Long time, no see

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Sorry I’ve been out of touch lately. Ever since I took the new job operating the pellet-shooter at work, I haven’t had time to do much else. The night shift is a harsh master. And during the time when I’m not working, I’m recovering from the time when I was working. But it’s only a temporary job. I should go back to my normal duties (and my normal life) in roughly a month. I’m looking forward to it. I don’t mean to complain. I’m thankful to have a job. It’s a blessing. But it demands all the energy I have. I stagger through the front door in the mornings feeling like I just had a lobotomy.

I hope you’ve been doing well. I hope you’re having a good summer … or winter … or whatever season it is in your corner of the world.

The picture up above is my friend Katrina. It’s one of the few drawings I’ve done since I started working on the pellet machine. Katrina just moved to Florida today, so this is my going-away present to her.

Oh, and Citizens of Purgatory is free for the next couple of days. If you have a Kindle, or a Kindle app on your phone, you can click here to download it.

 

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My writing process

 

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Recently, my friend Liz Fountain tagged me in a “blog hop” series where various writers answer questions about the way they write. Here are my answers.

 

1.) What am I working on?

At the moment, nothing. (Unfortunately.) Since my writing is a “glorified hobby” and not a major source of income, I have to do work that I’m not so passionate about during the day. Recently, I started a new job at a mill. In an effort to learn how to operate my pellet-spitting machine, I’ve decided to put my writing on hiatus and free up some space in my mind. Later, after I’ve conquered the machine and grown accustomed to my new job, I’ll start another book. (Or maybe just a short story. I haven’t decided yet.)

 

2.) How does my work differ from others in its genre?

So far, I’ve published two novels, Under the Electric Sun and Citizens of Purgatory, on Amazon. 

Under the Electric Sun is a dystopian, post-apocalyptic, science fiction story set in a massive underground city beneath the ruins of Washington, DC. While the “after-the-end-of-America-as-we-know-it” scenario is vaguely similar to Hunger Games and other dystopian novels, my book contains a lot of offbeat humor inspired by Douglas Adams. The main character in Under the Electric Sun is a cybernetic raccoon named Tristan, a government-issued tutor. Tristan and his dim-witted student, Jake Sheldon, throw sarcastic barbs at each other throughout the book. When Tristan and Jake climb a secret staircase and see the surface of the earth for the first time, they enter the ruins of an affluent gated community where the locals have turned swimming pools into gardens and golf courses into wheat fields.

Meanwhile, Citizens of Purgatory takes place in Alabama in 2003. I don’t really know which category to put this one in. I suppose you would call it a slapstick Southern gothic comedy. When I was writing it, my biggest inspirations were Garrison Keillor’s radio stories and Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

 

3.) Why do I write what I do?

I grew up with Doctor Who and Douglas Adams. I’m fascinated with science fiction, especially humorous science fiction. But I’m also madly in love with small town Americana, so I enjoy writing Southern gothic fiction too.

 

4.) How does my writing process work?

I start off with a vague idea of who the characters are and how the story will unfold. I write one chapter at a time, writing a rough draft of the chapter and fine-tuning it before I move on to the next chapter. Then I go back and overhaul all of them, moving through the manuscript one chapter at a time again. Sometimes I take brief vacations between chapters to avoid a nervous breakdown.

You can click here to order my books.

 

(The photo above is a paper typewriter made by Jennifer Collier. She’s a genius.)

How I became a sports fan

When I went to college in the late 90s, I wrote for the school newspaper. We only published one issue a month, but I poured all my energy into my articles and editorial columns, obsessively re-writing and polishing them late into the night, while guzzling Surge and eating bacon sandwiches from the gas station. I focused on the school newspaper with such single-minded passion that I neglected all my real classes … and therefore I flunked out.

After the college politely told me to go away, I started working at a potato chip bag factory, helping a man named Big Dan operate a giant machine called a laminator. The job wasn’t very complicated. I spent most of my time cutting sheets of plastic with a dull knife and prying lids off glue barrels. But Big Dan’s moods varied wildly from one minute to the next. Sometimes he danced and sang. Sometimes he burst into fits of rage, screaming at me and showering my face with drops of spittle. Every day, I dreaded Big Dan and his volatile mood swings.

Desperate to escape from the potato chip bag factory, I begged the local newspaper to hire me. I also drove to the surrounding towns, begging the newspapers there for a job. I wanted to write for a living. I told editors I would be happy to sit in a spider-filled basement and type obituaries as long as I could get out of the factory and squirm into the newspaper business.

Finally, an editor in a nearby town (a town I had never visited before my begging tour) said he needed a sportswriter. He asked me if I knew anything about sports. Smiling and fidgeting, I said, “Um, well, no, not really. But I would be happy to learn!”

Thus I began working as a sportswriter in January 2001. I wasn’t just a sportswriter … I was the only sportswriter at this particular newspaper.

I was also the sports photographer and the guy in charge of page layout. I covered the sports page with lots of pictures (big pictures) since my articles were so short and meager. At first, my stories only contained the final score, the names of the players who scored the most points, and a quote from the coach. Whenever I asked the coaches for their thoughts about the last game, I wrote down everything they said. Their terminology baffled me, but I nodded enthusiastically and pretended I knew what they were talking about.

I grew better over time. I learned that “PAT” stood for “point after touchdown.” I learned that a baseball team scores runs, not points. I learned to park my car as far away from the field as possible. I also learned a wide vocabulary of terms from Sports Illustrated and big newspapers which I incorporated into my own articles. For example, when a football team scores a touchdown, it’s better to say they posted a touchdown … or they lit the board … or they chipped away at the other team’s lead. These punchy little expressions fascinated me. The language was far more interesting to me than the games themselves. I never became an expert on sports, but I learned how to sound like one.

I loved and respected the athletes and the coaches and the work they did … but I never truly became a sports fan myself. I did become a devoted fan of the sports language, though.

I don’t work at the newspaper anymore, but I do like to listen to sportscasters on the radio sometimes. When I hear them throw around expressions like “lock horns” and “square off” and “buzzer beater” and “wild card,” it almost makes me want to go back to work at some seedy little newspaper office and bang out stories about games.

But not quite.

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My new novel, Citizens of Purgatory, is based on some of my ridiculous experiences in the newspaper business. It’s available in paperback on Amazon. You can click here to order a copy.

Laurali

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Here’s a drawing of my friend Laurali, who lives in Florida. Originally, I wanted to draw Florida scenery growing out of her head, but I couldn’t find any decent photos of oak trees draped with Spanish moss. (When I think of Florida, I don’t think of palm trees. I think of oak trees covered in gray moss. When I was growing up, I spent a lot of summers with my grandparents in Tampa.)

Anyway, after combing through Google Image Search for a few hours, I finally decided to dump the Florida scenery idea and stick a dinosaur and a nutcracker on Laurali’s head instead. And here it is.

My new job is going well. It’s harder work than my previous job, but it’s not nearly as stressful. I spent most of Friday shoveling sludge out of gaps in the floor. And once I had done that, I shoveled the sludge into a big metal box.

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You can click here to order my novels, Citizens of Purgatory and Under the Electric Sun in paperback.

Snowed in

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Snowflakes are pouring down outside and icicles are hanging everywhere. I haven’t worked since Monday. I’m enjoying my vacation so far. Last night, I spent three hours cleaning out my living room closet, a task I’ve avoided for years. Now it’s immaculate. Right now, it’s a little after three o’clock in the morning and I’ve been drawing most of the night. I’m eating leftover candy canes, drinking hot cocoa, and listening to Overnight America on KMOX via the internet. (I used to listen to KMOX on a little AM radio back in 2000 when I was staying in a cabin in the woods with no electricity. I have happy memories of those times.)

This is a drawing of my friend Brittany Rosser, a girl I used to work with at the mill. I told her I would draw her a long, long time ago. I just now got around to it.

Hope you all have a nice Valentine’s Day.

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You can click here to order my new book, Citizens of Purgatory.  

Jessicka

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Here’s a drawing I started last night and finished this morning. It’s a picture of Jessicka, one of my Twitter friends. I enjoyed drawing her because she has thousands of miles of hair. She actually has blue hair, but I didn’t feel like breaking out the colored pencils. Too tedious. Maybe I will later.

Now I’m going to get ready for the ice storm/blizzard that’s supposed to be coming through. I hope you have a great week.

(Both of my novels, Citizens of Purgatory and Under the Electric Sun, are available in paperback now. You can click here to order them.)

Snowbound

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It snowed heavily today. Well, some people might not use the word “heavily,” but we rarely get snow in Georgia, so any amount of snow is a major event. Because the roads were icy and people had a hard time driving, there were traffic jams galore. A lot of people were stranded in their vehicles for hours. And many other people abandoned their vehicles and started walking.

I’m thankful I didn’t have to work today. I didn’t have to get out in it. I mostly stayed home and drew. At one point, I did walk over to the gas station on the corner to buy a phone card. On my way back, I saw people in trucks struggling to drive up the gentle slope in the road nearby. They weren’t able to make it. They kept sliding backwards. I was terrified for them. I helped one lady push her SUV into a ditch — since her tires kept spinning on the ice … and the ditch seemed to be the safest place.

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The other day, my friend Dan (who was my history teacher in high school) came over and brought me a kerosene heater. For some reason, this image (above) popped into my head after he left. This evening, while I was hanging around in my apartment with nothing to do, I sat down and put it on paper. (While watching the Andy Williams Christmas Special from 1967 on YouTube.)

It’s a dog … with Dan’s head … warming himself in front of a heater. I’m hoping to do a better version later, maybe tomorrow if I’m still snowed in.

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NOTE: My novel, Citizens of Purgatory, will be available in paperback soon. In the meantime, you can click here to download the electronic version to your Kindle. Citizens of Purgatory is a novel about the misadventures of Nick, a young sportswriter who doesn’t know anything about sports. Nick’s life turns into a nightmare when an ex-convict crashes into his car one morning.

The Clockwork series

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Here are some colored pencil drawings I did back in 2010. They tell the story of a person’s life from birth to death. In each picture, you see the same man in a different stage of life. You also see a robot, with a clock for a head, relentlessly stalking the man. The robot represents time. I originally did these pictures in 2003, when I was 23 and still learning about colored pencils … but I decided to do fresh, new versions of them in 2010. I’m currently selling them on posters and coffee mugs in my CafePress store.

You can click here to visit my store. I have other art there, too … and the other stuff isn’t nearly as depressing. You will find pictures of happy things like kittens and flowers. (Seriously. Go take a look.)

I haven’t used colored pencils in a long, long time. Colored pencils are tedious. For the past few years, I’ve just worked with graphite pencils. I’ve mainly done “head and shoulder” portraits this year. I plan to do bigger, more ambitious art in 2014.

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In other news, I’m still sticking with my new eating regimen. This week, I’ve been subsisting on Styrofoam discs (aka rice cakes) and steamed broccoli. But today is a special day. Today is “splurge” day. I’m about to visit this quaint little Mexican restaurant I recently discovered.

Have a lovely weekend and try to stay out of trouble.

(Also: you can click here if you’d like to download my new novel, Citizens of Purgatory. It’s a story about Nick Youngblood, a struggling sportswriter who doesn’t know anything about sports. One morning, as Nick drives to the newspaper office, a deranged ex-convict crashes into the back of his car. A nasty conflict ensues … and Nick’s life becomes very complicated.)