Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Coolness Gap - Musicians Versus Writers

Have you ever noticed that musicians seem a lot cooler than writers? Picture a successful musician, say, Bruce Springsteen. I mention Springsteen because:

A) He's from my era and plays the kind of music I listen to,

B) He's still successful after thirty-five years, and

C) He's from my era and plays the kind of music I listen to.

But if you're younger and hipper than me - another way of saying that would be "if you're reading this" - feel free to substitute the musical artist of your choice, but it has to be someone who has been very successful for a long time.

Now, take Springsteen (or your appropriate substitute) and compare him to, say, Stephen King, a writer who is also from my era and who also has been successful for around thirty-five years.

When you think of Springsteen you think of four hour shows in front of packed houses filled with screaming fans, sweat dripping, guitar chords ripping through the night, Big Man Clarence Clemons wailing on the sax.

Now picture Stephen King, and what do you see? A guy who has become arguably the most successful American novelist ever, at least in a commercial sense, but a guy typing away in his attic, hair falling down over his glazed, manic eyes while he conjugates a verb or something.*

Let's face it, musicians have really gotten this public perception thing down while writers have a long way to go. For example, a musician says, "I laid down a couple of really hot tracks today." A writer says, "Great day today, I wrote fifteen hundred words! First draft, of course."

Now you tell me: Which one sounds like he's going to go out for drinks in his leather jacket with a different chick on each arm, and which one sounds like he's going to relax by getting out his trusty Singer sewing machine and stitching up that pesky hole in his LARPing costume?**

This is not to say that being cool is the most important thing in the world; at least I hope it's not because if it is, I might just as well hang it up right now. And we all know there are much more important things in this life than your coolness quotient, at least once you graduate junior high. But still, wouldn't it be kind of, I don't know, cool to be viewed by people as cool?

And as a general rule, I think it's safe to say that when most people think of musicians, they think, "Hip, maybe just a little dangerous." You know, cool. When most people think of writers, they think, "When was the last time that guy took a shower?"

I'm not sure what the solution is, or even if a solution is possible. And guys like Stephen King could care less whether you think they're cool as long as you're willing to purchase their books. Stephen King's got so much money he could buy the Merriam-Webster company just to eliminate the word "cool" from their dictionary if he wanted to.

But as a struggling writer, it would be sort of cool (there's that damn word again) if people pictured me like I was a struggling musician instead. Unfortunately I don't know how to play an instrument and my voice sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard, so I had better get back to my manuscript now. I really should take a shower, but I'll just get to that tomorrow. Maybe. I'll need to bang out my fifteen hundred words first.

*Note to Mr. King: I know I'm not even on your radar, but if you should ever happen to see this post, please don't crush me like a bug. When I said "glazed, manic eyes," I meant that in the most positive, admiring way possible. And remember, I did call you "arguably the most successful American novelist ever." Don't forget that part.

**This is not meant to imply that there's anything wrong with LARPing. Or that it's weird in any way. Everyone should be free to relax in whatever manner they choose, and when you can't get a date it leaves you with a lot of empty time to fill.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Of Foul Balls and Typing Monkeys

I've been watching baseball for over forty years, since the late 1960's. Not continuously, of course, although my wife might argue otherwise. I'm a huge sports fan to begin with, but baseball was my first love as a kid and it remains my favorite sport today, barely edging football and anything with cheerleaders for the top spot.

As a long-time Red Sox fan, I've pretty much seen it all: No-hitters and thirty-run games, World Championships and epic collapses, pitchers throwing no-hitters and batters hitting for the cycle, miraculous comeback wins and debilitatingly depressing defeats.

But in all the time I've spent watching professional baseball, I have never seen what I saw during the Red Sox-Texas Rangers game today in the steamy afternoon heat of Arlington, Texas.

In the fifth inning of a game in which the Rangers were leading the Red Sox 3-2, Texas' Josh Hamilton fouled a pitch from Junichi Tazawa in the air down the third base line. The ball ended up in the second deck,where it was caught for a souvenir by a kid who looked like he was maybe ten or twelve years old. Nothing special there; the kid had come prepared, wearing his glove, ready and waiting for the exact opportunity that presented itself.

On the very next pitch from Tazawa, Hamilton again fouled a ball in the air down the third base line, in the exact same spot as the previous ball, where it was caught by the exact same kid!

I'm no mathematician, so I have no idea what the statistical odds against that situation occurring might be. I have seen, on very rare occasions, the same fan get two balls hit to him or her in the same game, but on consecutive pitches? Never. Not even close.

The stadium the Texas Rangers play in holds close to fifty thousand people, although there were not that many people at today's game. So if you can imagine a structure large enough to hold that many people, and then imagine an object the size of a baseball being thrown at around ninety miles an hour to a batter trying to hit it with a stick, and further imagine that ball ending up in the same spot on two consecutive pitches, you don't even have to be a sports fan to appreciate the sheer unlikelihood of that happening.

Not to beat a dead horse (why would you want to do that anyway?), but I just can't wrap my mind around what I saw in that game today. Maybe it's just the oppressive heat getting to me, maybe nobody else cares about two August foul balls in a Major League Baseball game, but that was the sports equivalent of the old theory that if you let a monkey type random letters on a keyboard long enough, eventually you will get Shakespeare.

His work, that is, not the actual guy, who as we all know is long dead. That would just be gross. And boring.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Broken Hearts and Haunted Houses

One thing I discovered when I started writing short stories and trying to find places to get them published was that there are plenty of outstanding writers who toil in relative obscurity, and not all that many places for them to showcase their work. So when I learned of a new online magazine called "House of Horrors" that was looking for horror/dark fiction stories to include in their first issue, I didn't waste any time submitting a story, which was eventually accepted and included in that debut issue.

Now, House of Horrors editor Samantha Cox has compiled a charity anthology called Mausoleum Memoirs, a book which includes twenty-nine scary stories involving the theme of haunted houses. Included in this book are efforts from talented authors like Charlotte Emma Gledson, Sarah Basore, Gayle Arrowood, LB Goddard and S.E. Cox herself. Oh yeah, and me.

The best part? Not only do you get to scare yourself silly reading this nearly two hundred page compilation, but by purchasing the book you are helping children who could really use your assistance. All profits from the sale of Mausoleum Memoirs are being donated to the official charity of House of Horrors, the Birmingham Children's Hospital Intensive Care Unit in Birmingham, U.K.

In the Acknowledgements page prefacing Mausoleum Memoirs, Samantha Cox describes the issue she wants to help fix: "At present there are a lot of children being born or developing heart problems and there aren’t enough intensive care beds and neo-natal care beds to hold these children. Because of this, a lot of them are on long waiting lists to get the treatment they need. Some even die. I too have had a taste of this terrible affliction on our children. Both of my daughters were born with heart defects. I am lucky enough to say that we have come out the other side with them alive and well. The same cannot be said for some families."

If you'd like to earn more about Birmingham Children's Hospital, check out this link.

Wanna scare yourself and help out sick children? Follow this link to purchase Mausoleum Memoirs. The two hundred page trade paperback is available for $14.04, or is available as a download for just $3.51.

Yeah, times are tough financially, and if you're a reader, you probably need to seriously consider what you will be spending your hard-earned cash to buy. But if you do select Mausoleum Memoirs, as Sam Cox says in the Acknowledgements page of the book, "Birmingham Children's Hospital thanks you from the bottom of their broken hearts."