Borderlands Boot Camp

From January 24-26, I was a grunt.

Let me elaborate. I attended the Borderlands Boot Camp in Baltimore, Maryland. I was selected. I’m not gonna lie, initially, I was the black dot in the snow. But, it didn’t bother me. I’m used to being an anomaly. I do need to put the brakes on though…or at least slow the speed limit.

After a particularly dismal day at work of checking me email 8000x in an hour, I got the email. Welcome to the Borderlands Boot Camp. In summation, we will book your room-you pay-and read a lot of stuff. Don’t come with your heart on your sleeve because that’s not what we are here to deal with, you sniveling grunt. Now, here’s the first packet of shit you need to read.

Okay, I got this.

This was supposed to be the first binder photo but it’s just me being dramatic.

My life decided it needed a full upheaval in 2020. I finally got the transfer I NEEDED, I joined a writing group I WANTED, two anthologies I was in were published and of course, my family went into semi turmoil (but that’s what families do-and my sneaky sister and brother in law hid a pie I made).

Everything felt like, “What next?”

Life said, “Okay, bitch.”

Sitter (aka my mom) for the conference couldn’t come, my sister (plan b) got SUPER DUPER SICK, I started to get sick, my book for class showed up a week late (FYI-I’m still behind) and pretty much anything else you can add.

But, Plan C came through, I got tickets and went to the conference.

Upon arrival-Frank Zappa winked at me in the lobby. I went to my room and realized I needed a full body mirror in my life. I also need to embrace all the tenements of minimalism. Oh, hey Frank was in my room and Adam Duritz was over my toilet. Not cool, yo.

Frank in the lobby…so far, so good.

Frank in the hotel room. I was watching The Simpson’s.
This is in the mirror. I could not steal it. Damn. #minimalism

First meeting was that night. I grabbed my bag and dragged my ass upstairs. Okay, I tried not to fan girl out but there sat F. Paul Wilson (author of “The Keep” and my intro to horror after Matheson and Beaumont). Holy shit! At the end of the table was “Prime Evil”-Douglas Winter-who I swear stared a hole through my shirt (you gotta look at this shirt. What the fuck is she wearing?)

We had a lecture, which was informing. We listened to why we should not take shit personal and then we listened as our work was eviscerated. I almost went into a fetal position but, I held strong.

We received our Sunday assignments-write a story based on a sentence. The sentence starts the story. My sentence was: So you think you know the truth.

I started to panic. How? Who? What? I can’t think in any language and I’ve got 8000 pages of reading to turn in. Okay, be cool. Paul grinned at me. I got a friend (new friend-Nicole) to take a picture. I felt all stalker like but Paul was mad cool. He was also like a grandpa that you want to hug…only he would crawl into your brain and snatch that horror out of it and use it against you. Anyway, I’m a dork. Here’s the pic:

I look like I farted or something. I may have been running my mouth. And yes, that’s the shirt that was stared at for most of the night. And he’s taller than me! Just so much awesome. I think his coolness is actually making me look sane.

And that was the first day. Also, there was drinking-but not by me-and let me say that the panel is all over 55 and we, the grunts, were falling out like little bitches at 11:00 pm. They (the panel) could have gone all night. I knew I was tired. I was running on adrenaline, Burger King and coffee. Bedtime: 12:46 am

….part 2…Saturday…

Why I Can’t Get Down With Stephen King

My mother was a consumer of books. She read poetry, books in Spanish, mystery and horror. It seems as though she read whatever she could get her hands on. I remember browsing the shelves on weekends, looking for something to read. I ran across her Stephen King collection.

“What’s this one about?” I held up “The Stand” and showed it to her as she sat on the couch.

“Ugh,” She rolled her eyes, “Big build up, leads to nothing. Try this one.”

She gave me “Carrie”.

I read it in a day, “What else you got?”

Mom scanned the shelves, “Ah, try Sidney Sheldon. I like him.”

I read “Master of the Game”. It almost gave me a heart attack. People smuggling diamonds out of mines by slicing their calves open and hiding them inside. It was really good.

“More?”

Mom ran her finger along the shelf. She passed the Stephen King books, “Nikki Giovanni.”

“Ma, that’s…uh…sure.”

She read the look on my face, “Okay, try ‘On Wings of Eagles’. Ken Follett is pretty good writer.”

I wondered why she kept passing the Stephen King books. There was a book about a dragon with a green cover. As I remember, there were quite a few books. I figured something was wrong with those books, “This guy?”

“Carlos Castaneda?” She laughed, “Took a bunch of peyote, went out to the desert. Nope. Not for you.”

I rode my bike to my aunt’s house, “Deb, do you have something I can read?”

My aunt was a flight attendant. When she was in town, it was rare. She pointed me to her study. I walked in and picked up “Kindred” by Octavia Butler.

She tilted her head to the side, “Not sure if you’re ready for that. Try this.”

” ‘Interview with a Vampire’?” I asked.

“She gets wordy, but it’s good.” My aunt smiled, “Finish that, you get this.”

(A good point to insert here is that my aunt is my dad’s sister. Not related to my mom but they were both readers on different sides of the spectrum.)

I consumed some of my aunt’s books. Some of them went over my head. I fell in love with Lestat, I learned Spanish from my mom’s books, I learned about ‘Hollywood Babylon’ and hedonism, adventure and mystery until I approached the Stephen King books.

“Mom, why don’t you say these books?” I pointed.

“Ride your bike to the library. Get something else. I don’t think he’s for you.” She seemed a touch angry, “You’ll understand soon enough.”

I rode with my sister and read books about suicidal fans and rockstars, “Perhaps I’ll Dream of Darkness”. I stumbled into the series books, I can’t even remember. V.C. Andrews was hot stuff. I read most of her stuff. (I needed to stop, there was too much incesty sex happening in there).

My cousin read comic books. I jumped in with both feet. I read my dad’s comic books-“All’s Fair in Love and War”, “Sgt Fury”, “Batman” and a lot of Captain America. Until I was exhausted. I burrowed my way back to Stephen King.

Mom rolled her eyes, “You’ll see.”

She saw me carrying a book upstairs-“Different Seasons” maybe.

Either way, I’m cruising and reading at a decent pace until I came across a word. Then, I saw it several times after that. I finished the book, confused. I took it back downstairs to my mom raising her eyebrow, “You see, yet?”

I held up a finger, “Ah…one more.”

I grabbed a different book. I read a lot of Stephen King until I was sure I saw what she saw. I knew what she knew.

My mother was born in the deep south. She was used to segregation. Hell, she was two when the whole “Little Rock” integration incident happened. The kids going to the high school.

She had an outhouse in her backyard . Her mom moved her and her sister and brothers up to Cleveland when my mom started high school. It was a culture shock. I remember she said it was the first time she saw snow and it was interesting but it freaked her out because the cold was something she never knew.

I digress.

Mom’s looking at me, “You see?”

“Mom, why does he use that word a lot?” I flopped on the couch and watched her do some type of chore.

“I don’t know. That’s one of the reasons I stopped reading his stuff. You get tired of stuff like that. Over and over.” Mom kept doing her work.

My sister ran downstairs with “Eyes of the Dragon”. She was super excited and loved the book. She yammered with my mother and I faded back into the background.

“I’ll give you one more chance, Steve.”

I picked up “Skeleton Crew”, “Four Past Midnight” and some Richard Bachman books. I read…no consumed them…on the bus, at ballet, in my room…wherever there was light, I was reading and I kept running across the same thing, over and over.

Nigger.

“Why does he have to use that word in like most of his books? Why do all the black people in the books look like some type of caricature? I mean, my dad doesn’t look that. My uncles don’t look like that. And all his black people are either really dumb or some type of savior.”

Mom nodded her head, “Now, you get it.”

A lot of people say to me that since I’m a horror writer, I should read some Stephen King. I say that I have but he’s not my jam. Oh, well why not? I can’t go into all my reasons. I just reiterate, “He’s not my jam.”

“But you write horror.” They say.

“There’s other really great horror writers from the 50’s I like. Bradbury, Matheson, Beaumont.” I shrug.

“B-but Stephen King?!”

I’m backed into a corner, “He uses the word ‘nigger’ too much in his books. It was his earlier works. And I’m not apologizing because I won’t read his newer more modern stuff. I feel like they’ve gone from ‘niggers’ to ‘magical negroes saving the day’.”

I actually had this conversation with a friend of mine. He’s a guitarist. An old head, cool guy I talk comic book shit with and he reads twice as much as anyone I know, “I can see where you get that.”

I don’t feel like I have to justify myself to anyone as to why I don’t read Stephen King but I’ll add this. Once, I watched an interview with him and they asked him about his gratuitous usage of ‘nigger’ in his books…his descriptions of black people. He responded with something like this is what he knew. He’s from Maine. Not a lot of us up there. And the ones that are usually fit the description in his books.

So, ol’ boy never went anywhere and saw an educated black man. Or a thin, intelligent black man. Or a young, talented black man playing guitar that was not a felon. Right.

I’m watching “The Shining” as I write this. And guess what, I’d never seen it (it seemed super long and just ugh…) right in the middle, two characters are discussing Scatman Cruthers coming to save everyone.

“Your son is trying to get help.”

“Really?”

“Yes. A nigger.”

“A nigger?”

“A nigger cook.”

“You don’t say?”

Dude, I don’t fucking say and this is why I can’t get down with this shit. It’s all not necessary. I’ve known good and bad white people. Hell, I went to a school where white people didn’t want us to go inside and we had to go into a different entrance. (Busing and the 70’s…what fun) . I’ve dealt with white people that were kind enough to help me if I was lost or give me a hand. I’ve dealt with black people that are horrible and I’ve had black friends that were awesome.

I guess, because I’m from a different generation, I really never understood why all this racist shit was necessary. A lot of other writers didn’t use the word and I can’t jam with someone who did for some bullshit reason.

Now you know. And that’s half the battle.

knowing is half the battle

Go With Your Gut

I decided to write a novel for my Nanowrimo.  I wanted to incorporate witches and magic into my novel. A few of my friends said that I needed to have a magic system. Not just magic but an entire, functioning magic system.  I freaked out fully. I decided to abandon my project. All the work and planning will be flushed down the toilet.

Then, I went to the Folger to see “I Put A Spell on You”. While I was there, I spoke to a practicing witch. Her name is Annie Finch. She was there to read from her book called, “Spells”. So, after an introduction, I pulled her aside and asked her if I could talk to her about “witch stuff”. Considering my sister introduced us (as it was my sister’s program), she didn’t have a problem.

a subtle nod to Deborah Harkness (book is from 1647)

I explained to her that I was writing a book…blah blah…magic system…is it really necessary.  She looked at me. Like, really stared at me. I explained, “You know, like if you are a water elemental and you pull water from somewhere, then there has to be an after effect, no or yes?”

She was confused. She laughed and said, “No. you don’t need any type of system. None of the witches I know have this entire ‘magic system’. It’s usually a dab of this here and a dab of that there but no system.”

I felt a weight lifted. I was relieved. She saw the look on my face and laughed. We made small talk and I voluteered to send her some of the stuff I was working on…I mean I have an actual practicing witch willing to look at my stuff. (This goes to the credence that you need to do your damned research people!)

me in straight up stalker mode with the super cool Annie Finch

The next day, at the bus stop, one of the women I chat with-when we see each other-told me her roommate was a practicing witch. Just for shits and giggles, I bounced the magic system off her and she said the same thing, “Uh, no. There’s no need for all that.”

All the research, all the Pinterest pages and all that stress was for naught. I talked to a voracious reader and he told me that Jim Butcher has a wizard in his books that simply says simple spells. He also has “Laws of Magic”.  It’s not all that complicated.

Next time, as my sister says, “Go with that inner  critic, the inner frustrated teacher and make your edits and corrections there.”

Let Me Tell You About the Literary Festival

I had a reading at the Cleveland Drafts Festival. It was over Columbus Day weekend. I had fun and really enjoyed it. I heard other writers and poets read their work in the Larchmere area of Cleveland. (Larchmere isn’t a suburb-it’s more like a small section of the city with a name)

The venues were interesting. The one venue I thought was the most unique and the coolest was the auto garage. Yes! They actually had a reading in a real life auto garage. It wasn’t very warm, but it was the intent that was good. The place was super packed. There are pictures, but I’m sitting behind a pole, so I can’t be seen. The one thing that can be seen are the really cute boots I wore.

My reading was in Larchmere Tavern. People were eating on one side of the Tavern and the other side of the Tavern was for the reading. I wasn’t nervous. I was completely cool. I met the organizers and they went over my bio. I sat in the back and reviewed my work. Everything was super kosher.

Then, my family arrived. “Stay cool.” I tell myself, “Just be cool. You got this.”

I was super surprised when my sister showed up. I wasn’t sure she and her fiancee were coming. He’s a big guy. Stay cool. My mother and father came (they have never heard me read) and my super cool cousin and her super cool husband were also there. Another friend came-she surprised me and I was very happy she came.

I’m super cool. I’m waiting for my intro. I’m walking up to the microphone when my sister yells, “THAT’S MY SISTER!” When I became audible property of someone, my nerves kicked in. My hands started shaking. I swear the make up melted off my face. The sound guy fixes the mic and it’s right in my nose. Great, now I’m nose breathing into the microphone.

“Turn to the side,” he whispered.

Sideways booger projections, nice.

I start reading. All the words are a jumble on the page. Nothing is working right-my mouth, my eyes or anything. I take off my glasses. Okay, not much improvement, but I can roll with it.

I start reading. I was nervous at first (my father said it showed). An aside-I took a freaking speech class! Two of them! It’s like all that college knowledge was gone! Anyway, I’m reading. I’m lost in the words. I start making different voices and then it’s over.

notice the side reading…I listened!

Long pause before applause. I later discovered that some of the dudes were freaked out but the women could relate. (The story was a woman is haunted by her screaming child.) One woman told me, “You know when a kid has colic? Yeah, I’ve had them thoughts.” Honey, we all have had those thoughts.

me and Eles Jackson (thanks girl!) Check out my Poe shirt. Yeah, I rep Poe!
my dad doing the dad thing. my mother seems to be allergic to cameras.

I went out for drinks with my cousin and crew. After it was all over, I arrived home by 10:35 pm. I thought it was much later, but it was enough time for me to wind down and go to bed.

bye sobriety! Sex on the Beach that kept replenishing itself…somehow

Given the opportunity, I would definitely go back up to work with Twelve Literary Arts or Cleveland Drafts any time. It’s great to go home and see your city as an adult. I was able to see the literary community is alive and thriving in Cleveland, Ohio.

I am also Cleveland proud!!

My Weekend at #EWF19 (part 1)

I was chosen to be a Fellow at the Emerging Writers Festival this past weekend. It was sponsored by Old Town Books in Old Town Alexandria, VA.

A few things-being a Fellow means I had to read an excerpt of my writing, I was able to attend all the events and panel discussions and I met a whole bunch of really cool people. I was so excited and I could hardly sleep the night before. I was a bunch of nerves, woke at 5 am, packed too much stuff and sweat through everything I wore.

Great start, I would say.

(One quick thing-I follow Jane Friedman. I saw on her site that she would be at this festival. I decided to sign up for it. When I saw they were offering fellowships, I got super busy. I forgot and actually wrote on my calendar to sleep in that Saturday when I got an email that said I was in! My plans changed fast and I needed a sitter. Thank God for sisters!)

After arrival, I met the other fellows. They were two pretty cool chicks. There was a lovely breakfast served-the awesomeness of it! A Southern breakfast with biscuits, sausage and something I will dream about forever-Nashville Hot Chicken. Oh man, they even had pickles. Sadly, the chicken was in the same tray as the pork sausage. I haven’t had pork since I was 16. It would have been a very, very bad idea. Although I heard it call me when I was getting my picture taken outside.

The chicken is calling to me. I’m trying to look like I have some common sense.
When I finished reading, everyone looked at me and didn’t say a word. I scared them, I think.

Saturday I went to some events-There was the Panel Discussion: Against the Algorithm-Online book communities as resources for emerging writers. The panelists were Lupita Aquino, Amanda Nelson and Kendra Winchester. (I think I now have secret crushes on all these women). The panel was great with a lot of good info.

There was hardly time for lunch because I also attended Fiction Craft Intensive, Polish Your Pitch (with the super awesome Jennifer Baker) and the Publishing Masterclass with Jedi Jane Friedman. She answered just about every question you could answer from getting an agent, to residuals, manuscripts and everything in between. It was a three hour panel and I made it through to about 2.75 hours. I needed to get home.

When I got home, I tried to review what I learned and all the handouts. Which morphed into me passing out on the couch and watching the ID Network. Later, I crawled to bed and slept a dreamless sleep.