Saturday, February 18, 2017

Strategies: How to Press On

My fellow writers, here’s my fear: you’re not writing. I’m afraid that the barrage of chaos from the White House is pounding down on you. I’m afraid you read the news and feel like your arms and legs have been ripped from your body -- maybe I'm projecting. Let me be dull here and just offer a few strategies to get back to the page. Know that I'm being selfish. It's hard enough to think of all that's being ripped from so many of the people in this country; I don't want to think that your writing is also being taken from us.
Here goes. You're going to have to cordon things off. It's the only way to survive.
1. Set a timer on your phone. Disconnect. Two-hour chunks. You're going to have to do this with your elbows out, fiercely.
2. You might want to try writing differently than you have in the past. If you didn't write to music, try it -- with headphones on.
3. Have a weird food that's hard to eat nearby -- sunflower seeds or something -- so your hands are busy when you're taking a break and gazing. You won't be as likely to drift back online.
4. Keep the best books around you at all times. Don't reconnect before your time is up. Open one of the books.
5. Tape the picture of a writer you deeply admire over your desk. Let them keep an eye on you.
6. The administration's constant chaos is a mental loop that will keep whirring in the back of your mind, taking energy and attention, drawing you back to it. Write a list of a few things you want to do once you're finished writing -- a rep you're going to call and two articles you're going to read. Writing lists helps close mental loops, studies show.
7. Hold each other to it. Create small groups or one-on-ones that hold each other accountable and check in to make sure you're still meeting your allotted time at the page.
8. When you get back online, set a time limit for that too.
9. Each of us can't hand over ourselves, our time, our energy to constant vigilance. This isn't on you alone. When you're writing, know that we're all taking turns keep watch.
10. If you can, use it. Let what's happening in, let it alter your state. Write from that feeling of being torn up, write full-steam, armless, legless, heart-ful.
Most of all, press on.

Friday, January 27, 2017

New Book of Poems -- out in the world!

Amid all the awfulness -- how can it keep coming at us this fast? -- my new book of poems has made it into the world. INSTRUCTIONS, ABJECT & FUMING -- seems like the exact title of 95% of the Facebook posts I'm drawn to these days.
It's been ten years since I published my last book of poems, and some of these poems were written during the short and terrifying rise of Sarah Palin. (Remember when McCain tried to calm the crowds she riled and stood up for the integrity of his opponent? It seems centuries ago.) I felt sick and bereft -- and was certain that the English language didn't have the words to express what I needed to say and so I went backward, looking for words that we'd lost. Some of these poems draw on those lost words. (I think we're going to need new words this time around.)
If inclined, here's the link. And if you're a reviewer and want a copy, let me know and we'll get you a copy.

For more information, here's the back jacket of the book with quotes from two writers I deeply admire -- Aimee Nezhukumatathil and David Wojahn. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

hold up! it's free!

Okay, so I didn't understand this before but "THE VIRTUAL SWALLOWS OF HOG ISLAND" is up at as of today, for free. 
Enjoy. Share with others, if inclined... 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

on writing, mid-career...

I went back to writing short stories this past year as a way to start over, to get back to my roots as a writer. (As a grad student, I'd have said I never intended to write a novel in my life.) What I really needed was a time away from writing, completely. But I'm incapable of the fallow fields approach so I went into the fields and took soil samples to see what the land offers, stories.

Around that time, my manager said something that made me speculate on the future uses of virtual reality. I was sitting in my office, trying to think, completely annoyed by my 16 year old son who was yelling while playing a video game with friends of his who were likely yelling at the same game in their own bedrooms throughout town. I thought what I usually think -- Please God, I hope they're learning something in those games -- one good thing. Then I thought, Maybe it's therapeutic. Then I thought, What if we could use VR gaming for therapy instead of talk-therapy?

I then created Klaus Han -- the self-proclaimed bad boy of virtual reality gaming therapy. The short story is up at Amazon now -- for,99 cents through -- and I'm working with a producer on the a half-hour TV comedy version. In the show bible, I describe Klaus like this: "Think of the boyish cockiness of 30 ROCK’S Jack Donaghy cross-pollinated with the psychological fuckery of James Spader’s Robert California from THE OFFICE."

So, despite the small robot on the cover, it's not for kids. I'll have three stories coming out with Tor over the next three months -- all strange in their own ways. I suppose I'm still trying to pace out the plots of land, still plotting. 

My main job as a writer -- mid-career at this point -- is finding ways to keep coming back to the page. I suppose that's true, in one way or another, for most people, no matter what career you're in the middle of.

Here's "The Virtual Swallows of Hog Island." 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Virtual Swallows of Hog Island -- new story coming at

Tor publishes short stories on Amazon. They have a brilliantly odd and otherworldly sensibility that I've admired for a long time. I'm honored that they're publishing three stories of mine in 2017. The first is up for pre-order -- a .99-cent read. Here's a bit about it:

In "The Virtual Swallows of Hog Island," a programmer finds himself working for the self-proclaimed "Bad-Boy of Virtual-Reality Therapy.” While his boss is breaking new ground and breaking the rules and his coworkers are engaging in questionable uses of the latest technology, the lonely programmer is in a state of mourning over his deep personal losses and must figure out his own form of therapy.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Elves and Shelves.

Dave goes rogue and buys Elf on a Shelf. I say nothing. The next day, our 9 year old is upset because the Elf didn't move or give her a gift or become engaged in an elaborate marshmallow fight instead it stayed in its box. Dave and I are alone. "So this Elf..." he says.

I say, "Look there's a reason why we never had an Elf on a Shelf."

"What is it?"

"Have you seen our Easter Bunny game? Have you not noticed that the kids think that Tooth Fairies have a genetically poor sense of the passage of time? How our advent calendars just kinda go dry from distraction four days in? Sure, we say that cash prizes hidden by a series of difficult clues on Christmas are an odd familiar eccentricity, but do you remember how the tradition started? This Elf plays to all of our weaknesses, none of our strengths."

We both stare at the Elf, icily. He stares back.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Once the first draft of the novel is done... some tips.

I wrote a post-NaNoWriMo essay for Bustle on what to do once the first draft of the novel is done. (If you balk at #4 - Suffer fools gladly, I know a lot about you. More than you want me to.)