Geez, I’ve been writing my head off…

Vintage_Headless_Man…and now I find out, I’m not the first!

I’ve generated something like 17,878 actual, useable, readable words over the past few days. I’ve made precisely zero friends in the process, but I’m edging ever closer to the end of the work-in-progress. In my jaded youth I might’ve been tempted to say I worked another part of my anatomy off, but frankly, that’s way too complicated to illustrate. And besides, it makes me queasy. So, n’mind.headless3

Lest anyone be concerned that I’m really headless (as opposed to merely having my head stuck somewhere else, like, well, out of sight), you can relax. It’s simply a figure of speech. Still, it intrigued me enough to look for headless people who may or may not have done any writing.

nohead Needless to say, the internet provides an astonishing array of possibilities. But these vintage pix were the only ones that captured what’s left of my imagination.

Unfortunately, I have no idea if any of the folks pictured here were even literate, let alone writerly. But they did provide me with a topic, of sorts, and now I can get back to some important work–namely hammering out the conclusion to A Primitive in Paradise.

If I can keep writing my head off, I should be able to finish it by [drum roll, please] the end of the month.

Or not.

It’s damned hard to say. My good guys are all in trouble, and my bad guys are all looking pretty smarmy. The words are certainly piling up, but the idea mill is running on fumes. Can you hear the wheezing?

Josh stocks ECUMaybe I just need to clear my head, and since it’s already off, the job should be fairly simple.

More, soon.

–Josh

[Ed Note: These pix weren't digitally diddled; they were produced long before PhotoShop. It's my understanding they were the result of some skillful 19th century darkroom work.]

[Random thought: Maybe I should whip up a character named Ed Note....]

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64,382 words into the new book, and suddenly

I have this great urge to start killing off characters. It’s probably not even their fault. Although, come to think of it, the way some of them have been acting lately, it’s like they’re asking for it.smite key One player in particular has taken an unexpected turn toward the dark side. Normally, I get a pleasant rush when someone dependable does something unpredictable. I suspect my readers enjoy it, too. Normally, this is the province of bad guys figuring out new ways to be nasty. But it’s way weird when a good guy–or at least someone who isn’t always a bad guy–does something despicable.

It makes me worry. What have I done? Where is this going? Who mucked about with my coffee?

giant typewriterWriting is a lonely business. I can see you yawn, and I agree that the statement likely qualifies for cliche’ of the millennium. But it’s the truth, damn it, despite what the photo might suggest. (Besides, that ain’t me. And I have no idea who the hottie is, even though by now she’s likely approaching her 100th birthday.)

When one of your characters escapes from their carefully crafted box and does something bizarre, the writer is the only one around who can react. Some of us spill our coffee. Others lean back and giggle. I know a writer who will look around the room, like a dog disgusted by his own flatulence, to see if he can find the culprit who actually committed the deed. Weirdness, cubed.

Writer's blockWriters are not only lonely, we’re most likely schizophrenic, too, at least to a certain extent. We have conversations. With our characters! We know they aren’t real; we know they aren’t *there.* But we cuss them, and praise them, and talk about ‘em like they’re offspring. Which, of course, they are.

That’s how imagination works, I suppose. I never really believed it came in a bottle, or a pill, or a syringe. Thank heaven. (It comes in a coffee mug, of course.)

Anyway, thanks for allowing me this little excursion into the surreal. I needed it. My characters did, too. They were getting nervous ’cause my right index finger lingered above the delete key too long.

54-heres-johnnyHeh, heh.

Gotta keep the little buggers on their toes.

 

–Josh

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Blog from the Beach, Part the Second

Subtitle: How writing has ruined my reading….

bikini beach reader

This is the young lass I searched for in vain. [sigh] The giveaway? My books aren’t available in hard cover. However, several of my readers do like hats. That should count for something!

It didn’t happen overnight. The condition sneaked up on me like a disease, a sort of literary high blood pressure. I had no idea the conversion was under way, but over the course of some amount of time–thirty years, give or take–my ability to read for enjoyment took a monumental hit. Call it readaplegia, which ought to be a real condition if it isn’t already. I’ll even give it a definition: it’s a noun meaning the inability to read for pleasure because the reader is so keen on words and structure that he or she can’t escape the need to either admire or criticize the content.

“Whoa—this is really intense,” I mumble, ignorant of my affliction. “What an astonishing choice of verbs. Damn. I really wish I’d thought of that. I should probably make a note of it so I can steal it later. What’re the chances that ______ [name of actually talented writer] will ever read my stuff?”

fat guy

Here’s a guy who literally devoured my book. Seriously! Cover and all. He washed it down with a six-pack of Corona Light. Cheap sleaze bag couldn’t even pony up for REAL brew.

[Full disclosure: I often employ the word “stuff” when referring to my own work. Some folks don't react well to “shit,” especially mine.]

I can easily remember a time, mostly prior to discovering The Once and Future King as a college student, when I could read for pure pleasure. I gobbled novels the way I imagine Rosanne Barr destroys bonbons. Okay, maybe not quite like that, ’cause it takes a little more effort to zip through a 500-page tome like Watership Down or Zombie Cheerleaders from Mars (another fave which most people think was only a movie. Pflibbbbbt! Illiterati).

zzz-zombie-cheerleaders

Sorry! I couldn’t find the cover for the sequel, so this will have to do.

The disease has progressed slowly, as I mentioned. I didn’t recognize it at all when working on my journalism degree, though I suspect my professors may have suffered from it. God knows they had to wade through a Congressional Library’s worth of monstrously awful “news” items and “features.” Poor bastards.

I have no idea how long ago my affliction began to manifest itself, and even today I can recall a time or two when what I read actually transported me to some fictional time and place. It’s the sort of journey I desperately want to provide for my own readers. But the process requires that I constantly scratch the itch my disease has unleashed. It’s a vicious, bloody circle, and there’s no escape. Kinda like the traffic rings in Boston and parts of civilized Wales—God help you if you get stuck on an inside lane!

One reads; one reacts. The normal reader gets a scene of profound relevance. Something moving has happened; they smile, or frown, or weep. On the other hand, I get that the author has misused a semi-colon, or that the passage drips with adjectives, or that the rhythm sucks, or the whole thing would work better as a series of shorter, punchier clauses with a kind of staccato punctuation, as if T.S. Elliot were doing an action scene. Think: e e cummings in [gasp!] upper and lower case, with punctuation.

HieroglyphicsI hope you can imagine how annoying this is. The temptation to correct spelling and grammar would make a sixth grade language arts instructor shudder. [And who the hell decided that Language Arts was a better way to say “Writing?” I'm guessing it wasn't a writer.]

Anyway, that’s my rant for the week. I love writing. I used to love reading. I’ve done this to myself; I have no one else to blame. And even with all that said, I will still read, because I know there are writers out there, somewhere—geez, there’s gotta be!–who can still transport me to a fictional time and place.

I just hope that once I get there, I’ll ignore the urge to figure out how the hell they did it.

–Josh

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Blog from the Beach Blowback!

Bathing suits

               Note: Handy finger indicating patriotic element of moderately out-dated swimwear.

 

Oh, the firestorm I created with my last post! To those of you still trying to forget the image of the guy in the green swim-thingy, you have my most sincere apologies. The photo appeared in a weak moment, and came without the proper disclaimer. My bad.

Sorry! It’ll never happen again. Ever. I <cough> promise.

babe in partriotic swimsuitAnd, for those of you who insisted I didn’t supply enough [read: "any"] pix of babes in bikinis, here’s one I found pretty adorable, even if there weren’t any stripes. Hey, ya can’t have everything! At least, that’s what I keep hearing.

Another failing to which I readily confess: I made no mention of the US Flag Code (and I’ll bet you didn’t even know we had such a thing). Here’s the relevant passage: RWB Swim Trunks“The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.” (Flag Code, Section 8d)

Therefore, if you see any guys wearing a suit like the one pictured here, you can have him brought up on charges. And by all means, keep that in mind when decorating the guest bedroom.

barbie bikiniThere were two other types of fashion swimwear I failed to mention as well, although I confess I never actually *saw* either one at or near the beach. burkiniThe first is the much whispered-about crocheted, two-piece number which is allegedly only sold to a handful of select lingerie models. (This one is also known as the Barbikini.)

Last of all comes the oft-maligned “burkini” about which, the less said the better.

Which brings me to the last chapter of this edition–a final word of warning since I so brazenly failed to offer any the last time around. Therefore, if you’re scrolling slowly and have no interest in viewing anything even moderately prurient, embarrassing, or off-color, you probably won’t want to feast your eyes on the fellows that follow.

Remember, you were warned!

scary guysIf only I had the kind of chutzpah needed to pose for something like this! Oy.

The <cough> end.

–Josh

 

 

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Blog from the Beach, Part the First…

 

I have no idea where this beach is, but the crowd feels a little familiar.

I have no idea where this beach is, but the crowd feels a little familiar.

It’s the Fourth of July weekend; I’m sitting under an umbrella with a light breeze keeping me cool, and I’m watching an astonishing number of people walk by wearing various renditions of Old Glory. I confess, however, the two-piece versions do a better job of getting my attention. Some of them are, well, riveting.

Still and all, the distaff half of the species isn’t the only segment thus accoutered. Red, white and blue—stars, stripes, zippers, bows and the occasional tassel abound. It’s very uhm– patriotic.

And who knew such beachwear could be had in such a wide array of sizes? Oy. I know for a fact I saw the exact same suit on two different bodies, though the effect could not have been more extreme. The larger of the two would have looked just as sublime as the smaller one provided the wearer had spread the wrapper over a slightly taller frame. Nine or ten feet would be enough, and would likely have cast a great deal less shade.

Imagine this is red, white, and blue -- with a cute little star on the back.

Imagine this is red, white, and blue — with a cute little star on the back.

The guys, too, are making fashion statements, though one might interpret them in a manner unlike that intended by the model. I refer, of course, to the Speedo versions. This microwear seems to attract a distinct sort of customer. They might not be perfect physical specimens, but they’re almost universally stare-worthy, for one reason or another. One such bather just sauntered by, and I couldn’t help but notice the patriotic fabric was only large enough to support a single, silver dollar-sized star located dead center astern. Some kind of statement, I reckon.

cartoon beach babeSpeaking of stars, I saw a couple more located strategically on a young gal’s top–one star on each side, reminiscent of the legendary Lola LaBonza’s costume when she worked the Boom Boom Room on the strip in Atlantic City. Or maybe it was DeMoines. I forget. Her. Not the stars. I think they might have been glued on. Anyway, the effect was, in a word, profound. God invented gravity for a reason, bless his heart, which explains things like planetary orbits. Lola, as I recall, simulated dualing star systems—okay, not whole systems, just two stars—but she made ‘em rotate in opposite directions. But I digress, Lola never hit the beach where I could see her. At least, not on this trip.

Back on the guy’s side, another <cough> attraction is the thong. I’m pretty sure these things should not be worn by guys. It’s just—pardon my squeamishness—icky. A few gals can pull off the thong thing to astounding effect. It helps if they’re significantly younger than fifty, and have the kind of body for which Helen of Troy would kill. Just sayin’.

Of course, all this comes from the perspective of a middle-aged male troll under the influence of several exotic (read: adult) beverages. Understand, I almost always keep my shirt on—mostly as a public service. I realize this in no way qualifies me to comment on the physical perfection, or lack thereof, exhibited by other folks at the beach.

But, geez, it’s sooooo hard not to.

So, what the hell.

Sue me.

–Josh

 

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A writer’s brain

The book signing yesterday at Hiram Books went well. Not only did I see a couple old friends (thanks Pam, Alice and Terry), I got to make a couple new ones. And, we sold some books. All in all, not a bad deal. Thanks for asking!

Homer Simpson's brain

Look hard enough, and you’re almost certain to find a brain in every writer. How big it is and/or how often it’s engaged are questions for another time.

Now it’s time for somewhat <cough> headier stuff. I read an article by Carl Zimmer in the New York Times on-line edition about  research recently done in Germany to find out what parts of a writer’s brain contribute the most in the creative process. (Full disclosure: I’ve long believed that two things contribute the most to this: deadlines and poverty, but not always in that order. Most of us who can put off the real work of sitting down and hammering stuff out, will almost invariably do so.)

Here’s a link to the article in case you need to read it for yourself (suddenly, you don’t trust me anymore? Was it something I said? Oy.): http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/19/science/researching-the-brain-of-writers.html?smid=fb-share&_r=1

synapse-firing-1a

Synapse firing. Imagine a bazillion of these puppies going off in your head every time you dream up a new scene.

So, what happens upstairs when we actually do write something? What parts of our brains kick in, and why? According to the German study, prolific writers have different internal reactions than those who write less frequently. Both groups may be absolute idea machines, but those who write a lot activate those portions of the brain geared to speech. Those who don’t write a great deal activate the parts of the brain mostly given to vision.

So, surprise-surprise, writers think in words–both internally and externally–while non-writers think in pictures. It seems likely that seasoned writers, by virtue of practice and repetition, shift the creative process from images to text automatically while those who haven’t done much writing struggle to get what they’ve seen down on paper.

The difference amounts to the novice coming up with: “She was gorgeous in her sexy, green dress.” While the writer generates a description of the low-cut, emerald gown and the redheaded goddess wearing it. There’s just no way around practice, folks!

Perhaps of more interest is what happens inside the brain of a reader. Hm?

Yeah, there’s a whole lot more going on while you’re trying not to fall asleep during the PowerPoint, but I don’t want to confuse you with too much just now. Stay awake, dang it!

A quick look into established theory yields the following: Given a bullet-point list, like those we’ve all come to love in PowerPoint presentations, the brains of most readers will see action in Broca’s Area and Wernicke’s Area. This is where language gets turned into meaning. Important, certainly, but not StarWarsy cool.

What *is* way cool is when that same info is converted into story form. That’s when the reader’s brain gets a jumpstart from the Motor Cortex. Think of it as the Harley-Davidson Area. It’s where the stuff that’s just been read is converted into something akin to experience. Which do you suppose is more likely to be remembered? Vroom-vroooom!

If you’re a writer, and you want to connect with your readers, you’ve gotta pump some fuel into the Harley Area. You do that with sensory stuff. Let readers know how that sexy green dress felt against the redhead’s satiny skin. What her hair smelled like. What her lips felt like. What… Whatever!

Okay, brain surgery’s over for today. Go write something.

Vroooooooooooooom!

–Josh

 

 

 

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Quick update…

Gotta make this quick ’cause the clock is ticking and, well, uhm… I forgot to do it earlier. I know, I know, it’s utterly uncharacteristic of me. What can I say? I screwed up. [Sigh]

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo, here’s the deal: I’m doing a book signing at the Hiram Bookstore on Hwy 278 — right in the heart of greater downtown Hiram. I’ll have a supply of Treason, Treason! on hand as well as some other titles in case someone missed one [Gasp!] along the way.

However, please understand — I don’t wish to disappoint anyone — I won’t be in costume as I was at the book launch this past February. (Photos included for those of you who missed it. A priceless evening, that was! Don’t miss the next one, y’hear?)

Anyway, I’ll be there from 1 to 3 on Saturday afternoon, June 21. If you’re in the neighborhood — meaning pretty much anywhere east of the Mississippi River — feel free to drop in. It’s a great little bookstore with an absolute treasure trove of new *and* used books (and CDs).TT and JL

AND [Drum roll] I’ll be there, too!

–Josh

PS: I’m making significant progress on the latest book in the Litte Primitive series. With any luck, I’ll have the first draft of A Primitive in Paradise completed by the end of the summer. If you’d like to be a First Reader, please let me know. (Open to anyone who’s read the first two books. If you haven’t, there’s still time!)

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