Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Going to the Beach Beach

Going to the beach...beach...

I bought these two pairs of shoes from Famous Footwear a couple of weekends ago, and I've been pleasantly surprised by how well I like them.  I'm not normally a shoe guy.  I think I own maybe two pairs of boots, a pair of sandals, a worn-out pair of casual dress shoes, and two pairs of sneakers.  My lovely wife, who owns dozens and dozens and dozens of shoes much to my chagrin, insisted I get some new ones to go to the beach, and so we stopped in at Famous Footwear in Harrisburg over Father's Day weekend and I got myself these two pairs.  Since then I've worn both a handful of times, and I have to say they are very comfortable for my size 13 W feet.  If you are a big guy looking for a nice pair of sandals and sneakers, check these out.

We also had to get a new portable DVD player for my son for the trip to the beach beach.  Don't ever buy an RCA portable DVD player like this one:


We got one like this in January, and after minimal use (maybe a half hour a day in the car), the thing warped inside causing a little piece of plastic to bend up into the DVDs as they would spin.  We didn't realize this until it completely destroyed one of my son's Marvel Superhero Squad DVDs.  I wanted to break down and buy a headrest DVD player for him, but I don't think we'll have our vehicle long enough to justify the cost.  Instead, we got a cheap Sylvania one that seems to work pretty well.  See, these are the things you don't think about when you plan on having kids.  Yeah, you have to feed them and pay for diapers and clothing and whatnot, but our son would be lost without his movies to watch in the car.  We're now on our third DVD player, and with each one costing roughly $100, that's an added expense that we hadn't really considered.  Oh well--at least he's not into playing sports yet...

It's been a long time since we've been to the beach beach.  I have to say it like that because my wife sings that line from Nicki Minaj's Starship over and over and over.  I really wish she'd learn some more lyrics from that song.  Anyway, it's been so long since we've been there that I keep remembering all the cool stuff we want to do.  Swimming, building sand castles, collecting sea shells, walking on the boardwalk, eating, eating, eating, biking in the mornings, playing in the arcades, riding rides.  The list goes on and on and on.  I just hope we have enough time to do all we want to do in a week!

Regardless, my blog will be on hiatus until probably the second week of July.  The same goes for participating in flash fiction contests and writing.  As much as I love doing all of these things, relaxing at the beach beach trumps them all.

Have a good one!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Friday, June 22, 2012

My Short Story Tribute to Ray Bradbury and Other Inspiring Authors

I love great short stories.  They are quick, stimulating, and they always leave you wanting more—as long as they are written well.  I participate in a lot of flash fiction contests, which are challenges designed at creating meaningful fiction tales within only a hundred or two hundred words.  Definitely not easy, yet it’s great fun to challenge myself as a writer in that way.

One of my favorite authors, Jeffery Deaver, released a few compilations of short stories: Twisted and More Twisted, and I have to say they were two of my favorite books.  I’d just pick one up, read a short story or two, and walk away instantly satisfied.  And just as the names suggest, Deaver loves to turn the tables on his readers by including crazy and unforeseen twists, and he does not disappoint in either of these collections.

And likewise as I’d mentioned in a post a couple of weeks ago, Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man is a collection of his short stories.  Bradbury’s stories were written for Sci-Fi enthusiasts, and while he still had some shocking twists to his tales, the more notable aspect of his writing is how he details futuristic and often dystopian worlds with chillingly realistic details.

In tribute to these two great authors, I’ve released one of my own short stories, “Class One Act.”  I’ll probably have a few more in the near future.  If you are reading this and you’d like to check it out FOR FREE (rather than paying for a copy on Smashwords.com), let me know and I’ll send you a coupon.

And don’t hesitate to let me know if you think it stinks!  Because really, I can only get better when I know where and how I’ve erred!

Click here to check out "Class One Act!"

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Life Imitating Art

Several news stories popped up over the past couple of days that seemed eerily similar to some TV shows and movies I’ve recently watched.  Sure, all art comes from inspirations we find in our everyday lives, but I find it extremely fascinating when the reverse happens.  It’s like a paradox of sorts—and if you like paradoxes and shameless plugs, check out my book Paradox, available through the links on the header above.

ANYWAY, take for example this story of a boy who wandered out of the woods and into Berlin last year.

He claimed he lived in the forest with his father for years, but when his father died, he buried him and walked five days north to Berlin.  He then quickly adapted to technology and city life after being assigned a legal guardian and cared for by youth services.

Now doesn’t this remind you of the movie Hannah, where the girl is a trained assassin who lives in a forest in Germany with her father?  I mean, there are striking similarities there.  Could he be a real-life Hannah, trained by his rogue assassin father to kill ruthlessly?  Perhaps.  I think more will come from this story as the months progress.

Next we have this story, about a pair of human lungs apparently found on a sidewalk in Los Angeles.

This brought to mind a recent House episode I watched, where House has a pair of lungs and must find out what is medically wrong with them prior to transplanting them into a patient.  The episode was a memorable one because it transitioned House from prison back to the hospital this last season, although the lungs themselves really didn’t play much of a part in the story.  Still, it was shocking to see a pair of lungs removed from a body, and it must have been very frightening to just find them lounging around on a sidewalk in Los Angeles, soaking up the sun’s rays as they sipped at a Pina Colada (that’s my own generalized visualization of what every Californian does each day).  I mean, I know experts say coughing up a lung is not possible, but could they be mistaken?  Were these organs intended for a transplant as the ones in House, but somehow they got lost?  “Hey Joe, did you grab me a cheeseburger?”  “Yeah.”  “And the lungs?  Did you bring them?”  “Oh…uh…”  You know, people find body parts all the time, mostly due to nefarious actions of serial killers and whatnot, but lungs?  Lungs?!?

And finally we have this story out of Middleborough, Massachusetts, where the residents of the town voted to fine people $20 for swearing in public.

They say the law was enacted to prevent teens from swearing in the downtown area and public parks, but when I read this I had to think of the scenes in Demolition Man where Sylvester Stallone’s character is repeatedly fined for swearing by the little machines strategically placed everywhere he goes.  Funny in a movie, but not so much in real life.  Luckily the ACLU is jumping all over this and hopefully putting an end to it.

I don’t mean to begin proselytizing here, but there’s a valid reason why the First Amendment exists and is the first of many amendments to our Constitution.  If you don’t understand why, I suggest you read Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451 and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eight-Four.  I really hate swearing in public as much as the next guy, and I cringe when someone says something vulgar within earshot of my three-year-old.  And I agree that people should be held accountable for it.  That’s what public nuisance and disturbing the peace laws are for.  Our nation’s laws should not be altered to limit what people have the right to SAY, and as soon as we start changing them to enforce that sort of thing, we begin treading down a treacherous path of sacrificing liberties that our nation was founded upon.

And really, consider the people you know who do swear in public.  I can think of maybe ten to fifteen people that do, and when I consider their lives, i.e. their financial situations and marital statuses and whatnot, I realize that those people are already being punished for their actions.  Sure, swearing in public is just one tiny little nuisance in the grand scheme of things, but those people who do utter expletives around others tend to be the dregs of our society.  Seriously, nobody is going to think of them as a professional, unless of course they are a rock star or have some other talent that trumps their foul-mouthed bad behavior.  Honestly though, do you know anyone in a prestigious position that walks through the grocery store saying “F#%” and “S@#^”?  No, I didn’t think so.

These types of news stories always catch my eye, as some of my stories and novels have had eerie similarities to real life events.  Take for example the mental hospital in my book, Project Utopia, which is based on the mental facility in Pittsburgh on the Pitt campus that was shot up by an assailant in March of this year.  And of course, anyone with ties to the University Pittsburgh knows about the string of bomb threats, some of which targeted the Cathedral of Learning, which also is a setting in that same book.  In April of this year, a shooting on the Oikos University campus in Oakland, California left seven dead, eerily similar to an aspect of my novel, Paradox.  Then a few weeks later, my wife told me a sad story of a young man in Philadelphia who had passed away, and his first initial and last name were an exact match to a character in one of my yet-to-be-published novels.

As a writer, these types of coincidences will tend to rattle you.  I know it’s pure happenstance that some of these events and settings are similar to my novels, and I’m sure many other writers have the same things happen to them.  Still, just a little part of my creative imagination has to wonder if the things I write manifest themselves into reality.  Perhaps I should start writing about an IT worker in his mid-thirties living in Pennsylvania who wins a billion dollars and signs a huge book deal.  Wouldn’t that be something?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

We've Lost One of Our Own - Ray Bradbury RIP

As an author, I’d be remiss to not mention and honor the passing of one of my biggest influences, Ray Bradbury.  I can say without a doubt that his works were some of the most inspiring for me as a creative thinker and writer.  Everyone knows Fahrenheit 451, and if you haven’t read it, what’s wrong with you?  Seriously, though, the man contributed so much to the world of literature, and I’ll bet there will be a rush to buy many of his works.

I think my favorite story of his had to be “The Veldt.”  It’s so undeniably creepy that it will make anyone shiver.  The story was published in “The Saturday Evening Post” back in 1950, yeah 1950, and it just amazes me that someone could write a story like that—about virtual reality, nonetheless—so long ago.  I mean, I can’t even imagine what technology might exist fifty years from now, and yet Ray Bradbury conjured up a tale about a VR nursery and the pitfalls of such high-tech devices left in the hands of young minds.  I know I’ve thought about that story more than once watching my 3-year-old son navigate around the screens of phones and tablets and the Internet better than most adults.  It won’t be long until he comes close to surpassing me, and considering that technology is my forte, that’s quite a feat.  Still, hopefully I stay on his good side so that I do not face the dilemma and misfortune of the parents in Bradbury’s incredible short story.

If you would like to read “The Veldt” or any other of his fabulously deviant tales, pick up a copy of The Illustrated Man, which is a collection of his short stories.  While you are at it, get one for me, because I seem to have lost mine!  Grumble grumble!

There have been other great authors pass recently, including Maurice Sendak earlier this year, J. D. Salinger in 2010, and two of my favorites: Arthur C. Clarke and Michael Crichton in 2008.  But out of all of them, I’d have to say that Ray Bradbury was the best, and he will be sorely missed.  Nobody will ever replace him, but as long as I continue to fancy writing and putting the crazy thoughts in my head on paper, I’ll certainly do my best to mimic the style of such a brilliant man.  Sure, I’ll probably pale in comparison, but I’ve always tried to do as he did, write at least 1000 words a day, and live by his profound advice:

"Just write every day of your life.  Read intensely.  Then see what happens.  Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers."  -Ray Bradbury

And finally, of all the quotes and stories Ray Bradbury ever gifted to us, this one has always been my favorite.  I think you'll understand why:

"I don't believe in being serious about anything.  I think life is too serious to be taken seriously." - Ray Bradbury

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Blast IN THE FACE From the Past

As I was cleaning up some old personal files, I came across my first finished novel—never published, and written in a style that isn't exactly rated PG.  I think I must have begun to seriously write back in the mid to late nineties, and I started something like fifteen or twenty different books before I actually finished one.  This one, Wrecking Ball, was the first.  Only a handful of people graciously read it, and I received mixed reviews on it.  Some raved about it, but some of the characters are based on real people, and those real people were quick to identify themselves and didn't much care for the way their characters were written.

Anyway, the novel is about a guy who, after years of bullying in high school, decides to become a "bully" himself to all those who have seemingly wronged him, and despite becoming successful in his two rather unorthodox careers, he subsequently spins out of control seeking revenge.  As I said, though, it’s rather crude in some spots, so I've censored the excerpt for my blog.  My writing in the past fifteen years has matured and softened greatly, so don't judge me too much on this.  Wrecking Ball seems to be filled with a lot of angst too, so please don't think I'm crazy.  I know when I was writing it, I wasn't filled with the kind of hatred that the main character, Rick Drexel, seems to have, but I was bullied briefly in high school, and so I did let some of those emotions out.  Still, it's a work of FICTION and should be viewed as such.

Below is an excerpt from the second chapter, which details Rick's first act of vengeance.  If you really like it, let me know and I’ll consider publishing it on Amazon and Smashwords.

An Excerpt from Wrecking Ball:

            So, on this Wednesday before Thanksgiving at about 2:15 PM, i.e., twenty minutes before the school day ended, I drove my bleep brown Plymouth Voyager down to the grocery store.  Yes, I drove a minivan.  Probably another reason kids still picked on me, but I’m sorry that my daddy didn’t buy me a brand new Mitsubishi Eclipse like everyone else’s daddies did.  Anyway, I walked into the store and went straight for the meat department.  Fish, to be exact.  Catfish, to be exact.  I bought four platters of catfish.  Twenty freaking bucks, but it was money well spent.
            I then drove over to the school and watched as everyone left for vacation.  The parking lots cleared quickly, and I just strolled right in without anyone saying a word.  Teachers and administrators didn’t actually lock the doors until 3 PM, so I had plenty of time.  The halls were bare, too.  I passed less than a handful of people.  Bleep school didn’t even have security cameras.  Maybe if they did, they’d have seen all the abuse that some of the students received.  Maybe the administration didn't even care.
            Feeling somewhat like a mafia thug--you know, the guy who places a fish in a newspaper and leaves it somewhere to send a message--I proceeded to the locker of one of my bullies, unwrapped the first tray of catfish, and just dumped it onto his books.  The bleep had one bleep of a messy locker, too, and it already smelled of body odor and pot.  The next locker was a little neater, and it didn’t stink quite as much as the first, but it would soon.  After hitting the last two lockers, I casually walked out of the school to my car and left.
            Did you ever experience catfish after it’s been sitting out for five freaking days?  Don’t.  Trust me.  If the sight of maggots doesn’t get you, the smell certainly will.  You’ll vomit.  Trust me.

            So this is how I became who I am today.  This is how I ended up being some crazy psycho burning things, breaking things, screwing with peoples’ minds, and destroying anything in my path.  Yep, I trace it back to catfish.
            Most people with mental problems can trace their disorder back to some traumatic experience.  A car wreck.  A lover who died.  An abusive father or mother.  I’m sure some people would trace my “mental problems” back to all those years of being bullied.  It’s all just bleep, though.  Nobody really has mental problems.  I knew exactly what I was doing then, and I know exactly what I’m doing now.  The word ‘sanity’ shouldn’t even be in the dictionary.
            Yes, so I was just a pathetic kid who couldn’t handle the tortures inflicted on me by school bullies.  Hurry, call the doctor!  Call him now!  I think I have mental issues!
            No, I’m not running around destroying things today because I’m some psychotic idiot.  I’m not a nutball.  This whole catfish thing just helped me realize that I can strike back.  I’m not helpless.  This was the first time I really stood up for myself, and it felt pretty bleep good.

            When Tuesday rolled around after the Thanksgiving holiday, I decided to go to school a little early.  I walked near the first victim’s locker and could already smell the nauseating odor.  I was actually surprised that the janitors didn’t notice the smell over the holiday, but then I figured that they probably used pine-scented cleaning solutions to mop the floors, and so I doubted they smelled anything.  They probably cleaned Wednesday evening as well, and the smell wouldn’t have been that bad by then.  I smiled as I walked past this jerk’s locker.  People would certainly smell something when the bleep opened their locker doors, and I guarantee it wouldn’t smell like pine trees.
            I took a bleep and then proceeded to my own locker to await the calamity.  My locker was about twenty-five feet down the hall from the third bleep locker.  I saw him walk in with his friends and drop his bag in front of his locker.  He stood there talking to his friends for a few minutes.  I stood there gathering my books for my first few periods and watching him out of the corner of my eye. 
            The kid was such an bleep.  He just looked like an bleep.  When you go to a bar, and you see the guy walking around like he’s the bleep and trying to pick up every woman in the building, you know he’s an bleep.  This kid was an bleep
As I stood there watching and waiting in anticipation, Robbie or whatever his name was finally opening the door of his locker.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone shout “What the bleep?” so loud in my life.  The entire hallway just shut up and stared at him.  Then the bleep threw up.  The sight was so bleep amusing; I probably would have bleep myself had I not gone earlier.
            He just stood there gagging for a good ten or fifteen seconds before his breakfast made its return appearance.  Surprise!  Vomit out of thin air!  How could you not laugh?
            I could only imagine the sight of the rotting catfish in his locker.  Maggots crawling in and out through the gray rotting matter.  Other kids were crowding around at a safe distance just to see the gift I’d left him.  Two of them began to gag.  Both vomited.  One homely girl screamed.
            Then the smell hit me.  Catfish sitting out for five days is bad enough.  Picturing the maggots eating away at the rotting fish and the flies buzzing around just made the stench even worse.  Not even the worst outhouse could smell that bad.  Mix that odor with the stench of human bile, and you’ll instantly start gagging.  The odor was beyond vile.  I’m serious, even raw sewage didn’t smell that bad.
            The whole bleep school turned into a puke fest.  I didn’t throw up, but considering that most of the kids had just had breakfast, I’m not sure how I managed not to.  The scene was just disgusting.  It reminded me of that part in Stand by Me where the one kid is telling a story about a pie eating contest.  People puking everywhere.  I never imagined I’d actually see it.
            They made everyone who hadn’t been sick report to the cafeteria, and then they sent everyone home.  The janitors worked non-stop that day cleaning up the halls.  They had to bleach everything.  The school still reeked for almost a month after that.  Although it smelled strongly of disinfectant industrial cleaners, you could still faintly smell the bile and fish odors.
            The four bleep had to throw their books and stuff into the garbage.  The one went home crying.  I went home smiling.
            The following day, they made a special announcement asking that anyone with any information regarding the culprits should please report to the principal’s office, and that those responsible would certainly be caught.  Culprits?  They didn’t believe that one person could do this?  Regardless, I was never caught.  I was a good kid enrolled in honor’s classes.  Even if someone suspected I had done it, which they didn’t, nobody could have proved it was me, and my character alone spoke for me.
            When the final total of the damage came in, I was just stunned.  One thousand dollars in damage counting man-hours for the janitors, new books for the four bleep, their personal items, and cleaning supplies.  I spent twenty bucks and about a half hour of my time, and I managed to cause fifty times that amount in damage.  “Wow” was the only word that came to my mind.
            Those kids didn’t bleep with anyone for a while after that.  I wasn’t the only person they bullied, and I think they were too afraid of what would happen to them next if they picked on anyone else again.  They knew they were targets because of how they treated other kids.  They weren’t dumb; they were just bullies who needed to torment other kids to feel better about themselves.
            After my little stunt, they wouldn’t feel better about themselves for a long time.  The embarrassment alone was enough to insure that.  They became known as the “Fishies”.  They’d be teased about it for years.  Payback is a bleep.
            The one kid even got busted for having a joint in his locker.  He was suspended for a month over that.  He should have been expelled.  Who the bleep is stupid enough to bring marijuana into school, anyway?
Regardless, I had fixed the bleep problem.
            When I finally graduated high school, I was still chuckling over the incident.  I never told my friends or family or anyone that I was the mastermind.  During the graduation ceremony, the valedictorian even mentioned it in her speech.  It was most likely the single biggest event to happen in the high school in a decade.
            So that’s where this all began.  Rick Drexel, the prankster.  The jokester.  The vigilante.  Bleep with me, and I will kill you.  I never thought I’d be doing bleep like that for the rest of my life.  It’s amazing how the course of time leads us down so many twisty paths and through so many forks.  Robert Frost, eat your heart out.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Time to Grow Up!

Yesterday Phil Miller, the man who hired me at my position, retired from thirty years of service with our firm.  He’ll be sorely missed.  Aside from his peculiar antics that make him him, he has been a great mentor and friend over the years.  Sure, he’s probably come to me for technology-related issues a hundred times more often than I’ve sought out his advice on retirement planning, but that’s the nature of our chosen fields of expertise.  Still, he paved the way for our company bringing in an IT expert twelve years ago and thereby giving me a job, and for that I’m thankful.

I guess I’ve reached a point in my lifetime where it’s time to put on the big-boy pants and accept the fact that my parents’ generation, the Baby Boomers, are all on their way out.  Sure, we’ll still see them holding political offices and heading large companies and corporations.  For some of us, age never seems to trump the prospects of more or continued money and/or power.  But for the most part, all of the Baby Boomers have already, are in the process of, or will be retiring very soon, relinquishing duties and control over to Generation X.

Funny, because I still feel like a kid.  I guess having that feeling is a good thing.  I mean, I’m on the latter end of the generation, having been born in the late 70s.  I also had my son later in life, being 31 when he was born.  Having a young one in your life tends to make you feel younger.  I swear I have just as much fun as he does playing with his Avengers toys and building forts out of pillows and stuffed animals.  We could spend hours in the toy store, both of us playing with cars and light-up swords and gauging which ones are worth buying to take home and play with some more.  Honestly, I don’t want to grow up!

Five years ago, before my son was born and my father passed away, I really felt like a kid.  Na├»ve.  Carefree.  Careless, to some degree.  My responsibilities from that time seem piddly compared to the ones I have now.  And whenever I had a question, I’d typically go to my dad.  He seemed to know everything, whether it was how to change brakes on a car to building a deck to water treatment processes and options.  He only attended a few years of college, but being a Navy Corpsman, electronics salesman, chemical salesman, and DIY master, he always seemed to know the answers to any of my questions with his huge vault of knowledge.

Now it seems more people have questions for me than I have for them.  And more often than not, I know the answer.  Maybe not to the extent that I could write a Wikipedia article on it, but I always seem to know enough.  I don’t know if it’s all those years of Q&A sessions with my father or my lifetime experiences or my education, but it’s amazing how I’ve acquired so much over the years.

It makes me realize that somewhere there I guess I already have grown up.  I can’t pinpoint a date or a year.  Was it the day my son was born?  Or when my father passed away?  Was it the day I graduated from college or started my first big boy job?  Or perhaps when I bought my first car or my house?  I don’t know, but all of those things made me take a leap into the unknown, and each one of them likely contributed to my “grown-up” status.

Thirty years or so from now, I’ll be retiring as well.  Maybe I’ll have grandkids and a cozy little spot picked out where I can spend the rest of my years.  Maybe not.  But no matter what—no matter how much I know or where life will take me, I think I’ll always still be a kid, still thinking that someday I’ll have to put on my big boy pants and grow up.  Or maybe it’s just better if I keep being that “grown-up” subconsciously and instead focus on having fun in life.