Balls


by

L.P. Stribling

    “Okay, now do you believe me? She had me by the balls, Frank. And I mean that quite literally. Balls. All of my balls in all of her decrepit granny paws.” Bart took another chomp of his double-bacon cheeseburger and chewed while he spoke, symmetric specks of grease glistened on either side of his mouth under the neon pulse of the late-night Burger Bobby joint. The blue bill of his Pepsi hat seemed to bob upon his forehead as his animations grew. Frank sat across from him smoking, his eyes half closed, blinking mildly to keep out the easy wisps from a fresh pack of Kools.

    “Seriously. I don’t have to tell you now because you know, and I don’t want to keep talking because it’s a waste of my breath and a waste of your time, but no shit, that’s the girl.  That’s the fucking girl!” His eyes bulged at Frank as he rapped his index finger several times firmly on the cheap plastic of their table. They were the only customers in the Burger Bobby at 3:00 a.m. According to Bart, it was the best time to go. Best lighting, best place for conversation, best food (if you knew what to order), and the best place to talk about why you should not listen to anything a devil grandma waitress tells you about going home to meet her daughter.

    “Okay, again, and I know this doesn’t really make a difference, but I was drunk. Frank, don’t you roll your fucking eyes at me. I know you’re judging me right now and that’s bullshit because you’re not giving this a chance.” He waived the last quarter of his double-bacon concoction stringently at his best friend as he promulgated his most recent date. “I was shit-faced so hard that I probably couldn’t have walked, seen straight, or pissed in a mega urinal without hitting the floor, but goddammit, Frank, what happened that night is not some made up bullshit drunk story. She fucking!…” he shot a glance at the register to watch the woman there look up at him and quieted. “She could have castrated me with her nails, Frank. FOOMP! Gone!” he made a sharp slice through the air; a tomato flew from his burger and partly stuck to the plastic of his tray.

    “Go head,” he leaned in to Frank who shifted his lips to exhale a misty white into the quiet air of the burger joint. “Go ahead and look at the girl, Frank, and tell me that your balls don’t want to duck and hide inside pelvis when you look at her. Look! …”

    Frank made to turn.   

    “Wait! Wai – wait, wait! Not now,” Bart said.

….

    “Okay now, look, now!” Bart said with an obvious air of trying to be inconspicuous.

    Frank turned to look.

    The woman in the slender tan Burger Bobby uniform was old. There was no getting around that. Really old. She was Egypt old, I-opened-the-first-Piggly-Wiggly old. She was Jesus-was-my-pen-pal old. Her curly hair was white from where they were sitting, but it seemed so in an unkempt manner. Some of the curls shadowed her face, others seemed to twist with others, ending up in knots. Even as she counted money in the register, Frank could catch a quiet glimpse at her eyes, and the salient hollows behind them.

    “Yeah! Picture that, my friend,” he said popping the last bite into his grease-ringed lips.  “Picture her at around this time in a dark room with her sarcophagus breath dusting your drunk ass, and she starts playing with your happy trail with her plastic nails, which, by the way, if you listen carefully enough, are also screaming to be away from her. Picture that girl right there with her hair all fucked up, wispy, and haggard and shit, and her wiry tarantula meat claw nails around your testes. Fact!”

    Frank turned back around to face Bart and shrugged before taking another sip off his current Kool. “Don’t look that bad,” he muttered.

    Bart’s mouth eased open in disbelief. Then he let out a giggle despite himself. “I cannot believe you just said that. Do you – No,” he said and but his hands up in surrender. “Nope, I give up. You know why? Because you’re being an asshole, and you know that kind of behavior, or whatever, bothers me.” He his same table-stabbing finger was in Frank’s face now; Frank smirked.

    “What’s the big deal, it’s not like your balls had any other plans that night.”

    “No other plans!? You serious right now? Frank, I was going to go back and bang her daughter silly! I was going to be a king that night Frank, a rex, the goddamn Pussy Prince of Peoria. But -“

    “She has a daughter?”

    “No!” Bart said, and again lowered his voice as well as his hat brim to his eyes while he slid down in the booth. He turned back to a whisper. “No! But I thought she did and, AGAIN…” he said the world emphatically, stretching his lips to their full extent. “I. WAS. DRUNK!”

    Frank nodded, took a drag, and nodded to Bart’s empty plate. “You done?”

    Bart sighed and looked at the same. “Yeah,” he said.

    “Let’s go.”

    The two walked up to the register, Frank held the bill in his hands.   

    “That be all for you,” said the woman. Her voice was a whisper of someone plotting on escaping their coffin. Bart turned and casually walked out of the Burger Bobby. A small bell chimed when he pushed the door open into the cool black morning. when Frank stopped at the register,

    At the register, the woman handed Frank his change and thanked him. Frank nodded and turned toward the exit.

    “Excuse me, son?” Frank heard the woman’s voice from behind him.

    “Yes?”

    “Should your friend want the same treatment as from the other night, you tell him I’ll take half off.”

    Frank cocked his head in response. He imagined it was much like his dog, Jasper, when he heard the microwave sound. “I’m sorry? Half off?”

    The woman nodded. “Yep,” she rasped. “And I’ll do whatever he wants. What ever.”

    Frank left without responding.

    Bart was leaning against the car, an old beat up Ford, when Frank walked out. He adjusted his Pepsi cap before straightening. “Weird shit, right?” He said.

    Frank didn’t really know how to answer at first. He walked to the driver side door and unlocked the passenger seat from his seat. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, weird shit. Get in.”

    The engine cranked over and grabbed the car. Frank put it in reverse, backed out, and strapped his seatbelt on. They pulled out of the Burger Bobby and their headlights blasted the night.

Superhero Dick and the Brave Cat


batmen

Superhero Dick knocked at the door of the unsuspecting nameless civilian with an unfamiliar and uncomfortable rapidity. He stood there in true stoic velvet uniform – all deep red from the cowl down to his painted toes. The golden SD monogrammed insignia was an extra bold glow against the white pine door.

“Sir or Madam!” he said. “Please, it’s urgent that I use your facilities!”

The last time he recalled his voice being so nervous was when he faced off against the Hank the Glimmering Shrew back in August. It wasn’t the most common of scenarios, but what was done that night was what had to be done – the sixty seven windows, the boxes of sugar, the eggs, and leftover butter rolls. All of it had to be done. The civilian population recalls what it recalls – usually the story is twisted and tweaked, but still, what happened was certainly necessary.

Moments after the second rapid knock, sounds of unlocking from the other side of the large wooden door floated though the wood and then, the seal loosened and the door opened several short inches, then stopped. 

Peeking between the gap was a gaunt man. The ladder of wrinkles on his forehead aged him twofold. His eyes squinted behind his spectacles and his voice was both a shriek and a grunt.

“Who in the -“

“Please, kind citizen,” began Superhero Dick, throwing up a palm in the face of the unknowing homeowner. “It is necessary I use  your facilities.”

The wrinkles on his nose flared up at Dick’s response.

“Whaa? Why in the hell for? Get the hell outta here, you goddamn homo vagrant!” the man moved back behind the door and made to close his home.

“Sir, please,” Superhero Dick blocked the closing door. “If you truly value your home, you’ll need to let me use your restroom.” Without waiting for an answer, Dick pushed his way boldly into the man’s abode, gently-but-firmly allowing the man to back up into the depths of his own entryway.

“Now, first I’ll ask you to look here,” said Superman Dick, lowering his hands right in front of his package, making his fingers into parenthetical shapes around his junk. There was a huge bulge there.

“Now! The primary reason there’s such a huge issue here is because, again, I need to use your facilities. Suffice it to say, sir, that it is a matter of National Security. The size of what you see here has nothing to do with my personal sexual preference, sir, but with how I’m about to save you. Your life, your house, your family, husband, girlfriend, and possibly your pets. Everything is currently in danger.” Dick stopped and looked around. “Got any pets?”

The man’s eyes frowned and confused, shook his head first slightly.

Dick eyed him and leaned in.

The man nodded.

“Spot! Here boy!” Dick bellowed through the house.

fatcat1

A slow meow accompanied a fluff which leaned and fell over itself several times. It approached Dick, but several feet away, it fell to the hard wooden floor and collapsed into sleep.

“That’s Spot?” Dick asked.

“I’ve always called him Sylvester,” said the man.

“No matter!” said Superhero Dick. “Tell me you have a porcelain bowl!”

“The man eyed him with one eyebrow cocked high above the eye. “What?”

“Your facilities, sir, your toilet, is it porcelain?” Superhero Dick leaned in more and raised his voice to ensure that he was getting his point across.

“I don’t know what they make ‘em out of nowadays, but this house is old, Red, pretty damned old. I would think that everything from the flusher to the pipes is porcelain. Isn’t that what they’re all made out of?” Realizing he had gotten off track, he shook his head and again focused. “But that doesn’t matter. You are not using my head!”

“Quick! We must away!”

In one swift movement, the superhero snatched the feline from the floor and dashed through the house. The cat slunk from it’s new perch in the crook of the muscleman’s arm as it was whisked away.

Superhero Dick rushed into the bathroom and locked the door. He turned to the sink and dumped the sleeping cat into the shallow water basin.

“Don’t worry, Sylvie; it’s for all of us. All you have to do is stay out of the way.”

Superhero Dick unbuckled the neon yellow Ultra Belt at his waist and dropped the spandex of his lower extremities to the faded yellow tiles of the bathroom floor.

“Hey!” a pounding came from the outside of the door. “You cannot be in there without my consent, you! This is my house and you are a smelly…odd-looking..fellow,” coughed the old man. “You come out of there at once or I’m calling the police. You hear? I’ll report you, dammit. Don’t think I won’t.”

Superhero Dick turned to face the door, his feet shoulder-width apart and his fists neatly rested on either side of his hips. “Have no fear, kind citizen, Superhero Dick is here for the safety of all!” He turned back to the sink and placed the cat softly therein. With his other hand, the superhero snapped the lid from the toilet with a crack and  placed it over the cat.

He exhaled. “Spot, you’ll be remembered for saving your nation. Be brave.”

The cat gave a acquiescent purr of confusion.

While holding the toilet lid on the cat, the superhero looked at his large blue-faced INVICTUS watch and counted down. “Five, four, three, two….”

The ground beneath him began to rumble and the house shook.

“What the hell! You son of a -“

KRREEEEEAAAAAAA~

SLOOOP

The lid fell as the Spot was sucked through the sink and the underground pipes of his once comfortable kitty abode.

Seconds later, the rumbling stopped, and for effect, Superhero Dick flushed the toilet and replaced the lid after washing his hands. Several handfuls of old long unwashed fur dusted the once white water basin.

When he opened the door the old man stood there, his eyebrows hovering over full-blow balls of confusion. “What the hell happened?! Where’s Sylvester?”

Superhero Dick placed a comforting hand on the man’s shoulder and kept his tone low. “Sir, be proud today, for today your pussy has been sucked into legend. He’s a hero, sir, your pussy.” He dipped his head for a moment of silence. “I’ll make sure the name ‘Spot’ is remembered, here, now, and forever.”

With nothing more and leaving the old man looking through his bathroom and the house calling for his cat, Superhero Dick left. Once again, he had saved the day, the nation, and possibly the planet, from total annihilation. And no one save the old man in his wake would know.

Maps and Attics


Maps and Attics

by L.P. Stribling

pent

       Six maps in total were found on that day back in November 1882. Five were thrown to the sea, as the rumor has it, and the final one is still somewhere in the attic of my grandfather’s house. It’s not something I’m proud of – especially considering that the maps were to show the direction to Hell. Every day since I released that information to my best friend during my sophomore year, David’s Travis has been asking me questions about the issue – asking relentlessly.

“Well, have you at least gone up and tried to see it?”

“Of course I’ve tried to go up and see it,” I told him. “Are you kidding me? Yes. I’m not that much of a loser. I mean, I have my moments, but not to that degree. The map might have information to the souls of Hell.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Imagine what you’d be able to do with that.”

“What?” I turned my head and regarded him incredulously. “And by that you mean that you agree with me that you’d burn it if you ever found it. Why does something like that need to be floating around the human world? It’s not like it’s healthy or anything.”

“Oh, no,” he said, and shook himself out of it. “No, actually, I think you should take me with you the next time we go.”

“’We’ go?” It was a sarcastic retort, but he deserved it. The last time I stepped into my father’s attic was about three months ago, and I didn’t want to do it again. It was creepy enough to ward off the devil himself.

David, through some weird aspect of space-time decided to take my sarcasm and bitch-slap me across the face with a monetary value. “I’ll give you two hundred dollars,” he said.

He moved his head closer and raised his eyebrows – Hello? It read. I realized I hadn’t moved, probably still stuck on how ridiculous of a proposition I thought it to be.

“Oh,” I said, “sorry, yeah. Money? Okay, yeah let’s go.” That was Monday. Thursday after school we were up in my grandfather’s attic.

 

The lights within the attic had never worked since I had known about the place. And by since I’d known about the place, I mean they hadn’t worked for my entire life. David wanted to bring some lighters and matches. I reminded him we were going to a small room above my ceiling made entirely of wood and was wasn’t used to human activity. I told him that although I appreciated his concern, flashlights would likely do the trick.

Boxes, chests, thingamajigs, stacks of newspapers and magazines, and all manner of the unclassified had long found their home in the upstairs landfill. I never wanted to call it htat, but the few times my father spoke of the place, that was the word he used. He had never had a good relationship with my grandfather, and he generally avoided speaking about the man. But when he had to, he would carefully choose belittling titles to speak of the man and his habits.

We had spent the first four hours covering as much of the area as we could. The process would have mbeen much easier if my house were big. Unfortunately my grandfather had to have space which would increase cardiovascular health. We started on opposite ends of the place and began to dig, move, lift, and scan. David told me he would be sure put everything back just the way he found it.

“Oh damn,” David said.

“What?” I asked, dropping my third stack of 1970s National Geographic magazines.

“Check out these tiddies!” He unfolded a blatantly 1980s Playboy centerfold and turned it around to face me – some blonde anorexic girl wearing snow boots and a weird feather necklace.

“Eskimo, cool. Is that it then? We started with a map search and you’re going to settle out of court for her? You know she’s probably in her 80s now; I don’t know, some people are into that stuff.”

“Wai-wai-wait, Jake….I found it. Holy shit, seriously. Come’ere.” He was frazzled, his eyes scanning the backside of the confused centerfold.

I walked over and stood next to David as he turned the tri-fold page around for me to see. Even in the seconds I spent walking over I didn’t think I would be looking at one of these maps. David wasn’t the biggest humorist of the world, but I sdid still think it was a joke. Besides, what were the odds? And in the middle of an obscure girly magazine, no less? But, the truth was, it was there. It was oddly there.

If we weren’t looking for a map, we would have discarded it, because honestly, if we were looking at this magazine (my grandfather’s vanilla porn stash), we would be doing it for some sick adolescent purpose, and not to uncover the secrets of hell.

The backside of the centerfold was completely black save for three white circles lining the center of the page from top to bottom, each equidistant from the next. In the center of each of the circles was a different colored pentagram the size of a penny. Each of these shapes touched the inside of the white circles at different places.

“I don’t know what to say,” I said.

“There’s nothing to say, man,” David said, “the game’s won.” David rubbed his hands sanctimoniously over the black page once before tearing the page out of the magazine and tossing the publication to the dusty hardwood floor again.

“Hey, man!” I said. It was a gut reaction, but these weren’t his things.

David kept his eyes on the black page while reaching into his pocket and letting two Franklin’s drop to the floor at my feet.

“Thanks, Jakey,” he said. He ran his fingers over the page again. This time the three pentagrams spun eerie opposing paths of their respective inner circles. He turned to me and smirked. “I’ll take it from here.”

 

Summer Reads


Not sure if I’ve ever really come down to it and said, “Yes, this book (these books) is going to be read this summer.” I did just check my Goodreads list and found that I actually do read during the summer – cool. So, I thought I’d toss out a little bit about what I’m reading now and what I’m planning to read this summer.

What I’m reading now –

Armada, by Ernest Cline.

armadaIf you know me, you know I’m into all-things video gamey. After going through Ready Player One, I was hooked on digital/video game fiction (Before I go on, if you are into video games, you MUST read Ready Player One). Okay, back at it.

I’m currently reading Armada, by the same author – Ernest Cline. Talked with my brother and he said he looked it up and it’s basically just like The Last Star Fighter
, which I wasn’t sure of at all. I haven’t read it. Here’s the thing with me and reviews – I don’t really read them. I will read them every once in a while, but mostly, as cliché as it may sound, I read books based on their covers. Yep. This one just looked cool and it had to do with video games, and it was written by Cline, so that’s what I’m doing. I am currently about 80 pages in (somewhere around Chapter 5) and It’s great.

This Summer

Just a Geek, by Wil Wheaton.

whetonI have no idea about this book other than it was written by Wesley Crusher. I like Wheaton; don’t know what it is. He did read the audiobook for RPO (above) which I listened to for the first time (which, by the way, I thought was very well done). He is now the host of several different things going on regarding geek culture. He’s on the Geek and Sundry channel often. He was (and still is, I think) the host of Table Top – a show about table-top gaming. I also watched a great role-playing game that he hosted called Titansgrave. I didn’t really get into Star Trek as a kid, but I do remember young Crusher. I watched Stand By Me as well, but didn’t realize it was WW until much later. Who knows. It will be good to have a look at the book and see what Mr. Wheaton has to say.

2. One Piece – Vol. 42.

I believe the most up-to-date volume is 78 and the adventure with Luffy and crew abord the Merry-Go is fascinating. Can’t wait for this to continue.

And that’s where I am.

What are you reading?

The Touch Comes Second


daemon

   The heavy loose folds of the daemon keeper’s robes, silvery black with hints of a deep green sheen, hunched over the plain moldy basin necromancy center. The white marble of the bowl’s shallow veneer seemed dull, and Arch the Demigod had never seen it quite in such a poor state. He paid particular attention to his breath, and made a choice to think heavily about the air he was breathing in. The room was cold; it was dark in this place (perhaps a darkness he never quite put a finger on); he was alone – still, after all these years, so very alone.

   “Minns,” he croaked. Seconds passed before the sound of a loosening chain around a metal gate clanged into the room from what seemed like several hallways. The slow slides of an old pair of leather sandals scraped across a worn clay floor. Small specks of earthen detritus cracked underneath the feet, and louder and louder they approached before they stopped behind him.

   “Master,” the listless voice of the Demigod’s aged servant drifted into the room. “Your orders.”

   The Demigod took a deep breath and exhaled into the basin. “The child,” he whispered into the . He turned to face the sickly manservant and asked, “do you still have it?”

   The servant began to speak, cleared his throat, and started again. “We do, my liege; it’s still held in the second cellar – the frigid one.”

   A soft growl of approval crawled from the Demigod’s throat. “Mmm, the hour is close.” He stared into the basin still further, tilting his head, looking for remnants of sheen – the sheen that can only come from a soul of the infant. “Bring it,” he said. His voice ended in a guttural slur – a signal of growing tired. Behind him, his servant bowed. The demigod didn’t have to see it. He gave the man an order; it would be carried out.

   The footsteps left his presence, and the metal gate sounded in the back.

   “All this time,” the Demigod said to himself. “All these years, these millennia, and it’s all now. Here. This second.” He stood erect again circled the basin. The light from within had faded immensely over the years, the many years of his kind. “But no longer,” he said looking into the empty dry bowl. This was the bowl within which his kind had once had a reflection, the power of which was used to control them – the masses, the underlings of the Demigods. This power was harnessed within the water. They were a powerful kind; all beings knew that. They had at once known, at least. But the flaw of their kind, given by the Great Fiend, was that only with the reflection could their power be made manifest.

   “….and then it was Garling – the human,” He hissed. Reaching up, the demigod grasped his metal head shield, that which was the source of stories – the stories which made most cower, freeze, and bend in their own fears. A metal skull, masking the true face of death that was his own. When the mask was removed, the demigod looked into the basin with the bones, rotten flesh, and almost-nothing which he had become because of the humans. “But it will not be again, sire,” he said. “Not ever. For when in our kind’s history have we had the blessing of Him to wrestle away one of their kind.”

   A cackle rose from within him when the gate in the backdrop of the darkness was manipulated again.

   “A gift,” he continued replacing his mask and ensured his cowl was set in the appropriate position for the ceremonial act.

   When the servant approached, Arch retook his position at the north side of the Basin of Three. A cooing nuzzled the air behind him.

   “Place him before me, Minns. We’ve waited far too long.”

   The skeletal and withered hands of the servant placed the naked babe into the icy surface of the greying and aging basin and the hand of the demigod stilled the child when it cried out because of the cold. Minns stepped away then, fully aware of the procedure.

   It wasn’t even a handful of receding steps and the prodigious iron claw of the master rose into the air and thundered down into the basin.

   A gush of wet red infused the air and splattered circles across the millennia-old marble floor, pockets of dust jumping into the room as the droplets dropped lazily upon it. In a simultaneous howl, both the demigod and the child roared, the one calling out an exuberant rejoicing at a renewed life, the other a lugubrious cry of it’s own life’s end.

   “Come, Minns!” cried the masked operator. “Come lay witness to our rebirth.”

   The servant crept up to the edge of the basin and looked down.

   Within the small vermillion pool of a shredded child and a thick primordial confusion, the body began to release steam.

   “Sir?” Minns said with question.

   “Yes, yes,” said the demigod. “Can you see it?” The body within the basin began to shrivel and turn, the meat, the skin, the organs, all began, in magnetizing formation, to clump, twirl, and intertwine.

   Minns hurled over, bent, and held his stomach.

   The demigod cackled even more loudly, holding his iron claw over the rising steam produced by the flesh and offal of the shriveling infant once pure human form. A ball of mist, exotic, and colored began to hover there by his palm.

   And in seconds, the inner basin, glossy and beautiful, held a calm violet sheen. In its center a globe, palm sized, lifeless, and dusty.

   The master turned back to his servant. In his hand, now upturned, a pure glow, hovering there, quiet and whole.

   Minns looked at the face of his master and saw no longer an empty withered skull of bone and despondency, but skin, muscle, and sinew. There were now pockets of eyes, brown and intent, and a smirk. He saw a man, young and virile, with blood flowing within him, and a life flowing about his physical aura.

   And then, his human voice loosed from his strong throat.

   “It’s time, Minns. It’s time for payback on what they’ve made us. It’s time to reclaim what is ours. It’s time for their end, and again, our beginning.”

   He clenched his now stronger iron grip around the soft glow, extinguishing it. And in a new brighter darkness. Blood drops, new life, began to fall upon them.

You Do You


do-what-you-love

Another beauty from Mr. Wendig. When I read this this morning, I about crapped myself laughing. I love the way he puts it – art is art and there’s no one right way to do it. Just because others have done it one way does not mean that the rest of us have to do it that exact way. Just because some of us view a certain piece of art one way does NOT mean that the rest of us have to view it that particular way as well.

It’s a beautiful thing to know that when you do your art, you’re doing your art your way. Just as John Keats put it:

 

Beauty is Truth, truth, beauty; That is all there is to know and all you need to know.

 

Your art is your art. Some may like it and some may dislike it. In fact, some will like it and others will not. And if anyone criticizes you about your art, saying that it SHOULD look one way or another, or you SHOULD have done it one way or another, I agree with Chuck – they can go drink a Middle-Finger Frappacino.

Writing and publishing are two different games, and you should not go cry in a corner just because your stuff doesn’t get published. Your art was successful long before you tried to get it published – it was successful because you finished it, and you wanted others to read it.

Boom! Done. End of list.

Congratulations!

So here’s the deal. When it comes to your art, it’s yours. You own it. No one else. So, put your headphones in, turn the volume up, read Chuck’s wondrous words and again, be on your way.

(*P.S. Check out Chuck’s article below)

Have a word-filled 2016.

lp

 

————-

YOUR 2016 AUTHORIAL MANDATE IS HERE: BE THE WRITER THAT YOU ARE, NOT THE WRITER OTHER PEOPLE WANT YOU TO BE

By Chuck Wendig

 

That blog title is way too long, but fuck it.

A handful of weeks ago, some presumably well-meaning tickledick posted a comment here at the blog. It was a comment that I chose not to approve because, really, I don’t need your shit, Rando Calrissian. This blog is my digital house, and I don’t let strangers inside just so they can take a dump on my kitchen table, especially so we can all sit around, smelling it and discussing it. But the comment was a splinter under my nail, working its way up into the finger-meat. And then reading George R. R. Martin’s end-of-the-year message about not finishing the newest SOIAF also was something that crawled inside me and starting having thought-babies.

Being here on the Internet is a bit like hanging out on a clothesline — some days are sunny and warm, other days are cool and breezy. Some days it pisses rain and the wind tries to take you, and other days it’s daggers of ice or a rime of snow or smoke from a wildfire or some pervert streaking across the lawn and stropping up against you with his unwanted nasty bits.

Being on the Internet means being exposed.

You’re just out there. A squirming nerve without the tooth surrounding it.

That’s good in some ways because you’re exposed to new people, new ideas, new ways of doing things. You’re not an isolated creature here. You are an experiment being observed and are in turn an observer of countless other experiments, and that makes a subtle-not-subtle push-and-pull. But can also be erosive or corrosive — it can wear off your paint a little bit.

As a writer in particular, it has its ups and downs, too. Here, you’ll find yourself surrounded by a gaggle of ink-fingered cohorts who know what it is to do what you do. You’ll have a herd, a cult, a clan, a tribe. You’ll have smaller communities who know what it is you write or want to write, too, whether it’s young adult or epic fantasy or erotic sci-fi cookbooks. And here on the Digital Tubes, everybody is has an opinion, everybody is an expert. And that’s extra-true with writing. Other writers have their processes and their hang-ups and their wins and their losses, and they share it all. Which is, on a whole, a good thing. Information is good. Camaraderie is good.

That, though, can muddy the waters at the same time. This Person is doing This Person’s thing, and That Person is doing That Person’s thing, and Other Person is really loud about what WILL SURELY WORK FOR EVERYBODY (translation, will probably only work for people who are or are like Other Person). And advice gurgles up around your feet like rising floodwaters. Do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t say that, don’t write this, this isn’t selling, that is a no-no, publish this way, sell that way, don’t publish that other way, drink this, wear houndstooth jackets with elbow patches, drink that, snark here, snark there, with a fox, in a box, wearing socks, eating rocks, with a bear, without hair, anywhere. We have a whole lot of writers trying to figure out who they really are, and in the process, do a very good job at also telling you who you should be in order to conform to their notions of who they want to be. To confirm who they are, it’s easy for them to also confirm who you should be, too. That’s not sinister. That’s just human nature. It’s easier to become something when others are along for the ride. And it’s also the joy of confirmation bias — what worked for me confirms that I WAS RIGHT AND SO YOU ARE A HEINOUS DIPSHIT IF YOU DO NOT FOLLOW PRECISELY IN MY FOOTSTEPS. I do it. You do it. Most of us do, I think.

It then gets further complicated once you have readers. Or, Uber Readers, aka, fans. Because they, too, have opinions on you and your work. They will have opinions on your process. And it’s not that they’re wrong, it’s that they’re — no, wait, they are wrong, never mind. They’re totally wrong, because they’re not writing the stories. They’re right about what they want to read and when they want to read it, but not about how to create it. It’s hard to tell someone how to do their job. It’s extra-hard to tell them how to make their art. Because process and prose and authorial intent are all intensely personal to the creator. Personal and twisted further by the pressures of creation and the potential mental stresses that come along with it — remember, a great many writers and artists also suffer from depression or anxiety or other ghosts in the gray matter.

It’s not just one type of writer over another. This is true of new writers who are just finding their way. This is true of mid-career or mid-list writers who are out there in the wilderness surviving, not sure how to get out of the forest just yet. This is true of super-successful authors who are trapped under the magnifying lens of a massively public fanbase — the sun likely focusing into a laser-hot beam upon their foreheads. All artists of every level are exposed here.

Here, now, is the comment referenced at the fore of the post:

“There is no skill floor or ceiling to being a writer. Anyone who speaks a language, who tells a story, can write. To be published is a stricter process that requires an adherence to professional guidelines and to a standard of quality that is dictated by the publishing office. That you’ve been published so many times is no small feat, and I commend you for it.

But having read Aftermath and Blackbirds, I feel that there is…a laziness to your style that you seem to be either unaware of or have come to terms with. It’s difficult to quantify, but it gives me the impression that you don’t value writing as an art. As a job, certainly. But not as a form of expression. Because otherwise you wouldn’t spend 45-90 days on a book. A soul isn’t bared in three months. Professional or no, no book you truly care for should go from start to finish that quickly.

To know an art is to break established rules in the hopes of producing a truer version of your vision. And you certainly break the rules of writing craft. In the first three paragraphs of Blackbirds you’ve disregarded flow, used inappropriate comparisons, and introduced the main character through a mirror scene. And while these things are permissible, they are not the hallmarks of someone who cherishes what he writes.

Great writing seeks subtlety. It’s the words that are unwritten, the descriptions that are inferred, the meaning that comes across through the subtext of what is explicit that writing excels at communicating. But your writing doesn’t ask me to look within myself for answers. It asks me to look no further than the page. And that, to me, is a tragedy. Because we’re all capable of greatness. But greatness comes from being dissatisfied with how things are, and with pushing the boundaries of what you believe yourself to be capable of in order to achieve your absolute best. And even then, you won’t be satisfied. You’ll push yourself further in your next pursuits, because now you’ve touched on what you’re capable of, but you won’t be satisfied.

To release your books in such a short time frame tells me that you’re satisfied, and that breaks my heart.”

I tried for the better part of a week to conjure a more cogent response than “fuck you,” and I got as far as “go fuck yourself.” Like, I tried to go through it once and conjure point-by-point rebuttals — well, no, because of course I value art and art is not beholden to any timetable and it takes the time that it takes short or long and — but eventually my rebuttal dissolves into a gargled cry of “eat a bucket of deep-fried fucks, you squawking chicken-fucker.” With an added, “HOW’S THAT FOR SUBTLETY,” and then a crotch-grab as I cackle and yell, “CHERISH THIS.”

This is someone who wants his vision to be my vision. He has very explicit ideas about how art is made — ideas that, by the way, are provably false. (For writers in particular, looking at the daily word counts of famous writers is clarifying in its sheer variation.) Great writing is not one thing any more than great paintings are, or great music, or, or, or. The variation in art is glorious. The variation in the process that puts the art into the world is equally amazing. Music can be operatic, or punk, or dub-step. A sculpture might be an alabaster goddess or a bunch of fucking cubes stuck to a bunch of other fucking cubes. Food can be subtle and airy or unctuous and heavy or whipped into a foam or shoved between two buns (tee hee buns). Comedy can be a routine that takes years to write, or an improv session that took 30 seconds to conjure.

There’s no wrong way to do it, as long as you’re doing it.

There’s no timetable, as long as you’re taking the time.

Nobody can tell you how you do it. They can only tell you how they do it or what illusions they hold about the process — illusions that often wither under actual implementation.

They can offer suggestions. And you are free to take them, hold them up in the light, and see if there is anything there of value. And if there isn’t? Then you can fling it into the trash compactor on the detention level where it will be ogled and eaten by the one-eyed Dianoga.

That’s not to say there aren’t people you should listen to — a good editor or agent, a trusted friend, a beloved author. But even there, you want to find people who will clarify and improve your process and your work — not substitute it with something that isn’t really yours.

So, in 2016, I advise you to give your middle fingers a proper workout and elevate them accordingly to any who would diminish who you are, what you make, or how you make it. You don’t need to wall yourself off from it, but you also don’t need to be a sweater hanging on the clothesline, either. Get some tooth around that nerve.

Know who you are. Learn your process. Find your way. And don’t let anyone else define who you are as a creator, as an artist, as a writing writer who motherfucking writes.

Happy 2016, writers.

You do you.

*explodes in gory human fireworks*