies. Now it was my hotel. It was so goddamned haunted. A hotel employee had once seen an apparition so terrifying, he fired his gun at it and then fled the hotel, never to return. Although I had heard some impressive stories, I hadn’t seen much of anything too frightening, but then again, I was often too exhausted to humor any dead people in my down time. I was sleeping through everything: gunfire and explosions, pigeons, ghostly torture victims. The foreigners at work told me that as foreigners, we have a stamina expiration date of about 3 months in Afghanistan, and if you don’t take a vacation after that amount of time you usually wind up sick or crazy, or both. So I was pushing the envelope, but I wasn’t exhausted enough to sleep through the seismic tremors a few mornings ago, although I didn’t immediately identify them as earthquake material, instead pinning the shaking walls on my new, possibly frisky neighbors or their many lively children.
The Rhodesian gunsmith and I were sitting around, watching some lousy movie on cable as usual. He was naming all the different kinds of guns as they appeared in the movie and commenting on their comparative advantages.
The Danish botanist was depressed, lying on the couch. I knew he was depressed because a little bit earlier I had pointed in his direction and shouted,
“Look at him! He’s depressed!”
“I am,” he had confirmed. “Every day I think I’m going to get my visa extended.”
He was facing disappointment on a daily basis, reminiscent of the woes that had initially surrounded Paul Senior’s visa extension application, slowly torn in half before his very eyes at the Ministry of the Interior. The botanist was aiming for not only a visa extension but also some permits to extract vegetation from Afghanistan that he found relevant to his botanical research in some way. It all seemed highly unlikely to me given the track record of other foreigners I had witnessed before him but I was keeping my potentially negative mouth shut due to his already-descending depression. He was the third Danish expedition dispatched to the Wakhan Corridor. I think he said the last one was deployed about a hundred years ago.
But so far he was trapped in Kabul due to these aforementioned visa concerns, as were many others (c.r. the Swiss motorcyclist, until his eye had gotten so infected he had to go home because he was becoming a medical emergency and just the sight of him was starting to get a little bit sickening).
The next day, at the office, I went to print something, but when I tried to retrieve it, the printer was missing. I saw it later on, sitting in a wheelbarrow outside Building A.