I'm only bleeding, man

Today was rough. I have tendinitis in both my wrists, the product of working eight hours a day at a computer with no other duties but to edit the copy. Spent a year with doctors and physcial therapy before they decided, meh, you just have to live with it. And today my wrists hurt. BAD. And this is before I've even left for work, and eight hours of wrist torture.

Days like this, when I am in pain and angry and frustrated and just so fucking tired of it, that all I want to do at work is put on headphones and not interact with anyone, just do my job and go home.

But copy desks don't work like that. It's a big collaborative process. You need to be able to hear what is going on; people need to be able to get your attention. You can't tune it out, because you can't do your job.

And so days like this are the rare ones that I am glad I have a long drive to work in traffic, because I can listen to music, cranked all the way up, and sing at the top of my lungs and just vent. And 45 minutes later, I arrive at work, and I am calm. I am still aching and angry and frustrated but now it's at a simmer, not a boil, and I can do my job.

Today I just put The Gaslight Anthem, my favorite band, on random. I know all the words. I know all the notes. I can rock out completely, which is what I need. And one song popped up, "We're Getting a Divorce, You Keep the Diner." One verse, an echo of the Dylan song "It's All Right Ma, I'm Only Bleeding," was perfect for how I was feeling, the perfect mantra for days like these:

It's all right, man. I'm only bleeding, man. Stay hungry, stay free, And do the best you can.

WE DID IT!!!!!!!! (Man do I love typing those words)

While I slept, the Kickstarter hit its goal to publish Issue Two of Fireside, my fiction and comics magazine! We now stand at $6,037 with 250 backers. Thank you so much to each of you who pledged and helped spread the word. We had an amazing amount of boosting going on on Twitter yesterday, and we raised $821 by the time I went to bed. There are now about 13 hours left in the drive. Every dollar we raise now goes toward Issue Three, with stories by Daniel Abraham, Elizabeth Bear, and Mary Robinette Kowal, and a comic by @racheldeering. It will also be our first issue open to short story submissions, and we'll have one story from those submissions.


A secret in the night

Newspaper copy editors -- and other people who leave work after midnight -- get to see a world most people sleep through. The streets are different deep in the night. Quiet and empty, many nights it's like you are almost alone in the world. It's especially apparent in a big city like Boston, where the daytime traffic is usually wall to wall, every car occupied by an angry person doing their best to get past the guy in front of them or smash trying. It's nice, at night, when there is more than enough room for the few cars on the road, to just sail home on the asphalt current. Your mind can wander, just a little, as your muscle memory carries you from the office to your front door.

You see things that most people don't. The crews doing maintenance on the roads we all rely on. The teenagers out walking, breaking curfew alone or clutching hands with a boyfriend or girlfriend  or traveling in clusters, heads huddled close together as they puzzle out the world. The homeless guy wobbling along in an ancient wheelchair at 1 a.m. A coyote slipping into a marsh.

The very best secret night thing I saw happened only once, when I was living in Louisville. There was a terrible wind storm one September, and it knocked out power to half the city -- half the state, too. And the first night, when the power company was reeling and no one had gone out to buy generators, there was no artificial light on my drive home. But there was an almost full moon. I drove home on streets and past houses bathed in this pale ghostly light. And I thought,  this is what it was like, every night, for millions of years. It was beautiful. And it's something I will probably never see in a city again.

There's magic in the night. You should see it. Stay up late. Past midnight, at least. Get the keys. Drive. And if you see a beat-up blue Chevy pass by, flash you high beams for me.

Words of Others | The ABCs of Alien

One of my more recent follows on twitter is author Damien Walters Grintalis. I enjoy her tweets, but she outdid herself on Friday, with the Alien ABCs (from the movie Alien):

A is for Alien, who lives out in space, B is for Burke, who is a disgrace.

C is for Crew, they get all eaten up, D is for Drake, whose guns aren't enough.

E is for Ellen, Ripley's first name, F is for Facehugger, not easily slain.

You gotta read the whole thing on her blog.

The violence of hate

I read an article in Rolling Stone, One Town's War on Gay Teens, during my downtime at work last night, and I was truly ready to vomit on my desk by the time I was halfway through it. The heart of it is that a Minnesota school district had a policy that led to teachers being so afraid of talking about homosexuality that they didn't talk about it at all, even to do anything about homophobic bullying. The result? A staggering rash of suicides.

Sam's death lit the fuse of a suicide epidemic that would take the lives of nine local students in under two years, a rate so high that child psychologist Dan Reidenberg, executive director of the Minnesota-based Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, declared the Anoka-Hennepin school district the site of a "suicide cluster," adding that the crisis might hold an element of contagion; suicidal thoughts had become catchy, like a lethal virus. "Here you had a large number of suicides that are really closely connected, all within one school district, in a small amount of time," explains Reidenberg. "Kids started to feel that the normal response to stress was to take your life."

There was another common thread: Four of the nine dead were either gay or perceived as such by other kids, and were reportedly bullied. The tragedies come at a national moment when bullying is on everyone's lips, and a devastating number of gay teens across the country are in the news for killing themselves. Suicide rates among gay and lesbian kids are frighteningly high, with attempt rates four times that of their straight counterparts; studies show that one-third of all gay youth have attempted suicide at some point (versus 13 percent of hetero kids), and that internalized homophobia contributes to suicide risk.

The article is full of really wrenching details about the horrible shit the kids in this district go through, all because there is a powerful bloc of people who hate anyone who doesn't fit their idea of moral sexuality. These people, who hate so much in the name of Christ, whose message was almost entirely about compassion, are perpetuating evil.

They create a climate in which it is OK to belittle and assault people because of who they love, and they prevented the teachers from even being able to say, "Stop."  That is evil.

They teach a hate that leads to violence against LGBT kids. That is evil.

They say that the gay kids didn't kill themselves because of the bullying, they killed themselves because they were sinful gays, or that if they had never come out of the closet, they never would have been bullied, and then they wouldn't have killed themselves. That is both evil AND insane.

Hate is evil. Period. It doesn't matter who you hate, be it gays or Muslims or intolerant fundamentalists who teach hate. The world is too dark and painful to carry on this way. To borrow a line from Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy series, "Love as thou wilt."

Practice love. Pursue happiness. Don't hurt other people. That's it. Those are the only commandments you need.

A wild ride through Pennsyltucky

Growing up in Philadelphia, it was always out there, lurking at the edge of geographic awareness, an unknown, scary and mysterious. Pennsyltucky. Also known as Penslybama. The rural stretch of the state between Philly and Pittsburgh that has more in common with Kentucky (and Alabama) than it does with the cities that bookend it.

(Of course, let's face it, Pittsburgh isn't too great either. 'They could really just call it East Cleveland. *ducks*)

But back to Pennsyltucky. My best friend and I would venture out into it in high school. It is a good place to buy knives and gunpowder. Not that we did. Nope. Just ... looking. It really was a whole different world from grimy, liberal, crowded Philadelphia. Old barns, meth labs, gun shops, and old men hanging out outside the gas stations who looked like they'd been drying out for at least a generation. Driving through Pennsyltucky at night, it could be downright creepy. Long stretches with no lights at all. For someone who lived with a streetlight outside his bedroom window his whole pre-adult life, this is a little disconcerting.

It is in this place, which after spending five years living in Kentucky I can say really does share a lot of things with the Bluegrass State, that Chuck Wendig has set his crime novella, Shotgun Gravy. It's a world of mobile-home drug dealers, neo-Nazi gun clubs, and casual racism.

It's into this world that Chuck dumps Atlanta Burns, a high school student with a scary reputation for violence and a soft spot for people in trouble. She helps them even though she knows it'd go easier on her if she just walked away. Even if Chuck hadn't mentioned it in the note at the end of the book, I couldn't help being reminded of Burn Notice, but with a messed up teen heroine in backwoods Pennsylvania instead of a cool ex-spy in eye-candy Miami.

I love Burn Notice, and I loved Shotgun Gravy. I mean, the title alone is enough reason to pick up this book. As in his other books and stories, Chuck writes with a bag and a half of attitude and never lets up off the gas, and your brain is just chained to the bumper for the ride. I started reading it the other night, intending to get to bed early, but instead I found myself blinking at 2 a.m., book finished, wondering where the last couple hours went.

There's a reason I wanted Chuck to write for the first issue of my magazine.

Shotgun Gravy is dark, but it needs to be dark to tell its story. And it's dark with a hint, a smidge, of hope shining around the edges. Atlanta Burns has a lot of problems, but she is trying, and she is helping people who can't stand up for themselves, and maybe helping them grow a little spine while they are at it. Bad people get what's coming to them, but like in real life, putting people in their place, pissing them off, has blowback.

I'm not much for spoilers, so I'll leave it at that. I'm excited for the next Atlanta Burns story.

You can buy the Shotgun Gravy ebook from Amazon here.

Chess and finding mates

I was editing an obituary for Dorothea Tanning, a Surrealist painter who died Tuesday. It had an interesting passage about how she go together with her future husband, Max Ernst:

Back inNew York she finally met Ernst, at a party in 1942. Shortly thereafter he dropped by her studio seeking candidates for an exhibition of art by women of the Surrealist movement that he was organizing for Peggy Guggenheim’s new gallery, ‘‘Art of This Century.’’ Ms. Tanning’s not-quite-finished self-portrait with bare breasts, ‘‘Birthday,’’ happened to be on her easel. Ernst stayed for a game of chess, and within a week he had moved into her apartment.

Is "game of chess" a 1940s euphemism I am not familiar with?

Breaking out the fountain pen

I've decided to participate in the A Month of Letters Challenge, the brainchild of writer Mary Robinette Kowal. It's apparently taken off, too, as The Guardian writes today.

So what is the Month of Letters Challenge? I'll let Mary explain:

When was the last time you got a letter in the mail? December sees a lot of mail and you remember that sense of delight when the first card arrives. You can have that more often.

I have a simple challenge for you.

  1. In the month of February, mail at least one item through the post every day it runs. Write a postcard, a letter, send a picture, or a cutting from a newspaper, or a fabric swatch.
  2. Write back to everyone who writes to you. This can count as one of your mailed items.

All you are committing to is to mail 24 items. Why 24? There are four Sundays and one US holiday. In fact, you might send more than 24 items. You might develop a correspondence that extends beyond the month. You might enjoy going to the mail box again.

I've always liked writing letters, but it's an easy thing to not do because of how easy it is to fire off an e-mail. Now, I'm not knocking e-mail. It's an incredible tool, and for most things it is perfectly fine for the task. But there really is something nice about holding something in your hand that someone took the time to sit down, write out, stamp, and mail just for you.

It also gives me an excuse to bust out my fountain pen and the awesome Copper Burst ink color I have for it.

I have an assortment of stationery, but I ordered a new box of letter-writing paper and envelopes for this. It has a little gold butterfly at the top, which might seem a little weird for a guy, but I think it looks nice and really, who gives a flying crap?

I got the stationery on Monday and wrote my first letter today. It's out in the mailbox waiting to be picked up.

Summing up what we are trying to do with Fireside

I've been completely absorbed with the Kickstarter for the new magazine I am trying to start over the past month. We have until Friday at midnight to hit our goal of $6,500, and are 68% there. I wanted to sum up what we are trying to do with Fireside magazine for those who are new to it. (Or for those who already have pledged but want a summary to share with friends who might be interested.) What is Fireside?

  • It is a multi-genre fiction and comics magazine.
  • This Kickstarter is raising funds for the first issue, which will include four short stories  (by Tobias Buckell, Ken Liu, Chuck Wendig, and Christie Yant) ,  a comic (by D.J. Kirkbride and Adam P. Knave), and cover art by Amy Houser.
  • It is available in electronic and print formats. The print version will only be available as a Kickstarter reward.
  • It is also designed to pay creative people at a rate that allows them to make a living being creative. The current rate considered to be professional for genre short stories is 5 cents a word, or $200 for a 4,000-word story, which is the upper word limit for this magazine. Given the amount of time that can go into a short story, $200 isn’t very much. Fireside writers will be paid 12.5 cents a word, or $500 for a 4,000-word story.

What is this Kickstarter you speak of?

  • It is a fundraising platform for creative projects.
  • Project creators set a fundraising goal and a time period, then launch the Kickstarter. Backers (that’s you) pledge an amount and choose a reward that falls under that pledge amount.
  • The creator only gets the money (and the backers only get charged) if the project reaches its goal by the deadline (in this case at the end of the night Friday). Otherwise no money changes hands.
  • Backers can pledge as much as they want and choose any reward as long as the pledge meets that reward’s requirement. (For instance, you can pledge $10 even if all you want is the $2 reward.)

$6,500 seems like a lot of money. What is that going toward?

  • 57 percent is budgeted to pay the writers, artists, and other freelancers collaborating on the magazine.
  • 28 percent will cover printing and shipping costs.
  • 10 percent goes to Kickstarter and Amazon for processing the payments.
  • And the remaining 5 percent is to cover miscellaneous costs or to maybe even turn a little profit.

Words of Others | This World Ends Now

Lupe Fiasco is becoming a regular in Words of Others. I love his music, and he is amazing at mixing in commentary, politics, and activism. He released a mix tape. "Friend of the People" on Thanksgiving, and I have been listening to it a lot. It was obviously put together in a short period of time and then released: the Penn State creep Jerry Sandusky is mentioned, and Occupy Wall Street is in there a lot.

The Words of Others comes from the last song on the tape, which is an anthem for Occupy Wall Street. The chorus is simple but I think it sums up all the disparate messages of the Occupy movement:

This world ends, this world ends This world ends, this world ends Now, now, now, now, now, now, now, now

It's a great song, and I found this video with the music nicely paired with video from Occupy. I can't figure out if this is some sort of offical Lupe video or not, these mix tape things can be pretty ambiguous:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDDCmHr0G2E&w=560&h=315]

You can download the mix tape here.

Day 2 fundraising challenge

So as of 10 a.m. today, the Kickstarter had raised $403, which is a little over 6% of the goal for the magazine I am trying to start. Thanks to everyone who contributed so far! I am stoked! We had a $100 pledge for one of the slots to have a character in the magazine named after the backer, which is great! There are still three more slots available for that. But I am here to talk about the challenge. I'd like to hit $750 (11.5%) by tomorrow at noon, which will be the end of the first 48 hours of the Kickstarter. So if we hit that goal, since this is a project about stories, I'll write up the story of my misadventure with a weapon in Philadelphia's City Hall, and I'll post it on the updates page on the Kickstarter. It's a pretty good story. And it is true. Most of my good ones are. It's a hazard of working in journalism. If this goes well, I have plenty of others I can use for future challenges!

If you want to pledge you can do so here.

Thanks again to our first backers, and to everyone for reading!

The sekrit project revealed

I have been hinting on Twitter for the past month that I was working on a sekrit project (Urban Dictionary defines sekrit as "extremely confidential") and today I can finally reveal what it is.

I am starting a fiction magazine called Fireside. It will cross genres, with an emphasis on storytelling, and I need help to get the first issue off the ground. I'm doing a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter, which collects pledges and offers rewards in return. I won't go into detail here, as that is all available on the Kickstarter page and on the magazine's website, firesidemag.com. I'll be tweeting about it @FiresideMag.

Thanks, and sorry for all the neglect here. I have been chin-deep in putting this together since before Halloween.


One of my Twitter pals, Erin Zulkoski (@e_zulko) had a series of tweets last night that touched on something that happened to me recently that has been bothering me: https://twitter.com/#!/e_zulko/status/136651229202890752 https://twitter.com/#!/e_zulko/status/136651680832950272 https://twitter.com/#!/e_zulko/status/136652172665438208

She's right about that. I was stopped in a McDonald's on my way home from work on Saturday, to pick up a McFlurry for Lauren. It was late, about 11:30, and there weren't many people in the restaurant, working or eating. I was loitering at the counter, waiting for the burger I had ordered for myself, and there were two high school age kids also waiting. When the woman minding the counter went over to check those green on black 1980s monitors they have to keep track of the orders, one of the kid's hands darted over the counter and came back with a drink cup, not quite magician quick, but close. Then he strolled over to the drink machine and filled up a soda, and began sipping it furtively behind the glass divider.

I stood there, watching this. I wanted to go Dirty Harry on the guy. I wanted to kick him in the nuts. I wanted to smack the drink out of his hand.

I wanted to at least say something.

I didn't. I rationalized. Well, they're both bigger than me. And they're obviously assholes. I don't want to get beaten up over a $1 Coke. Yeah.

It all happened so fast, his friend didn't even notice right away. When he saw his friend sipping the stolen Coke, he said something I couldn't hear, but I knew he was asking where the drink came from his friend said he'd grabbed it from behind the counter. So the friend goes over, and he obviously hasn't done this before (he's definitely the sidekick in this clown show) and looks around clumsily, then leeeaaaans over the counter looking for the drink cups. He was making his friend look like fucking Houdini.

Great, I think. This moron is going to get caught, and I won't have to do anything.

Of course he doesn't. He finally tracks down the cups and fumbles one out just before the cashier turns back around, smiling, with their food bags.

I agonized some more, and rationalized some more, and then my burger came, and I left.

Maybe speaking up wasn't worth the potential trouble. But I couldn't help thinking, on what seemed like a long drive the rest of the way home, that if I couldn't stand up to petty shit like that, because it is easier, more comfortable, less risky, then what the fuck would I do when the stakes, and the risks, were higher?

It didn't matter that it was something small. I was a coward.

I never want to feel that way again.

Words of Others | A Capital Idea

Last week I complained on the Interwebs about newspapers' common practice of using the names of capital cities as shorthand for the current government of those countries, as it is used in this New York Times article:

It is Berlin, citing the very treaties that it now wants to adjust, that has resisted the boldest answer to the euro crisis — using the European Central Bank as the euro zone’s lender of last resort. Berlin does not even want to sanction American-style quantitative easing to promote economic growth, one recipe to stoking growth and reducing the debt burden.

For me, this always conjures up images of a city talking, or negotiating, or objecting, or whatever. More importantly, it is too ambiguous, I think. Who is Berlin meant to represent here? Angela Merkel? The German Parliament? Both? Neither? It's really kind of lazy.

At any rate, my complaint prompted my friend and fellow Dow Jones Newspaper Fund Chapel Hill boot camp 2004 survivor Niko Dugan to post this on my Facebook wall. (Contains language.)

IAEA: "Hey, y'all, did y'all know that Iran is working on nuclear weapons?" MOSCOW: "Pfft, totes already knew that. I wish Washington would stop tweeting about it already. We get it!" WASHINGTON: "Moscow, you're such a bitch! I'm just sayin ..." MOSCOW: "You been 'just sayin' forever, gurl. You need to get over yourself. Besides, let Tehran do what Tehran gon' do." TEHRAN: "Why y'all gotta be always be up in my business? Ain't nobody invited you! I ain't said shit about no weapons program! I need to keep the lights on, dammit! You bitches worry about your own prollems. Sheeeeeeeeeeeet." WASHINGTON: "Whatever, Tehran. You crazy. TEHRAN IS CRAZY, Y'ALL!" JERUSALEM: "What'd this dumb bitch do now? I hope y'all gonna start payin' attention?! I done told you this stupid bitch would fuck errrything up!" TEHRAN: "Shut yo mouth, dumb ho!" JERUSALEM: "Don't call me a ho, ho!" JER-RY! JER-RY! JER-RY!

I put it to you that connecting Jerusalem and the Jerry Springer chant is the comic gold moment of 2011.

A sundae treat

Lauren and I made ice cream sundaes at home a few weeks ago, and we wondered about the origins of the word. It turns out it's one of those ones that does not have a definitive etymology. From the OED:

The name is generally explained as an alteration of Sunday , either because the dish originally included leftover ice-cream sold cheaply on Monday, or because it was at first sold only on Sunday, having, according to some accounts, been devised to circumvent Sunday legislation. The alteration of the spelling is sometimes said to be out of deference to religious people's feelings about the word Sunday. For several accounts see H. L. Mencken, The American Language Suppl. I. (1945), pp. 376–7.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find a copy online of Mencken's explanations. The theory about Sunday legislation seems to come from a place that banned ice cream sodas, prompting someone to offer the treat without the banned soda.