Trump: Beyond Scandal

Howard Dean makes a weird noise? Dire political consequences. Chris Christie’s allies collude to create a traffic jam? Dire political consequences. Donald Trump suggests banning an entire religion, brags about sexual assault on tape, refuses to release his taxes, defrauds students and investors, and [insert 1,000 other scandals]? Over 60 million Americans choose to elect him president. Why?

It’s a little fascinating in a “hey, what’s this new lump on my body” sort of way. Trump once said, I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose.” It’s a ridiculous statement and it also rings terribly true as we look back on the 2016 campaign season. But, why?

Watching the election unfold, there came a point at which Trump’s scandals and shortcomings started to seem more like a protective shell around the candidate than any sort of liability. During the Republican primary, both ends of the political spectrum mocked the very idea of a Trump presidency. It felt like a ludicrous candidacy, a stunt, a bit of reality TV leaking onto the political main stage. Trump is, after all, the only president in the history of the country to have zero public service or military experience. And yet… he won.

It’s almost as if Trump has so many shortcomings it’s impossible to focus on a single flaw. It’s the “too many people through the door at the same time” principle of politics (a thing I totally didn’t make up).

burns-doorTrump doesn’t have one signature flaw or scandal that sticks in the mind, defining and tarnishing his brand. His brand is scandal. His brand is a grinning sucker-punch to established protocols. Framed like that, it even sounds kinda sexy, right? He doesn’t talk like a politician. He doesn’t act like a politician. He isn’t accountable like a politician. Political scandals don’t touch him because his one and only political virtue is in being outside our traditional image of a political behavior. He’s a businessman. He’s a locker room guy. He’s just your average Joe billionaire who shoots from the hip and isn’t terribly concerned with facts or figures or inciting bigotry and violence. He gets to say whatever he wants, right or wrong, true or false, and that characteristic has made him a hero to millions of Americans.

Trump is an asshole and a con. I really think his supporters know that. I think they are looking for an asshole and a con. The thing that they are taking on faith is that Trump will be their asshole, their con.

I have my doubts.

The problem is that Trump’s scandals aren’t just window dressing. They aren’t calculated aesthetics used in the service of building an outsider, anti-hero brand. Trump’s scandals are things of substance. They have consequences. I’ve heard Trump described as “a brick through the window of the establishment.” That may be true. I just worry we’re in for four years of treading on the broken glass and wishing we had a way to shutout the wind.

 

 

 

 

 

Market Forces and Melville’s Unfortunate Removal of Vampirism from Moby Dick: An Argument for a Mass Market Release of Melville’s Original Manuscript

Herman Melville’s obsession with vampires has been well-documented by scholars, but few critics have seriously considered the merits of Melville’s early vampire-centered drafts of Moby Dick. The final manuscript of Melville’s most celebrated work stands at just over 200,000 words, yet earlier drafts reached a word count of nearly double that final edit. I am prepared to argue that the literary world is ultimately poorer for these edits, edits shaped by a img_GanMelapublic hungry for adventure, travel writing, and exhaustive descriptions of whaling practices. While Melville’s contemporary audience may have been largely unreceptive to the more humdrum topics of vampiric whales and seafaring monster hunters, modern audiences often feel a deep resonance with omitted scenes like the fifty-page description of spectral bats coming to roost in the white whale’s blowhole or Captain Ahab’s long description of the dietary needs and proper hygiene of a “self-mastered foe of vampirekind” (3,244). Beyond question, Moby Dick; or, The Whale is a masterpiece of fiction. However, Melville’s first draft manuscript Mooby Gonk; or, The Vampire Whale-Fish that Ate Nantucket is a superior novel in ambition, scope, and subtle complexity.

In 1826, Herman Melville’s father described his son as, “backward in speech and somewhat slow in comprehension . . . of a docile and amiable disposition, but ridiculously preoccupied with vampires” (Wiggles, 2).  Seldom seen in public without his “ask me about vampire whales” sandwich board, Melville is, by some historians’ estimates, the first writer ever to receive a punch to the face for, “refusing to stop blathering on [about the] undead,” (Pupu, 722). Known by his peers as a workmanlike occultist and sometime novelist, his works include Typee (1846), Redburn (1849), Omoo (1847), The Bloodsucking Whale-Brides of Vampire Island (1850), and Moby Dick; or, The Whale (1851). Modern readers will no doubt be familiar bellawith the incredible variety of popular Saturday morning cartoon shows based on Typee, Redburn, and Omoo, yet relatively few understand the degree to which Melville influenced our modern image of the vampire as a huge, aquatic mammal who sneaks into houses and onto ships to drink human blood from the soles of feet. When publishing Dracula nearly fifty years later, Bram Stoker originally referred to his famous Count as a “land-vampire or landpire” (Stoker, 555) in order to differentiate his villain from Melville’s more established vision of the standard vampire whale so prevalent in the public consciousness.

Examples of the ways in which the original manuscript outshines Melville’s final edit are too numerous to mention, but here’s one anyway. First, let’s look at the version of the text from the heavily edited Moby Dick; or, The Whale:

“Hark ye yet again—the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event—in the living act, the undoubted deed—there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. (567)

Compare that to the original passage from Mooby Gonk; or, The Vampire Whale-Fish that ate Nantucket:

“Hark ye yet again—the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event—in the living act, the undoubted deed—there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the vampire whale is that wall, shoved near to me. (567)

The observant student of literature will notice that only a single word was altered from one version of this passage to the next, however, that one word sums up the key point of my argument. “Vampire” is a word that, independent of context, carries vast meaning and symbolic connotations ranging from biblical allusions to the spilling of Abel’s moby-dick1blood by his brother Cain to the popular Don Quixote figure Blade from the film Blade 2: Bloodhunt. What symbolic weight does the adjective “white” carry? None. The potential for meaning just isn’t there. The point argues itself.

When Herman Melville bowed to market forces and revised the life and soul from his novel Mooby Gonk; or, The Vampire Whale-Fish that ate Nantucket, the reading public was robbed of everything from Mooby Gonk’s eight foot fangs to Ishmael’s telekinetic battle with the brain-squid. I’ve spent countless hours in university libraries piecing together Melville’s early drafts. It was fulfilling scholarship and I was happy to do it, but I recognize that few have the time or resources to follow my path. Yet, booklovers everywhere should be able to discover the true poetry and genius of Mooby Gonk. I call on some brave publisher to make right old wrongs and release the full 3,000 page work Mooby Gonk; or, The Vampire Whale-Fish that ate Nantucket in an affordable paperback edition that can easily be enjoyed in the classroom or on the beach.

 

Why yes, my work has been mentioned in Vogue

A few months ago I participated in the Twitter hashtag #TheInternetNamesAnimals. There are few things I enjoy more than inventing silly names for things, so I made quite a few contributions to the conversation. A few of my tweets went viral. Since then, I’ve seen my name and my ridiculous tweets mentioned in publications ranging from The Huffington Post to Vogue. What a weird world. I spend a lot of time and energy as a writer trying to reach my audience and my most-viewed piece is now an absurd name I made up for an ostrich. I love the internet.

Thunder Goose

Murder Log

Neil Gaiman’s The View from the Cheap Seats

Neil Gaiman’s The View from the Cheap Seats has a lot of merits, but I enjoyed it from an oddly personal cheap seatsangle. Don’t worry, this isn’t heading toward a weird place. Not too weird, anyway.

Gaiman has, more than once, expressed his earnest surprise at the popularity of his new nonfiction collection. In response to a fan on twitter who asserted Gaiman’s worldwide popularity as reason enough for The View from the Cheap Seats to be on the bestseller list, Gaiman responded, “Yes. People buy my novels, short stories and comics. Essays on reading etc are another matter.” I think I can shed some light on this, at least as far as my tastes are concerned.

Gaiman Tweet

I began being a fan of Gaiman’s work as a kid loitering at my local comic shop. I was a superhero fan. I loved Batman and The X-Men and eventually veered toward Hellboy and from there to discovering Alan Moore and Gaiman’s Sandman. I’ve read and reread his short story collections. I’ve read American Gods (original and expanded editions) multiple times and I can’t name any of his novels that have fallen completely flat for me. His fiction resonates with me. It is my favorite kind of genre fiction, genre fiction that isn’t terribly concerned with wearing the costumes of genre.

So, I’m a fan. But I’m not blind in my fandom. I’m not a driven collector of rare Gaiman works and the appeal of The View from the Cheap Seats isn’t coasting along on the momentum of the Gaiman brand.

I’m a writer. I do my best to crank out a few hundred words a day while keeping my day job and my sanity as best I can. I think of it as hard work, but work worth doing. Also, I can’t seem to stop doing it no matter what my view of the practice.

I read stories. I write stories. I have a master’s degree in literature. I am a certified word nerd. So, authors are important to me. As a result, I develop deep, personal relationships with people I’ve never met and people I’m not likely to meet. Hell, people I don’t necessarily want to meet. Also, as a reader and a creator, I more or less believe in the “kill your heroes” axiom. This means, no matter how much I might want or imagine a real-world personal connection to the authors I love, I don’t wait in long signing lines or mob them at conventions. What would I do? What would I say?

“Hi, I’m Jarod. I love your work. It’s important to me. I’m a writer too. Let’s talk about… oh? Yes… there are a lot of people waiting in this signing line with similar things to express… I’ll move along now.”

Truth be told, I’ve met authors I respect. I’ve had dinner with authors I respect, but the conversation is never what I’d hope. Talking shop is never what I hope.

And what kind of perfect-world conversation would I hope for with an author I admire, an author like Neil Gaiman? What sorts of insights would I hope for if I asked just the right questions in just the right ways? Well, I would want to hear the sorts of musings, thoughts, insights, and stories captured in The View from the Cheap Seats. I’d want stories about sitting in Stephen King’s guest house in Florida. I’d want to hear about the trials and tribulations of being a young journalist who wants to break into comics. I’d want to hear about working to find a foothold into fiction markets and navigating the twisting passages and pitfalls of the film industry.

Sure, this is a book of essays, interviews, speeches, and introductions, but it also reads a lot like the kinds of conversations I’d have at the bar with friends in grad school or fellow nerds around the gaming table (like those conversations, but more coherent and well-crafted). This book has a lot to teach, but it isn’t didactic or stale.

That, for me, is the real merit of this book. It has the feel of a thoughtful conversation with somebody I admire about ideas that are very important to me. I think that’s plenty of reason for The View from the Cheap Seats to be on your bookshelf and the bestseller list.

A Review of Ready Player One: 8-bit, But Still Fun

I just finished reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I have some thoughts. A few of my thoughts may contain spoilers (but not many).

I have an overall positive feeling toward this novel. In fact, I’m even prepared to criticize some of my own criticisms. I mean, if I pick up a novel about vampires, I don’t criticize it for containing vampires or for being scary. Ready Player One is clearly a novel about playing video games, so I’m a Ready Player Onelittle leery of criticizing it for giving me the feeling that I was watching a guy playing video games. That said, if you’ve ever watched a friend play a one-player video game, you might understand the frustrating feeling I’m tempted to link to a few sections of the novel.

Let’s start with the good stuff. This novel was a nostalgia-seeking missile that nearly always hit its target. Nostalgia, of course, is a dangerous and subjective tool to wield in fiction and if you weren’t a kid in the 1980s, I could see the trope of repeatedly exalting 80s pop culture references getting pretty tedious pretty quickly. I was a kid in the 80s and I’m happy to receive any Max Headroom or Zork references you care to toss my way. This novel gave me all sorts of juicy opportunities to pat myself on the back and feel like I was in on the joke. Lucky me.

Beyond the nostalgia, Ready Player One is also a pretty solid underdog-achieves-his-dream sort of narrative that deftly shifts between a myriad of fun settings and stake-raising complications for our protagonist. Yes, many of the “fun settings” to which I refer are clichés because the great, thrumming nostalgia-powered engine at the heart of this novel is fueled by clichés, but that fact doesn’t rob the alien landscapes and sword and sorcery castles of all their power.

Here’s my big problem with the novel… Let me try to explain this in the traditional method of most literary criticism—by using a Harry Potter metaphor. Okay, so imagine the Harry Potter series, minus the character of Harry, viewed through Hermione’s eyes. Yes, I like Hermione too, just stick with me a sec. Now imagine that, in classic Hermione fashion, she had read or studied each challenge off-screen before it arose and could solve 90% of any possible trouble with a smirk and a wave of the wand. Oh, and also imagine that Voldemort is an empty suit corporate bad guy cliché with almost no backstory and all the other bad guys in the series are stripped of identity and made into uniform drones with no defining characteristics.

Boom. Harry Potter based metaphor criticism achieved.

Wade, our protagonist in Ready Player One, encounters all sorts of challenges and puzzles in the novel that he deftly solves with a brief mention of all the work he did to prepare for the eventuality of the specific obstacle he is about to tackle. We’re told over and over again that Wade has obsessively studied and prepared for the sorts of challenges he is likely to face in the central game storyline of the novel. So… it’s like watching a guy with a big burlap sack full of keys walking through a series of locked doors. Oh, look! Another locked door! Does he have the key? Yes, he probably does. Oh, look at that, he does.

Beyond the problem of the off-screen ultra-prepared Hermione issue, there is a real lack of distinguishing characteristics in the novel. In Ready Player One, all bad guys kinda feel like the same bad guy. They kinda are the same bad guy. The “faceless corporate drone” thing is presented as essentially literal.

Similarly, our protagonists all have the exact same obsession with 80s pop culture (which is the key to solving the central goal of the plot). They are all similar ages. They are all reclusive, anti-social types. They all have a lot in common. A LOT.

There are also lots of factors that mute the tension in Ready Player One. I think it was a wise decision on the part of the author that all the violence isn’t relegated to the virtual world, but that fact doesn’t carry the kind of stakes-raising punch you might expect. In our first serious look at the corporate menace faced by our heroes, the baddies take out a few members of Wade’s family. The thing is, Wade only has one brief scene with these people and they are portrayed as two-dimensional scum bags that make Cinderella’s stepmother seem like a subtle and nuanced character.

Did I mention I like this book? I did. Seriously, I enjoyed it. I just… have some issues with it. I can do both. I contain multitudes.

To sum it up in video game terms, Ready Player One is more of an old school 2D side-scroller than a MMORPG. That said, if you understand that last criticism, you’d probably enjoy giving Ready Player One a try.

Why Write Novels?

Looking for a perfect way to attract the twin demons of self-doubt and futility? Tired of pursuits that don’t shutdown conversation or bring looks of concern and confusion to the faces of coworkers? Are you dissatisfied with the outdoors and human interaction in general? Do you have contempt for the very notion of free time? Have you always wanted a difficult and demanding side job with very little likelihood of any form of external benefit, financial or otherwise? Interested in a formalized cultivation of the maddening feeling that you don’t have the skill to adequately express your ideas through language?

If so, you should write a novel!

I’m kidding (sort of). If you’re anything like me, your interest in writing a novel comes from a sincere belief in the power of the form. I’ve lost myself in novels. I’ve been changed by novels. My life has been improved by novels in countless ways. Couple those facts with my lifelong fascination with the infuriating and profoundly satisfying craft of writing fiction and the compulsion to write novels isn’t something easily resisted.

That said, I am often perplexed by the way in which non-writers talk to me about writing. I frequently encounter the confounding idea that I write purely for fun or for some sort of catharsis. My writing will come up in conversation and someone will make a comment along the lines of, “Oh, you write? That sounds fun. I bet that’s a great way to work out stress.”

“No. No, it isn’t. It’s a huge pain in the ass and I just can’t stop doing it. Seriously, I can’t stop. Can you help me? Why aren’t you helping me! WHERE ARE YOU GOING?”

Okay, that’s not usually how I reply, but it’s usually what I’m thinking. Sure, writing is fun, in a way, but it is also work. Hard work. And I haven’t really found a way to convincingly express the fact that the middle grade novel about magical fairies and suburban witches I just completed took significantly more effort than practically all of the projects I completed last year for my day job. You know, the projects for which I am actually paid real earth-money. That premise sounds ridiculous, but it’s also true.

Writing is taxing and even painful at times. If I expect to actually finish a novel I’ve started (and I haven’t given up on a novel yet), I need to employ some form of strict self-accountability and that means I have to produce even on the days when I might not feel like writing and I might not be dripping with inspiration or a tingly, crunchy, creative vibe. That’s not catharsis and it’s not something I do to unwind.

Art is hard. Writing is hard. I would also argue that it’s worthwhile. I just get squirmy when somebody refers to writing as my hobby or talks about it like it’s a simple pastime. It feels a lot more like a second job to me. I certainly think of it as a career and I endeavor to approach it with that level of seriousness.

Okay, so it’s hard. So what? I say, we should do it anyway. Screw self-doubt and who cares what your coworkers think. Write that novel. Reach that daily word count. Worst case scenario, you end up leaving behind a big box of unpublished novels. I’d argue that’s still way better than leaving behind a big empty box of all the things you meant to write.

Staying on the Pavement

This is a flash fiction piece I wrote many years ago. I never did find a home for it, so it can live here.

“Staying on the Pavement”
by
Jarod K. Anderson

Jeff Marlin’s 98 Accord tumbled down the mountain like
a kicked can, leaving behind I-90 just east of Seattle. He
hadn’t seen the ice. The car cartwheeled over the guardrail
and crumpled against a two hundred foot Douglas Fir not
three miles from the Snoqualmie pass. It was 3AM. Not
another car in sight.

Jeff spat blood like he meant it and picked a chunk of
safety glass from his cheek. He could feel snow against his
left shoulder. The car was wedged driver’s side down
against the trunk of the tree. The passenger’s window was a
twelve-inch slit, a battered and swollen eye looking up
into the lower branches. Powdered snow, shaken loose from
the tree above, drifted down through the window in a slow,
steady swirl.

“$8,000,” said Jeff, looking down to where his legs
disappeared beneath the crumpled remains of the dashboard.
“Why’d I let him talk me into buying this car?” He leaned
right, ducking low under the crumpled roof, reached up and
took a grip on the passenger’s side door. The door creaked
in protest as he began hauling his legs out from under the
crushed remains of the dash. He felt his shoes come loose
and the cuffs of his jeans shred as he pulled free. Jagged
metal bit into his feet and ankles.

He had been on his way back home to Seattle after a
quick trip to Walla Walla. It was a family reunion of
sorts. A visit to the only other one of his kind in
Washington. Those meetings used to be fun. There used to be
more people at them. All the others were gone now, and two
guys in a bar speaking in euphemisms about old friends and
old times didn’t feel worth the drive anymore. The phrase
“back to nature,” kept sneaking into their conversation,
but Jeff thought “suicide” might have been a more
appropriate metaphor.

Bracing his feet on the bowed driver’s side doorframe,
he struck the passenger’s side door hard with two open
palms. The metal screamed and bent. Broken plastic and
safety glass rained down on him. The second strike sent the
door spinning out into the dark pines.

Jeff followed the door out. He stood atop the wreck,
watching two ribbons of black smoke from under the hood
wind their way up into the tree. He sighed and looked down
at his tattered jeans and bare feet.

There were a few respectable gouges on his ankles, but
his real concern came from the darkening hair on the tops
of his feet and his thickening toenails. He shook his head
and laughed. He couldn’t help it. Looking down at himself,
barefoot in ragged jeans, but still wearing a tucked in
collared shirt. Standing out in the middle of the woods.
Trying to fight off the change.

It made him think of Lon Chaney Jr. lurking in a black
and white thicket. That was his
Wolfman. The one that
people thought of when he was turned. A little less CGI and
a little more spirit gum and fake fur.

“Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers
by night…” whispered Jeff. He tried to remember the name of
the actress who played the old gypsy woman, the one who
told poor Larry Talbot what had become of him.

“Maria… something,” he said to himself, still trying
to shift his thoughts away from fight or flight. He knew a
drag queen that looked just like her. He tried to think of
his friend Kyle, dressed like Maria Something, explaining
the curse to Larry Talbot in a thick accent.

He took a deep breath and tried to calm the thing
inside him.

“I’m alright here. I’m alright.”

The car had traveled nearly a hundred feet after
cartwheeling over the guardrail. Jeff could see the slope
up to the highway. Still controlling his breath, he reached
for his cellphone, and found it in pieces.

“I’m alright.”

He felt something behind him and turned. There was
nothing. Nothing but forest, vast and still, stretching out
over the dark mountains. Forest without cars or roads or
cell phones or mortgages or well-meaning boyfriends with
cousins in the used car business.

Jeff had known plenty of others who had gone feral.
Too many. Now, they were wolves who were sometimes men,
rather than men who were sometimes wolves. Really, Jeff
doubted that they were ever men anymore. They did it for
simplicity. For security. They had become pure. They had
become whole.

“They gave up.” The words left a lump in his throat.

The wind changed direction and Jeff sniffed the air
without thinking. It smelled good. Too good. Better than
his favorite sandwich at George’s Deli. Better than his
boyfriend’s hair after he’d sunbathed on the cedar deck.

He looked down at his very used car. He thought about
paperwork and police reports. He thought this kind of thing
probably came with compulsory hospital visits. And he
wondered who would pick up a bloody, shoeless hitchhiker in
the mountains at night.

Jeff lightly jumped down into the snow and started
walking toward the road. He figured someone would find the
car and someone would come with questions. He figured
something he was doing was probably illegal, and it might
come back to haunt him. He figured that wasn’t terribly
different from any other day.

A week earlier at the used car lot, he had fallen in
love with a banana yellow 83 Camaro, but had allowed
himself to be talked into the dependability of the Honda
Accord. Dependability and resale value.

“Resale value…”

He let out half a growl and started off at a jog in
the general direction of Seattle.

“This time,” said Jeff, “I’ll be stronger.”

He focused on the tar and salt smell of the highway
and made for it. He could let that smell fill him up, push
out the pine and the wind off the mountain. He could live
in that smell as he jogged back west, staying close next to
the highway. If need be, if no one would give him a ride,

that smell could keep him company all the way back to the
city.