judgy mc judgerson

2baa4f03ed7cfae26d936bd1dd29da5c

I’m have mixed feelings about New Year’s resolutions. I make them more often than not, but I understand why some people argue against them. Most people don’t keep them. And really, it’s not all that healthy to limit your periods of personal assessment, goal setting, and intentional growth to once a year. But there are people who pull off resolutions, and I never want to discourage others from setting goals.

So, yeah. Mixed feelings. I’ll tell you want I don’t have mixed feeling about, though. Condescending judgment.

If you don’t want to make resolutions, that’s fine. If you want to preach to all your friends about the futility of resolutions, that’s fine, too. I mean, I’m likely to tune you out or leave the room, but it won’t offend me that you (1) have an opinion and (2) feel the need to share it, even aggressively. But if someone shares their resolutions with you, no matter what your stance on resolutions in general, do not knock the wind out of their sails.

Be nice. Wish them luck. Tell them they can do it. Save the sermon for someone else.

It’s simple, really. If you feel tempted to take pleasure in raining on someone else’s parade, it may be time to take a good, long, hard look in the mirror. That’s mean. Don’t do it.

You don’t have to agree with others to support them.

And if you’re a writer, I encourage you to consider setting a few goals of your own. Nothing crazy lofty. Steer clear of the unattainable. But you might seize the collective momentum of all the resolution-makers and commit to reading more, or a doable but consistent writing schedule, or even just personal journaling.

No, you don’t have to wait for New Year’s to make those kinds of promises to yourself, but here we are. Don’t avoid growth just to be contrary. Go ahead and jump on the band wagon. We’ve got plenty of room.

Whatever your plans for 2016, I wish you and your family the very best. Happy new year, everyone.

happy whatever

Happy Holidays

Sometimes I struggle with knowing what to post this time of year. Not with fiction. That’s usually easy enough. I don’t feel obligated to reference the holidays, and if a holiday-related story comes to mind, I tell it. Easy, peasy. It’s the non-fiction stuff, like my On Writing posts, that leave me scratching my head.

I’m tempted, more than you know, to make quasi-political statements. Then I remember that’s not really what this space is about. While I’m an opinionated person, I have always refrained from airing my views here. Openly, anyway. (Read my stories. You’re sure to catch some of them intermingled in the fiction.)

I’d be lying, however, if I didn’t confess to misgivings about that approach. On the one hand, it can put potential fiction readers off to know my personal views. On the other hand, I have as much right to say what I think as anyone else, and it’s not like my values don’t come through loud and clear in my stories. Besides, I’m not trying to court every potential reader. I’m not trying to write the next ‘great’ airport news stand book. I have no desire to be James (fucking) Patterson.

Heh. How’s that for a snarky little jab?

All that to say, I don’t think there’s a ‘right approach’. If you want to be outspoken about your personal views, be outspoken. If you prefer to keep that stuff private, keep it private. If you air unpopular opinions, you might lose some potential readers, but looking yourself in the mirror every day matters way more. Use your best judgment and go with your gut. If you feel like you’re muzzling yourself, you probably need to speak up.

And when you do, don’t apologize. You have as much right to say what you think as anyone else.

Happy holidays, my friends. Whatever you do or don’t celebrate, I wish you and your family the best. Enjoy any time off you get, avoid fruit cake, and take a moment to appreciate all the good things you have.

gratitude

On WritingI’m going rogue.

Generally, my ‘On Writing‘ posts are straightforward. This post, and (I suspect) the next few, will be of the tangential variety. There will be connections to the writing process–after all, life’s larger themes have an undeniable and reverberating impact on our fiction–but I may not be talking about word-count or grammar.

To start, on Thanksgiving Day, while prepping, I flipped on the radio. I was in the mood to hear voices, but not music, so I tuned into NPR. My timing was fortuitous, and I joined them just as they were beginning an hour long special entitled “The Science of Gratitude”. The program explored the concrete, objective impact of gratitude on everything from stress to productivity. While it’s not surprising to learn that gratitude generally makes you a better person, the show detailed results far beyond what I would have expected.

The take-away for me was that it’s important to be thankful. There’s almost no way to say that without sounding trite, though, and it’s one of those messages we tend to regulate to after school specials and kindergarten classrooms. It’s a nice thought, but we don’t have time for that shit in the dog-eat-dog reality of the adult world.

Pfff.

You’ve got time to be grateful. It’s not like working out. It doesn’t even cut into your schedule. It’s an attitude, and one well worth cultivating. It’ll make you happier, more pleasant to be around, and it will almost certainly make your writing better. (There’s your tie-in, kids.) It costs you nothing, and it benefits you in a variety of ways. If you refuse an offer like that, you’re either a masochist or an idiot.

Hopefully not both. That’s a dangerous combo.

If you’re sold on the idea of gratitude and don’t know where to start, do the same kind of thing they would do in kindergarten. Make a list of 3-5 things for which you are thankful. Big things, small things–it doesn’t matter. You could do it in your head, but it will stick with you better if you write them out.

Yeah, it’ll feel silly, but no one has to know you’re doing it, and it benefits you. It’s like a high fiber diet. You may not want to advertise it, but shit will be a lot easier to deal with if you just do it.

Find something to be thankful for today. Make it a point to reflect on how lucky you are, even for just a bit. Then try to carry that sense of gratitude with you in all that you do, including (and especially) your writing.

Oh, and if you’re interested in hearing the full radio program, you can stream it here.

fade to black

Flash FictionAs promised last week, here’s the follow-up to last year’s Back in Black. I can’t say much about the story, though, because the fun of it is in figuring out what’s going on. If you haven’t read Back in Black yet, do that now. Skipping it will mean you have no idea what’s going on in the story below.

Plus, I’m asking nicely. Do be kind.

I don’t write a lot of stories like these, playing with subtle references to meaningful metaphors. Maybe that’s why I get such a kick out of doing it when I do. It’s more like a game than anything else. I’m seriously considering making it an annual thing. It might be entertaining to follow the decline of Black Friday in fiction. (And that, my friend, is as much of a hint as you’re going to get.)

If you have feedback, as always, hit me up with a comment below. Compliments and criticism are both welcome. Now, on to the story.

fade to black

“The night before Thanksgiving is the biggest bar night of the year.” Two said. “I mean, tonight’s a good night, but Wednesday was epic. Did you know that?”

“You may have mentioned it,” his companion said. One was sitting next to him at a table near enough to the bar to be convenient without being in the middle of the swarm.

Even if it was two nights too late to be the biggest night of the year, the bar was still crowded. Patrons ran the gambit, from young, dumb and full of cum to the middle-aged and older. They were flirting. They were dancing. They were sitting in dense clouds of smoke in the corners. And they were drinking. They were drinking a lot.

“It was a fun night,” he said.

“I bet.”

He shrugged. “But tonight’s good, too.”

“Mmhmm.”

They sipped their drinks. Both were buzzed, but and they would stay that way for the majority of the evening. One might or might not achieve a greater degree of inebriation before it was all over. That depended entirely on whether or not she could get lucky. Odds are, she would. Two, on the other hand, was destined to get good and hammered, staggering home in a drunken stupor so severe it would kill the average alcoholic. The beautiful part was he wouldn’t even suffer a hangover the next day.

He looked around the bar, admiring his own handy work. Not that it it had taken much effort. It’s pretty easy to lead a horse to water when it wants to drink. Two was staring down a guy at the next table.

“I don’t think he’s into you,” Two said.

With a frown, she agreed. “I think I’m taking the wrong approach. Save my seat. I’ll be right back.”

She shuffled off in the direction of the bathrooms, ducking and weaving her way through the crowd. A couple of minutes later, a slender guy in his older twenties took her seat. Two smiled.

“Ah, so that’s the hang up.”

“I think so,” One said, now with a male voice. “We’ll see if this yields better results.” She leaned back in her chair with an air of indifference. It made her look like a douche bag, but an attractive one.

It used to freak Two out when she did her gender-swap thing. Then he went through a period of intense curiosity. What must it be like to snap your fingers and turn from he to she? When he told her he was wondering, she promptly offered to show him. After assurance she wouldn’t do anything to embarrass, trap or harm him, he agreed.

The change itself hadn’t felt like anything, but when he looked in the mirror he saw a female version of himself staring back. That was weird enough, and then he tried to walk. His center of gravity had moved, and he staggered in his first few steps. That had been a fun night, culminating in the two of them sharing a bed. While he enjoyed it very much, he hadn’t asked to revisit it.

She made it look easy, though, going from vixen to virile male effortlessly. She took a lazy swig from the half full glass in front of her and smiled at her prey.

That’s what this is, Two thought. A hunt. But he didn’t say anything. After all, he was wearing an orange vest, himself.

Instead, he flagged down the nearest passing waitress–somehow they always saw him–and ordered another round. Then he thought about Five, easily the most epic asshole he’d ever met, and Three and Six. They hadn’t been as cocky during this year’s prep meeting. Things were changing, the tides once more turning in his favor, and he wondered what they were up to at that very moment.

Allowing himself a brief period of self-satisfaction, he indulged a fantasy. What if they were at a bar, very much like this one, knocking back drinks, complaining to each other, already talking about the good old days when folks cut family time short and went to bed early so they could wake well before dawn to go stand in line? What if, without even thinking about the delicious irony, they were giving themselves over to him at that very moment?

He imagined the scene. Five would most likely be slumped over an unnecessarily clunky beer mug, so pissed off that he couldn’t even speak. Beside him, Three and Six, the brother and sister, would be gossiping with each other over some variation of appletinis, their gestures tight and quick. That’s how they got when they were upset. When they lost.

And they had lost. They’d pushed things too far. People were beginning to see the day for what it had become, and the predominant attitude was, “Fuck that. I’d rather eat a shit ton of turkey and watch the game.” In a few years, there might not even be any sales. Two had won, and all he had to do was wait out the predictable yo-yo pattern of human nature.

When he snapped out of his fantasy, he realized One was no longer next to him. She’d made her way to the neighboring table where she was sharing a laugh with her mark. He seemed in favor of her makeover. Two had to give it to her. One was good.

He felt a tap on his shoulder. He didn’t even have to turn and look, though. Instead, he motioned to the now empty chair. Seven took a seat.

As always, Seven was immaculately dressed. His expression was confident without being smug. He looked like somebody’s rich uncle, a distant figure looming in the wings. Of course, that’s what he was. Always nearby, waiting for moments just like this one. Two had practically summoned him.

“You have every right to enjoy it,” Seven said.

Two thought about that for a moment. Five would be irate if he were here, screaming about honor among thieves or some such shit.

“Do I look like I’m not enjoying it?” Two asked.

“Not as as much as you could be. The day is yours. Drink. Dance. Fuck. Do whatever you like. The others won’t interfere. I’ve seen to it.”

Two smiled in spite of himself. He knew what was happening, but he didn’t care. The day wasn’t his. It was Seven’s. It was always Seven’s, no matter which of the other six managed to win out for second place. That was Seven’s way. But did it matter? Even if he couldn’t take the top spot, he was riding higher than Five, Three or Six. That was worth something right there. He could live with that.

“You’re smarter than they realize,” Seven said as thought reading his mind. Hell, maybe he was. It would explain a lot.

“You want something to drink?” Two asked.

Seven laughed. “I’m smarter, too,” he said. Then with a flourish he stood, nodded, and left.

When Two turned to look for One, she was gone, as was the guy she’d been wooing. Back to his place, maybe, or even to the bathroom. That girl didn’t care. As long as they consummated. And maybe that was all that mattered. Not besting his rivals, but reveling in his own nature.

He slammed what was left of his drink and ordered, not one, but two more. It was time to get down to business. It was time to get drunk.

ill-advised

On WritingI shouldn’t do it. I shouldn’t weigh in on the Starbucks red cup controversy. I really shouldn’t, but I’m going to.

It’s all bullshit. There.

I’m sick to death of the irony. And hey, I’m a fan of irony. I dig on it. I think it’s great in stories, and mostly entertaining in actual life. Occasionally it’s just a little too bitter to be anything but tragic, and every once in a while (like now) it’s so poignant that I kind of want to kick an elf’s ass just because. Any person of any faith who turns sour, angry, indignant and/or mean because other people aren’t representing love the way they’d prefer is so clearly in the wrong that I’m shocked we’re even pretending to indulge these ridiculous debates.

And yet, here we are.

It’s as predictable as death and taxes. So much so that someone needs to change that saying: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes, and people spitefully losing their shit every December in the name of love.” (Benjamin Franklin, with special guest appearance by AR Martin). We could get U2 to do an update of their song by the same name. “One man sips from a vile red cup; one man, he resists…” We’d have to have Bono sing a duet with someone much younger, of course, because no one under 20 gives a rat’s ass about good music U2. Maybe we could even get Starbucks to sanction it. No publicity is bad publicity, right? It could become their new annual thing. I mean, plenty of other businesses are focused on love and good cheer. At least one major corporation should be all about seasonal discord.

And before you say I’m taking this too far, consider how far it’s already been taken. People are accusing Starbucks of intentionally taking philosophical military action against Judeo-Christian ideals. That’s what a so-called ‘war on Christmas’ is, and it’s absurd.

And before you say the other thing, yeah, I know this was all over the news a few weeks ago and I’m a little late to the party. Hey, I made a U2 reference two paragraphs ago. Obviously I’m all about hitting these cultural phenomena at the height of their popularity. Besides, I hate how early we’re ‘celebrating’ the holidays now. Christmas decorations start showing up in August. I refuse to focus on one holiday until the one before it has passed.

And before you say the last thing, yes, this is related to writing. No, not directly, but if you’re even moderately familiar with my site you know I don’t mind taking the scenic route. Recently, I’ve had more than one friend/invited critic tell me that if my writing is weak anywhere, it’s weak in the following regard: sometimes I don’t have enough confidence in my opinion. I hem and haw, justifying my reasons for thinking this way or that for far too long. Instead of just speaking my mind, I beat around the bush.

It comes through more in non-fiction than fiction, but I’m pretty sure there are traces of it in both places. I don’t like that. I’m committed to weeding it out.

Hence this rant about the war on Christmas, which, again, is bullshit.

In your writing, be bold. Say what you think. Don’t hold back. Part of the magic of the page, whether relating fact or fiction, lies in the writer’s ability to be candid at an insane level. No-holds-barred content feels more real. Yes, you might piss some people off, but that feels more real, too. Don’t walk on eggshells, my friends. Not here. Not when you sit down to write.

No, speak your mind. Embrace your inner bad ass. And while you’re at it, fuel your writing sessions with demon juice Starbucks coffee, because damn if that red cup doesn’t symbolize anarchy in all possible forms.

lucky

On WritingWe’re just two days away from Thanksgiving, and it’s only appropriate that I take stock of some of what I have to be thankful for. Last year, I focused almost exclusively on my wonderful wife, who you know as Nimue. She’s still at the top of my list, but this year I want to use this space to say thank you to an unlikely friend: my publisher, Natalie.

I say unlikely because I assume most writers aren’t fortunate enough to be able to call their publishers friends, but she is most certainly one of mine. Admittedly, I don’t have any real experience on which to base my assumptions. I’m in the process of getting my first book published, so it’s not like I’ve done this before.

As Yoda almost certainly never said, “My first rodeo this is.”

Bad Star Wars jokes aside, I seriously doubt there are too many writers who are as likely to geek out about gaming with their publisher as they are to talk shop about grammar, editing, and promotion. That’s the sort of relationship I have with mine. When we get on the phone, the conversation can veer off in any number of random directions because, get this, we like talking to each other.

Which is cool.

The book isn’t out yet. We’re not even done editing it, and then there’s the cover art to nail down, a release date to set, and all kinds of promotion to sort out. But we’re both enjoying the process, and I can’t imagine feeling more comfortable handing my baby off to someone else.

For that, I am most certainly thankful.

a Christmas confession

The On Writing post immediately before Christmas* is always tough. I’m not focused primarily on writing today. It’s unlikely you are, either. With the holiday a mere two days way, there’s a decent chance you’re already kicking back with family. It makes for poor timing to pile on the inspiration. Even if I say something brilliant, will you remember it when you’ve recovered from your turkey-induced food comma?

I doubt it.

So instead of going that route, I’m trying something different. What do you really know about Santa Claus? His origins? How the modern version came to be?

Check out this article from National Geographic: “St. Nicholas to Santa: The Surprising Origins of Mr. Claus”.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, Dex!” you say. “Look, I put up with the way you prattle on about the writing process each week because, frankly, your fiction is divine, but I don’t come here for history lessons. This is out of the clear blue, buddy.”

First, thank you for your assessment of my fiction. That’s very kind of you. I’ll chalk your charitable assessment up to the Christmas spirit.

As for the article about St. Nick, yes, it’s history, but it’s fascinating. Really. What’s more, it illustrates the power of story. The actual Saint Nicholas wasn’t much like our version of Klaus at all. The shifts in perception happened over a long period of time and had a variety of social influences, but the end result is a shared understanding of Kris Kringle that’s almost universal, even as far as it drifts from his origins.

That’s the power of story, whether verbal or written. The power to shape perception, to weave a tale we kind of believe even though we claim to know the truth. (Admit it. You really want to believe in Santa Claus. It’s okay. Me, too.)

There’s your tie-in to writing, kids. And it’s Christmas-y to boot.

Now, go find yourself a glass of eggnog, follow the link above and learn a little about Mr. Claus. Oh, and have a wonderful holiday, however you choose to celebrate.


* I know it’s not politically correct to reference Christmas these days. The default is meant to be “holiday(s)”. To be candid, I couldn’t care less about political correctness for political correctness’ sake; however, I care a great deal about being sensitive to others.

Please know that I’ve written this from my own point of view, in line with how I celebrate this time of year. If you celebrate differently, I certainly don’t mean to dampen your holiday spirit in any way.

No, I’m not really that arrogant. Like all writers, I struggle a great deal with confidence in my own work. But, I’m also a smart ass.

Yes, I know you’re not literally ‘kids’. Also, now I’m just having fun with footnotes.

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