The Shortest Writing Gig Of My Life

© Cracked Magazine


Note: A dear friend of mine, Sarah Watts, who writes killer shit over at http://wifeytini.com/, sent me a note that a "comedy website" was offering paid gigs to write "comedy articles." Intrigued, and possessing minor skills in both comedy and articling (allegedly), I went to said Web site and quickly discovered that, in fact, I did NOT possess the skills to write comedy articles for Cracked.com. As I tried to process if I was even CAPABLE of writing the type of articles they were looking for (I didn't), I decided to write up a pitch anyway, to set fire to the rain or whatever. Below is what was birthed and, unfortunately, pitched to the editors of the site. Apologies all around.


Have you ever gone to a Web site and thought, "Jesus Christ, what is this place?" That happened to me, today, when a friend suggested I should come to CRACKED to write comedy articles. I will admit that I was not familiar with CRACKED, other than thinking it was MAD (which, theoretically, it is, in the same way that a birch and an evergreen are both trees), but I was wholly unprepared for the sheer volume of content gracing that Frankenstein's monster of a front page.

Through minutes of painstaking research on Wikipedia, which should not be used as a source, mind you, it turns out that I wasn't far off the track! CRACKED, at least the ol' paper magazine version of it, was a direct ripoff of MAD. I remember reading MAD as a kid, mostly because my parents didn't want me to, and also so I could try the foldy-thing in the back. You know what I'm talking about. Sadly for most of us writers, print journalism has gone the way of the fanny pack (and presumably, foldy-things, too), and so CRACKED.COM was respawned as a bizarre comedy site dedicated solely to listacles, which are, I believe, the literary version of titty tassles.

But I digress.

The pitch seemed easy enough. Write what you want! Be yourself! We'll give you real PayPal money for your time and effort that you won't be able to get out of your PayPal account except via eBay purchases that you then have to hawk on Craigslist for cash! I thought, "Hey, I can do that!" -- be myself, not hawk shit on Craigslist -- and so I headed over to register for a shiny, new CRACKED account.

But after reading the pitch protocols, I found my confidence waning. When someone says, "Be yourself!" "Write like you want to write, about what you want to write!" I tend to take that at face value. I started to imagine that I could write about whatever struck my fancy with the mad hitz of CRACKED. I should've known better. I have labored away as a freelancer in the past, pumping out pitches faster than the editors could reject them ("We're looking for something more pop-culture-y, can you try to pitch some stuff about that?"), finishing 5,000-word articles only to have an editor reject it for being too ... something. I have written very serious articles where an editor asked me to "add more Halloween puns,"  because the article was coming out on October 31st, and now, I have read pitch protocols asking for a minimum of six "things" per article.

Just when you think you've seen it all!

Six Things:

1) Student loans do actually need to be repaid, according to Sallie Mae and my confused grandfather, who the aforementioned loan company called to threaten when they somehow couldn't get ahold of me or my parents. This was years ago, but my grandfather's voice will haunt me forever, as will his ghost.

2) Writing takes time, and time is money, therefore, if you're not being paid for your time ... you know, this was going somewhere good, but I'm not sure anyone will get this far before the editors delete my pitch (oh yes, this is still a pitch, motherfuckers!)

3) Always ask for payment up front, not after you've already invested hours into the work. I realize this doesn't apply to everyone, like construction workers or painters or party clowns, but asking for a commission from an artist doesn't mean you don't get to pay him when your baby daughter's portrait comes out looking like Gollum. It's not my fault I can't paint! You should've done more research! Also, your daughter kind of looks like Gollum, but don't tell her I said that.

4) Shit, still three more to go?

5) I should've been more reluctant to trust my friend. This is the same woman who recommended a Sister Souljah book to me after I told her how much I enjoyed "MONSTER: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member." When I arrived at the first "throbbing member" in Ms. Souljah's tale, I determined with Sherlockian speed that I was not reading a work of non-fiction.

6) Clickbaiting aside, CRACKED is doing something cool here by at least offering to pay freelancers. You'd be surprised how rare that is. Most people will tell you that they're offering you an "opportunity" as payment, but you can't eat opportunities. Unless you are Galactus, destroyer of planets, and then I think "opportunities" probably fits within your palate ... but also, why are you reading CRACKED, Galactus? While this "X Ways to Something a Whatever" ain't my cuppa tea, there's a huge market out there for this stuff, and getting hits and traffic is great for any writer, I suppose. HAVING SAID THAT, there's a lot of fantastic content on the Internet, and while some of it takes longer than 10 seconds to scroll through, it's worth it. Seriously, stop giving your clicks to the master-baiters and donate your time to the rest of the Web. It's a really big place; you'd be surprised at the cool shit you can find online. If we humans can band together like the Mongols under Genghis Khan, we can take over a large portion of Asia and Europe before flaming out, which should be the ultimate goal of every writer and RISK player.

You're probably thinking, "Whatever, old man. You're just bitter. You don't 'get it.' This is how we consume information now, brah." You might be right. I am not as spry as I once was, though I'm not old, either. What am I?! To most of you, I am nothing more than a collection of words (I fear I'm nearing the 1,500 word mark ... surely the editors haven't made it this far!), no more impressive than an IBM-created computer spitting out Jeopardy answers and diagnosing cystic fibrosis with a series of robo-wands. But I assure you, I am not a robot (though you have only my word to go off of ... typical robot), I am a human male, who thought maybe, just maybe, the fast-track to comedy-writing stardom would come through the creation of the listless listacle.

And thus begins (and surely ends) my CRACKED writing career.

So it goes.

The Sometimes Intentional Truth About Stories

© Warner Brothers

When I set out to write novels, I did so because I had a story I wanted to write. It wasn't any more complicated than that. That novella, which I'm saving for a rainy, share-worthy kind of day, did not have some deep inner meaning. Not that I was aware of, at least. It was a story that crawled into my head and refused to leave until it was on paper, but there were no righteous calls for climate change, no scathing commentary on the Middle East, no subliminal messages about people I love and hate. It was just a story.

Or was it?

As I've moved forward with my writing career, I've read and learned a lot about the craft itself (it's hard to avoid advice when every fucking person in the world has a goddamn tip to share). But more than that, I've learned about PEOPLE. Why they write. What their actions mean. What they're saying through their words. What they're saying when they're saying nothing at all.

What I've come to realize is that there are two types of stories:

1) One where a writer intentionally reveals his/her deepest inner secrets,

2) One where a writer accidentally reveals his/her deepest inner secrets.

Some people might disagree with number two, convinced that psychoanalysis is as useful as an ice pick to the neck, but revealing writing is unavoidable. Even intentionally-"false" writing is revealing. Look at James Frey. The fact that he would completely fabricate "non-fiction" stories and then pass them off as truth was as revealing as any factual autobiography could've been. Frey accidentally revealed more about himself than he surely intended.

On the flipside, J.K. Rowling built the Harry Potter universe around her own adolescent (and adult) struggles. Harry Potter wasn't just a boy wizard, he and every other character, setting, scene were all pieces of Rowling, and she wrote her story as much for her own therapy as for the world's enjoyment. Paolo Bacigalupi's mind-blowing science fiction says more about his thoughts on genetically-modified food, over-reliance on technology, and much more not through explicit essays about those subjects, but through beautifully-rendered stories.

The bravest of the bunch are the people who write stories confronting their biggest fears, their most-embarrassing moments, their most shameful secrets. These people are goddamn superheroes. People like Chuck Palahniuk are masters of the TRUTH, even though he (and others like him) is technically writing "fiction" ... whatever that means. Stand-up comic Rob Delaney wrote a gut-wrenching piece about his personal battle with depression. I'm not sure you can write anything more powerful and honest.

I started out writing because I had a story to tell, a story about a little girl who didn't want to live with her grandmother anymore. I don't know why I HAD to write that story, but I'm sure after some painful introspection, I'd find the answer. As I've grown older and more experienced (as a person and a writer), I'm finding that my views and thoughts and interests are forcing their way into my work. I still have that overwhelming compulsion to tell a story, but I'm going into it with more understanding than ever before. I think a lot more about WHY I'm writing and WHAT I'm really writing about than I did when I had that novella clawing at the back of my skull. It's not better or worse to be more cognizant, it's not anything really, just my own personal evolution.

The next step, maybe a writer's final Pokemon form, is to reach that Delaney-esque brutality, where all of the fears, shame, embarrassment, and self-loathing of the real world become secondary to the story. I'm definitely not there yet (sorry), so for now, I waver between subtly-intentional and awkwardly-accidental revelations about my deepest thoughts and secrets.

A common writing tip is to "write what you know," but I think that should really read, "Write, because what you know will be in there with or without your consent."

And if you're brave enough, pull back the curtain and show the world the fragile wizard within.

A Pet, ah, Peeve

© Sesame Street

Okay, let me preface this by saying that I understand that readers have different interests and preferences when it comes to dialogue. Some of us like the stilted formality of classic Olde Englishe. Some of us like badass cliched quips from hardened protagonists. Some of us like dialogue that's less concerned with authenticity and uses characters to explain complex concepts. And some of us like that "authentic" dialogue.

This squabble is about the latter.

I recently finished a book -- no need to name names -- and while the book itself was a dandy romp, the dialogue, at times, was completely unbearable.

The characters, ah, always broke up their speech, ah, with little, ah, pauses like, ah, this, and it was super distracting to, ah, read.

I realize that written dialogue like that is supposed to make the characters seem "real." It's supposed to connect the reader to the character by inserting the ums, ahs, hmms, etc. that litter our reluctant soliloquies. But in the written form, that dialogue form actually makes speech LESS real, not more.

Yes, people occasionally add ums and ahs and sos into their speech. But when someone is talking to you, those filler words are filtered out by the brain, and the speaker usually plays them down so they're less noticeable. The brain is a powerful thing, and it's able to glaze over the subtle pregnancies in speech patterns without focusing on them to distraction (unless you're a teacher, editor, etc.).

And when you're speaking to someone else, you aren't focusing on the pauses. You aren't literally thinking to yourself, "Ummm," or "Ahhhh."

YOU'RE THINKING!

The dialogue in our brains is very often thrown off once it reaches the mouth. Why? Because the expectation to speak quickly and efficiently has prompted a generation of speakers who would rather say something than quietly think about what to say. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's very rarely an intentional part of dialogue.

When that same pattern is used in written dialogue, whether it's ahs or ums or whatever else is used to break up the flow of a paragraph, the readers are ripped away from the dialogue and are forced to focus more on the pattern of speech. As a writer, you never want to take people away from your point with clever insertions. If you want a character to pause, to think, have them pause. Just take a deep breath. Use a comma, break up the speech with an end-quote and a note from the narrator that the character hesitated. Use ellipses, or a dash ... anything but the persistent use of written pauses.

It's fine for characters to have different speech patterns, and it can be a difficult task to express that in writing, but if every single character in your story is speaking with distracting pauses, readers won't connect to what they're actually saying. Instead, they'll focus on the speech of the character, and, consequently, on the writer who can't, stop, inserting, pauses.

The Smell of Space

Five days ago, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman sent a Tweet while orbiting the Earth from the International Space Station. Wiseman, a Commander in the US Navy, is serving as the flight engineer aboard the ISS for Expedition 41.

We know there's no sound in space, but it turns out, there's smell:


Wet clothes after rolling in snow. Well I never ...

The Painted-Steel God



Three men sit around a circular conference room table, staring up at a whiteboard.  To call this whiteboard white doesn't do it justice.  It is a glistening pearl, marked with the freshly-cleaned scent of formaldehyde.  It carries the look of fallen snow on a sunny day.  The quality of this painted-steel product is impeccable.

The board beckons to the three men, calling out for their strokes, but it must wait.  Two more guests are on the way.

It doesn't matter when the other two men arrive, because it doesn't matter when they leave.  The only progress they are concerned with making is the passage of time.  One commutes three hours each way, the others less.  They all have strategically chosen distant homes, so that they can enjoy a healthy commute.  Hours upon hours are spent in their cars, listening to books on tape, arguing with talk radio hosts, sucking in car exhaust and smiling all the way.  Two have wives, who enjoy their money but not their company.  One has children, a boy and a girl, though he has more of a connection with his mouse and keyboard.

The only people who matter in their lives are the ones just like them.  The other Road Warriors.  The other Afternoon Coffee Drinkers.  The other Dress Shirts & Slacks.  The other I'll Be Home Late Tonights.

When the other two men arrive, fashionably, amusingly late, the whiteboard is still left untouched.  It would be uncouth to start without them.  Eventually, someone stands up from the table and approaches the board.  It is a holy gesture, like approaching a cross or a dead body, and a pen is selected -- a blue Expo Dry-Erase marker, which magically adheres to the whiteboard without binding with or absorbing into it.  The noxious scent it produces, now uncapped, is potpourri to their eager nostrils.  In the hands of one of these men, that Expo is a weapon, one that unravels time itself.

It starts simply enough.  A scribble, a doodle.  Nothing too serious.  The marker needs to warm up.  As do the whiteboard worshipers.  But no one here is in a rush.  The whiteboard represents endless possibilities, and these men will ensure that all of those ends are explored.  The dry-erase will flow.

And so it does!

Soon, lines are scribbled over other lines.  Legible words become unrecognizable in their original tongue.  The whiteboard transforms into a battleground.  Emphatic dots rain down on the repellent surface like mortar-fire.  Underlines and circles stab and slash, hacking apart what was whole.  But it is not all so violent, so destructive.  Vague shapes begin to form across the board.  A new layer of artistry emerges through the rubble, revealing a language all its own, a language that only these men can decipher.  It is nothing.  The language of nothing.  They do not care what's on the board, only what's not.  Empty space is anxiety.  It's a challenge.  And it must be met head on with multi-colored markers.

Another man stands up, grabs his own foul-smelling sword, and starts a counter-attack over the last snowy oasis on the board.  These men argue and bicker over options they will never use.  More is added to the board, and then more, until the entire white sheet is sparkling with the still-wet remains of the dry-erase war.  The men grunt and gesticulate before the great white monolith like furious chimpanzees.  Bowing before their painted-steel god.

In another hour or two, one of these men will return from a bathroom break with a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey.  Though he doesn't drink, he knows his counterparts do, and the sign of friendship and camaraderie  he has offered will keep them all locked in that conference room until the well is dry.  No one minds.  With the meeting winding down and the whiteboard filling up, the reasons for being there -- however thin those may have been -- are dwindling.  If they don't do something soon, they will have to leave.

They use phrases like, "On the other hand" and "Have we considered" to extend the zombie meeting, to puff new life into its cadaverous chest.  But it isn't sustainable.  The meeting eventually passes on, and the men must head out into the smog and fog, back to their books on tape and idiot talk show hosts, and, eventually, home.  Home to their wives, their pets, home to the emptiness that consumes them while they are away from their beloved whiteboard.  Unsurprisingly, these men have installed whiteboards at home, too, lest they be without one on the weekends or a holiday.  For Christmas one year, the one with kids gave each of his children a small whiteboard as a stocking stuffer.  They're well on their way.

One of these men is lucky, however.  He doesn't have to go home.  He sleeps right in his office, on a red futon he purchased from IKEA.  They keep the building HVAC running just for him.  Above his office bed: Two whiteboards, mounted side-by-side into the drywall.

It is a simple cycle: Years of nothing, followed by retirement, followed by years of nothing.

And they wouldn't have it any other way.

The Reproductive Habits of Amazonian Moths



Note: I don't know what this is. It's not really a short story. It's not an essay. It's not intended as a persuasive argument. I'm not sure if it's catharsis, or boredom manifest. I can't explain what prompted such a whirling tour through the well-explored realm of evolutionary biology. But here it is. A couple thousand words on being wrong, biology, and the way people think.

"I think you're wrong, Doctor Conway," a confident voice said, approaching my table in a neighborhood coffee shop.  It was mostly students and teachers in this shop, plus the occasional drifter trying to blend in.

As a biologist, I was not uncomfortable hearing those words.  Evolution is basically nature's way of saying, over and over again, that what we thought we knew was wrong.  The duck-billed platypus, everlasting jellyfish, metamorphosis.  Just a few examples of human thought being wrong, wrong, wrong.  Every day of a biologist's life is devoted to being uniquely wrong.  But I'm still a human, too, despite what people might say about biologists, and no matter how long you study biology or physics or chemistry, no matter how much a scientist tries to distance himself from the sensitivities of the human brain, hearing 'you're wrong' still perks the ears.

"Hmm?" I said, feigning disinterest over a cup of coffee.

"About intelligent design," a young Indian man sat down across from me as though I'd invited him to do so.  He was quite forward, this one.  "I think you're wrong."

Oh boy, I thought, another indoctrinated nut come to sell me on his savior.

I'd given a lecture the night before at the University of Washington on evolutionary biology, specifically the reproductive habits of Amazonian moths.  Naturally, with every discussion involving science, I unavoidably pressed the buttons of those who do not subscribe to fact and logic.  Be it Christian or Muslim or Hindi or Satanist, at every stop on the lecture tour, there was always one.  One little prick who'd attended a semester of college and discovered that he was, in fact, The Smartest Person In The World.

"And why's that ...?" I said, leaving the sentence open so he would give me his name.

"Rajesh.  You're wrong about intelligent design, because nature is creative.  You said it yourself ... when confronted with an evolutionary challenge, nature always finds a way around the challenge.  That's creativity.  That's intelligence."

I laughed and shook my head.  At least he wasn't a religious nut.  They were rarely amusing.  "No, you're wrong," I said.  "You're anthropomorphizing.  Nature doesn't apply creativity the way you do.  It doesn't even understand creativity, because creativity is purely a human invention.  Nature very simply, very efficiently, rewards the most-effective solution to genetic death.  That's it.  It doesn't know it's doing it, it's merely a product of the system.  A plant doesn't know its being creative.  A tree-climbing vine isn't thinking, 'You know, it would really help me get more sunlight by wrapping around this larger tree and climbing up to the canopy.'  It does so because others before it did so, because others before it didn't and went extinct, leaving only its kind to scale the treetops and bask in nourishing sunlight."

"I'm not talking about individual organisms, Doctor Conway.  I'm talking about that system.  The architecture of nature."

"So, physics."

"Yes."

"The universe doesn't know it's being creative either, Rajesh."

Rajesh smiled, absorbing the jab better than I'd expected.

"How can you be so sure?"

"Because an explosion of matter is not aware it is an explosion of matter.  A collection of gases is very precisely a collection of gases.  A person, like me or you, is nothing more than a bundle of atoms in a familiar shape.  We are our own creation, Rajesh.  Humanity is its own intelligent designer, thanks to the evolution of our dense, wrinkly brains and the evolutionary prompt for our species to 'design.'  But our existence is completely meaningless to the rest of the universe."

"And yet we know that about ourselves.  We know that about the universe, too."

"Yes, because we detached ourselves from the sinking ship of 'intelligent design' and swam to the life-raft of 'science.'"

"I wasn't aware that life-rafts had names."

"They do when you're on them long enough."

Rajesh laughed, "Do you have a lot of experience with life-rafts, Doctor Conway?"

I smiled, "More than you'll ever know, Rajesh."

"Okay, but what does it say about the universe that we are capable of understanding it?"

"It says nothing at all!  Humanity got lucky, depending on your definition of luck."

"So the evolution of our brains was luck?" he said, his mind-chops chomping.  "That's it?"

"No, not really.  Luck actually has very little to do with it.  Evolution is a series of course corrections.  Little nudges here and there from a genetic line to survive.  Whether environmental or mutagenic, our brains are a result of billions of years of those little nudges.  But there's nothing intelligent about the design of our brains, other than the result ... once again, depending on your definition of intelligence."

"I read a quote once," Rajesh said, his confidence slowly returning, "it went something like this: 'Perhaps creativity is just intelligence having fun.'"

"That's a good quote," I replied.

It was a good quote.

"Well, what if evolution is just physics having fun?  What if physics itself is trying to survive, with its own little nudges?  With its own version of intelligence?  What if physics has to come up with creative solutions to its own obstacles so that the universal ecosystem may survive?"

"Because physics can't have fun.  It can't emote.  It can't experience feelings or thoughts.  Physics is a collection of laws that give order and structure to the universe.  It isn't fluid like evolution, although evolution is contained within its laws, as is everything else that we currently understand.  You don't have mutations in physics that suddenly change the properties of the known universe.  If such a thing were to occur ... say, if the nature of gravity suddenly changed, we'd know about it.  And then we'd probably be dead as a result, because we are not immune to the laws of physics."

"But if creativity and intelligence are real things, and they are contained within the laws and structure of evolution, which are then contained within the laws and structure of physics, doesn't that make creativity and intelligence real?  And therefore, can't they be applied beyond humanity to physics itself?"

"No, you're wrong," I took a drink of coffee.  It was already lukewarm, but I didn't mind.  "You're missing the point.  Creativity and intelligence are not 'real things,' not like you want them to be.  They only exist because we think they do.  They only exist because we named them 'creativity' and 'intelligence.'  You've come back to the same misconception you started with.  Outside of us, there is only the raw constructive power of evolution, and beyond that, physics, and beyond that, quantum physics, and beyond that ...  Do you understand?"

Rajesh slumped down in his chair, "I think so."

"How old are you, Rajesh?"

"19," he said.

"Do you go to school here?"

"Biology," he replied sheepishly, forcing me to smile.

"You know, when I was 19 years old," I said, drifting back far too many decades for comfort, "I wasn't even enrolled in school.  Not like yours, anyway."

"Really?"

"I was in England, stuck in a seminary, training to become an ordained priest."

Rajesh raised a brow in disbelief, "Wow, what happened?"

"I started asking questions," I paused, laughing nostalgically, if not a little painfully.  "It was not heartily encouraged in the seminary.  The more questions I asked, the more my faith began to dwindle, and the more trouble I created -- for myself, my friends, and the poor teachers who didn't know how to handle a young man as confusing and incorrigible as me.  Subsequently, the path that had been laid out before me by my parents, and their parents before them, and so on, fractured and disappeared.  It was the most terrifying time of my life.  I thought about running back to the shelter, where it was warm and safe, where I thought I knew everything and was accepted because of it.  I had always believed that I, me, Herman James Conway, was the center of the universe, because there was no other explanation for god's apparent interest in me!  Science said otherwise.  Science said I wasn't special.  But I had been trained to feel different, unique, despite learning that I was no more novel than the other billion people who were told to feel the exact same thing.  I couldn't connect those disparaging feelings."

"I'm not religious, Doctor Conway," Rajesh said proudly.

"Oh?  And why not?"

Rajesh hesitated, "Because science is the truth."

"Do you know that, or were you told to believe that?"

"I ..."

"It's all right, Rajesh," I chuckled.  "I'm just pulling your leg.  This isn't an exam."

"So you're saying that creativity isn't real," he said quietly, coming to terms with the universe.  The poor kid.  "Intelligence isn't real."

"It's real within our system, but not the system of the universe.  Not even the sub-system of evolutionary biology.  But within our system, we still need to be creative.  We still need to have fun.  So many scientific discoveries came from that very thing.  That's really what science is!  It's about having fun.  It's about facing these supposed 'unsolvable mysteries' and solving them.  That takes a lot of creativity, that takes a lot of intelligent design.  When I left the seminary and enrolled in university, I had to come to grips with the fact that I didn't know anything.  I went from knowing everything, to nothing, with a few years of little nudges.  It was my own personal mental evolution."

Rajesh was a patient kid, listening to me prattle on like this.  I'd forgotten why he was even sitting at my table.

"So our thoughts evolve, too?" he asked.

"Of course!  That's essentially what thought is, Rajesh.  What did you know when you were born?"

"Nothing?"

"No, you're wrong," I replied.  "You knew a lot of things.  Genetics made sure of that, otherwise you and the rest of the species would go extinct.  Can you imagine an infant that didn't know how to nurse, or breathe, or cry?  No, you didn't know as much as you knew now, but you knew enough to survive.  Assuming you continue asking questions and being open to old men like me telling you you're wrong, you're going to know a lot more in the future, too, and that will continue to help you survive.  You're going to keep learning, keep evolving.  And that will help you find a wife, or a husband ..."

"A wife," he said.

"All right, a wife.  As a biologist, you know, it's unreasonable for me to make any assumptions about that sort of thing.  As I was saying, that knowledge will help you find a wife, and you may choose to have children, and if so, simply by the evolution of your thoughts, you will pass the genetic test and extend the lineage of your genes.  And your children will benefit from those genes, too, which will hopefully help them learn and evolve and continue passing genes from one generation to the next.  Creativity and intelligence don't have to be approached from a universal height.  We don't have to compare them to or try to force them into physics.  They can survive on their own ... as an evolutionary trait that helps certain organisms pass along their genes.  Whether we're talking about ancient humans learning to use tools or build fires, or modern humans painting beautiful art or writing prose, creativity and intelligence can help our species achieve the same end: Procreation.  Survival.  Evolution!"

"That's the only purpose for them?" Rajesh asked.

"Well, purpose is a vague concept.  If you want to talk about purpose from a philosophical standpoint, maybe you should go find a philosopher instead of a moth-loving biologist like me.  But to a moth-loving biologist like me, the purpose is in the procreation.  That doesn't mean we can't find joy in creativity, or pleasure, or whatever else is part of the human constitution, but the functional purpose is not complicated."

"You know, you can be quite depressing, Doctor Conway," Rajesh said.

"Ah, Rajesh, there's nothing depressing about science.  There's nothing depressing about physics, about understanding the universe, about understanding why we are the way we are.  Depression comes from ignorance, not the other way around.  Tell me, are you afraid of getting sick?"

"What do you mean?"

"Cancer.  Heart disease.  Malaria."

"Sure," Rajesh replied, sportingly.

"Perhaps, somewhere along the way, a mutation occurs and causes one string of humanity to be more resilient to disease.  As a result, that genetic trait will select itself, copy itself, over and over again into normalcy over thousands, millions of years.  The disease-prone will disappear, and the disease-resilient will prosper.  And whatever ceiling we thought we'd reached as a species will need to be raised.  If that's not the most exciting prospect, I don't know what is.  We are always changing, Rajesh.  Always.  Mentally and physically.  We can go from fish to human, from sick to healthy, and, of course, we can go from the seminary to the laboratory, too."

"Do you have a wife, Doctor Conway?" Rajesh asked.  "Or a husband?" he quickly added.

I laughed, "Unfortunately, I've yet to find a partner willing to join me in the rainforest to stare at moths."

"You will," Rajesh said.

"No," I replied with a smile, "I think you're wrong on that one, too."

Spacewalker: A moment for perspective


Astronaut Joseph Acaba caught spacewalking by fellow astronomer Ralf Vandebergh on Vandebergh's approach to the ISS in March, 2009.

My brain cannot comprehend the courage it must take to step out of the sealed environment of a spaceship and into the vacuum of space, but that's probably why I'm a writer and not an astronaut (among many other reasons, I'm sure).

The end of a long journey; the start of another

Metro: Last Light

After roughly two years of writing, editing, editing, and more editing (and some more editing after that, in case you were wondering), I finally completed my latest manuscript last night. 160,000 words and two years of hard work later, this is the part where I get to start drinking, right? Not in a celebratory way, just to give my brain a goddamn break.

The initial writing period took about six months, and, silly me, I thought I'd be done editing just a few months later. After all, my last manuscript took two months to write and one month to edit (a 70k-word YA novel that can only be described as "shit" by those who've read it ... aka me).  But after year-and-a-half of brain-gnashing revisions, a total of six drafts (six?!), and the feedback from two killer beta readers, I've finally reached the summit. Or I guess base camp. The summit is just ... way the fuck up there still ...

I learned a lot about myself over the past two years, and a lot more about who I am as a writer. I started out my latest manuscript by sitting down and typing out the first chapter. I knew nothing about the story, nothing about the characters, and, really, nothing about myself. I just wanted to write another story. I deleted that opening chapter more than a year ago, and then wrote a different one. Shrugs. The first chapter was useless. Hell, most of the first draft was useless, but the whole process had to happen for the story to be properly forged. Every failure, every frustration, was a chance to unlock the real story beneath.

Writing is fun, but editing is necessary, and I'm so glad I refused to settle.

Two years ago, I wasn't a writer, I was a guy who wanted to be one and was thankfully ready to push himself. It wasn't a glamorous decision -- to dive into the darkest recesses of your brain and try to drag those thoughts back up to the surface for other people to read -- but it was one I learned I can't live without. I need to write, I need to flesh out the worlds assembling in my head, I need to hunt and gather, to solve and arrange -- to stare at black text on a white screen for days, months, years at a time. There are people who

I'm sure there's some deeply-bred psychosis that allows someone to take pleasure in that type of work, but as Owen Wilson said in "Shanghai Noon," "I don't know karate, but I know ka-razy, and I will use it."

I have always enjoyed writing, it comes as naturally and subconsciously to me as any other learned skill you've spent most of your life training ... but turning that joy and passion into something hard, something tangible, has been an incredible journey. One that's just beginning.

I have sent off one full manuscript to an agent and a partial to another, so ... (Carl Spackler voice) at least I got that going for me.

I don't want to disclose too much information about the story itself. I'm mildly-paranoid about giving away the tiniest details, less some magical gremlin manages to extrapolate the rest of the story from a hundred-word synopsis and writes it for gremself, but, dammit, that's just the kind of monster I am.

One who guards his treasure.

I will hopefully have a little more time to post on here and provide updates, but I make no promises! I've been gathering pieces for my next adventure, and I'm already itching to get back to work.