Manuscripts Burn


"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Monday, August 29, 2011


Bit of a head-scratcher today.  After reading this article today out of what I can only justify as perverse curiosity, I was struck with a thought:


If you can't be bothered to read the whole article, the gist of it is that wearing a bikini at the beach is the physical and basically the moral equivalent of walking around in just your underwear.  So far so good.  This is actually a very reasonable and cogent argument.  It's the kicker that gets me.  It's the "therefore we shouldn't do it" bit.

So I've been sitting here ever since with my wheels turning, trying to figure out what the logic is behind this argument.  And I don't get it.  Why would God care what we wear?

If you're interested to know, and I have no recollection if I've ever discussed this on the blog before, but I'm not really an atheist or an agnostic.  If I had to be pigeonholed I would tend to say I'm a Roman Catholic, but that's not the whole story.  It would take more than the scope of an entire blogpost to describe where I stand religiously/faith-wise/spiritually.  Without trying to sound super high on myself, I think the best way to describe it would be to say that I'm in a state of spiritual crisis.

Point being: I'm not an atheist out to just bash somebody else's beliefs, but neither am I lockstep fundie who's not going to think about things.

So here's my problem.  Didn't God make us naked?  Don't we come out naked?  At what point between being a baby and being, I don't know, thirteen or whatever, does being naked become bad?

Did God say anything about being naked?  As I recall, in the story of Eden, it was Adam and Eve that clothed themselves because they ate from the tree of knowledge.  And GOD WAS MAD AT THEM FOR DOING IT.  So, if anything, modesty should be considered a sin.

But, who am I to judge?  I have no idea.  I can't fathom how some people make the theological leaps they do.  But, I'm forced to wonder, how does someone who says that homosexuality is bad because it's "unnatural" also say that the decidedly unnatural state of being clothed is good?  I don't know.  I don't get it.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Top Ten Works of Great Literature That Sound Like They Might Also Be Slang For Poop

10.  A Passage to India
9.  Gravity's Rainbow
8.  Midnight's Children
7.  Finnegans Wake
6.  Darkness at Noon
5.  Three Men in a Boat
4.  The Red and the Black
3.  Portnoy's Complaint
2.  Leaves of Grass
1.  The Sorrows of Young Wether

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Plotting vs. That Other Thing

When I think about the great bullshit debates of our time (chicken v. egg, tastes great v. less filling, Nedna v. no Nedna) one stands head, shoulders, and crotch above the rest, at least in our little community.  Before I get started on this, let me take a moment to thank Steven Chapman for this blog post and advise you to avoid my abrasive writing style and just read his post, because he comes to pretty much the same conclusions, only in a much nicer way.


Plotting v...



Yeah.  That's an actual (sort of) writerly term.  There are people in this world who willfully and deliberately describe themselves as "pantsers."  Where I come from, "pantsing" meant someone was going to rip off your trousers in order to embarrass you in front of a group of peers.  I still find it hard to avoid that connotation, and I am in fact quite embarrassed just to write the word down, as should all writers, in my humble opinion.  But it's the word we have, like blogosphere, and like blogosphere there are just times when we'll have to gnash our teeth, wail, and bear it.

So the argument goes something like this.  There are only two kinds of people in this world: those with loaded pistols and those who dig.  No, I'm just kidding.  There are only two kinds of people in this world: plotters and "pantsers."  Plotters sit down and with the work ethic of an ancient monastic order dutifully outlines his or her story, book, chapter, and verse, with presumably lengthy illuminated manuscripts detailing character backstories and descriptions of the setting, much of which will never get used and is simply there for "flavor."  So-called "pantsers" eschew that whole thing, and simply sit down and begin randomly stringing words and (quite possibly) letters together until, like a room full of monkeys on typewriters, a story marvellously and almost counter-intuitively comes into being.

(I'm not exaggerating here, by the way.)



It's stupid.  Like, really fucking stupid.  Like, on the order of, "Shut up you fucking pretentious pseudo-intellectual, why won't you just die" kind of stupid. 

Whenever I hear people talking about this subject (which is thankfully rare) or, more often, when I see folk about the interwebs bloggin' on the matter 'n' sich, I have to roll my eyes and groan.  I understand that some people are more spontaneous and some people are less spontaneous in their writing styles, but is this really meaningful to our discourse?  I think Mr. Chapman kind of nails it on the head when he points out that it probably doesn't really affect your writing until you decide to label yourself as a plotter or a "pantser." 

Once you've decided you're a plotter you're going to sit there and insist that you screw every detail into place before you start writing, and guess what, that's fucking frustrating.  It's frustrating because it means you can't follow dialogue wherever its going, you can't let new characters into the mix because it might screw up your oh-so-carefully-constructed plot, and you end up railroading your characters, because they have to do whatever will take them to point B instead of what they might actually do as a fucking human being.  Which eliminates a lot of the verisimilitude that we're striving for as authors of fiction.

And, similarly, once you've decided you're a "other P-word" you've just insisted that you're going to come at every manuscript with a vague idea and not much else.  Really?  You're just going to let all that shit grow organically as it goes?  I mean, I love to read meandering nonsense that goes nowhere, but actually I don't I just said that because it's really hard to sound sarcastic right now because I'm already writing in a pretty jaded style. 

See, here's the thing.  I've done both.  Actually, not really both, because it's a false dichotomy.  I've done it all, I should say.  I've sat down with a title and made something out of it.  I've sat down and plotted and plotted and plotted down to the last shred of meaning short of just writing the fucking novel in one sitting.  The thing is, you've got to let the story come the way the story wants to come.  There's a reason why we still know what a "Muse" is and other dead Greek chicks not so much. 

It's not technically "true" that inspiration is coming to us from some fanciful spirit.  But the brain works in such marvelous, unpredictable ways that an idea is just as likely to come from being hit on the head by an apple in one instant to staring at a fig tree for 49 days.  The muse is a useful metaphor (not like these) and there is a reason why we best understand inspiration as a lady that sometimes whispers in your ear and sometimes doesn't and sometimes has to be appeased. 

Haven't you ever been standing in the shower and suddenly thought of the perfect thing to make your plot click into place?  Or run through a whole conversation between characters as you're driving to work?  (If you're a non-writer, don't worry that you haven't, that's probably a good thing.)  I guess what I'm saying is, inasmuch as labels can occasionally be useful, in this case, they are absolutely in no way useful.  Junk 'em.

(Also I once had a woman who I really have no respect for tell me that she was a "pantser" and then waited patiently for me to ask what that meant.  Since I already knew I just nodded and waited for her to stop talking.  Ever since then I just can't take anybody seriously when they say they're one or the other.  It's SO pretentious.)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Top Ten Works of Great Literature That Sound Like They Might Also Be Slang For Pooping

10.  Go Tell It On The Mountain
9.  In Search of Lost Time
8.  Pilgrim's Progress
7.  Journey to the End of the Night
6.  A Long Day's Journey into Night
5.  The Sound and the Fury
4.  The Devil to Pay in the Backlands
3.  A Dance to the Music of Time
2.  The Call of the Wild
1.  Death Comes For the Archbishop

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Waterboarding Your Metaphors For Fun and Profit

I hate terrible metaphors, which is to say that I don't mind metaphors, and they can even be objects of true beauty, but when they're bad they can wreck the world. (No hyperbole intended.)

Have you ever heard "Cut off the head and the snake will die?" This is a metaphor. It's not a sound military tactic. It's just something somebody said. It was probably somebody famous, like Tactitus or someone (although my extensive internet "research" only traces it as far back as 1952's El Zapata) and now people take it at face value. "Ah, yes, all you have to do is kill the head gangster or whatever, and the whole organization collapses."

Now, I'm not saying that this is NEVER the case. When Alexander the Great died his empire went to shit. Ditto Genghis Khan. But al-Qaeda's still around, isn't it? The country didn't just fall to shit when Kennedy got assassinated either.

Here's my point: when you talk in metaphors, you frame the conversation in your metaphor, which is inevitably less complex than the real-world situation. (Otherwise, why would you need to use the metaphor in the first place?) But once you have the situation couched in metaphors, nobody can really accept that you're oversimplifying the matter. They expect the counter-argument to RESPOND TO THE METAPHOR.

Remember when all the news pundits were talking about playing "Whac-a-Mole" in the Middle East a few months back? Every time you kill a terrorist another one pops up somewhere else and blah-bitty-blah. Nobody would answer this assertion in terms of "Well, that's a stupid oversimplification. Here's what the situation really consists of:" and then lay it all out. No. They answered THE METAPHOR. Like, "Oh, yeah, it is like that, but we're just going to have to figure out a way to unplug the machine" or something. Or sometimes they even just use a different metaphor, i.e., "It's a hydra, and the only way to burn their neck stumps is with the fire of cutting off their finances."

I'm flabbergasted by how often this works. And it seems to happen all the time on TV. The host posits some question, balled up in a metaphor, and then the guest either nods and goes "Yup" or he tries to explain how it's not that simple and then the host shakes his head and acts like the guest is dodging the question.

Like I said, I'm not inherently against metaphors, but I am against these tortured metaphors that just stretch our national conversation into nonsensical shapes. The reason I bring this up, the one that's really bothering me lately, is this metaphor that's come into common parlance that the federal government needs to balance its finances just like a family balancing its checkbook.


This comparison is wrong on like, 16 different levels, but I will give you this: it's very potent. It strikes at what people think about themselves, like, "Yeah, yeah, I have to be responsible with money, why can't the gummint be responsible with MY money?" And that sentiment is valid, but this metaphor is complete bullshit. It stands up to no scrutiny at all.

Ok, so the federal budget could be compared to an extremely complicated family budget, I guess. But that's about the extent of the usefulness of this comparison. It just occurred to me that this might be easier as a list, so I'll just do that.

1.) Who are Mom and Dad in this analogy? Presumably one person pays the bills in your household. Possibly it's a decision making process between two people, with almost no gap between them about the household goals. (Mom and Dad may differ about whether Junior has to go to private school or not, but they both agree he'll need an education.) So there may be discussion, maybe even a heated discussion but there won't be any filibustering and neither Mom nor Dad is worried about losing their position in the household. In the government, you might make the argument that congress (read: 535 people with differing agendas) makes the financial decisions. But, in fact, it's a fight between the three branches of government, the American voters, corporate lobbyists, pressure from foreign governments, etc., etc.

2.) A family's source of income is more or less fixed. Mom and Dad may both work, and kids may work summer jobs to pay for some of their expenses, and there may be a pension or social security or something involved. But barring someone losing a job or getting a raise, you know your income will always be X, and you simply have to divide X amongst your bills. If I try to follow the "government as a household" analogy, then the voters are your boss, but you can tell your boss that you're getting a raise anytime you want (i.e. a tax increase,) that is, assuming Mom and Dad can agree that they want to ask their boss for a raise, which they won't.

3.) A family consists of something on the scale of 2-10 people. I kind of feel funny pointing this out. But let's be frank about this. Taking care of 300 million people is geometrically more complicated than taking care of a family. In a family you can have at most, what, ten differing viewpoints? And probably in 99% of circumstances, you will never have that. I can see a kid getting angry that he didn't get a car, or Dad getting angry that he has to pay for college instead of going to the bar. But it's not the same as having blocs of millions of people who can suddenly decide that Mom and Dad aren't even in charge any more. Which leads into...

4.) In a family, the income earner is pretty much in charge. I mean, what are your options? Let's say you're in a single income household, where Mom earns all the money. Dad can't force her to buy shit. If she wants to give him a $20 a week allowance, that's what he gets. I mean, Child and Youth Services can pretty much ensure that you keep a roof over your kids heads and food in their bellies, but other than that no one can really tell the income earner what to do with his or her money. If Mom wants to blow all of her money on a Carribean vacation instead of a new toolshed, barring cajoling and fighting, that's what she's fucking doing. In the federal government there are laws, statutes, voter pressure, all kinds of things telling you exactly what and who you HAVE TO spend your money on.

5.) If a family makes a poor decision, it can only have so much impact. I'm not saying there aren't financial decisions that a parent can make that won't have disastrous consequences on the family. You could make a bad investment and lose your house. You could gamble everything away in Vegas. You could spend all your money on booze instead of diapers. You could end up in jail, divorced, or have your kids taken away. But assuming that happens, again, we're talking about somewhere between 2-10 people who are affected. 5 people walking around with their life in shambles is a shame, but it's not the end of the world. As we've seen lately, the federal government makes a decision and it affects 300 million people, and world markets, and in fact it COULD be the end of the world.
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