Wood Chippers and the Meaning of Life

Here’s an excerpt from the work in progress. As our protagonist Trevor spreads the remains of a body run through a wood chipper across a field, he can’t help but ponder the meaning of existence.

“I wonder what the spirit of Bill will become as I spread his meat and guts around that field, the field that will continue to grow and leave virtually no trace of him behind. And as I take a break to stare up at the night sky and the twinkle of stars (so many of them dead, burned out millions of years ago) I have to wonder if anyone or thing cares about Bill’s fate, or any of our outcomes. I have to wonder if any of it matters or if we’re just that flash in the pan, our existence nothing more than a meaningless blip.

I stare up at the infinite black abyss.

It stares back.”

Advertisements
Wood Chippers and the Meaning of Life

Normal?

“Normal?” Laura asks, not averting her eyes from the road. “And just what is normal? Is normal the type of life where you’re constantly insecure of your body? Of who you are in a relationship with? Of how your house looks in comparison to the neighbor’s? Of what kind of job you have or what type of car you drive? Of what other people think of your children? Are these normal concerns? Because to me these sound like neurotic concerns, obsessive fixations on the most insignificant of details, the most desperate attempts to be validated by the outside world. Normal sounds like every fucked up person agreeing on what it’s okay to be fucked up about rather than striving for a little change. That’s it, you know what normal is? The enemy of progress, the bane of innovation, the cancer to the human spirit. You show me normal you show me mediocrity, you show me genius and you show me someone who dared to defy the standard. Normal is the blanket we think has been keeping us safe, but that’s actually been smothering us all while.”

Normal?

A “Romantic” Excerpt

Here’s an excerpt from my work in progress, Terminal, about a nurse’s aide who takes control of his own life by murdering patients. I’ll be sure to update you on the state of Murderers Anonymous (being shopped by my agent) as info comes in! Pardon the rough state of the writing, it’s still in it’s early drafts, but I like the feel to this scene:

“Sartre said the fear we get when we look over a ledge or stand atop something tall is not the fear of falling,” Laura says, “But the fear that we’re going to jump.”

We’re standing on the stone railing of the bridge, looking down into the dark scar of a river below. The water shimmers only slightly, casting the occasional faint twinkle through the abyss below.

“The fear that we won’t be able to stop it?” I ask. My body rocks back and forth.

Laura nods. “The fear that our anguish will take over and we’ll do what we secretly want to.”

The Delaware River lurks below. We’d driven nearly a half hour to get to this remote bridge on a state route in the middle of nowhere. It crossed the river, linking New York and Pennsylvania, but with no nearby towns or buildings, there wasn’t a car or person in sight. It was just us and the night.

And the drop.

I estimate it’s about eighty feet.

“What are we doing here?” I ask as if I don’t already know.

Laura smiles. “We’re jumping, silly.”

Falling into a body of water from a height of 150 feet has an approximately a 98% mortality rate. While falling from lesser heights increases the chances of survival, there are still a multitude of variables to consider when evaluating whether or not a fall will be deadly. Angle of entry to the water, possible loss of consciousness, swimming ability, and the body’s penchant to go into a state of shock are among the factors that can contribute to death. If one hits the water at a poor angle for example (see: belly flop) the high rate of speed the body is traveling (see: high way speed limits) will result in the an incredible amount of force taken by the body as it hits the water (see: concrete wall), resulting in broken limbs, ruptured organs, or a loss of consciousness, all hindering the ability to swim and thus resulting in death.

And this is all considering the water is deep enough to accommodate you; you might just splash right through it to the rocky bottom, breaking yourself into pieces (see: splat).

“This is a unique first date,” I muse. A cold draft of wind ruffles my hair, and I consider the temperature factor as well. It’s about fifty-five degrees out, with the water possibly near freezing. There was a chance that could get us as well (see: hypothermia).

Laura turns to me, her eyes showing the same fleeting twinkle as the dark water below. “Isn’t it just? This is what life is about.”

“Do tell,” I say.

Laura takes a deep breath before telling me that the only thing that gives life value is death.

“Without death, nothing is sacred. Nothing in life has value because we’ll never lose it. There’s no clock, no pressing reason to have moments or experiences. No reason to make memories with loved ones. Life breeds complacency.”

She goes on to tell me about how infinite life would be a curse, not life at all.

“If we have enough time to do everything, we’ll never do anything,” she says. “There’s no impetus, nor is there a sense of wonder. You live long enough you see everything.”

She goes on to explain how death is a blessing, the state of non-being that shows us how fortunate we are to have, that encourages us to appreciate and grow while we can.

“Deadlines are the bastion of human progress. They are what drives the engine of humanity. And every death we experience is a lesson,” she stresses. “We learn lessons from people’s lives and apply them to our own. Without a beginning and end there are no lessons, no reasons, no true joy, no true accomplishments. Death is what makes life beautiful; it’s what makes life worth living.”

“It’s the shared experience that makes us one with all of humanity,” I say.

She smiles. “Yes. Death allows us to be defined and known. It allows us to live individual lives. This is why I do this.”

“You try to kill yourself?”

Laura shakes her head. She explains she does this every few months as a reminder she is alive. She finds a bridge overlooking a body of water, stands over it, and jumps. She seeks out heights that are not likely to kill her and water with depths that will accomplish the same.

“But there are no guarantees,” she stresses. “It has to have a chance of killing you or it isn’t authentic.”

“What does it do for you?”

She smiles, but for the first time it seems truly authentic. “When you’re falling you have the time to appreciate what you have, even if it isn’t much at all. When you’re facing death, when your body’s instincts think it’s coming, you realize the wonders and joys you’ve had in life. As you’re falling time slows down, your entire life plays before your eyes, and you have a moment of reflection, of appreciation. You get to experience yourself.”

“To put yourself into perspective,” I say.

She nods. “You let go of that sense of control all of us so desperately fight for and let the laws of gravity dictate your actions. It’s liberation. You feel so small but so wonderful, and suddenly, that life you lived, it all seems okay.”

I stare down. “It’s one of those things I won’t get until I try it, isn’t it?”

Laura nods. She reaches over and takes my hand. I squeeze it, and feel warm inside.

“Have you almost died before?” I ask.

She nods. “The best part is scrambling out of the water, trying to keep your wits about you.”

“I might die,” I say.

She nods. “That’s what makes you feel alive. Are you scared?”

“Contemplative, maybe, scared, no,” I respond. In an odd way, the glowing moon combined with the gentle sloshing of the river below and the song of crickets, made the scene romantic. It was the type of date that could figuratively (and literally) take my breath away.

“If you’re living life afraid, you’re not living life at all,” Laura says as she moves her foot forward and takes the plunge.

Hands still locked together, she takes me with her.

A “Romantic” Excerpt

On Extreme Writing

I write the types of novels that make people cringe. They are the types of novels that smack you in the face to wake you up or get a point across. There’s graphic violence, sex, and detailed description of perversion. I write the type of stuff that couldn’t make it into the movies. Sometimes that makes it difficult presenting my work to others. I’m a pretty positive, happy go lucky guy in my every day life, yet my novels are dark, saturated with what some believe is filth. I’ve had people wonder how a guy like me could even write that stuff.

Well, here’s how…

I believe that the best stories make us uncomfortable in some way (this doesn’t have to be grossing out or shock value) and that these stories show us aspects to society or reality we haven’t previously considered. The best stories live on in our minds and hearts and we grow along with the characters. We use the content to develop our own life lessons that will stick with us. Now, stories can do this in many different ways. The reason I have extreme events and characters in my stories is not for its own sake…it’s to convey points. It’s to wake people up to how others see the world and do. To what behaviors and perspectives really exist in our society. To what goes on around you every day without your knowledge. You might not like it, it might make you uncomfortable…

But you’ll learn something.

I find that this form is also good for satire. When you shock people with your characters and actions, they pay attention. They can more easily see the critiques on social contrivance or other’s behaviors. The protagonist with a warped viewpoint can challenge the reader and get across valuable messages.

So when I write a character who has lived through violent sexual abuse, and I describe aspects of it, I don’t do that for it’s own sake. When I write a scene with a grisly murder and provide details, it is not because I love gore. It is to open eyes, to catch attention, and make you think about some of the larger messages.

My mother read Murderers Anonymous (my novel currently on submission to the Big 5 publishers) which is filled with sex, violence, and foul language (I believe there’s 185 occurrences of the word fuck in some form, of course I hit control F to find out). I warned her about the content, I hoped she wouldn’t think her son was a perverted maniac. She told me, “I’ve been around the block. I’ve read and seen things.” Still, I was wary. How could a mother read a book her son wrote containing multiple graphic, detailed sex scenes?

She loved the book, and she loved the devices I used to get my point across. She saw the artistic value in them and didn’t think I was a weirdo. Maybe my worries were unfounded, but sometimes I still have people a little weirded out when I describe to them the type of books I write. But you know…

When most of them give the books a shot, they love them.

Keep reading, keep writing

On Extreme Writing

Murderers Anonymous Chapter 1

Hello! This is the first chapter of my novel, Murderers Anonymous, which was picked up by my agent Adrienne Rosado of Nancy Yost Literary in November. It’s currently on submission to editors at imprints of the Big 5 Publishing houses. I hope you enjoy the sample!

1

You don’t want to read about me.

Seriously, I’m not worth your time.

You’re still reading? Are you one of those types who has to leave a handprint on the wall because you don’t trust the wet paint sign? Or is it just a rebellious streak? Have you been diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder?

Approximately 26% of Americans over the age of eighteen suffer from at least one diagnosable cognitive disorder. Spend some time researching your personality quirks on the internet and you’ll come up with a myriad of disastrous issues. Are you obsessive compulsive? Bulimic? Maybe you have ADHD? Social anxiety issues? Ergophobia? List some things about yourself – don’t worry you won’t be alone! We can give you a nice little label, some pills, and most importantly an excuse for all of your shortcomings.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not discounting disorders entirely. We are all legitimately fucked up. Maybe I’m just saying the titles, categories, and treatments are misnomers. Maybe I’m saying narrowing the scope of what’s wrong down to one “condition” only serves to give us the illusion of control.

Or maybe I’m not.

Are you seriously still reading?

I knew a guy once; let’s call him Billy, who went off to Iraq fresh out of high school. Billy was pretty fucked up before he went to Iraq, a borderline alcoholic with penchant for fighting anyone who looked at him the wrong way. Billy had issues, but these combined with his miserably low high school GPA made him a perfect candidate to become one of Uncle Sam’s boys.

Three weeks into deployment an RPG struck Billy’s Humvee. He probably would have become meat pudding if it hadn’t been for his best friend in the unit, a poor son of a bitch named Joe Murphy, who happened to be standing between Billy and the Humvee when the grenade struck.

“So she lifts up the burka and she’s packing a dong!” Kind of sad, isn’t it? Wouldn’t you wish your last words were more flattering, and not the punch line to a joke about a goat-herder’s unfortunate run in with a transsexual Sunni?

I don’t know; who am I to judge?

What was left of Joe coated Billy. I’m talking searing hot flesh melting into his skin, gore forcing its way into his mouth, and eviscerated organs clinging to his body like parts of some grotesque ensemble.

I remember the party his family threw for him when he returned. I attended not because I was particularly fond of Billy; I just wanted to feel a sense of belonging. You know, the type of feeling that you get when tell someone you donated to charity, or ran a 5k to support cancer research.

You just do it so everyone thinks you’re a good person.

Everyone includes you.

Halfway through the evening, someone popped a balloon and Billy shit himself, put his hands over his ears, screamed at the top of his lungs, and ran until he tripped and fell face first into his welcome back cake, destroying it as he fell to the floor, face coated in vanilla frosting and pants soaked through with feces.

Approximately 7.7 million Americans over the age of eighteen suffer from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, typically resulting from an injury or severe psychological shock. Symptoms include loss of sleep, constant vivid recall of the traumatic experience, inappropriate emotional outbursts, psychological regression, and a dulled response to the outside world.

The last I heard, Billy was addicted to pain killers, had a constant twitch, was unemployed and blowing dudes for pills in an alley in Tacoma, Washington. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not.

Does it matter? He’s fucked up, you’re fucked up, I’m fucked up.

And you’re still reading.

I knew a kid once, an imaginative, bright little boy who had the misfortune of being born into a low income family. Maybe his creativity came from his mother, a failed artist turned pot dealer who was more concerned with completing high school level pieces of art than she ever was with taking care of a son. Or maybe it was from his father, who so inventively named the belt he beat his son with “Mr. Slack” for reasons unknown.

“You’ve been a bad, bad boy!” Mr. Slack would say in a voice eerily similar to that of Mickey Mouse. “Mr. Slack is comin’ for ya!”

But honestly, the boy probably got his creative and unique perspective from watching his parents fuck. His first memories of this were from when he was four or five, but he thought that the experiences went further back than that. His parents had the odd habit of stripping down and boning right in front of him, literally dropping whatever they were doing to go at it.

“Oh let him watch! He’ll learn early!” his obese father cackled as he thrust his stubby cock into the eagerly awaiting mouth of his wife. The boy was startled by how his mother stared directly into his eyes the entire time, as if she was taunting him.

Or enticing him.

Maybe his parents caused his social anxiety and sexual dysfunction issues, but these were exacerbated by wasting four years of his life dating a stuck-up, cold-blooded cunt who left him during his most trying time.

I fucking hate you, Kelly.

I love you, Kelly.

You don’t want to read about that boy. It will only make you a worse person. The baggage he’s carrying, well it’s just too much. Why don’t you go buy one of those commercial novels? You know, one of those feel good stories with the predictable arc where, despite the central conflict and the tension that arises with the love interest, the main character learns a valuable lesson, all misunderstandings are cleared up, the conflict is resolved, and everyone lives happily ever after.

This is your final warning.

No?

Maybe you’re just as fucked up as I am.

Murderers Anonymous Chapter 1

You Were Always Too Beautiful To Be Burdened By My Love

Makes less sense out of context, but here’s a blurb from an old project, Gentleman’s Game. My agent thinks it might be a good follow up after Murderers Anonymous. Still going through editing, so apologies for how raw the writing is.

Aiden stood before her, hand resting on the door frame, looking he’d come out of a war zone. His mouth was a busted mess, blood dripping down his chin and staining his shirt. Bruises and scratches littered his face, while his eyes were tired, drained and listless.

“I’m sorry,” he said. When he opened his mouth Sarah saw the state of his teeth, chipped and broken. His gums were a sickly dark purple.

“We have to get you to-” Sarah began, stepping forward, when Aiden intercepted her.

“Shh,” he said, stepping forward, putting his arms around her, and kissing her for the first time. He tilted his head and moved in quickly, his busted lips meeting her own. His body trembled from the pain of the motion and contact but he kissed Sarah with a passion, and despite the feel and taste of blood, for a split second, Sarah kissed him back.

Aiden broke the kiss, pulling away from her. Sarah stood, stunned, Aiden’s blood now smeared on her face. He wiped a drop of it away with his thumb before tapping it to her cheek, leaving a print. His eyes were more full of sorrow than when she’d met him on her swing set all those years ago.

“You were always too beautiful to be burdened by my love,” Aiden said before turning and walking back to his car.

Sarah tried to speak but no words came out. She tried to follow but her legs were frozen in place. Sarah had felt a chill run through her when he kissed her, not a chill of stimulation or excitement, but a chill to the bone, no, the soul. Part of her knew she wasn’t ready to handle the truth of whatever Aiden had gone through.

So she let him go. Sarah let Aiden walk back to his car and drive off without protest, standing at her doorstep, dumbfounded, for another ten minutes until the police arrived.

You Were Always Too Beautiful To Be Burdened By My Love

The Writing Process

People often ask me, “How do I do it? How can I sit down and right a novel? Do I need, notes, an outline, a writing schedule?”

The thing is, there’s no one answer to any of these questions.

Sure, that’s not what many prospective authors want to hear. They want to search through the muck of Google and blogs and come up with the method, the sure-fire what they can hit the ground running and produce their vision. But the truth of the matter is, writing is a truly personal, individuated process. 

Take me for example, I’m published and have an agent and I don’t outline. I know authors who would gasp at that, they absolutely need it and that’s totally fine. We each go about this in a different way.

So with that caveat put out there, let me give you some tips on the writing process.

1. Develop your idea. This may seem simple but I can’t tell you the amount of people who come to me with what they think is a great concept (sometimes it is) but it’s not nearly grasped or fleshed out enough to even begin writing. Once I get a great idea for a novel I let the concept swish around in my mind. I try to think about it every single day. I ask myself questions about it: Why does this character do this? What happened to him? What’s his motivation? Why would the audience care? How do I show that? What events will happen? How will they affect the other events? What is the beginning, middle, and end?

Once I have a good feel for elements of the story (I don’t need everything fully structured, just an intimate feel of certain aspects) I get started and see what comes. I’m a fan of the saying “write what you know” so make sure you know the gist of your own tale before you start writing it.

2. Outline or take notes. I do not personal outline, but I know this is incredibly helpful for some writers. Try it out, find your own style. If you need outlines for organization of thoughts and plot lines that’s great – do what you do! There are plenty of online resources about the art of outlining, and I advise you check them out before tackling it your own way. Personally, I simply take notes. There’s no structure to this, sometimes a mini outline of a scene I want to do, or a thought to infuse somewhere in the book. Sometimes a general order of things to come (not a formal outline but a brief paragraph) or some detail I don’t want to forget. My note page is usually only a page or two long, and is stuck right below where I am in the novel. Anytime I need to refer to it there it is. I find this particularly good for when one of those flashes of inspiration comes, when you get one great idea you know you just have to put down, but don’t have time to right. BAM! Stick it in as a note so you don’t forget to add it, and mull over the concept in your head during the mean time.

3. Have a schedule that works for you. Some writers have rigid schedules. They write from this hour to this hour, or until they get this or that many words. This structure gets them actually sitting down regularly and producing. If that is what works for you give it a shot. If you need that rigidity to keep going back to your work, go for it, because if you don’t make writing a novel a serious time and energy commitment, it will either never get done or not be nearly as good as it could be. We have to love writing but we also have to be dedicated to the craft and making our novels better. To do that we need to be working on our projects on a consistent basis. I do not have a rigid schedule or word quotas. Instead, I try to keep my projects in mind throughout my days and find a window of time every day to get some work done. Some days that equals a done of progress, hours of writing. Other days maybe I only edit a few pages, but the fact remains that the work is fresh in my mind and I am actively working with it. Do I miss some days? Certainly, life happens, but I make sure to always go back to projects (I love them, how could I not?) to keep the progress up and make them what they have to be. Do what works for you, but make sure what works for you includes putting in that hard work.

4. Write what you know, write what you love. A book is an author’s story, not only their imagined one, but their personal one. We put parts of our minds and souls into our works, so don’t hesitate to integrate stories or character arcs inspired by what you’ve lived through. The world is a source of inspiration, and it’s wonderful to be able to integrate the lived experience into our works. I’ve had plenty of odd and quirky characters/moments put into my books inspired from real life. Sometimes it’s based upon someone you know or something you’ve done for years. Other times it’s an odd moment in the checkout line at the supermarket. Draw inspiration from the world around you and turn it into something beautiful. And most of all, love what you’re doing. Love your story, your characters, your message, because when you love it, all that hard work doesn’t feel like work at all. It feels like nurturing. It’s a feeling of accomplishment that you’re raising something wonderful.

Those are my tips. I hope they help some of you out. And of course, there are plenty of other tips and methods that work. Don’t be afraid to experiment and be you!

– Allen

The Writing Process