I’ve been working on a new book lately, but I took a break from writing last week and drew a few pictures. This is Brittany Singleton. We went to school together.
I’ve been working on a new book lately, but I took a break from writing last week and drew a few pictures. This is Brittany Singleton. We went to school together.
I recently tried to do business with a record-of-the-month club called Vinyl Me Please. It was their idea, not mine. They sent me an email telling me about their featured record of the month. It was Tidal by Fiona Apple. She was all over the radio and MTV when I was a teenager. She’s a slender goddess with sullen blue eyes and large, sensuous lips. I loved her. I still do. “Shadow Boxer” is my favorite Fiona Apple song. It’s a slow, dark, dreary piano ballad. I listened to it on an airplane in the summer of 1998 while I was soaring over the Atlantic Ocean in the dead of night on my way to Germany.
Sweet, sweet memories.
I grew up listening to tapes and CDs, not records. My first CD was Higher Ground by UB40. I got it for Christmas when I was 12 years old. I listened to it in my bedroom while eating miniature Reese’s Cups. I still have most of those tapes and CDs from my childhood. They’re precious. They’re like dear old friends.
A few years ago, Jack White released Lazaretto on vinyl. The surface of the record features an angel hologram. The angel twirls in circles as the record turns. It’s beautiful and bizarre. Like so many other people, I fell in love with vinyl after seeing YouTube videos of the angel hologram. Records amaze me. There are no microchips or laser beams involved. Just grooves and a needle. It’s like magic. Not only do records actually work, they sound deeper and sharper than CDs. It’s like watching a movie in IMAX. Since I grew up listening to my favorite music on cassettes and CDs, it’s amazing to buy those same albums on vinyl and listen to them again.
When Vinyl Me Please sent me the email telling me about the Fiona Apple record, I eagerly rushed to their website to sign up.
But I couldn’t sign up. After inviting me to join, Vinyl Me Please rejected my credit card number. Over and over again. There’s nothing wrong with my credit card, mind you. I want to make that clear. I order items all the time from eBay, Amazon, and Third Man Records. They don’t have any problem taking my credit card. But Vinyl Me Please persistently rejected it.
Do you know what it’s like when you’re thirsty and you slide a dollar bill into a vending machine … and the vending machine spits the dollar bill back out at you? No matter how many times you rub the wrinkles out of the dollar bill, the stubborn machine refuses to accept it. It’s a nerve-wracking feeling. Makes your blood pressure surge. Makes you hate the world.
That’s exactly how I felt when Vinyl Me Please rejected my credit card number.
Finally, I sent an email to customer service. I explained the situation.
A couple of days later, they replied. They said my credit card number had gotten caught up in their “fraud system.” But the problem was all sorted out, they said. My payment had finally managed to get through.
Actually, two of my payment attempts had gone through. Unfortunately, both of those payments went through after the monthly deadline.
So now Vinyl Me Please is sending me two records in the mail.
But neither one of them is Fiona Apple.
If you’ll excuse me, I need to go to the kitchen now and hurl plates at the wall.
Gary lived in a nest of shredded magazine pages. Every morning and every night, he sat in his nest and stared at a miniature television set with a black and white screen, one he had found in a junk pile. Most of Gary’s knowledge about the world above him came from the television.
His nest was located on a windowsill in the basement of an old, old spaceship. All the ship’s garbage fell into the basement through trap doors in the ceiling. Gary spent his days flying over the garbage piles, searching for scraps of food and interesting pieces of junk. He was always careful to avoid the vulture beetles that ate everything (including metal) in order to make room for more garbage.
Gary didn’t live alone on the windowsill. An octopus human hybrid lived in a cardboard box right beside him. The octopus looked just like any other octopus except he had a human face (with baggy, bloodshot eyes) and breathed oxygen and complained about all of Gary’s soap operas.
One morning, Gary sat in his nest, watching a commercial for a steakhouse located on the top floor of the ship. He wondered what it would be like to eat in a steakhouse, to eat firsthand food rather than dirty old scraps someone else had tossed out.
The octopus slouched in his cardboard box and looked out the window at the stars.
“Hey, Gary, do you see that thing out there?” the octopus asked.
“You mean that giant asteroid?” said Gary. “Yes, I see that. What about it?”
“It’s coming straight toward us,” said the octopus.
“Oh, I’m sure it’s not a problem.”
“Maybe you should go upstairs and mention it to somebody,” the octopus told him, shifting his bloodshot eyes back and forth.
Gary shrugged. “I’m sure they already know.”
“Maybe not. They might not be paying any attention. Everybody’s in a big frenzy. They’re all excited about the debate or something, aren’t they?”
“They’ll see it soon enough,” said Gary, shaking his head and wishing he could enjoy his soap opera in peace. “How could anyone overlook something that size?”
“I don’t know,” the octopus went on. “When you watch the evening news, you get the impression that most of those folks upstairs aren’t too bright. You know what I mean? You may want to just run up there real quick and, you know, mention it to somebody.”
“Not now,” said Gary.
“I think you should.”
Gary cleared his throat. “I may do it later.”
“It might be too late,” said the octopus, peeking out the window.
“Why can’t I sit here in my nest and watch my program?” Gary shouted, flapping his wings and grinding his teeth. “Can you at least let me have that one luxury? Please? Every day of my life is a bland, worthless echo of the one before it. I crawl out of my nest, I fly around this dark room, I find scraps of food for us to eat, I avoid the vicious vulture beetles, and then I return to the windowsill. Television is the only oasis I have. My only other form of recreation is gazing out the window at the black, infinite void and thinking about my futile existence.”
The octopus rolled his eyes. “You’re not going to miss anything, Gary, That show is a re-run, remember? All these people die at the end.”
Gary flapped his wings and screamed, “I’ve never seen this episode before! Why do you have to ruin it for me? Why?”
“Well, now you don’t have to watch it. You know how the thing’s going to end. Now run upstairs and tell somebody about that big space rock.”
“No!” Gary yelled. “Stop harassing me!”
“It’s getting closer. And it has little red patches. Looks like lava on that thing. What about that? A big ball covered in lava is coming at us. And you want to watch soap operas.”
Gary turned away from the miniature television and looked out the window again. He realized the octopus was right. The asteroid was getting closer. And there were red patches on it.
“But how would I get upstairs?” Gary asked, trembling. “The garbage associates hardly ever come down here. The doors are locked most of the time. I couldn’t go upstairs if I wanted to.”
You’ve been reading an excerpt from The Quality of Life in Outer Space, available on Amazon. Gary is an eagle with a human head. He takes off on a journey to the top floor of the spaceship and struggles to warn the crew about the oncoming asteroid. He learns some shocking secrets along the way. The book is aimed at younger readers, but adults would get a laugh out of it too. The paperback is $5 plus shipping and handling. The Kindle edition is $1.99. You can click here to order.
I started writing when I was twelve and never stopped. Now I work in a factory, driving a rickety old forklift, but I still write books in my free time. I self-publish them on Amazon too. Writing is more than a hobby for me. It’s a basic need like food and water. I mostly write science fiction stories filled with dark, twisted humor. Sometimes I write madcap comedies set in the South. I also write a little bit of nonfiction.
Finding Drake Novak combines science fiction and Southern Gothic. Drake Novak is a malevolent alien with bloodshot eyes and a black business suit. He draws his nourishment from the pain and sadness of other living things. He takes over a factory in rural Georgia and keeps all the workers as miserable as possible. He absorbs their frustration and despair the way a plant absorbs sunlight. Then a young policeman from the Galactic Precinct comes to Earth to arrest him.
Under the Electric Sun is a book about a robotic raccoon and a boy named Jake. They live in a luxurious underground city beneath the ruins of Washington, DC. One afternoon, as they relax in a room full of plastic trees, a giant praying mantis arrives and tells them it’s safe to live on the surface again. Their lives change forever.
I also love to draw. Sometimes, when people find out I’m an artist, they hound me to draw portraits of their kids. Or they describe tattoo ideas to me, asking me to draw all kinds of ridiculous, complicated things. Some people are downright rude and pushy about it. How to Make an Artist Miserable is a book about these annoying people and the ways I’ve learned to deal with them.
All my books are available on Amazon. You can order paperback copies or download them to your Kindle.
* You can also visit The Publishing Parlor, my other blog, to learn more about my books. It’s mostly a collection of book samples and a few personal essays. Feel free to visit, but please don’t follow it. If you follow that blog, your inbox will be flooded with posts. I update it compulsively. It will drive you absolutely nuts, I promise.
Thanks for reading.
Good evening. I hope you’re doing well. I’m battling a sinus infection this weekend. But that’s okay. I’ll get over it. I’ll be fine. (Or I’ll die on the sofa covered in Kleenexes and old TV Guide magazines.)
Anyway, I’ve started a second blog. It’s called The Publishing Parlor because that’s my nickname for my home office. If you’re a WordPress blogger, please don’t follow this new blog. It will be mostly samples of my books with links to them on Amazon. I’m going to post a handful of samples every single day. Each post will be tagged with words and phrases like “Amazon” and “fiction” and “summer reading.” Hopefully, people will be more likely to stumble across me in search engine results. It’s like an ongoing commercial for my books. On the internet.
If you follow The Publishing Parlor blog, it will clog up your reader. Or your inbox. And it will annoy you. Because you’ll see lots and lots of book clips. Over and over and over again. And many of them will be repeats. Trust me. It’s not a normal blog. It’s not something you want to follow. I’m just telling you to save you some time and frustration.
Peace, love, and cough syrup. Happy Memorial Day, people of the internet.
We found an auditorium where a heavy metal band was playing. Thick smoke floated above our heads. Red laser beams flashed in the air. People danced with their eyes closed, waving their arms in slow motion, grasping at imaginary objects with their fingers. I watched them with nervous curiosity.
After the show was over, I stumbled into the street with Greg and Jesse. It was time to return to the youth hostel. We walked down a staircase in the sidewalk, into the concrete labyrinth where the subway trains lived. We boarded a train and rode through the tunnel a few minutes. Then we stepped off and climbed another set of stairs.
When we reached the top of the stairs and looked around, we didn’t recognize the signs and buildings around us. We had gotten off at the wrong stop. We didn’t know where we were. It was almost eleven o’clock. And we couldn’t call our teacher on our cell phones because we didn’t have cell phones. It was 1998.
So we rambled through the streets, asking strangers for directions to the youth hostel where we were staying. Most of them were friendly and polite, but they had never heard of the Jump In Youth Hostel. We even found a black taxi cab parked indiscreetly on the sidewalk, a common practice in Germany. The driver sat behind the wheel, sipping coffee and listening to the radio. We eagerly asked him to take us to the Jump In Youth Hostel, but he shook his head and started pointing, giving us directions in German. None of us understood German well enough to know what he was saying. We mumbled “danke” and walked away, disappointed and discouraged.
We walked through the subway and found a group of policemen playing cards in a small, dirty room with pictures of naked women plastered on the walls. We explained our predicament to them. They also gave us helpful directions in German.
You’ve been reading an excerpt from How to Make an Artist Miserable. The Kindle version is free May 19-23. The paperback version is $5 plus shipping and handling as always.
Copyright 2015, 2017 Matthew David Curry. All rights reserved.
I hate it when people stand behind me, staring down at my paper and invading my personal space. I don’t know how other artists work, but I spend a long time building the basic shape before I flesh out all the little details. If I’m sketching a face, I might spend ten minutes forming the outline of the head and the curves of the hair around it. But if spectators are gathered around me, I feel obligated to hurry up and work faster in order to keep them entertained. This hasty scrambling always leads to a sloppy picture.
People also love to yell out brainless comments as I draw. If I’m drawing a face, for instance, I will loosely sketch the eyes, make some rough marks representing the nose, scribble in the lips, and then return to the top of the face to add detail to the eyes. As soon as I direct my attention to the eyes, some bonehead will blurt out, “You forgot the give her nostrils! She needs nostrils, don’t she? Are you not gonna give her no nostrils?”
They don’t understand that I’m building the picture in layers. They just think I’m forgetting important details, so they like to point at the paper and remind me to add this and that. Sometimes, they’re deliberately being rude. Sometimes, they’re truly ignorant. Whatever their motivation, it drives me insane. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t open your mouth and spew criticism.
This is why I prefer to draw in the privacy of my apartment, spinning a Miles Davis record on my turntable. Or sitting in a cool hotel room, drinking coffee and listening to the soothing music of The Weather Channel.
How to Make an Artist Miserable is free on Kindle May 19-23. The paperback version is still $5 plus shipping and handling.
(Copyright 2015, 2017 Matthew David Curry. All rights reserved.)
Barack Obama rode his silver unicorn down the Interstellar Highway. He sat up straight in the saddle, smiling at all the stars and galaxies. The Interstellar Highway was made of green, translucent pavement. It looked like an emerald that stretched on forever and ever, shimmering in the dim starlight. A steady current of air blew along the highway all the time, allowing Barack to breathe easily. He didn’t have to worry about a space helmet or a cumbersome oxygen tank. He just wore a black business suit and a light blue tie. His tie flapped gently in the cool breeze.
A little shortwave radio was tucked inside one of the saddle bags. Cuban dance music poured out of the speaker. The drums, the maracas, the acoustic guitars, and the wild piano gave him a warm, happy feeling inside. His soul tingled. He tapped his feet in the stirrups.
Up ahead, he saw a restaurant attached to the edge of the emerald highway. A neon pumpkin flashed on top of it.
Barack leaned back and tugged on the reins.
“Let’s stop here, Jerry,” he said.
The unicorn slowed to a stop. Barack switched off the radio and dismounted. For a moment, he smoothed out the wrinkles in his business suit. He raised his chin and adjusted his neck tie with a quick tug.
Then he pushed open the door and stepped into the restaurant. He was the only customer in the building. He looked around at all the empty chairs. The orange walls were decorated with bats. The front counter was black and covered with fake spider webs. The cash registers looked like tombstones.
A young woman slouched behind the counter. She had short pink hair and green eyes. She looked bored and sleepy. She stared down at a plastic tray on the counter like she was in a trance.
“Welcome to Halloween,” she said in a dull monotone without looking up.
“Good evening,” Barack Obama said, approaching the counter. “I would like to place an order for a bowl of chili and a large Frankenstein milkshake.”
Behind the counter, there was a wall that was supposed to look like stone. In the middle of this wall, there was a doorway. Barack Obama peeked through the doorway into the kitchen area. He saw an old woman with a hairnet carrying a large bag. Barack thought it was a bag of flour.
“Would you like to try our fried scorpions?” said the girl with the pink hair. “They’re only ninety-nine cents. They come with your choice of honey mustard sauce or sweet and sour sauce.”
Barack held his head high and clasped his hands together in front of his body. “Today, I only want to concentrate on the chili and the Frankenstein milkshake. But please don’t feel discouraged. Don’t cast away your hope. I’m not rejecting the scorpions altogether. In the future, you and I will engage in an open, candid discussion about the other food items you offer. I look forward with great anticipation to all the wonderful meals that lie ahead.”
“Okay,” the girl said, tapping the buttons on the tombstone cash register.
Barack opened his wallet and handed her some cash.
“I’m so pleased to be back here in the Upper Universe,” Barack said, glancing out the window at the stars. “I spent a great many years down in the Lower Universe. It was dark and tedious. Time passes at a much slower rate in that dimension, you know. And they don’t have emerald highways that alter reality and shorten distances. Down there, you have to travel in cars, trains, and airplanes. It’s outrageously slow. But I accomplished many things I’m very proud of. I was the president of a large country. And I also did some surfing. I’m pleased with all those things. Very pleased.”
“Do you want crackers with your chili?” the girl asked.
“Yes, please,” said Barack. “Give me a pack of oyster crackers. No, make that two packs of oyster crackers. Do you know where I’m going now? I’m on a trip to Andromeda. The ruler of that galaxy is a huge, magnificent sloth with sixteen heads. I wrote a haiku poem about him on a grain of rice. I wrote it with a pair of tweezers and a molecule. It was a difficult task, but I feel like the poem was a good one. And he enjoyed it as well. He’s going to present me with an award for it. I’m humbled and honored to accept it.”
“Here’s your food,” the girl said.
She handed him a small plastic pumpkin with chili inside it. Then she gave him an orange paper cup dotted with bats. It was filled with cold, green slop.
“What an extraordinary meal,” Barack said. “I look forward to eating it. I look forward to it with great anticipation.”
“Don’t forget your oyster crackers,” the girl told him.
She gave him two packs of oyster crackers. Barack tore them open and sprinkled the crackers in the chili. Then the girl gave him a couple of plastic spoons. He picked up his chili and his milkshake and carefully made his way to one of the tables.
He sat down at the table, smiling. He admired his food for a long time before he began to eat it. When he did start to eat, he closed his eyes and savored each bite. He thought about how good it felt to be back in the Upper Universe. He loved traveling among the stars with his silver unicorn again. It was so much better than the White House.
While he finished his meal, he heard a loud smacking noise somewhere in the kitchen area. He looked toward the front counter. Now the old woman with the hairnet was talking to the girl with the pink hair. They were leaning close to each other and whispering frantically.
“The bag,” the old woman was saying. “You know, the big bag. The one with all the scorpions in it. I accidentally dropped it. It hit the floor and busted wide open. All the scorpions came out.”
“How are we going to catch them?” said the girl with the pink hair. “There’s way too many.”
The old woman moaned. “I reckon we’ll just have to stomp them all. Stomp them as fast as we can.”
Barack noticed something moving on the floor near the end of the counter. A herd of shiny red scorpions ran across the floor in a high-speed exodus.
Barack grinned. He took one last sip of his Frankenstein milkshake and stood up. He walked out of the restaurant. Outside, his unicorn still waited patiently by the front door. Barack reached inside the saddle bag and pulled out the shortwave radio. It was a gray rectangle no bigger than a deck of cards. He switched it on with a flick of his thumb. Cuban dance music burst out of the speaker. It was a tiny speaker, but the sound quality was superb. His spine tingled as he heard the fast-paced drums, the maracas, the acoustic guitars, and the wild piano. It was the most glorious sound he had ever known.
Barack walked back into the restaurant. By this time, the floor was covered with red scorpions, running in every direction, celebrating their new freedom. Barack placed his radio on the table. He raised his hands in the air and began to snap his fingers. He tapped his feet. Then he flung himself across the room in a flurry of wild movement, dancing so fast that his legs became a blur. The music flowed through his body like electricity through a power station. He crushed hundreds of scorpions under his heels in time with the music. He leapt over tables and soared through the air, smiling the whole time. His face glowed with joy.
The girl and the old woman stared at him with their mouths open.
Soon, only a few scorpions were left alive. Barack Obama crossed his arms over his chest and started hopping on one foot. He bounced across the room like a pogo stick, killing the last of the scorpions. He continued to smile and glow.
When all the scorpions were dead, Barack stood tall and proud in the center of the restaurant.
“Thank you,” said the girl with the pink hair. “Thank you so much.”
“Sometimes life calls us to take action in ways we never could have anticipated,” Barack Obama said, straightening his suit and adjusting his tie. “In these moments, we have to find the strength inside us to answer that call. When life gives you scorpions, don’t let fear grip your heart. Don’t collapse. Don’t falter. Instead, turn on your radio. Turn on the Cuban dance music and complete the task that lies in front of you. Good night, my friends.”
Then he picked up his shortwave radio and walked out the door, into outer space. He climbed onto his silver unicorn and continued on his journey down the Interstellar Highway.
Matthew David Curry 2017