The Evening Muse 6 | The Need for Speed & Selectiveness

Expedience – I read a lot. Of course that goes without saying. Just the other day I heard Stephen King say he is an omnivorous reader, and I agreed I am the same. Voracious, in fact. However – and because of this – I need to do a lot of using the speed-reading technique (as well as bypassing the boring parts in larger works). In the past as a short story editor I’d speed read a lot of short stories out of necessity. Nowadays, if I speed-read a story it is because to my tastes it’s wasting time getting to the compelling part. If I speed-read a novel, it’s not just because I tend to check out so many of them from the library and need to boogie through them swiftly, but it may also likely be because I am not quite enamored with the prose style, or it has a weak or non-existent plot, or worse yet, a plot that is simply not compelling. A lot of times novels are not paced as well as they should be. This is often a problem of structure, but unfortunately it’s sometimes the problem of the author’s narrative intent and approach.

Pickiness – Admittedly I am a particular kind of reader these days. I do not need to be wowed by a writer’s diction, quirky prose or clever turns of phrase. All I need is compelling stories piloted by likable, sometimes charming and charismatic yet always compelling characters. Purposeful dialogue. Though I do like to see lots of dialogue, I am not a fan of aimless, pointless chatter. Minimal prose. Though I don’t mind thorough description and (pertinent) details, I prefer narrative that doesn’t meander and rather gets on with it, preferably using a ticking clock. That tends to be the bigger draw for me, which is probably why I prefer crime and suspense thrillers (and the occasional horror tome, though like sci-fi and fantasy I prefer it on the big and small screens). I like immediacy and immersion. If the story, especially a novel, takes its sweet time getting to the rising action or the crucial character development then I’m more than likely to become impatient, uninterested and will look for the exit.

I also want to be quite intimate with the protagonist. I want to be immersed in their psyche, which is why I prefer the subjective third-person point of view. It’s my favorite to write from as well.

I wish I was a more patient reader, maybe even a one-track-minded reader like my wife is. She can’t read multiple books at a time, whereas I have to for the aforementioned impatience and other reasons. It may also stem from decades of reading multiple comic book series – it conditions you for a wide array of episodic but diverse reading scheme. And yes, the correlation between the scattered focus in my reading and the same in my writing is not lost on me.


Now Reading: The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie

I am really enjoying this exceptional debut crime/suspense thriller novel so far. I’m starting Chapter 8 tonight. I’d grabbed this one from the library a week or so ago, having heard nothing about it but was immediately sold by the description on the inside flap.

Description from the Hardcover edition:

Peter Ash came home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with only one souvenir: what he calls his “white static,” the buzzing claustrophobia due to post-traumatic stress that has driven him to spend a year roaming in nature, sleeping under the stars. But when a friend from the Marines commits suicide, Ash returns to civilization to help the man’s widow with some home repairs. Under her dilapidated porch, he finds more than he bargained for: the largest, ugliest, meanest dog he’s ever encountered . . . and a Samsonite suitcase stuffed with cash and explosives. As Ash begins to investigate this unexpected discovery, he finds himself at the center of a plot that is far larger than he could have imagined . . . and it may lead straight back to the world he thought he’d left for good. Suspenseful and thrilling, and featuring a compelling new hero, The Drifter is an exciting debut from a fresh voice in crime fiction.

The Press buzz . . .

“[Peter Ash’s] sharply intelligent, witty voice strikes the right tone for an honest exploration of the challenges returning veterans face, and while this wandering veteran will remind some of Jack Reacher, Peter’s struggle to overcome PTSD sets him apart. An absorbing thriller debut with heart.”—Booklist

“Petrie’s impressive debut thriller is fine tuned, the action gripping, and through Ash offers a well-drawn portrait of a vet who can’t escape his combat experience. Like Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, Ash’s philosophy of detection is to poke a stick into something and see what happens. His discoveries will keep the reader on edge and whet the appetite for more from this author.”Library Journal

“Superb . . . A tautly written thriller . . . with a convincing plot, mean and nasty and full of real character. Edgy and slowly boiling to a thrilling climax, this book will hold your interest long after a late night of reading.”—

Check it out!

About the Author

Nicholas Petrie received his MFA in fiction from the University of Washington, won a Hopwood Award for short fiction while an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, and his story “At the Laundromat” won the 2006 Short Story Contest in the The Seattle Review, a national literary journal. A husband and father, he runs a home-inspection business in Milwaukee. The Drifter is his first novel.

Workbook 8 | May: Gentleman, Restart Your Engine

Ahhh . . . May! Probably my favorite month of the year for a few reasons: one, the residue of Winter isfully shaken off and Spring finally in full swing; two, usually great weather (tho we didn’t get it until later in the month this time), and the NBA Playoffs enter the more competitive second and third rounds. You can usually count on the temperatures not being too extreme either way with lots of sun and blue in the sky, sometimes with those big fluffy pillow-y clouds. Regular readers here know the weather plays a bigger role on my general disposition than I’d like, ideally. Last month’s Workbook made that painfully clear. As I write this monthly update on this fine Memorial Day morning, we’re in our second straight day of mostly blue sky and 80+ degree temperature. I foresee a cookout on my horizon (this is posting after said cookout).

For May there’s more actual activity than April to report. It still wasn’t as productive as advertised or desired, but in the spirit of the Indy 500, the engine is revved up and purring nicely. Since it has been a month of renewal of sorts, there’s actually a few new projects to announce.

As usual since I’m cagey with actual titles of unfinished, unpublished works, the “project” names are just place-holding codenames or working titles. Previously published items have actual titles.

Writing – Prose

All Things Considered (short story) – For the past couple of weeks I’ve been giving this one a spit-polish shining, and I’m nearing the final stretch of that. Originally written in 1998 and finally published in 2010, my intention has been to re-publish it on Smashwords, where it once was as well, but in an inferior state (incidentally the same state it was in the The Cedar Chest anthology), but I also want to feature it on the still forthcoming Ruckerpedia magazine site that I’ve been slacking on launching (more on that later). While I’ve been re-reading and refining the prose in this old story, it occurred to me that even as one of my longest ever short stories finished (it approaches 6000 words), there’s so much more story to be told that it’s begging to be expanded into something bigger, like a small novella. I’ve finally admitted to myself that as it currently exists it is a mere snapshot into the three main characters’ lives and that there’s so much in the past, present and future of the characters teased on the page already. It begs further mining, and I think that with enough focus it could pretty much write itself. Maybe I’ll make that a goal for its 20th anniversary in two years. The tricky part that remains – as is the case with working on any really old story – is the fact that it takes place in the era in which it was written, the late 90s. It’s a period piece now for crying out loud.

Project: Blood-Borne (novel series) – No comment. For now.

Project: Comeback (initiative) – this is the codename for my supposed return to short story writing and publishing, of which I took leave back in 2011-12 to focus on editing, journalism and music. It’s an initiative, really. It always gets stalled by my focusing on nurturing the older children I’ve already released into the wild. It’s like I’m that parent who knows he didn’t quite do the best job rearing his offspring prior to their going off to college and now that they’ve graduated I just want to make sure they’re the best citizens they can be, even in a society that cares very little about them. Hence, why “All Things Considered” is getting the attention it is right now. However . . .

Project: Micro Mondays (writing exercise) – I really want to get something like this going, specifically on the (still) forthcoming Ruckerpedia magazine site. If I do ever get that ball rolling I should probably stockpile enough microfictions to ensure they land every Monday. Would love to be able to do that for 52 weeks straight someday. Nanofiction Wednesday could be cool too . . . okay, I’ll stop.

Writing – Comics

Project: Mr. Macabre – Didn’t talk about this one last month, but it was recently being reconfigured to its original graphic novel form with my lifelong best friend/musical partner/artistic brother-from-another-mother Joshua Hooten. But we’ve already shelved that for something more from scratch from the both of us (I’ve been kicking around the Mr. Macabre concept for nearly 20 years — first as an original comics idea, and later as a novels idea). It’s being benched for . . .

Project: Unsettled – An old germ of a concept I’ve had for a few years, but maybe only 5-10% developed. So that it’s ripe for Joshua and I to develop it from scratch as a co-creation of our own. Unlike with Project: Mr. Macabre, I didn’t populate this idea with characters and stories that I’ve had for two decades. We’re developing this one together, even Stevens. I want Joshua to be as fully invested from the ground up as I would be, and a large part of accomplishing that for an illustrator doing the lion’s share of the work is designing the characters from whole cloth in full collaboration rather than from dictation. We’re only about a week into this and we’re both busy/working/old/family men, so naturally it will be a slow burn. More as it develops.

Other Comics Projects – Plenty in waiting, but like starting a band and needing a drummer, none of these ideas can come to fruition without a devoted illustrator.

Writing – Journalism, er, Commentary & Blogging

Comic Book Fetish – I don’t really do “traditional” comics journalism anymore, I do what I like to call rogue analysis and commentary. I’m trying to be more active over at CBF, but a lot of my energy for it gets put into the CBU group on Facebook.

RuckOgnition – Ramping up my activity here as well. As always, the blog exists to keep me writing on a semi-daily basis so that I, although that was the idea in 2009 when I started, well before I finally embraced Facebook as my daily go-to for social media. The keystrokes there should be here, but alas. Still, I’m making an effort to stay active here.

Music – Band(s)

Neglect the Alarm – The latest hiatus continues, indefinitely. In fact, I’m getting the sense that the days for this band may be numbered a bit less than anticipated. It’s complicated. But in the past couple of weeks we were offered a spot on a June 2nd show with a band from Chicago at the same venue of our one and only previous show, and I had to turn it down because of our current state of flux. I hate letting others down just as much as I hate being let down. I do have a plan for how we can finish up our 5-song demo if things go completely south, but that will take a small monetary investment on my part. Let’s just say the situation on this band is developing and leave it at that for now.

Unnamed New Band Project #1 – Not sure this one will ever get off the ground without a drummer. Pretty much ‘nuff said there.

Unnamed New Band Project #2 – This was just conceived this past week as I approach my guitar partner from NTA about pursuing something different while NTA sorts itself out. Too early to describe, yet, but it would be heavier and more metal-leaning than NTA. Of course the initial task, like with all my other new band projects that have failed to materialize, is finding an available drummer, let alone the right one. So, it’s really too early to say more about this one yet.

Music – Solo

Singer-Songwriter Acoustic Project – Several songs still in various levels of finished/unfinished, and I truly want to get back to this project by the Fall and maybe record them as the long-not-awaited follow up Bridging the Disconnect that I self-produced and self-released in 2009. But I first must rebuild my home studio, since I sold a good portion of my gear three years ago following a layoff. And then, of course there is finding the time given all my literary goals and activities.

As always it’s an arduous balancing act of the arts for me. I should be two or three people instead of one.

New Websites – Will likely finally launch in June. Unlikely for it to be June 1st. Actually, who am I kidding, it will probably be July.

The unnamed music site is scratched from the whiteboard until further notice.

Next Month

I predict even more progress!

Currently Reading: Drifter the stunning debut suspense novel by Nicholas Petrie. I’m on Chapter 8 and really digging it. Check it out!

Currently Listening: to a shit-ton of audiobooks, already mentioned in Daybook 5 yesterday.

Daybook 5 | The Sound of Fiction

So sometime last week I had been lamenting the fact that while working at the day job I had burned myself out on listening to music and podcasts on my iPod and needed a third option, at the very least. That’s when the little light bulb went off in my head and alerted me that I would love to be listening to fiction while at work and could simply load my iPod up with audiobooks. Genius, right? Yeah, I thought so as well. So this past week I ventured to my local public library a few times with the intention of stocking up on audiobooks that I would burn to my PC and then migrate them over to my iPod. Sounds simple enough, and it essentially is, if a bit tedious since the minimum amount of discs I’ve found to be contained is 6, which of course was for a breezy crime novel. A lot of them are 12 – 14 discs, so as the saying goes, there’s no gain without pain.

The point I really want to make here is that after a week of listening to fiction, while also reading novels, I’ve found that it’s also served both my muse and my internal voice because just like reading, the auditory consumption also helps keep your prose and narrative skills sharp. And since I’m trying like crazy to get myself back on the road to regular writing, this daily activity is working its magic on a subconscious level. Moving forward, if I’m ever unable to gets some regular reading in, I’m going to resort to audiobooks.

The sound of fiction. It’s an underrated powerful thing in these days long since the old radio dramas of the 1940s were killed off by the advent of television in the 1950s.

It’s even got me thinking of doing some recorded readings of my own stories at some point. Then again, I dunno. While I may certainly have the voice for it, my Midwestern accent kind of spoils it a bit, IMO. So I might experiment with it, or simply leave it to the professionals.

I’ve checked out a whopping 18 audiobooks this past week and have listened to four thus far. The most notable one to this point has been Stephen King’s The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. When you’re a big time bestseller like Uncle Stevie – hell, an American institution, you tend to get the best production (i.e. budget) in audiobooks. Bad Dreams is another short story collection by Mr. King and with well over a dozen short stories, it also boasts just as many voice performers such as Dylan Baker, Hope Davis, Will Patton, Brooke Bloom and King himself, whose interludes include so many great Constant Reader addresses with backstory insights into the stories and poignant quotes, one of which I shared here the other day.

Now if you will please excuse me, I have a, um, plethora of discs to load up.

Lifebook 6 | Francis Coppola and I

Strolling down Memory Lane, somehow I forgot the significance of this detail, that my name is, after all these years, still associated with one Francis Ford Coppola. I was a two-time Guest Editor for one of his literary publications, in which I dutifully selected one of my favorite short stories ever, “The Junkie Muse” by Isabelle Carruthers (a pseudonym) for publication in Zoetrope: All-Story Extra’s 23rd issue in May 2000. All these years later I’m still in love with the story and reflect on its publication with pride. And my association with Mr. Coppola on the now defunct publication’s masthead is something of minor bragging rights, I suppose.


History lesson: Zoetrope: All-Story Extra (ASE) was an on-line supplement to Mr. Coppola’s fiction magazine, Zoetrope: All-Story (ZAS). Each month, All-Story Extra featured two new stories submitted by writers via Zoetrope’s on-line submissions site. The stories were chosen and edited by guest editors—also members of Zoetrope’s on-line submissions site—with assistance from the New York editorial staff of ZAS. ASE was created by Mr. Coppola and five members of Zoetrope’s online submissions site, who comprised the Peer Advisory Board (PAB). The PAB selected the Guest Editors and nominated the stories that the Guest Editors considered for ASE. Guest Editors could also consider stories featured in “The Top Three” stories and/or any others that they think worthy of publication. PAB reps Mare Freed and Jim Nichols were also the original Editorial Coordinators of ASE, which were essentially liaisons between the mother mag and the junior mag. My assigned EC during my time, Barbara Garrett, was a good friend and a joy to work with during my stint.

Fun Fact: I was the only guest editor to A.) Serve on two consecutive issues of Zoetrope: All-Story Extra [issues 22 (May 2000) and 23 (June 2000)]; B.) Work without another guest editor (issue #22).  So in all, I selected three stories, which also included “Sonora Coyote” by Steve Frederick and “Weekend at Nguyen’s” by Mark Epting.






Quote: Stephen King’s Writing and Sports Analogy

Writing novels is a little like playing baseball where the game goes on for as long as it needs to, even if that means 20 innings. Writing short stories is more like playing basketball or football, you’re competing against the clock, as well as the other team.

When it comes to writing fiction, long or short, the learning curve never ends.

— Taken from the introduction to The Bazaar of Bad Dreams (2015).


In searching Google for an image of the master storyteller, I came to realize that there are countless quotes of the man out there. And they’re all so damned astute and poignant, which is the norm with him. I’ve quoted him here and abroad before. With so many great quotes in abundance I might have to start making this a Friday ritual around here. Friday Uncle Stevie Quote Day or something.

I’m only half-joking.

Lifebook 5 | Life . . . It’ll Kill Ya

I’ve fallen off the wagon a lil’ bit of late, but thankfully that hasn’t manifested into weight gain. Was thinking recently that although many battles with sugar have been won, the war continues, probably in perpetuity. Meanwhile, a war with sodium should probably get underway soon.

There’s a strange irony in the fact that life tries to kill ya on a daily basis.