I Believe…

Writing Practice 1/24/2019: I believe…

I believe in the kingdom come. I believe U2 was at its best in the eighties, before they got successful band syndrome. It’s okay, it happens to all of those people who get “successful”. They now have less reason to pursue their artistry and craft than they did when they were broke and absolutely needed to pursue it at all coasts, in order to eat. That kind of pressure that kind of process weeds out those who don’t believe in their message as much; it keeps them from getting complacent, until, eventually, there is so much abundance around them that thye forget the passions that drove them to and through those situations and spaces.

I believe that diamonds are not all girls’ best friends. Oh, sure. Sometimes they are an individual girl’s best friend, because they represent something larger in society, they represent wealth, and with wealth comes status, and with status comes privilege, and princessship, and servants to supply your every demand, and all that Jazz which, apparently, everyone wants.

I believe that their are footprints on the moon. Though that’s not much of a “believe” as an acceptance of fact. There really are footprints there, and pictures to prove it. I guess the belief is that I believe the pictures are not changed, faked, doctored in any way.

I believe that is the way of the world – that this, too, this process of free writing and rewriting and changing your mind halfway through is what gets us there. We are on a journey. The farthest journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, is the old adage. But it doesn’t stop there. It continues. It continues as you move forward, keep going, second step, third, fourth, fifth, tenth, twentieth, thirtieth, and suddenly (well, not suddenly, gradually, we’re not wearing Seven League Boots here) you’ve gone a mile. And after a time, two.

The value comes in going mile five hundred and one, when you’re tired and cold, and bored, and staying someplace warm, with a soft bed and a fireplace and some good company to tell you jokes in the evening as you sit, communal, gathered around the fire and smoking a pipe and enjoying the atmosphere and the community and the “feel” of the place; if you, too, become successful in that moment you will forget your journey, you will stop and stay, you will just be there, you will not finish.

__You will not end well.

____You will not overcome.

So the win, the completion, the culmination of the thousand mile journey is tho the easy part of the first step. and it is not the easy part of the last ten, twenty, eighty-seven miles. You conquer that journey when you are in the middle, faced with a decision.

–Stay?

—-Or go?

How you answer determines your fate. Choose wisely. For each future has consequence.

Announcement

Attention! Attention! Read all about it!

LOCAL WRITER TO PUBLISH BOOK

Stephan James, a writer currently residing near St. Louis, Missouri, announces today that in just under one month, on February 1, his first volume of short stories will be available for sale. Titled Predatory Behavior and Other Stories, this slim yet powerful volume will bring to light multiple issues facing society today.

“‘Predatory Behavior’ was born after seeing just how easy the publishing process really can be,” James says. “I used to think that bringing my ideas to life would be difficult. That it would take months and months, and I’d just toil in obscurity, scribbling in my notebook without ever getting the chance to see my work in book form. But now, it’s easier than ever to make my writing available to a much wider audience than I ever could have imagined. I’m excited that others can now read what I’ve written and use that as the catalyst for additional conversations about important issues within our society.”

There are ten stories included with this publication. The keystone story, “Predatory Behavior”, takes place in a world similar to the modern day, but with one key difference. A population of “Wolves” has sprung up over the past half-century, to help weed out those who are too sick to care for themselves. Not for the faint of heart, for this story contains scenes which may be considered graphic, “Predatory Behavior” nonetheless brings to light issues of health sustainability within our modern society.

Other stories deal with the last humans alive and trying to remake humanity while living on another planet; the implications of selling one’s body, though not in the way we’ve been conditioned to believe is “selling”; and how many people wish to have a new life, yet often times are unwilling to take the steps necessary to achieve it. Plus additional entries are micro-stories, also called Story Art, and highlight James’s prowess at weaving together seemingly unconnected concepts into a wonderfully taut presentation.

Predatory Behavior will be available starting February 1 on Amazon.com or directly from the author at author fairs and trade shows. “My birthday is February 11, and I wanted to give myself a unique birthday present, so I set that as the target publication date. That we’re going to have it ready before then is so exciting. I can’t wait to see the reviews.”

Predatory Behavior is published with help from SJM Copywriting, a local firm engaged in helping small businesses and nonprofits to tell better stories and get better results. More information about James and his writing can be found at stephanjameswrites.com. More information about how SJM Copywriting can support authors, small businesses, and nonprofits can be found at sjmcopywriting.com.

To The “Human” Who Sat Next To Me At The Orchestra Concert Yesterday…

Screw you.

That was incredibly rude what you did.

You were texting on your phone during my daughter’s performance. You were sharing messages between yourself and the woman sitting on your other side. Your screen, her screen, didn’t matter. You and your wife shat all over the place with your impropriety.

At least, I presume she was your wife. Maybe she was your mistress, or your $80-an-hour hooker. You might have to pay someone that much just to sit next to you.

I know I sure wouldn’t voluntarily put up with shit like that from you on the regular.

Because if that’s how you treat the performance of a high school orchestra, with even less respect than you give a movie, I’d have to be an idiot to spend any more time with you.

I wanted to tell you to stop. I could see your screen, your swiping, your scrolling, out of the corner of my eye.

I wanted to tell you to Put it away, asshole. You were a distraction to me and you were disrespectful of the orchestra members. I get it, your daughter’s portion was complete. And so you figured you owed nothing else to the boys and girls who’d worked hard over the past months preparing for this experience.

Not to mention the director. And the audience members, like myself, who wished to experience their children or friends without distraction.

But you just coudn’t help yourself. You couldn’t wait ten goddamn minutes until the set was finished and it was time to change the orchestras to pull out your phone during the appropriate time.

And speaking of pulling out, I’m now wishing your dad had the night you were conceived. That would have made last night much better.

Anyway – I wanted to tell you to stop. But I didn’t. Why?

Was it because I respected you too much? Nope. You’ll notice that I put human in quotes in the title of this screed for a reason. It’s because I don’t consider you fully evolved.

Was it because I was afraid you’d get mad at me? No again. I couldn’t give a shit what you think of me. Was I worried you’d escalate and beat me senseless right then and there, or maybe wait for me in the parking lot with a few of your buddies? Ha! As if.

The plain and simple reason I didn’t is this: Because I am better than you.

I didn’t say something to you right then because I express respect for the orchestra members. And their director. I give them the attention they deserve, and I promise to do so when I enter the auditorium. I keep my word.

If I had leaned over to you in the middle of the second movement, I would have been no better than you. I would have sunk down to your level, and I do not wish to wrestle with that pig.

Graciously, you and your “wife” decided to remove yourself from the situation at the next break. Good riddance. Glad to see you go. I enjoyed the rest of the performance immensely. I hope that whatever you were doing was worth it. I know you did your best to ruin my experience.

Joke’s on you, though. I’m better than you, remember, so I still appreciated the the performance and the artistry.

But, next time, think again before pulling out that phone. And just don’t do it.

Better yet, just do us all a favor and just stay home instead. That way, you can text all you want and none of us have to deal with your conceit. Everyone would be better off.

4 Simple Steps to Lose 20 Pounds

Step 1: Lose 1 pound

Step 2: Lose 1 pound

Step 3: Lose 1 pound

Step 4: Lose 17 more pounds.

And it’s a little facetious, I know, to just say it so flippantly. But that, apparently, is how people think. They think it’s easy to lose weight. Just eat less, exercise more, it’ll come off.

Sure, it does. It comes off. But losing 20 pounds, or 50 pounds, or 150 pounds, is not a simple process. It must happen one pound at a time, and it must be consistent progress, and you’ll get bored along the way, and you’ll get injured, and your internal homeostatic systems will conspire against you to stop your own weight loss (because your brain will think it’s headed for lean times so it will actually do whatever it can to avoid starvation, including hoarding more energy and burning less of what’s available), and your friends will tell you “You look great!” when you haven’t really done anything, and because of that you’ll be afraid to admit that you’ve cheated on your diet in the past two days and actually gained a pound, and you know in your head that it’s really just water weight, that pound, it’s not like you actually put 3,600 extra calories within your body from that doughnut, but now you start to wonder whether it really is worth it, I mean, damn, who gives a shit if you’re ten pounds overweight or if your doctor wants you to lose 20, I mean, really, he could stand to lose like 30 himself, what the hell does he know? He’s never been in your shoes with a full-time job and three kids and a shrew of a mother-in-law and no real time to exercise and just happy that the kids aren’t pouring their milk on their heads anymore at dinner time, that’s a victory in itself, no way you even have time to plan going to the gym and just forget about a sex life, goddamn, both of you are so exhausted after the day that just even the thought of trying to get excited is a no-go, I mean, really, who has time to think about all those things and plan meal schedules and hit the gym and track everything like they want you to and report your progress to your accountability partner and remember to encourage them, too?

So you look for the “easy” way. You look for “tips and tricks”. You look for the next 5-step, 4-step, 3-step process that will get you the results you want, without doing the work necessary to get there.

Let’s face it. I’m in this same boat too. I want to BE thinner, I want to HAVE six-pack abs, but I don’t want to GET thinner, I don’t want to BUILD six-pack abs.

I want the secret sauce. I want the magic beans. I want the Ab Roller to actually roll my goddamn abs into place! I don’t really want to work and sweat and measure my food and manage my sleep and say “no” to that doughnut or that sweet, sweet ambrosia of a culinary delicacy called the Five Layer Burrito.

Here’s the real deal: there are no 4 Simple Steps to Lose 20 Pounds. There are 20 steps, and they are simple, but they’re not easy:

  1. Lose 1 pound
  2. Lose 1 pound
  3. Lose 1 pound
  4. Lose 1 pound
  5. Lose 1 pound
  6. Lose 1 pound
  7. Lose 1 pound
  8. Lose 1 pound
  9. Lose 1 pound
  10. Lose 1 pound
  11. Lose 1 pound
  12. Lose 1 pound
  13. Lose 1 pound
  14. Lose 1 pound
  15. Lose 1 pound
  16. Lose 1 pound
  17. Lose 1 pound
  18. Lose 1 pound
  19. Lose 1 pound
  20. Lose 1 pound

Each pound of fat is worth approximately 3,500 calories. So, in order to complete step 1, either: take in and process and metabolize 3,500 fewer calories than your current baseline without changing anything else, or expend an additional 3,500 calories again without changing anything else. How do you burn 3,500 calories? Let’s say a rule of thumb is that you’ll get 100 calories per mile. But remember, we need to do ADDITIONAL miles over and above our baseline. If you’re running 15 miles a week already, you’ll need to add 35 miles to lose 1 pound. That’s 5 miles a day. Ain’t gonna happen.

Alternatively, how do you take in 500 fewer calories without changing anything else? If you’re already taking in 2,500 (not unreasonable), you’ve got to cut out 20% of your food intake. Every day. All week. No cheating. No extra “because I earned it” granola bars. No extra beer “to treat myself”. No extra dressing because “it’s just salad, there’s no calories there”. No mistakes, no slip-ups. No falling off the wagon. No regerts! Do all that –

To lose 1 pound.

And then you have to do that 20 more times. And then you have to hope that your body, this homeostatic system that has adapted over millennia to survive droughts and famine and starvation times, won’t sabotage you by producing less energy, burning less while you sleep, converting your current muscle cells into fat cells and storing more for the apparent lean times ahead, or harvesting more from the foods you do take in.

So, it’s the without changing anything else part that is the toughest. Actually, no, I take it back. It’s not. It’s the repeat 20 times that’s the toughest. Actually, no, I take that back. What’s toughest is to change the mindset, from I want to BE thinner, to I want to GET thinner.

Actually, no, I take back my take back of my take back. What’s toughest is to pretend like I don’t give a shit how I look and it’s all about “how I feel”. Let’s be honest. We all care how we look. We want to be fit. We want to be sexy. A lot of the current mindset of “feel” versus “looks” is pandering to the mindset that isn’t willing to work for something. And it works. I’ve bought into it. I’m more concerned with how I “feel” versus how I “look”.

But it doesn’t make me healthier. It doesn’t make me sexier. It doesn’t make me a better person.

It just makes me able to get through the day.

Composing a story, part 4 of ??

In Part 1, I described the first draft.

In Part 2, I described the revision process.

In Part 3, I described incorporating reader feedback and submission to Writers of the Future.

And now, in Part 4, I’ll give you some insight as to what happens next.

Last week, I received my rejection from Writers of the Future. And I say rejection, because I did not win any of the prizes this quarter. My story was awarded an Honorable Mention, and of course I’m happy with that. As I should be. I should not be content with it, though. I am still entering this contest because I still qualify for it, until the time when I have made enough qualifying sales to other markets. So, I keep going.

Now, I need to decide what to do with this story next. Obviously I’d like to get paid for it. There are two main options for that:

1) Self-publish on Amazon, as either a stand-alone story or part of a collection; or,

2) Submit to paying markets until one accepts and pays me for publication.

At this time I plan to pursue option (2), because I still want the connection and notoriety that comes with publication in F&SF, Clarkesworld, Asimov’s, etc. They don’t give Hugo awards to self-publishers, after all. You’ve got to be part of the in-crowd for something like that, so I go door-to-door in the in-crowd neighborhood, hawking my wares, patiently accepting their rejections, and moving on to the next.

The following are 15 markets that this story would qualify for, in terms of what kind of story they usually publish, length they accept, and whether or not they’re even open for submissions right now:

  • Clarkesworld
  • New Myths
  • Uncanny
  • Phantaxis
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies
  • Abyss & Apex
  • Giganotosaurus
  • Fantasy & Science Fiction
  • Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show
  • Lightspeed
  • Apex
  • Strange Horizons
  • Leading Edge
  • T Gene Davis’ Speculative Blog
  • Outposts of Beyond

I’ve submitted to Clarkesworld. This is run by Neal Clarke, and he’s very quick on the turnaround. I should have an answer in 3 days or less. When the rejection from that comes in, I’ll go down the list. Or, if there’s an impending deadline for submissions, I’ll advance that listing in the hierarchy. If I didn’t realize it and market is closed when I get to it, I go to the next one. This happens often.

So, we’re in the thick of it now! Cross your fingers – there might be an acceptance in the works, sometime in the next couple of years. Yes, it sometimes really does take that long. I’ve got one story I’ve submitted 15 times since 2015, and it’s still getting rejections. But I like it, and I’d like more people to read it, so I keep submitting. I’ve heard anecdotes of authors selling stories on the 40th submission or later. I don’t know if I have that determination. Or is it foolishness? It’s up to me to eventually decide to pull a story from the rotation and just keep it to myself. Until then, we press on.

Extremely Bad Advice – Roommate “Situation”

Another one “borrowed” from Dear Abby. Thanks for doing the research for me, love!

Dear SJ: I’m a man in my mid-30s. For the past couple of years I’ve been in love with my best friend. She doesn’t know how I feel, and I know she doesn’t feel the same way about me. (She calls me the brother she always wanted.) I try hard to fight these feelings os our friendship can continue. She has been a huge part of my life, so losing her friendship would be devastating.

To make maters more difficult, we are currently roommates and spend lots of time together. My heart breaks when she goes on dates or talks a bout guys she may be interested in. I know she’Lloyd never see me as more than a friend. Is there any way I can get over these feelings so we can continue this amazing friendship? – FRIEND ZONE IN VERMONT

Dear FRIEND ZONE,

Seems pretty obvious to me. Your best friend / girlfriend is an incestuous freak. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not for everyone. But when someone talks about you as “the brother she always wanted”, that’s code for “I wanna bang my whole family.” Plus, why do you think she agreed to live with you? She’s been trying to grease the skids this whole time.

You see, there’s a big body of scientific literature that says exactly this: boys want to kill their fathers and replace them between their mother’s legs. It’s called the Oedipus Complex. It’s what drives so much of human evolution. “It was good enough for Dad, it should be good enough for me!” The parallel for women is the Electra Complex, which, my best guess is, has something to do with wiring your nipples to a car battery. Sounds like your friend has taken this to the logical extreme… if sons want to bang Mommy, then daughters want to bang Daddy. Since “society” says she can’t do that, she’s acting out in the nearest substitute possible: you.

She’s grooming you to be Dad’s replacement. It starts out as a surrogate brother, and once she’s got you hooked on that mental mind-warp she’ll start imagining her father’s face on your body when you’re doing it. Trust me, you don’t want to be on the inside of her mind when that happens. I’ve been there, it’s not pretty.

And don’t make the mistake of thinking that she’s really interested in these other guys she’s talking about our dating. Those are just a ploy to make you jealous – to make you see her as desirable – to incite you to finally “man up” and make your move. Let’s be honest: there’s never in history been a male / female couple that is just really good friends without both of them wanting to bone. And it’s not anybody’s fault; that’s just how we’re wired as a species.

So, what’s your move? Forget about “getting over the feelings”. You and I both know that’s not going to happen. Instead, you need to step up and step out. Tell her exactly what you feel. If you need help writing the script, it should sound something like this:

“Hey, Roomie, let’s be more than roommates. You know your lady-bits tingle when I walk in the room, ‘cause I feel the same way. My Tower of Power gets all electrified just thinking about you. Those other guys? They ain’t got nothin’ on me. Remember last month when you ‘accidentally’ walked in on me in the shower? Yeah, I ‘forgot’ to lock the door, and you somehow ‘didn’t remember’ that I take a shower every day at exactly that same time. Let’s not kid ourselves any more. We should do this, ‘cause, feelings, and stuff. What do you say?” Trust me, it’ll work out great. Soon you’ll be banging like a screen door in a hurricane and everyone wins.

And because I’m a good guy, I’ll even give you a Plan B. If she does happen to reject you (even though my analysis is on point like 98% of the time), and you really do want to forget all about your feelings, try this. Hit yourself in the head with a hammer. If you can remember, afterwards, why you hit yourself, do it again. Repeat as necessary. Toodle-ooo!

Extremely Bad Advice – Weight Loss Tips and Tricks

Dear SJ,

My doctor says I really need to lose 20 pounds. But I really don’t want to give up peanut butter. What should I do? EXTRA CHUNKY FOR THE WIN

Dear EXTRA CHUNKY,

First off, I gotta say, if your doctor says you need to lose 20 pounds, you can bet it’s more like 40. And if you’re in the US, I’ll put dollars to doughnuts that it’s really 60, but both your doctor and I know that if someone actually says that to you, you’ll pull a nope, nope, nopey nope nope. Like the 98% majority in this country, you would rather just be thin than get thin, so seeing the whole mountain of work in front of you becomes an intimidation rather than an inspiration.

And while I may decry the phenomenon, I’m not really that interested in beating my brains out to change community psychology. It’s like trying to unburn a campfire: in principle it can happen, but in practice it’s a one-way street. And this street is a supersize, extra grande, double-stuffed highway straight to the donut shoppe. Everyone does it, so why should you bother trying to stand out? Just accept the diabetes and the inevitable (but ultimately innefective) bariatric surgery. You’ll be much happier along the way, even if the way is materially shortened due to a heart attack or liver failure.

But, if you’re so committed to this self-delusion that you actually think you can lose weight, and you’re looking for some hints other than the standard “Eat Less, Move More” that you must have ignored already, I’ll give you a great plan to get off the Skippy.

First, enjoy all of the rest of the tub that you’ve got in your pantry. And I do mean “tub”, not “jar”, because fatties like you don’t buy peanut butter in the smallest serving size available. Am I right? Or am I right? I’m right. [nodding and winking] I’m right.

Next, go buy yourself 10 more tubs of peanut butter. For this exercise, they need to be the “natural” kind, where the oil settles out. Open them all, unseal them, and mix that oil back in. Take 2 tablespoons out of each one and eat them, in your preferred method. See, this isn’t so bad, is it? You got this!

Now, time for the payoff. Take an empty cup and head to the bathroom. Collect a urine sample. If you have other family members, you could recruit them to help you by donating theirs as well. “It’s a team effort!” Now – for ONLY ONE of those tubs, add the urine and stir again. Put all the lids back on, and forget which jar has your stanky old waste inside. Mix them up like a card sharp on 42nd Street and put them back on the shelf. Now, every time you to go grab a scoop of Extra Chunky, all you have to do is think, Yeah, but there could be pee in it. And poof! Desire gone.

Do write back in 6 months and let me know how it goes. I’m gonna bet my neighbor that it’s less likely you hit your weight loss goal than you say something like “Surprisingly, you really can’t even taste the ammonia!” Peace!