Cargo Cult Writing

Cargo Cult WritingI had a shakeup recently due to some personal stuff and I broke the gigantic writing streak I had going. I skipped writing for a number of days and lost my discipline in a number of other habits that I have been cultivating. I was amazed to find, though, that my streak was all that broke. My book didn’t break. The world didn’t end. My need to write didn’t extinguish immediately. My love of words didn’t crumble to dust.

I had come to rely so completely on my routine to push this book out that I started to think that it was the routine that was doing the work and not me.

There is a concept known as cargo cult science. Richard Feynman introduced it in a speech awhile back (I love Richard Feynman…here, go listen to him talk about how rubber bands work).

Feynman was talking about science when he introduced the cargo cult concept, but it’s pretty fascinating and it applies to many fields.

Basically there were tribes on various islands during World War II that were isolated from civilization. And on some of these islands there were temporary military airbases set up. So these tribesmen watched soldiers lay out a runway, and set up a control tower, and then watched as planes began to land. And these planes brought amazing things to the island in their bellies, and some of those amazing things made their way to the tribesmen via trade.

And then the war ended and the airbases were discontinued and goodbyes were said and the tribesmen were alone again.

Here’s where it gets weird.

The tribesmen missed the riches that were brought in by planes, and so they decided to bring the planes back.

They had no idea what the planes were, really. They had no idea where they had come from, or the vast networks of goods and services that had created the stuff they liked so much, or how it had been shipped to these airbases.

They just knew that the planes came and the goodies arrived.

And, from their point of view, the planes had come because the soldiers had built a runway and set up an air tower.

So what did they do?

They built a runway and set up an air tower…out of bamboo and coconuts.

They had a guy up in their bamboo tower with coconut headphones talking to someone, because the soldiers had put a guy up in a tower talking to someone.

Cargo CultThey had a guy on the runway directing things around with brightly painted sticks, because the

soldiers had put a guy on the runway to direct things around with brightly painted sticks.

They had a guy monitoring the wind by looking at a piece of cloth tied to a bamboo pole, because the soldiers had a guy to monitor the wind by looking at a piece of cloth on a pole.

These proceedings basically became a religious rite, a sacred dance, an intricate movement of people and signals that, they thought, would summon the cargo airplanes again with their bellies full of goods.

Obviously the planes they were hoping to summon never arrived.

The point?

The point is that it is nice sometimes to remember where the cargo comes from and how it gets there. It’s great to have an intricate system set up to facilitate its arrival, but it’s also important to remember that even if your runway and control tower get blown to hell for some reason, that doesn’t mean the goods that were being loaded onto the plane have disappeared.

And, going the other way, it’s pretty important to remember at times that the point isn’t to mimic the proceedings that have produced writing in the past.

It’s not the mimicry of odd practices that brings about stories, it’s the writing itself.

Routines are fantastic and they enable us to take on mammoth tasks by breaking them into small pieces which can be tackled each day. But for someone who is trying to pull a totally new world into this one, sometimes sitting far away from the computer and coloring with crayons while thinking about the universe can be a much needed change of pace.

Shaking up your routine isn’t going to break your writing. It will just break your routine.

And sometimes that’s not bad.

Now, seriously, scroll back to the top and click on that link and watch Richard Feynman talk about rubber bands.

Top Reasons Why We Love Zombies

Let’s face it: as a culture, we are obsessed with the undead.  From top zombie books to current popular television shows, the nation almost seems to dream of a time where we can run free in a collapsed society.  Let’s take a look at some potential reasons for their popularity, and the impact it has on both written and visual media.


Reason #1: We Love the Idea of No Laws

In a world where there is basically no ruling government, the law of the land is in the hands of those who have the most power.  Being able to kill or destroy zombies appeals to us on several levels.  Taking our anger and frustration out on walking, yet unfeeling physical forms can be an excellent therapeutic method, and since they really aren’t living people at that point, the idea intrigues us.

Reason #2: It Brings Out the Best (and Worst) Qualities in Us

When faced with life and death decisions, the true nature of a person will often reveal itself.  Are you selfish and focused on your own survival?  Are you caring and looking to help fight, rebuild, care and protect?  Whether it’s a zombie apocalypse or facing a terrifying creature of unknown origins, the situation always offers questions regarding morality, truth and survival.

Reason #3: We Like Being Frightened

Having one’s emotions and fears manipulated is one of the sole reasons why books, television and theatre exists: it changes our perspectives on life.  We like to be afraid, we like thrills, we love to experience different emotions.  Zombies have that effect on is and continue to do so even decades after they were first brought into existence.

Some of the best zombie books and novels are still out there: start reading and experience quality stories today!

My Short Story Made Into a Movie

Short Story Turned into a FilmI’ve mentioned this a number of times on here, but my short story “Private Showing” was turned into a movie by a film student in Prague. The students name was Roma Raju, and she wanted to create a film version of my short story for her final project last year. Roma sent me a copy of the video months ago, but I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to share it with others. Word finally got back to me that I could pass it on all I wanted.

I thought it was a tour de force of pure awesome.

There is a small chance I am a tiny bit biased, however.

That being said I definitely think it’s amazing that a short story I wrote in New York and published online was made into a movie by a student in Prague.

Go, internet, go.

What Makes a Zombie Book?

ZombiesWhat makes a book a zombie book?

What defines a zombie?

I find myself asking these questions the further I get into book three.

When I first started turning the Matthew and Epp stories into a book, I didn’t give much thought to how I might classify them. I never have any idea where a story is going to lead and trying to shove a book into a set category in the early stages has never resulted in a product I’m happy with. So I didn’t set out to write any particular genre.

It became obvious pretty quickly, though, that with an undead ronin and a two-thousand-year-old Roman slave interacting in present-day Manhattan, these books were going to land somewhere in the supernatural category. And once the framework of the testers started to fall into place, some part of me thought it would be fun to take various famous monsters and see how I could go about including them in this new world I was discovering.

I mean, who’s to say that every boogeyman the world over isn’t, in reality, a tester crossing paths with a human in some manner? The different ways that testers can show up in a human’s life are widely varied. On one end of things, the testers occupy a ghostly area. They are basically pure energy, and if a tester crosses a human’s path in this form it can result in that human having crazy thoughts or wildly volatile emotions. At other times it can result in the human seeing things as if their eyes were playing tricks on them. Such examples, were they to get more and more extreme, might very well get explained away using a notion like ghosts or vampires.

But testers aren’t confined to just being whispy things that humans must explain away. They can also pop into human form. And since all of the testers were alive at some point, maybe they’d be recognized while they were walking around. And if you’re seeing someone you know is dead, only they’re up and about and eating a cheeseburger, well your going to think that the dead have risen, right?

So it’s possible for the world of testers, and these books, to move more into the zombie side of things.

ghosts and zombiesAnd yet, just having the dead in motion doesn’t really classify something as a zombie book. At the very least that would push things into the world of monsters, but it feels like zombies require something more. They require a transformation of the person who once was alive. Zombies are the body of a person, only the essence of that person is gone and what is left is that body under new programming.

Also? Zombies seem to need a bit of rot about them. At some point a zombie ceased being alive for a time, and that time period of being just a corpse is central to the concept of a zombie. They have been exposed to the elements. They have been lying in dirt. They have begun to decay.

I sell the Matthew and Epp books as zombie books, but I always wonder how correct that is. I mean, the bad guys are rotted, undead creatures. That’s zombie enough for marketing purposes. I’m not going to pick nits when it comes to  bringing new readers in.

But I do like to pause and mull over what defines a zombie book at times. My books are not straight the-dead-start-walking-and-our-heroes-hide-in-a-bunker-type zombie books. Plus, the zombies in my books think. They are smart, well some of them, and articulate.

Yet the notion that something has passed out of them while they sat and rotted is still present. Even the one’s that side with our heroes feel estranged and distant from the world they once belonged too.

In the end, for the characters that are classified as zombies in these books, something was transformed as they lay in a graveyard…and that is very zombie sounding to me.