Monday, October 29, 2012

Blah blah blah

One of my favorite writers thinks I suck.

Yeah, it's true.

Well, no, it's not, either.  I am vast, I contain multitudes.

I'm Facebook friends with one of my all time favorite sf writers, whose name I will not mention here to protect me from snoopy search engine related recriminations of which I want none.  This guy has been very friendly to me in the past and he actually read some of my fiction.  He read one of my short stories that I was very proud of ("No Good Angel", you can probably read it yourself by clicking a link on my sideboard) and his response was 'mehhhhh'... he indicated that he wasn't surprised it hadn't sold, as it hadn't grabbed him.  On the other hand, he said, he wouldn't have been surprised if it had sold.  He could see it going either way.

Now, look... I know this guy is a working author and he did me an enormous favor reading the story.  And he didn't say it sucked.  So when I say 'one of my favorite writers thinks I suck', I'm being whiney and melodramatic.  I get that.  Still. 

Anyway, sometime later he bought one of my novels off Kindle (ZAP FORCE) and I never heard anything back about whether he'd even read it or not.  I mean, six months went by and he didn't say a word.  Then, in a completely unrelated thread (well, I was bitching on FB about how apparently I just suck as a writer and I should just give up the dream) he mentioned that he had "really liked" ZAP FORCE.  And offered to do a blurb for it.

Now, weeks later, he's finally done the blurb:

""If you love Silver Age comics, and what decent person doesn't, D------ M------ has recreated what you love in 'Zap Force.' It's nostalgic, it moves fast, and you can almost see the colored pages as you read. Tons of fun."

This is like when you're trying to fix your homely cousin up with a date.  This is the "he/she has a great personality" blurb.  Notice (as anyone else reading it will instantly) that at no point does he use any genuinely positive descriptors.  He never says "great" or even "good".  He doesn't mention my writing abilities at all.  He advises that my book is 'nostalgic' and 'it moves fast' and 'you can almost see the colored pages as you read'... and finally, he says it is 'tons of fun'. 

What he doesn't say is that it's a good book, that it's well written, that the author knows what he's doing, that the author has a great style, that he loved the characters or the story or the dialogue... he doesn't say any of that, and my guess is, he doesn't say it because, well, none of it is true.  He didn't like it.  He doesn't think I'm a good writer.  He's simply not going to say so... any more than you're going to tell your homely cousin "I can't get a date for you, dude, you're ugly as shit". 

Now, I've recently reread ZAP FORCE and I think it's a terrific little novel.  It does indeed move fast, it has awesome characters, terrific dialogue, it's funny and it's witty and it has a great plot and stuff blows up in it real good... and that's the kind of blurb I want from the people who read it.  Especially when they are one of my favorite authors in the world.

A mediocre blurb like that isn't fooling anyone, and it isn't going to help me.   It's not going to help my morale and it's certainly not going to help my sales.  It's very much as if he thinks I'm a child, or at least, an idiot; like I can't see, from that blurb, what he actually thinks of my abilities.

Or maybe he is pretty sure I can see what he actually thinks of my abilities from that lackluster blurb that he sent to me in a Facebook message rather than posting into his own stream or on his own page. 

Maybe he's just letting me down as easy as he can.

I think I'd rather he just said "you suck".

* * * * *

Here's how you blurb someone's book if you really like it:

""D.A. Madigan crams more classic pulp tropes into one story ('A Dish Best Served Cold') than 'Kenneth Robeson' managed to shoehorn into 181 Doc Savage novels. If you like your pulp extra pulpy with a big slug of purple stirred in, D.A. Madigan is the writer for you."


"They don't write 'em like that any more... D.A. Madigan is a consonant connoisseur of all things pulp, and an absolute master of the form. His dialogue sizzles, his plots move fast, his heroes are noble and his heroines are hot. If you don't find your favorite pulp story ever somewhere in this anthology, you don't love pulp fiction."


"ZAP FORCE is pure pulp from start to finish -- hard hitting heroes, villains that rant and rave with the worst of them, evil aliens, capes & cowls, zombies & werewolves, particle beams & explosions, all mixed up with the most kick ass fight scenes Jack Kirby never drew -- if you dig that kind of thing, this one should be on your Christmas list."

Unfortunately, if I want this shit done right, I have to do it myself.

Tales of the Nebula: the Purple Pulp Fiction of D.A. Madigan

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Wrath of Doc

I used to game with a bunch of guys in Syracuse, and sometimes some of us would get together to go out and see movies, too. They very quickly learned (right around the time STAR TREK III first hit the theaters) not to ask me how I felt about the movie we'd just seen. The last time they did it was, in fact, after we all watched STAR TREK III for the first time. We were all walking out and they were gibbering like idiots about how wonderful it had been, the best Star Trek yet, and quoting "Don't call me TINY!" over and over again... and one of them, I think it was Gary, said "Hey, you're kind of quiet, what did YOU think?"

So I said "Well, for starters, when the best line in a movie is 'Don't call me TINY' and it's supposed to be funny because it's a little Asian guy saying it... that ain't good. Also, next time one of you repeats that idiotic piece of drivel, I'm going to throw up on your shoes. No lie."

After which, I proceeded to dissect the moronically plot free morass that was STAR TREK III: "There was a moment," I began, low, my voice almost reverent, my tone deliberately pitched to inspire confidence, "a shining moment of wisdom and truth in the Star Trek franchise... a moment when Hollywood itself opened its corporate eyes and said 'Hey, you know what? People get older. They mature and move on. They get promoted, they grow, they change, they take on new roles, new responsibilities. They age, and others come along the trail that they've blazed, walking in the footprints they've left, bringing their own skills, their own strengths, their own peculiar ways of doing things, to the tasks that will always be there, the roles that will always need to be played.' There was a time when a great and classic franchise accepted that entropy happens and we all get older, but it ain't all bad; there was a time when yesterday's titans and heroes gracefully passed the torch, after one last grand adventure, to the sons and daughters of their bodies and spirits, when they handed over the baton of frontline duty and entrusted the guardianship of the universe to newer, younger, fresher hands. There was a moment when that happened, and it was wondrous and moving and for that one brief shining instant, the two dimensional, almost cartoonish near caricatures that were Kirk and Spock and Scottie and McCoy and Sulu and Uhura became truly human and three dimensional and far more than the sum of their parts."

And I paused, for a great crowd had gathered 'round to hear my mighty rolling words. And I let my voice come back up, and I continued:

"And then Paramount sobered up the next day, said 'What the fuck were we THINKING?' and greenlighted a movie that completely destroyed that moment, that went back and pissed and shit and vomited all over that wondrous shimmering transcendent moment, that did its best to kill that unique and glorious moment so dead that no one would ever remember it had happened, by rooting out every last new, innovative element of that franchise which that moment had introduced and murdering them, butchering them, blowing them straight to hell and oblivion with retarded bullshit plot devices like 'protomatter', completely trashing the greatest heroic sacrifice in the history of heroic fiction with what had to be the most ridiculously contrived and hopelessly dumbass resurrection stunt since the Jackal cloned Gwen Stacy, and proving once and for all that the good of the many never ever EVER outweighs the good of the few or the one, if the few are stockholders in Paramount Pictures, and the one is a Leonard Nimoy terrified he'll never ever have another part. And that glorious moment when James T. Kirk was an Admiral and Spock was his Captain and the Enterprise merely a training craft and that was *okay*, it was *all right*, because the galaxy was still vast and the frontier was still final and other heroes and heroines were standing ready to boldly go where no one had gone before... that moment was gone forever, beaten down, broken, burned to ashes and trampled underfoot into the muck of mediocrity. And once again, then and forever, galloping around the cosmos was a game for the old, the tested, the true, the guaranteed box office."

And my voice became a naked flame as I spat: "Star Trek III sucked so hard I thought the movie theater had suffered a hull breech. The characterizations didn't exist, the dialogue was drivel, the plot was so utterly vacuous as to make the admittedly nonsensical plot of STAR TREK II look like Shakespeare, and if William Shatner had chewed the scenery any harder he'd have gone into toxic shock from an overdose of paper mache and spraypaint. That movie was sheer shit from back to front, start to finish, top to bottom, and now I feel like I need to take my brain out and have it dry cleaned."

Okay, I may not have said all that quite that eloquently, but I said a lot of it, as we drove in Gary's car back from the movie theater. 

And they never asked me for my opinion of a movie again.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Lies about money

Oh, and: Don't buy this bullshit the learned conservative wonks are now trying to spew about how this deep concern they have about Obama's reckless increase of the deficit. They'll roll out ominous, fulsomely rotund phrases like "You can't keep spending money that doesn't exist", but Republicans, and Mitt Romney in particular, have absolutely no problem spending money that doesn't exist... unless it's happening with a Democrat in the White House. It's not about whether the money 'exists' or not (and if you're that concerned with fiat spending, you need to be voting for Ron Paul, as he's the ONLY viable Presidential candidate who wants to put us on hard currency again). It's about two things: What We Spend It On, and Who Gets The Credit.

I'm not a registered Democrat. I tend to vote Democrat because I'm a progressive liberal and I want my tax dollars spent helping everyone, and where I would prefer my tax dollars do not get spent is on hurting (much less killing) people unnecessarily. Republican/conservatives are EXACTLY the opposite; at the base of every Tea Party hissy fit is their perception that (a) they have to pay any taxes at all and (b) that their taxes might conceivably be spent helping out somebody who does not look like them (black welfare queens in New York City) or behave like them (gay people in New York City and/or San Francisco). 

However, Republicans/conservatives will, grudgingly, pony up some tax money (they'll still cheat, mind you, but they'll send in something) as long as it goes to jailing, killing, or otherwise harming people who neither look nor act like them. 

Poor conservatives are primitive, tribal, bigoted people. They love Rush Limbaugh because he tells that that this is not only okay, but it makes them cool and patriotic and better than those goddam commie dope smoking hippie liberal assholes. Rich conservatives are deeply tribal, too... they have absolutely nothing but contempt for anyone who doesn't make as much money as they do and who didn't go to the same prep school... and while they really don't give a shit what anyone thinks of them, when they do, they enjoy writers like Ayn Rand, who extol the virtues of selfishness and being a complete prick with wonderful sounding phrases like "Productive Men" and "job creators". Mostly, though, they don't give a shit because they're RICH. To them, America is a place where the rich are a noble class that is above the law... just like every other culture, nation, country, and authority structure in human history. And they are desperate to keep it that way.

These are the people who are voting for Mitt Romney. The vast majority of them (the poor ones) don't like Mitt, but they hate Obama, because they have been convinced by the tiny minority of very rich conservatives that Obama is Other. They do not have to convince these folks that Obama is not on their side and that he will not help them, and that's good, because it isn't true, and it CERTAINLY is true of Romney. No, all they have to do is make these people feel that Obama is Not One Of Them. Because poor conservative Values Voters will NEVER ever under any circumstances vote for someone who is not a member of their tribe. 

The tiny wealthy minority will vote for Mitt because he is one of them, and they know it. He's got their back. He'll keep the help in line, God love him.

The poor conservatives are simply toxically, willfully stupid, spiteful, petty, hateful people. The rich conservatives are utterly selfish, mean spirited, trollish, glassy eyed haters who simply can't stand the thought of living in a world where someone who makes less money than they do might ever be able to give them shit without dire consequences. Either way, this is a hateful, poisonous mob, not a thoughtful segment of the electorate.


I'm going to say this, and castigate me as you will:  I like Taylor Swift's music.  And the reason I like Taylor Swift's music is because she is one hell of a lyricist.

I can enjoy a song that has incoherent lyrics, as long as they are evocative and have at least some clever word play in them (this pretty much sums up nearly every Blue Oyster Cult song, at least, the ones written by Sandy Pearlman, and seems to comprise everything Adele writes, too... "set fire to the rain"?  "Rolling in the deep"?  does anyone know what these phrases actually mean? ).  I can dig a song that has dumb ass, simple minded lyrics ("Dance the Night Away" and "Jump" by Van Halen are among my all time guilty pleasures).  I can even enjoy a song that is about absolutely nothing except cheap, meaningless, mindless vices, like pretty much 90 percent of the stuff recorded by the Rolling Stones.

But for me to truly enjoy a song, it has to be written well.  It doesn't have to be deep or meaningful (Jeff Webb and I used to say that we both loved Pink Floyd, but we couldn't listen to more than four sequential tracks by the band without wanting to kill ourselves) but it has to have a style, the words have to work together, they have to be memorable and evocative and the song has to either make some kind of narrative sense (to the extent that it actually tells some sort of story) or it just has to be so overwhelmingly powerful that it doesn't need to (like Springsteen's "Thunder Road").  But beyond all that, there have to be phrases that slap me up side of the head, grab my attention and hold it, that stick with me, that I can roll around the corners of my skull for hours afterward with a big, admiring grin on my face, thinking "God, I wish I'd written that".

I left work early Thursday because my voice was pretty much shot by this chest thing I've got going on right now.  The bus back home from up there wasn't going to show up for another three hours, and while I'd have preferred to just stay at my desk and surf the Internet until then, that seemed like it would just piss my boss and other co-workers off if they saw me doing it.  So I left and not wanting to spend fifty bucks on a cab ride home when the bus trip would be free (my wife and I are both working, but the words of House Madigan are "Christmas is coming" and this time of year, that's more true than it usually is), I trekked over about half a mile to a Culver's at the corner of Interstate and Preston.  Got a coke and some chicken and sat down with my Lovecraft compendium (the gigantic black leather bound one that all my black co workers kept smiling mysteriously at last week, until one of them finally asked me if it was The Bible, and I had to deeply disappoint him by telling him no) to kill 180 minutes or so.

Now this Culver's is the only fast food franchise in the entire city of Louisville where every employee is as white as Mitt Romney, and similarly, it's the only one that plays country music.  I'd gotten my nose deep into "The Thing On The Doorstep" (which is excellent; fully mature Lovecraft in absolute control of his form, and probably the inspiration, in many ways, for King's CHRISTINE), having absolutely tuned out whatever drivel was coming over the speakers (I'll listen to some country; Emmylou Harris will always get my attention, and that song about 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu is another guilty pleasure of mine, but for the most part, while it's generally not as offensive to me as rap/hip-hop, still, I'll selectively dis-perceive the vast majority of it in a big way, given the opportunity)... when abruptly I was hauled out of Lovecraft's wonderfully eldritch tale of hideous trans-possession by awful evil wizards by the realization that Taylor Swift was singing "Mine" -

"...I was a flight risk with a fear of fallin’..."

And then, yes, a decently written stanza about laying on a couch, nice imagery, okay, but then she swings into that recurring chorus:

"Do you remember, we were sitting there by the water?
You put your arm around me for the first time.
You made a rebel of a careless man’s careful daughter.
You are the best thing that’s ever been mine."

'A careless man's careful daughter'... that's fucking nails, right there.  That's the true gold, that's diamonds and rubies and pearls.  That one beautifully evocative wonderfully rhythmic fantastically well wrought phrase... that's one that stays with me.

And then she does that sneaky little, heart-grabbing reverse in the last chorus, when the female narrator has walked out the apartment crying and the guy she's singing to is chasing her out onto the street and she thinks he's about to break up with her, but instead:

"You said, "I remember how we felt sitting by the water
And every time I look at you, it’s like the first time
I fell in love with a careless man’s careful daughter
She is the best thing that’s ever been mine."

And you know, I just want to cry, because goddamit, this girl... woman... person... human entity... this one right here... she can WRITE.

Goddam, I wish I'd written that.

And it's not uncommon for her.  The cascade of images in a little nothing song like "You Belong With Me" -

"She wears high heels, I wear sneakers
She's cheer captain and I'm on the bleachers"

is so deft it approaches brilliance, and she makes it look easy... casual.

Oddly, the other lyricist Swift reminds me most of is Billy Joel.   But where Joel's lyrics are mostly about affluent entitled douchebags whining about the ennui and disappointment of their easy easy lives and how hard it is to be rich when you're sensitive, Swift writes about genuinely likable people with recognizable emotions that you don't really honest to God wish would just kill themselves by the end of the song.  (I'm sorry.  I love me a lot of Billy Joel songs, but his narratives are all about rich, cocky pricks who are pissed off because while the world will constantly fellate them, sometimes it spits instead of swallows.  He'll occasionally throw together an exception to this rule just to try to stake out some street cred, as with "Allentown" or "Goodnight Saigon", but it's obvious that his heart is really with the dissipated whiner sniveling his way through "I've Loved These Days" and "Summer Highland Falls", or the braying jackass strutting and crowing his way through "Uptown Girl" or "You May Be Right".)

So, anyway... I enjoy listening to Taylor Swift's songs.  The woman can write.  Even if, apparently, she can't maintain a relationship for shit.

I wish I could write as well as she does.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Rejection, and what comes after

No finer way to start my day than finding this in my email box:

"Thanks for submitting "The Pyramid of Skulls," but I'm going to pass on it. It didn't quite work for me, I'm afraid. Best of luck to you placing this one elsewhere, and thanks again for sending it my way."

Back in around 2003-2004, I made a hard push to finally break through and get something published in a real market. I had about half a dozen stories I considered professional level; I spent about eight months, all told, submitting hard copies of each story, in turn, to several different magazines... MAGAZINE OF FANTASY &SF, ISAAC ASIMOV, WEIRD TALES, ANALOG, BLACK GATE.

Everything wound up rejected. Everything I submitted to one particular venue wound up rejected by the guy who sent me the note above, which is virtually identical with all the other notes he has ever sent me. 'It didn't quite work for me, I'm afraid' is a phrase that is going to haunt my nightmares, I fear.

When I realized, after I'd submitted "The Pyramid of Skulls" to a particular online venue day before yesterday, that this guy (he has a very distinctive name) was now the publisher/editor there, my heart literally settled a centimeter or two closer to my colon. There's no way this guy even reads the stuff I submit to him; when I was living in Tampa, I once put a story (a damn good one) in the mail to F&SF on a Saturday, and found it back in my mailbox the following Saturday. That's the round trip from Tampa to New Jersey, and back, in five business days. There's simply no way he even read more than the top sentence of that story before scrawling a signature across one of these cutesy, maddeningly unhelpful and infuriatingly arrogant little rejection notes ("it didn't quite work for me"... what the fuck is that?) and stuffed it back into my SASE before tossing it on his OUT stack. In fact, my guess is, he didn't read more than the return address before flipping it to the reject pile... having noted, with lightning quick professionalism, that this was from an unknown nobody whose name on the cover wouldn't sell any additional copies for him.

I know I can't take these things personally, and I don't. But "The Pyramid of Skulls" is a damned fine story, and so are the other stories I submitted out back then (I reread most of them, and posted links to them from FB, yesterday). And the absolutely certain knowledge that, had any of these stories gone into any of those magazines with a "by Stephen King" or "by Joe R. Lansdale" byline on them, they would have been snapped up as fast as they were otherwise rejected... I don't take it personally, because it's not personal, it's just how the business works... but it aggravates and frustrates and exasperates me no end.

"The Pyramid of Skulls" is a fucking wonderful story, and I'm proud of it, and now I'm pissed off all over again.

He didn't say 'send more', though, so at least I'm excused from ever trying him out again.

I do, actually, realize I'm whining in a most unbecoming manner. I do, actually, understand that I cannot be objective about my own writing, and when I look at an issue of this mag I was just rejected from, and read the stories that he has accepted, and say "My stuff is absolutely as good as this stuff, or better", well, I don't get to make that call.

But I don't think he actually read this story before he rejected it, and say hey and by the way... this is my LIFE, here. This is what I've wanted to do since I was 12, and this is yet another example of why I don't get to do it... because the people in positions of absolute authority over this crazy business only have so many spaces to publish stuff in, and only so much time to wade through unsolicited submissions, and if what ends up getting published every month is stories by their long time friends and podcast partners, and stories by authors with reputations and followings whose names will bring in additional sales, well, that's just how it is. Sorry, buddy. This might be a Nebula award winner, but I don't know your name and I don't have time to really read this thing, I've got two hundred other nobodies to kick in the kidney before I can go to lunch today, so, you know, 'it didn't quite work for me'.

This shit just aggravates me. It really, really does.

So, today has started out shitty, and, you know, thanks, Mr. Big Shot, for taking the time to reject an excellent short story without bothering to read it. I appreciate your efforts on my behalf.

* * * * *

Heh. So I just responded to this morning's rejection note:

""Thanks for sending me your rejection note in re: my story "The Pyramid of Skulls," but I'm going to pass on it. It didn't quite work for me, I'm afraid. Best of luck to you being less of a tool, and thanks again for sending it my way."

Before anyone types the word 'unprofessional' into a reply window, please consider the following:

(a) I AM unprofessional. I'd like to be professional, but buttweeds won't let me. So, whatever, this is how that's going to be for a while, I guess.

(b) If we're going to have a discusson regarding professionalism anyway, let's start with, professional editors/publishers who reject manuscripts without reading them. If that's professional behavior, then so is calling them a tool for doing it with a snotty little note about how something 'didn't quite work for them'.

I'll probably add more to this later.

* * * *

So I just read two of the stories available for free at the e-mag I was just rejected from.  The first, by the long time business partner and I guess close friend of the toolneck that rejected me, frankly sucked.  The second... was interesting, and had flashes of real style, and a genuinely original premise.  But it wasn't any better than "A Pyramid Of Skulls". 

It's how these things go, I guess.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012


So, writing PYRAMID OF SKULLS was interesting.  (To me.  I have absolutely no expectations that this 'process' post will interest anyone else at all... in fact, I might as well post it on my old blog.  Maybe I will.)

I'd been restless, lately, with a feeling I've come to recognize over the past forty years or so as "I want to write something".  I've found various useful (or, bad, depending on how you look at it) substitutes that more or less satisfy this feeling over the years... running my RPG is probably the best.  But playing a detail heavy game like ARKHAM HORROR is sometimes enough of a fix, too.

But, mostly, when I feel like I want to write, what's best is, to sit down and write.

Sometimes I have a story idea that is banging around inside my skull, picking up velocity until I get it outside of me.  Other times, though, the feeling is more general... no real story concept, but, I just want to write.  Something.  Anything.

This, I've found, is the impulse that tends to produce interesting story frags.  I used to have a big manila folder of these, some from as long ago as 8th grade... but I lost it during one of my many moves.  Which is too bad, there were a lot of hilarious three or four page Star Trek parodies in there that used to amuse some of my classmates in high school no end.

So yesterday I had this feeling, and I was at work and had no real ideas at all for what I wanted to write, but I wanted to.  So in the hour or so I had before my shift started, I opened a Notepad window and started typing.

All I had was a title... the rather Conanesque PYRAMID OF SKULLS.   I had no idea what it was or where to start the story or how it would get eventually so some pyramid built out of skulls, but I just started typing.

My opening paragraph went something like this:

"As Kordek Axehand came around the last curve of the River to the north of Bearfang Bay, he could see that the main gate leading through the city wall was jammed with a sherdak caravan."

I had no idea who Kordek Axehand was, and while the story was clearly going to be set in the backdrop of my long running fantasy RPG (Bearfang Bay is one of many cities situated along The River where various parties of Player Characters have wreaked havoc over the last quarter century), I still had no clue what Bearfang Bay had to do with a pyramid of skulls, or how Kordek Axehand was going to be involved with a pyramid of skulls.

Hell, I didn't even know what a 'sherdak' was, except that it was big.

I typed on the story until my shift started, then kept typing on it between calls all day. I had about 3,000 words of it down when my shift ended.  By then I knew what a sherdak was (it's a mammoth).   I knew more or less who Kordek was at that point, and had introduced a buddy for him, some obnoxious little puke named Gafeq the Sunfingered.  And I'd started to get an idea of the shape the story would take, and how the pyramid of skulls was going to come into it.  

I typed another thousand words or so last night.  Today, I sat down and finished the story.  It comes in at just over 7000 words, so I did about another 3000 today.  In the course of it, I found myself continually surprised by where the story was going.  In the end, I was probably as astounded by how that story got to the pyramid of skulls, and what happened when it got there, as I hope any readers the story may eventually have will be.

I generally start writing a story, regardless of length, without having any clear idea how it's going to come out.  This is the first time, though, that I sat down with an empty word processor window and just started typing and an entire coherent narrative came out.

If I were interviewing myself, and I asked myself "Where do you get your ideas?" I would have to honestly answer, "I have no fucking clue".