If his name had been spoken within earshot prior to the past year, I didn’t hear it. If I’d read it somewhere, tripped over a story or in some other way crossed his literary shadow, I never realized it.
I feel like I’ve wasted time.
Allow me to back up just a little. My interest in Harlan Ellison and figuring out who he is, is a recent thing. Not long ago, a writer friend of mine was compared to “a young Harlan Ellison.” The comparison befuddled me. His was not a name I’d heard until the friend pursued and investigated the comparison, pointing me in the direction of a wiki and a video of Ellison talking about writers getting paid for their work. Not only did I see the parallels between the two men, I was intrigued and filed the name away for future research.
I didn’t immediately being my investigation, but while I was reading On Writing Horror by the Horror Writer’s Association, his name was repeated through multiple essays and one was even written by him. He seemed to jump off the page whenever his name or words appeared in print and I felt like it had to be some kind of cosmic poke in his direction. I invested in a 50-year retrospective of his work called The Essential Ellison. I don’t know why the hell I didn’t find him sooner.
The Essential Ellison is an imposing ~1300 page tome, but I am utterly captivated. I will likely do “Something Like a Review” on it, but I really can’t wait to finish it to say something about it.
Having read his foreword on the work, and having seen “Dreams with Sharp Teeth,” it’s clear that Ellison is a controversial, confrontational and contentious person. Perhaps it’s the touch of genius, or the pure drive of passion. Either way, it’s curious and fascinating to see, and the stories and articles he writes are…engrossing. Why he isn’t being taught in schools is beyond me. He communicates the truth in an unvarnished, unrelenting and honest way, and though the tone is perhaps more cynical, brisk or jaded than I’ve ever encountered anywhere else, there’s a profound sense of his emotional investment in the characters, in the stories and in the impact on the reader beneath it that takes my breath away. The story “Lonelyache” will not leave my head and I’m continually drawn back to the gritty reality of the story and of the ending that had me sitting there, stunned and feeling like I’d taken some kind of mental sucker-punch. Then the deceptively cynical “All the Birds Come Home to Roost,” and the chilling look at our own blindness, complacency and complicity in “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs,” and the wounded humor and self-awareness in his non-fiction pieces “Valerie: A True Memoir,” and “The Tombs: An Excerpt from Memos from Purgatory” inspire me as a writer. I want to be that naked on a page, to be that open, that honest.
I admire Ellison and I’ve only had a brief encounter with his work; I’m not even a third of the way through this book, but I’m hooked. I can only wish I’d had him as a teacher years ago, but perhaps I wouldn’t have been ready then. He’s one of the Greats that any writer would do well to emulate. His skill with the craft of writing and wielding words to have a forceful, emotional impact on the reader is something I now aspire to, and I highly recommend his work to any writer, not just one focused on the speculative fiction genres.
The Earworm is a prevalent little critter that seems to plague everyone that calls the vast intarwebz home. Those of us who are susceptible did coin the Rick-Roll, after all. Then there’s Magical Trevor, whose tricks are ever so clever. And who could forget Badger Badger (MUSHROOM! MUSHROOM!) and the most recent Earworm Friday…where the most difficult decision of the day is which seat you can take. (Personally, though, I prefer the Gang Fight version…)
Yesterday, my Earworm got me caught and called out. I spend a great deal of my days listening to call center agents’ calls and then typing up feedback to give to them. In the midst of my moment of developmental genius, I indulged in a rather dangerous habit – humming to myself. It’s not really the humming that is dangerous, but the fact that I don’t really pay much attention to what I’m humming (or singing) that gets me in trouble. Since I’m something of a hard-rock kind of girl, I really have to rely on my inner censor to bleep out the bad words, or at least sing them softly enough that anyone within earshot can’t hear them. It amuses people to hear me singing/humming songs by my (fantasy) rock star boyfriend, David Draiman and his band Disturbed or Eminem or Billy Joel or Snoop…particularly when they follow each other in such a Motley Crue (…oh, and they’re in the mix there too, somewhere). But yesterday, it was nothing so…controversial. Yesterday, I got caught humming the Brahm’s lullaby. Why? I have no freakin’ clue. None. It was just what was stuck in my head at the time, it seems. But after it was brought to my attention (which much laughter and some comments about being adorable), I got to thinking about those insidious little bastards, Earworms.
I have a peculiar vulnerability to them, and not just musically. I get words stuck in my head. I wake up with them rattling around in my skull, and most of the time, I know what they mean, but there are times when I don’t. The most memorable one I can think of is “vituperation.” That bad boy banged against my synapses for DAYS when it showed up. Today, it’s “surge.” No particular reason, but I woke up with thoughts of surges, the shape and flow of the word, the way it feels when you say it, the images it brings to mind, the emotion. Weird, I know, but it’s part of the way I’m wired. “Sluice” tagged on for good measure, but only in the shadows, peeking around big brother “surge” just to make its presence known.
For now, I’m sitting here waiting for my next agent to finish their call and come sit with me to listen to their calls and discuss the feedback I have for them with images of surging tides, surging electrical charges, crowds surging like a wave and pressing up against the dias upon which a rock-God plays and the way the crowd will sluice around the stage, human water crashing against the scaffolding stage, hands raised like white-palmed spray straining, begging for benediction. I’m thinking about creative juices surging through me, sluicing through the crannies in my gray-matter and waiting, just waiting to be released through the tips of my fingers to create something…anything.
I can’t wait until my lunch break….
I have a confirmed case of the Mondays. I have more work than I know what to do with, and on a day riddled with technical difficulties which prevent me from accomplishing…well…anything, when I have a desire to work, I am unable to do any of it. Instead, I’m running around trying to help beleaguered, frustrated FIRST WEEK call center agents muddle through and help their angry callers who have been on hold for WAY too long.
Now, in the moments where I’m not trying to figure out who had the first pained expression of confusion, or the first hand in the air and I am actually able to put my butt in my chair, if the stars align just right so that my access to critical programs is actually stable, I find I have no desire to do any of the things I’m supposed to do. Part of this is related to the fact that I worked both Saturday and Sunday. Part of this is related to the fact that I’ve put in so many hours over the past week that my only real “free” time has been spent sleeping or tending to adult responsibilities. I’m a little twitchy from the desire to write and to finish editing the piece I’m working on now, and the sound of my internal nag reminding me that I have a story that needs to be sent to the next publisher in the rounds of the rejection-gathering mission. Urgh. Can I have a few more hours in my day, pretty please? I promise not to spend them at my (office) desk or working (on Day Job stuff).
That in mind, it’s time to create a little time in my week to devote to my craft. I think I’ve earned the last hour of the day to pursue my own interests. The first part of it was spent on this blog post. The remainder is for editing. Tonight, my computer will be staying at work and my digital addiction will be employed to getting more words on record. I’ve got something to say and I gotta get it out…
I promised to write a little something about audible.com a while back, and to be honest, I forgot to do it. I remembered in the middle of a pretty rough week a while back and it’s been on my mind ever since, but I hadn’t made the time to sit down and do it. So today, sitting in the gloomy back office listening to a thunderstorm rumble overhead and nursing a late-afternoon cup of coffee, I’m going to write it!
I will admit to having something like hero-worship for Stephen King. It’s kind of hard not to, really. I’ve been reading the man’s books and stories since I was a teenager and I’ve read most of his work, and there are still a few sitting in the stack waiting for their turn in the reading queue. His success is something many writers dream of achieving, and when he puts out a whole book of advice, it’s hard not to internalize it and really take stock in what he’s telling you to do or not do.
One piece of advice he gives is to read, read and read, and when you get done reading, read some more. The man said that he read (an impressive, imposing and somewhat intimidating) 70-80 books a year. Ouch. I was excited when I got to 35, and I consider myself a reader of average speed. My synapses got to firing pretty hard. How could I possibly squeeze more reading into my life? When I got the Kindle, I realized that the text-to-speech allowed me to get an extra hour of reading in per day if I listened to and from work. The problem with text-to-speech is the goofy pronunciation and the laughable voice that taps on my eardrums. When I realized that text-to-speech wasn’t going to be a viable long-term solution, I happened to see a commercial on TV for audible.com offering two free audiobooks with a new membership. I figured, what the heck. If nothing else, I’d score an audio copy of On Writing and see how things worked.
Much to my surprise, it’s been better than I expected. Audible.com is easy to use, has a great selection and now, has the ability to link to your Amazon.com account. You can, now, download content directly to the latest generation Kindle, or you can download to your computer and listen on a pretty wide variety of portable media. I’ve got books on my iPod, my iPad, and on my computer. I’ve listened to several and the quality of the voice talent is really good. I’ve only come across one that has been…challenging to listen to. Invitation to a Beheading by Nabakov is read by a man with such a deep voice, I vacillate between being sleepy, or daydreaming of what he’d look like and lose the story. Perhaps it’s just too complex to listen to and it’s one I need to read more slowly than he does to really absorb the imagery, or maybe his voice is too damn sexy to be reading classically written, complex literature. 😉
But really, I was talking about audible.com. (See! I’m telling you, his voice is insidious and will distract you from any attempt at focus! I can’t even hear it and I’m distracted!)
Audible.com is easy to use and gives several account options. You can choose a monthly or annual subscription that will automatically bill to your credit card. The monthly accounts give you a choice of one or two credits per month or, if you’d prefer instant gratification, the two annual account options give you all of your credits for the year upfront. Their audiobook prices are competitive with hardcover versions of the books being offered, but usually a little less expensive. They have frequent sales which allow you to maximize your credits. If I remember correctly, I got “The Passage” for one credit (a monthly charge of ~$15 vs the $27 hardcover cover price). Their download manager is simple and easy to use, automatically importing my audiobooks into iTunes.
I’m such a brat when it comes to technology that there are a couple of things that bug me. One, it doesn’t automatically sync to the last listened-to position. When it’s my iPod, yeah, I get it; it doesn’t have any kind of wi-fi connection. When it’s my iPad or computer, I’m sorry, but that bugs me. It’s not an irritation that I can’t overcome, but I’m so used to the ease of my Kindle which will automatically take me to the last page I read no matter which device I read it on, that I find myself grumbling when I’m trying to figure out what minute in what chapter I left off on so I can keep going. I think I’m going to dedicate my nano to audiobooks so I won’t come up against this as often, but again, this is me being a brat and it’s not an insurmountable inconvenience.
The second irritation is that the availability of audible content to Kindle only applies to the newest generation. This makes me sad. I was so excited to learn I could pull audiobooks to my super-portable slim little e-reader…only to find out that my device isn’t new enough to get the perks. I’m hoping that they’ll upgrade the software to make this available to those of us who didn’t wait until the Kindle was available in brick and mortar locations…basically, those of us who saw the value in it before the masses figured out it was cool. Are you listening Amazon and Audible?
While it does help me boost my reading, it’s not going to get me to 70-80 books per year. I work customer service, and I listen to people all day long either on the phone, in class or monitoring calls. On rough days, when I get in the car, the last thing I want to do is listen to someone else, even if they are telling me a story. Some days, I just am too unfocused to give my attention to a story, and trying to break through that will only frustrate me when I realize I have no idea what I’ve been listening to.
Where audiobooks, or any digital content, fall short of the printed version is resale. If you buy a book, when you discover that it no longer is a must-have and is taking up precious shelf space, you can bundle it up and take it to your local used-book store, donate it to the library or sell it second-hand. With digital content, that’s not as easy, if at all possible, so you don’t get the auxiliary benefit of turning in books to get more books. It does make digital content infinitely more expensive, but aren’t we really paying for convenience anyway? As I said before, digital content will never completely replace dead-tree versions for passionate readers, but it can make our techno-centric lives a little more convenient and significantly more portable for the tragically distracted.
This time of year, I think everyone makes a vow to be better at this whole tax preparation nonsense next year. It’s probably the second most acceptable lie that people tell themselves, the first being that they’re going to stick to this year’s New Year’s resolutions and actually see them through to their conclusion. Call me defeatist, or jaded or whatever, but I don’t make resolutions for that very reason. I do, however, grumble at myself about the whole tax crap every year, especially when I have just a few hours before my appointment and I’m running around the house like a maniac trying to find W-2’s, medical receipts, or just trying to locate that mystical, magical “safe place” I put all of it the last time I stumbled across it.
Half my problem is my ridiculous collection of interests. Let’s just say this…in the decade or so I ignored my real passion (writing), I tried to fill the void it left. My valiant efforts to find the One True Thing that I could really delve into with a deep, abiding passion are probably best demonstrated by the clutter that fills my house. I love Magic:The Gathering about as much as I hate it; I love it because it’s an endlessly changing game that just fascinates me when it goes well, and utterly depresses me when I do poorly. That and, as any cardboard-crack-addict will tell you, Magic cards are like a fungus that will invade and take over your home. Drafting is the enemy, as is not being willing to shell out whatever wad of cash someone is asking for that one chase rare from every set. If you refuse to purchase it outright, you open pack after pack, realizing that no matter how many of the remaining cards you give away, trade or just throw out, you’re still buried eyeball deep in cards you can’t or don’t want to use. Yet ask me if I’m going to sell my collection.
I might change my mind in a couple of years and I’ll never forgive myself for getting rid of my full-art foil Day of Judgment.
Then there’s the jewelry making, the other miscellaneous crafty things, and then the role-playing games…you know…the things that “almost” took the place of writing, but probably only sparked my interest in returning to it.
With all this crap around me, it’s hard to focus. I feel guilty ignoring the other hobbies, or just letting them sit there and gather dust, but the reality is, all I want to do is write or read (that’s an entirely different collection that will eventually need it’s own house, never mind a corner or a room….). Too many conflicting interest and you feel like a neurotic squirrel running around your house.
So, with school looming on the fall horizon, I’m quitting Magic. For now. At least this upcoming set. And maybe the upcoming block. At least until school is done. I have to focus to get my degree completed, then whatever remaining time I have is earmarked for writing. I’m already busy and if I don’t cut something out, either school or writing will suffer, and I refuse to let that happen. Maybe next year, I’ll have my taxes done in February or March, and I won’t have a stack of hundreds of Magic cards waiting for me to alphabetize and file.
And maybe my hair will be pink, maybe I’ll be a hundred and twenty pounds lighter and have my feet propped up on my balcony railing as I watch a storm coming at me from somewhere in the middle of the ocean.
Anything’s possible, after all.