Thursday, September 21, 2017

Slow Motion Murder, Now In Progress

Sometime between the summer of 1987 and spring 1988, comic book love atrophied, and I started a migration towards movies. We lived in Ukiah, Oregon. Of the two grocery stores in town, Granny's stocked the newest video rentals. Slowly and then quickly, my lawn mowing income began filtering towards rentals rather than the discounted comic book options available through the monthly Westfield Comics subscription service.

In the form of a VCP, technology was the change agent. 

That is no mis-spelling. A Video Cassette Player. Not the standard Video Cassette Recorder finding a home with millions of Americans.  

My parents had made the call that there wasn't anything worth recording on TV. The full splurge avoided. Roughly 15 years later, they would have two functional large screen TVs within 30 feet of each other. Further, both parents currently possess cellphones and at least one Kindle whereas the flip phone in my possession remains in its original packaging, unactivated. I am collateral damage to the influence of thriftiness.

Frequent rentals included Aliens, Star Trek IV, Dragnet, and the likely candidate for the most viewed of them all, Three Amigos
The frequency of viewings played off of the comic book collector's bug. Month in, month out, you nab the newest number in a series. The standard formula for $.75 issues translates to today's four-colored $3.99 editions. It's all about the beats. Intro situation, present conflagration, a slight rumination and catching of breath, and then hell-bent to the final panel, either for resolution or set-up for continuation of the journey. I liked what I liked, and I liked it over and over again. 

Feeding into the change was the existence of Premiere, an oversized and fat monthly dedicated to new releases. The introduction of home video options added fuel to my conversion. Arguably, without the technological revolution of video machine ownership and videotape renting, I would have stayed on the comic book path. Between Pendleton, Hermiston, and La Grande, the Eastern Oregon theaters within driving distance provided a grand sum of (likely) nine screens; not nearly enough avenues to channel Hollywood's weekly output, and posing almost systemic opportunities for dreaded product overlap.

I know the first issue of Premiere I bought featured a cover story on Good Morning, Vietnam. The thing I can't remember is the chicken-or-egg value to the situation. Did the fact of the cover story push me towards the movie or did seeing the film in theaters push me towards the magazine? And then there is the wild card,  the potential infinite regressive, that the Pendleton cinema didn't show the movie. Would I still have come into possession of the magazine? If not, would my migration away from comic books have stalled out?  A certified Rumsfeldian 'unknown unknowns' quandary.

Buying comic books from a subscription service warped me significantly. Breathless ads or 'word on the street' often determined my consumption. I probably wouldn't have gotten into Alan Moore's Miracleman except for the ad Ecplise Comics ran in Comic Buyer's Guide.  I wouldn't have subscribed to the inaugural Prestige format title The Dark Knight Returns except for a DC house ad. 

That's the low wattage damage. Far worse, to this day I am compulsively indecisive when it comes to reading a book by an author simply due to the length of their bibliography. I fret and frown and have measurably thinned my scalp due to the inexcusable notion that if I eat one Anne Perry or Julian Barnes potato chip, I must then consume all of their potato chips. Once upon a time, the notion to war my way through every entry in multiple oeuvres was feasible, but there is the physics of the stomach, and there is the physics of the dinner plate plus the inelasticity of time marching on, variables culminating in the deduction that I cannot cram it all in, not in this lifetime. Once injected into the bloodstream, the completist virus renders rational thought opaque.   

The desire to be informed about movies fattened into near-obsession. I know I had at least a one-year subscription to American Film and then about a similar run on US Weekly, the latter courtesy of Publishers Clearinghouse discounted magazine subscriptions. 

Once we moved from Ukiah to Pomeroy, I'd breathlessly flip through the school library USA Today, scrounging for the latest Tinseltown tidbit in the 'Life' section. That's where I first learned about the John Hughes magnum opus Uncle Buck and the never made but oh-so-tantalizing Tom Cruise/Michael Keaton Some Like It Hot remake. I watched Entertainment Tonight religiously, never quite taking to Mary Hart's goddess stems and happily never going into seizures courtesy her voice. 

The diagnosable event signifying the destructive nature information possession inflicts was the constant check out of the same issues of Newsweek and TIME from the Ukiah School Library just to keep near the paragraphs informing readers about movies in the works featuring SNL alumni. The Newsweek 'Newsmakers' column commenting on Funny Farm, The Great Outdoors, and Scrooged while the TIME 'People' snippet concentrated solely on Scrooged -- something of a bigger deal than your normal big screen comedy given the 1988 release was Bill Murray's first "starring" foray since Ghostbusters (important enough a Lewiston, Idaho theater brought it to town, providing an accommodating if not life-altering experience. Meanwhile, Funny Farm and The Great Outdoors proved underwhelming home viewing experiences. This didn't stop me from buying a movie poster of the former and push-pinning it on my bedroom wall). 

At some point the obvious solution to constant checkout presented itself, and I Xeroxed the articles. I must have. I still possess the Xerox copies of a 1983 People magazine article celebrating Chevy Chase's Vacation movie success and the 1988 Newsweek behind-the-scenes report from the London set of Tim Burton's first Batman film as well as several William Gibson articles, a Starlog Douglas Adams interview, and innumerable newspaper clippings devoted to media figures. Having recycled dozens of Premiere and Rolling Stone issues over the last few years, it only stands to reason multitudes of Xeroxed articles and clippings experienced the same pulpish fate.

My addiction to movie news seems so quaint compared to the current allowable state. 

Armed with phones, co-workers a good 20 years my senior scroll and swipe and flick past information for minutes at a time. I don't think they are particularly seeking anything other than an outlier. It's like running your fingers over a flat surface, only coming to a stop upon the blemish. Blemish investigated, the search resumes.

When I collected comic books, most courtesy the Westfield subscription service, I gleamed some industry knowledge from Bullpen Bulletins but most of the comic book education sourced from The Westfield Newsletter, the 'bonus' tucked in with my monthly wad. 

In one preview of the summer's upcoming releases, the Amazing Heroes Preview Special was touted by The Westfield Newsletter as a must-have for the simple reason that 'often reading about comics is more fun than reading the comics themselves.'   

It would be impossible to find the human being who would actually read a Preview Special cover-to-cover. Clocking in at 146 pages, for example, the summer 1986 Preview Special hosts teeny-tiny type inviting browsing rather than submersion. 

Fun could be the driver in people's phone habits.  Swiping through a vast multitude of possible immersion points bestows a certain godlike air. You stay as informed as most other people. Knowledge is a mercurial, liquid concept. There are levels of knowledge, deep to intermediate to surface to surface-fleeting. Come the deluge every waking second, surface-fleeting acts as status quo, a placeholder until the next device arrives, gimmick-rich, attention-thinning, fracturing the current state into even more tranches. The important part is that the processor works and information flows. Knowledge of the information is superseded by the knowledge that there is information. 

I would say I am as sick as every person owned by their phone. Just in a different way.

Comic book collecting and then the movie obsession were states controlled by narrow supply, income level, and tactile experience. The Hey !! Kids Comics spinner typical to grocery stores could store only a finite amount of goods. The Westfield Comics monthly order form could only list so much, and I could only buy so much. My movie viewing habits were limited by the local grocery store stocked titles and the timeclock my parents were on when we went to town, first Pendleton, and then later, Lewiston.

It's not to say that there aren't time and financial limits facing people possessing nomadic devices but those aside, in the moment, the interaction with something as basic as browsing the Newsarama homepage presents multiple links, multiple opportunities to start drilling down (although the likelihood of sequential progress is anathema to our friend the cloud).

Thrusting teenaged-Me into a world where the whole world more or less could rest in my hands frightens me. My capacity for focused thought is as damaged as anyone living in the world of screens. I can't help but worry that any adult that might steer the 2017-thrust teenaged-Me clear of phone-addiction/normal phone-use would be the type of animal I often see walking down the street, pocketing their device for a full ten-count before drawing it back out of its temporary holster, signing in, and then rejoining the slow-motion murder of their brain, now in progress.  



Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Big Empty

Without a divine act of agent-intervention, the homepage will soon look like that.  Or simply a JPG of Exit.  Jenny's artwork is pretty, but after dragging manuscripts through Grammarly I've lost my remaining love for the earlier books.  

Each time I solicit representation I swear it will be the last time I go through the process.  I planned on skipping it altogether for Exit but went ahead anyway.  Writing Surfer On The Drift assured safety from future whoring of my wares since it's a sequel to Exit.  

At a certain point, I placed a 'selfie' on my website bio and I think even on Awesomegang.  To my delight, the photo is near-nowhere to be found.  Even Google-ing 'Brian Stillman' and 'Awesomegang' gives the following result:


I don't know what is wrong with me.  Fairly every other person on the planet enjoys putting pictures of their face up for view.  We are bedazzled by the easy magic of the self-image on the screen, an agreed upon portion of the self-promotion puzzle.  Selling a book is also selling the author.  If I were to go a further step in making potential readers love me (if not out-and-out 'lurv' me) and delve into a podcast or YouTube channel, I would still funnel energies into avoiding accurate self-representation.   

All facial hair removed, my wife tells me I look like Timothy McVeigh. Not good. Worse I've heard my voice on answering machines.  Upon waking in the dank and dark, it is the voice the kidnapped hear droning through a muck-encrusted basement door. No one needs to hear that.  I consider myself capable of masking my real voice best with a poor cousin to Bullwinkle's trademark nasal patter.  I don't know how long I could sustain it before going dry mouthed but even in a world of reaction videos would there really be anyone out there capable of withstanding such an auditory assault for more than fifteen seconds?  

Still, worse than acknowledging a measurable deficit of interest in my 'finished' works is feeling kicked loose from the usual stable ground.  I can't get back into the swing of productive assembly. The idea for some sort of quickie horror novel flared and fled.  Pen Pal. Seeded from the lyrics to 'Cactus', an old Pixies song (and more recent David Bowie cover), in particular the line '...and a letter in your writing doesn't mean you're not dead.'  

It would've been written in first-person.  Lucid and Exit are oodles better than The Lipless Gods because of that choice in authorial voice but the whole disintegrating narrator genre was perfected long, long ago, and the world will survive without one more story of some straight, nearly middle-class white man flailing to retain control of his middling kingdom.  

Last September the word churn came to a complete stop.  And then I cut loose early this year and beat out two books in quick succession. Until I can properly snap-to-it, I might just keep hanging my head here, sighing, about as bright and cheery as Eeyore mourning the absence of his tail.  


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Hey !! Kids Comics

Tugging and pulling the two old books through Grammarly, work, Harvey and Irma, and a boodle of household distractions have all but quashed the 'creative' portion of the day.

Outside of flailing tweets/pitches for the Pitchmad (#pitmad) event I've barely thought of my dead 12-year-old.  

Participating agents tiptoeing through the tulips of unpublished masterpieces would 'heart' the MS tickling their fancy.  

As I refuse to splurge and join the rest of humanity and sell my soul to a handheld screen, I couldn't jump on the Pitchmad 8 AM start point. I don't think it matters. At this point I know when it comes to getting an agent or getting published I'm the equivalent of a minor league mainstay, a former high school baseball star fast approaching 29 and struggling to digest the cold hard fact the beckoning to the show will never ever arrive.      

For the last year or so my reading has consisted of virtually nothing but comic books.  Between writing three novels and starting a new job, it's all my brain can absorb.  I chugged 30 Bukowski books, mostly his poetry, and pondered the fact that I'm a good decade-and-a-half too old to properly enjoy those angry-boozy-floozy waters. And the few novels I have read in the last couple of months - including The Late Show and Forever And A Death - annoyed the holy living shit out of me.  The former because Connelly's schtick is wearing thin, the latter because Westlake is best writing bleak noir type stuff.  Anything outside of that narrow corner - especially a reworked 007 screenplay idea - lacks punch.

Now the endless parade of funny books depresses me. Too much good stuff. Or just too much. 

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Lipless Gods

Probably a mistake to check the news before writing or editing or copyediting.  
The waste of time only magnified by the plight of others or the potential fights / wars on the horizon.
But I am nothing if not dutiful.  
Also, the video game aspect of Grammarly is addictive.  
That initial score is '75'?  Give me five minutes, I'll unsquint those modifiers and turn a blind eye to my 1,000th use of 'sort of,' and notch a solid 93.  

Lord, but what was I thinking when I wrote The Lipless Gods?  I even talk sentences aloud to make sure we've achieved readability.  
And still.  
And still...


Sipe could just start walking.  Pass the tavern up ahead, the post office, Pleshette’s, and he might just keep walking once he came alongside The Sleepy Bear Inn.  He was a machine, according to the other guys.  Out of the Old Man’s crew, on stakeout, Sipe the one that could stay awake without the support of cigarettes or coffee or pills.  Some voice related that if he walked all the long way out to Butcher’s Camp, Faye would welcome him with open arms.  His choice of rooms.  His choice of ghosts, the namesake, the dead men and their kills alike could come and tell him their tales and Sipe’s resume highlights would materialize, from Bryce Bennett back to the first, a drug addicted former Microsoft bottom feeder that shot some junk heroin into a vein right in front of Sipe, and spasmed and foamed at the mouth, and shit himself, Sipe choking him out to make sure in the moldy, moist basement of a grayed out Wallingford house one day in a long, long ago May, back before Greta was even pregnant and Connie’s birth mother was alive, if conspicuously inattentive to the fruit of her womb.


Sipe could just start walking.  Pass the tavern up ahead, the post office, Pleshette’s, and he might just keep walking once he came alongside The Sleepy Bear Inn.  He was a machine, according to the other guys.  Out of the Old Man’s crew, on stakeout, Sipe the one that could stay awake without the support of cigarettes or coffee or pills.  Some voice related that if he walked all the long way out to Butcher’s Camp, Faye would welcome him with open arms.  His choice of rooms.  His choice of ghosts. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Maybe The Kid With The Sword Should Attack The Author

My memory held The Lipless Gods as a tight, well-oiled machine.  
Oh ho.  
Oh ho, ho, no.  
47 chapters total.  24 have gone into the belly of the beast, aka Grammarly.  
My favorite instances are dense blocks of text.  
Dense paragraphs are patently unfriendly. I like what I've read of Kafka. I have a lot of Kafka on the shelves, but it goes unread because an absence of paragraph breaks is patently unfriendly.  
I've read lots of Elmore Leonard and some Faulkner.  So what birthed out in places of TLG is this dim-witted sub-creature that can't make up its mind: Am I art or am I actually readable?  
The lines below were a single-block of text.  
Maybe I think there's some ghostly English teacher hovering over me while I type, looking over my shoulder, holding out hope I achieve what they could not, prodding me on to be a show-off.    

The Laundromat located across the street from the Sleepy Bear some sort of socializing mecca.  A half-dozen people in front of the structure, the ones not wrinkled were overweight, and some were both, some going in and out, most staying in one place and clucking conversation. 
The one male in the seeming maelstrom, some hunk of meat in a motorized wheelchair.  A long orange flag sprouted off the wheelchair seat.  Something so motorists would make out the slow mover.  The guy’s chin appeared velcroed to his right shoulder.
The least of his problems, probably. The arms tucked in like he’d seized up in the midst of making fun of T. Rex and its useless little arms.  Flesh-wise, better off aborted, but maybe he was a genius like Stephen Hawking.  The body a betrayal, a real fuck you from God until you realized the three pounds encased in the skull operated at a higher capacity than 99.9% of the rest of the race.  
All the hens around him clucking about this and that local gossip and the whole time the grizzled meat in the polyester throne was solving the how’s and why’s of black holes and anti-matter and classic theorems even escaped Einstein’s reach.  
Sipe imagined the kid with the plastic sword attacking the man in the wheelchair. 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Bloodbath On The Mac (or) Grammarly Meets The Lipless Gods

Apparently, Grammarly thinks messages only arrive in e-form.  

Bad as Lucid proved, The Lipless Gods is even worse.  

And here I was, wondering why I wasn't drowning in adulation.  

Saturday morning, around 3 AM is the perfect time to discover nausea-inducing grammatical horrors.    

No poor reader had told me how bad it was, but it is the same as not wanting to tell some random stranger about their shiny zit or a fresh slime trail of snot their Kleenex directed down onto a shirt.

Below an example of the pre-Grammarly and post-Grammarly.  

Three of the little figurines rested on Tiffany’s desk.  All ugly faced.  A fisherman, a cop, and then some little kid, all looking like they’d been quashed down, their faces not moon-shaped like they were afflicted with Down’s Syndrome, more a genetic thing, in-breeding, and if not for long hair and a preponderance of bosom, female Beepers indistinguishable from the male. 

Three of the little figurines rested on Tiffany’s desk.  All ugly faced.  A fisherman, a cop, and then some little kid, all looking like they’d been squashed down, their faces not moon-shaped like they were afflicted with Down syndrome, more a genetic thing, inbreeding.  If not for long hair and a preponderance of bosom, female Beepers were virtually indistinguishable from their male counterparts.