So, Apparently I Write Fiction Now…Again

Back in the olden days of 2002, I thought I was going to be the next great American author. Admittedly, it was a very creative time in my life, and I was getting some decent feedback from writerly friends, a creative writing professor, and even a professional author. With my head sufficiently swollen, I submitted a few short stories to giants of the industry, like Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Weird Tales Magazine, and a handful of respected short story contests.

I was rotely rejected by every one.

I never even got any personalized feedback; just generic form letters that might as well have been stamped with a big, red “Nope!” at the top.

Confused, angry, and conceited, I did the smart thing when my short stories were rejected – I started writing novels. I would plan these epic, sweeping tomes of Lovecraftian horror, Reservoir Dog-like heists filled with clever characters rambling on about retro pop culture, pulp-inspired space operas staring cloned aliens on the planet Mars, and heart wrenching tales of star-crossed lovers. Notice I said I would plan these stories. Writing them was an entirely different matter. But even the act of outlining made me feel like I was doing something, that I was…(pause for dramatic effect) a writer!

Needless to say, none of those novels were ever finished. I may have gotten 10, 20, as many as 50 pages in to a story before getting bored, or stuck, or making the idiotic mistake of going back and editing what I’d already written (two steps forward, three steps back).

As I grew more and more frustrated by my lack of instant success, I found that I wasn’t writing anymore at all. I was still outlining, making character notes, and writing down ideas that I might someday get to, but actually writing had gone the way of the dodo. Sometime after, one of my favorite magazines/websites, Mental Floss, was hiring. I switched gears away from fiction into non-fiction, essentially kickstarting a second career that has served me well over the last seven years.

But while I was busy writing about Hello Kitty, miniature crime scenes, and racist candy, I still longed for the days of gumshoe detectives, monsters under the bed, and sword-wielding knights on great adventures.

Recently, a friend of mine on Facebook with similar authorial pursuits posted an open call for submissions for the debut anthology of a new micro-publisher, Bloodshot Books. The concept for the anthology – Not Your Average Monster – would feature horror stories that did not star such well-worn creatures as zombies, vampires, werewolves, or even kaiju (like Godzilla). As I read the requirements, I immediately thought about a story I’d written a while back that would easily fit the mold. It was a story I rather liked, but never bothered submitting it to any publishers. My confidence had been shot at that point, so I figured there was no use; it would just get rejected anyway. The story stayed on my hard drive for years, lingering, but never quite going away.

On a whim, I pulled the story out of my virtual desk drawer, dusted it off, and made a few changes. And, well, if you’ve read this far and haven’t figure it out, Good Ol’ Buddy, about a boy and his murdering mutant dog, will be included in the anthology when it’s released this September.

Look for more information when the time comes. And maybe, just maybe, there will be a few more fiction-related announcements in the future.

The One Where I’m Accused of Murder

I came into work on Tuesday to see a message in my email inbox. It was from the City Clerk, and the subject line read: Employee Blog.

The message read:


I sent this to [Our PR Manager], but thought I would share with you. Your answers are rather clever and pretty funny.

Happy Tuesday 🙂

Attached to this email was another email that read:

My name is [Name Redacted] and I work for the Town of Hillsborough, NC. I couldn’t locate the HR Director’s email address online so am sending this to you.

I help put together our employee newsletters. I was browsing online for examples of what other cities ask in their “Employee Spotlight” section and came across a blog by Rob Lammle, who states that he works with the City of O’Fallon (although I saw there are multiple City of O’Fallons).

I just wanted to make you aware of this post and in particular, the response to the question, “People would be surprised to know:”. The post is dated 2007 so it might be outdated but thought I would send it your way:

Now, if you follow that link, you’ll find one of my most popular SMX entries ever from way back in 2007. At that time the City sent out a monthly newsletter that included an Employee Spotlight section where employees would answer a set of canned questions so that people could get to know them a little better. I didn’t think I’d ever be asked to fill out one of these questionnaires, so I went ahead and answered the questions on my blog, with a mix of serious answers, as well as a few with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek.

I answered the question the woman from Hillsborough mentions with the following:

People would be surprised to know:
1) That I work here.
2) That I have a couple of tattoos and will be getting more before it’s all said and done.
3) That I killed a man in Reno, just to watch him die.

I can’t be certain, but I have a feeling her need to contact the City was due to that last answer. Yes, she was, essentially, accusing me of murder by my own admission. Admittedly, that is something any employer should look into. However, her concern might be a little misplaced in this case.

The quote is a slight paraphrase of the lyrics from one of Johnny Cash’s best-known songs, Folsom Prison Blues, found on his incredible album, Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison. Here’s a YouTube video of the song, with the line in question occurring pretty early on:

I’m not here to make fun of the person who dropped a dime on me to the coppers, but I have to admit the City Clerk and I had a pretty good laugh about this whole thing when I saw her in the hall today. Thankfully she knew where the line came from, so there was no cause for concern, nor was HR contacted about the potential murderer in their midst.

So, just to be clear, Concerned Employee of Hillsborough, I did not kill a man in Reno, just to watch him die. Actually, I’ve never even been to Nevada. Sorry for the confusion, and good luck with your employee spotlight questionnaire.

Also, you should check out some Johnny Cash music; he was pretty great.

Marching Into Spring

I wish I could say that this update has been so long in coming because I’ve been super busy with writing projects, producing podcast episodes, and otherwise making up for what little I did in 2014. And while I have done some of that, I can’t say it’s been all work, no play.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s been going on:

The Strange States series marches on at Mental Floss, with New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico (which was kind of a hit for some odd reason), New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, and Oklahoma being published since October when I last updated.

I also released a new episode of When You Hear This Sound, covering the 1988 record of the film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Right now I’m working on a really big Mental Floss article in the same vein as my Complete History of TMNT and Way More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Animaniacs, so look for that to hit the web in April sometime.

In a perfect example of synergy (and laziness) I’ll also be releasing a new episode of When You Hear This Sound that ties into this new Mental Floss article (though not officially or anything). I figure I might as well kill two birds with one stone with the massive amount of research I’m doing for the article. It should be fun, though.

I have also just turned in the first of what is going to be a series of posts at Nerd 4 A Living called “Blogger Boot Camp”, meant to help underemployed English majors like myself score a (not always very) lucrative job as a freelance writer. N4AL is a website run by my friends Wendy and Adron Buske, whose goal is to help people of nerdy persuasions follow their passions and make a living. It’s a cool site, they have a lot of great podcast guests, and I highly recommend you check it out.

A minor update on my next read-along record book: It will not be James Cameron’s Aliens. It was going to be, until I started working on the script. I was on page 12 of 24 pages when I realized there was simply too much story to tell in such a small space. Cameron wrote a script that is very tight, very lean, with few scenes that can be cut and have the story still make sense. So I had to abandon it halfway through and simply haven’t found a good replacement yet. I’m going to keep my notes from watching the movie four or five times, though, and maybe I’ll do a longer form audio production later. If I can stretch it to 45 minutes like the Roger Rabbit album above, it could definitely work. It would just mean a lot more time and effort on my end, and I’m not quite sure I’m ready for that just yet. Someday, though…maybe.

I think that about covers it for now. I hope you’ve had a good winter, though I think I speak for us all when I say spring can spring anytime now. Here’s hoping that the sunshine and warm air will give us all a chance to live a little.

2014: Year in Review

Also known as: The Year That Time Forgot
At least in my life.

Near the end of 2013, my wife and I welcomed a new baby into our little family, which pretty much occupied the rest of the remaining year. Naturally, the full-time job of caring for an infant carried over into 2014, which meant that most of this year was spent changing diapers, entertaining him, and trying to still make time for his neglected older sister. So now, as the year has wrapped, I really don’t feel like I did all that much worth noting.

I read a lot of Reddit posts. Took a lot of Instagram photos. I wrote some unspectacular posts for Mental Floss. I put out a handful of podcast episodes. I basically just tried to get through every day, all of which have mostly melted together to form one long haze of existence.

The one thing I did worth mentioning was write, produce, direct, and mix The Thing Read-Along Record Book. Which, don’t get me wrong, I’m damn proud of, but it’s not exactly enough to hang your hat on for an entire year. And even though it’s only been four months since it was released, it feels so long ago that I barely remember that it was, in fact, this year.

I’m disappointed with 2014. I wanted to do more. I tried, but it just didn’t happen. I reached out to some local ad agencies to see about freelance work – and never heard back from any of them. I worked on some long-gestating personal projects – but I didn’t make any real progress, let alone finish any of them. I had plans for my new podcast, The Space Monkey X Audio Workshop – but wound up doing very little with it. I pitched some ideas for a local ad agency – and they decided to go in another direction. I wanted to work on a new record book – but got crippled by fear of the sophomore slump.

Naturally, good things happened, too. Every day my wife and I laughed at our kids. Every day we laughed with each other. Every day we found something to be happy about, even if it was something as mundane as a silly cat video on YouTube. I don’t want to discount these things, because they’re what make life worth living. But when you measure so much of who you are by the things you do, by the things you create, by the mark you leave on this world, a year when you have very little to point to and say, “I did that”, feels like a year wasted.

So it is with heavy heart that I say goodbye, 2014. Not because I wish you could stick around forever, but because you seem to have sucked for everybody – and I worry your influence is only going to carry over into the new year. This year we saw damaging breaches of online privacy. We saw video gamers who justified their misogyny by waving a false flag of journalistic integrity. We saw racial conflict bubble to the surface, with no real relief in sight. We heard almost daily how our civil rights are being violated by our own government, but we only raised a ruckus after a Seth Rogen comedy was pulled from movie theaters. We bought guns in record numbers because we’re terrified of our neighbors. We’re excited about lower gas prices right now without worrying about what’s going to happen once the Saudis have driven out the competition. We were essentially told there is nothing we can do anymore to prevent the devastating effects of climate change, and yet some of us still don’t believe it’s ever going to happen. We read documents detailing torture that has been done in our names, and some of us feel it was all justified. 2014 was toxic. What is there to miss?

All that being said, I am hopeful for 2015. I have a short list of things I want to accomplish. They’re realistic goals too, I think. But there’s only one way to find out, and that’s to boldly step into the new year with my head held high. I may not be able to change the world, but I can at least make my little corner as bright as possible. And the only way to do that is to keep moving forward.

Just keep swimming.
Just keep swimming.
Just keep swimming.

Good luck to you in 2015.
Good luck to us all.

Long Overdue Update

It’s been a pretty crazy couple of months for me.

The Thing Read-Along Record Book actually kind of went a little viral! It was featured on a handful of websites, including some big ones like io9, The Dissolve, and The Onion A.V. Club (which was a Bucket List moment for me).


The YouTube video also received almost unanimously positive comments from fans, and there were tons of tweets sent from all over the world. Overall, it was an amazing experience and I’m incredibly lucky and thankful that it received such a warm embrace by the internet.

Other than that, I’ve been working on a few other projects, including more episodes of The Space Monkey X Audio Workshop. Episode 2 was some dramatic readings of old Chuck Palahniuk-inspired short stories I wrote a while back. Episode 3 is the debut of a defunct-podcast I was a part of called The Drunken Podcast, created by my friend Steve some time ago. The show was never released, despite us having a few good episodes recorded, but I thought it would be a shame for it to just sit on his hard drive going unheard. I’m working on Episode 4 right now, which will be my first interview. I’m excited and a little nervous about it…

I also released another episode of When You Hear This Sound, this time a “Christmas in July” episode featuring a Star Wars Christmas record. A Halloween episode is coming up soon, but it’s just going to be The Thing Read-Along Record Book since it never actually played for that audience yet.

Finally, the Strange States series continues on Mental Floss, with Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, and Nevada.

See? Pretty crazy!