Monthly Archives: October 2013

This is the only time you will see the word “NaNoWriMo” on this blog. Ever.

Oscar the GrouchYou know I love you, right? I want you to write something brilliant, and I want you to love it. I hope it gets published and you become the next superstar author, to the degree that you can cut back to 30 hours a week at the office and still make payments on your Corolla.

It’s just that I’ve come to dread November every year. Throughout the 11 other months, I get to read great essays, poetry, and flash fiction as well as moving personal stories. I see inspiring photos and art. And, of course, I get amazing insights that, bit by bit, help me become a better writer. All generated by my fellow WordPress bloggers!

Then, in November, all that stops and my blog reader suddenly fills with post after post after post after post citing… word counts. 1200 words! 4000 words! 12,000 words! 23,000 words! 35,000 words! That happens for three weeks, followed by a fourth week of anxiety posts about falling behind schedule with word counts. Then three or four days of triumphant victory posts reporting that the 50,000-word target was met, or, far more likely, laments about the abject misery of failure.

Surely that’s the purpose of this event: to make you feel bad about yourself.

Yes, I understand people welcome the challenge, and they value the sense of accomplishment if they meet it. I get that it pushes people to stop procrastinating and start writing. But this event does not make for remotely interesting or enlightening blog posts, except, perhaps, to the compulsively supportive.

The event is a cool idea, but I’m not sure it leads to great writing as much as a frustrating sense of obligation amongst participants. And, frankly, shouldn’t a bunch of writers be able to come up with a less clunky and, at this point, less grating name for the thing?

oscar the grouch 2How about Novelember? 30 Days of Write? Word Turkey? Clock Back Word Stack? Hey, at least I’m trying!

Please, if these are fun times for you and you are bursting with enthusiasm to write and discuss, post away about your 50,000 word, 30-day adventure. Just don’t be upset with me if I hide under a rock and avoid everyone until it’s all over.

How about you? Are you eager to start word blasting? Are you secretly sick of the whole thing? Or are you thinking I’m just a grumpy old killjoy who hates to see others have a good time?

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Your Horoscope

zodiac

Aries – The Ram (Mar. 21–Apr. 19)

Saturn is in retrograde, so much so that it collides with Neptune, resulting in a massive wall of space debris that rips the Earth apart in an apocalyptic storm of meteoroids. Everyone will blame you.

Taurus – The Bull (Apr. 20–May 20)

You will meet another Taurus and fall madly in love. Once everyone realizes it is a 1991 Ford Taurus station wagon, TLC will want to do a feature on you for the series premiere of Weird Sex.

Gemini – The Twins (May 21–June 21)

The moving costs you save by using free Priority Mail flat-rate boxes from the Post Office to pack your stuff will be cancelled out by having to replace everything you sawed into 12” x 12” x 5” blocks, including your family.

Cancer – The Crab (June 22–July 22)

The discomfort and embarrassment you feel at having easily the worst zodiac-sign name will continue unabated. Note: People know “Sex Machine” is not the actual name of a zodiac sign, so stop saying that. And they still don’t get the connection between a multi-limbed crustacean and a horrible disease, despite your exasperation at having to explain, over and over again, that the sign has nothing to do with… oh, screw it.

Leo – The Lion (July 23–Aug. 22)

Congratulations! An agent will finally show interest in your autobiographical novel, Across State Lines with a Screaming 12 Year Old. An FBI agent.

Virgo – The Virgin (Aug. 23–Sept. 22)

Your inability to read face expressions will lead to the 210th consecutive month that you think people are amused by your obviously ironic stock greeting, “Hi. I’m a virgin.” For one, they already saw your business card with Personal Escort listed as your job title, and, two, you just ruined yet another customer’s hour of pretend-time before it even started.

Libra – The Balance (Sept. 23–Oct. 23)

Your efforts to prove, through first-hand demonstration, that piranhas do not eat humans who wade into tropical rivers will meet with rousing success. Not so much with your similar claims about crocodiles, though.

Scorpio – The Scorpion (Oct. 24–Nov. 21)

In stark contrast to your Cancer friend above, you are not uncomfortable with your zodiac name. You are proud of it, in fact, because it sounds so badass. However, in attempting to bust out your signature “scorpion” move at the tiki bar, it is you who ends up in a hospital bed. This is how you finally learn the meaning of irony.

Clash of the Titans scorpion

Sagittarius – The Archer (Nov. 22–Dec. 21)

Your decision to give in to peer pressure and finally buy a cell phone, a computer, a flat-screen TV, and a blu-ray player will result in exactly what you told your friends would happen: A sledge-hammer rampage that not only takes out all your new devices but also your electric typewriter, dishwasher, and toaster oven, though you know your actions are simply an outward expression of self-loathing caused by feelings of incompetence, irrelevance, and frustration at having made one atrocious life decision after another. Vindication is sweet, isn’t it?

Capricorn – The Goat (Dec. 22–Jan. 19)

This is the year you finally stop caring that your birthday once again got usurped by that jolly elf in a red suit and by Beyonce’s performance on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.  This is the year you don’t mind having the zodiac sign that gets left out whenever people are asked to name all twelve signs but can only remember eleven (kind of like 49 states and Idaho). This is the year you shrug off The Goat as a lame symbol. Why? Because this is the year you don’t see the massive army of fire ants charging at you the exact moment you are laughing over the jar of honey you spilled down your pants. It’s all about perspective.

Aquarius – The Water Bearer (Jan. 20–Feb. 18)

You will find out, when your car runs out of gas in the middle of Death Valley, California, that “Aquarius, the Water Bearer” is not a superhero you can summon to quench your thirst. It’s a made-up thing, like that mirage of a convenience store you keep walking toward but never get any closer to.

Pisces – The Fish (Feb. 19–Mar. 20)

Exciting things are starting to happen at work that lead to a financial windfall, and you will meet an attractive stranger who turns out to be your soul mate… you tell yourself as you stare into the fabric of your padded cubical wall and absent-mindedly put the numbers in the wrong column, a clumsy mistake that finally gets you fired. After that you will be able to spend more time with your boyfriend, Weasel, though that will also give you more time to get annoyed about his meth lab having taken over the whole house. “I swear; I only need one bedroom,” he promised, and you believed him. Eh, what are you gonna do?


Time’s Up for This Cliché

8 years and counting...

8 years and counting…

Andy Warhol made many unique contributions to popular culture. I wish he would have made one fewer.

When the pop-art guru said, in 1968, that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes, I don’t think he intended his words to become the de rigueur insult in response to every single last stinkin’ internet article about a current celebrity.

I happen upon this hackneyed cliché at least a dozen times per week, and it always irritates. But, like Joan Crawford discovering a wire hanger in her daughter’s closet, I finally snapped this Tuesday. The online article that sent my synapses into electric fury appeared on a popular entertainment site discussing an alleged feud between early ‘90s pop singer Sinead O’Connor and current pop singer Miley Cyrus over the usual nonsense from which celebrity feuds are contrived.

The feud is irrelevant. The reader responses, however, made me very grumpy (pointlessly so to the people around me, it turns out. Their reactions were rather less passionate than mine). Not only did at least 412 people write, “Your 15 minutes of fame are up, Miley,” another 275 wrote, “Weren’t Sinead O’Connor’s 15 minutes of fame up 20 years ago?”

Dear people who write things on the internet: Please, for the love of Zeus, stop using “15 minutes of fame” in reference to people who are actually famous. I don’t think that’s what Andy Warhol meant.

You see, Miley Cyrus is actually famous. She’s a multimillionaire, has sold millions of records, has performed before hundreds and thousands of fans and many millions more on TV, and has been a widely recognized public figure since March of 2006 when Hannah Montana debuted to huge ratings.

Lindsay Lohan, Kanye West, Kristen Stewart, Ben Affleck, and other reviled celebs who draw similar comments are actually famous too, and many have been for a long time. Way longer than 15 minutes.

Being a commenter on entertainment web pages who comments that famous people aren’t worth commenting about because they are almost not famous anymore… well, that’s like me, a blogger with a web footprint the size of a post-it note (the small kind) saying no one uses Facebook anymore.

My relative obscurity won’t stop me from offering this bit of advice, though: I implore you, internet commenter, to stop using the expression “15 minutes of fame.” It is a cliché. Clichés equal bad writing. When you use clichés, it means you are unable to express your own thoughts. Or, more likely, that you don’t have your own thoughts. And there’s really no reason to leave a comment about Miley Cyrus on the internet if you have nothing to say, is there?

15 minutes of fame… Your 15 minutes is up.


Worst 100-Word Story… My Version

So apparently there’s this newfangled concept I just found out about called “being ethical.” Basically it means I cannot enter a Worst Story contest I am judging because I will be “biased.” Can you believe that malarkey? Think of the time and effort I’d save by winning a prize that’s already in my possession!

Anyway, now that my worst story contest is over and the winner announced, I might as well show you what I would have submitted (title not included in the word count). I hope you think it sucks:

Brock and Gwendolyne

Love Reflected is Love Unaccepted

By Eric J Baker

“Gwendolyne!” Brock proffered feelingly.

“Don’t,” Gwendolyne chirped in response, feelingly. She turned away.

“But… I don’t love you,” he announced, somewhat less feelingly.

She turned. “What?” She was surprised.

“I am in love with Robotman,” he declared with finality. He turned. “It’s true.”

She turned. “But I love Robotman. What shall we do?”

“I don’t know.” They turned.

From a distance, Robotman watched with unnecessarily luminous eyes, unbothered by the sunlight glinting off his chrome. He did not love either of them. He lacked human feeling. He wasn’t even sad about it. Then he activated “Giant Mode” and flew away.

**************


Worst Short Story Contest… We Have a Winner!

Captain Kirk

Or should I say “Winner?”

Many fine entries were submitted. The depths of badness (in 100 words or less) were plumbed. New types of terrible were discovered.

It came down to two finalists for me. Like all those who entered, both are terrific writers in “real life.” It takes that kind of talent to pull off creative awfulness. But there can only be one winner. And that winner is:

Tuesday, the force behind the WordPress blog From Tuesday With Love (no links, because pingbacks ruin the surprise). What set her story apart was not only its badness but that she wrote it in the voice of the air-headed characters who appear in the text. It also made me laugh the most, which is pretty much my only real criterion here. Tuesday is soon to be the proud owner of William Shatner’s Transformed Man CD. It is the first prize in the history of contests that actually nets the winner a tax refund, given it’s undesirability and negative value. Ain’t she lucky?

The runner up, in very close second, is the one and only Roger Colby, author and provider of in-depth writing talk on his blog Writing is Hard Work. His entry was a masterwork of circular storytelling, pointless conflict, and lifeless conclusion.  Tuesday’s and Roger’s stories appear below.

Tuesday’s winner:

There were girls by this lake where a monster was living it like a loch ness monster or something but then other people didn’t believe there was a monster and they just thought it was fog or something. Anyway there were these two girls and they were talking and texting on their phones and it made the monster mad so he went Grrr. The one girl asked the other girl what’s that and the other girl said what’s what and then the first girl said I asked you first. Then the girls got ate by the monster because they’re annoying.

Roger’s runner-up:

“Harold.”
“Yes, Grant.”
“What is in that brown bag?”
“Cancer.”
The two men stared at each other.  Harold was sad and Grant was also sad.
“You have cancer in that bag?”
Harold and Grant turned around and looked towards the sun.
“Yes, I have cancer in that bag.”
Sure thing he had some cancer in his bag and the bag was all crumpled and not able  to handle the cancer.
“I’m just kidding about the cancer, Grant.”
“Why would you kid about that, Harold?”
“‘Cause I’m a kidder, Grant.”
The two men walked towards the sun, still really sad.

*******

Thanks so much to all of you who entered. You really all did a wonderful job. If you submitted and would like me to run your story for the enjoyment of everyone, please say so in the comments and I will in the weeks ahead!

*******

 If you haven’t gotten enough of my shenanigans, check out Kris Keppler’s podcast of a recent blog post of mine right here. Thanks Kris! You should be on NPR.