The Master of All Easter Eggs by Nick Cody

The final story in our By Prescription Only: Themed Writing showcase on the theme of Hollow comes from the author of Cata fame, Nick Cody.

Warning label: The following story is entirely a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, events, etc. are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in the following works of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners. Some stories in this showcase contain adult themes, so reader caution is advised.

The Master of All Easter Eggs
by Nick Cody

Namaste, YouTubers! CineSeekers here with more commentary on everything movies. Remember to click “Like” and “Subscribe” to get our latest posts!

Remember that clever hoax from 1999 convincing the entire world that Stanley Kubrick had died? The pranksters must have been betting that the uber-famous director’s reclusive nature would help perpetuate their game. To this day no one knows who did it or why. Or, more accurately, loads of conspiracy theorists claimed to know but all failed to convince the general public. When one of those vloggers came out with the idea that it was Kubrick himself who launched the original announcement of death in order to promote his movie Eyes Wide Shut, the great director stepped forward and quashed all rumors with a live interview on CNN wherein he quoted that great line by Twain, drolly delivered: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”…

To read the rest as a free pdf, click the “Download Now” button below.

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Paper Boats by Paul J. Rogers

Next up in our latest By Prescription Only: Themed Writing short story showcase on the theme of Hollow is a contribution from the always very interesting Paul J. Rogers.

Warning label: The following story is entirely a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, events, etc. are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in the following works of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners. Some stories in this showcase contain adult themes, so reader caution is advised.

Paper Boats
by Paul J. Rogers

Human beings are malleable and vodka should be banned. Perestroika Vodka definetly should be banned (without question), and everyone has something they dislike about themselves (if they’re honest). Those thoughts, more or less, had strobed underneath each eyelid as Nikki Baxter had woken to the world this morning. She’d then vomitted her morning coffee and gone back to bed.

Her latest attempt at getting up was proving more fruitful. Seated at the kitchen table, a towel wound around her head after showering, she spun the coffee dregs inside her cup. (That coffee, by the way, was a fresh cup, the contents of the first having left the house via the plumbing several hours ago as mentioned.) She reached for her phone and then an eyebrow arched as she examined the browser…

To read the rest as a free pdf, click the “Download Now” button below.

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Let’s Hear It for Sam by Andrew Oberg

Our latest By Prescription Only: Themed Writing short story showcase on the theme of Hollow continues this week with a little piece by me.

Warning label: The following story is entirely a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, events, etc. are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in the following works of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners. Some stories in this showcase contain adult themes, so reader caution is advised.

Let’s Hear It for Sam
by Andrew Oberg

Spring never came for Sam. The weather got warmer, of course, but his mood was not subject to the buoyancy that such seasonal changes typically brought. He told me, standing there with his brown eyes peeling and tall, rotund frame as unsteady as an ice sculpture forgotten in the sun…

To read the rest as a free pdf, click the “Download Now” button below.

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Gabriella by Hamish Spiers

This week we begin our latest By Prescription Only: Themed Writing short story showcase on the theme of Hollow. To get us started is a piece with real heart from Hamish Spiers.

Warning label: The following story is entirely a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, events, etc. are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in the following works of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners. Some stories in this showcase contain adult themes, so reader caution is advised.

Gabriella
by Hamish Spiers

About 2.5 million years ago, magma rising through the Earth’s crust about a quarter of a mile from here caused it to expand, forming a mound that increased in size until it became a mountain. It then exploded in a violent eruption, so I’ve read, and has been silent ever since.

There’s a village just a few miles from its base these days, a little to the west of where I’m sitting right now, and many little farms scattered about the rolling foothills and picturesque plains surrounding it. The locals wonder what I’m doing here. I wonder that myself…

To read the rest as a free pdf, click the “Download Now” button below.

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Who cares about your self-expression?

The Age of Poetry, such as it was, has long since passed us by. The epic poem is dead, mythologies are now related via cinematic retellings and anime-style mash-ups, stories are told in tweets and unfinished, unpunctuated, ungrammatical social media posts. The fan girls and boys have taken over. Relaying how the Death Star was blown up from a thousand different points of view will get you more clicks than any literary undertaking. The net has smothered all art, a pillow pushed firmly down onto humanity’s face. Welcome to Tomorrow, welcome to Today.

Or so the thinking goes, at any rate. As early as the mid-nineties comfortably-placed visionaries like Esther Dyson were predicting that the way to make money from creativity was to offer free content to all comers, thereby establish (a degree of) fame, and then use the fame – not the creations – to get paid. That formula, if such it is, seems to be the only really viable one out there for the modern day artist who shuns both a day job and a life on the dole. And who can blame them? Day jobs are a major drag and eat away incessantly at the time that could be devoted to projects. And the dole – barely adequate at the best of times, marginal and uncertain at the worst. Raise a family on that. And so we find ourselves stuck.

The Age of Poetry; did it ever exist? And who really cares about poetry anymore anyway? Of all the useless drivel navel-gazers let leak out of their mouths surely that is the lowest, and nothing could be more trifling than short poetry, for crying out loud. A poem is bad enough, but a short one? What’s the point? Could there possibly be a point? Well, take a few minutes to read some selections from NOON and you tell me. The spirit of the Beats, the spirit of the haiku-ers and the tanka-ists, lives on, and theirs are words that cut, words that bury, words that infect. Reading them we find ourselves moved, brains activated, emotions touched, vitality restored. Humanity restored. There is something far deeper to the creatures we are than the garnering of clicks or the making of money, and my wager (pun intended) is that all true artists know that, have always known that. The pulse of a human being is not reducible to the ticker tape of the market; it wasn’t in the days when ticker tape was actually in use and it isn’t in our digital times. The internet may have ruined a great deal of what we once held dear and what made us real people – rather than specks of datum – but it is here now, and clearly here to stay, and so the business of shaping it to our artistic ends had better be gotten on with.

So who cares about your self-expression, especially since it doesn’t pay? We do, and I would certainly think that you do too. Outlets for art now abound, and there need be no fame-chasing involved in the process. Here’s one: next week we’ll start running our latest By Prescription Only series on the theme of Hollow. What will you find there? Short stories that each, in their own way, touch on modernity and the shambles we’ve made of our potential. No one will get paid for any of it, and yet each piece reflects many hours of labor. Was it all worth it? Will the number of readers each submission garners justify the time and effort put in? Would a single reader justify the time and effort put in? Those are questions for the writers, of course, but for myself I would set the bar so low as to say that the mere act of creation is its own reward. Self-expression. Money be damned. Woman does not live by bread alone, and all the rest of that. See you next week!

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Loving a book

Objects are meant to be static and to occupy a single place in the world. We think of the things that surround us as being testable, probable, picked-up-and-examined-able. We turn them over, look at their various angles, set them down, and go on our ways. Normal, everyday interaction. Yet some objects give us a little emotional jolt, something that the “decluttering guru” Marie Kondo has dubbed “spark joy“. (I know, the label is a terrible one, and ironic that her sequel on decluttering gives the same advice as her first book but with illustrations. When decluttering her clutter which version of her book do you throw out?) What is this reaction all about and what does it mean for the books in our lives?

Primarily I would define that pleasant little affective perk in terms of association. Almost always, at least for me, when a physical object triggers something emotional in me it is because of its associative memories. It brings back a time, a place, a person, a face, a feeling, a thought, a whole encapsulated era of my life that gets shrunk down to this. A couple of years ago when my mother decided to sell her house and move she told me that she found some things of mine that I needed to go through. Amongst those items I found an old textbook from a History of Pre-Soviet Modern Russia class that I took which instantly transported me to my uni days, who I took the course with, the lectures I sat through, and the incredible tandem the professor once indulged in on why the Chinese built the Great Wall in the manner which they did. I have no love for that book and I wouldn’t say that it gave me any “spark joy” moments, but it was fun finding it. And then there were all those copies of the books that I did – or do – love to be re-discovered as well.

I’ve moved close to twenty times so far in my life and books have unfortunately often been the victims of those choices. A necessary evil, mostly, but there are some that I simply cannot bring myself to get rid of. Some massively bulky ones like From Hell, but also some slim and tender ones like an old Washington Square Press version of The Communist Manifesto (follow that link to see the cover version I have in mind), as well as a very beat-up used (and original) copy of Reasons for Moving by Mark Strand that was given to me by a dear colleague just before I left the US for Japan (where, perhaps amazingly, I’ve stayed all these years). What do these books I mention have in common? Nothing, of course, except that they all mean something to me. And something very special at that.

This is the real beauty of a book that you hold in your hands, a beauty that contains within it some of the considerations I’ve noted elsewhere but also a lot more. It’s a beauty that is entirely reflective of you and your singular path through this stunning world that so awes us when we take a moment to look at it. Those books and many more have shaped my life in ways far beyond the usual factory mold elements of family, country, language, time, geography, DNA, economics, local schools, neighborhood friends. My dancings with them have been the movements of my being and relating to them through my senses brings all of that rushing back. It’s no secret that an ebook does nothing like this but with an ebook the words are still there and they might be enough to conjure up a shadow of the memories that a real book does. On that count I suppose that many of us are very different and much depends on our personal stances towards the digital. For me what it means to love a book is far too special to be put into bytes of ones and zeroes, but then I’m of the type that has always preferred bites over bytes for everything. Some books will always stay on my shelves.

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Should we care about how a page looks?

In the Preface section to his book I Am a Strange Loop Douglas Hofstadter (an established American academic whose career got a rocket launch with the success of his 1979 book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid; I haven’t read that one but I’d only recommend the first half of his Strange Loop) discusses how he was very pleased that his publisher allowed him to entirely format the entire thing. On page xviii of that preface he makes the following two interesting (and revelatory of his approach) remarks in regards to that privilege: “I think that attention to form [in reference to typesetting] improves anyone’s writing”, and “my quest for visual elegance on each page has had countless repercussions on how I phrase my ideas.”

We self and hybrid-pubbers are no strangers to this advantage ourselves; when we self-pub especially we have complete and total freedom to control absolutely every aspect of how our books will turn out (and may we never forget what a blessing that is). The question that Hofstadter considers therefore very naturally arises for us: Should we care about how a page looks? By his own telling of the process he chose to engage in Hofstadter formed his writing to fit how he wanted his pages to appear, coming down strongly on one side of the issue and insisting that yes, we should care very deeply about how a page looks. So deeply, in fact, that we shift our writing accordingly. The opposite end of the spectrum would leave every dangling preposition that ends a paragraph alone on its own line and not care one bit – what is foremost to such writers are the words and the words only. How much room is there in the middle of these two positions?

When formatting my own books (and don’t forget that I will have a new one out this year – wink!) I made a point of starting each new chapter on the right side of the book when held open. That felt cleaner to me somehow, and although it meant that there was sometimes a blank page between chapters and sometimes not – depending on how many pages the previous chapter had – the variation involved didn’t bother me. My current thinking though is that such a move doesn’t really matter and probably doesn’t make much difference to the reader; it doesn’t make any difference to me as a reader anyway and I am probably not all that atypical. I haven’t decided yet what I’ll do for my new book but I will almost certainly keep the same physical size that my other two have (excepting the comic (ahem, graphic novel, sorry) I did with artist Eric Uhlich), purely for reasons of being somewhat anal-retentive and enjoying standardization. As far as the nitty-gritty within each page goes I am not overly concerned, although I will admit not to like seeing paragraphs that end with a single sad word standing forlornly on the left side of the page.

If we don’t take Hofstadter’s concern for intra-, cross-page, and pagination visualization seriously (or at least not to the degree that he evidently does) then what should we care about given that we have all of the formatting choices that we do? I think primary amongst the possibilities would be the use of visuals and line settings to achieve the desired pace. Our stories and story-arcs, plots, devices, subterfuges, etc. will already all point the reader in certain mental directions and will help form the speed at which readers make their way through our works; why not add formatting to our quiver? Certain visuals such as three asterisks centered on a single line with carriage breaks on either side provide strong internal brakes to a text and force the reader’s mind into a new frame; a more powerful announcement of scene change is hard to imagine (though certainly creatable). Other methods that come readily to mind are page and section breaks, inserted illustrations, those fancy barcodes that smartphones can scan and load a webpage, symbols to create an image or just to boggle the reader’s mind – the sky is of course the limit and there are no limits to having your paperback version appear one way and your ebook version another. Complete and total freedom to control absolutely every aspect indeed. Although we may or may not side with Hofstadter’s decision to promote visual form over written content we do certainly share his editing authority. Regardless of what we decide to do with that authority let’s be sure to take account of it.

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Devotion, or Loving a project

Devotion tends to get short shrift these days. It could be a byproduct of the mentality that our current economic system of favoring (well, sanctifying) consumerism has bred into us, where everything is easily disposable and even more easily replaced, or it could be a byproduct of our ever-shortening attention spans, where even the daily news comes in nuggets and the analysis in bites. Or it could be both, or something in between, or that and more; whatever is the source the zeitgeist seems to be “If it’s too hard, why bother?” Yet most things worth doing are hard, and most efforts worth making do – in some manner, in some time, to some degree – pay dividends. A friend of mine likes to say that energy expended, something really worked for, will certainly yield results, though just when is anyone’s guess. Push on a boulder hard enough for long enough and it will move. Sisyphus might disagree, or he might grimace and nod, but there you have it.

Writing a book is one of the most absolutely grueling enterprises a human being can undertake. It is also surely one of the least rewarding. Add to that the fact that it is one of the most time-consuming, if not the most time-consuming, of artistic endeavors and it’s a wonder that anyone does it at all. Yet by all accounts the writing of books is currently undergoing what might well be an unprecedented boom. Never mind that every former celebrity, ex-politician, ex-ceo, ex-fifteen minute, or ex-con, seeks to cash in on what was through the penning of a memoir and/or cautionary-advisory tale, we now also have such surprising phenomena as fan fiction writers and – yes – bloggers, any one of whom might get it into their heads to begin a book-length project. Such an undertaking is naturally a very worthy one, and to be applauded, but surely not to be entered into lightly.

A book is a child that gives none of the joys of parenting. There are no moments when you gaze at the words in your word processing document and smile sweetly, subtly, and with a pure and genuinely expressed love in your heart. There are glimpses of satisfaction, of course, we all know that, but there are no times when the singular bliss of being strikes you. Instead there is always a voice of critique, a voice of doubt, a voice of severity, and above all a voice of dread. “Did I really write that?” “How could I have missed that error/word choice/typo/poor phrasing/etc.?” “Oh my goodness…” Why anyone would do this to themselves has been considered many times on the pages of this website and the answer we seem to keep running into is simply because we must. Writers are born, it is a genetic deformity that finds expression – virus like – regardless of the contextual circumstances of its host. If you have it in you it comes out; and that’s probably one reason we also read in the way we do.

What, then, is to be done about this nasty business? In the end, I think, a book requires, a book demands, bullheadedness. Goals and targets are (or can be) helpful, but what will really see us through is simple stubbornness. Discipline. Iron will. The firm belief that this is a book worth writing, this is a story worth being told, this is an object that must be placed into the world. We will get nothing but years of trouble for the production of it, and the act will probably likewise take years off our lives, but we will do it, we will see the thing through, and once we have placed that first draft copy on our shelves to gather its dust and smirk at us we will be able to grimace back and push again on that boulder, once more up that steep hill, once more expecting that roll back. Unrequited love for a project is the stuff a writer is made of.

And a reminder that here’s one chance to requite 😉  – the freebie week at Smashwords is going on now!

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/andrewoberg

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Smashwords freebie week

Smashwords is running a sitewide promo from the 5-11th this month; drop by to pick up my books for free and see what else you can find!

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/andrewoberg

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The romance and the mystery of writing

Japan is a funny place. In many ways life here carries on as if it were always and forever the 1990s, and the nineties were not an altogether good decade for Japan. So it is that I still, in this day and age, walk down to my local video store to rent DVDs when I want to watch a movie (in some ways I admit that this is also a lifestyle choice as both Netflix and Hulu have recently become available in the country). On that, Japan is funny in another way too as sometimes very off-the-beaten-path movies will become available to rent but only years after they have initially been released. This makes for potential points of interest though, for if you allow yourself to remain largely ignorant of what is happening in the world of film and then rent titles based on intuitive appeal you can be surprised at times with happy accidents, happy discoveries. Paper Man was one for me this past week, and in looking it up I found that it was made way back in 2009. Remember then?

The movie’s story is fairly clichéd, and the critics don’t seem to have made much of it (Rotten Tomatoes has it at 32%), but for my part I really enjoyed it. Jeff Daniels is great in it – as he is in everything – and Emma Stone puts in what must have been an early stellar performance for her, as well as Ryan Reynolds in his much appreciated comedic turn as Daniels’ character’s childhood superhero imaginary friend. The plot revolves around Daniels’ character’s travails as a novelist under pressure to produce his second book, which he has yet to start, in just three months. He and his acclaimed surgeon and inventor wife (also played well by Lisa Kudrow) rent a house in Long Island, New York, and while his wife is doing a stint at a local hospital he is to get down to the business of writing. Except of course that he can’t, and the romantic tropes of writing are trod out for their usual but fun effects. Daniels’ character refuses to write on the new laptop he is given and lugs his faithful old electric typewriter out of its hard-shelled case, sets it up on the desk, poises his fingers over the keyboard, and naturally that is as far as he gets. He has the general plot worked out (which he drunkenly relates to much acclaim during a visit to the local pub), but he doesn’t have the main character’s name, and it is that point that stubs his vigor and prevents from typing even the first sentence. Instead he spends his days cycling back and forth between the house and town, where he befriends Stone’s character and the two gradually open up about the tragedies and the loss in their pasts and presents.

Daniels the writer is proffered as a man tortured by self-doubt and internal malaise, and although the image of the writer as a lonely and eternally depressed would-be artist is a staple of mainstream romanticism about the work it is not an altogether wrong one. We writers are, more often than not, unsmiling loners who would much rather spend time in our own company than engaged in the very social world which concerns our creations. It is one of the central mysteries of the task and the burden of writing that those who bend their thought and effort towards expressing the world in which we live are barely present in that very world. We instead inhabit our own heads and our flailing attempts at being with others are awkward, truncated, and erratic. Sit down across from a writer and you never know what you’re going to get. Daniels expresses this well, and in watching him I enjoyed the switch to a view from the outside of that which is usually for me an internal one. There is a particularly poignant moment between Daniels’ character and Kudrow’s, where he asks if their marital and general unhappiness isn’t something more of their own making than a real reflection of their situations given that they have plenty of money and their lives are “embarrassingly easy” (as Daniels’ character puts it); Kudrow’s character answers in the negative, that no, her unhappiness is real enough. It’s a question though that is worth asking of ourselves, I think, for as much as the stereotype of the suffering and odd writer is accurate surely there is a large dose of perspective involved as well. Are we really, deep down, how we are presented to be?

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