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Jan 11

The Self-Publishing Dilemma

Posted on Tuesday, January 11, 2011 in Greatest Hits, Writing and Writers

In the past months, I’ve been seriously considering taking a bold and different approach to how I get published. Not necessarily bold and different for a lot of people, as you’ll see if you keep reading this, but bold and different for me. I have a friend named Stephanie Thornton - a hugely talented writer of romantic and erotic fantasy and science fiction, a woman who has been courted by agents and editors for years and yet has not been published to the extent she deserves. I remember sitting down with her early last year and saying,"You know, I have the infrastructure in place to publish you. You might not have the backing of a large and well known publishing house, but you’d be out there. You could make it work." And Stephanie agreed: we’d see how things developed with her work, with my work, and with the publishing industry as a whole, and then we’d either make a go of it or not.

That was last year, and we haven’t taken the plunge yet. THEN, last week I saw this article by literary agent Richard Curtis, and I was immediately discouraged. It was as if Curtis had been reading my mind for the last year, and taken an active interest in dissuading me from taking a chance at both publishing myself AND publishing some of my associates who deserve to be published and haven’t been. In particular, what he said about Cory Doctorow and Seth Godin hit home. How WOULD I juggle the intricacies of publishing, editing, uploading content, marketing, and sales - for myself as well as for others - and still have time to write every day?

If you look down at the comments, though, author J. A. Konrath - one of the people Curtis cited in his article - wrote a response. And if you click the link in Konrath’s response, it’ll take you to THIS article .

Wow. It’s almost the opposite of Curtis’s conclusions regarding authors as publishers, and the numbers Konrath cites for all those self-published writers is staggering. Sure, I haven’t heard of two thirds of them, and neither have you. But they’re reaching 5 figures in sales volume a month - that means that SOMEBODY’S heard of them.

So, after reading Konrath’s response and stewing over Curtis’s original post, I’ve come to some conclusions, and that’s what I want to share with you today.

1) Did you know that Kindle sales exceeded expectations last year, and that over 10 million of the devices are now out there in the hands of consumers, just WAITING to download books that you and I and Konrath and Stephanie have written? Now, sales of hardcover books also rose last year, according to this article , and ebooks still only constitute a portion of the overall market. But Kindle sales and downloads outpaced traditional books nonetheless, and the gap is widening.

2) The difference for me, however, isn’t in sales. It’s in accessibility to my potential audience. In his article, Curtis stated that "Talent and hard work will out, but they must be leavened over time." This is the same line I’ve heard for years - if you’re good, and you’re tenacious, then eventually you will get an agent and the publishing credit that you deserve. This is simply not true. RIGHT NOW, without even thinking about it, I could name over 20 people that I’ve encountered over the last 15 years who are mega-talented, mega-dedicated to their craft, and as hard-working as they come, who have not for whatever reason found success in the publishing world.

Let’s face it, agents and editors are people, not gods. They have individual tastes that influence what they pick, and they need to make money off of their choices. And they make mistakes. The trouble is, they don’t suffer from their mistakes as much as the people they pass over do, because they’re on the inside looking out, while the people they turn down are on the outside, looking in.

With the advent of ebooks, writers have a growing opportunity to bypass the watchdogs of the publishing industry and take their product - because that’s what writing is, a product - directly to their audience. Oh, and I know there’s a bunch of terrible, terrible writers out there, and that their work will be available for Kindle and Nook and iPad downloads, too. But as I stated here in a previous post , the cream WILL rise. I just don’t think it’s accurate to say that the cream will rise with the traditional publishing model - because from what I’ve seen, there’s some cream that hasn’t even been given a chance.

3) Something that troubled me on my second and third read of Curtis’s article is the tone of condescension I detect. Sure, I’m probably overly sensitive to it given my position, but let’s take a few of Curtis’s statements and look at them, shall we? About Konrath, he says "He packages his own works but unlike Godin he’s smart enough to be disinclined to publish the work of others." If I were Seth Godin, I’d be a little put off by this. Wouldn’t you? And as you may recall, I was considering not just publishing my own work via ebooks - I was considering publishing Stephanie’s, too. Am I "not smart?" If you know me, either personally or via this site and my social media outlets, you know this isn’t true. And yet. And yet.

He says "If your name is not familiar to the reading public, however, emulating [Konrath] will flop. You will become a publisher, yes: a vanity publisher." Vanity publishing is one of those phrases traditional publishers like to flout around, and 10 years ago, it meant something. Now though, with egress to solid self-publishing tools that are beginning to prove superior to traditional models, it means nothing. Those authors Konrath listed self-published. Out of vanity? Perhaps. But with 10,000 or more in sales EACH in just December alone, it hardly seems that vain to me.

4) I was at a writing workshop last summer, and in a Q&A, one agent more or less toed the same line that Curtis does. She adamantly opposed self-publishing, again stating that whole thing about how if you’re good enough, you’ll eventually find representation. She also railed against investing in social media - Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, blogging - although in the next breath she admitted that she was relatively unfamiliar with how all those things worked. So… why do agents and publishers so ardently oppose self-publishing and self-marketing? Curtis implies that we shouldn’t engage in it because we won’t be good at it. That might be absolutely valid in a number of instances; we writers are by and large artists, not business people. Some of us are even horrible editors.

But I think there’s something else at work. I don’t know for certain what it is - I can only guess. Is it fear of perceived competition? Is it clinging to an increasingly antiquated model because of an unwillingness to learn new paradigms? Is it a final ploy to hold onto something that might be slipping out of their hands? Is it uncertainty about the future of the publishing industry? Is it uncertainty about ALL OF THIS?

5) Finally, given what I know about ME, I’ve decided to go ahead with my plan. Let me lay portions of it out for you in brief: I have several books already written that just need a good editor. Therefore I don’t lack product to "sell." I know a few good editors who’ll work with me. I know several graphic artists who will as well. I also have friends who are good with computer databases and the like, who can help me with uploads, downloads, and programming. I myself have an extensive background in marketing and PR, and I’m good with social media. I know a few things about sales - online, in stores, and at conventions. I have loose capital that will pay for stuff. I have excellent credit. I’m already incorporated and I have a good accountant.

So why not give it shot? If I wait too long, out of fear of failure, out of concern that the things Curtis suggested might come true, then I believe it highly likely that the ebook boat will pass me by. The old model of doing things certainly hasn’t worked for me, so why not try out the new model? Even if I DON’T sell 5 digits worth of books - even if I sell only 1000, then that’s a 1000 more than I would have sold doing it the way Richard Curtis wants me to.

Dec 10

Short Story: Desert


When I met my wife back in 1991, I was fascinated by her “otherworldliness” - she’s half Armenian, she spoke two or three languages, she was born in Beirut, and she’d spent the first 13 years of her life living in Lebanon and Dubai. Her family was equally fascinating to me. Coming from where I did - rural, poor South Georgia - dating her was like spending time with some exotic creature, and I was blown away that such a creature could possibly fall in love with a backwater hick like me.

She told me stories of what she could remember growing up, and me, being a writer and being in love and all, I wrote her stories down. Eventually I sieved them into one short, cohesive narrative, and then I tried to get it published. In 2001, nearly 10 years after I met her, I DID get it published - in Ararat magazine, the literary journal of the Armenian General Benevolent Union. Here is that story.

Desert

Heat. 102 degrees.

They all would be sunburned from the brief morning spent under the sun, which rose early and would die in the western shadows very late, and in the meantime would scorch countless inhabitants of the Arabian desert and the Persian Gulf .

Including them. 103 degrees.

The teacher instructed them earlier as they waited for Kevork to bring the horses: “Follow close. Do not stray from where I lead you, because the dunes will all look the same and you will get lost easily among them should you stray.”

The ominous tone she used struck momentary fear into their hearts. Until Kevork arrived with the horses: sandy brown, white, sienna. Then their children’s hearts melted, much like ice melted in the sun over the Arabian desert. Their horses were soft and stern, majestic and subservient, strong and somewhat timid — all at the same time. The best British money could buy.

The teacher’s words melted with their hearts, but they did not forget them. Then the nine children climbed the backs of the nine expensive horses, anticipating the morning’s adventures, their smiles big and excited. Kevork also wore a smile, jagged and a little rotten, but as big as theirs. He was the custodian at the school that most of them attended, and a volunteer helper at the Dubai ranch. He loved the little British children — especially the one called Aida.

He helped Richard onto his stallion, then Burgess, then Irene. Finally he came to Aida — Aida of the Armenian blood, with dark hair, almost black, and big brown eyes that reflected the red dunes of the Arabian desert. Kevork loved Aida most because she shared his blood. Though he was born in Syria and she in Beirut, they were both Armenian, the scattered people, and he never felt like a lowly, servant-classes exile when she was near. He felt like Armenia still existed, and like he was there. She turned to him expectantly, returning his gap-toothed smile momentarily, before he grabbed her ten-year old form and hoisted her up. All of the children probably could have made it into their saddles alone, but they loved Kevork and it gave them pleasure to give him the pleasure of helping them.

The teacher hoisted herself into the saddle of her white steed, watching Kevork and the children with a loving eye and smile.

104 degrees.

A line of sweat formed on Kevork’s brow as he finished helping Aida up, patting her tiny, olive-colored leg. The sweat splashed onto the sand as he stepped away.

Aida looked at him, smiled.

* * *

 Briefly Anthony looked out the window. The glare from the morning sun blinded him, hurt his eyes too much, so he turned away.

The noise in the hall was dying, so he knew it would start soon. He chanced another longing look out of the window. The red dunes stretched away from the edge of the building and he imagined himself walking them like that guy Lawrence did a long time ago.

The noise was almost dead.  Anthony grew anxious.

Twenty-two other kids settled into their seats around him, and the time came, finally. He turned to face Mrs. Cross, a nearly simultaneous motion enacted by every child in the room. She looked at them from her desk in return.

The morning dream of the desert ended.  The day of instruction would now begin.

Mrs. Cross cleared her throat.

* * *

The villa sat nestled along the coast of the Gulf. The waters rushed onto the shore just a few feet from the courtyard’s entrance, and a little cobblestone path exited the archway from that courtyard and stretched down to the beach, where a strangely symmetrical outcropping of rock met the western skyline. The sun had a peculiar way of setting right behind that rock, casting an eerily romantic shadow onto the courtyard and the swimming pool in it.

Around the swimming pool was a tiny field of Spanish grass, shaded by palm trees wherever the rock’s shadows didn’t provide shade. The villa rested in a C-shape around the courtyard and the pool. Pink flowers covered it in perpetual bloom, and in the sunrays that escaped from behind the outcropping on the beach, those flowers glowed, their membranes streaking the brilliant shades of pink adorning the walls.

The crash of nearby waves, the tinkling of the rippling pool, the shadows, both the steady one cast by the rock and the waving ones cast by the trees, the colorful shades of pink, and the orange cast of the setting sun. These things were both sleepy and spectacular.

They were also expensive. The Womersleys paid for them dearly, with many British sterlings. They liked the way the Gulf shined outside their picture window. They liked to show it off.

The first guests had already arrived, in fact, for their daughter Amanda’s twelfth birthday.

* * *

Kevork waved at the line of horses and children as the teacher led them into the dunes. Burgess rode in front of them, anxiously spurring on his chestnut and equally anxious stallion. The teacher followed him, warning him to stay near her, since she knew the landmarks. He grumbled, said he knew them too, but stayed a few spare feet in front of her nonetheless. The dunes, tranquil and innocent as they appeared, occasionally showed up in his nightmares, as they did for all the children.

Aida was next to last, on a stark white horse. She had long since stopped smiling at Kevork and had turned her attention to the desert.

105 degrees.

They were going to a place a mile into the dunes, a place of semi-moist, packed earth, where sparse grass and an occasional well-tended tree lent a pastoral contrast to the bareness of the desert. Here there were paths and cobbles and obstacles among which they could play on their horses, a place where they would laugh and shout and ride, free from their school, their city, and even the desert.

First, though, they had to cross a trackless expanse of red-tinted sand, underneath a blazing noonday sun.

They usually did so in silence.

Kevork stopped waving after Aida’s head disappeared over the first rise. He then led his own horse back to the stables. He would wait for their return at sunset.

He still smiled. 106 degrees.

* * *

Mrs. Cross was a sweet enough woman.  She commanded respect from the children in her class and early on made examples of the more rebellious —Anthony among them.

In return for their respect, Mrs. Cross did all she could for them. She brought weekend-baked pastries for them every Monday.  he defended them in the event that another teacher accused them of some transgression of which they were innocent. And she taught them as much as she could pack into a day’s session. Recitation, examples, lecture, experiments, diagrams — all the typical teaching methods presented by a somewhat typical teacher. She was rotund, tended to dress in prim British brand name pastel dresses with her partially gray hair tied back in matching pastel bows. And yes, Mrs. Cross was a sweet enough woman.

But to twenty-three children, mostly eleven-year olds, who went to school on the edge of the desert and who had seen more than most British school children could ever hope to see, and who dreamed about the desert and the desert storms and the desert legends, her typical prim British school teacher drone was vaguely annoying and definitely sleep-inducing. Some of them watched her mouth work, seemingly attentive, while they daydreamed. Some heard her talk about the world beyond the desert with their eyes fixed, hypnotized, on the dunes.

Anthony was among those who only watched her mouth. In his mind two scimitars flashed, crossed, clanged together. In the background of his daydream, the mumble of some local talked incessantly in Arabic about something having to do with anger, spite, revenge. In the shadows of his dream, hidden among pillows and veils, pastel but of more exotic colors than Mrs. Cross’s dress, was a dark-haired, dark-eyed girl.

The desert reflected in her eyes.

* * *

“Come in, Aida,” said Mrs. Womersley.

Aida walked in alongside Samantha and Sarah. They were both of nearly pure British descent, though Sarah had a touch of Irish Catholic in her that gave her long blonde locks a reddish tint. Sam had brown hair, and both girls had eyes of purest, deepest blue.

When the three walked in, the face of every male, both boys and men, turned first to gaze at Aida.

Through a living room decorated by vases from India, by paintings from America, and with an exquisite if not overly ornate Persian throw rug, Mrs. Womersley took them and their gifts. She put the gifts on the gift pile and directed the girls through the sliding plate glass picture window, where the last rays of that magic sun were dazzling the still water of the pool and the wild water of the sea beyond. In the courtyard soft pop music played.

Several boys also stood there, timidly waiting.

* * *

Silence. 107 degrees.

Burgess and Michael noticed a mirage. They knew it was a mirage and proudly bragged because they knew what it was. Burgess had learned about mirages from his father, a military officer. Michael had learned about them from Mrs. Cross.

The other children knew about them, too, of course.

Aida gazed at the same black rippling disk they all did, pulling her horse back a little, halting it. She gazed, and Benjamin, who was behind her, passed her.

“Come on, Aida,” he said.

In that instant a desert fox darted from behind a dune, crossing hurriedly between Benjamin and Aida, startling both of their horses. Benjamin steadied his, but Aida shook herself from her dune-gaping daze too late. Her horse reared, neighing in shock, surprise, and then began to run, run away through the desert, away from the teacher and her group. Aida clung to it, making frightened grasping fists in its ivory mane. She screamed, and her scream filled the red shifting sands, slowly fading away as she disappeared over a dune.

* * *

A scream startled Anthony, and he shuddered at its intensity and horror. Mrs. Cross’s eyes widened, her mouth forming that peculiar cartoon-like O that surprised mouths tend to form. A momentary silence followed the scream, and there came a bustling noise from the hall. Mrs. Cross ordered her students to stay seated — they didn’t. Mrs. Cross rushed to and out the door, into the hall — they followed. Anthony led them, his curiosity piqued.

“Go back into the room, children,” Mrs. Cross told them.

Still they followed.

In the hall a group of about thirty people had formed around a little pink-smocked, whimpering French girl named Caroline. She cried, and kept pointing at the open door at the end of the hall. Sunlight poured in that door, and a scattering of sand crept in from the desert.

“What’s the matter?” inquired the custodian Kevork, as he gently grasped Caroline by her shoulders. He loved children, but he was losing patience with this one.

“What?!” he said again, and his question was soon chorused by the only other two adults in the vicinity — Mrs. Cross and Mrs. Zellio from across the hall.

“What?! What?!”

Caroline only whined some more — said she saw something, said it scared her.

“What? What did you see…?”

All the whats and the crying and the ever-growing crowd around Caroline were lost on Anthony. He knew what scared her. He saw it. Touching his friend Richard on the shoulder, he moved away from the children and the teachers, further down the hall, where the sunlight was dim and Caroline’s crying was only a slight echo.”

“Yeah, Anthony, what is it?” asked Richard, glancing hesitantly between the crowd and the back of Anthony’s head. Anthony motioned for him to follow and he did. The two crept down the hall, heading straight to a corner where an empty metal coat rack hung on the wall.

Underneath the coat rack scurried a frenzied, disconcerted creature, almost a foot long and molded from the blackest ebony the desert produced. Eight legs, inch-long mandibles, glaring, piercing, angry eyes that shined with a savage dervish intelligence — and a tail with a stinger on its tip at least two inches long.

A scorpion from the desert had frightened Caroline. A black one, and the biggest Anthony and Richard had ever seen, or ever would. This scorpion could kill a child. Would if provoked.

The two boys encircled it and approached.

* * *

In a circle around Amanda, the birthday-goers watched as she opened her presents. A circlet from Simon, a board game from Samantha, a concert ticket from Richard, an Atari cartridge from Mrs. Womersley, a teen romance book from Sarah. Somehow, Amanda had subconsciously left Aida’s present leaning against the Parisian loveseat. To an excited child’s mind, bigger was better, and Aida’s present was certainly bigger. Amanda wanted to save the best for last.

Finally, she turned to Aida’s large, gaily-wrapped package — four foot by four foot and one inch thick. She grasped it, lifted it, and dutifully ripped the colored paper from it.

“Careful,” whispered a bashful Aida.

Aida’s present was a painting — of a huge black desert scorpion, its monstrous stinger dripping blood. Flowers and fire danced around it, making it look both menacing and just a little happy. A strange work, from a child. And by a child.

“I painted it myself,” whispered a bashful Aida.

“It’s very good,” said Mrs. Womersley after a long pause.

“Say thank you, Amanda,” said Mr. Womersley.

“Thanks, Aida,” said Amanda, putting the painting aside and turning to the TV and the Atari. The children were mostly silent.

“You’re welcome,” whispered Aida.

* * *

108 degrees.

Alone in the dunes, a small brown speck on a larger white speck in a sea of red, Aida cried, her tears almost instantly evaporating in the dryness and the heat. She led the horse this way, then that, her gaze stretching out over the dunes. They all looked the same.

“Help me!” she screamed. There came no echo, no response. How far had her horse run?

109 degrees.

* * *

“Get away from that!!!” screamed Kevork as Anthony prodded the scorpion with a coat hanger. Richard stepped back, more frightened by the sternness of Kevork’s voice and the sternness of Mrs. Cross’s expression than by the menace of the scorpion.

Unfazed, Anthony prodded it some more.

“I SAID…!!!” and in a brief space of time, more brief than it takes to breathe, the angered, vicious scorpion lashed out at the curious little British schoolboy. The Armenian custodian thrust the little boy out of the arc of the scorpion’s sting, and the stinger instead sunk deep into the tanned flesh of the custodian, drawing back in a flash, stained with blood.

Everyone in the hall froze, gasped. Except for Kevork, who screamed. The scream lasted forever.

* * *

Lionel Richie started singing, “Hello. Is it me you’re looking for?” Anthony crossed the courtyard to Aida. She was gazing at the black emptiness where the outcropping was.

“Aida,” he said.

She turned to him, smiled.

“Will you dance with me?” Anthony asked in a nervous, here-goes-nothing-but-here-goes-everything blurt. Aida smiled again, stood up, and crossed to Anthony. She had been out there alone, uninterested in the Atari or the music.

“Yes,” she said.

* * *

“Help me!” Aida screamed again through her tears. The horse sniffed the air, unaware that he and his rider were lost forever in the shifting sand of the desert. “HELP ME!”

She stopped, sobbed, waited.

Nothing.

Then: “Aida.” A voice answered.

She stopped, suddenly excited, her neck craning and eyes straining to pick up the voice again.

“Aida!”

“Over here!”

The voice was near. The voice belonged to her teacher, a touch of concern, but mostly irritation drifting in it. Aida dug her heels into her stallion’s sides, and launched them across the sand, climbing a dune, her tears drying up, and a beautiful, relieved smile on her face.

She reached the top of the dune, and found her eight friends and teacher waiting.

They had only been one sand drift away, but in the echoless expanse of unmarked desert, they might as well have been on the other side of the world.

110 degrees.

* * *

“Children. I have some bad news,” said Mrs. Cross. “Mr. Kevork is not expected to make it. The scorpion poison reached his bloodstream too fast. He was in poor health before. Had he been in better health…”

Anthony was conspicuously absent that day. He was suspended and a little ill.

Several children began to cry.

* * *

“I liked your painting,” whispered Anthony.

At first Aida had grasped him nervously at a distance. He’d pulled her in closer. And closer, until they could hear each other’s breathing, and Anthony could whisper.

“Thanks,” she said.

A year before Anthony had run into a scorpion and an unfortunate thing had happened. It had passed, impermanent, like a sand dune, or a moment. He remained a little shunned, a bit of an outcast ever since, but it didn’t matter much now.

Aida could feel him pressed against her, could feel a certain hardness rubbing her. She found it funny, but didn’t laugh. She found it appealing, too. This was her first slow dance, and she wondered if that hardness would happen during later ones.

“I’m going to Birmingham. Mum and Dad are getting a little scared about all the Iranian threats,” Anthony whispered.

She looked up at him, a bit surprised.

“When?”

“When we graduate from Dubai next month. I’ll attend high school in England. I’ve been there to visit, but now that’s where I’ll live.”

Aida pressed her head against his gently and whispered, “That’s kinda funny. I’m moving to America.”

“Oh.”

They danced through two more songs, and then Mrs. Womersley shouted Aida’s name. Her parents had come to pick her up. Aida pulled away, and Anthony held on clumsily.

“Aren’t you going to kiss me?” he asked.

“Why?”

“Because I want you to?”

“I don’t know you very well…,” but Aida had already leaned in and a moment later their lips touched clumsily.

“Good-bye, Aida,” said Anthony.

“Good-bye, Anthony,” and then Aida turned and hurried off across the Spanish grass of the courtyard.

Nov 17

Text Messaging for Men

Posted on Wednesday, November 17, 2010 in Featured Friends of Will, Greatest Hits, Ramblings

Let’s face it. Most men like scatalogical humor to some degree. That’s the only explanation behind Adam Sandler’s and Will Ferrell’s success at the box office. And yeah, I know. You don’t like scat humor - you try to keep it classy. You’d rather go see something of quality with Ethan Hawke in it, and you get your wife, girlfriend, husband, or lover roses on his or her birthday.

Well, I get my wife roses, too, jocko, and I still like a good fart joke when I hear it. Also, Ethan Hawke’s last three films grossed under $100 million worldwide while Adam Sandler’s last three grossed over $500 million. So I’m not alone. Here’s hoping your pretention gets you laid tonight, eh?

So guys like jokes about poop. And cocks. And urine. We like things that stick, run, ooze, and throb. Most of us, though, aren’t household names and can’t demand $20 million for a movie, so we don’t tend to make scatalogical jokes in mixed company. I think gross stuff’s funny, but I don’t post scat jokes on Facebook or Twitter, because I’m aware that some people will get offended, and there’s always the threat of that Unfriend or Unfollow button. I respect my friends enough not to throw shit at them, literally AND figuratively.

Although you’d think they’d respect me enough to accept me at my most disgusting. Oh well.

As for this site, well, I don’t usually post disgusting stuff here for the same reason. James Joyce might have been able to get away with a big shit scene in Ulysses, but so far I lack the literary merit and clout of James Joyce (I’m more likely to end up like Adam Sandler anyway), and if I did write a scene about taking a dump, it’d probably be precisely for obscene and prurient reasons. I’m not as noble as Joyce either.

Also, I don’t say the sort of things I’m talking about here in front of my wife. As far as scatalogical humor is concerned, she’s effectively humorless.

Which brings me to the point of this particular post. If there’s a new paradigm wherein even the most proper male among us can vent his need for semen jokes, it’s TEXT MESSAGING. That’s right! You find the right buddy, and the two of you can exchange insults, observations, and innuendo to your hearts’ content. It’s convenient, immediate, and private. Yeah, I know Big Brother might be listening, but I don’t think he sees such idiotic escapism as a threat. Hell, if he’s a guy, I bet our exchanges are an amusing diversion from his otherwise boring workday.

You want some examples, don’t you. Of course you do! So here you go - a few choice exchanges between me and a couple of my friends. I’m not gonna reveal to you which guy in each exchange is me, though. Suffice it to say that I’m the guy with the slightly better vocabulary.

Now, I respect you, dear reader, so I warn you. The following text exchanges are not for children. Or prudes. And they are 100% genuine. If you don’t believe me, I’ll show you my phone sometime.

Conversation #1

Man 1: Well?

Man 2: Rule me out. Tell her I said happy birthday.

Man 1: OK. She said fuck off. Thanks for coming. Ur not welcome anymore, Mr. Never Puts The Seat Down. We even made u ice.

Conversation #2

Man 1: Defendor was a pretty good movie, Butt Farkus

Man 2: Woody Harrelson starred in Defendor. YOU starred in SPHINCTOR. Coprophagist.

Conversation #3

Man 1: Cfyffhffhrethhgggfffjjygddvbjjqwrfcssgjjvxdhhxsgbbjktxvhhfgkippo

Man 1: Did you get my text?

Man 2: Yeah. I don’t believe a word of it.

Conversation #4

Man 1: What DOES semen taste like?

Man 2: Chicken

Man 1: Do you like chicken?

Man 2: I like choking it.

Conversation #5

Man 1: I got a gaper!

Man 2: I’ll give you a gaper.

Man 1: I meant paper. I can’t come tomorrow, I got a paper to do. Damn auto-correct.

Man 1: Thanks, though.

Conversation #6

Man 1: Your pussy is so fat, it looks like a stack of pork chops turned sideways. Your asscrack is more humid than the Amazon River Basin. Your asshole is a swamp.

Man 2: Your pussy tastes like hobo dick.

Man 1: That’s funny, ’cause ur hobo dick tastes like my pussy. And your balls taste like hummus.

Man 2: It’s because they’re Muslim. You, sir, are a Republican. You wish Rush Limbaugh would spread those ample buttcheeks and let you plow him like an Idaho potato field.

Man 1: Ur a Teabagger. In both senses of the word.

Man 2: I dunk my donuts in the aqua Buddha mouth of Rand Paul.

Man 1: Every time u touch ur cock, Glenn Beck tells a lie.

Man 2: But unlike you, I’ve never had my gaping maw filled with the viscous semen of Sean Hannity.

Man 2: And Glenn Beck must tell a lot of lies.

See? Foul, foul, foul, foul, foul. But up until now, conversations like these (if you can call them such) were between us guys. So how about you, dear reader? “Dude”? How are you using the new communications technologies available to us in the 21st century?

Sep 21

The Leader(s) of the Pack

Posted on Tuesday, September 21, 2010 in Games and Gaming, Greatest Hits

OK. So either I’m a hobby trendsetter, or I’m just getting homogenized - absorbed into common culture like some rock and roll sell-out or obscure cartoon from the 80s.

Either way, my hobby of choice - boardgaming - has made it to the shelves of Barnes & Nobles across our country, as evidenced by the photo you see above.

It’s my somewhat educated opinion that everybody needs a hobby. EVERYBODY, although I have observed that women can subsist a little while longer without one. Us guys, however - we NEED to be under a car, in a deer stand, in a stadium, in front of a video game, or rolling some dice at some point every week or so. Otherwise we turn to booze and drugs and wanton sexual partners (although admittedly, THOSE count as hobbies for some of us).

I’ve tried my hand at several hobbies over the years: I liked combustion engines… until I took apart my Dad’s lawnmower when I was a teenager - and forgot to put the new gaskets on it when I put it back together. Dad’s reaction to the sound of the lawnmower grinding to an explosive halt discouraged further mechanical pursuits.

I tried hunting. Fuck that. More power to you guys who park your asses in below-freezing weather for hours, waiting on the POSSIBILITY of a deer happening by, but it’s not for me. I like sleeping in. I like being warm. And I’m not awfully fond of venison anyway….

Ultimately, I settled on gaming - games of chance, games of strategy, games of negotiation, games of skill. I love all of it to some degree - everything from Chess to Blackjack, from Advanced Civilization to fucking Jenga.

Many of you who knew me way back when may remember how me and some of the other guys in school used to get together and hang out every weekend. There was Thomas, Greg, Jimmy, Ray, Eric, Brian, Robbie, Jason, Robert, Michael, Allen, Curtis, and Jim Tom. Occasionally we did stupid teenage things like convincing one kid (not a kid on that list, I’m pretty sure) to participate in a masturbation marathon - only he started and we didn’t…. And then there was the time Greg more or less set his ass on fire by farting into a space heater. But mostly, we sat around my Mom and Dad’s dining room table for hours and played Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

What you probably DON’T know is that I kept playing role-playing games through college (with Jay, Kevin, Bugsy, Ray, Thomas, and a few others) and on into graduate school (with Joe, Scott, Jennifer, Kym, Dang, Z, and Mark). Then, sometime in grad school, I discovered collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering and Vampire. I played THOSE for a few years, and then I switched almost exclusively to board games. I’d played board games here and there before - and not just stuff like Monopoly and Risk. I’d played Talisman, Magic Realm, Axis and Allies, Diplomacy, Civilization. Still, when I started AVIDLY playing board games about 10 years ago, I was a relative babe in the woods -and my new-found hobby was relatively small.

That’s changing.

I don’t know exactly WHY board games are becoming more and more popular and “mainstream”, although I think it may have something to do with the huge success of Settlers of Catan. I CAN hazard a guess at why they’re catching on more solidly than role-playing games and collectible card games.

One - they’re finite in time and scope, even the long ones. You don’t need to prepare a strategy ahead of time; you don’t need to collect a bunch of cards; you don’t need to play act or read volumes of rule books and monster compendiums.

Two - there are themes that match almost every interest. Do you like sci fi or fantasy? Yes, there are games on those themes. (Duh.) Do you like history? There are historical games. Do you like fast cars and loose women? Indeed - there are games along those themes as well.

Three - the sheer number of  mechanics, levels of difficulty, and session lengths means that there’s a game for just about everybody - from the complete idiot that lives down the street in his mom’s basement to the wizened old genius with the whispy head of hair and the liver spots to my eight-year-old daughter. No matter who you are, there’s very likely a game YOU WILL LIKE.

Whatever the case, this thing that I’ve been doing for several years is catching on. In cities across the world, there are gaming conventions and get-togethers every week. The attendance at such game-centric events as GenCon, Origins, Essen, and the World Boardgaming Championships is on the rise. In Atlanta itself, where I live, I’ve watched as the number of people I COULD game with on a DAILY basis has risen from maybe five to upwards of several hundred.

Yes. Several hundred. The diversity and enthusiasm of boardgamers in Atlanta is staggering.

And now, there’s this shelf in Barnes & Noble.

There’s been board game shelves there for years, but only on occasion would you see a game like those pictured above. Mostly, the shelves were dominated by the old stand-bys - Monopoly, Risk, Scrabble, Chess, and Trivial Pursuit - and by party games like Pictionary and Scattergories. You can imagine my excitement to see these games available for purchase by the masses - the uninitiated, the “common man.”

These games, by the way, are what I’m referencing by this post’s title (that and the fact that I MIGHT be a trend-setting pioneer - a leader of the pack, as it were). The games you see pictured there are YOUR best bet for finding something enticing in this hobby of mine that might make you get together with friends on some weekend night, sit around the table with some beer or tequila or weed, throw some dice, flip some cards, shoot the shit, and have a grand old time.

My personal favorites from among those pictured:

In the top right, you will see a bunch of Munchkin variants. Munchkin is a silly, whimsical card game with very low strategy and funny art. It’s good to play with kids, although sometimes the games get a little long and tedious.

Dominating the shelves to the left are a bunch of Settlers of Catan variants and expansions. This is THE game to try if you just want to dabble. In case you missed the link above, here it is again - the popularity of Catan is quite possibly why shelves like this are popping up.

Next to Settlers is Dominion. Another card game, but one PACKED with strategy and variety of game play. This one hits our table so much there’s Dominion-shaped grooves in it.

At the bottom left is Cosmic Encounter, an old game that’s being reprinted and finding a brand new audience in the 21st century. The reason why is because the game is amazing in its variety and replayability. Just don’t take games of Cosmic seriously.

Finally, next to Cosmic Encounter is Arkham Horror, a cooperative strategy game designed by my friend “Tricky” Richard Launius, an Atlanta-based game designer with a couple of hits under his belt - including Arkham. The story-telling aspect of Arkham Horror is absolutely fascinating.

So. As of this writing, it’s Tuesday. The weekend’s coming. May I make a suggestion regarding what to do?

Sep 9

In The Afterglow of Dragon*Con

Posted on Thursday, September 9, 2010 in Featured Friends of Will, Games and Gaming, Greatest Hits, Ramblings

Seth Rogen, folks!

Seth Rogen, folks!

Well, the weekend certainly didn’t go the way I thought it would.

Ordinarily, when you hear a statement like that, you figure something went wrong. Terribly wrong. But in this case… I THOUGHT the weekend would be fun, tiring, and full. I had no idea it would be so great that it would make the days before seem like a red blur and the days after seem like a gray haze.

On Thursday, I got there with my children - Madeleine and Eli - in tow. The Con had not officially started yet, but all my friends were slowly converging on the downtown Atlanta hotels where everything would take place - the Hyatt, the Sheraton, the Marriott, and the Hilton. In the galleria of the Hilton (downstairs), I met up with my friends Tae and Charlie, and we set up some Heroscape terrain so that Madeleine and Tae’s son could wail on each other with painted plastic miniatures and some dice. That went on for a couple of hours, and then my wife Aida came and took the kids home. After that, the place started filling up, and soon I was drinking beer and playing games (specifically RuneWars) as planned. I left at about 1 in the morning, went home, and climbed into bed to charge up for day 2.

Friday consisted of a morning full of logistical movement. If I have any complaints about Dragon*Con and my status as a Dragon*Con volunteer, it’s that I have to do all this logistical movement. You see, I supply the Con with a number of games, and before I get to sit down and start playing, I have to haul all my games to the library, check them in, and make sure my checklist matches what’s on the shelves.

I’d complain, but when I hear horror stories of how long the lines are to get entry badges into the Con, I thank the powers that be and throw another game onto the cart.

The rest of Friday went the way I expected: I played a bunch of games, started making a dent in my cooler of beer, met some new people, had loads of fun with the people I already knew. Then I stumbled upstairs to the room I was going to share with my best bud Jay Elgin, and crashed.

Another part of what I do at Dragon*Con is run these outrageously huge games of Twilight Imperium. On Saturday and Sunday, that’s what I was scheduled to do. So at noon Saturday, I laid out the map of the game - you can see Seth Rogen playing it at the top of this post - and laid into 9 or 10 hours of galactic conquest and political negotiation. I’m not gonna bore you with a blow by blow of the game - it bores me a little to think about it in retrospect. In sum: the Muaat player played like a kid hitting a piñata, Seth Rogen played the Xxcha, Kevin didn’t win and I did. Oh, and Jay rolled dice like shit.

After the game, I started drinking more beer - THIS time in celebration, not of my victory but of my impending… birthday. That’s right, folks. On September 5th, 2010, while attending the largest science fiction and fantasy convention in the United States, I turned 40. And THAT is where the weekend diverged from my expectations.

A dedicated gamer. Yes, that's his tongue.

A dedicated gamer. Yes, that's his tongue.

I only told a handful of people - maybe 20 - that it was my birthday. But between word of mouth and people overhearing other people wishing me well, I couldn’t go anywhere in the Hilton without someone lauding my nativity. Now I kinda know how Jesus feels on Christmas. A lot of Saturday night/Sunday morning is a jumble, but I remember singing Silversun Pickups in the Rock Band room. I remember Mike Barnes’s entourage following me to the Rock Band room, only to get kicked out because they were drinking. I remember a longish conversation with my buddy Peter about how much we like Dogfish Head - although he likes Palo Santo and I don’t. I remember that Jennifer Sellman left her ID at Hooters, and I remember Eddie’s truck.

 

That’s about it. All else was a fantastic mish mash of Happy Birthdays, smiles, and costumed maniacs.

Then came Sunday. Again, I stumbled down to set up Twilight Imperium. But then something awesome happened: while I was setting up the game and collecting entry fees, up rolled a cart surrounded by a large group of people. And on top of that cart was a huge birthday cake, baked in the shape of a game of TI. The next thing I know, 60 or 70 people are singing the Happy Birthday song to me while several hundred more look on, all likely wondering what the hell was happening.

Was I A) surprised B) blown away C) touched so much that I had to fight back tears (crying in front of bunch of geeks would be BAD, BAD)?

The answer is D: all of the above.

My friends from Americus - Elizabeth, Ray, and Stephanie - made me the best birthday cake I’ve ever had, and with the help of Jay served it up to me and the Con in a flourish that would make Siegfried and Roy envious. I was and still am without adequate words to describe how I felt that moment, and how I still feel today, even though Dragon*Con is over (until next year!) and even though I’m a little bit sad and a lot sick (the cold Eli gave me is raging still). They say that your 40th birthday is often somehow very special. And I thought mine would be, since I’d be celebrating it during one of my favorite times of the year. But the outpouring of love and generosity and friendship that I received both humbled me greatly and filled me with immense pride. An irony I think you can understand without me going into detail.

So I won’t. Instead, I’ll end this post with a general thank you to everyone who wished me well on Sunday, and then a little shout out - kind of like the ones you see on the jackets of CD covers - for a few well-deserving, specific people.

To Elizabeth, Ray, Stephanie, and Jay: You made my day. You made my Con. You might have made my year.

To Chris: I know you wanted to sit down with me and enjoy some quiet conversation. I’m sorry it proved impossible, and I promise we’ll do it. And yes, you can buy.

To Phil and Omarr: Thanks for all the opportunities. I’ll see you guys next year.

To Tae and Charlie: Didn’t see you to say good-bye. So, good-bye and I’ll see you in January (at the latest).

To Kevin, Jay, Sean, Ray, Steve, Joshua, Garand, Alex, Travis, Jonathan, Allen, Vince, James, and Robert: The game is great, but it’s people like you that make me want to play it so much.

To Jerry and Jeff: You frakkin’ toasters!

To Peter: You owe me a beer. I think.

To Eddie: Next time, I’m gonna figure out a way to put it in neutral and let it roll backwards a few yards.

To Brian: You never gave me your keys back.

To Jennifer and her friend: Did you see the show? I bailed. Did you get your ID?

To Freitag: The offer is there. You pull an all-nighter, you get in free.

To Aida, Madeleine, and Eli: Someday you’ll really share this with me. I look forward to it.

To the Con organizers: Mail the damn badges already. So what if a few get counterfeited? You’re making boatloads of money, and one day you’re gonna have a fatality in those obscenely long lines. Will it be worth it?

To that fat girl who made the comment about gamers while we were waiting for the elevator: I’m a gamer, and know why you can’t get laid at Con.

To the kid who just walked up and helped himself to a piece of cake: Sure, go ahead.

To anyone I’m forgetting: Thank you, bless you, may the Force be with you, nanoo nanoo, live long and prosper, go forth and multiply.

Aug 30

Novel Podcast: A War Between States Compilation 3

Posted on Monday, August 30, 2010 in A War Between States, Greatest Hits

It’s been a few months since I did a summation of the podcasts like this - you know, put them in one big post so that new readers/listeners/followers can go to ONE PLACE and give it a whirl. It’s interesting this time, because the latest several podcasts (Chapters 21-29 and the latest Interlude) are actually the turning points of the book. It’s taken a while to get to this, and now I’m hoping that the pay-off will be worth the time any of you have spent. If you haven’t spent any time with A War Between States, then consider this your invite to try it. It’s all right here, conveniently organized, from the first appearance of Sheriff Boyd to that “thing” which just happened to him….

May 26

The End Of ‘Lost’, How Writing On The Internet Sometimes Sucks, and My Apology To Chris Cornell


I watched The End last night. The end of Lost, that is, which was appropriately titled… ‘The End’. I tend to watch television either by streaming it (like I did Lost, like I do The Office), or by watching it when it comes out on DVD. I can’t commit to sitting in front of a television for any length of time, so that’s just how I do things.

I tell you that because searching the Internet for ABC’s site last night was how I ran across a review of the Lost series finale which prompted me to write this response.

As tempted as I am, I’m not gonna cite the web site which posted this review, because the critic there doesn’t deserve any attention via a link from me. Basically, his review sucked - in a highly ironic sort of way, as I’ll explain - and hopefully, if he doesn’t get attention, he’ll just dry up and go away. That level of uninspired hyperbolic rhetoric is exactly the sort of thing which gives writers on the Internet a bad rap - people see garbage like that and can then rightfully say that the web is full of basement-dwelling hacks. And it’s critics like this guy that make it difficult for people to sieve through all the nonsense and find the cream of what the Internet can offer.

Why was his review ironic? Because he claimed that the last episode of Lost was “lazy writing.”

Now, I’m not going to say that it was the most inspired final episode of a TV series ever - I’m gonna go with the majority of critics and say the last episode of Newhart holds that distinction (with St. Elsewhere pulling in a close second). And I’m not gonna say that it was the most heart-wrenching one either - that belongs to Six Feet Under and maybe M*A*S*H. But it was damned good, bringing together all sorts of disparate elements in a satisfying and (almost) complete way. It left me speculating about what each of the survivors (and yes, there were some - exactly 14 by my count) would do after he or she got back to civilization. Or didn’t, considering that Hurley, Ben, Bernard, Rose, and Vincent the dog probably stayed behind.

The irony here, of course, is that the review by the critic in question was indeed… lazy writing.

He kept telling us that the episode was “anticlimactic” and “bad storytelling” without tangibly demonstrating what he meant. He kept insisting that there were soooo many questions still unanswered - enough to fill pages, in fact. But he did not offer a single example. And he cited the demise of this season’s main antagonist (Locke/The Smoke Monster/The Man In Black) as being contrived - although if you were paying attention, you knew that when the “light” was out, the powers that kept Smokey and Jacob alive all those millenia were rendered inert. So not only is our reviewer’s writing “lazy”, he’s also quite possibly a lazy viewer. Since Lost was a show which demanded a lot from its viewership, it becomes apparent how this critic might still have questions.

Finally, a bit more irony to close out this post: I’m sitting here, a basement-dwelling hack (OK, I’m not in a basement; I’m in my office) criticizing a critic for something that I have been guilty of myself. That’s why right now I’m compelled to apologize to Chris Cornell, lead singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave.

In 1999, Cornell released a solo album called Euphoria Morning. About that time, I was writing for a little Atlanta rag called The Atlanta Press (formerly called Poets, Artists and Madmen), and I was asked to write a music review of Cornell’s solo effort. I blasted it.

Well, not quite. But you couldn’t say my review was glowing, and although I can’t say that my review is the reason the album had somewhat lackluster sales, I feel really bad because A) most critics really liked the album and B) the reason they liked it was because it’s fucking good. At the time, though, I wasn’t impressed, and I was lazy - I didn’t take the time to listen closely enough to it to notice the Jeff Buckley influences, or Cornell’s genuine efforts to separate his sound from Soundgarden’s.

In the ensuing years, I’ve given Euphoria Morning a few more spins - including one last Monday as I was driving my son to his grandparents’ - and I am increasingly impressed by the both the music and the lyrics Cornell penned. And so it is, I hang my heavy head in shame and I offer a sincere apology to him. Chris, I’m sorry. Your solo record is really quite excellent, and I was wrong to be so lukewarm to it 10 years ago.

Now, if only the Lost critic would follow my example.

Mar 9

Ah, Hypocrisy

Posted on Tuesday, March 9, 2010 in Geopolitics, Greatest Hits

The following post comes not because I have any real interest in what happens in Alabama politics, and not because I personally have any interest in going to a country music-themed entertainment complex. I’m about to tell you this story because it’s an outrage which we all should be aware of, and that we should all fight to make sure doesn’t happen in areas where WE live, work, and play….

First, some background. Why? Because you need context. You need to understand why a not-so-humble blogger based in metro Atlanta is pretty annoyed at the governor of Alabama. You keep reading, and soon you’ll be annoyed by him as well.

Background Bit #1: Alabama has a number of anti-gambling laws on the books, which is understandable considering the number of highly religious people who live in Alabama, and the long-term anti-gambling stance that religious people tend to take. There is a bit of a loophole, however: while the usual staples of gambling (blackjack, poker, slots) are expressly forbidden, BINGO is not. Now, when you think of Bingo, you probably think of old blue-haired ladies playing with numbered cards on long fold-out tables at the local VFW. Well, welcome to the 21st century, chum! Electronics and digital technology have made the old models of all sorts of things obsolete, or nearly so. And that includes Bingo.

Background Bit #2: A couple of years ago, an ingenious entrepreneur named Ronnie Gilley saw an opportunity to turn the travel corridor in Southeast Alabama into a bona fide destination spot. For years, millions of people have traveled THROUGH the area, mostly on Highway 231, hellbent on getting to Biloxi or Florida. Gilley reasoned: why not turn a pasture that people would ordinarily drive right past into a multi-faceted entertainment complex that would make them want to stop? The idea came to fruition, and thus was born Country Crossing, a country music-themed multiplex featuring restaurants, hotels, concert halls, and a huge electronic Bingo parlor.

Background Bit #3: Playing Bingo at Country Crossing is just like playing Bingo at the VFW. Except you can play faster. Except it’s on a computer screen. You typically pay to play at the VFW. You pay to play at the Crossing. And just like at the VFW, the money you pay is eventually won by the players themselves or contributed to charity. This is unlike “real” gambling, where the “house” is ever-present and often wins. (Just so no one comes back and challenges me on this point, I have to state that Country Crossing does skim a very small percentage off the top to pay its overhead.)

Enter the Governor of Alabama, the illustrious Bob Riley, Republican Extraordinaire. Riley has opposed Country Crossing from the get-go, claiming that the venture constitutes an illegal gambling operation that will eventually spread like a virus across the Southeast, causing Alabama to become a crime-infested state run by disrespectable gambling bosses and the mob, who control the government and manage crime in all its nefarious manifestations: prostitution, drug-running, gun-running, murder, extortion.

Those of us who’ve studied debate and argumentative semantics recognize this as a “slippery slope” argument, where the most extreme possibility is immediately presented as the most likely scenario. Riley has no legitimate basis for his position. Sure, his vision of Alabama’s downward spiral COULD happen. But the likelihood is very, very small.

By assuming this position (heh), Riley has allied himself with a number of religious organizations in Southeast Alabama, most notably the  Concerned Wiregrass Citizens. Now, while I may disagree with many of their convictions, and I may disagree with using politics as a pulpit for religious agendas, I refuse to outright blast people of a more religious tendency than myself, chiefly because I admire their conviction, short-sighted and misled as it may be. Religious conviction has led to some of the most deplorable situations in history (most wars are religious in nature, 9/11 was religious in nature, etc.), but being a person of some conviction myself, I still kind of identify with their fervor.

Even when they’re wrong.  But I will not blast them for being misguided - in fact, one of the points of this post is to demonstrate how I sympathize for them. Still, here’s my argument against them.

Consider:

  • The unemployment rate in Alabama is roughly 9%. Country Crossing employs 1300-1500 people by itself.
  • Residual business - at places like the gas stations, motels, restaurants, and retail stores that exist in and around Houston County (where Country Crossing is located) - have seen an increase in revenue. They no doubt are hiring more people themselves, to handle the increase in business.
  • In and around Houston County, there’s been a somewhat of an economic boom, flying in the face of all other negative economic data. Country Crossing contributed $1.8 million dollars to Houston County’s 2009 budget surplus. Dire warnings from the state’s budgetary officials still ring ominously, but surely Country Crossing, were it allowed to stay open, would have offset or even stopped the impending budget cuts. Hell, imagine the tax revenue a place like that would generate in the long term….
  • One of the chief arguments against gambling is the tendency for crime to increase in areas where gambling takes place. Ironically, last year Dothan, the principle city in Houston County, saw a 30% DECREASE in the crime rate. You know why I believe that is? Because the correlation between a bad economy and crime is higher than the correlation between gambling and crime.

Now, if you equate crime to “sin”, then Country Crossing could actually be contributing to a decrease in sin. And if you equate gambling to sin, well…. Bingo isn’t exactly gambling, is it? And despite Riley’s impassioned wailing and gnashing, the Alabama law is at the very least vague about it all.

Basically, the benefits of Country Crossing’s existence far exceed the detriments. The owners and managers have worked hard to make sure Country Crossing provides a safe, family-friendly yet fun environment for the people of the area as well as for visitors. And the economic upside is undeniable.

So what’s the problem, really? Well, funny you should ask.

The problem with Country Crossing is that it has the potential to draw clientele away from the Native American casinos in the Southeast as well as from nearby Biloxi. So it APPEARS that some of the purveyors of those establishments took proactive steps to make sure that the threat of competition didn’t happen. Allegedly, a certain Governor received millions of dollars in campaign contributions in exchange for making sure that Alabama didn’t open up any thing that might attract business away from the existing establishments. Day after day reveals increasingly incriminating deals, that - while they aren’t necessarily illegal - do constitute a glaring conflict of interest.

As it stands right now, the Governor has threatened to enforce a raid on the establishment, with the raiding officials having pretty much carte blanche on what they do with all the confiscated machines. A raid, in fact, almost took place a few weeks ago, but a local judge stopped it with a court order - a court order which has, in turn, been overturned by the Alabama Supreme Court. So Country Crossing is closed. A legislative hearing and vote is upcoming that will allow the citizens of Alabama themselves decide on which side of the gambling law the Bingo machines stand.

One caveat, to cover my ass legally: Riley vehemently denies any knowledge of any wrong-doing by his associate Michael Scanlon (famous for HIS involvement in the Jack Abramoff scandals). He also vehemently denies any knowledge that the anti-gambling organization which he supported, the U.S. Family Network, was funded by casino-owning Choctaws in Mississippi. Finally, he denies that his current stance on the Country Crossing issue is politically motivated. None of the allegations against him have been proven in court. Yet. But an investigation is underway, and the evidence is mounting.

Do I believe Riley has the best interests of the average Alabama citizen at heart? Here’s my answer:

He’s a politician. 

And  - IF Riley is indeed guilty of the charges laid at his feet - here’s why I am really, really pissed at him.

First of all, being a Republican, Riley probably claims to be a capitalist and economic conservative. Most Republicans I know stand adamantly behind the free market system, trusting that - if left alone and not tampered with - the market will correct any aberrances and fluctuations that occur within it. Competition drives prices down, etc. etc. Well, what if people in positions of power work behind the scenes to make sure there IS no competition? What if certain people stand up in front of us and claim that we should let the market act unimpeded, and yet they’re there, manipulating the market out of our line of sight?

Second, if this is all true, then Riley took advantage of local religious groups’ good intentions to help make good on his promises - promises he allegedly made to garner campaign contributions and monetary support for his election. I find the continued (mis)use of the fundamentalist Christian base as a means to further political gain deplorable. It’s bad enough to be disingenuous to the average person, but to be disingenuous to a person who truly holds the conviction you’re just giving lip service to?

It remains to be seen what will come of all this. Will Country Crossing reopen? Will Alabama be able to take advantage of the economic benefits that a place like that would surely generate? Are the Bingo machines a violation of Alabama’s anti-gambling law? Will Riley be exonerated?

Who knows. All I know (besides the fact that I’m annoyed by it all), is that there will only be one real loser in the struggle, no matter what happens: Riley will stay a rich Republican regardless. Ronnie Gilley, smart guy that he is, will find some other means of making his entrepreneurial dreams come true. The casinos in Mississippi will continue to operate and profit.

The losers will be the people of Alabama - the ones who would benefit from Country Crossing’s existence, and the religious ones opposed to its existence, who are once again seeing their convictions exploited and betrayed. 

 For more information, visit these sites. (Yes, some of them have an agenda. Reader beware, okay?)

http://www.usatoday.com/travel/destinations/2009-12-27-alabama-casinos_N.htm

http://www.wtvynews4.com/home/headlines/83844907.html

http://www.countrycrossingalabama.com/

http://www.wtvynews4.com/home/headlines/83012247.html

http://www.rileyswebofdeceit.com/bob-riley-fraud/riley-senate-investigations

Feb 8

Where Do Poems Come From?


You MIGHT ask that question from time to time: where do poets and authors get the ideas/inspiration for their work? And every poet or student of poetry will tell you that just about any situation, emotion, or circumstance might wake the Muse and make her tell you to SIDDOWN, SHADDUP, and put pen to paper. The “places” from which poems come from are almost as numerous as the number of poems out there (I say almost because every teenage angst poem pretty much comes from the same place).

I thought it’d be interesting to share with you the etiology of one of my poems. It’s called ‘Create Me Again’, and here’s where it came from:

Strangely, I came up with the title first. You see, I used to pass time when I was bored in class coming up with what I thought were cool titles for songs that didn’t exist. I never wrote an actual song, but I organized the track listings for a whole lotta albums released by imaginary bands. You laugh. Whatever.

Anyway, several of those titles to songs which didn’t exist actually resonated with me; they were bits of poetry in and of themselves - wordplays that, were they expanded on successfully, might have meant something. ‘Create Me Again’ was one such title. Think about it: it has a fairly resonating implication to it, doesn’t it?

Then, sometime in the early to mid nineties, I had a crisis of faith - I didn’t so much begin to wonder if God existed (I don’t think THAT happened until I was in my 30s) as I began to wonder if God had died or gone on vacation or written us off as unsalvageable and gone off to reinvent Moses as a four-armed blue-skinned alien on some faraway planet in a different galaxy. So, with that I had the theme of a poem which I wanted to write. All I needed was something to solidly tie it all together and give me the solid ground I needed to build from.

And then, somewhere in there, I recalled the story in the book of Daniel about Nebudchadnezzar’s dream of the statue made of precious metals but with feet of clay.

Everything clicked, and I had a poem. One day I wrote the whole thing in a single sitting, and several years later the Snake Nation Review published it. At the center of it is that multi-metaled statue, standing as a symbol of… what? Me? The nation? The planet?

However you want to apply it, you can. That’s what poetry’s for, if you ask me.

Finally, here’s the poem in question. Thanks for reading:

Create Me Again

The little multi-metalled statue
With baby soft clay feet
Stood on his tiny pedestal
And cried:

“Create me again
Oh Lord
In the likeness of another image
For if what I am is what you are
Then one of us is falling short
Of every expectation.”

A tear ran down his golden cheek
Along his silver belly
Splashed erosively in a hole
That was forming in the clay.

(Image from http://blackinkdesigns.com/diagrams.htm)

And… BTW, the crisis of faith is over. (God exists. Neener neener.)

Nov 9

Defining Moments From High School

Posted on Monday, November 9, 2009 in Greatest Hits, Ramblings

We all have memories from high school which we believe define us as people - memories of first kisses, first loves, critical exams, abysmal fashion failures. The first time you heard THAT song. THAT first date. THAT football victory.

Also, that car wreck, that pregnancy scare, that alcohol or drug overdose.

Well, I had similar moments in high school as well (nothing from that second paragraph, though - thank God I waited until I was a “mature” college student before that shit happened to me). But now that I’m a 30-something adult with kids of my own and a little bit of hindsight available to me, I realize that moments like that didn’t really define the fantastically sardonic and wonderfully talented asshole I am today.

Rather, it was the little bitty moments - instances that some of you who might be reading this may remember, though most of which you will not - that affected me the most. There are hundreds of them, many still fresh in my mind.

In fact, I could go on for days, but for the sake of SOME brevity, and to keep from boring you to absolute tears, I’ll just tell you four of them. Some of them are pretty funny, most of them as “moments” are pretty insignificant, but all of them changed me integrally as a person. Now, one caveat before I begin: these are MY memories, and much time has passed since these things happened to me. For that reason, what I’m telling you may not be entirely accurate. Or it may be accurate, and YOU’RE the one who’s remembering it wrong. Either way - the truth is in there somewhere, and the greatest truth of it is that these moments changed me. Which is the point.

1. The Boy On the Bicycle

This one actually happened the summer before I started high school, but the ramifications of it echoed throughout the next two decades. One day, I was picking up pecans in my backyard - a pointless chore which my father insisted on me and my brothers doing. The pecans were small, bitter, and wormy, and pecans didn’t fetch much money when we sold them, but it was something we had to do whenever Dad didn’t think we had enough money or didn’t think we had enough to do. As I was picking up pecans, a boy rode up to me on his bicycle. I knew the boy because he lived a few miles down the road and because he was related to one of the kids in my class, but since this boy was a year younger than me and went to a different school (his Dad taught there so he was able to attend it despite zoning bullshit) I didn’t know him very well.

I guess he was bored - he didn’t having any fucking pecans to pick up - so he decided to stop by and see what was up. We said hi, made some small talk, and then he says to me, “I heard you liked to play Dungeons & Dragons.” Which was true - I’d learned the game a couple of years previous from an older cousin, and it appealed to me greatly. I didn’t really PLAY much, because there was no one close by to play with except my little brother, but I goofed around with making up characters and I read all the books and magazines that dealt with it.

Long story short, we started hanging out, and eventually got my brother and a couple of other neighborhood kids into the game, and on many, many weekends throughout high school, we’d all play D&D at my house or his house.

So… how did this define me? Well, first of all, D&D allowed me to exercise my imagination and intellect outside of the usual academic arena, subtly demonstrating for me the value of deep and far-ranging thought. I think that, had it not been for that outlet, I might have devalued such things, because in high school, I actually strived NOT to be a nerd. Sure, I was a little geeky, a little nerdy, and still am - but I might have abandoned altogether the rich possibilities of an intellectual life (in a quest for shitty beer and pussy) had I not had that tether.

Secondly, that boy on the bicycle went on to become my longest-lasting true friend. It’s 27 years later, and I JUST got off the phone with him - we were planning a Thanksgiving excursion together, his family and mine. How many of us can say that we still have a deep and lasting relationship with a non-family member that has endured so long? And at great distance, too - he lives on the other side of the U.S. If you can, then you should count yourself fortunate. I do.

2. You First 

In high school, we had a substitute teacher named Ms. Presley. And when she came to our class to sub for an absent teacher, we… didn’t behave very well. Looking back now, I can say that I really liked Ms. Presley - she was actually pretty cool, even if she was prone to long speeches about really asisine stuff, and even if she never stuck to the teachers’ lesson plans. That was fine, I think, because most of the time the teachers’ lesson plans were “busy” work anyway.

You guys from high school - you remember her, don’t you? Ms. Presley, God bless her, was batshit crazy. In a good, harmless way.

One day, Ms. Presley was substituting for our Honors English class - a class which my grade shared with the one above it. I can’t remember if this thing I’m gonna tell you about happened when I was in 10th grade or 11th, but I don’t think that matters. Anyway, we all started goofing off as we usually did, and Ms. Presley launched into a speech about how we were someday gonna regret our behavior because God was gonna get us. And at some point in her speech, she says, ” If ya’ll cain’t behave, then ya’ll can just leave my classroom.”

Jamie Cooper stood up. He was in the year ahead of me, and this was just the sort of thing Jamie would do. In elementary school, Jamie had been a bully - faster, stronger, and meaner than most of us and a real pain in the ass to wimpy little shits like me - but Jamie was also pretty smart, and in high school, even though he was rough around the edges, he’d mellowed out a bit. Still, this was typical Jamie - defiant and bold - and the envy of all of us who never dared to be rebellious.

Jamie walked to the back of the classroom and headed for the door, with Ms. Presley railing at his back. And then, up stood Tal Milner, who was in my grade and who was obviously trying to emulate the great rebel of our time. Tal followed Jamie to the exit, and Jamie stopped and opened the door for him. Tal walked out, his shoulders squared, his jaw set and… Jamie closed the door behind him and returned to his seat.

Fucking brilliant.

We all cracked up. Ms. Presley laughed so hard she almost hyperventilated. And when Tal came back a few minutes later - he’d made it pretty far down the hall before he realized Jamie wasn’t behind him - the laughter surged again. Class was over for the day - even the part where Ms. Presley preached to us.

There are countless movies and TV shows and books about how tenuous being popular in high school (and even afterward) can be - about how it seems like “rough kids” and jocks and kids with money seem to have the advantage, but can so easily lose their edge if they overextend or defy the repercussions of karma. As I watched Jamie and Tal get up and make to leave the room, a huge part of me wanted to join them, to walk out of the room and make the kids in my classroom wish they were as cool as I was.

But the sheepish look on Tal’s face when he returned reminded me why I didn’t.

3. You Are SO Arrogant

One of my teachers in high school had her hands in a lot of extra-curricular activities which I participated in. She also had a lot of pet students who participated with me - needless to say, I was not one of her pets. I think I could have been, but something in her manner and the manner of her pet students bugged me, so I never went out of my way to suck up to her or try to please her. Also, there was ANOTHER teacher who was also into a lot of extra-curricular activites to which I gravitated, and I WAS one of her pets. I think there was some rivalry between them, too, which fueled the fire that caused this moment.

Not much to it, actually. This teacher and I were talking about my position on one of her “teams” and she was more or less threatening to take me off the team if I didn’t do something she wanted. I told her I didn’t care, but that I thought she was making a mistake,and in response, she gave me this vicious, poisonous look, and told me I was arrogant.

I’ve gotten that a lot over the years. In fact, you may be sitting at your computer right now thinking, ”Well, asshole. You ARE.” But this was the first time anyone had genuinely called me out on it, and for days I had to think about what she said and what might cause her to say it. It stung. I didn’t - I DON’T - want to be arrogant. Arrogant people don’t fare well in the grand scheme of things.

Then I realized a few things, and it is these realizations which changed my attitude about the world and my place in it.

First, if you think I’m arrogant, then you don’t know the meaning of the word. To be arrogant implies an assumption of one’s superiority to others. It also implies an overblown sense of one’s value. Now, we are not all created equally in certain capacities: I may be smarter than you. I may have more money than you. I may have more friends on fucking Facebook than you. But that DOES NOT make me better than you, and I have NEVER believed myself to be better than anyone simply because I had certain advantages over them. I am CERTAIN, in fact, that every person in the world can do SOMETHING better than I can.  I bet you can name at least one thing you can beat me at. I bet you can name more than one.

The problem in the past for me has been that I have no problem with acknowledging those things which I can beat YOU at. If I can do something better than you and we both know it, then what’s the harm in acknowledging it?

But it has taken years of maturing before I became comfortable with not actively competing against people that I personally had no business competing with - in other words, it took becoming a man to be able to openly acknowledge those things which I can’t do so well, and to just “let it go.” As an example - I SUCK at anything car-related beyond changing a battery or a tire. I have no fucking clue where the oil drain is on my car. But in 1988, I’d have bent over backwards to demonstrate that I was as good at automotive stuff as you are, and God forbid I ask your help.

Another thing that took time was understanding that some people, if they cannot do something well, do NOT like to have it pointed out. I have tried over the years since I figured this out to refrain from doing so, but I have a hard time with it because apparently no one has a problem pointing out MY shortcomings (this teacher being a shining example), and because I believe that if you’re sensitive to someone pointing out that you can’t do something, then you are probably in need of some level of self-examination. If you can’t do it, you can’t do it. Let’s call it like it is. Such is life.

As far as an overblown sense of self worth… I am a writer struggling to make headway in an industry which actively resists talent (yes, I said that right). So while I may think my writing is something YOU ALL should pay attention to, apparently not everyone believes the same thing. I AM VERY AWARE OF THAT. I am not a very valuable writer. Not yet anyway.

I am, however, a valuable father. Just ask my kids. And I am a very valuable friend. Try me.

Finally - and I’ve said this before elsewhere - it takes a LOT of arrogance on your part to think that you’re worthy of labeling anyone else arrogant. Who died and made you judge of things like that?

So. Do I think that teacher of mine was arrogant?

Not my place to say.

4. The Talent Show

There are times, though, when other people openly acknowledge that you can do something well, and this was one of them.

We had a bona fide, full-blown talent show once at my high school. To participate you had to sign up ahead of time, you had to have a legitimate talent to display, and you had to follow the rules on stage (length, format, etc.). It wasn’t a bunch of kids goofing around in the theater when they should have been in class. I forget who sponsored it, but it was sponsored and advertised and supported and all that legit shit.

I entered. And I won.

My talent was that I sang a song - a Christian folk song that my youth minister at the time found for me. I sang over a tape that had the whole song on one side and just the musical accompaniment (pretty much just an acoustic guitar) on the other. I sang over just the accompaniment, and I smoked it.

Later that day, in the midst of a flurry of pats on the back and congratulations, one girl walks right up to me and says, “You didn’t deserve to win.” I just gaped at her, stunned into silence.

Well, let me tell you something, little high school girl who’s probably grown up to be a bitter, overweight, and overbearing shithole: I DID deserve to win. I was up against a series of rap acts and some dancers and I THINK one group of kids who sang a four-part harmony a la Boys To Men. And while there were some pretty decent moments of unquestionable talent exhibited that day, and while no doubt there might have been some acts that WERE better than mine, I fucking blew some minds when I hit a couple of those hard-to-reach notes,  and I definitely exhibited some unquestionable talent of my own.

But the question is: did I DESERVE to win?

Well, I chose something that wasn’t immediately easy for me - I “reached for the stars” as it were. And I practiced. I practiced so hard and so much that I was so sick of that song, I never want to hear it again. I wore my voice out at one point and wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to sing. And I was nervous - not because I didn’t think I could sing, but because I knew I was singing a slow, acoustic folk song about God in front of a bunch of people who liked rap and Boys To Men (I like rap, too, by the way - as long as the rappers have talent, which many popular ones do not).

So, did I DESERVE to win, young girl who walked up to me and said I didn’t? I’d say hell yeah I did. Just like you probably deserved everything that’s happened to you in the subsequent years. Most people get what they deserve.

That’s why I think that, while I may not be an indispensable part of the writing world now, if I keep at it I CAN be, because that will be what I deserve. And if you think I’m arrogant to believe that I deserve such a thing, then once again, I direct you to the definition of arrogance.

Being a writer of some import will not make me better than you. The foundation for THAT little life lesson got laid in high school.

Which - although in sharing these little memories I never actually mentioned - I did NOT.