Book Review – Close Your Eyes by Paul Jessup

One of Orwell’s key ideas in 1984 was the notion that language shaped thought. It wasn’t an altogether outlandish idea, even if he used it in sinister and double plus ungood ways. We need words for our brains to conceptualize things and explain them to other people. Without arguing the efficacy of communication or whether the intended meaning is delivered along with the rest of the message, it’s easy to understand how the languages we use can shape the way we think. Even Abbot’s Flatland touched on this idea when one of his characters was trying to describe the concept of “up” to a group of two-dimensional beings.

As I recall, Abbot’s character got locked up for the heresy of discussing extra dimensions beyond the required two.

Language is at the heart of Paul Jessup’s Close Your Eyes – a collection of two novellas and one short story stitched together into a novel. Each bit has its own flow, but they all work together to tell one meta story.

Jessup uses language as both the crux of the story where language is a virus and he uses language like a surgeon wields a scalpel as he weaves together the tale of a ship adrift in an ocean of stars. In the course of their adventures they stumble across a particularly virulent strain of language that rends sanity in twain. It would seem that even in a world of automatons made of wax and hyper-intelligent ship’s computers, the bug that strikes people down was something no one expected: Language.

It’s a unique way of dealing with diseases. The language in question is almost like a computer virus that infects, propagates, and ultimately consumes its victim’s minds. The novel alludes to the fact that the language has already decimated entire planets.

Jessup has his own style of writing that is unique in all the books I’ve read. At times it’s punchy, direct, and almost Spartan in its usage, at other times it flows with the symmetry of poetry. As if his concept of linguistic viruses wasn’t enough, he uses language to great effect to heighten the more surreal aspects of his world.

Think of Close Your Eyes as sci-fi with a purpose. It would be easy to say the ship’s AI is reminiscent of HAL from 2001 or the linguistic virus as similar to Stephenson’s Snow Crash, but Close Your Eyes goes in different directions. Even if the idea that there is nothing new under the sun is true, that doesn’t mean existing things can’t be rearranged into new and exciting things.

All in all, a good read.

“Language is a virus. Open this book. Read the words. Feel them infect you. Identity is a disease. Flip the pages. Stay up all night. Watch it transform you. You cannot deny it. You cannot close your eyes and shut out the changes. You know you want to. You really want to. But it’s too late. You can’t.

Critically acclaimed author of weird fiction Paul Jessup sends puppets to speak and fight for their masters. Welcome to a far future universe that stretches the imagination to breaking, where a ragtag crew of post-human scavengers rage and love on a small ship in the outer reaches of space, and moon-sized asylums trap the unwary in a labyrinth of experimentation in both identity and sanity.

Welcome to Close Your Eyes, a mind expanding surrealistic space opera that not only includes the out-of-print classic Open Your Eyes, but takes it to whole new level in a much awaited sequel.

Go ahead. Pick it up. Read it. Let it infect you.”

Get your copy on Amazon

Check out Paul’ Blog

 

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An Interesting Note About Twitter Writing Tags

When I was learning to program, I didn’t really get coding until I had to do it for a living. It’s all fine and good to understand how variables work or what LINQ does or how to stuff data into a database and get it back out later, but until I was given a task – write a program that will do this thing – I didn’t fully get coding. It was the act of being given a set of requirements and having to figure out how to convince a program to make those requirements work that taught me more than any class ever could.

The same thing happens with martial arts, or digging ditches, or writing blog posts. The theory is one thing, the actuality is something completely different. You can’t learn to dig ditches from a book, you learn to dig ditches by digging ditches. And if you want to get better at digging ditches, dig a lot of ditches.

martialshovels
Ditch digging martial arts. Yes, those are shovels. Trenching shovels have been used as weapons almost as long as they’ve been used as shovels.

It’s a common theme among writers that if you want to get better at writing, write a lot. Practice, after all, makes perfect. As long as the practice isn’t just further encoding bad habits like ending every sentence with “motherfucker”. Unless you’re Samuel L. Jackson, you don’t get to end sentences with “motherfucker” motherfucker.

Writing is supposed to be this free-form exercise of expression – and it is that to a certain extent – but it’s still nice to make some money doing it. To do that, you have to write things that people want to read. There are writers out there that refuse to sacrifice their artistic integrity to make a buck. It’s all fine and good to put on your black turtleneck, grab your ultra lightweight Mac laptop, and sit in a coffee shop all day writing wry observations about things, but if no one will read what you’ve written you’re just wasting time and turtlenecks.

That means writers need to be flexible enough to write things that people want to read, but clever enough to do it their own way. Because unless you’re Sean Penn, your book had better not suck if you want someone to read it. And sometimes that means you need to write something that doesn’t consist of wry observations or an awful lot of anxious alliteration, or , in my case, witty banter and explosions.

This is where breaking out comfort zones is a good thing and one great way to do that is to just do it. Just like with me and programming, sometimes you have to be given a task – write something – and not be able to write what you want about what you feel like writing about. There are writer’s groups out there that emphasize exactly this kind of task. Or you can go a different route and try playing some of the Twitter writing hashtag games. The writer’s group will give you better feedback, but you can play the Twitter games stone drunk in your underwear if you want.

The way all these games work – and you can usually just check Free Writing Events for up-to-date info – is there are daily hashtags that let you write something up and tag it for other people playing the game. Then everyone goes through and checks out the Tweets. Sometimes the themes are tricky to pull off creatively, sometimes they’re just fun. For instance, this morning’s #Thurstale theme was just “Favorite Line”, so Tweet out whatever your favorite line is. This is one of mine from 06/07/18.

#ThruLineThurs, on the other hand, had a distinct theme: Red Herring. There are a lot of ways that could be interpreted, so I decided to have a little fun with it:

Most of the games will have a theme that the Tweet should adhere to. Ideally, you’re supposed to pull a line or two from whatever book you’re working on, but that’s not strictly a requirement. #SlapDashSat is one of the few that’s completely theme-free.

As an added bonus, Twitter writing games are an excellent opportunity to gauge how well a particular line will be received. I’ve had a few lines that I thought were brilliant, but they just laid there like a bored hooker when they hit Twitter. On the other hand, a few throwaway lines like the one about Jennine above, did pretty well and this morose bit of dark humor did great (by my standards, anyway):

The point is, there are very good reasons to play these games. You might not win anything, but the chance to stretch your writing legs and test a few things out is priceless. Do yourself a favor and try ’em out. Let me know and I’ll even retweet you.

#WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

The normal way this monthly shot of good news is supposed to work is I say some witty things and point at a story I found in the news that’s uplifting and then everyone goes away happy.

I’m going to shake things up a bit this month because reasons.

I don’t have  feelgood story to share this month. That’s not necessarily because there’s nothing good going on in the world, I’m sure plenty of people had great days, many kisses were exchanged, and at least one person decided to not scream at that jackass in the Prius who was going way too damned slow and get in the slow lane that’s what it’s there for jerk. Instead, he took a deep breath, turned up the music, and sang along with the Hilltop Hoods.

I’d like to point something out. There’s this prevailing philosophy among Americans that things were better in “the good old days”, back when everything was shiny and new and things were just better, gosh darn it. It’s utter hogwash, if you ask me. The “good old days” were really only good for a certain pale-ish, male-ish segment of the population; everyone else got the shaft. Those days were marked by a lot of social upheaval and violence. Go back even further and you’ll find pestilence, war, famine, crime, disease, you name it.

The point is, it’s easy to look around and say everything sucks. There certainly is a large amount of suck still lurking in the alleys and under the beds of the world, but there’s less suck now than there was. So, why do people pine for the “good old days” when things really aren’t that bad right now?

When I worked at Kinko’s (yes, I did once answer the phone with, “Thank you for calling Kinko’s, your new way to evil), we had to go a week-long brainwashing training session in the basement of the main Albuquerque Kinko’s. I remember two things about that: 1) I hate basement corporate brainwashing events, and 2) people tend to focus on the negative things.

That’s why we like to think things suck ass nowadays, because we perseverate on the bad stuff and ignore the cool stuff going on all around us. We live in a magical time where you can access all the information in the world from your phone, or reach out and communicate instantaneously with people on the other side of the planet, or learn a new language in your pajamas.

So, to help focus on the good things, here’s a list of bad stuff that’s not as prevalent as it used to be. Sure, the world’s not a perfect place, but it gets better bit by bit as long as we let it.

Just to shake up WATWB a bit further, you’re gonna get some homework. Spend a little time thinking about some good stuff and leave it in a comment. Rather than finding the traditional feel-good news story, let’s create our own feel-good stories.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our co-hosts for the month are the lovely and talented:
Peter Nena, Andrea Michaels, Inderpreet Kaur Uppal, Shilpa Garg and Damyanti Biswas

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To signup, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

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Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

And now, your moment of Zen.

A Short Bit Of Horror

The best bits of horror are the ones that don’t come and go in a flash. It’s easy to look at most slasher films and yawn because the idea of a guy in hockey mask killing teenagers after they have sex is not only trite, it’s over too soon. Real terror is the stuff that sticks with you and running some kid through with a knife takes more or less about the same amount of time it just took the same kid to have sex with the hot cheerleader (or football player, whatever floats your goat) a few minutes of on-screen time ago.

At least they went out doing what they loved.

Dude, flossing actually feels good. Try it sometime.

Even something like “The Thing” – a classic horror movie if there ever was one – derives its best scares not from the weirdly shifting alien creature, but from the growing sense of unease and paranoia that permeates the movie like rancid popcorn butter on your fingertips and the roof of your mouth. You’ll likely get over the head sprouting spider legs, but the gnawing worry that everyone around you is a thing will hang out with you in your house for a few days, drinking cheap beer on your couch.

Sure, you could say there’s a creeping horror that some knife-wielding maniac is going to kill you after you have sex, but if you’re really worried about that after nookie time, you’re doing it wrong. Besides, after you’ve dealt with a few knife-wielding maniacs you realize they’re just regular Joes looking for a swift kick in the balls.

Bring it, sucker.

Now, I get it, horror is different for everyone. Some people get squeamish about blood, others don’t like needles, still others – like me – have a thing about teeth. For my money, any horror movie involving root canals is gonna haunt my dreams for weeks. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a horror movie. That scene in “Marathon Man” where the Nazis are giving Dustin Hoffman an impromptu root canal without anesthesia still freaks me the heck out.

But the best horror stories are the ones that actually happened. They don’t have to involve witches or devils or Nazis with dentistry fetishes. The most terrifying thing I ever heard of happened on a soccer field in bright daylight.

This is a story that a buddy of mine in Kenpo told me. Apparently one of the guys he knew was a field doc for a soccer team and was working when one of the players got the ever-loving snot smashed out him. He got hit so hard it dislocated his hip joint – just popped that sucker right out of the socket. That’s scary, sure, but it’s apparently not an uncommon injury in soccer. When you get your hip popped out, you writhe around on the ground until someone pushes your leg back into socket and you move on. I gather it hurts, but it’s not the worst thing in the world. Not as bad as, say, having Nazis fuck with your teeth, but still not fun.

Yeah, do yourself a favor and don’t look up this scene on YouTube. It’s at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c-OviftusB8

So, this player gets his thigh bone pushed out of socket and the medics rush over, check things out, and do what they need to do to get it back where it belongs. A few tweaks, a mighty shove, and the leg bone pops right back into the socket.

The player immediately starts screaming bloody murder and rolling around in obvious agony like someone just crushed his teeth in a vise or he just got some wicked paper cuts on his nipples. The docs, needless to say, were perplexed. They felt around and it seemed like the leg went right back where it should have.

The human body is a cool thing, but it also doesn’t take kindly to getting  slammed around. The player had gotten hit so hard that it not only dislocated his hip, but it shifted one of his testicles. That testicle wound up in the empty hip socket just before the docs slammed the dude’s leg back into place.

Yes. This actually happened. Enjoy your next soccer game.

If It Was Easy…

My son will be testing for his Jr. 1st Black Belt in Kenpo in a couple of months. Part of the test – actually, a large part of the test – is just physically surviving the damned thing. I’ve been through it twice and it nearly wrecked me back when I was in my 30s. At some point, I’ll be doing it again for 3rd black and, let me tell you, I’m not looking forward to it.

At any rate, part of the prep for the test involves three-hour-long Saturday classes where we run through the techniques and katas in the system, spar, do hands-on work with partners – more on that in a little bit, I’ve got a cool story – and run and do push-ups and run some more and then do some sit-ups and then more running and yada, yada, yada. Someone did some estimating based on Fitbit calculations and a normal one hour class can burn up to 1100 calories, so you can imagine what we’re burning off in three hours. Actually, there’s probably not much need to imagine, it’s simple math: in three short hours we’re burning off more calories than one of those Baskin Robbins Oreo shakes.

2500+ delicious calories in one small package.

So, “tired at the end” barely covers it. It’s a rough workout and the final test will run over the space of a few days. In the end, you feel like you’ve earned that damned belt. Which is a good feeling. My kiddo will probably be wasted after the test, but he’ll have his first black belt and that’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Sure, there are plenty more to go – including testing for the adult versions – but earning that first black belt will only ever happen once.

Getting to that point has been a multi-year process. I started teaching him Kenpo was he was about three or four and dragged him kicking and screaming into the school when he was five. That was six years and two schools ago (our old teacher retired) and he’s now on the cusp of finishing the first step into a much larger world.

It’s a long process to get to that point and I have to applaud his determination. Even though there were several times he wanted to quit, he kept going. That was partially me telling him he couldn’t quit, but it was also him working through the system and struggling to get better at it even when he really didn’t want to be there because the siren song of video games was too loud in his head.

Just like writing that book, or finishing that degree, or any of the myriad other  long-running things people do, getting to the first black belt takes determination. It’s hard work. But, let’s face it, if it was easy everyone would be doing it and getting handed a reward for doing something easy is a total waste of everyone’s time. Hooray! You managed to make it to work on time! Here’s your trophy. While I could wax philosophical for days about just how stupid it is to hand out meaningless trophies for trivial things, I’ll save that for another post. For the end of this one, I’ll just say two things: a) I’m really proud of my son right now and b) whatever it is you’re working on that seems like it’s taking freaking forever to get done, keep going until it is done. You’ll thank yourself for it at the end.

Need a little motivation to keep going? Drop a comment. I’m usually fairly good at yelling at people to keep going. 🙂

Now, as for that cool story I was going to tell. If you’ve never hear of Walter Jon Williams, he’s a sci-fi writer here in Albuquerque. He’s also a long-time Kenpo student (let me just say, he’s got a lot of stripes on his belt). Mr. Williams has been coming to our black belt prep Saturdays and I’ve had the opportunity to work out with him over the past couple. Let me tell, it’s not often you get to meet a writer you like, but also get to kick him. He’s a nice guy with a wicked elbow strike and potent punch. If you’d like to see more about his writing, go check out his website/blog. I suppose I should also tell him Google thinks he’s been dead since the 30s.

#WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

To truly grasp the spectacular awesomeness of this story, you first have to understand a few things. If you’re an American reader, most of this will be old hat and you can happily skip down a bit, but you’ll miss some snark and a few cheap shots at Alabama. If you’re international (or a ferriner, as we like to call y’all), you might want to stick around a bit.

Alabama has a reputation in the U.S. as being that special person you don’t like to have around when company comes over. It’s not that every person in the state is gun-toting, semi-literate degenerate, but they have quite a few of them. Remember, this is the state where the leading candidate in the recent special election was accused – multiple times – of liking his girls young. Like early teens young. And, amazingly, he still nearly won the election. Thankfully, enough people came to their senses and decided that an accused child molester might not be what they wanted to represent them and Roy Moore – who showed up to vote on horseback – had to ride his horse home in defeat.

In Alabama, men are rated by how much horsepower their trucks have.

It’s a state that sticks to its traditions, even when those traditions are insane and should be left by the wayside.

Speaking of traditions that should probably take a long walk off a short pier, we also have our annual Miss America competition where young women display their value to society based on how well they look in bikinis and evening wear. Again, it’s a traditional thing that probably needs to go away. I may be getting on my soapbox here, but I like to think there’s more to women than beachwear, and Miss America doesn’t exactly hand out awards based on smarts, eloquence, or capabilities. Look good, smile, and wave, and you can win even if you don’t have much going on upstairs. To all the Miss America contestants reading this (I have a huge supermodel following, too), I’m not talking about you, I’m talking about the other girls.

Congratulations, you’re pretty! You might have some other qualities, but the important thing is how you look in bikini.

So, if you combine Alabama (home of the not-so-bright traditionalists) and the Miss America competition (congrats, toots, you’ve got a great pair of knockers even if you aren’t too bright), what do you get?

Oddly enough, you get Deidre Downs Gunn, winner of Miss America back in 2005. She represented Alabama and won the diamond tiara or whatever it is they give out there.

But that’s where the story breaks the mold. Deidre Downs Gunn went on to become a practicing medical doctor and recently married her girlfriend in a traditional Southern wedding complete with mini chicken and waffles and probably some other stuff, too. Honestly, anything after mini chicken and waffles is superfluous.

So, why is this a big deal and good news? Well, in addition to breaking the molds of both Alabama and Miss America by being smart enough and dedicated enough to become a doctor, Deidre went onto break another much beloved tradition and marry her girlfriend rather than pretending to be straight. A few years ago, that wouldn’t have even been legal. A few years before that and she would have been lynched.

Equality is a big deal and marrying whoever you want is an important part of that. I guess the whole story just made me happy because it goes to show not all stereotypes are true – even the ones about Alabama and Miss America contestants.

Plus, I found out that mini chicken and waffles are a thing.

Read the story here.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our co-hosts for the month are the lovely and talented:
Dan Antion, Mary Giese, Michelle Wallace, Simon Falk and Shilpa Garg

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible.

2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.

3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.

4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.

5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.

6. To signup, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.

This is a Blog Hop!

Powered by Linky Tools

Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

And now, your moment of Zen.

So, You’re a Writer, eh?

One of my great fears is trying to explain the plot to whatever book I’m working on. The latest – Roadside Attractions – was built off the Satanic paranoia of the 80s and 90s and tosses together a renegade devil, the hitwoman sent from Hell to stop him, a ghost, and a pair of ghost hunters who find themselves stuck in the middle of a power-struggle straight out of Hell. It’s not the easiest thing to explain.

Actually, come to think of it, that’s not a bad description. Needs work, but doesn’t totally suck.

DeadSexyTwitterLilith
Note: not the actual cover.

I’m currently actively working on the 4th Henchmen book and that gets even more difficult to sum up succinctly because it’s the 4th (and final) book in that series and it’s still too early to tell exactly where the plot will take me.

I’m not a good plotter. Other writers have sketches and timelines and plot-points all neatly laid on beer-soaked cocktail napkins or Chinese Excel knock-offs. I just keep all that in my head. The closest I’ve ever come to successfully plotting out a book was Greetings From Sunny Aluna and even that ended quite a bit differently than I’d planned. Originally, Huizhong was going to kill Kevin and then kill herself. It didn’t turn out that way and now I’m stuck figuring out where to take the next book.

Anyway, back to the original task at hand: What’s the book about? I’ve done a bunch of posts on blurbs and even took a shot at loglines (Sean Carlin’s post on loglines is still the gold standard), but I’m still extremely weak at the punchy descriptors. Usually when someone asks me what the book is about, I change the subject and then pretend I don’t speak English.

smoke_bomb_archer

That’s not an adult way to handle things, especially when it comes to something I’d really like to do for a living. If I can’t talk about what I’m writing, there’s no way anyone’s going to be interested in reading it. Saying, “Trust me, it’s really, really good” doesn’t cut the mustard. In fact, it cuts the cheese.

I think it all stems from that deep-down insecurity everyone has. There’s that nagging sensation that someone you work with will say, “I read your book. It sucks.” Then you’re stuck at work with everyone knowing you’re the guy who writes shitty books. And that can’t be good for the ol’ ego.

I’ve met plenty of other people over the years who have zero problems talking about their books. I’ve even met people who will happily tell you they’re taking a year off work to write the next great American novel and it would be really great if you could give them some money to do that. To those people – the ones that want help funding their yearlong vacation in South France – I say, “Just write the fucking thing. You can do it in your living room and you don’t even have to take off your pajamas”.

I’m good at the “just write the fucking thing” part. Over the years, I’ve gotten disciplined to where I write something every night, usually 500-1000 words or so. Now I need to get better at getting people to “just read the fucking thing”.

If you have any tips on that, leave me a comment, I’d love to hear what’s worked for you and what was a waste of time and money.

ghostintheshelltyping
Now if I could only get my hands to do this.

On a somewhat related note, I’ve always been curious about my typing speed. I code all day and write at night, so I’m used to a keyboard. I can type reasonably well with my eyes closed. In fact, I’ve even fallen asleep and kept typing (that generated some…interesting text), but I’ve never tested my typing speed. According to Live Chat’s free online typing test, I type about 64 words/minute with 100% accuracy. Crunching the numbers, that means 3840 words an hour. Theoretically, if I didn’t need luxuries like food and sleep, I could write a ninety thousand word book in under 24 hours. That’s way faster than my usual six to nine months.