Why we write

This week, there was a quite a bit of family drama.  Needless to say, my 15 year old daughter is, in her own words, “super-grounded.”  I took her phone away from her.  Life has been hell for her ever since.  Cue the rolling eyes on my part.

Anyway, she has been at a loss as far as what can occupy her time, aside from continually scrolling up or down on her meme sites.  The last few nights, as she was climbing the walls, I calmly suggested she do what people actually still do that don’t have an electronics addiction: read a damn book.

This achieved a lot of push back unfortunately.  She informed me that while I was at work on Friday, she already looked through my bookshelves and could find NOTHING to read!  This is highly doubtful, but I did get together with her and start looking through books for her to read.  And unfortunately, I think she might have been a little bit right.

It’s a problem I find myself having a lot lately too.  So many books on my shelf were either “important” literary works, a book in a lengthy series, or books that are frankly just not fun to read.  Then I came across two series of books I loved when I was her age.  The Guardians of the Flame series by Joel Rosenberg, which begins with “The Sleeping Dragon” and the extra light and fluffy series “Castle Perilous” which begins with “Castle Perilous” by John DeChancie.

The first series is one which got in early on the trope of role-playing gamers are sucked into the world they are gaming in.  All sorts of stuff hits the fan.  Out of the many books and stories of this kind, I think Rosenberg did it best.  Especially with his character of the eternal smartass, Walter Slovatsky.

The second series is about the Castle Perilous, a nexus between worlds which houses 144,000 doorways into infinite worlds.  The guests of the castle each are imbued with magical Talents.  Anything from conjuring to being good at swordfighting, to teleportation.  It has been at leasty 25 years since I read any of these books, but the one thing I do remember is just how much FUN they were.

You don’t see that a lot anymore.  I could read a Castle Perilous book in a day or two, tops.  The story began and ended.  I laughed.  I was enthralled.  I bought the next book when it came out.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  The books weren’t graphic bloodbaths or sex-fueled exploitation series.  There were no lengthy descriptions of chicken dinners and heraldry.  The characters were not the most dynamic, but they were fun and relatable.  They made me look forward to reading the next one.  They didn’t talk down to their audience either.  They weren’t marketed as YA or anything either, but as a kid, they were highly accessible.  As an adult, my mom, an avid reader, got a kick out of them.  They were the equivalent of a night in, a day home, or a long drive.  Clocking in at under 200 pages each, the books were a quick and satisfying read.

That was before people stopped reading for fun, I guess.  The years when people swarmed the bookstores for St. Oprah’s newest endorsement or when literary profs told us to avoid reading trash, or when trash was marketed in $16 trade paperbacks (I’m looking at you, “The Girl on the Train.”)

Anyway, my daughter, who hates everything, actually liked the book.  For the first couple chapters at least.  Her attention was captured by golfing velociraptors and a 30 something man with a PhD. in Liberal Arts who wasn’t good at pretty much anything as a protag.

Talking about these books helped remind me why I got into writing in the first place.  To tell a fun story.  Escapism.  Adventure.  The implausible right there on the page, actually unfolding before my eyes.  Nothing super important.  Nothing deep and provocative.  And no, not even something HBO would buy (along with my soul) for a million dollars.

I had forgotten books like this existed.

Maybe it’s time people start making reading fun again.  Whenever I read, I know it is going to be an investment of time I usually don’t have.  Normally I get frustrated that a book starts to tank after the first few chapters.  After all, they got the attention of an editor, and the publisher got my $20 investment in a story.  There isn’t a lot of loyalty past that these days.

I think an author makes a contract with a reader when they tell a story, to always be interesting.  So few books these days, in my opinion, honor that agreement anymore.  And the ones that do already have TV shows or movies in the works for them.  I have become cynical in my old age I guess.  Reading is no longer a pleasure.  It’s a chore.

I hope something can prove me wrong about that one of these days.

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The 10th Annual 1940s Ball

The first thing that hits you when you walk onto the Boulder airfield is how well everyone is dressed.  Women in vintage dresses and classy shoes, men with nice shirts, bow-ties, suspenders, etc.  There isn’t a fanny pack, beer t-shirt, or string bikini top in sight.  This is a rarity for a summer outdoor event in Colorado.  The 1940s Ball isn’t just any concert or even costume event.  The people here are serious about their history and their class.  I walked into this event not quite knowing what to expect.  As I began to acclimate myself to the venue, I realized it’s like Renaissance Festival for people who are really into the mid-20th Century.

The next thing that strikes you is the overwhelming, almost cloying scent of old canvas.  This is a smell that took me back to my younger years, going to military surplus stores with my dad and anything and everything that was OD Green canvas was on my Christmas wishlist.  Among the vintage cars and airplanes lined up everywhere were tanks, jeeps, command cars, and tent after tent displaying anything from mess tent equipment to rifles and mortars.

Men and women were in full military uniforms, WAC and WAV gear, and all shades of civilian circa 1938-45 in between.  Rosie the Rivetter, the Peaches from a League of their Own, dog faces, Marines, swabs, and flyboys rubbed shoulders with Zootsuits, 4F Playboys, crooners, and average Joes.  The ladies were decked out in their dresses, pantsuits, with as many hairstyles as there were heads of hair.  The whole event was evocative of an era where people could be sexy, strong, modest, and strong all at once.  There was a flavor of modesty and austerity, combined with the electricity of a high school dance where the boys and girls were checking each other out throughout the night.

Money got you drink tickets and tickets got you water, beer, or booze.  I had a rum and Coke, but the bartender was impressed with my ordering an Old Fashioned, so he mixed me a little stronger than most.  I was flying most of the rest of the evening.  Cigarette girls sold candy cigarettes on trays (for a $2 donation per box), and I am proud to say I corrupted one of them by letting her bum a “smoke” off me as she had never tried one before.  I warned her that they are addictive.  (Which they really, really are.)

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Candy cigarettes to support the war effort!

At the VIP tables, they honored several of the WW2 vets who were in attendance; not a single one a day younger than 92 years old in the whole bunch.  The actress who played Zu-zu in It’s a Wonderful Life was there, as well as the car George Bailey crashed on the way towards his nervous breakdown in the movie.  Somebody in Johnstown owns it and sent it up on loan for the event.  In the crowd, a young Frank Sinatra and pith-helmeted Bob Hope walked among us mere mortals as well as Generals Patton and MacArthur.  A squad of 6 vintage fighter planes flew over as air raid sirens wailed their ghostly wail, circling and circling overhead.

 

When you get past the displays and the costumes, you get to the meat of the event, which is the live music and the dancing.  I danced for over 4 hours.  From about 8pm until shortly after midnight when I turned into a pumpkin and had to drive home.  My dogs were barking and the event was winding down anyway.  It did take a while for the crowd to get dancing, unfortunately, since a lot of people seemed to be reluctant to compete against the seasoned swing dancers and competitive groups that were showing off during the daylight hours.  But once the sun started to go down and the blood alcohol levels started going up, inhibitions were crushed, the dance floors were packed and people started to really cut a rug.dancing

I mostly danced with two ladies from Boulder (both, oddly enough, originally from New York) who I stuck with as their on-demand dance partner most of the night.  They were very forgiving of my novice dancing, near-collisions with other dancers, but like me they were just interested in getting out and having a good time.  There were quite a few men and women out there on the prowl, but mostly they were sequestered to the Tango Tango bar which reeked of surplus canvas and desperation. In total, my dance card was more than filled after four hours (after dancing with several classy women) and once I got back to my car, my heels and legs were so sore, I wondered if I could stand the hour long drive back home.  It made me wonder what happened to those times, when the music was fun, people could have a good time, and…man, just a long gone era, maybe as different from now as the Renaissance was to then.victory

In a lot of ways, things were different, and I can see why the Greatest Generation romanticizes that era.  It might have been the last time in our country’s history were there was good and evil, right and wrong.  People took pride in their morality, their appearance, they were not ashamed to be patriotic, they went to church on Sundays, they volunteered for causes greater than themselves. They took pride in the things they made and lived in anything but a disposable society.  (Sure, there were blemishes on the era: rampant racism, crude medical technology, a world war going on, etc.)  Things were simpler back then, and yes, I know it is a cliche to say that, but even in talking to someone from that generation, I think sometimes they were baffled at just how difficult we have made our lives today.  After so many things they sacrificed, challenges they overcame, and all the worrying we have packed full into our lives.

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Tanks for the memories

I don’t know.  There are a lot of things to think about when you look at a bygone era that isn’t that far back on the horizon.  Anyway, like any kind of art, good art elicits an emotional response.  Maybe the 1940s is a wonderful time to visit, but maybe it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be to live there?  What do I know?  What I do know is it was great to slip back in time for an evening, dance to some hoppin’ music, and see some old warplanes buzz the airfield at dusk.  To see people walk tall and proud, classy, refined, almost naive when compared to the world we live in. Echoes of a world where men and women were strong and classy all at once.  Where rolling up your shirtsleeves meant facing down some hard work, and people were closer to being Atticus Finch than they were Mark Zuckerberg.

Just for one night, maybe it’s not such a bad thing to remember who we were back then, and bring a piece of it back with us to our strange world where a lot of these things should still matter.  Nostalgia means “Pain from an old wound.”  Maybe it’s old wounds like these that remind us how far we have come, while showing us how much that has cost us in a relatively short time.

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Me with my Not An Old Fashioned

The 1940s Ball takes place in a forgotten corner of Boulder, CO, every June…in a time where patriotism, machine guns, women in pretty dresses and men in suits were still a thing.  Buy your tickets early, dress up and bring your friends!!

How I Destroyed Cracked.com

A few years ago, I published an article in Cracked.com.  It its inception, it began as a straight forward article about the ups and downs of working as a paranormal investigator.  Mostly the kinds of people you encounter, the filthy environments (sitting around in roach-infested basements, etc.), and the sheer boredom of something that is edited to look a lot more exciting on Halloween TV programs.

I used to be a Cracked addict.  I loved that website.  I read all the articles, going back as far as they had an online presence.  I never really read the magazine much when it was in print because it just seemed like the kid at the party trying really hard to be MAD Magazine.  But the website was a daily dose of hilarity that was a little bit more ridiculous than the Onion.  When I found out they would pay $100 for articles, I was stoked, so I submitted a query and heard back from them almost immediately.

The editing process was long and frustrating.  It went from a funny article that people could read to a Huffpost-esque List of Five Things That are Mind-boggling! Or somesuch.  The process, as I call it, was akin to the digestive process of chewing something up, boiling it down to a bunch of crap and then passing it out the other end.  They kept telling me “No jokes!” Which reminded me of playing GI-Joes with my cousin Cory, who always used to get mad at me about throwing comedy into fighting Cobra. (He was a very serious kid.)  Come on! He had the Raven stealth bomber, which just sets itself up for jokes about “We’re bombing them, but they don’t know it.”  To my 12 year old mind this was hilarious to think of a giant plane dropping bombs on people that were exploding all around them and everyone going about their business because of stealth.

But I digress. (My apologies to my dear cousin too).

After the jokes were removed and the article was turned into a list, three edits later and the addition of captions with some really weak-sauce jokes, the article was Cracked-out.  I got a ton of hits, but before it could hit the bonus million hits within a week that would have paid out another hundred bucks, they pulled the article and then put it back up again.  The interesting thing was how the comments section generated such hate for the paranormal community.  As well as anything that was outside of the cult of Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, or anyone else the intellectual elite could throw at superstition, religion, belief in the paranormal, and all with such rancor and animosity I realized what the majority of the audience of this website was like.

They missed the point entirely.  It wasn’t supposed to be about finding proof of ghosts or the the existence of an afterlife. It was supposed to be a funny article about people who had a sex castle set up in their Nebraska house, complete with webcams and filthy mattresses, but their primary concern was ghosts.  Along with other stories of equal absurdity.

Recently, the online magazine lost its main writing staff.  Everyone just quit at once. Or were dismissed.  I don’t know.  The site is now choked with cookies, pop-ups, and is about as plagued with bandwidth sucking viruses as a bit-torrent site of the newest Star Wars movie.  Which is why I didn’t link the article.

That and I also feel like I’ve grown as a writer since then.  Also also, because what the article became is mostly the editor’s voice and not my own.  So, meh.  Anyway, since they published my article (read fact-filled list with jokes in captions and a hate-fueled comments section), the magazine really started to fall apart.  I think I might have had something to do with that.  Well, me and the pure Social Justice Fueled Evangelism it became infused with.

So, in the spirit of list articles, I think this is an appropriate list.

6 Reasons Cracked.com Sucks

  1. The general consensus of the content of the magazine makes the assumption that everyone who reads the site is in lock-step with the opinions and agenda of the “writers” of that content.  Which is so left of center most of the time now that the Communist Party of California asked them to water it down a little bit.
  2. Only a handful of movies ever existed: Among those are Back to the Future, Star Wars, the Goonies, Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, Ghostbusters, the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, the Breakfast Club, and Home Alone.  Any actual relevance of these movies is to point out how rape culture has plagued the Cis-gendered heteronormal patriarchy, or why the 1980s were ironically genius, or why you are an idiot for liking these movies.  Which considering the number of times the people writing these lists must have watched these movies, reminds me of the reclusive kid in school who hates the cheerleaders, but made a shrine for them in his bedroom out of their old socks.
  3. Clickbait that will blow your @#$%^& mind!!! Hyperbole is just dishonest when it is done to entice readers of some really lame factoids.  Hence my title for this post.
  4. Viruses, cookies, ads that will crash your browser.  Seriously, you are better off using your mom’s AOL browser to surf porn sites.
  5. Smug narrative voice on content that was stolen from other websites.  Usually tinged with comments about why you are a terrible person for liking the things you do, why you are secretly a racist, bigot, misogynist, xenophobe, all the while opening up the possibilities of how much better your life and the world would be if you were more like them.  The agenda is not only indoctrinating, but also didactic.  So funny!
  6. The constant, pervasive, continuous use of the word “Dong.”  SMH.

So, I’ve stopped ranting about the site.  And stopped reading it.  I don’t need to be told I’m a moron for believing in God, how my enjoyment of The Running Man makes me a homophobe, or how a website that used to make people life is now educational and informative “fact-based” tidbits first and foremost.  I don’t really care about making counter-cultures mainstream.  I don’t care about the hipster mentality of making something mainstream and then tisk-tisking people for If I wanted a lecture, I would sign up for master’s classes, not read a website that used to be based on satire and fart jokes.

So, I’m just gonna say No to Cracked.