New Short Story Available Now!

Starting today, you can pick up an electronic copy of my short story “Bad Press” for only $0.99! That is literally less than a dollar. It’s currently available (as of September 10th at noon) on iBooks and Barnes & Noble, among others, and should pop up on Amazon within the next day or two.

Here’s the brief description of the story:

Eddie Hazzard’s name is being smeared in the press, and he’s going to get to the bottom of it. To restore his honor, he’ll have to contend not just with the reporter who impugned him, but with a whole host of violent enemies who want him dead. It’s just another day in the life of Eddie Hazzard, Hard-Boiled Detective, in this speculative¬†fiction version of a cassingle. Remember cassingles? Man, those were awesome.

Go give it a read while you wait for Book Five!

On Absence and the Impossibility of Book Five

I’ve been…absent for a while, I know. Missing in action. Lost.

Well, it’s time to blow the cobwebs off the site and get to writing again.

I was…stalled on Book Five for most of the last year. I was about two-thirds done with it, with all the major beats written (or at least plotted out) and how I wanted it to end figured out. “I just have to connect the dots,” I’d tell anyone who asked how it was going. “It’s almost done,” I’d add.

But…I wasn’t feeling it. I wasn’t feeling the urge, the desire, to write, and so I…didn’t. I went several months — most of last year — without putting a word on the page.

Every time I’d open up Dropbox and look at the Hazzard folder, I’d see the file sitting there, daring me to open it and type a sentence. Or a paragraph. Or even, God forbid, a whole page. Can you imagine, a whole page? But I’d open it, and stare at the words already on the page, and I’d come up with…nothing.

Just absolutely nothing, for months at a time. And then I looked and realized I hadn’t written anything here, even, for several months. I’d sort of abandoned all writing, except for my daily webcomic, and even that I took several extended breaks from in the past several months.

I felt bad about it. Really bad. Embarrassed and annoyed with myself and just angry that I couldn’t sit down and finish this damn book, or write a blog post describing why I couldn’t write. And there were an endless number of reasons I couldn’t put words on paper, though most of it boiled down to (1) depression or (2) apathy.

And I feel bad about that, too. Not the depression part — I have depression, it’s something I have to live with, and sometimes I just don’t feel like doing the things that bring me joy. The apathy is probably tied up in the depression, if I’m being honest.

As much as I hate to admit it, though, those are only part of the reason I stopped writing Book Five. I also stopped writing because of reader apathy.

Now, this isn’t an exercise in passing the blame. If readers aren’t flocking to my books, lavishing me with praise and million-dollar Hollywood contracts, that’s probably on me. I don’t do marketing, like, at all. And in the indie publishing game, if you aren’t hustling 24-7, you aren’t gonna find your readership.

All of which is a long way of saying: I was dormant for a long while, but I’m getting back in the swing of things. I’ve added a few thousand words to Book Five, and I’m hoping to have the first draft done in the next few weeks. I’ll try to post more consistently here as well.

Reconsidering the Strokes

Back in the day (2003), I purchased the Strokes’ second album, Room on Fire.

And I absolutely hated it. Despised it with every fiber of my being. I ranted and raved about it, ripped it to shreds to anyone who would listen, and refused to listen to their stuff for the next, oh, almost 16 years. The vocals were buried in the mix, the bass was weak, and I thought the lyrics were insipid. If this was the future of guitar rock, I reasoned, it was time for guitar rock to die.

Earlier this month, I downloaded their first album, Is This It?, on a whim. I listened to it a few times, and something has happened to me since those early days of 2003: I kinda liked it.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think the whole “saviors of rock’n’roll” nonsense is just that: nonsense. But maybe an older, wiser me recognizes what they were trying to accomplish now, and can appreciate it for what it is: damn fine garage rock. The guitars are chugging, the vocals (while definitely buried in the mix) are evocative and fitting, and the songs are tight and almost hyperactive (their first two, 11-song albums clock in at around 30 minutes each).

Are these albums going to become my go-to for rock’n’roll? No. But they’re damn fine examples of the early-aughts garage rock revival aesthetic, one that I like more now than I did at the time.

Tom Petty, “Built to Last”

I’ve been on a Tom Petty kick lately. Not that it takes much to start one of those: usually, just thinking about or listening to a single Tom Petty song leads to a reconsideration of his catalog, or at least a couple of favorite albums. This time around, I’ve been listening and relistening to Into the Great Wide Open, his Heartbreaker-backed follow up to Full Moon Fever. If I’m being honest, I think Into the Great Wide Open is the stronger of the two albums, but I’m not here for that debate today (though ask me again tomorrow, I might be up for it then).

No, today I’m here for the album closer, “Built to Last,” which I believe is one of the single greatest songs Petty ever wrote.

On the surface, “Built to Last” is a simple, simple song. It only uses, like, three chords. It’s a straightforward “I will love you forever” song.

Somewhere out my doorway

Somewhere down my block

I can feel her heartbeat

In rhythm with my clock

The song is filled, though, with everything that makes a Tom Petty song great: the soaring vocals in the bridge, the sparkling guitar work from Heartbreaker Mike Campbell (still one of the all-time greatest guitar players ever, by the way), and the heartfelt lyrics delivered so effortlessly by Petty.

We were built to last

On until forever

The world is changing fast

Oh, but our love was built to last

It’s the chorus that always gets me. Those couple of mournful guitar notes after the first line just kills me. “No matter what happens, we will continue to love each other,” Petty says. It’s put forward simply and earnestly, as only Petty can do it, and the song just leaves me a soppy puddle every time I listen to it.

Tom Petty wrote a lot of amazing songs, all with an eye for the working stiff just trying to get by to the weekend and survive. He was never as cynical as Bruce Springsteen or as esoteric as Bob Dylan. He was always just himself, and you could always just about hear his grin when he was playing and singing. “Built to Last,” with its simple rhythm and guileless lyrics, is the epitome of the Petty writing style, and one of my all-time favorite songs.

Open Mike Eagle, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream

For years, I’ve tried to listen to rap. It’s been a challenge, honestly. I want to like it, I want to get into it the way I’m into Dylan or the Beatles, but it’s been impenetrable. It felt like it wasn’t for me.

Then I found Open Mike Eagle, and something clicked.

His most recent album, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, is filled with clever wordplay, introspective ruminations, and snappy beats. The album deal with the aftermath of the project building where he spent many of his formative years being torn down. In between verses about the building itself and his years growing up there, he slips in mentions to the X-Men, the Infinity Gems, and Clearly Canadian (remember Clearly Canadian? I drank that stuff every day in middle school).

Open Mike Eagle’s rapping is slow but filled with wonderful rhymes. His flow is impeccable; he slides words and syllables right where they need to be in every bar. “My big dumb brain’s an electrical ocean/Started walking, now my legs in perpetual motion,” he raps in “Legendary iron Hood.” Eagle drops couplets like that almost casually, filling the songs with hidden gems it takes repeated listenings to unearth.

Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is a hell of an album from start to finish. It’s all killer, no filler. Open Mike Eagle is by turns clever, introspective, and thoughtful, presenting an entire album that’s perfect from the very first note.

Resolutions

Happy 2019! A new year often calls for resolutions, and I’m giving them a shot this year. Several of my resolutions have to do with writing, of course. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  1. Lose 20 Pounds
  2. Self-publish two books
  3. Sell at least five books per month
  4. Run a 5K
  5. Record five songs
  6. Learn Book Marketing

I feel most of the resolutions are pretty self-explanatory. I’m seriously overweight, and 20 pounds seems doable in a year. I’m hard at work on book 5 and have a rough outline for book 6 ready, so I should be able to self-publish two books this year. Resolutions #3 and #6 are connected: if I can market my books more effectively, I can sell more books. Running a 5K is tied up with the weight loss. And finally, I want to get back to recording songs again. I recorded a couple last year that I was very happy with, and this year I’d like to get several more in the can.

So, those are my resolutions. What are yours?

The Worst Christmas Song Ever

It’s popular across the internet to bag on Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” as the worst Christmas song ever. It sounds like it was written in ten minutes on a dare with a Casio keyboard as the only instrument allowed. And it is, objectively, a terrible song. I myself have used it on multiple occasions to torture students.

But there are worse holiday songs out there. Oh, so much worse. I’d personally like to nominate “Little Drummer Boy” as the worst of the worst. It’s got it all: ridiculous repetition of the “pa-rum-pa-pum-pum” nonsense, a kid who thinks a woman who just gave birth needs to listen to a drum solo, and a slow, plodding tempo that leaves me wanting to pa-rum-pa-pum-punt the songwriter right into the Magi.

In fact, there’s only one version of the song I can stand: one done by Jars of Clay, the Contemporary Christian band famous for the song “Flood,” did as a charity single back in 1997.

The band sped things up a bit, turned the drums into a beat loop, and added some lovely folky acoustic instrumentation to the song. It’s still crap, but it’s listenable crap.