Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Bradbury Project, Week 1: What Water Wants

Stentz awoke suddenly in the small hours with a foul taste in his mouth and a piss-boner of prodigious urgency. He was busting. He rolled from his bed, kicking aside the clothes he’d left beside it, and shuffled rapidly into the bathroom, clenching hard inside to hold back the flow. Even so, a few drops spilled onto his hand and down his leg before he’d fully fished his dick out of his boxers. “Ah, shit,” he muttered, without thinking; but of course, no, that would have been infinitely worse. He planted his feet—the seat was up, the seat was always up, because, really, what would be the point?—and released the stream, hot and fat and acrid. He shuddered with relief that was almost pleasure.

The Bradbury Project: An Introduction

So this was going around the Web a couple of weeks ago: Ray Bradbury Gives 12 Pieces of Advice to Young Writers. Now, I long ago aged out of the “young writer” demographic — though I still feel that I’m a beginner, and if God is good to me I suppose I always shall — but there’s a lot of good stuff here for anyone, at any stage of their career.

I’ve been on a bit of a Bradbury kick lately anyway. My annual Halloween reread of Something Wicked This Way Comes (inspiration for this mixtape from the Popdose Conceptual Theater of the Airwaves) has been a forcible reminder of his considerable strengths and equally considerable weaknesses. His long slide into right-wing crankdom was sad, but hardly unprecedented; even leaving aside the long screed of Fahrenheit 451, you can discern traces of bitter judgmentalism in those early shockers, where he was apt to insinuate that it was perfectly okay to murder someone if they didn’t love the same books that you loved. The fact remains that as an imaginist, Bradbury is nearly unparalleled; as a stylist, though, he’s a distinctly mixed bag. At its best, his prose has a kind of lucent poetry to it — but when he stumbles, boy howdy! Vague and prolix.

The failings in others that bother us most are the ones that we fear we might share, and the remedy they find (if any) might be the one that we seek. Bradbury is at his best — the power of his ideas is best matched with, but not overwhelmed by, the vividness of his prose — in his short stories. So this piece of advice at the top of the list really jumped out at me:

Begin your writing life ... by cranking out “a hell of a lot of short stories,” as many as one per week. Take a year to do it; [Bradbury] claims that it simply isn’t possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row. 
narrows eyes
hitches up belt

Mister, I’ll take that challenge.

Look. The Honeythief is out in the world now, a feral thing learning to tolerate the company of human beings before I bring it out to society in the months to come; I’m pondering my next long fiction project while keeping busy with contract work and freelance proofreading, and nursing a general unhappiness with the slack tone of my fiction muscle. It’s grown accustomed to the slow lope of a novel; I want to tighten it for the sprint.

So here’s the idea for the exercise: One new short story per week — most likely very short — in this space, for one year or as long as I can manage it. (I’m painfully aware that I barely made it to 100 days on a long-ago attempt at 40x365.) Stakes so low as to be non-existent. I’m not going to write anything that’s purposely terrible, but I’m not gonna lose any sleep sweating the content, either. The important thing is just to do it. It’s about the process, not the product. And if nothing else comes from it, I will have written a bunch of short stories.

I don’t know that Uncle Ray was entirely right. I have a suspicion that it is all too possible to write 52 shitty stories, one after another; but I do believe that you can’t write 52 stories in a row, however awful, without learning a thing or two.

And learning — that’s what being a beginner is all about.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Glutton For Punishment

Back for the New Year, it's PopSmarts all over again, this time taking a look at the history of gimmickry in film — and the underlying idea of cinema as an incomplete artform. Featuring William Castle, Professor Layton, Madeleine Kahn, and Smell-O-Vision!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Every Yuletide Carol Needs a Troll

Dropping a turd in your holiday punchbowl, PopSmarts is back to kick it old-school — 1834-style in fact, as we take a look at the historical legislation that prompted the writing of A Christmas Carol, and how the assumptions behind those laws are still relevant in our own more-enlightened time.
It's a long read, but if you retain only a single line of it, let it be this one:
The stone truth is that people on government assistance earn every goddam penny.
Come for the history lesson; stay for the outrage!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Wake the Snake

The new Popdose Conceptual Theater of the Airwaves has gone live — an eighty-minute-plus seamless MP3 mix curated by yours truly, free for download, featuring an imaginary soundtrack to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. With PJ Harvey, the Smiths, Imogen Heap, Judas Priest, and the Kronos Quartet, plus rare (-ish) tracks from Daniel Johnston, Alan Moore, Television Personalities, and the colloquial many more. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Beaver Has Landed


My comp copies of Weird Canada have arrived! The book itself is a monster — almost 400 pages of strange and unlikely facts and trivia about America’s Hat — and it’s the perfect present for the expatriate or Canuckophile on your Christmas list.

The books arrived less than 24 hours ago and, as predicted, I cannot pry the Boy’s copy from his hands.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

But I Know What I Am

Sometimes a song expresses your political beliefs; sometimes it helps you to form them. This time around at PopSmarts, a personal reflection on identity, presentation, and the hunger for authenticity, and how even a jokey song can exercise a profound effect.

Friday, November 22, 2013


This time, PopSmarts thinks wa-a-a-ay too hard about management theory and decision-making bias as they apply to casual gaming, as I subject a prime slice of mid-90s shareware to far more thorough consideration than its own creator ever did.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Dig the Streets of Life! Dig the Chinamen!

To pay dubious honor to the centenary of Fu Manchu, PopSmarts considers one of the best-loved but seldom-seen comicbooks of the Marvel Age, Master of Kung Fu — and the ways in which it both depended upon and interrogated racial stereotypes.

Set aside some time for this one. At 3,500 words, and with a boatload of images, it’s exactly the sort of in-depth pop-culture delve that my sainted editor Jeff Giles was asking for when he greenlit this column, the poor dope. He asked for it, and now he’s getting it, good and hard.

And for no particular reason but that I love you, here’s a bonus panel of Shang-Chi straight-up karate-chopping a goddamned alligator:

(from Master of Kung Fu #23, art by Al Milgrom and Klaus Janson)