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.

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.

My Story “84% Compatible” is up today on Daily Science Fiction

Check out my very, very short flash fiction piece “84% Compatible” at Daily Science Fiction! This piece originally started as a poem, but I later felt that the narrative would work better presented as short fiction.

DSF asked for my thoughts on writing this story and I told them I have no clue why I thought of a solar system wedged between two front teeth, but I thought of it more than once. That’s sometimes how story inspiration works for me. I don’t jot down every odd idea to pass through my head. If I did, I wouldn’t have time for anything DSFelse. When an image starts cropping up more than once, starts to stick, then I guess I start paying attention. This image, the shinning solar system peeking out between teeth, seemed interesting to me, but I quickly came to the “so what” question. Okay. You have a solar system in your mouth. The novelty would wear off for you pretty quickly. It would be as normal as a freckle on your cheek. You’d probably just want to get on with your life. Unfortunately, people likely wouldn’t make it that simple for you. So, what situation would really highlight that perennial struggle? A first date. And, maybe I’m a hopeless romantic, but I think there’s someone for everyone.