Kim Jong-il is dead, and I like dogs. It’s better to eat dogs than pigs, because pigs are smarter. Bacon is tasty. Kittens are tasty. You shouldn’t keep chimps as pets. The rain forest is falling.
My foray into uncreative nonfiction resulted in this dry, impressively thick, and dreadful tome.
I argue that facial hair shaped the modern world. Societies that had had a head start in developing sophisticated facial hair configurations advanced beyond motley bands of hunters and developed full-blown military regiments—as well as syphilis and potent shaving kits for grooming—and haberdashed on sea and land to conquer and decimate cultures that were shabbily dressed and poorly groomed. A giant lateral leap in our understanding of human societies, Guns, Germs, and Mutton Chops chronicles the way the modern world came to be and stunningly dismantles rational theories of human history.
I should have won the Pulitzer for this.
Like all great American novels, my latest novel will have numerous subplots, illustrated by the plot-lines diagram, including five thousand words devoted to a sandwich-making subplot in which a sandwich is systematically assembled and unassembled multiple times until the desired sandwich is achieved.
I wrote this when I was feeling deeply moved by the exquisite beauty of some things and other stuff.
It was a darkish and precipitous time period; the stuff fell in large quantities—except at other times, when it was checked by a rather excessively robust bunch of air which moved up the the long walky drivy windy things (for it is in the capitol of some country that something happens), making noise along the top of it, and acting with an emotion on the minimal combustion of the fixtures that did something around and about the darkishness.
But the whatsis name of some place does something low, and ’tis time to close some number of ports of learny bits. We are having some feelings about thoughts in the phantasmagoricaly prolonged periods of inactivity, which often continueth precogitations; making Stringy Bits of Stringy Things and Wild Bits of wild Things. Besides Some Guy hath spoke so little and the Other Guys, have left such Haze from plants that there is are smallish dreamy dreams of good stuff. Nor will the some sense of Growing Things afford much comfort in furtherly prolonged inactivity; wherein the feeling of that sense shakes body parts with nice smells; and though in the Bed of a Famous Person of some Historical Import, can hardly with any happy feeling increase the height of the Ghost of a Flower of some color.
A Country and Nation, a Place and Location, laid like pieces of a colored patch in a bigger wavy patch, chased, as we approach, with buildings and monuments and glowing vaguely with natural stuff, and flowers heavy with smelly bits, mixed among masses of flora and fauna. Then let us pass farther towards the north, until tall hills and deep valleys, spreading low along the pasture lands.
The bread was inadequate. It would need to be replaced with rye. Many did not appreciate rye, but he did. He could not bear the flaccid mushiness of white bread. Besides the bread had been ruined by the ketchup, that abomination of condiments, manufactured for the masses without regard to style or taste.
Ketchup, a fickle condiment that is put on all manner of food. Whether it be sandwich or burger or fry or hot dog. Ketchup will mix indiscriminately. Almost as bad as mustard, but at least there were different sorts of mustards. French’s was a bastard mustard that was no better than Ketchup, but other mustards were more refined and had dignity and taste and would be suitable for a sandwich such as the one he desired to make, but today it would not be mustard. It would be a seasoned mayonnaise with a hint of lemon and made from eggs hatched from organically cloned chickens.
As he disassembled the sandwich it became clear, just how many modifications needed to be made. The insipid lettuce, no better than water, would need to be replaced with bean sprouts. He’d wished he’d had broccoli sprouts on hand, but he was cash strapped of late, and the broccoli sprouts were beyond his economic reach. He would settle for the bean sprouts. Thank God there were cucumbers. Without cucumbers, this sandwich would have been an unmitigated disaster.
He set down a slice of rye, spread a discreet amount of the seasoned lemon mayo on the slice. Too much would be an assault on the palette, so he had to get it just right. He placed three pinches of sprouts on the bread, and then sliced the cucumber.
What next? He needed cheese. Provolone was unacceptable, hardly better than cheddar. Muenster would have been an acceptable improvement, but barely. Where was the Havarti? What kind of place was this? No Havarti. He skipped the cheese altogether.
Finally, the meat. The original sandwich had fine slices of Tiroler Spiced Ham Sausage. He tried to salvage as much as he could, but so much had been contaminated by the Ketchup, he had to replace the meat with Beerwurst, of which there was plenty on hand.
No sandwich would be complete without anchovies.
So you’re waist-deep in a creative writing degree, when your half-baked plan to be a literary wonder stalls. Perhaps, you should have been a technical writer. People keep saying that technical writers are always in demand. Technical writing would certainly be a more practical career path.
I’ve created this handy chart to help you determine whether a degree switch is an order. If you already have that degree, the chart will help you determine whether you should go back to school and get that technical writing degree.
|Literary Writing||Technical Writing|
|Purpose||Willing suspension of disbelief||Unwilling suspension of belief that the described product turned out to be a bucket of crap|
|Grammar and Style||In the minimalist style that currently prevails, short simple sentences, direct prose. Exceptionally unexceptional.||Short imperative sentences, straight-forward instruction, often abbreviated to the point of incomprehensibility.|
|Audience||Rarely read, except by other literary fiction writers||Rarely read, by anybody|
|Structure and Content||Paragraphs and sentences in prose format. In modern fiction, reader’s imagination forced to fill in gaps left by spartan descriptions.||List of equipment required, parts list, numbered steps. Reader’s imagination forced to fill gaps left by missing pieces.|
|Format||Unless you are William Gass or think you are William Gass, format is uniform type family, size, spacing, and weight.||Different fonts, headings, bullets, numbering and other formatting styles to establish hierarchy and order over unruly directions.|
|Professional Respect||Jealousy from the 11 other successful literary writers. Dismissed by the rest of the world.||Disdained by anyone that has tried to assemble an entertainment center.|
|Professional Prospects||Scraping by on pennies earned per word penned or scraping by on a fry cook’s wages.||Underpaid, underappreciated.|
Call me Ishmael.
Ishmael stays in Inn. Inn is full. Ismael shares room. He shares with QueeQueg. Ishmael sleeps with Queequeg. See Ishmael and Queequeg sleep. Oh, what a queer couple.
Pequod sails. See Pequod sail. See Pequod crew. Pequod has one legged captain. Pequod has Negro drummer. Pequod has Negro harpooner. Pequod has Indian harpooner. Pequiod has Queequeg. Pequod has Quaker.
Sail Pequod, sail.
One-legged Ahab nails doubloon. Prize. Prize to sight white whale. We kill Moby Dick. We whale on him good.
Ahab hunts. See Ahab hunt. Oh, crazy, crazy Ahab.
A whale is caught. A whale is caught. A whale, but not Moby Dick.
Whale is skinned. Whale is gutted. Blubber is rendered. Arm deep in warm spermaceti. Melville describes spermaceti. A lot. Why such an affinity for spermaceti?
Pequod meets a ship. Crazed prophet speaks. Doom. Doom to those that hunt Moby Dick. Oh, crazy, crazy prophet.
Tashtego falls in whales head. Head falls in sea. Head sinks. See Queequeg save Tashtego. Save Tashtego, Queequeg. Queequeg does save Tashtego. He does.
Pip falls out of whaleboat. Pip goes crazy. I not crazy. I not crazy. No, Pip, you are crazy. Crazy, crazy Pip.
Now, Queequeg is sick. Poor, poor Queequeg. Carpenter makes Queequeg a coffin. Will Queequeg die, now? No, Queequeg all better.
Typhoon hits. Pequod tosses. Pequod turns. Pretty, pretty St Elmo’s fire makes Ahab’s harpoon pretty, pretty green. Good omen thinks Ahab.
Starbuck not sure. Starbuck must kill Ahab. Kill Ahab, Starbuck, kill Ahab. Starbuck can’t. Why, Starbuck, why? Oh, impotent, impotent Starbuck, why can’t you kill Ahab?
Storm ends. Sailor falls. Sailor drowns. Things don’t look so good.
Pequodmeets the Rachel. We need help. My son is gone. My son is gone.
Ahab replies. Screw you, Rachel. Screw you. See Ahab screw Rachel as Pequod sails to equator.
Moby Dick sighted. The white whale. The white whale.
Crew hunts Moby in boat. Ahab’s man Fedallah dead. Lashed to whale. Lashed to whale, dead Fedallah. He waves. His arm flops left to right. His arm flops right to left. Howdy, howdy. It’s all good. It’s all good, guys.
Crew croaks. Ahab attacks.
I stab at thee. I stab at thee. Ahab dead.
Pequod sinks. Starbuck dead.
Chip is just like you or me. A blue, frosty complexion. He had chocolate drop eyes and a vanilla wafer tongue. But something made Chip different.
This is the incredible story of a pastry chef with an uncanny and innate ability to cook the perfect cupcake. “I feel the cupcake. I am the cupcake” Chip says in the opening sentence of this novel that explores the dark underbelly of pastry cooking.
With a sell by date only days away and nothing left to lose, the sweet, endearing, and psychotic Chip does whatever it takes to corner the market on gourmet cupcakes. Capping out-of-line rivals and dumping their bodies in a giant mixer. Dosing pastries with super pure sugar. It’s all part of the cut-throat and immoral world of pastry cooking.
“Author Unpublished Guy much-lauded literary skills and exquisite fiction craft makes the impossible possible. The unbelievable becomes believable. The unleavened becomes leavened.”
Bon Appetit Magazine
“For those who prefer a bittersweet desert, revenge is served warm and moist.”
“Chip is unquestionably one of the greatest pastry-based crime novels in literary history.”
Here are my top six Philip K Dick novels. (Spoilers, probably).
Man in the High Castle
Dick’s best novel. Story about an alternate reality, where Axis powers win WWII. Except the actual reality is reflected in a book with a cool title. But that reality, where the Allies win, is different than the reality the reader believes to be true. So whose reality is true? Second only to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
Dick’s best novel that inspired the movie Blade Runner. The book tells the story of a bounty hunter that kills replicants. He wonders if he might be a replicant, but then decides he’s not. The movie had little to do with the book, but Dick said he liked how the movie ended up, but by that time he was living in an oxygen tent, so who knows what he really thought. I reread the book recently, and couldn’t get the image of Harrison Ford wearing a large anti-radioactive codpiece out of my mind. Second only to Man in the High Castle.
Time Out of Joint
A novel by Dick written at the beginning of a years long, speed-fueled pot boiler writing spree. Sort of a Cold War precursor to the Truman Show.
Martian Time Slip
If you only read 15 books about autistic children in your lifetime, make Martian Time Slip one of them. One of the finest books set on Mars.
A Scanner Darkly
Total disintegration of a personality. I had just stopped drinking and was mired in depression when I read this novel. A Scanner Darkly proposes a conspiracy theory of rehabs creating customers by manufacturing and selling a soul destroying drug. Fortunately, I read this novel right when I depended on a 12 step program to maintain my sanity.
Transmigration of Timothy Archer or Flow My Tears the Policeman Said
Don’t know which of these stories takes the top spot. I don’t really remember reading either one of them, but they had catchy titles. I believe Ursula LeGuin really liked the Transmigration of Timothy Archer.
To connect with contemporary readers, inject brand names into your fiction.
Contemporary example of the branded writing style:
Darcy Summer slipped her blue JC Penney bathrobe off her shoulders and hung it on the Restoration Hardware Chatam Double Hook mounted on the bathroom door. She turned on the shower and stepped in. Water, heated to an invigoratingly warm temperature by an EccoTemp water heater, streamed from the Moen showerhead and over body. Her fingers worked Garnier Fructis shampoo and conditioner through her hair. After rinsing her hair, she washed her face and neck with Tea Tree body wash. Next, she washed her shoulders and then her breasts, recently augmented to a C-cup with Mentor MemoryGel breast implants. The surgery had been performed by Dr. Mark, whose office was located at the intersection of West and East Auburn Rd., in the same strip mall that has the Target, which is across the mall with the Walmart and the Kohls and catty-corner to the Applebees.
Example that would have appealed to 19th century readers:
After Lucretia Burns had scrubbed herself clean with Colgate Toilet Soap, she stepped out of her Herbeau Creations bathing tub. After drying off with a Pepperell towel, she put on her Mrs. Smith Bandage Universal Suspenders to support her usual bandage by means of Mrs. Smiths New Improved Safety Skirt and Bandage Holder. Once the suspenders and holder were secured, she wrapped her Warner’s corset around her waist and tightened it sufficiently. To help with her complaint, common to the female population, she drank a healthy does of Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, which made her feel a nice glocky Kanurd.
Amy Winehouse’s death fed the Romantic mythos of artists dying at a young age in a blaze of glory. Dying at 27, she was preceded by other members of the 27 club, including Kurt Cobain and, of course, the holy trinity of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison. Memorable actors have also died at a young age: Natalie Wood, Judy Garland, and James Dean. Poets: Sylvia Plath.
How do fiction writers fare? They seem to hang on for a while. Here is a list, their longevity expressed in Amy Winehouse lifetimes.
|Author||Died||Poison||Greatest Literary Achievement||Winehouse Lifetimes|
|William Faulkner||1962||Alcohol||Parodied in Barton Fink||2.4|
|Charles Bukowski||1994||Alcohol||Created the character, Henry Chinaski, a fine role model for our youth||2.75|
|John Cheever||1982||Alcohol, Various Drugs||Featured in an episode of Seinfeld||2.6|
|Jack Kerouac||1969||Alcohol||Name that was pronounced just like it was spelled||1.75|
|Ernest Hemingway||1961||Alcohol||Inspiring John McCain to run for president||2.3|
|Philip K Dick||1982||Amphetamines||Overdosed on Vitamin C||2|
|Ambrose Bierce||1914||Alcohol||Inexplicably disappeared in Mexico||2.666|
|William S Burroughs||1997||Heroin||Owned a most unusual typewriter||3.1|
|Ayn Rand||1982||Speed/Dexedrine||Founded new religion based on book fatter than Bible.||2.85|
Violet got into her car, a baby blue ’97 Toyota Corolla. It had four tires. The rear passenger tire, a Goodyear, was slightly less deflated than the others. The rear brake light on that same side, the passenger side, had been broken, although the reverse light was intact. Red lens repair tapecovered the hole in the brake light—four pieces horizontally, five pieces vertically, and one piece wrapped in an arc below the lens. Some of the tape was thinner in some areas than others. In addition to the slightly deflated tire and busted lens, the passenger side rear bumper had been dented, creating a depression less than a quarter inch at its most shallow point and nearly 3/4 of an inch at its deepest point. Paint had been scraped off a 2″ by 4.5″ area around the right side of the dent.
She turned the key and the ignition system produced a high-voltage electrical charge that was transmitted to the distributor which in turn sent a charge to each spark plug through its four ignition wires. The starter motor spins the engine, and the combustion process starts.
Dear Unpublished Guy:
In response to your book proposal:
We applaud your effort to write a free verse epic villanelle. However, as is clearly stated in our submission guidelines we don’t accept Ambrose Bierce Wormhole Westerns. Clearly, the epic poem you submitted fits within that genre.
Additionally, please refer to our stance on fiction that features Jerry O’Connell or mustaches as major characters:
While goatees and sideburns are acceptable personifications in stories we consider, we generally aren’t interested in publishing fiction where mustaches play a major role in the story. We don’t publish stories with Jerry O’Connell. If you insist on submitting fan fiction, please restrict your protagonist to Jason Bateman.
Your story features both Jerry O’Connel and a mustache. While it might have been possible to accept a story with a mustache as the antagonist, your fiction crosses the line of common sense by introducing Jerry O’Connell as the protagonist.
Editor, Teen Wolf Literary Journal
Cincinnatus C is under sentence of death for an ambiguous, unspoken capital crime. He knows exactly when he will die—tomorrow, when he will hang. Sitting in his small spartan cell, he reflects on his wasted life and yearns to use what little time he has left to self actualize in a big way. Through the written word, Cincinnatus C is inspired to create something greater than himself. Cincinnatus C would dedicate the last 11 hours of his life to writing, writing a grand plan to raise the debt ceiling, a plan that everyone can accept.
His plan to raise the debt ceiling would increase revenues without raising taxes. It would reduce spending without cutting government programs. It would reduce the government workforce and reduce incomes, thereby lowering unemployment and improving the economy. And in his plan to raise the debt ceiling, everyone would get an adorable puppy (or cat for those that aren’t dog people).
“A startling tale of damnation through LIFO accounting.”
“A fantastic surrealistic tale completely divorced from reality.”
The New New Yorker
“Page after page of debt ceiling drama .”
Pirates of the Caribbean Priest-Mermaid Love Subplot
Quite often when I am watching a movie and sometimes when I am reading a book, I find I am more interested in a side story or supporting character than I am in the protagonist or the main plot line. This is especially true when I feel that the protagonist is in no real jeopardy. Often, it’s the supporting characters that bite the dust, so I feel more tension. Maybe, this time the hero of the sub-plot won’t bite the dust.
I most recently had this experience when I saw Pirates of the Caribbean 4, On Stranger Tides.
*** Spoiler Alert, I suppose, if the third sequel in a movie franchise like Pirates of the Caribbean can be spoiled ***
I was supposed to care about Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz. I could care less about either one of them. I could care less about the plot—a search for the fountain of youth. When Jack Sparrow’s love interest was in danger at the climax of the story, how much did I care? Not much.
Conversely, the side story revolving around Philip, the priest, was a sub-plot that was more intriguing, as he fell for a mermaid. Mermaid myths vary, but in the Pirates of the Caribbean canon, mermaids are beguiling creatures that trick a sailor into a kiss and than drag the sailor underwater and eat him alive.
The priest-mermaid love plot is an offshoot of the main plot. A mermaids tear, among other items, is required for the fountain of youth to work; so a mermaid is captured, put in a glass coffin, and dragged across the jungle.
During the trek, Philip uses his bible to hold the coffin lid open so the mermaid can breath when she is in danger of suffocating. After the coffin breaks open, he gallantly removes his shirt to cloak the now completely naked (she changes into a person like Daryl Hannah in Splash) mermaid and carry her through the jungle. After her tear is captured, she is left to die, and Philip becomes a prisoner of Blackbeard the pirate. Will Philip returns escape to rescue the mermaid?
He does escape, but is wounded in process. He struggles to reach the dying mermaid and rescue her. And what happens next is what sets this sub-plot off from the predictable Jack Sparrow plot.
He does, in fact, save the mermaid. Lying next to the pool where she is swimming about, he professes the new meaning in his life since he met her … She promises to heal his wound … They kiss, and then—the mermaid drags him into the pool and pulls him down to a watery grave.
There you have it, legitimate peril that ends badly, as it often does for the hero of the sub-plot.
Might better be described as double entendre-like puns:
Kathy Castor Found in Intestinally Compromising position
FBI Finds Freshly Butchered Meat in Emanuel Cleaver's Fridge
Michael Grimm Soldiers On
Michael Honda Motors Through Downtown San Jose
Ed Pastor Expects Spanish Inquisition
Louise Slaughter Kills Bovine Protection Act
Tom Petri Can Dish It Out but Can't Take It
Dear Deranged Individual,
No absolutely not.
What are you smoking?
Blue Oyster Cult, Editors
On what fiction writing contest should you squander $20? I calculated the return-on-investment (ROI) of several different contests. I have summarized the results in the table below. The return number quantifies the investment in a fiction contest, based on the entry fee, effort to write a story according to contest guidelines, and probability of winning the contest.
|ReadMe Publishing What If? Science Fiction Competition||(40)|
|Glimmer Train Very Short Fiction Award||(49)|
|Alligator Juniper’s National Writing Contest||(50)|
|Barry Hannah Fiction Prize||(50)|
|Fish Flash Fiction||(59)|
|Newport Review Flash Fiction Contest||(126)|
|Springfield Writers’ Guild Literary Awards||(161)|
|Inland Empire California Writers Club Writing Contest||(409)|
|Bards and Sages Speculative Fiction Contest||(484)|
|Silver Quill Society Short Story Contest||(485)|
|Cadenza Open Short Story Competition (UK)||(487)|
|Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award||(489)|
|Juked Fiction and Poetry Prizes||(490)|
|Sullivan Prize in Short Fiction||(494)|
|Mississippi Review Prize||(494)|
|Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award for Imaginative Fiction||(508)|
|Boston Review Annual Short Story Contest||(659)|
|Zoetrope All-Story Short Fiction Contest||(810)|
|Fish Short Story||(819)|
|Earlyworks Press Open Short Story Competition (UK)||(967)|
|Chautauqua Literary Journal||(1134)|
|Greensboro Review Robert Watson Literary Prizes||(1200)|
|American Literary Review||(1294)|
How should you read this table? Just as you may gain or lose money after investing in a 401K or stock, you can gain or lose your time and money by entering a fiction contest. Basically, you want to avoid contests with a return in red, which represents the effort, expressed in a dollar value, that you lost by writing a story for the contest and paying a fee to enter the contest.
Thank you for submitting your fiction to Screw You magazine.
We enjoy reading so many fine short stories, and selecting the fiction to publish can be a difficult decision. So difficult that we often need to read submissions multiple times. We very much appreciate having the opportunity to read such high quality fiction. We were really impressed with the latest batch of submitted stories.
However, your short story, “My Beetle, My Love”, was the exception. Your story was so dreadfully boring that we discarded it immediately. Your decision to write an erotic story from the perspective of a dung beetle was questionable, to say the least.
Please refrain from submitting additional short stories to our publication.
Merkin Muffley, Editor
The last episode of Lost and it was OK by me. I didn’t feel at all betrayed, although some staff writers at Slate and my ex-wife didn’t seem to care for it so much. At one time, I was a wild-eyed Lost fan—for the first season or so; however, I have a low threshold for being toyed with, so I stopped watching by the end of season two. I caught the fever, again, two years later and caught up with a few Lost DVD marathons, but … Lost interest in Lost, again.
By the time I checked in for the final episode (I hadn’t seen the first half; I only watched the second hour, and I hadn’t seen any of season 5 or 6), I didn’t have anything personal invested in the resolution or any answers. I even admired the audacity of the sleight of hand attempted by the writers. It’s not about the Dharma Initiative, or the Others, or the Island, Jacob, or Smokey Beelzebub at all. It was all about a great Kumbaya in a flash sideways that resulted from a bonding experience on an island, which could really have been any experience. The details are really not all that important.
I suppose I found that acceptable because, while the others were busy puzzling out why this and why that, my most vexing concern was why the large statue spotted by Sahid had only four toes. A real stumper that crowded out all other questions, I might have had. Only four toes?
I also latched on to the bit about “everyone dies, some died before you, and some died after you.” So much fiction rides on the suspense (or lack of) on whether a particular character is going to snuff it, but if they don’t die then, they will, later. Everyone has to go sometime, so what’s all the fuss?
This message was reinforced for me in a poignant way, when Jack stumbled through the bamboo forest, and then fell dying on the ground. The dog rolled up and lying beside him reminded me of my own pit bull. That needy dog follows me around and curls up next to me on the couch, bed, or wherever. I suppose if I were lying dead in a bamboo forest on an Island with such perplexing problems as a four-toed statue, I would go gently into that good night with an aged pit bull curled up next to me. Nearly made me cry.