This short book by William F. Aicher is a quick read if you opt to treat it as such. On the other side of the same coin, we find something dense that is better digested in smaller pieces over time. The later is how I decided to approach this work. Aicher takes us through a narrative of a mind that is haunted, though it seeks a closure that can never be found. Short chapters, or ‘calibrations’ offer 74 separate segments over 186 pages. It’s an uncompromising romp through psychological terrain of the damaged variety, right up my ally. Calibration 74 is a harrowing exploration of experimental fiction that is worth a deeper dive, so give it the time of day.
Rich in thought provoking prose and vivid imagery, I take solace in relatable poetry, if such a thing should be admitted. Our narrator is unreliable in direct ways that relate to numerical obsession, in the moments where he miscounts. It happened on one occasion where he’s counting large numbers, making big picture statements/asking big picture questions between the numbers,
[One billion four hundred twenty-eight million two hundred sixty-three five hundred and nine.
The soul is indistinguishable from the body.
One billion four hundred twenty-eight million two hundred sixty-three five hundred and nine.
Where do we go when we die?]
Numerical obsession and the fallacy of the human mind is the vessel that moves the story forward. Before and after this hiccup, the count progresses as expected. This break from the logical pattern is enough to suggest the blur is intentional.
I found solace in the rhythmic use of language. It’s a scattered collection of ashes and even at my slow pace I struggled with authorial intent, so I placed my own meaning where I saw fit. Between the covers, Aicher’s philosophical background is in full view. Direct answers are elusive, but that’s the fun of this kind of read. I definitely recommend Calibration 74. Give it a read.
I’d like to take this opportunity to indulge what I’ve been up to. While I’d prefer to reserve this blog to a few specific topics, like reviewing music and books, I’ll drop in to give an occasional update from my side of the screen.
Sellout Productions has long been a name of a fantasy of mine. I came up with it in high school, and all these years later it feels right for these endeavors. At this time, Sellout Productions is more or less a front for my work. My self-published novels and a singular set of enamel pins embody the beginning. While my books will continue to be my primary focus, the itch to make music has returned to me, and I intend to utilize my previous experience in audio production to work on new material with a tangible goal in mind. I hope to finish writing and producing an album in 2021. I fully intend to release it on my Bandcamp page, with wider distribution to follow shortly thereafter. From there, I hope to establish some consistency and produce/release new material on a regular basis. For the sake of soulless branding, the name of the project will be the same I had used for the music I made in college: Sellout. I’m looking to make instrumental electronic music, but that’s pretty broad. I’ll just have to shout it from the rooftops again once there’s something for you to hear.
Branching out in another direction, I’ve opened an Etsy shop. That’s where the enamel pins are available, with other products in the works. These items may take some extra time to produce, as I don’t want to simply flood the market with whatever product that could bear a logo. I may’ve gotten ahead of myself in opening the shop before I had more than one item available, but as any stable business owner will tell you, “I’m winging it.” It’s fine…I’m learning lessons on the fly. I got excited, and the first set of pins has been well received thus far. There’ll be more options soon, just not a plethora for the sake of quantity.
For those of you still around, I appreciate you reading this far. This is my attempt to dehumanize myself down to a brand, all while remaining vulnerable and authentic.
In a story that follows multiple people, I found myself knee deep in personal reflection. The Little Demons Inside by Micah Chaim Thomas supplied me with a full range of emotion through clear, thoughtful prose. He’s created a story world that is all too real. It’s not a place I want to live, but I’m afraid we may occupy a version of it.
The book opens with fire and action, we’re given chemistry that lingers and becomes romance, and the horrors of corrupt people with power threaten us from all angles. The writing is strong, transitions are fluid, and the characters are fleshed out people who have brought me to care.
Various characters, coupled with the narrator offer personal insight that critiques human nature with modern technology. As we’re still breaking the ice, I caught a line that seems a familiar thought to me. While describing smartphones, “You see, these narcissism toys, they keep us looking at the surface, they keep us from searching inward” (72). What we find by the end of the novel is that internal vision…and it’s bleak. The constant cultural conditioning to be the best little cog you can be is only overshadowed by a dream where your digitized narcissism is harvested for profit, leaving the subject apathetic or depressed. As with social media, you are the product. The algorithm figures you out, and your own tendencies become the fruit for an advertising campaign. The story doesn’t beat you over the head with this, but it’s where I found myself.
Though the darkness of the philosophy wants to exist in a vacuum, Thomas offers various insights to humor and humility that shines through. We’re left with a quality novel that fulfilled my expectations in that I was both made to think, and entertained.
The passage of time drives more dialog when the emphasis is on a full decade, as opposed to that of a singular year. I’ve lurked through the dregs of social media to find people have listed their accomplishments, from surviving to personal/professional milestones. It has been uplifting to see my friends and loved ones describe the things that made them feel most alive in the last ten years. I’ve found in them the great ability to inspire others with their plans and resolutions. Instead of the old eye roll, I found their goals to be within reach. I’m rooting for you all.
In the past decade I published three novels, and had two short stories published in an anthology. Those books are available here. I’m starting 2020 with a new novel that’ll be available in February. As Flowers with Frost concerns itself with the family of a young child who claims to be the reincarnation of a murder victim. The child leads those who listen to a shallow grave, and the accused. Pre-sale information should be available within the next week.
Short term goals always include the drafting of new projects. I’m currently 17,000 words deep on a sci-fi/satire novella, and am researching for a full length novel of the Midwestern Gothic/family drama variety. My 2020 writing goals also consist of generating short stories for a collection that I intend to release in the future. In terms of writing, most of this year will be spent working on first drafts, and pushing the new novel.
On that note, I’m so excited to share As Flowers with Frost with the world. The idea struck me out of nowhere, and from the moment I took interest in the subject matter, I was compelled to write it. As I do with all ideas that I think are cool, I slept on it. Once it had survived the twenty-four hour test and I still thought it was cool, I knew it was a project I’d see through to the end.
I have no way of reading minds or the future. I still can’t make up or down about navigating the way to writing full time. I’m just now getting a real focus on my efforts with regards to trial and error, and have collected the experience of numerous failures. These failures are a source of pride, as I’ve learned something from them. I’m going to continue to learn and grind in 2020.
Thanks to those of you who’ve been supportive over the years, and thanks to you who are willing to give me a chance. I look forward to the potential of a new day.
Renee and Nathan Matheson bring a child into the world. Hannah is their vision of the future. They’re like most new parents: sleep deprived, stressed out, and doing the best they can with what they’ve got. Once Hannah is a little over three years old, she begins to recall memories of another life. Nathan insists that their daughter has a vivid imagination, but Renee is taken aback by such stories. Hannah insists she is the reincarnation of a murder victim. She leads the way to a shallow grave and the accused. From there it spirals out of control.
Last spring I was knee deep in editing Beatrix and the Wooden Dagger. While trying to distract myself, I stumbled upon an article about children who claim to be reincarnated, thought it ridiculous, and then went down that rabbit hole. I read books on the topic, and decided I had to craft my own narrative. It sparked a piece of writing that took shape with such an organic flow that it felt effortless.
As the last of December became memory I finished the first draft of this short novel! I offered the roughest draft to a couple peers, and let them tear it up. While they went at it, I stepped away. With proper space established, I came back to it with their notes, and have continued to build upon what was already there. It’s calling for one more solid sweep before I send it to my editor for a professional polish.
What I’m getting at is I’m excited. I’m confident in my work, but this is a piece I want to share with enthusiasm. Other works I’ve released into the world without a plan, and a “whatever happens” attitude. But I want to get this book in front of you. Without the final pieces in place, I don’t have a time frame to which I can promise to adhere, but it needs said now: As Flowers With Frost is on the way.
I haven’t successfully finished Nanowrimo since 2012. No big deal, I don’t have to hit the milestone of 50,000 words for it to be a fruitful endeavor. Nanowrimo has been a useful motivator, and I’m grateful for that much. It’s a common banner under which the many come to encourage each other. It carries a notion that for this period of time our craft isn’t solitary, as the act is rooted in community. We leave the islands behind, and indulge ourselves in this choir. It is an exercise in writing that offers an attainable goal, if some pieces are assembled beforehand. Yeah, I believe in having a plot beforehand. Don’t worry about me… you do your thing.
Now I write year round. November is unique in that it offers the start of crappy weather before the seasonal depression really kicks in. Staying inside is still tolerable as the season inches ever close to bitter cold. It’s a good time to write.
Though I’ve only hit 50k once I have participated in Nanowrimo to some degree every year since 2011. Some years have been easier to make the time than others. Creative writing took a backseat during my time as an English major. Other circumstances have complicated getting in a proper writing session, as life tends to get in the way. That’s fine. Your work isn’t going to fizzle out if the numbers get away from you. Don’t go in with the mindset of defeat, but don’t stress yourself out over this.
(from that one time I did it!)
This year will be my first Nanowrimo as a father. I work a full time job that eats an hour and some change of drive time a day. This isn’t going to be easy, but I’ve got a plot, some characters, and chapters mapped out in such a way as to facilitate a story. I’m excited about the narrative approach, and intend to see it through regardless of how November plays out. This project will be my first time playing with fiction in a way that isn’t grounded in purely realistic fashion. As Flowers With Frost will play with the supernatural, and if I don’t jump any sharks I’m confident in a draft of potential quality (pending a few rounds of edits, of course).
Be confident that it can be done. I don’t necessarily believe in you, because I probably don’t know you… but I’m often willing to root for the underdog. My rhetoric doesn’t fully enable you to believe in me. That’s okay, too. We’re in this together, and I wish you the best. Reach out to me. My Nano name is Sellout. I can pretend to know what I’m talking about, or you can send me general hate mail. Either way, let’s do something this November.
What’s the deal with the wooden dagger? It doesn’t appear anywhere in the text, so why is it in the title? What does it have to do with the story? The answer has to do with medieval theatre and use of props in character development. Characters in the medieval morality plays were often named for traits they were meant to embody. The vice figure was one of comic relief, meant to tempt and bring folly towards characters of virtue or other such positive traits. The vice often turns to the audience, and delivers lines by breaking the fourth wall. This brings about an inclusion so that the audience is in on the misdeeds.
They would carry a wooden dagger on stage. This prop was meant as a direct gesture to inform the audience, ‘Hey! I’m the villain.’ By the Renaissance, Shakespeare had dropped the prop, but perfected the role of vice in Richard III and Iago of Othello. These characters turned to the audience, told them of the intent, and then turned back to the story world with their malice in practice. A contemporary version of this that has resonated with audiences would be comic book antihero Deadpool, or average politician Frank Underwood in House of Cards.
That’s my aim with Beatrix. She’s an antihero of sorts, who wants to fill you in on her thoughts and intent as she does whatever her wretched heart desires. The book consists of five stories that span over the course of her life, and plays with time. It’s framed with bits of the thriller, cultural satire, and dysfunctional family drama.
That’s the deal with the wooden dagger. I framed this character after the many vices I’ve come across, and hope to turn you off to humanity with her antics. If you’re still with me, give it a shot!