by ZZ Claybourne
I know I’m lazy. That’s not a bad thing. Industry’s not our natural state; staring at stars, trees, streams, and weird rocks is. Sometimes my day gets so packed watching the tree across the street that I forget to defrost stuff for dinner.
I know I’m lazy as a writer. I can fire off quick random bits, but getting to the ephemeral essential is a slow process involving tub soaks, sitting in rays of sunlight, listening to Earth, Wind & Fire, or—if I’m feeling particularly inspired—making a wobbly piece of furniture in the basement with my wee nephew.
If I was more industrious I might have been long-published by now. You might even have read one of my articles/stories/books. Multi-gajillion dollar media aggregates would ask me to submit pieces to them for free. At cons people might greet me with “Hey, you!” instead of “Hey…guy.”
If I weren’t so bloody lazy.
They say strike a balance: work, work a little more, struggle, sacrifice, carry that weight…and then and only then relax. Enjoy. For a little while. Because if you’re not working, working a little more, struggling, sacrificing, carrying that weight…what are you doing? Are you being true to your art? (My art likes when I make pancakes.) Are you dedicated? (The words in my head haven’t complained of feeling stifled yet.) Are you goal-oriented at all, as if the alternative is proof of eternal damnation (assuming idle hands still the devil’s workshop). Folks don’t say “meditate” much, or “pause without reservation,” or maybe “you take that nap like naps are going out of style!” Don’t get those too often.
More than anything, my goal is to connect. Now, that could be with 10 people, could be with 10 million. Mostly it’s 10 people. Which is cool because I get to potentially meet them and have pizza with them (whereas 10 million would get me a huge dual-person soaker tub—not ever saying no to that—but would also stretch my travel and endurance tolerances past normal levels). I’m 5 books into an unassuming career, and each book in its way has genuinely mattered to someone. I know this because the 10 have told me so. That’s art’s only validating benefit: to communicate back and forth, all of us connecting dots as we become privy to minuscule parts of the pattern revealed. So if you hear me complaining (as creative types do, because we like to eat too) that nobody’s buying books, feel free to smile and condescend with a nod; those complaints are transient waveforms that briefly interrupt headspace frequencies. What you’ll never hear is me complaining about the connections made. People slice pieces of their lives out to make space for words that I, the entire lifetime of me, wrote out of my own sense of worldly confusion. In creating art there has to be a gift. In receiving art, there’s an even greater reciprocal gift: the gift of being seen, not for glory but for communion.
If there’s a greater goal than that, I don’t know what it is.
The thing is, take pleasure in silences, inactivity, and offerings. There's really no need to plug into an IV bag of type A in order to do ALL THE THINGS. Nobody wants all the things from you anyway. They want you to approach with outstretched hand, palm open, so that they can see nested there a single, manageable moment in time, a moment that fits perfectly into a slot they’ve trustingly arranged in their lives.
They want patience, time, effort, trust, respect, solace, escape, redemption, validation.
They want to know where the universe comes from: yours, theirs, a conjoined ours.
Answering that takes a measured hand. You gotta look at the patterns, such as the scritches on your knuckles being the same as the wrinkles on an elephant's knees. You gotta feel a pulsar’s signal coming through your heartbeat.
Basically, you gotta be a little lazy to get the real work done.
You gotta be willing to sit still to impart movement.
So if you’ll excuse me, there’s pie in the fridge. I’m sure you’ll understand.
has only one bit of advice that ever seems to stick: Despite everything, create.
by MK Martin
One day, for no reason, I became a writer. I always made up verbal stories, and my grandmother would sit for dedicated hours next to my waffling, with a tape recorder. We'd listen back and drink Carnation hot chocolate with the tiniest marshmallows in the world, and I wouldn't think much about why the mouse was after a magic cheese. My mum started a take-turns story on the computer, when her and dad's business was first starting out, to help while the hours in an office where you don't know how to do anything useful. The first one was about a unicorn, and I wish I had it now. When you read it back, sometimes it didn't make much sense and that made it more appealing.
I probably produced over 200 "literary analyses" over the course of my scholastic adventures. Teachers begged us to dig deeper, to really get into the why's and how's of it all and to connect that to our work. Some poetic ears might have been listening, and been able to concoct the Freudian hide and seek they were talking about, but most of us were going, "I'm pretty sure she sat down to a cup of tea in a blue room, because the room was blue and it was tea time."
Amid the horrifying missives of What's Wrong Today, countless critiqueries tell us whether we can like something or not and for how long, to the point where I end up re- reading books I've loved for years, just because nobody's worried about their market value anymore. I also feel that books which have been lauded for hundreds of years, might need to be reconsidered as classics. The misogynist woe is I's from Tom Hardy where She Gets What She Deserves, the What About Me and My Problems Listen To ME from J.D Salinger and the sarcastic outsider's view of society, currently responsible for the wedding industry from Jane Austen. We might love these stories, in certain lights, under certain circumstance, but analyzing and re-analyzing and re- telling them has woven their perceived subtext into our cultural interaction.
Writers these days write so deeply from the heart that their stories are no less valued than children. Generally, selling children is frowned upon and so too is standing them in front of an audience and pointing out where they 'could have done better' in being made. Granted, that is what life is like: just day after day of attempting to validate why you should be here, why you matter. On the other side are countless voices offering their perfectly allowable contradictions, on why you should just disappear.
There are the writers who write because it's a hustle, just like the original "famous" novelists had to: when art wasn't art until your patron said so, and a good review was real gold you could hide in your moth-eaten mattress, and pass to the valet for an audience with such and such and so and so, for a mention in their magazine. The purpose of the writing, the enjoyment of the writing, flies far from that image to rest on a less frantic bough. But they can't seem to give it up. The Kings, the Pattersons, the holy crow this is the same story 89 times writers.
Sometimes, us less prolific wordsmiths are envious. Some of us may never be published. Some of us may never even be heard, until 100 hundred years from now, when one person unearths a crumbling, yellowed journal and reads the words they've been waiting to see their whole lives. This is the moment that writing exists for: to connect souls over time and space, to reinforce that creatively sticky web that weaves 'round us all and to reassure that we are never alone.
writes from the hip, the heart, the tree and the old fashioned pen. She resides somewhere on a hill in Canada, while belonging to three other humans, two cats and one thousand plants. As for the rest: who knows?
a cautionary tale by Emmy Jackson
We’re rolling slow along a hilly stretch of I-65 coming down into the wreckage of metro Nashville when I see two vehicles stopped alongside an overturned truck about half a mile ahead. I bring the RV to a slow stop before we get into hearing range, drifting toward the overgrown woods so the dazzle camouflage breaks up its silhouette. I pull down the binoculars for a better look, and see figures in the road by one of the cars. They haven’t heard the diesel yet, or haven’t reacted to it. I put the binoculars down.
“What is it?” Lin asks.
“Apocalypsters,” I say. “Nothing to worry about.” I put the rig back in gear and continue down the road.
As we get closer I can see that there are five of them, three men and two women. They’ve got two vehicles, a Mercedes G-Class and a vintage Unimog 406. The G-Class is the AMG version, with shiny chrome wheels that can't claw their way through mud with all the horsepower in the world. From the look of it, they pulled over to scavenge the wrecked big rig, and managed to cut a tire on the Unimog. The jack they are using is too short, and there’s some confusion as to why the portal axle won’t come off of the ground.
I stop the RV a respectful distance away and get out, carrying my Halligan casually across my shoulder, and nothing else. Lin stays in the rig.
The men are all sporting beards that have been trimmed and shampooed to short, medium and bushy lengths. Their clothing is a melange of mismatched biker vests, fake skulls, body armor, skull decals and knee pads, ill-fitting tactical gear and studded black leather pants worn too tight. Short Beard and Medium Beard have AR-15s at the ready, even though they’re changing a tire, and neither of them has a shred of trigger discipline because they’re too busy trying to look badass. Short Beard is holding his gun across his body in what would be a safe position if it weren’t pointed directly at Bushy Beard’s pelvis. The sneering woman dual-wielding Desert Eagles (one of which has a scope and laser sight attached to it) has her fingers on the triggers too. At least her guns are pointed at the sky.
Neither of the women is wearing pants. The one with the guns has boots three sizes too big, a push-up bra under a leather jacket and matching booty shorts, while the other’s in panties, a ripped pink T-shirt and mismatched sneakers. Most of her exposed skin is tattooed, her face is painted, her hair is spiked asymmetrically up and her belt is made of dolls heads. She’s carrying a giant mallet whose head is covered in circular saw blades and grinning. It’s also fifty degrees out and she’s visibly shivering.
Keeping my hands in sight and off of the Halligan, I glance at the truck they’re raiding. It’s full of Keurig cups. I imagine if they dig past the ones that have been exposed to the rain they might find some good ones in there. The back of the G-Wagen is open and I can see cases of microbrew, a ukulele, a carton of e-cigarette refills and what looks like a clear garbage bag full of kale. The cargo area’s mostly full of beer though.
“You guys need some help,” I say.
It’s not a question, but they assume it is. “This is a specialized vehicle,” the bushiest beard says. “I think we’ve got everything under control.”
“Let’s see what they’ve got in the RV,” Medium beard says. One of his knee pads has slipped down to his ankle, and he’s got so many things in the pouches of his tactical vest--including a wad of grenades at his hip like a bunch of metal grapes--that he rattles when he moves.
“Are you going to make me regret offering help?” I ask them, still walking forward, wondering how they’ve survived this long.
“He’s right,” Dual-Wielding Girl says. “I’m starving. They gotta have something.”
“And if you’d have asked, we might have given some to you,” I say.
She brings her guns down from the sky and points them both at me, arms extended, grinning. “We take what we need,” she says.
She was probably expecting me to make a quip, but as she’s saying, “need” I’m swinging my Halligan one-handed into the side of Short Beard’s head. I use the blunt end rather than the spike. There’s no sense in killing them; they’re not malicious, just dumb. Just as I expected, Short Beard pulls the trigger as he falls, hosing Bushy Beard’s legs and hips with full-auto fire. He hits the Unimog a few times too.
As soon as the Halligan connects I drop, and Dual-Wielding Girl fires both of her guns. She manages to hold on to one of them, but she’s screaming bloody murder and from the look of it she’s broken at least one of her wrists and two fingers. Hammer Girl is rushing forward with her weapon raised high above her head. I stay down and let the Halligan swing back, collecting her legs. Her feet go sideways and out from under her and she comes down in a sprawl, whacking herself in the side of the head with her own sawblade hammer. It lays her scalp open pretty good, and she curls into a fetal position with her hands over the wound.
Medium Beard is standing there with his mouth open, just staring at me. I snap my fingers and point at the ground, and he nods, tosses his gun aside, and lays clumsily on the ground.
I collect their weapons, ignore the agonized shouts and groans from Hammer Girl, Dual-Wielding Girl and Bushy Beard, and go quickly through their trucks. I wasn’t going to rob them, but they started it. Doesn’t matter. As I suspected, they don’t have anything of use; there’s a crate of vinyl records, a replica samurai sword and a big hookah pipe, but they don’t even have a tent, and there’s no food worth taking.
Since they’re more likely to hurt themselves than anyone else, I take the AR-15s. The apocalypsters don’t have any more ammunition for them, and both guns have been left out in the rain without being cleaned. They’re covered in grease and rust. The Desert Eagles are in similarly sorry shape, but I take those too. I don’t need them but I can trade them to someone willing to fix them up.
None of them says anything as I walk back to the RV. Lin’s in the driver’s seat and was covering me with the Remington. I climb back aboard and nod to her to get rolling, setting the guns on the floor and unloading them. As we pass the apocalypsters I toss one of our spare first-aid kits out the window. It’s a reflex; in hindsight I realize they probably didn’t know how to use it anyway.
Lin and I traveled another two miles up the road and set up camp for the night, in a hidden spot off the road. We heard an engine go by, then took our bikes, the big bottle jack, some spare wood and a length of chain to tie the axle up, and went back. Just as I’d suspected, they had abandoned the Unimog. We had the spare on it in ten minutes, and that was how we got our second vehicle.
is sure that an artisanal disaster of unprecedented magnitude will hit, leaving bands of people who emerge from micro-breweries to repopulate the Earth. Post-apocalypsters (TM, copyright, pat-pending Emmy Jackson).
In the flamesword/immortal/magnificent words of Emmy Jackson, writer of post-apocalyptic novels extraordinaire, "Fucking post-apocalyptic hipsters."
by ZZ Claybourne
Some of you will have seen the beginning bits of this on Facebook. You may skip down to N. The rest of you read each and every word and remember it well. If you find yourself in New York for the first time you will thank me. I am the NY rat whisperer.
The first batch of things my first trip to New York taught me:
a) The pigeons roost on buildings and poles as if they're Batman and Gotham needs them.
b) Furiosa would be reduced to tears if forced to drive its roads. More on this later.
c) There is more concrete in one square block of New York than in all the rest of the developed world.
d) Mofos will not, do not, and are probably barred by city charter from going to sleep.
e) It contains the Hellmouth. I haven't seen it but I feel it.
f) The cabbies have their own tonal car horn language.
g) The cabbies do not fear the Hellmouth.
h) The cabbies probably know a way to save you ten minutes on your trip to the Hellmouth.
i) There might be sperm whales living in the sewers. The city's big enough for it.
j) The Javits Center is huge. You may think it's a moon. It's no moon.
k) Milo Jetstream pulling the Hole out of a decrepit building was not fiction; you can feel their little eyes on you at all times.
l) My booth on the con floor was a stone's throw from Alex Ross's booth. Joyce Carol Oates has never been a stone's throw from Alex Ross's booth. In your face, Joyce Carol Oates.
m) "Friends" was a complete lie; there are lots of Black people in New York. Fuck you, Rachel and Chandler.
n) The rudeness of New Yorkers amazes me. A little kid, couldn't have been more than 3, looked momentarily lost on the convention floor. The way a group of NYers immediately formed a wide protective circle around him was shocking! What's worse, for the 3 seconds it took dad to locate the kid one of the protective-ring people actually CALMED AND CONSOLED the kid. The nerve of some people!
o) Cosplayers are so self-centered. I was so enthusiastic about one's outfit that she gleefully came back THE NEXT DAY specifically to share a new and different creation with me in the hopes of making my day. Which she did (as you'll see below). THE NERVE!
p) Comic geeks are so oblivious to the important stuff of the world. Overheard admonishment: "Do you wanna talk politics or do you wannt enjoy some sweet shit?" There was sweet shit everywhere. The friend proceeded to enjoy the hell out of sweet shit. SHOCKING!
q) Spotted out of the car window as we made our way away from the con on the last day: Junot Diaz. Too far away for me to roll the window down and yell his name, plus, y'know, home training. Was that the biggest geek moment the past 3 days? Yes. Yes it was. Lit Geek for Life.
r) Whilst on the subject of things on the street: I understand the need for tourism. I understand that Game of Thrones is hot. I can see how a city might want to synergize off that. So I get that NY is going for GoT-level Walls with its trash bag mounds everywhere. But there's no need to train the rats to push their wee backs (and when I say "wee" I mean terrier-sized) against The Walls and squeak "Hodor!" as people walk past during a nice walk in the evening air after a long con day. And said terrier rats certainly don't need to dart out at the last second hitting first my shoe with considerable mass, then the foot of a companion author who happened to be wearing sandals. If the city really wants to enhance the tourist experience I'd much prefer they simply let the rats ride dragons for added flair. Just saying.
People loved the buttons. One little girl beamed so brightly getting the Afro Puffs one that the huge, perfect puff atop her head nearly ignited. And I imagine there are now more people feeling the call to save the universe one last damn time. I base this on the smiles they wore pinning that button on.
You can't be immersed in 4 days of close-quarter viral and bacterial evolution without the latest strain of Con Crud lodging in your lungs to pop up like Pennywise under a grate. I am practicaly bathing in tea, popping vitamins like an addict, got my 528 hz mega healing vibrational music going, duct-taping my robe closures lest anyone think that sucker's coming off me today, and hoping that if the Greys visit me tonight they have a hypospray or 2 full of a Bones McCoy special.
And now we come to less happy fun times.
I missed seeing Rosario Dawson.
She was in the building. I was in the building. I did not see her, she did not see me, but we both breathed. I breathed in biomatter from Rosario Dawson. I can't medically confirm that but do we really need to sully this with science? I have so little else. (Actually, know what? She might have seen me and I didn't see her. Yeah. Totally claiming that too.)
Enough heartbreak. This was a good con and an excellent experience for me, even though I'm exhausted, cultivating virulent bacteria, and in danger of nodding off so hard I could become a professional Yes man. Let me show my manners and give thanks.
HUGE thanks to Cerece Rennie Murphy for inviting me to be part of the Narazu crew at this wild event. Ostensibly, I was there to be all sell-y serious author person but, like the one friend pointed out to the other about his choice of conversation options, I was there for all the cool bits.
I am thoroughly bummed that schedules didn't allow for the cosmic joining of me with Cam Rob, Sam Schreiber, and the crew of the Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers/Kaleidocast but that's just a muffin in the oven for the future. Write on, right on, my sci fi brethren!
Part of the reason we weren't able to connect was New York's traffic situation. Can we talk about that? Because it bears fully fleshing out. So: ON THE SUBJECT OF DRIVING. New York? Goddamn. If I could afford to buy every NY driver a flaming guitarist Doof Warrior bobble head for their dashboards I would. Respect.
Your traffic situation makes me think of images of New York that movie makers show us. Spider-Man would do nothing but slam into buildings if he actually tried swinging through the structural density of New York. Oh, and the whole thing of him dropping onto the roof a car to hitch a quick ride? HA! Rhino would have decimated Trump Tower by the time that car inched along in downtown traffic. Not saying that'd be a bad thing...
Let's stay on this general line for a minute. Pedestrians. I don't care what's coming toward them, how close it is, how big, how small, whether it has wings, or hooves that split the earth--a New York pedestrian with a green light will walk out in front of it without acknowledging it in any way. There's this unflagging assumption of pedestrians/bikers that their lawful right of way is sacrosanct. Trot across the street if the signal's about to change on them? Shee-id. A New York walker does not gauge traffic, they do not hurry across streets, and they damn well don't pause whatever they're doing on their phones for some quaint midwestern "look both ways before you cross" bullshit. Meanwhile, cars cut it so close to them that drivers can appreciate the stitching on everyone's ass pockets.
Ok, enough about traffic. The con itself? About 80 bajillion people. Cosplays of the gods. Cool comic art and figurines. Bruce Campbell glided by my table but he was so quickly ushered along by handlers there was no time to take a pic. Yes, Bruce Campbell glides. Hail to the king. I walked past Jim Steranko doodling, gave the nod to Neal Adams, got to say hi again to Sebastian Jones of Stranger Comics (if you're not familiar with DUSU or Niobe you should be), TOTALLY SPAZZED AT THE AWESOMENESS THAT IS HELALIPOP (see images below) (I'll wait)
...and got to literally swoon over how good the "Mermaid" tasted at Big Gay Ice Cream Shop. Vanilla, key lime curd, and whipped cream should not do the orgasmic things they did inside my mouth. But they did. And I am glad. Better still, I got to swoon over it with the stellar writing team of CSE Cooney and Carlos Hernandez (the stellar comes first, as they are fabulous people; the writing's a bonus)!
But like any ball, it ends. I've done the mad dash back to Laguardia for the late night flight; did the tricorder/keyfob thing to locate my car in the lonely, dark hometown airport lot; drove the bleary streets thinking only of bed and more bed, and knew that today, the Monday after the con's Sunday, I would bond with my bathrobe as if we were soulmates.
I hear it calling to me now. Wear me, it says, Wear me, you weary, sexy beast, and I will carry you off to dreams of wondrous people in bright colors.
I like that.
So thank you, New York. Get some sleep. We'll feel better for it in the morning.
has no special power but at least he learned enough from multiple viewings of The Incredibles not to wear a cape to fake it. Thanks gods he's spared that particular embarrassment.
Life, the universe, and everything creative
Towel Photo credit: EvelynGiggles via Foter.com / CC BY