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Adventures In Publishing: The Ruined Man

After the excitement from “The Saga of Shamus” died down I took a step back and decided to work on my craft. Learn how to smith the words better. To accomplish this, I started writing short stories like a mad man. This was a relatively new field for me. Until then I had mostly written plays and novellas. I had just moved to Albuquerque and me and my friend Brandon would spend our weekend mornings writing. And believe me, I wrote. And wrote. And wrote. I churned out at least one short story a week for a weeks on end.  Most of these stories were garbage and will never see the light of day. I collected my favorites and self-published a collection called “Twisted Yarns.”  I know what you’re thinking. Why would I self-publish again? What would possess me to want to undertake that exercise in humility again? To be honest, I was getting discouraged. Because even though I was churning out garbage short stories at a record pace, I couldn’t find anyone to publish them. Most of the stories I wrote were too long for the word counts of these publications. Flash fiction was really big at the time and everyone thought that if you couldn’t tell a story in under 1000 words, it wasn’t really a story. I don’t write 1000 word short stories. Hell, I don’t even write 3500 word short stories. My short stories start at 7500 words and usually top out somewhere around 10k.  And the few places that did accept lengthy stories gave me nothing but encouraging rejections. If you’re a writer, you know the kind.

“Great story, but not what we’re looking for right now.”

“Really enjoyed the story, but doesn’t fit our issue. What else do you have?”

And so on and so forth. Over and over again. One rejection after another in a constant flow of bad news. After a while the ego takes a hit. After a while you start asking yourself questions and doubting yourself and your talent.

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One of the stories to come out of this frenzy of writing was the original short story version of, “The Ruined Man.” The story actually followed the events of the upcoming book 2. I sent a copy to my old creative writing professor and he got back to me the same day with, “Turn this into a book! It NEEDS to be a book!” So that’s what I set out to do.

Turning a short story into a full-length novel is no easy feat. I’ve heard it said they are two separate modes of writing. A short story is like a passionate kiss from a stranger. It is fast, unexpected and leaves you breathless and wanting more. Whereas a novel is like a love affair. It’s slow, develops over time and is chock full of emotional highs and lows.  So the trick was how to turn a passionate kiss into a love affair. I decided to start at the beginning, like all good love affairs. I told the story of how Victor Wolf became the Ruined Man—a story that ended up beginning 15 years in the past.  The story, which ended up being book one, “The Ruined Man,” flowed out of me as if Wolf was telling it to me over afternoon coffee.  Before I knew it, I had completed the Purple Gates story and had to move on to the second half which covered the events in the short story.  Turning that into a love affair was difficult and took years. Literally years.  The few query letters I did send out about The Ruined Man were met with rejection (surprise, surprise). Even after the discouragement settled in and I quit writing, I would still go back to Wolf and tinker around with the novel. It soon became a monster. A monster that I loved like a child. A beast I wanted to protect from the slings and arrows of all the nasty assholes rejecting my work and chipping away at my self-esteem.  So I kept the book locked away in the fortress of my hard drive like the electronic manifestation of the Man in the Iron Mask.

Eventually, I quit looking at it altogether. Because I had finally had enough. Enough rejection. Enough criticism. Enough ridicule. Enough hearing loved ones talk about how I needed to “find a real job” and leave this writing thing behind. Those of you who know me know how huge this decision would be for me. All I ever wanted was to be a storyteller. Period. From the time my imagination started imagining I was making up stories. There is nothing I love to do more than get lost in my imagination and find a story there to share with others. I had spent years of my life not listening to all the naysayers. My high school teachers begged me not to be a writer. My college professors begged me not to be a writer. My parents REALLY begged me not to be a writer.

“There’s no money in it.”

“You’ll be poor your whole life!”

“Nobody respects writers! They are slackers and miscreants!”

Ad infimum.

I ignored them all and pursued my dream only to find out they were right. As I said in my last blog, I was one voice in a cacophony of thousands trying to get heard. Few people listened. Fewer cared.  Everybody wants to be a writer but nobody wants to read. I was discouraged, disgusted and frustrated and I was getting real tired of rejection. So I decided to leave it behind and get a job in IT. There is nothing more soul-crushing than giving up on your dreams.  Very little else will take the light from your eyes and the life from your step like losing a piece of who you are. But I had to. I couldn’t take the pain any more. I couldn’t take the feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. I couldn’t take the smoldering disappointment I felt radiating from everyone around me. I had been defeated. So I stepped back and “gave it to God.”

I felt it leave in that moment—the fire I had kept stoked for years just didn’t die, it was snuffed out. As my imagination dimmed, a sharp pang stabbed my heart. It felt exactly like breaking up with someone. The loss was immense.

Franz Kafka said a non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity. Franz Kafka knew something about it because I learned the truth in that statement pretty quickly. My whole life I used writing to process the world around me. The stories, poems, plays and essays I’d written were fueled by a myriad of emotions. But that was gone now. I didn’t have an outlet for creative expression. Those were dark days.

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During the summer of 2016 I came across Michelkin Publishing’s call for submissions. They were an indie house out of New Mexico and they were seeking local writers with books about New Mexico. Bonus points for magical realism. My thoughts immediately went to The Ruined Man, but I quickly pushed it back. I had quit writing. I didn’t want any more rejection.  I gave it to God and He decided to keep it. All my passion for writing was gone. But I kept going back to it for days. Finally I relented.

“It’s no big deal,” I convinced myself. “You haven’t gotten a rejection in years, you can handle at least one. It doesn’t even matter. It’s not like you’re a writer anymore, anyway. Accepted or rejected, it’s all the same now. Besides, it’ll be rejected for sure. No doubt.”

So I went to Michelkin’s site and filled out the submission form and included a summary of my monstrous word-baby. I clicked send and was hit with a brief spike of excitement that was quickly dulled over. Then I waited. Waited for the rejection I was sure would come.

“Dear Mr. DeGray,

Thank you for your submission but we can’t find room for you right now.

Signed,

Every publisher or agent ever”

The morning I got the email from Michelkin’s publishing department that’s what I expected it to read. But that’s not what it said. They actually said they liked the summary and wanted to see the first 50 pages. I couldn’t believe it. I was shaking as I dove into the electronic dungeon of my hard drive. My heart pumped wildly as I opened the key and let my Monster in the Iron Mask see light for the first time in ages. I spit-shined the manuscript and sent them what they asked for. Then I waited again.

And waited.

And waited.

Months later I got another email. Again, I expected this to be the one where they thanked me for my time but they had decided to pass. Again, not what happened. They felt the first 50 were solid and wanted to see the whole manuscript. I almost cried. No joke. I spent the weekend polishing up my beloved brain-child and sent it off to them. And then I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

By this time I was getting anxious. It was December now and I hadn’t heard a thing from them since the end of September. I was convinced they hated it and hadn’t gotten around to sending me the rejection yet. I tried not to care, but the fire had been sparked inside me again. It burned with a tiny flame. Like a tea light–a miniature flicker of light in a sea of dark hopelessness. It was fragile and I knew that this rejection would snuff it out for good. I couldn’t help but wonder if that was the cosmic plan behind it, the killing blow that would ensure I would never get back up. And then it came.

December 10, 2016 I was at my niece’s birthday party when I got an email from Michelkin Publishing. My throat instantly dried and I was hit with a rush of excitement. I took three deep breaths and returned to the party. Later, after I had gotten home, I paced around for at least an hour terrified to open the email. Finally, I steeled my resolve and read the email.

They said they’d be happy to publish my manuscript. In two books. I cried. No joke. And that tiny flame suddenly grew into a blazing beacon.

And now, six months later, my first published novel is actually out. It feels great, I can’t lie. It’s blissful to no longer be a monster courting insanity. All dreams are worth living. That’s what I took away from this adventure in publishing. No matter who you are, no matter what your secret dream is—live it. Don’t let the wet blanket of hopelessness put out your fire. Don’t let the criticism and disapproval of others guide the direction you take.  It is YOUR life, after all. You are the one who has to live it, so live it well.

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Adventures in Publishing: The Saga of Shamus

With my new book, “The Ruined Man,” coming out Friday I got a little nostalgic for my journey as a writer thus far. And though “The Ruined Man” is published by Michelkin Publishing, I started out in the self-publishing world over 10 years ago.

I began my journey into the publishing industry in 2006. I had written a book called, “Absolutely True Retellings: The Saga of Shamus.” It was a YA fantasy adventure heavy on the social satire. A lot like Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.  I wrote the entire thing out on legal pads sitting at coffee shops in Lubbock, Texas. I still write like that to this day except I write at coffee shops in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Shamus was the first novel I ever completed and as such, I thought it was one of the best stories ever told and I wanted the entire world to read it and love it as much as I did. I tackled the daunting task of copying everything I’d written into Word and passed it along to an English professor friend to edit it down.

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After that I tried tackling the even more daunting task of finding a way to publish my book and get it in the hands of readers the world over. Now keep in mind this was the end of 2006 and the first half of 2007. The publishing industry looked quite different than it does today. Self-publishing was basically unheard of and no one in the legitimate publishing industry took it seriously.  I attended seminars where I was told by agents and editors that if I decided to self-publish I would never be taken seriously in the publishing world. In short, I’d ruin any chances I had of becoming a traditionally published author.

Needless to say this terrified me. I immediately began researching how to get an agent, write a query letter and all the other hoops you have to jump through to go the “traditional route.”  As I said before, the publishing industry was very different ten years ago. Readership was declining and ebooks hadn’t become popular yet. As a result most of what traditional houses were publishing were novels ghost written for celebrities and books about wizards.  To complicate things further, traditional publishing houses weren’t taking on new writers like they had in the past. They tended to view unknown authors as a liability and any money spent on them was wasted. It didn’t take long to realize that even if I were to get the attention of an agent or the Big 5, they weren’t going to pay much, if any, attention to me. Marketing, promotion and getting people reading my book would all fall on me. So I said, “Fuck it.” If I had to do it all myself, I was going to do it all myself. I was done wasting my time trying any of the traditional methods of publishing either mainstream or independent.

Still put off by the stigmas of self-publishing, I started looking into vanity publishers and hybrid publishers. For those who may not know the term, a vanity publisher is a book publisher who will turn any manuscript into a book regardless of content or quality. A hybrid publisher combines elements of traditional publishing with vanity publishing. In both cases the services offered carried a hefty price tag that more often than not rose into the $10,000 range after editing fees, formatting fees, layout fees, cover design fees and a marketing package that was tagged on with the promise of helping you “promote your book.” These promotional packages mainly included kitschy bookmarks, flyers, fact sheets and the guarantee that the company would send a press release via spam mail to anyone on your contact list. I waded through countless offers from vanity publishers until I happened across a supposedly legitimate hybrid publisher called, BookPros.

Word on the web was that BookPros would only take on your project if they felt it was high quality and commercially viable. I submitted my manuscript and waited to hear from them. A BookPros representative called me a few weeks later. They told me they loved my manuscript and wanted to get started working on it immediately! I was stoked. I was elated. I was above the moon. The president of the company even got in on the call and told me what a wonderful author I was and that I was brimming with potential. I mean, what artist doesn’t want to hear that? BookPros went on to inform me that they worked closely with a professional marketing firm to promote myself and my book. I would be flown to their offices to undergo media training and the whole bit. At this point I was nearly in tears. This was everything I had been waiting to hear. Every naysayer could suck eggs, all my self deprecation would vanish in the presence of this all-powerful validation I received. My ego, properly inflated by all the flattery, agreed instantly. Then they told me all this could be mine for the low, low, discount price of $12,000. Didn’t take me long to say, “Forget that bullshit,” and resign myself to self-publishing.

Those early days of self-publishing were exciting and filled with promise, like when the bell rings on the last day of school and a summer of endless possibility is just over the horizon.  And believe me, the self-publishing sites creeping around at the time were definitely taking advantage of the doe-eyed authors lining up to be the next big thing. Because that’s what they were promising—no “promising” isn’t exactly the word. They never actually told anyone they were guaranteed to be a best seller; they just failed to correct everyone’s false impressions and hopeful delusions.

Back then, we thought that if we published through a self-publishing imprint like Authorhouse or Xlibris that our books were going to end up on the shelves of every bookstore from one coast to another. Our books would be on the shelves next to Stephen King, Clive Barker, James Patterson and Michael Crichton. We thought we were going to be able to proudly tell everyone in our lives, “I published a book. And you can go to Hastings (God rest its soul) and pick up a copy!”  We were wrong. Utterly and completely wrong. It came to light much later that few, if any, self-published books actually made it off the publisher’s website. Oh sure it was listed on Ingram and available for bookstores to order, but we didn’t understand what this meant. We didn’t realize that our books were being listed with everyone else’s books and that a floodgate had been opened, flooding an already struggling industry with thousands upon thousands of new books to choose from–most of them unedited, horribly formatted drivel with a terribly designed cover carrying price tags anywhere from $10 to $30. That was another thing we didn’t “get” at first. These self-publishers allowed us to set our own price and determine our own royalty payments. So the higher the cost, the more royalties we would receive. Have you ever seen a horribly designed paperback weighing in at 300 pages with a $30 retail price? I have. I’ve seen hundreds. Guess how many of them are the next big thing?

After the truth about self-publishing came out the industry got an even worse reputation. All the wannabe authors took it personally and believe me, we were furious. Self publishers were likened to charlatans selling snake oil and empty dreams. And in their ivory towers, the Big 5 sat smirking, thinking they had weathered the storm and would once again rule the roost. Turns out they were wrong, too. But hindsight is always 20/20.

During all of this, I chose Lulu as my self-publishing provider. Back then, they didn’t seem as plastic as the other self-publishing sites. They also had rigorous standards for including books on their global distribution lists. Authors could publish anything they wanted on Lulu’s site, but if it was going to Ingram it had to be considered “industry standard.” I had to submit my book for approval and have it evaluated. This added a level of legitimacy I felt the other places lacked. So I began the laborious process of putting together an industry standard book.

At the time I was working as an ISS teacher in Lubbock which afforded me ample time to work on formatting, editing and designing The Saga of Shamus. I worked on it for at least 8 hours a day for six months straight. When I wasn’t working on the book I was researching industry standards and practices trying to figure out how to get seen in the flotsam of self-published garbage that had washed up on literature’s shores in the past few years. I was proud of my book, after all. I still am I believed in it. I thought it was worthy of recognition (and I still do). I wanted to find some way—any way—to get it in the hands of people who would read it. Social media really wasn’t a thing yet so I had to get creative with my promotional opportunities. Naturally, for an author, the first thing that comes to mind is a book signing.

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Alas nothing was sacred in the self-publishing industry and seemingly overnight it was awash with authors clamoring to do book signings.  You couldn’t walk into any Hastings (God rest its soul), Barnes and Noble, Boarders or even down the hall of a shopping mall without coming across a self-published author peddling his books. So I jumped right in and starting slinging books with the best of them.

That experience was…ultimately an exercise in humility. People walked by purposely avoiding eye contact as if I were a bum asking for spare change. The few that did stop did so out of pity or mild interest as if I were a disabled bum asking for spare change.  And the rare few who left the table with a copy usually ended up leaving it elsewhere in the store as if I were a Jehovah’s Witness handing out Watchtower pamphlets.

But that’s not to say all of it was bad. Sitting at those folding tables with copies of my book fanned out before me filled me with pride and even a sense of accomplishment. I had done what I set out to do. I self-published an industry standard book. I took control of marketing and promotion, and even if it weren’t some nationally recognized book tour; I got out there. I met people, talked to them, told them my story and did it all with a smile on my face.

My best book signing event took place in Datil, New Mexico of all places. Datil is so small that calling it a town is being dishonest. Most of the people in the area are ranchers and live a much slower paced life than their city dwelling brethren. I had gotten some illustrations done for Shamus by an artist who was from the area. When word got out that she had done illustrations for my book, the library emailed me and asked if I would be available to do a signing during their upcoming library hootenanny. I readily agreed. It was an experience unlike any other.  There were more people there and interested in my book than at all my other events combined. I sold all the copies of my book that day while a band played country music in the next room.  I even received my first fan gift: a small pink elephant made of glass. The context makes perfect sense if you’ve ever read The Saga of Shamus (hint, hint).

To be able to move a complete stranger with something I’d written made the struggle worth it. In the end, that’s what I took away from my adventures in publishing Shamus. When you really get down to it, we aren’t writing for ourselves. We are writing for the world. For our audience. And when we meet that audience face to face and interact with them–when we see the admiration and appreciation in their eyes a writer can’t help but walk away thinking, “I did something right. Something good. Something other people enjoy and are inspired by.” And that, friends, is what it is really all about.

The Ruined Man is out!

That’s right. My paranormal thriller The Ruined Man is available for early purchase before the official release date on Friday. Get your copy of The Ruined Man paperback!

And check out the trailer up on Youtube. 

The Ruined Man Trailer 

Reality Television and Brain Hacking

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We are all aware of television’s ability to turn us into mindless zombies. But what if television could actually get inside our heads? What if our brains could be hacked and our most intimate thoughts, feelings and desires were broadcast for the world to see? Ben Shriver is about to find out…

Ben had been droning away at his desk for almost half a day when he received the package. It had his name on the card and was wrapped in what appeared to be golden ribbon. He unwrapped it carefully with trembling hands and the box exploded with sound.

“Congratulations Ben Shriver! You are today’s lucky Celebrilottery winner!”

His coworkers stopped their work and peered at him from over their cubicles.

“Grats Shriver,” said Gerald Manly, his cubicle mate. “It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving jackass.”

“Thanks Gerry,” Ben said, all smiles. Inside the box was a baseball sized object that took to the air hovering about three feet from Ben’s head. The lens cap slid open revealing an ominous red eye.

“Congratulations, Ben Shriver,” said a voice being pumped through tiny speakers on the hovering camera. “We here at Celebrilottery would like to welcome you to a once in a lifetime experience. Are you ready?”

“Yes.”

“Do you give us permission to suspend your Biochip functions?”

Brain hacking my ass! Ben smiled, thinking of Mika’s unfounded worries. “Yes. Let’s do this!”

Vertigo seized him suddenly. When it subsided, he felt like he was in a dream. He was cognizant of what was going on around him, but unable to affect it. He had effectively become a spectator inside his own body. His arms and legs jerked awkwardly for a few seconds then a voice in his skull spoke. Hey there Benny Boy. It’s Elias Cartel here. You know who I am?

“Yes.” Ben answered. Elias Cartel was probably his favorite comedian on the circuit right now. “It’s an honor to work with you.”

Well I’m the one doing all the work, laughed Cartel. Let’s get started, huh? Do I have permission to suspend your Biochip for the duration of the show and use your voice and body in non-harmful, though potentially embarrassing ways?

“Yes.” With that one statement, Ben Shriver surrendered control of his body.

Excerpt taken from “Twisted Yarns” by Jason DeGray. Get it on Amazon now!

https://www.amazon.com/Twisted-Yarns-Jason-Degray/dp/1312299207/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1487697181&sr=1-1&keywords=twisted+yarns%2C+degray

 

Swifting Part 1: The Devil You Don’t

Swifting is a short story I wrote about hopping between parallel universes. Always remember: Nothing is impossible in the Realm of Possibility! Enjoy!

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Swifting

“How do I tell her? How can I tell her? There’s no way she’d believe me. Hell, sometimes I don’t even believe me. How can this be real? It can’t be real. Can it?” His knuckles whitened under his grip on the bathroom sink. But he was completely immersed in his thoughts and didn’t notice. Nor did he notice the intense half-insane face staring back at him in the mirror. To be honest, he didn’t know who he was anymore. Every time he looked in the mirror lately, he felt like he was staring at someone else—a different version of himself who was always something of a stranger.

“Forget it. I can’t do it. I can’t tell her,” he announced to his reflection. Then thought better of it. “What am I saying? You don’t fuckin’ care. You’re somewhere else right now. Every version of yourself is simultaneously shifting into a different place. You’re probably shitting yourself right along with me. Well it’s good to know that I’m not going crazy alone.” He laughed softly at his own joke and brushed his teeth. He couldn’t tell her, but he had to tell someone. He was going out.

 


“You can’t tell her shit man. You got that? You can’t utter a fucking word of this crazy shit to her. She’ll see you for the nutjob you are. Don’t. Say. A goddam word. You hear me?”

He had to hand it to Darren. He had a way of being himself no matter where he was. He admired that about him and it was largely the reason he was his best friend. He was a constant. When a person can’t keep their consciousness stable, constants help them cope. Constants offer grounding in a world that changes more than it stays the same. Darren was who he was. Short. Bristly. Built like a tank. Cursed like a sailor. He made no qualms about who he was or what he thought. He could always be trusted to speak truth, no matter what that truth may be. And most importantly, that never changed about him.

“Dude, you don’t understand,” he told Darren, “Shit is getting bad between us. Bad. All our fights end now with her telling me to go find someone else. I’m dying over here. And don’t get me started on our Bella…Fuck, man. I don’t even know which version of her I’m gonna get. Is this a place where we’re together? Or are we at each other’s throats again? It wears on a guy, ya know?”

Sometimes Darren regretted buying into Kurt’s story when he sold him drugs the first time. Time travel or universe hopping or other shit he was sure came straight from science fiction novels was what the guy talked about. Darren didn’t know for sure, he just thought the guy was kooky and amusing. He was pretty convinced that the drugs were only making whatever the fuck was wrong with Kurt worse. He almost felt bad for the guy. He really did. But his money was good. And the story was good at least. Better than most of the junkie insanity he listened to on a daily basis. But really, he put up with Kurt because he bought the drinks. And a person that did that was a friend, as far as Darren was concerned.

“Then fucking leave her already, man. Shit. It’s always coming back to that woman poppin’ off or doing some stupid shit. Man, that’s prolly why you’re going crazy. She’s driving you straight off a cliff. I read an article that talked about how women nagging their men all the time actually kills them quicker. It’s true. Science and shit. But not you, man. You’re over here all, ‘but I think I might possibly love her sometimes when I don’t hate her fucking guts’. It’s bullshit man. Fucking bullshit. And you need to man up and opt out before you end up in a damn nuthouse or worse.”

“Yeah I hear that,” he said morosely. But he wasn’t really paying attention. He’d heard all this before. He knew this narrative by heart because it was whata he should be doing. But he couldn’t. He could never bring himself to ‘opt out’ as Darren put it. So he changed the subject.  “Lately, I’ve been getting this visions. These mental flashes of these other versions of me offing themselves one by one.  In all these different and weird ways. It’s like it’s moving down the line and I’m trying to keep ahead of it.”

“Oh man. You’re back to that freaky multiple universes shit? So tell me this: what happens when one of these other you’s puts one in his skull? Why don’t all of you die then?”

“It’s not how it works. We are connected to our other selves, but they are each an independent clone born of the choices we didn’t make.  I think that movie ‘What the Bleep Do We Know’ explains it best.”

“What movie?”

“What the Bleep Do We Know.”

“Never heard of it.”

“Huh. Probably not a movie here, then,” Kurt said to himself.

“Or you coulda just dreamed it up in that nutty head of yours.”

“Yeah…not likely.”

Darren checked the time on his smart phone. “Well as much as I love our little chat, I’ve got other business.”

Kurt had another beer, musing about his next move when he noticed the woman sitting at the bar. He hadn’t seen her before, he’d been too engrossed in venting to his friend. But damn if she wasn’t staring at him without staring at him; trying to act nonchalant and failing miserably. He normally wasn’t a brazen man—never could find the courage to talk to an attractive woman—and this stranger was definitely attractive. Brunette hair failing over her shoulders and halfway down her shapely back with a face of a movie star and body to match. But this wasn’t a pick up. She was watching him. Had been watching him and he wanted to know why.

He got up and made his way to the restroom where he splashed cold water on his face while trying to muster some grit. Whenever he emerged from the bathroom, she was still there stirring ice in an empty glass. He wasted no time in approaching her lest his grit fizzle out, and said in his best imitation of a macho voice, “Hey there.”

She looked him up and down, making no effort to hide the fact she was studying him before replying, “I need another drink.”

“I don’t work here. You better tell the bartender.”

“I know that,” she snapped smoothly. “I’m asking you to buy me a drink.”

“O.K…Wow. That was really forward.”

“You gonna buy the drink or what?”

“Yeah. Sure. Why not?” Kurt signaled for another round and sat down next to the intriguing brunette. “So what’s your name?”

“No.”

“No? Your name is No? Man your parents were mean.”

She laughed and it sounded like a thousand crystals tinkling together. “I meant, no you can’t get in my pants. You’re with someone.”

“How d’you know that?”

“You’ve got a total dad bod going on. Vain enough to know you should look good but too lazy to give a shit.”

“Oh that’s hilarious,” the sour tone in Kurt’s voice was unmistakable.

The Brunette smiled disarmingly. “Look I get it. Depression can do that to people.”

“So now I’m depressed?”

“Definitely. You failed as a photographer.  You failed as a—what was it you called it?—Oh yeah. Free lance journalist. You’ve failed as a partner to your wife. You’ve failed as a father. And most importantly, you’ve failed to remain rooted in one place for years now. Ever since your ‘accident’ with the train.”

The color fled Kurt’s face and he stumbled out of his chair. The barstool clattered to the floor as he backed away. “Who…who are you?”

“I’m a friend.” Her disarming smile seemed infinitely less so, taking on the qualities of a sinister leer instead.

He backed quickly toward the door. “Who the fuck ARE you? How do you know about me? About my Swifting?” The first few weeks after he realized his universe hopping, Kurt did an internet search and found an online forum dedicated to this very phenomenon, which they called “Swifting”. The forum was a safe, anonymous place full of people like him where stories were shared, theories discussed, lost loves and lives lamented, but most importantly, it offered camaraderie. It didn’t take very long before the forum became a constant and those on it like real friends. Lately though, it had been quiet and Kurt couldn’t help but wonder why.

“Kurt! Don’t you dare split without paying,” growled the bartender. A burly vet Kurt had no intention of pissing off.

“Hey yeah. About that, I’m gonna leave it right here.” He threw a wad of cash on the table nearest him and bolted out the door.

“What the hell was that about?” the bartender asked the Brunette.

“I don’t know. Threatened by beauty, perhaps?”

The bartender grunted and shuffled over to collect the money from the table, “Damn nut jobs. City’s full of em.”

 


SWIFT_K: Any1 on right now?

GRL_BLU: Hey. What’s up K?

SWIFT_K: Just had some crazy shit go down.

GRL_BLU: ???

SWIFT_K: This girl at the bar started talking to me like she knew about me. About my Swifting.

GRL_BLU: …

SWIFT_K: ??

INCOMING PM FROM GRL_BLU

GRL_BLU: I think you should run.

SWIFT_K: WTF?? Y???

GRL_BLU: Look. I don’t know NEthing for sure. OK?

SWIFT_K: OK.

GRL_BLU: I was chatting with Kid_Kode the other day. Said he met some1 at Mal Mart. Some bald               guy, I think.  Said dude knew a lot about him.

SWIFT_K: WTF??? Where is Kode? He on?

GRL_BLU: No. Hasn’t been on in 3 days.

SWIFT_K: Shit. Shit. Shit! We should def not be logging on here anymore.

GRL_BLU: I know. But this place is a constant.

SWIFT_K: Not anymore.

GRL_BLU: I guess… Good luck, K. I’ll email you my info if you ever need to get in touch.

SWIFT_K: Thx

GRL_BLU: Be careful OK?

SWIFT_K: You know me. 😀


 

Kurt shut down the computer and immediately started stuffing clothes into a duffel bag.

“Kurt, what are you doing?” Esme, his wife, stood in the doorway holding their daughter.

“Baby, we gotta go. Get you and Bella packed. Quickly!”

“Where are we going?” she had known Kurt for what seemed like lifetimes. She knew every quirk, every trigger for mood swings. At least she thought she did. Lately, he hadn’t been the same. Almost as if he were a new person every few days. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Baby, we don’t have a lot of time. We aren’t safe…I don’t think…”

“Stop it, Kurt. You’re scaring me.” The baby agreed and started crying, sensing the tense and uncertain energy around her parents.

He briefly explained his encounter at the bar, leaving out the Swifting details.

“So you think this woman is after you to kill you? Why?”

Kurt searched his imagination for a plausible lie to go along with his fantastic truth. “I, uh, have been on these online forums. Umm…grassroots activist type stuff. And people started disappearing off the forums lately. Word is, they got approached by someone with a lot of information about them before they disappear.”

“We gotta call the police!”

“No!” Kurt exploded and then wrangled his control back. “That’s not—I don’t think they can—or will—help us. Please just pack your shit and go to your mother’s.”

“My mother lives in Arizona. You know that.”

“Yeah. Perfect. Get there. Fast. I’ll drop you guys off at the airport. Catch the next flight you can.”

“What’re you gonna do?”

“I’ve got to figure this out. I’ll catch up to you when things have calmed down.”

She stared at him, boring into his soul, trying to decide if he was serious or lying to get her out of town so he could fuck around with whatever little bitch he’d been screwing.  Kurt had been acting weird lately, and she automatically attributed his odd behavior to cheating. She was convinced that was the reason for the deterioration of their relationship. It had to be. Nothing else made sense.

He shifted uncomfortably beneath her gaze. “Esme, please. I’m serious about this. It’s not safe. Please. If not for me then for Bella. Go to your mother’s!”

“O.K.” she finally conceded. “For Bella. I have two weeks I can take. Will you have your government-wants-to-kill-me shit figured out by then?”

“For sure. I’ll see you there in a week. Tops. Now please, pack and let’s go already!”

 

READ PART 2

Daily Wisdom-isms: The Tao Te Ching (Disciples of Life and Death)

Death and life. Life and death. Like everything in our world, they are polar opposites. One extreme cannot exist without the other. As students in this realm of learning, we are inevitably drawn to these extremes. But extremes of any kind are a trap. They overwhelm us. Blind us to truth and eventually become stumbling blocks along our path. But there comes a time in every great epoch of history when men and women are called upon to choose a side. When faced with your great choice, will you have the integrity to become a disciple of life? Or will your need to survive override your humanity, turning you into a disciple of death?

75

When taxes are too high,
people go hungry.
When the government is too intrusive,
people lose their spirit.

Act for the people’s benefit.
Trust them and leave them alone.

76

Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are dry and brittle.

Thus, whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.

The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.

—-The Tao te Ching Ch. 75 and 76

A Letter to Blackberry

Dear Blackberry People,

I recently got one of your Blackberry Pearl phones. As I’ve never had a Blackberry, I spent many hours pushing buttons and flipping through screens. Imagine my surprise when one random button I pushed activated the “Voice Command” option. A sexy female voice prompts me to “Say a command”. At first I applauded your ingenuity. To think! A smart phone that follows the commands I dictate to it! I couldn’t wait; I started saying commands.

I say, “Send Ninjas.”
Response: “Say again.”

I say, “Give me $100,000” (I’m not greedy).
Response: “Command not recognized.”

[At this point I’m getting frustrated, but I thought maybe I wasn’t speaking clear enough. So in a clear, articulate voice…]

I say, “Teleport me to Bora Bora.”
Response, “Did you say call Eric at work?”

I say, “Initiate world peace.”
Response, “I’m sorry. Try again?”

Now, either my phone is broken or your phones aren’t as smart as they (and you) would lead us to believe. I’m not asking for much. Just a replacement phone with a working “Voice Command” option. Something about commanding with my voice is very appealing. If you can’t do this, I understand. But you need to understand that in that event, I’ll be switching to a Droid. Because while a Droid isn’t as cool as a Blackberry with a working Voice Command, having a phone with little robot arms that talks like Stephen Hawking would be super cool too.

Thank you,
Jason DeGray

p.s. Something else that bothered me is that the model is named the Pearl. But it looks nothing like a pearl. Or even a clam for that matter.

Daily Wisdom-isms: That Hideous Strength (Civil Disobedience)

I seriously think the modern mega corporation was modeled after the N.I.C.E. Fairy Hardcastle (the Chief of the N.I.C.E. police force) plays an important role in Mark’s acceptance of N.I.C.E. In this excerpt, she and a few other key N.I.C.E. members discuss a riot they are planning and that they want Mark to write an account of. Enjoy!

“You mean you’ve engineered the disturbances?” said Mark. To do him justice, his mind was reeling from this new revelation. Nor was he aware of any decision to conceal his state of mind…

“That’s a crude way of putting it,” said Feverstone.

“It makes no difference,” said Filostrato. “This is how things have to be managed.”

“Quite,” said Miss Hardcastle. “It’s always done. Anyone who knows police work will tell you. And I say, the real thing–the big riot–must take place within the next 48 hours…In the meantime, you and I have to get busy about the account of the riot.”

“But–what’s it all for?” said Mark.

“Emergency regulations,” said Feverstone. “You’ll never get the powers we want at Edgestow until the Government declares that a state of emergency exists there.”

“Exactly,” said Filostrato. “It’s folly to talk of peaceful revolutions. Not that the canaglia would always resist–often they have to be prodded into it–but until there is disturbance, the firing, the barricades–no one gets powers to act effectively. There’s not enough what you call weight on the boat to steer him.”

“And the stuff must be all ready to appear in the papers the very day after the riot,” said Miss Hardcastle.

“But how are we to write it tonight if the thing doesn’t even happen until tomorrow morning, at the earliest?”

Everyone burst out laughing.

“You’ll never manage publicity that way, Mark,” said Feverstone. “You surely don’t wait for a thing to happen before you tell the story of it.”

This was the first thing Mark had been asked to do which he himself, before he did it, clearly knew to be criminal. But the moment of his consent almost escaped his notice; certainly there was no struggle, no sense of turning a corner. There may have been a time in the world’s history when such moments fully revealed their gravity, with witches prophesying on a blasted heath or visible Rubicons to be crossed. But for him, it slipped past in a chatter of laughter, of that intimate laughter between fellow professionals, which of all earthly powers is strongest to make men do very bad things before they are yet, individually, very bad men.

Can you say “Wag the Dog”? Good ol’ Bill “the Old Shoe” Schumann. He really was real. For real. Because the media said he was real. Why would our medias, governments and corporations lie to us? Aren’t they all working for our benefit? Benevolent overlords who only want to protect us from ourselves? Isn’t that N.I.C.E.?

Daily Wisdom-isms

Potentiality of spirit…Kirkegaard was on to something. What happens when life is no longer exciting? What happens when the passion ebbs away? I was trapped in a passionless shell, unable to break free. I’d almost resigned myself to that suicidal fate. I could see and remember what it felt like for the world to be alive with possibility. I could recall the swell of excitement in my chest at the thought of meeting the day head on, of creating, of experiencing life. But all these old emotions, once mine to command, I stared at as if something unattainable–out of reach. But it’s not. I just needed to stand up and walk through that Door. Enjoy!

“If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye, which ever young and ardent, sees the possible.”–Kierkegaard Either/Or

Alien Jesus and Chucky Manson

Alien Jesus has robot eyes
There is nowhere he cannot see you.

Even when

He dines at Chile’s
with Chucky Manson
discussing the End of All Things
The Helter of all Skelters
while drinking fish flavored fluids
disguised as vodka.
“It’s all a sham” is their motto
They say it twice, pay their bill and go.

Even then, he sees you.

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