Detonation #5 – Ending It, One Way or Another

Navigating Life in a Literary Minefield

Warning: Explicit language and mature themes. If you’re offended by such things, you might want to venture elsewhere.

If you’re a rational human bean you undoubtably spend more than a trivial amount of time contemplating the end. It’s inevitable, right? Everything has a beginning and an ending. Everything. It’s a fundamental law. The universe began with a singularity programmed by an alien basement dwelling nerd and will succumb to painful, spasmodic, heat death, billions of years in the future.

Entropy is a bitch, and there is no appeasing her.

So yeah, everything ends, and the literary landscape is no exception. Books have beginnings, middles (we’ll delve into those horrid soggy messes another day), and endings. When you spend your ill-gotten lucre on that piece of trash dead tree, recommended by someone you’ll never trust again, you’re invested. You dive in, praying you can figure out what the fuck those metaphors actually mean, and crawl along, double checking the back copy every fifteen minutes to make sure you’re actually reading the right book. Maybe you’ll put it down so you can re-enter your pointless existence for minutes, days, or in rare cases, years, but you will eventually finish it. You will! Unless it blows chunks, or the book is Alan Moore’s Jerusalem. At twelve hundred and sixty-six pages, you’re likely to kill yourself first.

And the end, after you’ve put in so much time and energy, has an excellent chance of not meeting your expectations, and in many cases, just plain disappointing. There’s a ton of reasons for that of course, the primary one being that writing awesome finales is hard. Like brutally hard. Authors are vicious, emotionally conflicted monsters when they write, and unless they’re pumping out four shitty, cookie cutter books a year, they want their books to be award winning masterpieces from start to finish. But, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean they’re capable of doing just that.

Here are a few bits we dislike about endings, in no particular order except metaphysically.

It’s better to Burn Out than Fade Away: Chuck Wendig swears even more than Noggy, and that’s saying something, so when he talks about the third and major climax of the book needing to hit Holy Goatfucker Shitbomb! magnitude we tend to agree. Too many endings fall short by not exceeding what came before, ramping down instead of up. The last thing a reader wants to find when they’ve clawed their way to the top of Mount Doom is that the eagles got there first and those idiot hobbits could have retired to the Prancing Pony for ale and weed.

John doesn’t Die in the End: You’ve set the stakes high. The moment arrives where everything is on the line and you pull the punch right before it lands, striking a glancing blow or missing all together. On purpose. WHY? A poet-musician has to die, or at least be brutally maimed, or your reader is going to break the spine and use the pages to line their neurotic parrot cage. If your book says Poet John has to die, you better bloody well kill the bastard.

Too much of a Known Thing: Noggy and Lola step out for ice cream. One thing leads to another and they’re racing down the blacktop, police cars and angry spouses and various aggrieved parties hot on their trail, a famous yet poor life choice thriller writer bouncing around in their trunk. And then? Off the preverbal cliff, nose diving two thousand feet into the bottom of the Grand Canyon. The end of the road, both figuratively and literally. Everyone suspected it would end that way, hopefully with some inspired screaming.

Entertaining? You bet. Unexpected? Not at all. You, the reader, knew they were going to going to be eating fireball sandwich the moment they snatched the drooling lush from his opulent digs and roared away in their Pontiac Aztek. At least set the damn story in Gloucestershire with a subplot involving a cheese wheel race for god’s sake.

Overstaying your Welcome: While the climax and end of your story aren’t technically the same thing, we’re in the camp that feels they should be close together. If your heroine slays the dragon and gets the girl and then goes home and bakes cookies for a hundred pages, there better be something sinister about those cookies. Just because Tolkien got away with it at the end of Lord of the Rings doesn’t mean you can. After a world spanning adventure of epic proportions, he earned it (though the movie version destroyed a generation’s worth of bladders).

Best to leave the bar before they toss you out.

Ends that Aren’t Ends: While standalone books need hard, satisfying endings, the current genre writing trend is trilogies (which, contrary to the laws of mathematics, can comprise anywhere between two and fourteen books) where endings are often just transitions to the next episode. This is often extremely unsatisfying. Every book should stand on its own, with an ending that wraps up the story the book is telling, even if there is MORE ending at the absolute end. And don’t get us started on cliff hangers if there’s a better than average chance of abandoning your baby, or dying of old age before you write the next one (I’m talking to you George. And you, Lola…).

***

Call us negative Nellies if you must, but yeah, so many bad endings. Can we explain what makes a good one? Sure. Avoid writing a bad one. As we said, not easy, but honestly, not THAT difficult. There are eight million stories in the naked city, and every one of them has potential for a horrible, gruesome, unhappy ending. So get writing.

Detonation #4 – Networking on Social Media: Do We Really Need to Go Over This Shit Again?

Navigating Life in a Literary Minefield

Warning: Explicit language and mature themes. If you’re offended by such things, you might want to venture elsewhere.

Facebook defines people with whom you agree to communicate as ‘friends’ and I wish they wouldn’t. Friend is a loaded word. If a person has agreed to speak with me, it doesn’t make us friends. We don’t have a relationship. We don’t even know each other. At best we might know a few people in common, which is usually my criteria for accepting a friend request.

So what the fuck is up with dudes on the internet? And Jesus Christ of course #notalldudesontheinternet Look, if you aren’t a creep, then you aren’t being kicked here, so quit yelping. And for the sake of argument, let’s not even single out dudes on the internet. Let’s invoke Kant’s Categorical Imperative and design rules of conduct that are most effective when applied to every digital meatloaf currently hammering away at a keyboard, or staring slack-jawed at their phone while masturbating in their Pontiac Aztek.

The following are Octoclot’s ten commandments for networking with new Facebook ‘friends’. Listen up motherfuckers…

  1. Thou shalt not follow up an accepted friend request with an immediate pro forma DM to like your page/buy your book/subscribe to your podcast.
  2. Thou shalt keep DM inquiries related to your common interest. Remember, you don’t actually know this person, so don’t ask personal questions.
  3. Thou shalt not stalk your new friend’s page and like old posts and especially not their old photos.
  4. Thou shalt be honest. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying “Hey, thanks for accepting my friend request. I’m trying to get to know more people in the writing community.”
  5. Thou shalt not ask for favours. Ooh, remember? You aren’t actually friends and they don’t owe you a beta read or a blurb or a review so don’t make it weird by asking.
  6. Thou shalt keep DM exchanges brief. Demanding a lengthy conversation with a near stranger is a good way to get ghosted.
  7. Thou shalt like or comment on current posts if you find them interesting. This is actually the best way to get to know your new friend. In the common area. Chat ‘em up in the living room, don’t corner them in the toilet.
  8. Thou shalt not slide into their DMs and steer the conversation into sexual territory. Fuck, that this has to be said is fucking exhausting as fuck and I’ll just leave it fucking here.
  9. Thou shalt keep your personal problems to yourself. That door isn’t open yet, in either direction.
  10. Thou shalt be cool. Can’t we all just be cool? Social media is about connecting with people that share our interests without the barrier of geography. That shit is brilliant! So enjoy it, and be cool, ffs.

That is all. Octoclot out.

Detonation #3 – You’re a Grown-up Monster, so Meet Your Goddamn Deadlines

Navigating Life in a Literary Minefield

Warning: Explicit language and mature themes. If you’re offended by such things, you might want to venture elsewhere.

Everything is connected. Each critter throbbing on this planet is at least indirectly dependant on every other critter. For food, shelter, companionship, employment, transportation, entertainment, and bulletproof alibis etc.  It’s the great social supply chain and we are all but tiny links in the mail. We give in order to get, and we don’t like to wait. We want the Amazon Prime of existential deliverables, human and environmental costs be damned.

This is a way of saying deadlines are a fact of life. The key word being “dead”. As in, something unpleasant may happen should you fail to accomplish your task in the allotted time. This is the colloquialism we use to explicitly define when things need to be done. Work projects, school assignments, household chores, car maintenance, taxes etc.

So why do we have such a hard time meeting our creative deadlines? Because we’re busy, we don’t have family support, society doesn’t value art, we’re uninspired/day drunk/on the run from law enforcement… Yeah, yeah, yeah…

Time for real talk. On the most primitive level, human beans, and almost every other sentient piece of ooze, are far more motivated by aversion than affinity. Want to avoid starving? Store up nuts for the winter. Want to avoid freezing or being eaten by a mastodon? Build that fire and keep it burning all night. Want to avoid being friendless and lonely? Don’t be a cunt and return a text once in a while.

The problem is that nothing objectively terrible happens if we don’t finish writing that novel, essay, or poem*. World keeps on turning, you know? Maybe we’re frustrated and sad, but there’s no shortage of well-meaning friends to tell you it’s okay, you’re a brilliant artist, and you’ll get around to it eventually.

Well guess what? It’s not fucking okay, you’re not that brilliant, and why on earth would you get around to it eventually when you haven’t managed to get around to it already?  I mean, is this important to you or not?

But Octoclot, you may ask, doesn’t this make you a big slimy hypocrite? Heck, yes**. But it doesn’t make it any less true. The first step is realizing that your excuses are worthless. With few exceptions, getting shit done is within your control.

Okay, hear me out… maybe we’re more motivated by punitive measures, but if no one is going to flog us if we don’t write (unless we pay for it) and rewards don’t work, what’s a writer to choose? Neither. This is about habits, children. Forming good habits, so you don’t have to rely on external validation or condemnation to be productive.

But where’s the roadmap? Don’t worry, I gotcha. I call it the 3Ps and I’ve applied them to a case study for your amusement and edification.

The subjects: Noggy Splitfoot and Lola Silkysocks are writers. They are both quite good writers. They are also unmotivated bags of hot diaper pail trash. How can the 3Ps help them meet their creative deadlines?

P1 – Prioritization

Schedule writing time. Plug it in the damn calendar if you have to, and find a buddy if you can. It’s a lot harder not to show the fuck up when someone else is waiting on you. Lola and Noggy agree to check in over FB messenger on Friday night. Like they had anything better to do?

Noggy: Hey Silkysocks, ready for our writing sprint?

Lola: Yes, indeed. Having a friend to write with creates a compelling illusion of accountability.

Noggy: Plus, depravity loves company, so there’s that (sends gif of hippos mating in a mud wallow).

P2 – Planning

Mission statements are horse shit, until they aren’t. You need a plan, man. What are you going to use your writing time to work on, specifically? Share this with your buddy.

Lola: Imma edit that Detonation about meeting your deadlines.

Noggy: I’m going to write the sex-cannibal scene in my middle grade novel.

Lola: Right on. Check in again in an hour?

Noggy: See you then!

Lola: (sends gif of lascivious typing tentacles)

P3 – Permission

You’ve got your tush in the chair, set your intention, and perhaps like our subjects you’ve poured yourself eight fingers of bourbon. Now it’s time to actually write. But here’s the thing, don’t hobble yourself by demanding greatness. You’ll never commit anything to paper with such high standards. Get over yourself. It’s okay to churn out rubbish. It’s more than okay. It’s encouraged, necessary even. So, stop whining, drink your bourbon, and embrace mediocrity.

Lola: How’d you make out, Nog?

Noggy: I wrote ten thousand words

Lola: You…in an hour?

Noggy: It’s mostly shit, but I got one salvageable paragraph, wanna read?

Lola: Hit me.

Break up the writing sprints in any way that works for you, refill your glass, tuck your crotch goblins into bed, swap more disturbing gifs (sometimes sending them to unsuspecting friends because you’ve got too many conversation windows open).

And so it goes. Lather, rinse, and repeat. Do it enough and it becomes routine. Kind of boring, right? Maybe, but this is how a body of work is generated. One sprint at a time, using the 3Ps or however you want to organize your process. Not through a system of punishment and reward, not through will power, or hauling up buckets of inspiration from a magic well, but though habitual practice.

Take it from your Auntie Octoclot: you can finish what you start. All you have to do is show up, decide where you want to go, and get there. One shitty word at a time.

*If you must

**Take all advice with a pillar of salt, and hypocrisy is the least of our sins, trust me

Detonation #2 – The Six Lives Theory

Navigating Life in a Literary Minefield

Warning: Explicit language and mature themes. If you’re offended by such things, you might want to venture elsewhere.

***

There’s a terrible word echoing across the thankfully not endless blacktop of life. If you slow down and poke your head out the window, you’ll hear it, day in and day out. You might even hear yourself scream it, whether consciously or unconsciously. It’s insidious. Always out there, easy to snatch from the wind and repeat without conscious thought.

Busy.

It’s the go to for thousands of authors and poets on this rotting planet, toiling away in their pit stop cafes and roadhouse lairs and squalid pits. And you know exactly what I mean. It doesn’t matter what situation you’re in, when someone, typically not desiring an actual answer roars by and asks you how you’re doing, you inevitably mumble “Good, just goddamned busy.”

Bullshit. (A word not used nearly enough in our humble opinion!)

Busy. Yeah, what else is new, everyone is fucking busy. At this stage in our evolution, it’s the norm. The word means nothing.

It’s not that we don’t get it. Everyone has a lot going on, we know that, and making the time to write can often be difficult, if not seemingly impossible, but it’s not because you’re busy.

It’s because you’re a shitty driver with no self-control, and you don’t make it a priority.

But, if you’re reading this, you’re either looking for cheap entertainment, or you desire our simple brand of… enlightenment, so hang on tight baby, we have both. 

***

Here’s the true’ism we’re going to force down your miserable throat, one we’re calling The Six Lives Theory, which is sort of self-descriptive, semi-deep, and bloody obvious.

In a nutshell?

Everyone has six lives. Well, maybe not everyone. It would, in hindsight, be better to call it the Many Lives Theory or the More Than Two Lives but Less Than Eight Lives Theory, but six lives has a certain je ne sais quoito it, so we’re going with it.

So, six lives, let’s examine this for a moment though a totally fictional author named Noggy Splitfoot. Noggy is a ‘busy’ fellow, though if you ask him how he’s doing he’ll probably just shrug and go back chugging from his brown paper bag and scrawling words on the side of the cardboard box he’s living in behind his small yet opulent mansion. You see, Noggy, for all his business, haspriorities, and writing is way up there, probably close to the top. If Noggy had to make a list, it would look something like this:

Life 1: Family and/or Friends and/or Pets

Life 2: Work

Life 3: Ultra-Running

Life 4: Publishing

Life 5: Dirty Deeds Done In the Dark.

Life 6: Writing

Six separate highways that may or may not intersect with each other, roads that need to be driven day in and day out. The first couple are, of course, mandatory unless you don’t actually happen to have family, friends, pets, or work—in which case, fuck, how could you possibly be complaining about being busy, you’ve won the bloody lottery mate—but in all likelihood you’re shackled to that 2001 Pontiac Aztek you know will eventually crash and burn, leaving you a smoldering blackened marshmellow praying for a death prolonged by unaffordable health care. 

Then there are your hobbies. The sports of all sorts. Reading trash because you don’t know quality literature if it bashed your face in. Overpriced video games. Netflix and Chill with discount hookers. Travel to exotic destinations like haunted gopher hole museums and Bigfoot hunting grounds. Posting fake news and feral cat pictures on FB and Twitter. We could go on and on (and we could, trust us, we soooo could).

Publishing we just tossed in there because… well, let’s just say if anything is a time and money sinkhole, that’d be it. But everyone has one of those, a life that consumes, like a black hole, everything that comes in contact with it. Sure, it brings joy—in theory at least—but it sucks, both literally and figuratively.

Noggy’s fifth life? Let’s just say if we told you the details we’d have to kill you, and nobody will know the absolute truth until he’s dead, missing-presumed dead, and/or the sun goes cold. Intrigued? You should be. A secret life. A… sinister sounding secret life. Everyone worth more than a wooden nickel has one of these puppies whether it involves collecting vintage porn from a creepy old bastard named Lazlo, going to late night strip karaoke, or cuddling chickens in an intimate, yet shocking manner. Stuff you’d never cop to, yet there you are.

And that brings us to writing. Noggy, bless his cursed and twisted soul, needs to find time to write. Needs to make it a priority. And, even with all those lives crowding him, sideswiping him, pushing his kitted out futuristic, yet oddly retro camper van, onto the shoulder so he plows through all manner of road kill and unfortunate cyclists, he needs to put his foot on the gas and stay on course. Not in the fast lane maybe (except to pass, he’s not a savage. Usually.), but in one of the lanes that doesn’t make it too easy to take an off ramp to the Olive Garden.

So how? How can you get any goddamn work done when you have to deal with the endless stop and go? Great question.

Two words.

Zipper Merge.

You’re welcome. Look it up, learn how it works. Don’t fuck it up and you’ll be ahead of the game in no time, nudging your way to the front of the line, weaselling your way in between every other car clogging your six lane life.

Get up an hour early and write before work. Run at lunch so you free up that hour to write in the evening. Take the bus so you can write on your commute. Wedge yourself into those cracks, take advantage of every opening. Sure, you gotta be aggressive. Fearless. Willing to endure the seething hate from all the clueless drivers who never read the classic Advances in Queueing: Theory, Methods, and Open Problems by Jewgeni H. Dshalalow and, you know, actually get it. But trust us, it works and your life will never be the same again.

Coming soon from Tiny Sledgehammer…

The Black City Beneath

By R. Overwater

In the final days of steam and airships, a mysterious woman is eliminating the world’s great scientific minds using unrecognizable technology. A salvage diver from a notorious family is nearly killed when he discovers a scuttled Russian submarine fabricated from an unidentified black material. And a whiskey-soaked engineer narrowly survives an attack on Britain’s most luxurious civilian airship. Flying under the radar of military authority, the diver and engineer must follow the woman’s electric trail of espionage into the wasteland of a parallel world, to prevent the destruction of their own.