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The 2020 Rut

Hola, amigos! I know it’s been a long time since I’ve rapped at ya, but I’ve been busier than a one-armed fiddler with the crabs!

Well, no. Not really.

Actually, I’ve been pretty stagnant. Maybe “paralyzed” is a better word, as it implies outside forces beyond my control, acting on poor ol’ innocent me. I blame 2020.

This has been a fraught year for everyone everywhere, and it’s been especially here in good ol’ Portland, Oregon where I live and work. Of course, there is the political angle to the general Suckiness of 2020, but I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole – at least not on the Sweet Weasel Words blog. (If you’re really interested, check out the American Knucklehead podcast site.)

Suffice it to say that I would be a considerably happier camper if I had the wherewithal to shut myself off from the 24-hour news cycle. But I can’t; I’m a news junkie, and my attempts to throttle my news consumption has always been short-lived and largely ineffective. Maybe there’s a twelve-step group available for news addicts.

Regardless, as the year has worn on and the avalanche of stupefyingly depressing news stories have absolutely tanked my initiative to do just about anything, including writing. It feels like I’m constantly in a reaction zone where the only thing that seems palatable is the old and comfortable. There’s enough novelty – and most of it horrifying – coming through my cell phone and computer, thank you. It’s hard to get enthusiastic for anything that might stress me out further.

Even enjoyable things like writing and reading seem like a chore now. For example, I eagerly awaited the release of William Gibson’s delayed novel Agency. I got my dirty mitts on it right around the time Covid hit, and I was so flabbygastered that I could barely concentrate on the story. About seven chapters in, I realized that I had no idea what was going on or who the characters were. I put it on the shelf, and spend the summer readin Stephen King novels that I had read many times before.

This same inertia applied to my writing (and blogging, obviously) – and has only gotten worse as the year wore on. By the time we had gotten past Labor Day, the only writing I could muster consistently was a hand-written journal which since early March has been labelled “Plague Journal.” I was completely locked up as a writer.

Then I had a Cunning Plan.

I would simultaneously start three writing projects, so that there was more variety to choose from:

  • A new novel about stand-up comics that has been on the back burner for several years.
  • An episode or two of the American Knucklehead podcast
  • A short story based on expurgated chapters from an unpublished novel manuscript called Fester.

This started out as an effective Cunning Plan, and I was soon gleefully cranking away on the comedian storyline (working title: Laughingstock). The idea was that I would always have something engaging to write, and that I would jump from project to project as the day’s whim dictated.

Except that it didn’t work out that way. Basically, I got a few chapters into Laughingstock, hit a wall, and lost all interest – again. Oh, I eventually finished writing the political screed for Knucklehead, but whether I actually engineer and publish it is still an open question. And the Fester short story still languishes, even though the main structure of the story has already been written.

So be it. I should be happy that I was able to write the Laughingstock chapters and the podcast script – and this blog entry. I’ll call that a win, although I probably won’t have the gumption to add an entry to the Plague Journal today. Good enough, call it a win. Things get bad, then they get better again. Salud!

Runs in the Family

My uncle surprised me by publishing a novel on Amazon. It didn’t surprise me that he had done so; I just wasn’t aware that he had a novel in the works. I can honestly say that my uncle, Hugh Fuller, was a major inspiration to my taking up the pen. I remember reading a number of really funny short stories he had written back in the 70’s, and thinking “Wow – someone I know can write something that’s really good. Maybe I can, too.”

Also, Hugh has released two books already: a memoir of his service in Vietnam, and a memoir about all of the dogs that he has owned and loved. Neither of these, however, was available to the Great Unwashed. His new book, Requiem for a Rat, is available at Amazon – links have been provided above.

I always figured that Hugh would get a book or two out there one day, but I was honestly surprised when my brother, Todd, published a book in 2013. He might have mentioned that he was working on a book, but if so, it hadn’t registered with me. Brother Todd is a self-directed entrepreneur. He always has yea number of irons in the fire, and not all of them pan out. Maybe that’s why I only listened with one ear when he mentioned that he had a book in the works. His book is autobiographical, chronicling his adventures in higher education, world travel and entrepreneurship.

I also have an aunt, Claudia Pattison, who has written a romance novel, as yet unpublished. I encourage her to go ahead and get that puppy into print. It’s really not that hard, and given the book market, it will probably wildly outsell anything that myself, Hugh or Todd has done.

I suppose that writing and self-expression tend to run in my family. We’ve always been a verbose group, which has made for some very memorable family gatherings. As for myself, I’ve got a few more things in the works – but when they’ll see the light of day is still very much up in the air. Keep checking this blog for updates. And buy my uncle’s and brother’s books.

And mine, of course.

Cover of Jackrabbit, new John Dillinger novel
Buy on Amazon

Love in the Time of Covidiocy

This image has no bearing on the writing below, but I thought it looks cool.

From the Writing for the Sake of Word Count Department:

The good news: I just cleared the 5,000 word mark in my new novel manuscript. The bad news: it’s taken me three fuckin’ months to do so.

I love to write. At least, I used to…or I think I used to. Can’t really tell anymore. Then again, there’s a lot of stuff I used to love to do but don’t because of this godawful pandemic. And here’s the damn aggravating part: all things considered, I got it sweeeeeeet. I’m still employed, and I now work from home. I have a decent living situation, with a tidy little house and a loving wife and a bit of backyard I can enjoy now that the weather’s warm.

Of course, all of these things aren’t about to stop me from whining my ass off. It’s the American way. (Also, I’m fairly certain that nobody reads these posts, so what the fuck*.)

Unfortunately, the American way also now comprises widespread ignorance, hostility, animosity (redundant, yes, I know), idiot conspiracy theories, idiot politicians, idiot citizens and idiot wind.

My problem is that I am a news junkie, and for the last several months – and the last several weeks especially – I can’t read the news without flying into a mouth-foaming rage at the state of the world, and especially the state of the nation. Lately, I’ve been trying to greatly scale back my news consumption, but even articles in The Onion can send me into a screeching rage. Even if I cut out my news consumption entirely, I can feel the nationwide covidiocy, like picking up errant radio signals on my bridgework.

Only through a regular intake of ‘frop** am I able to socially function, and that only on the most rudimentary level. Basically, I get up, I work, I ‘frop, I watch The Simpsons, I go back to bed. Even that routine can be a chore, never mind trying to work on a novel manuscript, a journal or a friggin’ blog post.

Compounding the frustration are reminders of other great works that have been produced when people have been isolated in times of pandemic isolation. The NYTimes’ Decameron Project, is a good example of what’s fueling my sense of authorial inadequacy. The problem is compounded by well-meaning friends and relatives who say things like, “Wow, I bet you’re getting all sorts of writing done, what with this lockdown and all.” It takes all of my willpower not to scream obscenities when I hear this.

So, where am I going with this? Is there even a point? Well, from a thematic viewpoint, there’s none whatsoever. However, I have just cranked out approximately 500 words, so…

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

Remember when this guy was the shittiest possible POTUS we could imagine?

*To see if anyone is actually reading these things, I offer this: the first person to contact me with the code word “bleen” will get $20, or a back rub. My email is crawford@sweetweaselwords.com.

**Short for habifropzipulops, a Tibetan herb that grows only under very special conditions.

-CS

***

The Plague Journal

I’m tryin’ to think, but nothing happens!

-Jerome “Curly” Horwitz

I hope everyone is safe and well in these anxious and uncertain times.

One of the questions I’ve gotten quite a bit as the coronavirus pandemic has made its mark is whether I’m writing more now that I’m spending more time at home.

The answer to that question is an emphatic “Hell, no!”

I’m so wound up and stressed out, I can barely read, much less write. To illustrate: I recently got a copy of William Gibson’s latest, Agency. The publish date was pushed back multiple times, so I was really glad when I finally got my hot little hand on a copy.

But I couldn’t read it very well. I’d go over a page or three and then just sorta zone out. After I was about sixty pages in, I realized that I had no idea what the hell was going on. I put it back on the shelf to be read at a less discombobulating time. Instead, I switched to my literary equivalent of comfort food: Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. I figure that should carry me ’til mid-May, at least.

As for actually doing any serious writing – forget it. This post here is the first “serious” writing I’ve done since the beginning of March. The only writing I’ve been doing with any regularity has been maintaining a spotty “plague journal,” which consists largely of short entries like “curled up behind the couch and whimpered for two hours.” Such missives will not exactly put me up there with the likes of Defoe and Pepys (who wrote very eloquently about the 1665 Great Plague of London). At least I’m getting some words on paper.

And it feels like I’m kinda tapped out for this post, so I’m going to wrap it up and chalk it up as a win. I hope everybody out there is staying safe and staying well. THis is some scary shit, but it too will pass.

Be brave, be kind.

What About Scott?

The other day, I published the third installment of a “short” story called Reset. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this was based on a very weird and vivid dream I had about finding myself back in junior high school, but with all of my adult memories and experiences. Very freaky. Freaky enough, in fact, that I spent several months fleshing out a viable story arc. When it was all said in done, the first draft topped out at about 21,000 words (hence the quotation marks around “short”).

At first, I’d thought about trying to whittle the MS down to a nominally-publishable 10,000 words. Then I realized that I didn’t give a whoop if it was “publishable” or not; I had no intention of trying to shop it around, and I could just post the whole damn thing on this website. Which I did.

One of the issues I had was figuring up how the wrap up the story. Basically, I opted for a cliffhanger approach, which met with mixed reactions. About half the readers felt it was a cop-out, while the other half was good with it.

My main problem was what to do with the main character, Scott Gray. Would he go back to his “marginally dysfunctional” adult life and try and pick up whatever pieces he could? Or would he live his life over, avoiding all of the mistakes he made the first time, and using his knowledge of future events to his advantage?

I didn’t care for either of these options, really. Also, there were some other characters in the story who ended up being a lot more interesting than I had originally anticipated (especially Missy McSween). I didn’t want to abandon them if Scott went back to 2019, but I had already plumbed the Memory Lane of the early-eighties nostalgia, and didn’t want to spend any more time there, either.

So I left it up to a coin toss – the cop out, so to speak. However, at no point did I suggest that the result of the coin toss would result in Scott staying in 1982 Pennsylvania, or returning to 2019 Seattle. (Sure, Dr. Wu suggested that, but he’s a bullshit artist.) Basically, I saw the ambiguous ending as a springboard to that self-publishing/authorial goldmine:

A SERIES!

This seemed like a win/win/win idea. I could play around with Scott getting zapped to different alternate realities that could explore different genres (swords-n-sorcery fantasy? sci-fi? Western? hell yeah!) Also, I could see more of the interesting characters and see how they develop. Finally, I wouldn’t have to come up with a satisfying conclusion to the original story. What could be better?

Well, maybe an ice cream cone.

Anyway, it presents a lot of interesting and enjoyable possibilities as a writer. I’m looking forward to working more on the adventures of Mr. Scott Gray, but the next story is going to have to get in line – I’ve got a number of other projects on deck or in the works. But that’s a topic for another post.

***

New Year, Old Story

Greetings and Happy New Year! I haven’t been very active on this blog due to holiday travels, a nasty cold that one of my co-workers gave the entire office right before Christmas, and general laziness.

Right now, Portland is bracing for a “big” snowstorm that probably won’t happen – but if it does, I can actually devote some time to focused writing. I’m still polishing up a “short” story with the working title of Reset. The first draft topped out just north of 21,000 words, which is definitely out of short story range and more like a novella. I had originally thought about wielding a fierce editorial pen to try and trim it down to ~10,000 words, but at this point I don’t think that will happen. There are two reasons for this: 1) my aforementioned laziness, and 2) the way the story wound up left it as a possible springboard for a series. And we all love series, don’t we, gang?

I’m still trying to get my head around further promotion for Jackrabbit (more on that later, perhaps), as well as trying to clean up an older novel manuscript for a story called Fester. Tat is going to require a few bucks for the editor, cover design, etc. – so maybe after we get past tax season (and we get a refund).

I’ve also started research for a story I’ve been kicking around in the basement for a long, long time. It’s about stand-up comedians, and based on the careers of such humor luminaries as Bill Hicks, Andy Kaufman, Lenny Bruce and Doug Kenney. This is a monumental undertaking, and I’d guess that even the first draft would be two years in the making…so, we’ll see.

While I’m still trying to ramp up my creative activities in the new year, I have been able to post an old short story I cranked out while writing the first draft of Jackrabbit. It’s kinda weird and very silly – basically, it’s John Dillinger and his gang going up against a very unusual foe. It’s called Encounter in the North Woods, and you can check it out here.

Happy New Year!

***

Live at Last

Well, the Amazon page for Jackrabbit is live! Right now, the paperback and eBook are listed separately. Amazon assures me, however, that once the Amazon Master Brain twigs to the fact that it’s the same book, both listings will be combined.

Now that I’ve navigated the increasingly complex path of: A) writing the sumbitch, and B) publishing it, I now move on to C) promoting it. This should be interesting, as self-promotion is not my strong suit. We’ll see how this goes…