Dialing Back

In the nearly five months since I wrote and published "Brainstorm 2016," it's become clear to me that my plans for how to write enough stuff to both have weekly material for my Patreon as well as stories to submit for traditional publication were not good plans. They didn't go far enough. And even if I was only writing for Patreon, foregoing traditional publication altogether, the grind of writing three stories a week is not that much easier for me than writing five stories a week was. I look back on my initial optimism that I could do with flash fiction what Jonathan Mann has been doing for years with songs, and I kind of laugh at myself. It worked for a while — long enough that I think I can feel proud — but it's not working anymore.

So, I'm left with a decision, the same decision you've heard me talking about in essays like "Whatever Happened to the Book?": how much mental bandwidth does the DIY part of me get, and how much goes to the part of me that wants an agent and a publisher?

And, beyond that, am I happy with the stuff I'm putting out into the world? However I distribute it, traditionally or independently, am I happy with the work? That might be the most important question of all.

I think of Mann's diagram, the one I used to justify publishing a draft a day in the first place, and I'm not so sure it works for me anymore. I mean, I am the guy who has been working on a novel for twelve years (or more, depending on which early material you count). So, a kick in the pants to release more often is one thing for a perfectionist like me (and a good thing at that). But an obligation to release every day, or every work day, or even three days a week — slowly but surely, I've discovered that's a kick in the pants that my sorry ass isn't tough enough to handle.

On the other hand, the money I make each month from Patreon now, however small, is paying for the costs of running a Website, costs my family can't afford to absorb. And my Patreon patrons are among my most ardent supporters. So, I don't want to abandon that project altogether. And I really can't afford to.

What that's led me to is a decision to scale back to publishing one independent story per month and one Patreon-exclusive piece of writing per week (whether that's a draft of something or an essay or a couple of poems). I'm hoping that this schedule will finally allow me to get to that magical place where I can both be offering free stuff online to help build a following there while also publishing my work in traditional journals to help build an audience and establish credibility there.

We'll see how it goes. This career of mine — this life, for that matter — is one big experiment. And I thank you, as always, for your support — financial, moral, or otherwise — as I continue to conduct it.


My Story, Your Choice. Watch, Listen, or Read:

Rain splattered through the screen on her window, and though I pled with her to shut it, she would not budge. “I am disinclined to acquiesce,” she said, smiling, quoting the film she’d been watching on her tablet in bed.

“I’ll take that away,” I told her.

“But I brushed my teeth,” she said, showing them to me, the whole crooked lot. “And I’m in my pajamas,” she said, pinching the fabric between her thumb and forefinger and pulling it away from her chest.

“It might get wet,” I said, pointing at the window.

With a frown, she jammed a finger against the screen to pause the movie, then handed it over. A skeletal monkey grimaced at me from the frozen frame before I clicked the tablet off. I wondered suddenly if my daughter might choose a capuchin for her familiar. Or would it be the chicken she swiped across the road on her tablet because dice and tabletops made no sense to her?

“Now,” I said, “will you please let me close the — ”

“But what if they come?” she said, waving a hand at the rain. “I can already hear the footsteps.”

She had given up on the jolly old demigods and cotton-tailed minor deities I’d told her (much to the chagrin of her mother) were nothing more than the servants of God Money, but the sprites and faeries of her storybooks — those she still believed in.

“All I hear is the downpour,” I said, clutching the window, ready to close it.

“The downpour means they’re close,” she said. “They’re almost here.”

I looked at her then, at the brown eyes her mother had bequeathed her, at the sadness there, the longing for something I couldn’t take away, and it hurt me to think of all I had robbed her of. I shifted focus, stared at an earring instead, the tiny amethyst stud her mother had bought her on the day she’d gotten her ears pierced, jewelry I’d refused to let her wear for a month out of frustration.

I sighed and stood. Then I pulled on the chain of her bedside lamp.

“What about my kiss?” she said.

I leaned down and pecked her temple with my lips, feeling a smile wrinkle her face.

“No souvenirs this time,” is what I said as I left the room.

The first time it happened, she toddled into my bedroom on a Sunday morning clutching a teddy bear to her chest, one that I’d never seen before. And after I asked her mother at drop-off that afternoon if she’d been splurging again, earning me the kind of dressing down I hadn’t faced since The Dissolution, I decided it was a gift from my mother. But the truth was that I’d never asked and made sure, and now I was too afraid of what the answer might be.

The second time was a few years later. I was sitting in bed, three chapters into a freshly cracked mystery, when I realized she hadn’t yet climbed into my bed with a brown bag of comics plucked from one of my long boxes. I swept into her room in a panic, nearly tripping on the long snake of the belt I never bothered to tie round my robe. But, as sure as I was in that moment that I’d lost her, there she was: in her bed, crumbs everywhere, a thick slab of gingerbread in her hands. There was icing tucked between her fingers, smeared all across her face, and caked into her blonde hair. And though I asked and asked where she got it as I stood outside the shower, all I got in the way of an answer was a sheepish grin as she poked her head out from behind the curtain to ask me for an extra towel.

Would tonight be the third time, I wondered. And what gift would she bring back if it was?

I stood outside her door and listened to her breathe, waiting for the rhythm to change. But it was hard to hear her over the cacophony of the rain, so I closed my eyes to focus. Soon, though, I couldn’t hear her at all, and I rounded the corner with haste.

But she was still there. She shivered, tugged at her blankets, and rolled so that her back was to the window.

I sat on the floor, leaned into the wall, and stood watch. And when her breathing grew shallow enough that I could no longer see her chest rising and falling, I held a hand to her belly until her body pushed me away.

I drifted off to sleep.

And then I was awake, my head aching from where I’d slumped against her dresser. I rubbed a hand across my face, then looked to my daughter’s bed to see if she was awake, to see if I’d have to apologize for being a creep.

She was gone.

The bed was empty, the covers pushed aside, and all that was left of her was a smear of blood on the sheets. I could only look for a second before seeking solace from the open window. But there was no absolution to be found there. The rain had stopped. There would be no gift this time.

Or so I thought until the toilet flushed just beyond the wall.

I rushed to the bathroom door, listened to the rattle of pills in a bottle, the running of a faucet and its cessation. Then I heard a groan. A groan and the patter of bare feet across cold linoleum. I stepped back as the door opened.

“Dad?” she said, holding a hand to the place where I supposed it ached.

Though I knew I shouldn’t have, I gathered her into my arms and held her to me.

“Sorry about the sheets,” she mumbled into my shoulder.

“Do I need to run to the store?” I said, letting her go.

She shook her head. “Mom’s had me packing stuff for six months, just in case.”

I nodded, gave her a smile, and watched her trudge back toward her room. I couldn’t help thinking, as I listened to her strip the bed down, as I listened to the bundle of sheets hit the wall and her body hit the mattress, if I had lost her after all.

An hour later, she knocked at my door with a brown paper bag clutched against her chest.

“What you got?” I asked.

She pulled the first issue from the bag. On the cover, a capuchin sat atop the shoulder of a man in a straight jacket. “I know it’s for mature readers,” she said. “But…”

I smiled at the hand I’d been dealt, at the card she was playing, and I said, “Okay.”

She smiled now, too. “Can I sit with you?” she asked.

“That’s not weird?” I said.

She rolled her eyes and climbed up onto my bed, sitting down beside me. “It’s only weird if you make it weird, Dad.”

I bent to kiss her forehead, hoping that I hadn’t, knowing that someday that I would.

“Read,” she said, pointing at my book.

And so, we did.

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Whatever Happened to the Book?

Back in January, I announced that I was going to publish a book to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Draft a Day (now “Draft a Week”) project funded by my stellar supporters at Patreon. But it’s June now, and there’s still no book, so I want to explain. And in order to do that, I need to back up a bit.

It was in a Bradford College computer lab in the autumn of 1997 that I first wrote the name Veronica Silver, typing out sentences in that basement room in between supporting my classmates in my capacity as Work Study Tech Support Guy. In the nearly 20 years between then and now, I’ve written more about Veronica and her family than seems possible. Written and revised, written and revised. And then revised some more. I’ve published excerpts from this body of work in both traditional publications and on my Website. Hell, I’ve even adapted parts of the story for the stage. The novel I am shopping to agents right now, Missing Mister Wingfield, is the culmination of much of this work. A project begun during my grad school days, Wingfield is the book I’ve been saving for my big break. It’s the book I feel certain — and have felt certain, for a long time — will get me into the world of traditional publishing.

What I didn’t realize this January, until I was neck-deep in assembling my theoretical Draft a Day anniversary book, was that I was actually writing the sequel to Wingfield. And if this new book was the sequel, how could I put it out on my own while still trying to get its predecessor traditionally published?

When I sit at this desk and stew over which direction I’d like to see my writing career go — and I stew so hard that Hormel could can and sell my ennui as seasonal brand of Dinty Moore — I am torn between faithfulness to two earlier versions of myself.

The guy who went to college and grad school, who has racked up nearly $50,000 in student loan debt, he deserves to see his name on the spine of a book below some trademarked house or bird or tree. Or maybe even a kangaroo. That guy, when he walks into a bookstore, he can’t help but stare at the crack between the Mary Higgins Clarks and the Tom Clancys and want to push those tomes aside to make room for his own.

But then there’s the kid who wasn’t afraid to put out his own comic books in high school, the kid who enlisted his dad to make the photocopies and the rest of his family to help him collate and staple. Don’t I owe that kid something, too? He’s come out twice as an adult, during years when employment was uncertain or absent altogether (here and here), and he’s the part of me that pushes the Publish button every time I send something out to live or die on the World Wide Web. I love that kid. I don’t want to lose that kid.

For now, I’m letting the guy with $50,000 in student loan debt win, the guy who took a financial gamble and is still waiting patiently (though not patiently enough, I’m sure many would say) to see if his ticket might be a winner. Not a jackpot winner, but maybe a sweet enough earner to allow him to pay off the smallest of the credit cards and take his wife out to dinner. The book I was intending to put out in January, I’m saving that for traditional publication now too. It just seems like the best decision at the moment.

But the kid, the kid is pointing to the calendar and saying that 2017 is the year I turn 40 and the year this story of mine turns 20. The kid is pointing and whispering in my ear, trying to convince me that next year is the year to bury the old guy’s dream in the ground and to give the kid another shot. “Anniversaries, man!” is what he’s saying to me. “Isn’t it time to just get this stuff out into the world?”

“I’m trying, kid,” is all I can say for now. “I’m trying.”

Geek Force Five Ceases Publication

Just about three years ago, I ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new literary magazine I had cooked up. It was called Geek Force Five, a name borrowed from a pop culture blog I’d run for a few years prior to that (whose name, it turns out, was itself borrowed from a college friend of mine, but that’s another story). The core idea was simple: pay authors money for their genre fiction. While the magazine took different shapes over its existence, the founding principle remained a constant: show authors that their work is worth a paycheck.

And, to one extent or another, I’ve been able to do that. But there’s always been a problem. While I’ve always been able to pay authors for their work, my ability to get that work in front of the number of readers it deserves has always been lacking. Some issues sold well, but most did not. And the issues that did sell, they sold because of the stellar efforts of the authors involved and not because of anything in particular I did.

I struggle mightily to build audiences for the things I make. And I’m willing to deal with the consequences of that when I put out things that are entirely of my own making. But I’ve come to the conclusion that it is morally irresponsible of me to continue producing a compilation of work by others if I cannot guarantee those individuals the exposure they deserve.

Therefore, effective immediately, I am ceasing publication of Geek Force Five.

If I’m honest, this decision is a huge weight off my shoulders. I loved putting every issue of the magazine together, but it was a lot of work, and it was work that took me away from what I think my main focus should be right now: improving my own writing and building an audience for it.

And who knows: maybe someday I’ll have a big enough audience that a new volume of Geek Force Five might be possible. But for now, for now it’s time to call it quits.

Thank you to everyone who read a copy of Geek Force Five over the years. And thank you to everyone who gave their words to this experiment. I’m sorry I couldn’t do better, and I wish you the best of luck with whatever comes next for you and your work.

The Patience for Taming

My Story, Your Choice. Watch, Listen, or Read:

The Widow Silver’s home was the last ramshackle cottage on the path that Patience strolled to the sea. As a girl, walking hand-in-hand with her father to this very beach on Sundays after church, she had wondered what grand views might be possible from the house’s dilapidated dormers. But now, as she watched her betrothed’s sister standing upon the lawn as still as a statue, weathered eyes on the horizon, Patience saw the truth of it: to look upon the ocean was kind of torture for the women of this house. How many widows had been made by that water out there? How many beneath this one roof alone?

“You’re lucky,” the sister told her, as they made ready the yard for that evening’s reception, “that Silas fears the sea.”

“I’m lucky,” said Patience, “that my father owns every cranberry bog between here and Buzzard’s Bay.”

Silas’ sister took hold of Patience by the wrist then, and looked her straight in the eye. “You are a fine woman,” she said. “My brother is lucky to have you.”

But that night, waiting beneath the covers of her marriage bed for her husband to return from his labors at the hearth below, she wondered if he’d have her before she fell to sleep. Her foot tapping against the mattress in rhythm with her impatient heart, she longed to be had, to be known.

Patience knew that he’d known at least one girl before her, had caught them canoodling in a carriage abandoned by one of her father’s bogs, but she tried her best not to dwell on their abominable ardor. The Kissing Cousins is what every person in the town had called them, mongers of fish and rumors alike, but Patience took Silas at his word that he had repented those sins. Even though she had seen the look in his eye as he marched down the steps of the town hall holding hands with that half-Irish whore, even though she had listened to them laugh as they tried to steal from one another the piece of paper that announced them as officially intended, Patience took the words of her husband as the Bible truth. She had to, didn’t she? If she closed her eyes, she could see him kneeling in the cold mud outside Charleston, confessing to the chaplain as men moaned in pain around him, as men died in the days between battles. If only she would close her eyes.

But she didn’t want to, not anymore. Instead, she reached for his nightstand and plucked from it the tome that he’d left there. In the candle light, as she read the spine, the deckled edges of the pages tickled her fingers. And though it should have made her smile that he had a taste for at least one fine thing in life — and it would make her father smile when she told him — Patience frowned. She leafed through the book until she found the scrap of leather he’d left to mark his place, then frown turned to scowl.

Book in hand, she stormed from the room and made for the stairs.

“My love?” called Silas from below, something clattering to the floor as he spoke, as Patience stomped down toward him.

She found him standing by the now roaring fire, a bottle of wine in hand.

“Where did you get that?” Patience asked.

“My cousin Patrick liberated it from the priest’s pantry,” he said. “I was a bit nervous before the ceremony.”

Patience looked to the floor to keep from looking at him and saw there a wooden cup rolling across the hearth, the blood of Christ spilt out behind it.

“I,” he stuttered, “was a bit nervous just now, too.”

“Nervous?” she said, as she watched the cup roll into the flames.

Silas stepped toward her then and set his hands upon her shoulders. “Can you not understand?” he said. “You are a beauty, my — ”

“Don’t patronize me,” she said, shrugging him off as she clutched his book to her chest.

“Oh,” said Silas, the cloying tone upon his gravelly voice like a derelict dressed for tea. “My love, I’m sorry to have tried your patience.”

She growled at him and paid him for his pun with a sharp thwack of book on shoulder. And then another. And another. “I am no shrew to be tamed,” she said as she shook the book at him, as he grabbed her by the wrists.

“Are you not?” he said, smirking at her, delight twisting upward the corners of his lips.

Patience thought of her father then, as she struggled to break free of her husband’s grasp. She thought of her father putting her to bed when she was a girl, of what he told her as he pulled the nightgown down over her body, as she held her hair aside and waited for him to lace up the back. “What is wanted,” he said, “must be taken.”

And so she kicked the bottom of her bare foot at her husband’s shin. And as he fell to his knees, hollering in pain, she swung his book at him one last time, driving it into the back of his head. Silas collapsed to the floor, a hand clutching at the spot where she’d hit him, and he whimpered. “Why?” he said. “Why?”

Patience straddled him, pushing him onto his back as she pushed his night shirt up and away from his loins.

“Patience,” he said, as she tugged at him. “Patience, I am not — ”

“This part of you,” she said, as she mounted him, “begs to differ.”

When it was over, she staggered to her feet and leaned against the fireplace, the heat a balm for the places that ached now. On the floor, Silas sat up and tugged at the hem of his shirt to cover himself. “The wait,” he said, “would not have been much longer.”

But Patience was not listening to him. She was staring at the book that lay discarded now upon the floor, its pages soaking up the spilt wine. “I saw her perform once,” said Patience, absentmindedly. “Your beloved.”

“She was not my — ”

“Your beloved,” spat Patience, balling up the hem of her gown to sponge away what Silas had left behind. “During the war, Father took me to the city to see a show.”

“Which play?” said Silas.

“That one,” she said, nodding at the book. “This one,” she said. “The one you’re playing at now.”

“I’m not playing — ”

“And she was exquisite,” said Patience. “Far too good to be begging on the Common with a soliloquy.”

“What?” said Silas, crestfallen. “I thought you said — ”

“Oh,” said Patience, with a laugh, “we went to see a show, but she was no part of it. Oh, no, no, no. The footlights of Scollay Square were not calling for your lady fair. Nor for anyone of her ilk.”

She watched with satisfaction as her husband ducked his head in shame. But when he told her that she was just as cruel as advertised, she scowled.

“As advertised by who?” she said, watching as he rose from the floor, as he rose to his full height.

“By you,” he said, looking down on her now. “By your lack of a suitor, by that sneer you call a smile. And,” he said, grabbing hold of her chin and yanking it upward, “by the size of the purse your father paid me to take your damaged goods off his hands.”

Patience slapped his hand away. “Why, I never — ”

“And he never!” said Silas, seething. “And if a man of his particular passions is never going to take what he — ”

“What are you implying?” said Patience.

“Not implying,” said Silas, shaking his head as he made his way toward the stairs. “Telling. I am telling you that you are as bound to me as I am bound to you. And if misery is the chain you wish to shackle us together, so be it. I am already familiar with that weight. I can bear it,” he said, plucking his book from the puddle. “Can you?”

And with that, with those words and a smirk for good measure, he took his leave of her, leaving it to Patience to decide if she would be tamed, if she could be, if should be, after all.

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