Tuesday, September 30, 2008

My Timing Is Impeccable

So my parent’s visit is in week two, and we’re having a great time.

It’s weird when my parents visit. Mostly because I never quite realize how much I’ve missed them until they actually get here. It usually follows the same pattern. I look forward to seeing them, then start to freak out about what I’m going to do with them for two whole weeks…then they arrive, we have a lot of fun, and they seem to leave way too soon.

Yeah… your parents visiting from out of state or from another town is one thing. When they’ve flown over 3000 miles to visit, you kinda feel obligated to make the trip something special.

The problem is I don’t live in a tourist resort, so there’s only so much you can do…there’s not a lot of sight-seeing opportunities in Easley.

The second thing to mention is that I quit smoking yesterday. The experience so far has been…odd.

The last time I managed to quit smoking for a while I tried all kinds of quitting aids with little success. The gum tasted so bad I couldn’t stand it. The lozenges didn’t really help (and left the back of my throat feeling like I’d just smoked an entire carton in five minutes)…and the patch was just constant reminder that I wasn’t smoking.

This time I’m using the inhalator. It’s basically a little plastic tube that takes nicotine cartridges, and you draw on it just like you would a regular cigarette. Of course, it’s nothing like actually smoking. I think I’d have to use five at once for over an hour to get the same effect as just walking past someone who has a lit cigarette. The good thing is that it helps an awful lot with the habit side of the addiction.

Basically, a large part of getting over smoking is getting past the habit and ‘ritual’. As using the inhalator is extremely similar to smoking an actual cigarette, it really helps.

It really is weird though. After just a day without smoking, the ‘reflex’ is still there. I know from last time I tried to quit that after about a week, while you still crave, your brain has got the idea, and you don’t find yourself automatically reaching for a cigarette out of habit alone

The absolute hardest part, though, is the cravings. One minute I’m sitting on my couch thinking “This is easy! I don’t even feel like smoking! What’s all the fuss about? I should have quit years ago.”

Two minutes later I’d willingly swap both arms and legs for a three week old cigarette butt.

I think the key to quitting smoking is just getting your head around the fact that the cravings go away on their own after a few minutes. It’s understanding that it’s not actually difficult all the time… It’s just that five or ten minutes every hour or so when the craving’s kick in.

Anyway, wish me luck.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Holy Sith!

Yesterday, we decided to take my parents on a once-in-a-lifetime culturally significant trip while they are in America.

So…yeah, we went to Wal-Mart.

Actually, we went because we were grocery shopping and the Wally-World is directly across from our usual supermarket. Mum wanted to by some bedsheets to take home with her because apparently they’re much cheaper here.

I, of course, nipped off to the electronics section to see if they had any Wii consoles in stock. They didn’t (as I expected), so I asked the guy in the very fetching blue vest when they’d have some more in. Here’s the conversation:

“They normally come in on Tuesdays, but not every Tuesday. If they do, they usually come in around 12 and we have them on the shelves by 1.”

“Great, I’ll check back on Tuesday. Is there any chance I can reserve one?”

“No, we can’t do that because we’ve have about three thousand reservations, and we only get ten or twenty at a time.”

“Well, any chance I can leave my number and get a call when you get some in?”

“We can, but there’s no point. We can’t call until they’re on the shelves, and if they’re on the shelves at one in the afternoon, we’ve sold out at five past.”

“Crap. Can you believe they’re still so rare two years after launch?”

“Yeah…and to be honest, if I were you, I’d just wait until February or March. With Christmas coming up, they’re only going to get rarer. There’s a guy who still comes in every week and he’s been after one for his daughter since last Christmas.”

I wasn’t the happiest person in the world.

On my way out of the electronics section I saw the stack of 360’s and PS2’s that were taunting me from behind the glass. I realized that I had enough money in my wallet to get a 360 and a new game.

So I went to find my parents still in the bedding section and said “I really need to get out of this store…I’m feeling weak.”

You see, I’d actually prefer a 360 to a Wii, but settled on the Wii because I know Sunny wants one as well.

We got outside and I mentioned my moment of almost-weakness to Sunny.

“…but if I got a 360, you’d kill me.” I said.

“Why?” She said, looking puzzled.

“Because you want a Wii.”

“Pffft.” She shrugged. “How often do I play videogames? Get whatever you want.”

“Uhhhhh….really?” I said.

“Yeah, I don’t care, as long as I can still do the fishing bit in Zelda on the Gamecube.”

Long story short…I bought a 360 and “Star Wars: Force Unleashed.”

I haven’t played it much yet. (I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it…my parents come all the way from England and I sit in front of the TV, play the 360 and tell them to read a book or something).

Well, saying that, I had to try it out…You know, to make sure it works.

I know most of my readers aren’t crazy into gaming, but the first level of The Force Unleashed has one of the best unintentionally funny moments right on the first level.

Ok, here’s the thing:

On the first level you play as Darth Vader. You’re on Kashyyk, home of the Wookies, hunting down one of the last of the Jedi Knights.

So Vader is obviously royally pissed because through that first level, you totally ruin the Wookies’ shit. Force-throwing them off ledges, chucking boulders at them and generally breaking everything you see.

You finally track down the rogue Jedi and lay a Death Star sized beat-down on him. Once you’ve made him your bitch and commented on his mother’s sex life and your role in it, you get a cutscene.

Vader’s decided the old classics work the best, so he’s holding the Jedi off his feet in a force-choke.

“You are not the Jedi I sensed!” Vader growls. “There is someone far more powerful here. Where is your master?”

The defeated Jedi, realizing that this is not only his moment to shine but also a perfect opportunity to finally use his Drama degree… he starts channeling Captain Kirk.

“You’re gettingold…Vader! Youshould…remember…youalreadykilled… mymaster.” He snarls.

Then, in a moment that ‘OMGWTFBBQ’ was invented for, Vader’s Lightsaber is whipped out of his hand and he turns to see a five year old holding it. The kid’s looking at it like it’s a very interesting new toy he doesn’t know how to work yet.

“NO!!!” Screams the Jedi. “Run!”

“Dad!” Shouts the little boy, having never seen a Starwars movie.

At this point, Vader decides he doesn’t have to put up with this shit, so showing a lot of concern for the young boy’s emotional welfare, he crushes his Dad’s throat without even looking at him, before throwing him through two buildings with a dismissive wave of his hand.

He turns and looks at the boy, who after watching this eight foot cloaked nightmare whip his dad like a sissy bitch, only now looks like he’s figured out Vader might not be a very nice man.

Showing incredible acting skills, Vader looks at the boy with his expressionless black mask, and somehow manages to still look thoughtful. He obviously got his drama degree at a different college to the now dead Jedi.

Then, winning ‘The Intergalactic Worst Timing Ever Award’ an Imperial Officer and three Stormtroopers burst in. Then, not happy with is Worst Timing award, the Imperial Officer decides to make a play for the ‘Total Lack of Good Judgement’ award.

Let’s pause this mental movie here for a moment to analyze this situation. Let’s put ourselves in this officer’s shoes.

You’ve just burst into a destroyed building and see the freaking Dark Lord of the Sith looking thoughtfully at a young boy who is holding the aforementioned Dark Lord’s Lightsaber. Now, a normal person would size up this situation like so:

a) Vader is showing this young boy his Lightsaber, so probably has some kind of special interest in him.

b) The young boy has somehow taken Vader’s Lightsaber…which means that not only does the kid come under the heading of ‘Not To Be Fucked With’…Vader probably isn’t going to be happy if the story of a toddler nicking his Lightsaber gets back to his underlings.

Therefore, the correct course of action would be to completely ignore the boy and ask Vader what your orders are…that would give you at least a 50/50 chance.

Instead, this genius decides the best course of action is to barely glance at Vader, and signal the Stormtroopers to shoot the little kid for no reason…because that’s just how the Empire rolls.

As you can probably guess, Vader reacts even worse than he does when an Admiral accepts full responsibility. He force grabs his Lightsaber back, blocks the blaster bolts and punishes the officer and stormtroopers in a very final way.

Then we fast forward, and the young boy is all grown up, and having somehow forgot that Vader was the one who performed an amateur throat-ectomy on his dear old dad before throwing him through a building…has become Vader’s secret apprentice.

This story has a moral. Avoid Dark Lords of the Sith, and if you do find yourself in a room with one…don’t do shit without his say so.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Today I introduced Sunny and my Parents to ‘Munchkin’ the card game.

I love Munchkin, but hadn’t played it since college.

In case you’ve never heard of it, let me give you a quick rundown. It’s basically a parody of ‘Dungeons and Dragons’. The tagline for the game is “Kill the monsters, steal the treasure, stab your buddies.”

It’s deceptively simple. You have two stacks of cards, the ‘door’ cards and ‘treasure’ cards. You start by taking two of each and then taking turns to turn over a ‘door’ card. It might be a ‘harmful’ card, a helpful card or a monster. If it’s a monster, you have to ‘fight’ it, which is a simple case of taking your character’s level, adding any bonuses from the cards in your hand and seeing if the total is higher than the monster’s level.

The cards are all humorously named, like you might fight a ‘Screaming Geek’, using the ‘Boots of Butt-kicking’ and the ‘Horny Helmet’. You win by being the first to get your character to level 10 before everyone else.

The main thing to understand before you play Munchkin is that you can’t take it seriously. The real point of the game (which makes the game so much fun) is screwing over the other players.

In other words, if you don’t want victory snatched from your fingers by a cackling player who swore they’d help you out after you used three of your best cards to bail them out of a sticky situation two rounds ago…or you’re not evil enough to totally screw someone else over…this game isn’t for you.

It’s a game about forming alliances, breaking promises and stabbing your friends in the back. In other words, it’s awesome.

For example, one player is pulling ahead and they take a card from the door deck (They ‘open a door’ in the ‘dungeon’) the card is a low-level monster they can easily kill.

Then just as they’re gloating how killing it will put them within one level of victory, you play a card that makes the monster ‘ancient’, doubling its level, then someone else makes it extra intelligent giving it +10…and then another player plays a ‘wandering monster’ card, adding another monster to fight.

That player gets killed, loses two levels and half their cards…and swears vengeance on you the next time it’s your turn.

The weirdest thing about Munchkin is that, in my experience, it’s one of those games that you have to persuade, cajole or beg other people to actually play it. You explain the concept and no-one’s really interested. Then you get them to play, explain the rules, and they think it’s really complicated. (It is hard to explain and does sound complicated, but when you’re actually playing, you can pick it up in 10 minutes).

Basically people hear ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ and think they’ll be spending hours working out stats and poring over instruction manuals.

To me, though, that’s a lot of this game’s charm. I finally cornered my parents and Sunny and convinced them to try a game. I explained how to play and my Mum’s eyes started to glaze over…Sunny just sat there with a dubious expression on her face. My dad seemed a little more interested, so I played through a few rounds with him while Sunny and Mum watched so they could get the idea.

After a few rounds, my Mum said “This sounds to complicated for me.” Sunny just showed no interest whatsoever in playing…which forced me to use my “Just play one game with me, and if you don’t like it, I’ll never ask you to play again.” Gambit.

Fast forward half an hour and everyone’s cracking up. Mum’s threatening to disown me because I added a Level 20 ‘Plutonium Dragon’ as a partner to the Level 1 ‘Small Potted Plant’ she was fighting. Then I was bargaining with my Dad over the monster he couldn’t defeat (“Look, you get 4 treasure cards and you’ll go up a level for beating it…if I’m going to use my ‘Pantyhose of Giant’s Strength’ to help you out, I think I should get three of those four treasure cards!”)…and then my Mum delivered one of the most vicious, unprovoked screw-overs I’d ever seen.

Basically, the game followed the same pattern that games of Munchkin with brand new players usually follows. It takes forever to convince them to play, more effort to convince them to keep playing after the first five minutes…followed by everyone cracking up laughing and having a great time at the ten minute mark.

Sunny went from acting dubious to making excuses not to play, wanting to stop shortly after starting…to telling me how awesome it was when we actually finished.

One of my favorite moments was when my Mum started to pull way ahead and I totally ruined her streak by buffing up the monster she was fighting. I said “Hey, I warned you before we started. This is the real game. If you’re a ‘nice guy’ you’re going to lose. You’ve gotta be ruthless…feel free to screw me on my turn.”

I started my turn and Sunny turned to me and said in an incredulous tone of voice “Will you do that to me if I start pulling ahead?”

“Damn right I will.” I said, with a grin.

“Right then.” She said.

With a flick of a few of her cards the Demon Tongue Monster I was fighting (that I could easily beat thanks to a run of powerful treasure cards) became two Ancient, Super-intelligent Demon Tongue Monsters...with a potion of Halitosis to back it up.

I was so proud. She really gets Munchkin.

Monday, September 22, 2008

They're like Unicorns

I gotta start this post by saying my parents are awesome.

Not only are we having a great time, they made things all the more awesome by giving me to the money to buy a Wii because I won’t see them at Christmas.

So today, I saw in the Best Buy mailing that came with the paper that they had Wii’s in stock…With visions of Wii Sports in my head, this afternoon we piled in the car drove all the way to the other side of Greenville to get one.

They were out of stock. They said they’d got some in on Sunday morning and had sold out by… later Sunday morning.

After that we went everywhere. Best Buy, Two different Circuit Citys, Target, Costco, Toys ‘R Us…I could go on for pages.

No-one had any in stock and most places said they don’t know when they’ll be getting more. The few that did have an idea when they’d have more stock told me if I wanted one, my best bet was to be waiting outside the store at least half an hour before opening time on the day they get them in.

I’m beginning to Nintendo is doing this on purpose. Months after launch, both 360’s and PS2’s were everywhere. Every single store I went to had plenty of them…even though the 360 just had a major price drop.

It’s been over two years since the Wii launched, and they’re still like gold dust. You can’t even order one online, because the only ones you can buy online are bundles that come with a ton of extras and games…resulting in a $550 price tag.

In other words, it’s a bit of a bastard…and with Christmas coming up, they’re only going to get rarer.

So if anyone sees a Wii for sale in the Greenville area…let me know, k?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Best Laid Plans...

So my parents arrive in America in less than 7 hours.

Sunny and I had a plan this week. Starting on Monday, we were going to spend about an hour per day getting the house cleaned up in time for my parent’s arrival. We were basically using my parent’s their as an excuse to do some real tidying up and cleaning.

You know what I mean. All those little jobs around the house that you always mean to get around to, but never do.

Fix the dripping faucet in the Kitchen. Installing the new showerhead in the bathroom. Finally get around to shampooing the carpets and organizing the storage room.

Of course, we should have learned by now that there really is no point planning anything ever.

Last Saturday I started to get sick. By Monday, even moving was way too strenuous for me. I finally started feeling better and was operating at about 70% capacity on Wednesday…just in time for Sunny to start coming down with the same thing.

So our plan changed. We’d managed to get a little done during the week, but last night we both decided an early night was in order so we could be bright-eyed and bushy tailed this morning…so we could get everything we absolutely have to get done finished before we have to go get my parents from the airport.

So, last night we go to bed.

After sleeping for a grand total of two hours I wake up and it’s hot…stupid hot…unnaturally hot. Getting up for a drink I walk into the kitchen…where it’s absolutely freezing. Something pings on my ‘something’s-not-right-o-meter’. Without any heating or air-conditioning on in the house, here’s no way there should be such a big temperature difference.

I walk back to the bedroom and notice a funny smell coming from the laundry room. I pull the door all the way open and got the same sensation you get when you open the oven door while standing too close. It was about a million degrees in there.

The dryer had finished its cycle, had stopped spinning, but the heating elements were still going full blast. They’d been that way for at least six hours. I lean over to unplug it, and the top of it is so hot I actually burn my hand.

If there’d been any clothes stacked on top like there usually is, they’d probably have caught fire.

As you can probably guess, I wasn’t exactly the happiest person in the world at this point. Waking up and finding that your house almost caught fire does that to a person.

So I’m wide-awake and don’t actually want to go back to sleep until the dryer had cooled down in case anything in there was smouldering. As a result, I never actually managed to get back to sleep.

So, after going to bed at 11pm, I found myself up and awake by about half past one in the morning. I’d also like to point out that thanks to being sick for the entire week before, I hadn’t slept more than half an hour at a stretch for over seven days.

Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. But of course, today, we have to clean the house from top to bottom, take off the trash and do a hundred other chores before going to pick them up at five.

Let’s just hope like hell they’ve got jet lag and want to go to bed within an hour of us getting back to the house.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Ok, people, let me share some of my hard-won wisdom.

Let’s imagine that one day, you and your significant other look down at your carpets and decide they look a ‘little dingy’. You might get it into your head that it would be a good idea to buy, borrow or rent one of those carpet steamer/shampooer dealies.

Do not do this. Trust me.

Just tear up the carpets and put down new ones. If you’re renting and can’t tear up the carpets…move.

You see, when we had Barney here, he pretty much decided that our kitchen carpet was his own personal toilet… and there’s only so much you can do with a scrubbing brush and a spray bottle of Urine-Gone. Plus, with Buddy constantly coming in and out of the house in all weather, he spreads that uber-staining red mud through the house wherever he goes.

So that was the plan. Give the kitchen carpet a good sanitary cleaning and give the hallways and living room a once over. The carpets were a little dingy, but to be honest, the only reason I even thought about going to the trouble of cleaning any of the carpets other than the kitchen was just to make them smell nice.

So I sat and read the instructions (I must be getting soft). The way you use the Bissel Ultra-super-duper-uber-showthatdisobedientbitchofacarpetwho’stheboss2000 is explained thusly:

Push the cleaner slowly forward while holding the trigger to spray the hot water and cleaning solution onto your carpet. Then pull the cleaner slowly backwards to let the brushes do their work and suck up the excess water.

I did that. It turns out they missed a step. Directly after the above directions it should say:

Scream like a hysterical five-year old and leap onto your couch to get as far away from the carpet as possible, because you’ve just realized the sheer amount of germy disgusting filth you’ve been walking on every day.

I mean…seriously.

Since I moved in here, I’d always assumed that our living room carpet was a deep purple color. One pass with the Bissel Carpet-Raper and it turned out that it’s actually closer to a royal blue.

Don’t even ask about the kitchen carpet. Because that carpet really is a very dark blue, there was little in the way of visible stains and it didn’t change color when I cleaned it. I did, however, retch uncontrollably for twenty-five minutes when I saw the color of the water when I emptied the cleaner’s waste water tank.

Just think about what extremely strong-brewed coffee with just a hint of creamer looks like and you’re close… Only whereas strong-brewed coffee with a hint of creamer is both aromatic, delicious and an excellent morning beverage… the liquid that comes out of the cleaner will probably give you polio, tuberculosis, consumption, dysentery, gout and just about every other 1930’s disease just from looking at it.

Then we come to the other problem. There are just some places in the average room that the cleaner just won’t fit into. Which means in certain corners and nooks you have a direct side-by-side before-and-after comparison.

What this means is that the overall effect isn’t nice, clean carpets. It just looks like someone snuck into your house in the middle of the night and ground dirt into all the inaccessible areas of your carpet. It’s like how if you see someone wearing a white T-shirt that they’ve spilled a little coffee on, all you can see is the stain.

Anyway, like I said, just replace your carpets or find a new home. Cleaning your carpets just isn’t worth the trauma.

Because there's more space here...

In answer to yesterday's comments:

Evanesce In 2008 said...

You can cheat... you could always use MS Office and save in HTML format.

Note: That's not a clean solution, and purists would shoot me if they knew who I was. But the point's there.

Well, my problem is that static HTML just won't cut it. I need some sort of template that would allow me to upload a strip, write a newspost if I want to, then publish. I have no idea how to do that. For example, the only way I know how to implement a simple 'Previous strip' or 'next strip' button is to upload the button images on every single post and manually link them to the day before's....and then go back when I've done the next strip to link to that.

Also, I've got absolutely no idea how to create a webpage in MS Office and then get it to play nice with Blogger.

I also really want to minimize the actual amount of work it takes to update. If I'm doing a daily strip, I can't spend two or three hours drawing the thing, another hour scanning, cleaning and converting...and then spend another hour creating each new post page from scratch...and with my level of experience that's what I'd have to do.

Thanks for the suggestion though. It might actually be worth me messing around with a WYSIWYG webpage editor just so I can see what the generated HTML looks like.

Kato said...Hacking the Blogger template was, I think, considerably easier in the "old" days before they went to their new widget-based template. Basically, they made it easier for most people to do some limited customization (by having a drag-and-drop layout editor) but made the learning curve for hacking the source much harder because of all the code involved in getting the widgets to work.

They made the right choice, that's just how it goes I guess. Plus the service is free so I can't complain too much.

Not to scare you, but I spent a couple months designing my current template. Of course, to be fair, that included not just the time to figure out their new template stuff but also to thoughtfully design an entire site. I was originally planning to blog what I had learned but didn't think to do it as I was actually learning it, so it never got done. Go figure.

Oh, and my blog link in this post doesn't work. Not that I'm vain enough to check. ;)

First of all, I fixed your link! I'm actually calling shenanigans on that one though. I saved the link properly, then blogger added 'www.blogger.com' in front of your URL when it saved...as usual I have no idea why.

Secondly, I knew how long it took you to design your template (I remember your occasional posts on the subject during your 'upgrade')...and that's exactly why I made it clear I wasn't trying to guilt anyone for help. If I actually had some money and could afford the industry rates I would have considered asking...but since I don't and I can't...I won't

The one thing I do want to try is the comicpress template for wordpress, which a lot of professional webcartoonists use. During my research I found there's a lot of webhosting providers who actually have it set up so you can install Wordpress and then Comicpress on your server with just a couple mouse clicks. One hosting provider I looked at looked pretty promising, they had a ton of useful apps/plugins like forums, storefronts etc that you can install on your server from your login page.

Once Comicpress is set up, actually running the site is about as difficult as blogger. You just upload your strips with a dated filename and it'll publish them on the date specified, automatically adds it to your archive and writing a news post is about as hard as writing a blog post.

Again, the problem is that this is a very 'bare bones' template, the idea being you customize it yourself with your own graphics and layout, which I also don't know how to do.

Anyway, for the time being, I think I've found an existing blogger template that will suffice with a few simple 'paulius level' edits. It's pretty basic and ugly...but I think it'll do in the short term. All I really need to do is work out how to automate those damn 'first, previous, next, latest' buttons.

We can't ALL be Kato

Some days, I wish I were Kato.

I’ve mentioned a few times recently that I’m working on a webcomic. The biggest problem I’m having with that is the ‘Web’ part.

You see, I know enough HTML to insert hyperlinks and place the odd image. When it comes to anything else, I have all the knowledge of a dead hamster.

The one thing I absolutely don’t want to do is put my webcomic up on one of those ‘collective’ sites like Smackjeeves or Drunk Duck.

While I’m certainly capable of designing a webpage, as in the way it looks, where the buttons go and everything…meaning I could make an awesome mock-up in Illustrator or Photoshop…I just don’t have any of the required knowledge to take that mockup and turn it into a working webpage.

Anyway, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I wondered if it would be possible to hack a blogger template to turn it into a viable hosting solution. I mean, how hard could it be? Wordpress, another blogging service, has a webcomic template that Scott Kurtz uses for PvP! Surely blogger could do something similar.

Just set up a template to show a single post on the page for that day’s strip, use a plugin to turn the ‘previous posts’ list into an archive-friendly calendar…Then slap up a banner, put together a set of ‘first, previous, next, latest’ buttons to go at the bottom of each post and I’m golden! All I’d need to do then is register a domain name for about 10 bucks a year and point it at my blogger page.

So I thought “Who do I know who’s done some impressive tinkering with blogger templates? Kato! That’s who!”

So I went to Kato’s blog and clicked that magical ‘view source’ button.

I went ‘Squeeeee!’ when I noticed that Kato had actually put notes about what he was doing right there in the code for his page.

Holy shit! I thought. I might actually be able to work this out!

It took me exactly 4.3 seconds before I was completely and totally lost.

Oh well, back to the drawing board and desperately searching the net for a tutorial or solution I guess.

PS, Kato, if you read this I’m honestly not trying to guilt you into helping me. I know there’s just too much work involved to be a ‘casual favor’. Kinda like asking a casual acquaintance to help you move.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

My Wife Is Awesome

I realized something recently. While I’ve written a lot about the annoying things Sunny does, I don’t think I’ve ever just taken the time to write a post about how awesome she is.

Take this week, for example. My parents are due to arrive in under three days. We’d decided that in the week running up to their visit, we’d absolutely blitz the house and get it sparkling from top to bottom.

It’s not really that either of us are particularly house proud, but my parent’s visit is acting as a ‘motivational excuse’ to finally fix the bits and bobs that have broken in the house over the past year. Those fixes that aren’t really urgent, but just plain annoying, like the dripping faucet in the bathroom.

Plus, considering out entire house stays almost entirely sealed up during the summer, let’s just say we do our Spring Cleaning in the Autumn.

Anyway, as I mentioned in my last post, for most of this week my body decided that all i really felt like doing was coughing, wheezing, shivering and sweating…and while I was out of action, Sunny was an absolute Star.

Not only did she get in from work and make a special trip out to fill our fridge with orange juice, gator aid and all those other things that make you feel better when you get sick…she also went to work on the house single handed. The best part is that she hasn’t actually complained about it once.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize that if I really had to list Sunny’s faults, there’s only one real one I can come up with…and that ‘fault’ is that she does way too much for other people and never really takes any time for herself.

Yup, my wife is Awesome.


Ok, I’ve been pretty damn sick this week. I appear to have a classic chest infection, and without another couple thousand dollars to spend at the doctor’s office, I really have no choice but to just hunker down and get over it on my own.

To my immense relief, however, I’m slowly getting better. Today I was coughing and feeling like crap…but three days ago I was coughing so hard that my blood pressure was sky-rocketing resulting in stabbing headaches, and I had crippling nausea and waves of dizziness to go along with it.

The only real upside to getting sick is that I was planning on quitting smoking after my parents leave after their visit…and I’ve only smoked about four cigarettes in the past week... It’s basically like a head start, especially considering I’m usually a pack-a-day smoker.

Now, the non-smokers out there are probably asking why I was smoking any cigarettes if I was coughing that badly…and I thought answering that, and talking about smoking, would be a good subject for today’s post.

In a nutshell, I think the whole anti-smoking campaign is flawed.

The one thing anti-smoking organizations completely ignore is the fact that smoking feels good. I can understand why they don’t want smoking to look even slightly attractive…but ignoring the ‘good parts’ is really counter productive in the long run.

You see, before I started smoking I thought people only smoked because they thought it was fashionable and made them ‘look cool’. People who smoked were shallow idiots who were killing themselves for no reason.

The problem happens when you actually try smoking.

Basically, I was about 14 when I tried my first cigarette. I caught my brother smoking and instantly went into the classic ‘holier-than-thou, superior asshole’ mode.

“What are you smoking for? Don’t you know it’s killing you? Do you think it makes you look cool? You’re stupid! All it does is make you stink!”

Here’s the problem. While I certainly won’t blame anyone but myself for my starting smoking, anti-smoking propaganda always forces the same situation…Non-smokers look down on smokers. Smokers laugh and say non-smokers don’t understand.

Then, if you’re a dumb-ass teenager like I was…you take a pull off a cigarette with the sole intention of proving there’s nothing even remotely likeable about it, and that your smoker friend is an idiot for slowly killing himself just to ‘look cool’.

Here’s how it went for me:

I’d given my brother an hour-long lecture about how stupid he was, until finally, he basically said “Try it, and you’ll see why I smoke.”

“No!” I said. “I’m not stupid.”

“Fine.” He replied. “Then stop bitching at me.”

Long story short, I tried it, just to prove what an idiot he was.

Here’s the fun part…thanks to all the anti-smoking stuff I’d heard on TV and at school, I knew there was nothing even remotely likeable about smoking. It would taste terrible, probably make me cough and I couldn’t get addicted from a single draw…so I knew I’d try it, be disgusted and then I could go back to calling him an idiot.

I pulled the smoke into my mouth. It tasted terrible, and even though I didn’t need to, I gave a theatrical cough.

“Ugh! See?” I said as I wafted the disgusting smoke away. “That’s awful.”

“You’re supposed to inhale it.” Said my brother as he showed me how.

So I pulled the smoke in my mouth, opened my lips a little, and breathed in. The smoke stung the back of my throat and I felt it go all the way into my lungs. Coughing a little (for real this time) I blew the smoke back out, feeling a little sick.

“Ewwww.” I said. “That’s even worse! That’s…”

Suddenly, everything went warm and fuzzy. It felt like every inch of my skin was buzzing and I slowly became aware that I was floating above the ground. Holy Shit! I thought. This is AWESOME!

The only way I can explain the feeling of that first cigarette is to imagine being absolutely shit-faced drunk, but with none of the unpleasant side-effects. Think about when you’ve been drinking, and you’ve got a really good buzz going…only you’re totally in control, don’t feel queasy and there’s no hang over.

That high (and it really is a high, just like any other drug) lasted about a minute…and you know what? I wanted more!

I didn’t start smoking immediately, but for a few years, whenever I got the chance (say a friend or someone I was talking to would smoke), I’d have a cigarette.

I mean, after all, I wasn’t a smoker. I was smoking maybe two cigarettes a month, I obviously wasn’t addicted… and I smoked because I wanted to…not because I needed to.

Unfortunately, that’s the first step on a very slippery slope. Two cigarettes a month turned into two a week, then into two a day…and before I knew it, I was properly addicted.

Which brings me to the original question. Why would I smoke any cigarettes if I had a chest infection?

That’s a question I’ve been asked a lot since I started smoking. “Why don’t you just quit?”

Well, that’s the other problem with the anti-smoking organizations. They call smoking a ‘habit’ rather than an addiction.

Sure, habit is a large part of it, and sometimes I’ll reach for a cigarette and light it through habit and not because feel like I need one…but let me explain, once and for all, what a smoking addiction feels like.

First of all, remember that awesome ‘floaty’ feeling I talked about above? Yeah, you only get that for the first few cigarettes you smoke. Your body gets used to it pretty quickly. Within a few weeks of smoking you’re not smoking to feel good, you’re smoking to satisfy the addiction and feel normal.

I’ve tried to explain this to people a lot of times, and this is the best I’ve been able to come up with. I’m sure the other smokers out there can back me up:

Think about the hungriest you’ve ever felt. I don’t mean when you’ve felt peckish or a little hungry…I’m talking about the way you feel when you’ve been up all day, working really hard, and haven’t eaten a damn thing in about twenty hours. I’m talking about when your stomach is screaming at you and you honestly feel like you’re starving.

Imagine that feeling, but instead of feeling it in your stomach, imagine feeling it in your chest.

Now imagine feeling like that every hour unless you smoke a cigarette.

That’s why quitting is so hard, and the same reason I smoked four cigarettes during a week when I had a chest infection. It was just too painful not to smoke.

Basically, you’re in pain, your lungs feel like they’re imploding, and the whole time, at the back of your mind, there’s this little voice that’s saying “All you have to do is light a cigarette and all that pain will vanish immediately. It’s easy! Go on, have a cigarette!”

What all this boils down to is my one piece of advice about quitting smoking:

Just don’t start in the first place.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Celebrity and Teenage Hormones

I’ve been pretty damn sick this week, luckily I’m on the mend and there’s a good chance I’ll be back up to 100% by the time my parents get here on Friday.

Last night as I lay in bed, my body just toying with me …a memory popped into my head. One of those memories that seems to have completely and totally vanished until it spontaneously returns for no reason, as fresh and vivid as the day it was made.

As a kid, I would go camping with my family a lot. At least once a month me and my parents along with various Aunts, Uncles, Cousins and friends would load up in our respective caravans and annoy the hell out of all the normal motorists on the way to a camp site.

One of my favorite camping trips was our yearly visit to a place called Tatton Park. Not only did Tatton park have an absolutely huge adventure park, once a year they’d hold this huge fair/festival type deal.

In other words there was a lot to see and do, from the Red Arrows (The British version of the Blue Angels) doing an awesome aerial display, to appearances by celebrities.

It’s the celebrities I want to talk about today.

I couldn’t have been much older than fourteen at the time, and I’d somehow managed to get separated from my group of friends…so I was just walking around on my own looking at some of the exhibits on my way back to the campsite. It was near the end of the day so the fair was winding down.

After a while, I found myself talking to one of the Army exhibitors and managed to talk him into letting me have a go on his air-rifle range for free. The rifle range wasn’t getting much custom because it didn’t offer prizes.

I got talking to the guy and bet him I could hit all five targets with five shots. I actually managed it, and while I was gloating about how awesome I was, he motioned over my shoulder and said “Check that out.”

I turned and saw her.

It was Lightning from the British version of Gladiators.

It’s hard for me to explain exactly what this experience was like, but bear in mind that I was seeing this as a fourteen year old boy with raging hormones.

She was walking along, quite nonchalantly, with ‘Warrior’, another cast member from Gladiators. The two of them just talking like normal people and not, you know, the special people they put on TV.

I think my jaw may have literally hit the floor. You see…gulp…She was in costume.

Yeah, let that sink in for a moment.

On the one side, there’s me, fourteen years old, all adolescent awkwardness and hormones…and on the other, there’s Lightning… a TV star with the body of a fitness model, dressed in spandex…and not very much spandex at that. A vision. All blonde hair and tanned limbs.

Oh…the limbs!

I gawked. I think I actually goggled at one point.

Ok. I thought to myself. This is a once in a lifetime chance. Every Monday morning we talk about Gladiators in the schoolyard and usually end up arguing over which one’s hottest. How awesome would it be to get a picture with her?...Oh, you think Lightning’s the hottest? Yeah, me too! Here’s a pic of the two of us together. She was totally into me. AWESOME!

I looked down. I hadn’t brought my camera.

Bollocks. I thought.

It was at this point I realized she’d drawn level with me. Before my brain was aware of what had happened, I’d stepped forward.

“Uhhhh….” I said.

Great opening, you silver tongued devil! Laughed my brain.

“Uhhhh…Miss….Uhhhh…Lightning?” I said.

She stopped walking and smiled at me. Smiled at me! Lightning from The Gladiators smiled at me while wearing her spandex Gladiators costume!!!! SPANDEX!!!!

“What is it, sweetie?” She said.

OMFG! OMFG! OMFGWTFBBQPANCAKES! Lightning just smiled at me, in her spandex outfit and called me ‘sweetie’…and did I mention the SPANDEX?!?

“Uhhhh….I was wondering…if it’s not too much trouble…if I could…er….get your autograph?”

“Sure.” She said. Rather tactfully ignoring the way I was channeling William Shatner. “Have you got a pen and some paper?” She asked as she patted the sides of her legs, making her lady-parts jiggle in a way that almost caused me to burst into flames. “No pockets.” She laughed.

“Uhhhh….” I said.

Shit, shit, shit, shit!!!!!

Wait! The shooting gallery guy has to have a pen and something to write on! Yeah, he’s got the used paper targets!

I whirled around. The Army guy wasn’t there.

“Uhhh, can you wait just a second?” I asked, my voice sounded almost unbearably squeaky in my ears. “I can get some from…”

I started to turn around, when ‘Warrior’, henceforth known as the ‘World’s Biggest Douchebag’ said:

“Listen kid, we really don’t have time for this.” He said with an aggravated tone in his voice and an exasperated look on his face. “We spent over an hour signing autographs this morning. You shoulda asked then. We gotta get back and we can’t be waiting around all day.”

My ears felt like they were about to burst into flame. My body’s entire supply of blood rushed to my face… away from the place Lightning had made it rush to.

“It’ll only take a sec…” I whined. “If you can just wait a…”

“Sorry, kid.” He said in a tone that made it perfectly clear he wasn’t sorry at all. “We have to go.” Without another word, he just pushed past me and walked off.

Lightning looked at me and said “I’m sorry…maybe next time, ‘k?”

I stood there, feeling deflated. What was going to be the best story ever had turned from ‘The Time I Met Lightning From Gladiators Who Totally Wanted Me and Gave Me Her Autograph” into “The Time I Met Lightning From Gladiators and Was Made To Feel About a Foot Tall by A Douchebag Roid-Head In Spandex.”

The whole thing made me think a lot about celebrities.

I’m not going to go into the whole ‘Fans pay your Salary’ thing…but I really wish a lot of celebrities would realize that while being asked for an autograph might be an every-day pain in the ass thing for you, it can honestly be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the fan.

You basically have a choice. Take an extra thirty seconds and leave your fan with a story about how friendly and awesome you are…or you can brush them off and leave them thinking what a gigantic douchebag you are.

Ok, I can understand when celebs get pissed off when they get approached and pestered when they’re halfway through a meal in a restaurant, or just doing something with their kids…but I don’t think it’s too much to ask when you’re making a scheduled appearance, even when it’s not the designated ‘meet and greet’ time.

It wouldn’t be so bad, but it looking back, at the time I thought of ‘The Gladiators’ as ‘Big TV stars’…through more ‘grown up’ eyes, they were really minor celebrities from a Sunday night game show. To be completely honest, I wouldn’t have recognized most of them without their outfits.

On the ‘celeb scale’, they kinda occupy the same level as gardening show hosts and reality stars. Refusing a kid an autograph was just a douchebag thing to do. Especially when he guy who refused wasn’t even the one I wanted an autograph from.

I never did see Lightning again, although on that same trip I did meet Grotbags…who while being on the opposite end of the hotness spectrum to Lightning (and then some), not only gave me an autograph, but even let me have a go of her ‘bazzazzer’.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Weird World

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

This was written and signed by a group of very intelligent people. People who realized, at the birth of a new nation, that it was entirely possible that there could come a time when the country they were founding would become the very thing they were fighting against.

Am I the only one who finds it odd that we now live in a country where the content of the above is considered 'subversive' and 'wrong' to a lot of people? That a lot of people, especially our government and President, have decided that blind, unquestioning obedience is synonymous with 'Patriotism'. The mistaken beleif that we can call ourselves 'The Land of the Free', while our government condones torture, spies on its citizens and uses terror to justify the erosion of our civil liberties.

I don't know what else to say, except to say that one we're rid of the worst President in US history, his successor does a better job, and returns to the core beliefs and ideals that America was founded on.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Well, this just f**king sucks...

My parents arrive for their visit in exactly one week and one day. I'm really looking forward to it.

Three days ago I woke up and my chest felt a little congested.
Two days ago I developed a bit of a cough.
Five minutes ago I stood up and felt that familar woozy/dizzy feeling I get right before I start to get sick.

Hopefully it's nothing and it'll be gone by the time my parents get here...but by the way my luck's been going I'll probably end up sick as a dog the whole time my parents are here.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Annoying Habits and Browncoats

This week I finally managed to get Sunny to sit still long enough to introduce her to ‘Firefly’.

The original reason I wanted to write this post was because, with only 2 episodes and the movie left to watch, I wanted to brag that my wife is officially a Browncoat.

Then, the whole experience made me think about one of Sunny’s really annoying habits…sorry, I mean one of her ‘cute little quirks’.

Since moving to the US four years ago, I’ve introduced Sunny to a ton of British TV shows and movies. Everything from the classics I grew up with such as Red Dwarf and Black Adder, to more ‘modern classics’ like Little Britain and The Office.

I should point out here that introducing these shows to Sunny is something that’s really important to me. When we sit down together to watch a show she’s never seen before, it really is a big deal.

You see, when I get my hands on a new DVD, getting to watch that show again is only about 2% of the experience for me. The part I love… the part that really gives me a lot of joy… is getting to be there when Sunny experiences that show for the first time.

Seriously. One of my favorite memories from the past four years was sitting next to Sunny when she watched ‘Peter Kay: Live at the Top of the Tower’ for the first time. I’d seen that stand-up show so many times I pretty much knew it by heart…but sharing it with Sunny for the first time and watching her laugh so hard she couldn’t even sit up was an absolute joy.

Have you ever read a book that was so good that you wished you could somehow erase it from your memory so you could experience it for the first time all over again? Well, I get a little bit of that every time I share one of my favorite shows with Sunny.

For me, watching TV is a social form of entertainment. Watching a great show is fun, but watching a great show with Sunny or a even a bunch of other people makes it about a billion times better for me. If it’s a show I’ve loved for years and I’m introducing it to people who’ve never seen it before, that’s just about as good as it gets.

Now we come to that ‘cute little quirk’.

99% of the time, introducing Sunny to a new show is like pulling teeth.

I’ll tell her I’ve got a new DVD for us to watch and she’ll ask what the show is about. I’ll explain the concept, and I always get the same reaction. She looks at me with her best ‘that sounds stupid’ expression, and says maybe she’ll watch it with me at some unspecified future date…maybe.

About a week later I’ll manage to corner her… waiting for that moment when we’re watching TV and Sunny says she’s bored, that there’s nothing on and asks if we have any movies to watch

“I have that TV show I was telling you about.” I’ll say.

Then before she has a chance to make any excuses the DVD goes in the player.

She’ll then watch the first episode or two with the same amount of enthusiasm and interest that the average ten year old would show for a crossword puzzle in a theme park. It’s particularly annoying when she picks up a book or starts to crochet five minutes in. I feel like screaming at her:

This is important to me! I really want you to love this as much as I do! Give it a chance! You’re five minutes in and already acting like you’re bored to tears!

Then, after watching a couple episodes, she’ll pointedly ask if we can watch something else. Feeling really disappointed, I’ll pluck the DVD from the player and put it back in the case.

This isn’t the annoying habit. If this was all that happened I could just accept that Sunny and I have different tastes when it comes to TV.

No, the annoying part happens a few weeks later.

Sunny will walk into the living room and I’ll be watching the same show she showed zero interest in. Ten minutes later, Sunny is either watching in rapt attention if it’s a drama, or cracking up like a lunatic if it’s a comedy. Then we’ll sit there and watch an entire season in a single sitting.

“That was awesome! What is it?” She’ll say.

“It’s (Insert Show Here)…you know, the one I told you about last week?”

“Do you have any more, or is that it?”

“I have season two and three as well.”

“Awesome! Wanna watch them now?”

So that’s the thing that’s really annoying. When I purposefully sit Sunny down in front of a show, tell her what it’s about, that I’ve loved it since I was twelve, and that I think she’ll really enjoy it too…she’s totally bored by it within ten minutes.

If she just walks in on me watching that same show halfway through, it’s one of her favorite shows of all time within hours.

Then we come to the last, and probably the most annoying part. This happens with a least three out of five shows:

I’d tried and failed to get Sunny hooked on Black Adder despite trying five or six times. Every time I got her to watch an episode she’d say it was ‘boring and stupid’...and could we please watch something else?

Then she followed the usual pattern and ended up loving it. She liked it so much, in fact, that at her insistence we ended up sitting through three whole seasons in a single day.

Then, six months later I ask if she wants to watch it again:

“I’m bored.” She says.

“Me too. Wanna watch Black Adder? We’ve not watched that in ages.

“Black Adder? Which one is that?”

“You know, Back Adder, the one with Rowan Atkinson, you know, the guy from Mr. Bean?”

“Oh, that. No, that was just stupid and boring.”


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

What was it Picasso said?

Over the past few weeks work on my webcomic has started again. Finally realizing that there’s just no way that I’m going to be able to come up with around $250 for a new tablet any time soon (and the awful realization I was using that as an excuse)…I decided to get back to work.

There are a few things I really do need, however, so until I can get those few, far less expensive items, I decided to actually script the thing as much as possible.

Then today, I found a post on Wil Wheaton’s blog that I thought I’d throw my two cents into. Here’s the excerpt:

“More often than not, when I'm just making stuff up and writing it, I get self conscious and feel like I'm trying too hard. I've had a lot of success coming up with ideas and characters, but when I try to combine them into a narrative form, I get massive performance anxiety. A big problem for me is working on a story for several days, and then realizing, "Oh shit. I'm writing Quantum Leap." or "Motherfucker! This sure was interesting when it was called Enemy Mine."”

This struck a chord with me because it’s something I’ve suffered from the time I first picked up a pen as a five year old.

Most recently, I had a similar crisis to Wil’s when I first read Brad Guigar’s ‘Evil Inc.’ shortly after coming up with the concept for ‘Obsolete’, my own webcomic. My idea was different to Brad’s, but shared a lot of similarities.

In other words, I thought ‘Oh shit! I’m writing Evil Inc.”

What got me past that was an email from Brad himself, who is quite simply one of the nicest guys I’ve ever had the fortune to come into contact with. I saved his email:


Thanks for the very kind words about Evil Inc. :) I'm thrilled to hear that you like it!

That said, I don't see *that* much crossover between our two ideas -- certainly not enough to worry about. So get working. I can't wait to see it! :)


What more did I need? The guy I was so afraid that I was copying openly told me to go ahead with my idea.

We sent another couple emails back and forth over the next couple weeks and, in all seriousness, without Brad’s advice and encouragement, ‘Obsolete’ would still exist only in my head.

I want to point out here that Brad is an actual professional. He’s a busy guy with multiple popular web and print comics, as well as he author and co-author of a couple of great books on cartooning. That he actually took the time to write a few emails to help out a complete stranger shows just how awesome the guy is.

Anyway, with ‘Obsolete; I got lucky…but the chances of getting the go ahead from every creator that you feel your work is too similar to isn’t that likely. The reason I’m writing this post is to state one important point:

As a creator, you can’t be afraid to ‘borrow’.

The simple truth of the matter is that if you’re holding off on writing that novel, comic, screenplay or script until you come up with that one amazing idea that’s totally original and has never been done before…you’re in for a long wait.

It sounds like a cop-out, but there really are no truly original ideas left. What matters is putting your own spin on those ideas, mixing some together, taking a different viewpoint and exploring different themes.

Take any film, any book, any story that was made in the past years and you’ll find another that came before it that it borrows heavily from.

Put it this way. Wil Wheaton gave up on an idea because he felt he was just ripping off ‘Quantum Leap’. Quantum Leap was a TV series about a time traveler trying to get home by ‘setting things right that once went wrong’.

That’s almost exactly the same premise for the 1966 TV series ‘Time Tunnel’. It’s also very similar in concept to the ‘Back to the Future’ movies…and when you actually think of it, every time-travel story ever written.

Now, before you think ‘Back to the Future’ was nothing like ‘Quantum Leap’, you’re right. They both deliver completely different experiences, but consider this:

We have a story where a guy travels in time and gets stuck there. In order to get home, he has to set a number of things right with the help of a friend who is the only one in the scenario who knows he’s a time-traveler.

What did I just describe?

Marty McFly, traveling back in time and having to make sure his parents fall in love with the help of Doc Brown? Or Sam Beckett, traveling back in time and having to help strangers in order to ‘leap’ with the help of Al?

Basically, just create and don’t worry about it. As long as you’re not just changing a few names, your work is as original as anything out there.

Monday, September 08, 2008

My Confession....Now with 100% more porno!

Ok, it’s time for a confession and for once I’m not being sarcastic. This is something I’ve never old anyone, ever.

I, Paulius of Blogville, was at one time in my life a paid literary pornographer.

Ok, I’m exaggerating a little…so let me tell you the whole story:

When I was at University, one of my writing tutors gave me an amazing tip. I’ll paraphrase him:

“In this writing studies course, you’ll be churning out tons of short stories over the next three years. Don’t just hand them in and forget about them. Every time you finish one make about ten copies and send them to every small press you think might publish you. Even if you only get published in a tiny magazine with a readership of six people, you still get to put a publishers credit on your resume…which is great when you eventually look for an agent to start shopping around your big novel.”

He was right. By the end of my first year I had two short stories accepted for local magazines.

While I thought that being an official ‘published author’ was awesome, the cynical side of me kinda resented it. You see, small presses almost never paid for submissions. Even if they did you were likely to get about five dollars and a couple of contributor’s copies.

I didn’t like it. Even though this was almost pre-internet and the small presses were still the primary proving ground for new talent, I just didn’t like the idea of pouring my heart and soul into a story, then just giving it to someone who would sell it for profit, while I wouldn’t get a single penny.

Sure those magazines only sold about ten copies per issue and were primarily just a way to get your name ‘out there’, but I was a typical first year writing student with delusions of grandeur. My work was important. It had value. I shouldn’t be giving it away for free!

Put simply, I wanted to get paid, dammit! Stephen King doesn’t give his work away for free, and neither do I!


My tutor always had the latest copy of the Writer’s Digest along with a massive list of small presses around the country that he made available to his students. Flicking through the listings one day I finally found what I’d been looking for. I’d found a publisher that not only accepted unsolicited manuscripts, they actually paid for them. Around $50 for a 2000 word story, $100 for 5000 words, longer fiction to be negotiated.

Awesome! It wasn’t what anyone would call ‘real money’, but fifty bucks for two thousand words was a lot for a poor college student. I already had about six two-thousand word wonders ready to go that were just sitting on my hard-drive collecting dust.

Then I hit the snag. Reading the listing in detail, the only type of fiction this company would accept was ‘erotic fiction’. Basically they were a company that bought up porno stories and then sold them on to other publications like ‘gentlemen’s magazines’. (Read: porno mags.)

I deflated. I was writing horror and sci-fi at the time, I had nothing to send, and had zero experience in writing ‘erotic fiction’

Then I thought of something… how hard could it be? I was a 19 year old hormonal college student!

So that night I arrived home, put on a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses, false beard and a trenchcoat so no-one would recognize me, locked myself in my room and sat at the computer.

I told myself I wasn’t really going to write and submit a porno story…sorry, I mean ‘work of erotic fiction’. This was just a laugh, something I’d get two paragraphs into before giving up before going back to working on my Sci-Fi epic.

Then I discovered something about erotic fiction. It was easy, and I mean crazy easy to write. As long as you knew what audience you were writing for, you’re golden.

Writing for men was the easiest. You needed zero plot and zero character development. All you really need is a cardboard cutout male protagonist (nothing more than a proxy for the male reader), two or more ‘hot chicks’ and a rationalization for them doing it…and then just get as graphic as you possibly can with the descriptions.

Basically, you’re writing a porno script, and we all know how deep and insightful they are. Guy meets girl, girl introduces guy to her hot room-mate and they get it on. Bow-chicka-bow-wow!

If you really want to keep it simple, you just write it like a diary entry or letter (Did you think those ‘Penthouse Forum’ letters were real?)…then you don’t even have to write anything about the females other than what they look like and what they’re doing. I was at the launderette when this gorgeous leggy blonde in a tube top walked in. As she walked past me she accidentally dropped a white lace thong on the floor…

You get the idea.

Writing for females was a little more difficult but not by much.

For females you do need a plot, but not a very complex one. Maybe the Count’s daughter has fallen in love with the stable boy and the Count has forbidden them to see each other. Danger! Romance! A big fat cliché! It really doesn’t matter.

Then you write just as you would for males, only you swap the graphic descriptions for flowery metaphor, but get a lot more detailed about the emotions going on. Women only ‘stroke the guy’s hard cock’ in male-oriented fiction. In female oriented fiction ‘The chamber-maid’s heart swells with unrepressed joy as she caresses the Duke’s proud manhood.’

Eeew, I think I need a shower after writing that.

Basically, it comes down to basic fantasies. Most men who pick up a porn mag to read a short story want to read about a guy ‘banging’ a ton of totally uninhibited ‘slutty chicks’. A woman picking up a ‘romance’ magazine wants to read a far more romantic story…where people still ‘get it on’, but in a much more grandiose setting with a bit of drama thrown in so they don’t feel like they’re reading porn.

Men buy playboy for the articles. Women read Harlequin Romances for the ‘story’.

Anyway, as you can probably guess, within an hour I had a two-thousand word short story in my hands. With nothing better to do, I spent the next two and a half hours rattling off a longer five-thousand word one.

Not wanting to lose my nerve, I printed them both, terrified the whole time that my parents would walk in.

Hey, I knew my stories were literary effluent that no self-respecting writer would touch with a bargepole. I also knew I was writing them just because I could really use the money…but if my mum walked in and found me printing a story about a mechanic doing a set of nymphomaniac twins on the hood of their car…I’d have some very awkward explaining to do.

The next day, I sealed them in a very appropriate plain brown envelope along with the usual cover letter, and went to the postbox feeling like I was trying to get into a sex shop on a crowded street without being noticed.

I dropped them in the postbox and almost immediately regretted the whole thing. If they got accepted I was a pornographer, if they rejected them I’d failed to get on the lowest rung of the literary ladder.

Before I go on, I know I might be offend some people with that last remark. Yes, I know it’s possible to write ‘real’ erotic fiction that actually qualifies as ‘art’… but that wasn’t what this company wanted. They wanted basic hack-work that appealed to hormonal teenagers who’d never spoken to a real woman before and extremely bored housewives.

Shortly after mailing my submissions, I completely forgot about them.

It was about six weeks later when I got out of bed and found a letter addressed to me on the doormat. The return address was very familiar, and when I realized what it was, I snatched it up and locked myself in my room again.

Where the hell did I put my false beard and dark glasses?

I nervously opened the letter, pulled out a sheet of paper and started reading:

Dear Sir/Madam,

Thank you for your recent submission and we invite you to submit again…

Great, I thought. I put my immortal soul in danger just for a stupid rejection letter. I’d failed. I’d attempted to write trashy hack0work and been told I wasn’t good enough.

Then my eye spotted the word ‘enclosed’ further down the paragraph. ‘Payment’ followed soon after.

I looked back into the envelope and found an itemized receipt along with a check for $150. Both my stories had been accepted… and apparently they wanted more.

My mind started racing as I stared at the check. I could afford that digital camera I’d been drooling over for months. Not only that, I’d just been paid $150 for just over three hours of very easy work. Considering I was working part time at a bar at the time for less that $5 an hour, this was the big time.

I worked it out in my head. I could easily write five or six two thousand word wonders per week. Assuming they all got accepted (and I arrogantly assumed they would, they bought the first two and I wasn’t even trying)…that was $1200 a month.

Holy Shit!

I almost started writing my next story right then and there, already mentally cashing the checks…then something in the back of my mind stopped me.

Did I really want to do this? Did I really want to introduce myself to people at parties as “Paulius…the guy who writes those cliched stories you see in ‘Razzle’ and ‘Penthouse’”?

It wasn’t so much that I thought I was ‘better’ than writing porn. I was a student and the money was worth it. You can’t ‘sell out’ before you have anything to sell…I didn’t even have to worry about copyright issues! While I’d be incredibly wary about selling my ‘real’ work, who cares about a bunch of throwaway porno stories that I didn’t even want my real name on?

No. the problem was that I would be impossible to keep the whole thing secret. Quitting my part-time job and suddenly having a ton of disposable income would obviously be of great interest to my parents…and if I ‘stretched the truth’ and told them the money came from selling ‘fiction’, they’d want to read them and would tell everybody.

That was a conversation I didn’t want to have:

“You’ve sold some stories? Who to? Can I read them?”

“Sure Mum! Do you want to read the one about the lesbian twins in the hot-tub, or the one about the cheerleader who takes on the whole football team at once?”

So my career in ‘literary pornography’ ended almost before it started…although it did buy me a kick-ass digital camera.

The saddest part?

Since the internet, there’s just no money in ‘erotic fiction’ any more….and my parents and entire family live 3500 miles away.

I have no luck.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Critics Can Suck My Balls.

I realized something today.

I really hate critics.

First of all, being a critic has to be the most useless, pointless job in the universe. Let me give you an example of why:

Last night, Sunny and I were watching a movie, and when it went off I felt like tracking down the writers and demanding back the two hours of my life that they’d just stolen. In my opinion, that movie was nothing but a long, drawn out yawn-fest with an ultra predictable plot and terrible acting.

Here’s the twist though, Sunny actually liked it. She thought it was good. I’m not saying she’s wrong and I’m right…I’m pointing this out to highlight one thing:

Two people (with an awful lot in common), can watch the same movie at the same time…and come to two entirely different opinions about the movie.

So what does this actually tell us?

It tells us that critics have a pointless job. I’ve watched movies that have been absolutely panned by critics and thought they where awesome. I’ve watched movies that critics have been creaming their jeans over and left fifty IQ points lower because my brain cells started committing suicide.

How many times has someone told you a show is awesome and it’s bored you to tears? How many times has someone told you a movies is terrible and you’ve watched it and really enjoyed it?

Entertainment, whether it’s a TV show, movie or restaurant to eat at is completely and totally subjective. That some random guy who works at a newspaper says something is good or bad doesn’t actually matter.

Sure, I’ve ‘reviewed’ things here, but normally that’s because I think something’s so good or so bad I just want to write about it. Unlike ‘professional’ critics, I don’t believe that my opinion is actually more important that anyone else’s. I haven’t surrounded myself in self-important delusions of grandeur, a belief that just because I can write a review my opinion is worth more than other people’s.

That’s what actually makes me hate critics. They’re just so damn smug and self-satisfied about it. Half the time you read a reviews are written, not to actually review something, but so the critic can show off how witty and intelligent he is.

Let me give you an example. Let’s look at an excerpt of a review of ‘Firefly’ by Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle:

“(Firefly is) a forced hodgepodge of two alarmingly opposite genres just for the sake of being different… To call "Firefly" a vast disappointment is an understatement. Whedon has proven he's capable of brilliance, but this is mere folly."

Oh really, Mr. Goodman? That’s your ‘professional’ opinion is it?

The weird thing is I seem to recall a very popular Sci-Fi movie being just filled with Wild West references. What was it called again?

Oh yeah, Star Wars. The most popular Sci-Fi movie of all time.

My memory might be a little fuzzy, but I seem to remember a swash-buckling gunslinger called Han Solo having a shootout in a Cantina. Oh, and where was that scene set? That’s right, Mos Eisley, an almost clichéd frontier-style desert town.

Yeah, Western and Sci-Fi really are alarmingly different. I mean, you couldn’t possibly draw a link between between a group of people exploring the frontier of space and the wagon trains exploring the frontier of the old west. Colonists on a brand new planet couldn’t possibly have anything in common with old-west settlers. A mostly unexplored sector of space filled with roaming bands of hostile Reavers doesn’t remind me at all of those Wild West movies where settlers traveled across deserts under constant fear of attack from Indians.

You, sir, are an idiot who has no understanding that ‘theme’ has absolutely nothing to do with setting. For example, Star Wars, as well as it’s Western Themes, also mixed classic fantasy, mythical themes and, of all things, classic fairy-tales with Sci-Fi. Did you see Star Wars and decide you couldn’t have magic and a classical ‘Hero’s Journey’ in Sci-Fi as well?

Well, I decided to end this post by doing something a little different. I’m going to review Tim Goodman’s review. Let’s see how he likes it…the dumb son of a bitch:

“Tim Goodman’s review shows nothing but a total lack of understanding of the genres he claims to be an authority in. He appears to be working under the assumption that because Westerns are set in the past and Sci-Fi is set in the future, that this automatically makes them mutually incompatible. With such a narrow minded view, it’s not surprising that he hasn’t realized that Western themes are almost a staple of modern Sci-Fi, most notably the ‘Lone Sheriff’ surrounded by ‘Outlaws’ and the idea of a lawless, mostly unexplored frontier.

In a crude attempt to hide his ignorance, Goodman made the poor choice of littering his review with five-dollar words like ‘Hodgepodge’ and ‘Genre’, an extremely poorly thought out and transparent attempt to seem intelligent. He obviously believes his regular trips to the thesaurus will hide his ignorance, but it really serves only to highlight it. His review is the equivalent of a two dollar painting in a thousand dollar frame. Nicely dressed but ultimately worthless. In fact, the way in which he’ dismisses’ Firefly as ‘mere folly’ is so self-satisfied and smug that it is almost masturbatory. You can almost sense him patting himself on the back as he wrote it.

In closing, thanks to his unqualified, self-aggrandizing manner, Tim Goodman is the reason that our TV Networks throw out innovative and entertaining programming in favor of carbon-copy reality shows. Considering Goodman and critics like him appear to spend more time thinking about ways to justify their pointless, worthless jobs instead of actually learning about the things they’re supposed to review, this is hardly surprising.

His reviews should be avoided as they are merely the ramblings of a willfully ignorant self-important man with no real value or worth.”

Paulius – Life, What The Hell Is Going On.