Lost in Germany

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.

You can click here to order a copy.

Copyright 2015, 2017 Matthew David Curry. All rights reserved.

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Solitude

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.

You can click here to order a copy.

(Copyright 2015, 2017 Matthew David Curry. All rights reserved.)

The Gasoline Diet

I’ve written a new novel. It’s called The Gasoline Diet. It’s about a young man named Charlie who struggles with a weight problem and low self-esteem. One morning, while Charlie eats a sausage biscuit at the local gas station, a gas pump explodes outside the window. A raging ball of fire consumes the self-service island as Charlie watches in horror. He and the other people in the gas station rush out the back door in a frantic stampede, fearful that the store itself will catch on fire. As Charlie scrambles away from the gas station, he experiences chest pains. He believes he’s having a heart attack. Afterward, he resolves to go on a diet and start exercising. He quickly sheds his excess weight and transforms into a new person. He gains self-confidence, buys a leather jacket, throws an eggplant at a robber, meets an eccentric software developer in the woods, and falls in love with a girl who sees the future. The Gasoline Diet is available on Amazon. You can click here to order a copy.

Coffee with Jack White

I’m still hammering away on my new novel, but I took a break from it over the weekend and drew a picture of myself drinking coffee with my favorite musician, Jack White. This image popped into my mind the other night at work and I had to sit down and draw it. I hope you’re doing well. Have a nice weekend. I’ll write more later.

The Noid

Here’s a pencil drawing I just finished this morning. It’s a picture of the Noid, a character from the Domino’s Pizza commercials back in the 80s. The Noid was a creation of Will Vinton Studios, who also brought us the California Raisins. I was fascinated with the Noid when I was a kid. Still am.

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.

***

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.

The lies I used to believe

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I remember sitting on the floor of my bedroom as a teenager late one night, fiddling with the radio dial. It was July 4, 1995. I skipped from one station to another, listening to bits and pieces of grunge alternative music, until I was startled by an angry voice. A man was ranting about America, screaming into the microphone so loudly that many of his words were distorted. He sounded like he had just escaped from a mental institution. I gasped and leaned toward the speakers. The man said Independence Day was a joke. If he were sailing on the high seas, he said, and he saw two ships floating toward him — one ship flying a jolly-roger flag and the other ship displaying an American flag — he would steer toward the ship with the jolly-roger. He said pirates were more trustworthy than America.

Right away, I pulled my hand from the radio dial and laughed out loud at the screaming man. He sounded so ridiculous, growling and snarling. I heard him pounding his fists on the desk in front of him. I had never heard anything like it before.

Not only did the show grab my attention, the whole radio station seized me. I spent the rest of my teenage years listening to conservative talk radio – mostly because it was so outrageous and entertaining, but also because some of the philosophical arguments made sense to me. Amid the low-brow jokes about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, I also heard a lot of inspiring messages. The hosts often talked about the importance of setting goals and working hard to achieve them. They said people should have the freedom to pursue their dreams. I remember Rush Limbaugh saying that if you do what you love for a living, people will have to beg you to take a vacation.

I still believe those things – but there are a few things I don’t believe anymore.

The talk show hosts insisted that rich people are hard workers and poor people are lazy sluggards. If you’re rich, you deserve to be rich. If you’re poor, you deserve to be poor.

When I was younger, sitting in front of my radio, I gobbled up this message. I believed that all wealthy people were honest, diligent, goal-oriented citizens … and poor people just needed to get off the couch and find a job.

Now that I’m 34 years old, I know this idea is nonsense. The world is filled with poor people who work hard every day. They work long hours, sometimes juggling multiple jobs, and they still live from paycheck to paycheck, biting their nails and wondering how they will pay their bills each month.

For five years, I worked at a textile mill, barely scraping by. During those five years, the mill never gave me a pay raise. (It wasn’t just me. The mill is known throughout the community for being tightfisted and stingy with the regular employees while the people in upper management swim in cash.) The most insulting thing about the mill is this: even though they refuse to give raises, they happily donate heaps of money to the local high school sports teams.

Why does the mill sling money all over the community? Is it because the company big shots are generous people? Obviously not. It’s because the government gives them tax breaks for their “charitable” donations. They gain money by giving money away.

I think the government should give tax breaks to companies that pay workers well. It might cause greedy old men to become more generous … and it might help some of the hardworking poor people in our country.

(I don’t usually talk about politics on this blog, but I’ve felt really annoyed about this situation lately. I’m not an expert on any of these things at all. My opinion isn’t worth much. But I would rather offer a solution to the problem than simply gripe about it. Griping is therapeutic, but it doesn’t really fix anything.)

***

You can click here if you would like to order my novels, Citizens of Purgatory and Under the Electric Sun. My new novel, Citizens of Purgatory, is a dark comedy set in Alabama. It’s roughly based on a few of my experiences in the mill.

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.

***

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