On jokes, and how to take them

You probably already know more about the Charlie Hebdo massacre than I do. This isn’t about that. The shooting spree is certainly the spark for what I have to say here but, aside from sharing in the grief of this senseless loss of life, it’s not exactly the point.

This is more directly a response to those people who say, “Yeah, ‘Je Suis Charlie’ is a great catch phrase but you, you left-leaning wise-asses, are in no position to state it. You’re not Charlie because, if you were, you’d have been speaking out against self-censorship for years. If it wasn’t a government or a religious order you feared, then you were tiptoeing through the minefield of political rectitude your own allies laid around you. Maybe you could cough up the courage to hurl your bile at “Repugnicans” or “Teabaggers,” but when it came time to call out overreaching leaders of feminist, gay rights, illegal alien, or umbrage-taking minority grievance merchants, you’re missing in action. You never had the balls to be Charlie, and now you must’ve rented them from somewhere to say you are.”

What can I say? Those voices are, like the allegorical broken clock, right at this particular second.

I’ll start with chastising myself. In 2005, I started work on what would be my first novel, Land That I Love, which was a thinly veiled critique of the hubris that led to the Iraq War. George W. Bush had just won a second term in the White House. (I hesitate to use the term “re-elected” which implies he was elected the first time.) It’s hard to believe now, but at that time, political humor at Bush’s expense was completely lacking in major media. You could chide him on his doofus image, but you couldn’t say anything against his policies because if you did you “were with the terrorists” or “hated our freedoms” or “didn’t support the troops”. It was all bullshit, but nobody wanted to be the first to call it. It took me a year to write LTIL, during which the Katrina response fuck-up and the now half-remembered Social Security reform gamble began the thaw. Even so, nobody would publish the book until W was out of office. I still have rejection letters from the Bush years telling me how little appetite agents and publishers had for political satire.

You’d have thought I’d learned my lesson about being more aggressive with the targets of my humor after that, but no. Whether I’m too nice a guy for this line of work or I’m just a pussy is a matter of interpretation, but I’ve demonstrated the point again as recently as last year.

There’s a speculative fiction author of great renown whom I have long respected professionally and who has on occasion provided me with valuable mentoring. Then he wrote a book which I thought really, really sucked. Now, it got great reviews and some real bigfoot novelists stood in line to blurb it. But I maintain to this day its literary quality is a mass delusion, an emperor’s-new-clothes beauty contest to see who can put the best shade of lipstick on this pig. Not to say this guy hasn’t written great stuff before and will again, but this was Book One of the What The Fuck Trilogy.

So I ping this guy offline and say that I wanted to lampoon it, a la what the Harvard Lampoon did to Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings. He said yes. I offered to let him see it before anyone else. He declined, stating that it wouldn’t be in the spirit of the exercise if he held any sway over the process. Then in a post to this blog, I mentioned the project, including this author’s name.

Within 20 minutes, he’s IM-ing me to take down the post, excoriating me for making public what he considered a private conversation (which was true, but there’s a difference between private and privileged, and at no point did he tell me the conversation was not to be shared), and demanding that I immediately stop work on the parody. Bear in mind, I don’t think I got more than one or two hits on this site by the time he ordered me to take the post down. I don’t know if he was using some kind of sophisticated sniffer software or if he’s really that troll-y about his name on the web. Doesn’t really matter.

So I ceased and desisted. I like to think it’s because I felt a little guilty about blindsiding him with the announcement, and I (still) consider him a friend and didn’t want to foment any further ill will. But at some point I have to ask, was it worth stopping a creative project? And the answer is no. I didn’t want to offend a friend, but maybe I was more concerned with pissing off someone who’s in a position to do my own career a serious setback or a serious boost. And that is the absolute wrong reason to put the brakes on. I’ll say this now: I don’t know if I’m going to go back to work on that project. I don’t want to do it out of spite any more than I want to not do it out of candy-assedness. It’s a matter of whether or not it’s worth the time and effort. The author of the work to be lambasted doesn’t get a vote. You do. If you want to know more about this project or you want to encourage me to go forward, you know how to get a hold of me. (And if you don’t know how, just leave a comment here.)

But these aren’t the only example’s of the speculative fiction community’s lack of humor. You might’ve seen the internet meme about honest state mottos. A well-regarded feminist author posted it to her Facebook page (the day after I posted it to mine). It includes such bon mots as “Idaho: We’re More Than Just Potatoes. OK, Maybe Not But the Potatoes Are Real Good.” And “Illinois: Where A Politician’s Term in Office and Prison Sentence Are Roughly the Same.” But one gentle soul chided our feminist scribe because, buried somewhere in those 50 jokes, was “Hawaii: Haka Tiki Mou Sha’ami Liki Toru (Death to Mainland Scum, But Leave Your Money).” This, it was purported, cast Pacific Islanders in an unfavorable light. And to this, the author apologized profusely.

Really? “Florida: A Wonderful Place to Enjoy Pain Pills and Die of Old Age. And Vice Versa” doesn’t have a taint of agism to it? “Arkansas: Literassy Ain’t Everything” doesn’t sound like privileged elitists pissing on those with lesser formal education? “Utah: Monogamy and Cheap Drinks … Who Needs ’em?!” doesn’t perpetuate an outdated stereotype of Mormons? And then there’s my favorite: “Kentucky: Five Million People; Fifteen Last Names” which is certainly less than accurate. But these stereotypes attack white, Christian people who are, apparently, free targets while the honor of Polynesians must be defended. Or something. Maybe somebody can volunteer a clearer explanation.

Which brings me to the whole topic of ethnic humor.

I’m all in favor of it.

There is a line, of course. But it’s not a matter of good taste. There’s no reliable arbiter of that. A humorist just has to play it how he or she feels. The distinction is this: intent.

There’s nothing funny about hate. Just the other day, I reposted a photo illustrating an act of vandalism that, in itself, was harmless, but was nonetheless an apparent hate crime. I have absolutely no tolerance for that kind of intentional malice. But a day later, I reposted a link to a news story headlined “Why Women Shaving Their Faces Is Now a Thing” and added this comment: “Not judging. Know too many Italians.”

As any other New Yorker — especially those of Italian heritage — will tell you, that’s just busting balls. It’s what Italians, Irish, and Jews have been doing for a hundred years around here. We know each other well enough and long enough that nobody takes offense because nobody takes it seriously. We still eat in each others’ restaurants, drink in each others’ bars, and march in each others’ parades. We laugh at each other because we don’t mind laughing at ourselves. The Puerto Ricans have recently caught up to this too. Humor can build bridges as well as minefields.

Well, this turned into a rant, but not a pointless one, I hope. We need more humor, not less. And it needs to be a little bit dangerous.

Think of it as analogous to sports. They’re both all about aggression. Humor can be a way to get it out of our systems without devolving into full-scale conflict. But it only works if we accept the inherent risk. In sports, people get hurt physically. In humor, you could get your feelings hurt. So wear a fucking cup and take a joke.

Works in progress

I was hoping to be able to tell you about my Lunacon and LI-Con schedules by now, but that’ll have to keep. No blame! It can’t be easy organizing conventions. All I can tell you about that for the moment is what I reported about a month ago: The launch party featuring Mighty Mighty and other, more worthy titles is scheduled for Saturday night at Lunacon.

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been a busy little nut case.

As I mentioned here shortly after returning from Arisia, where I gave a first reading of my newly completed novel (well, pre-submission draft at least) and generated a little buzz from agents. I’ve gotten some positive vibes back from the beta readers for Pitch Ribbons: A Cantata for Four Voices, but I’m still waiting on all the manuscripts to come back with notes. I’m sure I’ll  have some work to do once those chickens roost. Meantime, I know certain sections that absolutely need rewrite. You see, a lot of Pitch Ribbons takes place on motorcycles, which I’ve never ridden in my life. So I went and got my Class M learner’s permit and am going for lessons. Within the month, I should be a licensed rider. Yes, I thought I was smarter than that too, but I’ve always been a stickler for research. I never want my ignorance to take a reader out of a story.

I have to admit, it was a little jarring when the DMV lady asked, while handing me my temporary permit, if I wished to be an organ donor.

“I hope not,” I replied, then explained I already have that designation on my driver’s license.

Then she showed me the results from my written test.

“Congratulations!” she chirped. “You only got two wrong!”

“Yes, that’s exactly what I want on my tombstone: ‘HE ONLY GOT TWO WRONG.'”

Assuming I live long enough, though, I will continue working on my next attempt at a commercially successful, or critically acclaimed, or at least widely witnessed train wreck of a novel. I just started on it next week, so I’ll tell you more about it as it takes shape.

But here’s what I can say about my new work in progress. The villain’s name will be David Stolarz, the name of the winner of a  raffle to benefit the Boy Scout troop for which I serve as an assistant scoutmaster.  (Yes, you read that right.) In addition to the tuckerization, Dave won signed copies of Land That I Love, Age of Certainty, and an advanced reader’s copy of Mighty Mighty. And if that’s not enough, he also won a $25 dry-cleaning gift certificate.

I can also tell you that it is a return to social satire and speculative fiction parody. The kind of skewering I gave to the superhero genre in Mighty Mighty I now apply to such near-future police procedurals as Almost Human or RoboCop. And as Mighty2 concerned itself with the limitations people saddle themselves with, this new novel will focus on  overt bigotry, unconscious prejudice, cultural appropriation, the hypocrisy of conservatism as a social movement, the privileges of the descendants of those who made the rules, and the sense of entitlement that engenders.

Wow, that sounds pretty deep, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, I’m too much of an intellectual lightweight to be taken seriously about any of it.

The working title is Augie and the first line is “You can tell a lot about somebody by sniffing his anus.”

You’ll love it. Trust me. But something tells me David Stolarz will never speak to me again.

PS: Please say something nice on Amazon and GoodReads!

Freedman’s back! Why now? What does he want?

I’m going to be honestly brutal here. I haven’t been blogging because blogging is what you do when you’ve got time on your hands and are otherwise completely unproductive. If you’re a blogger, you probably have some inflated sense of self-importance that deludes you into thinking people really give a rat’s ass what you think about something. If you’re in the ADHD spectrum and blogging, then your delusion compels you into thinking people give that rodent’s posterior what you think about any random thing that misfires in your brain. In short, you have to be some lame, pathetic loser to blather on via the internet about your life’s minutia.

I am blogging today because I have formally joined the ranks of the losers. I’m blogging because I now need the money.

I have never before mentioned my day job on the Web. I tried to be sensitive to those Muggles who paid the mortgage for this crazed, manic scribe of satire and fantasy and science fiction and horror and all those other things that separate me from reality. But they laid me off in July along with 8,000 other poor saps; I helped them sell around $3 million worth of hardware, software and services between February and May, but apparently they didn’t notice. They missed their Wall Street numbers and somebody had to go. They missed the next quarter too, so maybe they’ve figured out by now it wasn’t my fault. I still have enough respect for the company (which did give me a fair severance package) not to mention them by name. Contrary to what people say, I didn’t work for I’ve Been Moved. Or I’m By Myself. Or I’d Buy a Macintosh. Or It’s Better Manually. Or Inexorably Bound to Mephistopheles. But you get the idea. I didn’t talk too much at work about my literary pursuits. That’s because there were only two kinds of people in that company: Those who didn’t appreciate my sense of humor, and those who didn’t get my sense of humor.

So anyway, my corporate career has served its purpose. I live in a house that I can sell any time for more than I paid for it. I have a good chunk of the money I’ll need to retire on. I also have a good chunk of what my kids will need for college. And I have enough to carry me through a few more months of transition.

Transition to what is a question. At first, I figured that I’d get snatched up by some other IT consulting practice. That didn’t happen. I then figured I’d go over to the client side, get a job calling bullshit on the consultants. The fox-guarding-the-henhouse thing came awfully close, but no deal. So that leads me here.

I’ve given up on the whole corporate thing (immediately after the whole corporate thing gave up on me). I’m going to piece together an entrepreneurial, blended career. I will continue to take IT management consulting gigs, but as an independent contractor. I’m also rebuilding my book of business as a financial journalist and, considering my 15 year sidetrack with Azul Grande, I’ll also build clientele as a technology writer. I’ll try to get some adjunct teaching gigs in Business, Information Systems and Creative Writing faculties. Maybe I’ll tend bar.

But I’m also going to start taking my income from fiction writing seriously. It didn’t matter before. I could lose money. I didn’t fucking care. Now I do. If you really like my work, if you really like me, I could really use your help now.

If you haven’t bought my books, please go to either Amazon or Rebel ePublishers and buy them now. If you have, please tell the world how much you loved them by posting reviews in Goodreads and on Amazon.

Thanks for all your support up to this point, and thanks in advance for your continued best wishes.

Hobby? Not Any More

Hard to believe, but Land That I Love has been out for over a year now. While thumping it, I served on panels at conventions in Baltimore, Albany, Washington, Boston and Long Island. I did readings at smaller functions on the Island and also in Manhattan. I put in appearances as part of the paying public at cons in Westchester as well as Boston and Long Island. I’ve gone into Manhattan at least half a dozen times to attend readings and signings by other authors, ranging from Catherynne Valente to Lemony Snicket.

So I’ve got my face out there as well as my name. I have a 254-page business card that says I can write a novel. So it’s time to start taking this seriously.

My crit partner Jake Packard pointed out that, at this past weekend’s I-Con, I used the term “hobby” more than once to describe my relationship to genre writing. For tax reasons, I’m 100% right in using that word; I earn a living at my corporate day job and have a nice, little side business doing financial journalism, which pays much better per-word than fiction ever will. The royalties I get from LTIL are unlikely to ever pay back the travel expenses I racked up going to cons over the past 13 months. If I were to have written off those expenses on my 2010 IRS forms, I’d have been begging for an audit. The same is going to apply for 2011.

But Jake is right in that I need to get that bothersome fact out of my head. It’s time to get serious. All the people I’ve met since this journey began — all the big-name authors who have inspired me, all the mid-listers who may be in a position to introduce me to the people who helped them find their ways into the pro ranks, all the fifteen-percenters, all the publishing honchos — wouldn’t be in a position to help me right now even if they wanted to. I simply don’t have a big enough body of work.

So that’s what I’m starting on now.

Step 1: Finish Mighty Mighty already. The first draft is a half chapter away from completion.  Then do a second draft, and don’t take more than two weeks to do it. Then send that second draft out to the volunteers who kindly agreed to be my beta readers. While they’re looking it over, network and hobnob and get the first three chapters into as many hands as possible in the publishing world.

Step 2: Work on my short game. Part of the reason nobody has read my stuff is that I don’t have anything in the anthos or magazines. That mainly because I prefer to write in long form. But if I’m going to break into genre fiction, I’d better start pounding out some stuff in the 3,000- to 5,000-word range to get it into the kind of markets that the genre-fiction scenesters read.

Step 3: Ya know, steps 1 and 2 are about all I can handle right now.

In the meantime, please check the blog roll for the link to Suvudu, the DelRey/Spectra site run by webmaster David Pomerico and, if you’re interested in my report from I-Con 30, view my vlog on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvkQmntnEPg