Friday, June 25, 2010

You are what you read (The Jon version)

Awhile back, as you long time readers will no doubt remember, my fellow Scribblerati Agent Mark Teats wrote a blog titled: “You are what you read”, listing some of his long time favorite and most personally influential authors. A fun and insightful read, I thought it was a fantastic idea, one I fully intended to copy as soon as it was my turn to blog again.

Then I forgot all about it.

I forgot a couple of times, in fact, but now—thanks Google Calendar!—I have remembered!

Let’s begin:

(And, of course, there are many other authors and books that I love, even though they are not included on this list, which is transient and appears here in no particular order. Mmm-kay?)

Some of My Favorites, a list by Jonathan Hansen

1. On the Road: Kerouac

There are some who have a problem with this book and its style. There are some who have issues with the culture he helped create (issues I share), but still, this book speaks to a part of me, to who I used to be, to who I wanted to be, and I’ll always love going back to read it again. It’s like visiting old friends and good times.

2. In Cold Blood: Capote

This last school photo of poor doomed Nancy Clutter still haunts me, as does the kind of runaway freight train inevitability of this book, the horrible tragedy and sadness of it all. I came to this book late in life and it simply dazzled me. It is fantastic, one of my very favorites. Capote writes the wide open spaces, perfectly realized, perfectly executed, it is brilliant. Brilliant.

3. Catcher in the Rye: Salinger

So much has been said about this book, about this author, about the culture and hype that surrounds it, that there is little that I can add, except: I read this in fourth or fifth grade and Holden Caulfield blew my mind—like out the top of my head, blew my mind. The quote: “People never notice anything.” That was it, man. In my young head… that was it.

4. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Thompson

I think all young men of my particular ilk have a Thompson phase. I know I did, maybe still do. The trick is, once you can see the other side of it, is to not spend the rest of your life doing a poor imitation of the man’s signature wild man style... most are unable to do this and spend forever wallowing in mediocrity, because no doubt the man was a unique talent, one sorely missed these days. This here: “And that, I think, was the handle - that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of old and evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look west, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark - that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.” Brilliant.

5. Among the Thugs: Buford

Man, let me tell you—if you want crazy... Have you ever wondered what would happen when a man sucked another man’s eyeball out of his socket during a fight? No? Dudes... don’t read this book then. And that is only ONE of the crazy ass things these crazy ass, real life Man U fans actually did... in real life! They practically burned Juventus to the ground! Why? Because they were there! Amazing book! Amazing.

6. Lyonesse: Vance

As a kid, I was... restless... so Mom would ship me off during the summer. Sometimes, I would visit my Aunt in Los Angeles and she lived in a zombie proof fortress, kind of near Little Tokyo, on the corner of Crack Head Street and Staff Infection Avenue... so, I didn’t get to play outside much. It was always a fun visit, the loft was spacious and we did lots of fun stuff, but still, sometimes there was down time and LA had weird TV and I was like...9 and it’s not like I had brought a bunch of my toys and stuff with, so one day in a B Dalton, I wanted to buy a book. I picked one with a Green armored Knight riding a Purple striped Tiger and was like: “Oh hell yes, this one.” (Paraphrased). And my Aunt said: “But that’s number two... Here’s number one.” And she picked up this one:

“You should get the first one in the series.” And I said: “...” There was no denying the logic, so with slumped shoulders and a last longing look at the Tiger riding Knight, I got it (Holden Caulfield hadn’t taught me rebellion yet) and took it back to the Loft. Since then, I’ve probably read it two dozen times. I read my first version to pieces. The story of the slowly sinking Elder Isles, the invading Ska, the Sorcerer Murgen, and young Dhrun, poor Princes Suldrun, evil King Casmir and Prince Alias one day washing up on the beach is simply... Great. High Adventure. High Fantasy. Tons of characters. Jack Vance is a mad genius. It's a fantasy to be swept away in. It may have even been the first "real" book I read as a kid. I Loved it. It was way better than the purple Tiger book...

7. The Road: McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy is so good, I forgive his lack of quotation marks and dialogue designators. The Road and No Country for Old Man blur by, so spare and yet so richly illustrated, while Blood Meridian is a literary ass kicking. He is brutal and beautiful and his work is staggering. He is so good, it’s intimidating.

8. True Grit: Portis

I’ll make an admission... I’ve never seen this movie. I’ve heard it’s good and once I come across it on DVD, I’ll totally watch it, but yeah... never seen it. So I went into reading this with only a slight image of John Wayne in my head and honestly, this book is amazing. Amazing. It’s one of those books that came flying out of left field and landed in my lap and I was like: “Huh...” Nothing but fun and written like a house a’fire. A total blast. The most amazing part is how aware the book seems, how honest and insightful, all while maintaining the classic tropes of the Western. And now the Cohen Brothers are making it into a film that is supposed to be faithful to the book? Sweet...

9. The Stand: King

So, maybe I’ve mentioned this before, either here or over at my own blog, but I love comics and one of my favorite things to do as a kid was when I would go visit my Grandparents in Boone Iowa, I’d slip away at some point with all of my crumpled bills and handfuls of coins and walk to “downtown” Boone to visit the Hallmark store. In the back they had the biggest shelf of comics my used-to-the-spinner-rack eyes had ever seen. In a time before my first comic shop... this place was heaven and I would carefully count all of my money, so I could buy the most amount of comics available. It took some time, effort, and arithmetic, let me tell you (especially since I was reading all the ones I couldn’t buy), but anyway, after much deliberation, I picked up my stack and started toward the front when a cover stopped me dead... "wha..?":

An extra 400 pages?!?! 400!?!? Now, you need to understand, this book, Star Wars, and the Road Warrior (I still didn’t have the guts, at the time, to watch Night of the Living Dead), they had awaken me to storytelling, opened doors in my head and lit my mind on fire. An extra 400 pages!!! I'd already read the edited version, devoured it, so without pause, without a thought, I left my comics behind and used my money to buy this book. I still have it too. The covers are gone and the first few pages of the front and back, I know it well. This is an end of the world, multi character, Good vs. Evil masterpiece.

10. A Game of Thrones: Martin

Here’s my second admission: I hate fantasy. I love Tolkien, because he’s Tolkien, but all the deformed bastard children he’s whelped in the time since... ugh. Bloodless, sexless, lame half wits, lacking... EVERYTHING that could be considered good...ugh... I had given it up, man. I didn’t want any more. I was done. I mean, I’ve since discovered authors who write kick ass, fantastic fantasy with realistic characters and are good and awesome and well done, like Joe Abercrombie or Richard K. Morgan, for instance, but George here, he was the first one on that road for me with this fat, sprawling monster of a series where powerful houses vie for the throne while an ancient evil grows behind a 300 foot tall wall of ice. The best part of these books is the fear, absolute best part... any character can die in these books, any one of them, and he’s more than proven his willingness to kill, maim, or just generally run through the ringer any character you might think would normally be safe... Let me assure you, they are not. Fantastic books, huge, involving, well-written, they are hardcore. If the idea of what hitting someone with a mace would actually do makes you squeamish, then don’t read these. Seriously brutal. But brilliant. The only (potential) problem is that there’s supposed to be six books and only four are out right now, and it's been awhile, so George is at that tipping point most long term fantasy series authors find themselves at eventually, the point where the story may spiral out of control and never end—fingers are crossed that he is able to land this beast, especially because HBO is doing a series next year. A season per book! WOOOO!

Winter is coming.

I’m so excited.

Anyway, what are you reading?


Monday, June 21, 2010

Happy Solstice!

May your days be long, sunny, and full of writing success!

Friday, June 18, 2010

On Vacation

"A writer never has a vacation. For a writer, life consists of either writing or thinking about writing."

~ Eugène Ionesco

Vacation. What a glorious word. This week I’ve been on vacation with my family. Not going to my usual IT job, not spending much time at home, mostly. But do writers ever really take vacation? I tend to agree with the quote I chose to open this blog posting. I think us writer types are always writing even when our hands are not clutching pens or tapping away on keyboards—or at minimum we’re always gathering new material.

One of my work colleagues recently asked me where my writing ideas come from. I’m not entirely sure, but for me finding new ideas is in part just a process of living day-to-day and accumulating new experiences (or reliving old ones) to add to the memory banks. There they can be mulled over immediately or added someplace into the subconscious where eventually they might find their way either intact or modified into some new form onto the written page by my writer’s mind.

Some of my recent vacation activities/experiences/writing exercises:

· Attended two weddings and a graduation party.

· Woke to the patter of north woods’ rain on a cabin roof with the ghostly calls of loons echoing across the nearby, misty lake

· Had a conversation with a U.S. artillery engineer about his day job.

· Started a fire with which to char marshmallows.

· Wondered where all the convoys of Humvees were going off to.

· Passed a town in Iowa called Hope. The bright orange sign over its exit read “CLOSED.”

· Rescued a recklessly ambitious turtle from atop a five-foot tall rock wall. Avoided being peed on by same turtle. Apparently a one-pound turtle is made up of about 14 ounces of pee.

· The following day watched 180(!) kids compete in a turtle race. Was sorry I’d let the previous turtle go—he would have made a helluva racer.

· Watched skeptically from a beach chair as my 7-year-old son declared he was going to catch frogs. Became a believer when he kept running back to my chair eight times, insisting that I take a picture of each frog, and that I say goodbye to each one of them before he’d let them go.

· Chatted with someone who was once offered John Wayne Gacy’s business card. (OK, that was slightly before my vacation, but it’s freaky enough I won’t forget it soon.)

· Learned of antique fishing lures with names like “The Ghost” and “Baby Tom” and “The Luminous Flying Hellgrammite.” (The last is my favorite and I think perhaps would make a good superhero name)

· Swam. Paddled both a canoe and a kayak. Rowed a boat.

· Drove a go-cart: came in second place, being unable to pass only the 15-year-old girl with her streaming copper-blonde hair that looked like speed-induced flames as I ate her dust. She will be a terror when she gets her driver’s license next year, but no cop will be able to catch her. NASCAR scouts would be wise to seek her out.

· Read “Breathless” by Dean Koontz and “Percy Jackson & The Olympians; The Lightning Thief,” by Rick Riordan.
Both good reads that I’d recommend.

· Witnessed a man (who physically reminded me of Fred Flintstone) consume a 34-ounce porterhouse steak (bronto-steak?) to the euphoric adoration of his four children. He got a free t-shirt out of the deal. In the meantime, I sulked at my corner table being scorned by my family for my inability to finish my 8-ounce burger.

· Tried a half dozen new wines. After enough wine my writing ideas take on a different flavor.

· Was given the honorific title of, “best guy ever” (their words, not mine) by a swarm of children that watched me land a bass of maybe 2 pounds on a sunset dock. They rushed in asking questions like, “Does it have a tongue?” and “Are you going to eat it?” Once I unhooked the fish and showed them that it did indeed have a tongue I perplexed them greatly by letting the fish go. The fish on the other hand, enjoying his freedom, I believe agreed with my new title.

So those tidbits are the things I remember from this brief vacation—and I’m sure there are many more now lurking in my subconscious. These experiences have been added to my brain and are waiting there, composting, until ready to make an appearance somewhere on one of my future written pages.

In the meantime here’s hoping that you, writer or not, manage to squeeze in a vacation or at least some relaxation & fun into your summer.


Too much work, and no vacation,

Deserves at least a small libation.

So hail! my friends, and raise your glasses,

Work's the curse of the drinking classes.

~Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

So if I had to choose my own name…

Hello everyone, it's Hump Day, and you know what that means, right?


You don't remember a few months back when I said I was going to make a “Hump Day Surprise” post on every Wednesday?

Well, really, who can blame you? I mean, I had the best of intentions but then craziness ensued, and then laziness followed, and I think you get the idea. So, from now on, I think I'm going to put extra emphasis on the “surprise” part and just leave you all guessing as to when I'm actually do get around to doing one of these.

Now, having said all that, onward!

I recently came to the conclusion that I need to choose a pen name. It isn't something I ever thought I would do, but an unexpected need for anonymity has conspired to make me think otherwise. No, it's not that I'm afraid that someday in the distant future some crazy fan will track me down, rather, I need to keep my work life and my writing life separate.

Now, you would think that having a day job and writing on the side wouldn't be mutually exclusive, but you would be wrong. You would also think that your coworkers would be supportive of your extracurricular endeavors in the same way that they are supportive of other people's need to spend time with their families, but you would be wrong about that as well. You may have a different experience, but I have discovered, quite unexpectedly, that having an active, social media presence unrelated to my day job can be a liability.

Hence: pen name.

And now that I'm done bitching, here's the fun part! I need to choose a pen name. Most of the ones I've thought of so far are variations on my own name and mash ups of my last name with my wife's. Here's a few:

Sean Patrick
Patrick Shawn
Sean Raelin
Patrick Raelin

And you can get a whole bunch more variations by switching Sean with Shawn and Raelin with Raelyn.

I think I have a favorite but I'm curious, what do you think?

Friday, June 11, 2010

One Wedding 4 POVs

One Wedding 4 POVs

Here are four special blog entries in honor of Jon & Ela’s recent marriage. May it be filled with joy, fantasy and only the right amount of zombies.

Mark, Claudia, Shawn & Lisa

From the Journal of Beryl Kodiak:

Who knows what these Insiders will think of next.

It's not good enough for them to squat in the woods like everyone else does. Nope, they gotta make a fuss about toilets and toilet paper and air freshener.
And it's not good enough for them to root about for grubs and acorns and roots like most everyone else, or to take the rabbit raw in your munching jaws. Instead, they've got to braise and steam and bake and blanch and dress and marinade and roast and grill and, well, you get my meaning, right?
And it's not good enough for them to sit on the fair green ground on the sweet sighing trees. They've gotta build fantastical castles with ornate desks and credenzas and patios for to suck their fire sticks on. They lose their fur and then they need fireplaces and shawls and wraps and neck strings and pink and blue pocket hankies and I'm not even gonna mention the shoes...
Nope. All of that would be odd enough, but listen: going into heat and making babies out in the open air apparently isn't good enough for them either. They gotta get the whole community to agree. And they gotta do it inside. And they gotta talk and talk and talk about it. It's called a Wedding.
Bat Scat. They are Weird! I'll never figure them out. Not if I live four lives, I won't.
But you wanna know what the Best Thing was?
The Best Thing Ever?
I'll just say this, if anyone ever invites you to a gathering where there will be a Cupcake Tree,
no matter how Insiderly that person might be? Do not think. Do not ponder. Just say YES!
I ate the whole thing. Every single one of those scatting cupcakes. My Dirt Clod, were they good.
I'm not sure what all happened after that, coz just as I was finishing licking the frosting off my nose, they ran me out of the place.
No matter, my tummy was nice and round.

(By Lisa Bergin)

Ela & Jon’s Wedding as reported by Tea Leaf

Airelai crossed over to the window, pushed the panes open, and looked out onto a cobblestone plaza filled with busy people passing between the sea of four and five story buildings that spread out in all directions. She placed her thin, elvish arms onto the sill and leaned out far enough for a puff of wind to catch her silver white hair and blow it across her dark oval shaped eyes. It was one of those perfect, pre-Darktime days where the Father's stark, blue white rays hammered down past the Mother's giant auburn crescent and promised of the cold that was soon to come.
A familiar buzz rushed past her head and she smiled in response. “Tea leaf?”
“Hi, Air!” a tiny, high-pitched voice said from somewhere above her. The buzz raced down to an abrupt stop and Airelai blinked at the tiny fairie’s sudden appearance. Tea Leaf's miniature, elflike body was no taller than the length of a human hand but her silver, dragonfly like wings stretched twice again that distance. She hovered in the air with an effortless grace.
Airelai smiled as she asked, “Where have you been, Tea Leaf?”
“Wedding,” Tea Leaf replied with a nonchalant kick of her legs.
Airelai asked, “Whose wedding?”
“Jon and Ela.”
“I don't know them, do I?”
Tea leaf shook her tiny head. “Me think not.”
“How do you know them?”
“Me not know Ella much, but Jon my critiquer!”
“Critiquer.” Airelai mused over the word. “Is that some strange human thing I haven't learned of yet?”
Tea leaf crossed her twig like arms over her chest. “Me not tell. Faerie secret.”
“Fine,” Airelai said with a smile. “Tell me about this wedding.”
Tea leaf threw open her arms and pirouetted in the air as she said, “Wedding beautiful! Ella dress like snow on illiana leaves.”
“Sounds pretty. What about Jon?”
“Nice uniform,” Tea Leaf said as she puffed out her chest. “Big smile. Jon tell funny stories about working in store. Ella is smelly and fits in his arm.”
Airelai was aghast. “Tea leaf! That's not nice!”
“What not nice?”
“You just said the bride was smelly.”
“Jon said it good smell.” Her brow furrowed as she said, “Like breakfast maybe. Me not remember.” She brightened suddenly, adding, “Jon big fan of Captain America! You know Captain America?”
“I know a Captain Hengest,” Airelai said thoughtfully.
Tea leaf shook her head. “Not same Captain.”
Airelai said, “Tell me more, Tea Leaf. Were there many guests?”
“And how did they look?”
“Amazing! Specially back corner table.” Her tiny cheeks blushed red as she added, “Boys very pretty.”
Airelai grinned as she asked, “Don't you mean handsome?”
“That too!”
“And the ladies?”
“Beautiful!” Tea Leaf said with an enthusiastic sigh.
“Was there food?”
“Oh, yes!” The little faerie began to buzz about as she said, “Wines and fishes and vegetable and cow but best part-”
Airelai interrupted, “What is cow?”
Tea leaf was crestfallen. “You not want hear best part?”
“I do, but what is cow?”
Tea leaf wrinkled her nose. “Big stinky thing. Much drool.” Her face lit with excitement as she asked, “Now tell best part?”
“Yes. Now you can tell me the best part.”
Tea leaf threw her arms wide as she shouted, “Giant cake cup tree!”
“Cake cups?”
Tea Leaf dreamily hugged her arms to her chest as she said, “Giant cups of soft with sweet on top! Me never got to soft. Got full eating way through sweet!”
Airelai laughed. “It sounds like you had a good time.”
“Me did,” Tea Leaf said with a self-satisfied nod. “Me think Jon and Ela make a good team.”
“I'm glad,” Airelai said with a warm smile for both her little friend and the newly wedded couple.
Tea Leaf returned her smile, bent forward in a quick, little bow, then began to drift away.
Airelai asked, “Leaving already, Tea Leaf?”
“Sorry. Me can't stop. Belly full of sweet!”
“Get out of here then,” Airelai said, laughing. “Go work it off.” She turned from the window, shaking her head. Tea leaf was always having one crazy adventure or another.
“Seamus?” She called.
“Yes, darling?” A rich, human voice answered from the next room.
“Do you know a Captain America?”

(By Shawn Enderlin)

The Right Choice

It happened right after they cut the cake. Ela and Jon were about to return to their sweetheart table to enjoy their first marriage slice, when someone stepped on Ela’s train.
“Dude, you’re stepping on my dress,” she said, and turned.
It was a zombie: the vanguard of the horde yet to come. How it’d gotten in wasn’t discovered until much later, after all the bodies were burned and the married couple had enjoyed their first dance. Wanting to provide salmon as a fourth dinner option for their guests, Jon and Ela had needed to cut corners somewhere, and unfortunately hired what turned out to be a sub-par zombie guard unit. Some guy named Zeke, who’d been stationed at the loading dock, had apparently set down his rifle in order to light up a smoke. It was the last thing he ever did.
“Shit,” said Ela, and in one smooth movement, she dropped her dessert plate, grabbed the cake knife with both hands, spun gracefully in her dress and lopped off the vile thing’s head.
“See,” said Jon, who hadn’t moved throughout the entire exchange, and in fact still maintained his grip on his cake plate, “I told you the jumbo knife was the right choice.”

(By Claudia Hankin)

Wedding Crasher

There is no time for this, her angels whispered to Noel.
She ignored them. She couldn’t resist.
She had seen the ladies in their elegant bridesmaid’s dresses on the balcony as she cut through the Minneapolis park. The men in their black tuxedos. A wedding party. She entered the building with the sign “The Woman’s Club of Minneapolis” through a back entrance. The lower levels were silent and decorated in ivory paint and old paintings, the curtains around the tall windows reminding her of French vanilla frosting on a celebratory cake. Etta James’ “At Last” rose and swelled upstairs, the sound filtering down the empty wooden staircase and she followed it.
She snuck through the vacant dining hall where just moments ago people had dined on sumptuous salmon in a dill béarnaise sauce and steaks the size of her foot. Her stomach growled. She hadn’t eaten all day. She noted a lone white frosted cupcake with a trio of raspberries on it, the last dessert in the otherwise empty cupcake tree. She cupped it in her hands and stood at the back of the group of partiers, their backs all to her, focused solely on the bride and groom as they held each other on the dance floor, the bass of the music thrumming along.
“The first dance,” she said to herself and felt giddy, felt for a moment like a normal sixteen-year-old girl. She squeezed next to a clutch of women in their 20s and 30s all gathered in the doorway watching the couple. They looked at her briefly and smiled in amusement, then returned their attention to the dancers. Noel had to look out of place in the crowd of gaily-dressed couples, her black and red hair askew, her t-shirt and short black skirt still damp from the rain earlier this afternoon. She didn’t care; she leaned in closer to get a look at the new husband and wife as they danced.
They were a handsome couple as they moved around the dance floor amidst the circle of adoring friends and family. The bride had short black hair topped with a white lace ribbon, her cream-colored dress spilling around her petite frame. Gorgeous. The tuxedoed groom with his pink pocket square looked happy but focused on the rehearsed dance moves they executed beautifully together. The groom was also dark-haired and something about the upright way he carried his shoulders as they danced made him look a bit like, well, like Superman. Strong, caring, just the sort of man she hoped she could find someday. Years from now, perhaps, when all of this was over. When she could go back and try to put together the pieces of her broken life. Oh to dream.
“…then the spell was cast. And here we are in heaven….” Etta James crooned.
Above the couple, like a million miniature shining stars that only Noel could see, amidst the glowing flame tipped bulbs in the medieval looking chandeliers hanging above the dance floor, floated the Hafaza. Guardian angels. They were drawn to times and places of great happiness. The glowing beings smiled and circled above the couple, an infinity of glowing lights. This wedding was indeed blessed.
A dark shadow passed over Noel and a deep gravelly voice whispered behind her, “Found you. Time to go.”
She didn’t bother saying anything to acknowledge Blackheart’s dark looming shape. She might get away with lingering at the back of this happy crowd of partiers, but if people noticed him it would wreck the whole celebration. Noel turned, her fleeting fantasies of marriage and future happiness dissipating. Back to the task at hand.
“Can’t blame a girl for dreaming,” she sighed, following after his tall, gloomy frame.
“The hell I can’t,” Blackheart grumbled. “We got places to go, demons to kill.”
She paused for just a moment and looked back, watching as the bride and groom ended their first dance in an embrace and a kiss and the applause of their loved ones. For just a moment longer she dreamed she was the bride, there on the dance floor. One day.
Then she turned back into the darkness of the summer evening, following after Blackheart. Getting into his Firebird she took a bite of the delectable cupcake. To her it tasted like true love.

(By Mark Teats)

Friday, June 4, 2010


I FINISHED MY FIRST DRAFT! Woo hoo! It's around 140,000 words, and, holy mokers, it's a story! It's also a mess. I'm sure you'll hear all my fine opinions on revising in the upcoming months. But for now? Celebration. Pride. A Tattoo. (My congratulatory present to myself). And of course, a toast. Here's the easy-to-make margarita punch that will make you the hit of every summer barbeque. So raise a Cuban Pete with me (or the non alcoholic bevvie of your choice), to that first big step in a whopping goal. To my Scribblerati, and all you other writers who've been there before, I'm impressed. To you.

Cuban Pete
(Named for the Louis Armstrong song)

Add 1 large can frozen limeade to a bowl
Refill empty limeade can 3 times:
Once with tequila, pour into bowl
Once with Sprite, pour into bowl
Once with Corona, pour into bowl
Stir. Add ice.
Salt rim of glass, fill glass with ice. Ladle punch into glass.
Garnish with lime.
Summer in a glass.
You're welcome.