2020: Reading, Writing, Publishing & Covid-19 — A Tally of Achievements & Failures.

Well, folks. It’s that time of year again! Grab yourself a cup of coffee, OK? Perhaps some tea, a glass of Merlot, or a can of beer — whatever is your preferred comfort, and let’s have us a visit. 
Late December is a fine time for self-reflection, and to tally what has gone on these previous twelve months. A tally of achievements, as well as failures — we can learn from both.


By my side, a cup of steaming black coffee. In the background, John Coltrane wails on his saxophone, heading somewhere for Heaven on that Immortal Blue Train. Outside, snow flurries in the wind and I am reminded we are all snowflakes, each and every one of us, blown by the wild, random gusts of the universe and one day to fall, one day to melt, then become new again.


That’s the Order Of Things, and I’m perfectly cool with it. 


QUICK NOTE ON CURRENT EVENTS OF 2020


2020, in particular, has been a challenging year for the individual, the nation, the world. Every person who lived through this year (and lived to tell the tale) knows exactly what I’m talking about. I will only say that I have experienced first-hand — the panicky ransacking of grocery store shelves during the first months of the pandemic, a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest, legendary incompetence in leadership within the U.S. government, and I’ve even managed to contract Covid-19, a virus which has killed nearly 300,000 Americans, and well over a million people worldwide. 


Highly unpleasant lower-back aches, chills accompanied by goosebumps covering every inch of one’s flesh, typical congestion, and absolute weariness are among the charming symptoms I experienced. Thankfully, I pulled through just fine, as did my fiancé and daughter. As for those who are immuno-compromised, for those who are not as well equipped to handle this virus, they have my sincere empathy. Take care of yourselves out there, friends. Be kind, and be courteous.

WRITING


With those unpleasantries out of the way, let us get to my favorite part of this whole thing —- the joy of writing, reading, and publishing. 


I wrote a lot this year, and this is about what it adds up to:


Forty-nine stories (including three 20,000 word novellas).

Fifty poems. 

Half a dozen essays (not sure if they’re any good at all).

LOTS of vignettes (or, my term for them — musings).

Two journal books featuring personal reflections, 4AM rantings, and a writing progress log. 

In total, an approximate word count of well over 300,000 words.

Now, for some writers that’s not so much. But for me, that’s quite a damn lot. I’m rather proud of the work I’ve done this year. I’ve grown significantly as a writer, and continue to grow every day, word by word and page by page.


Yet remember what I said about tallies at the beginning of this essay? We must tally our achievements as much as our failures. Not so that we may shame ourselves — oh, no. Only so that we may be honest with ourselves and see things clearly.

For example, the majority of the stories I wrote this year are downright awful. They are stories which, for one reason or other, just do not work. They are incomplete worlds, shallow characterizations, badly phrased, naively stylized pieces of junk-prose which will never see the light of day. 


However! My personal view is, our failed stories pave the way for the really good ones. Therefore, thousands of wasted words, are not necessarily wasted. Just so long as we are learning — grueling page after grueling page. 

Now, some exciting news: I have written a book this year!


MATTERS MOST MACABRE is my latest collection of short stories. It’ll be released in June of 2021. How’s that for exciting?! I’m quite proud of these tales, and I am absolutely thrilled to share them with you. The thirteen macabre tales herein will hopefully entertain you, have you turning the pages with that pleasurable and intense need to FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS, and of course, the book may just weird you the hell out. That is my goal. That is my pleasure. 


Now, before Matters Most Macabre comes out, I have a charming little book of just seventy-six pages available on New Year’s Day —- WEIRDSMITH: ISSUE ONE, courtesy of Too Much Weird press, contains two of my short stories. My talented friend, Terry M. West, aside from being a hell of a great horror writer, is the Editor-in-Chief over at TMW Press, and he’s set up a brand new series for readers who enjoy everything weird and horrific in literature. Weirdsmith will be a multi-volume series, each issue featuring one talented author doing great work in horror fiction. If interested, Issue One is available for pre-order now at only $.99, or you can even pick up a lovely paperback: (https://www.amazon.com/Weirdsmith-Magazine-Number-Tylor-James-ebook/dp/B08Q1WHZRQ/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1609162936&sr=1-1)


PUBLISHING

Let’s talk publishing. Hold on a sec, lemme check my tally . . . all right, here we are! Ahh, yes. Allow me to start with one of my total failures.


My story, Box of Chocolates, was all set up to be published. The story was to be published on the press-in-question’s website. I would received my measly $10 and that would be that. Then, after my story was accepted, I decided investigate some of the Editor-in-Chief’s work. I had a passing curiosity about the guy and, well, why not? 


My simple Google search revealed racist and homophobic statements on behalf of the editor. Therefore, it became my moral obligation to retract the story.

So, that’s what I did. I politely apologized, explained my reasons for retracting the story, and that was that. 

Now, here’s the good news:


“Box of Chocolates”, a strange tale about a man’s fiancé and mother-in-law turning into chocolate statues, was published just a few months later in issue #27 of THE LITERARY HATCHET.


I got my ten bucks, folks! And the story was published by a decent and reputable publisher. I’ve learned my lesson — always perform a cursory background Google-check on the people you plan on working and associating with. It’s a sad task, but one which we must commit ourselves to just the same — for the sake of our personal reputation, and for the moral quality of our friendships, business partners, ETC.


Okay. Here’s some successful publications from this year:


1. Box of Chocolates — published in The Literary Hatchet.

2. Independence Day in Holebrim, Texas — published in SCARE ME, a wonderfully creepy anthology from UK-based, Esskaye Books.

3. Behind the Door (Originally titled, “The Drip”) — published in HYPNOS MAGAZINE.

4. Old Dance Hall and Mosquito Summer — sold and soon-to-be-published in “WEIRDSMITH: ISSUE ONE” from Too Much Weird press.

5. Godly Business — sold and soon-to-be-published (in Jan 2021) by Penumbric Speculative Fiction Magazine. 

6. A Skeleton Reads Shakespeare — published as a podcast by THE OTHER STORIES PODCAST (which you may listen to here, if you’d like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fja9JZklAZI

All tallied up, that’s seven tales published (or soon-to-be). Hey, that ain’t bad, Charlie!

Okay, enough gloating! — back to my failures tally.


In This Year of Our Lord, 2020, I have received . . . drumroll please? thank you . . . !

Over ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY SHORT STORY REJECTIONS.


Rejections aren’t fun. They never are. But they are part of the process of being a writer. In 2021, I hope to secure a hundred and fifty more . . . And maybe a few more story acceptances too, while I’m at it.


Another failure: I tried to write a novel. Tried is the operative word.
The novel was to be titled, Come Back, Grandma Jean. I got a third of the way through, and then I burned out. I found no inspiration in the characters, hadn’t a clue where the plot was going, and had written in way too many sex scenes. The book was turning into sheer smut — which is fine and dandy, just not the book I wanted to write. Hence: 20,000 words chucked down the garbage chute! Ahh, well. Maybe 2021 will see the creation of my first full-length novel. Maybe!


READING


As anyone who’s even relatively acquainted with me knows, I love to read. It is among my very favorite things to do. I read fiction and non-fiction books alike, always doing my best to balance the two. As you can see by my reading list from this year, I ended up reading a bit more fiction than non-fiction.


The Books I Read in 2020:


1. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan

2. How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence by Michael Pollan

3. The Institute by Stephen King

4. Abarat by Clive Barker

5. Long After Midnight by Ray Bradbury

6. Sunburst Woman & Poems by Jack Ontair

7. Braincheese Buffet by Edward Lee

8. Hamlet by William Shakespeare

9. On the Night Border by James Chambers

10. Borderland (story anthology, edited by Tom Montelleone).

11. Cry Down Dark by T.J. Tranchell

12. Strange Wine by Harlan Ellison 

13. Where Nightmares Come From: The Art of Storytelling in the Horror Genre

14. Asleep in the Nightmare Room by T.J. Tranchell

15. The Resurrectionist by James Wrath White

16. I Sing the Body Electric! By Ray Bradbury

17. Of Foster Homes and Flies by Chad Lutzke

18. Transfer by Terry M. West

19. The Devil’s List by Terry M. West

20. The Midwives by Duncan Ralston

21. When You Find Out What You’re Made of by Michelle Kilmer

22. Stuck on You & Other Prime Cuts by Jasper Bark

23. Ceremony of Ashes by Robert Ducharme

24. The Cellar by Richard Laymon

25. God Bless You, Doctor Kevorkian by Kurt Vonnegut

26. Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier by Neil deGrasse Tyson

27. The Collection by Bentley Little

28. Beyond Where the Sky Ends by DS Ullery

29. Full Throttle: Stories by Joe Hill

30. The History of Philosophy by A.C. Grayling

31. If It Bleeds by Stephen King

32. An Edge in My Voice (columns) by Harlan Ellison

33. Alessa’s Melody (A Novella) by R. Ducharme

34. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

35. Ethics in the Real World by Peter Singer

36. Voltaire’s Revolution: Writings From His Campaign to Free Laws From Religion by GK Noyer

37. The Private Lives of Nightmares by T.J. Tranchell

38. Highway 181 by DS Ullery

39. Scare Me (anthology, edited by M. Leon Smith)

40. Quiet Places by Jasper Bark

41. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

42. The Believing Brain: From Ghosts to Gods to Politcs and Conspiracies — How We Construct Beliefs & Reinforce Them As Truths by Michael Shermer

43. The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking & L. Mlodinow

44. Island of the Flesh Eaters by Thomas S. Flowers

45. Radigan by Louis L’Amour

46. Needful Things by Stephen King

47. The Writing Life: Reflections, Recollections & A Lot of Cursing by Jeff Strand

48. Ashes and Wine, Book One: The Extraoridinary Lives of Intimacy & Love by Jack Ontair

49. Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell

50. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

51. The Yellow Wallpaper & Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

It was a great year for reading, and I thoroughly enjoyed the majority of these books. I learned quite a lot, both from the educational science books, as well as from the storytelling techniques employed by the likes of fiction-writers like Bradbury, King, McCarthy, and my contemporaries in the independent horror market.

However, my favorite book that I’ve read this year is undoubtedly, THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY by A.C. Grayling (British philosopher and Master of New College of the Humanities, London). This book was eloquent, accessible, and fascinating. It’s also over 700 pages. Quite the tome, but really well-worth the time and effort. I read it on summer evenings, cup of coffee by my side and Bach’s Goldberg Variations trickling into my ears.


As for books/authors I’d like to read in 2021 . . . Here’s just a few:

Letters to A Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens.

Anything by Ursula K. Le Guin

Anything by Sylvia Plath

Enlightenment philosophers, such as: David Hume, John Lock, Diderot, Rousseau.

Asimov on the Bible, and “Extraterrestrial Civilization”.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.

Anything by my Contemporaries-In-Horror: Duane Ullery, Terry M. West, Jasper Bark, Duncan Ralston, Michelle von Eeshen, T.J. Tranchell, ETC.


I’ll have to leave it at that . . . because there’s a million more books I’d love to read!


DAMN GOOD FILMS


I don’t watch a lot of films these days. Hence, this list will be short. However, I assure you, these films are among the very best. Some are new, some are black and white classics. Without further ado, the films I most enjoyed this year:


1. The Seventh Seal (1957, Dir. By Ingmar Bergman)

2. The Lighthouse (2019, Dir. Robert Eggers, starring incredible performances by William Dafoe & Robert Pattinson)

3. Night of the Hunter (1955, Dir. by Charles Laughton)

4. Jason & the Argonauts (1963, Dir. Don Chaffey, w/ effects by Ray Harryhausen)

5. Modern Times (1936, Charlie Chaplin)

6. The Thing From Another World (1951, Dir. Howard Hawks)

7. Paris, Texas (1984, Dir. Wim Wenders, starring Harry Dean Stanton)

8. Hereditary (2018, Dir. Ari Aster)

9. Midsommar (2019, Dir. Ari Aster)

10. Tideland (2005, Dir Terry Gilliam)


A FEW LAST WORDS


In conclusion: While I’m proud of my writing/publishing achievements, in a somewhat perverse sense, I’m even more proud of my failures. Those 150 story rejections, for example, are evidence for how much I care about this craft, and this business.


I’m also happy to have made many new writer friends. We may’ve only met each other via online interactions, but it’s been a pleasure getting to know you, chatting with you IM, working with you, and reading your works. You know who you are.

On a significant note, I would not be able to write if I didn’t have a night job which allowed me to do it on the clock. As a writer, I find myself in a nearly ideal situation. I sit up in the lonely clock tower, making sure nobody comes round to steal anything, and I chew my nails, drink gallons of black coffee, listen to scary sounds in the night, and I write books. I also have the utmost support from my lovely and wonderful fiancé, in all matters of endeavor. For her, I am absolutely grateful.

And now, for another cup of coffee, some music, a few more books, and whole lot more stories . . . 


Wishing you a most happy and fulfilling New Year, fellow readers, writers, and friends,

Tylor James. 

Quarter-Century: A Premature Memoir (An Essay)!

July 2nd, 2019.

The earth has carried me in its orbit around the sun twenty-five times.

My gratitude to the earth and the sun.

On this tiny blue world which has had countless civilizations rise and fall and ninety-nine percent of its species die out, I happen to be here, sucking in air for the moment.

Isn’t that cool?

It’s a moment I call life. Life is a fractal phenomenon of countless other moments, a collection of them. Within the bounds of my moment, I’ve witnessed the civilizations which have rose and fell within me. Sometimes they’re realized and I say, “Ah! Today, I am born again.” Sometimes they go unrealized and I groan, thinking, “Not this again!?”

To wake upon a planet teeming with life and with loved ones nearby, ready to help you up when you fall down. What more can a person ask for?

I am blessed — not in a superstitious sense, but by the holy Brownian motion of reality. Like a shook-up snow globe, the flakes have landed just so. I am happy with the snow globe.

Today, I sit here in the chair, typing away, reflecting on where I am and where I’m going. I proposed to the love of my life, Tessandra Voje, a week back or so. She has agreed to share her moment with me. We plan on getting married next year, sometime in the fall. Her daughter, Rosemary Voje, bright and funny young lady I am glad to know, sometimes calls me ‘Dad’. She’s been calling me Dad more and more lately and dang, that feels really good.

I’ve just written a novel, my first one, and am in the process of shaping it into something readable for the public. It will be a finished product within the month. I’ll be sending it out to publishers. I’ve been writing “seriously” for the past two years and have collected a wonderful amount of rejection slips. Dozens and dozens…

Two ‘maybe’ letters from editors have popped up in my email inbox though, and I figure ‘maybe’ letters are a good sign that things may be slowly turning around.

My dream is to write, become published, and get paid for it.

I may not have the last two things down yet, but I sure have the first one. Writing is a light in the pitch dark. The pen is a third eye, the one which allows me to perceive reality in a clearer and happier way. If I didn’t write, I’d probably have to pay a lot of money talking to a shrink! A lot of writers say that. I don’t imagine they’re lying.

I write every day and have an aim to be prolific, to write not just one book, but dozens within my lifetime. Any agent or publisher out there looking to write a contract with a strange fiction writer, consider yours truly!

I think about things that’ve happened within these past twenty-five. I am curious about the young, expressive boy that walked in the sun and was in love with horror movies and wearing masks and costumes. I know that boy still exists somewhere. To this day, I love horror movies, and I love wearing masks – a mask is an identity. Today I am playing the identity of a writer. I’m getting pretty good at playing the part. Tomorrow, who knows what I’ll be?

I read this great line from the Tao Te Ching:

“He who defines herself, cannot know who she really is.”

Isn’t that great? I try not to define myself. I put on masks with a curious joy and say, “Ah, there’s something mysterious beneath this mask! What could it be? Is it really even there? Hmm.”

I think of turning 21, when I lived on Knowles Ave, in and out of the bars, trying to fall in love with people. During those years, the moon was brightest. I stood under the moon, on the warm street, smoking cheap cigarettes, looking like a pale skeleton, and knowing that I was young but not knowing quite what youth was. There was no room for intellectualizing youth — I was youth.

And I am youth.

I wish youth the best. When it leaves me, I promise not to cling. In another forty years, when I’m an old man, with hair falling out, hunch-backed with a cane, I’ll say, “At last! I’m in my prime.”

And I am prime.

I remember picking up the guitar, old dusty friend, and deciding on a whim I should do something with my life. So I taught myself to play guitar, harmonica and sing and I became a performing singer-songwriter. I wrote an album or two worth of songs, one of those albums recorded in a friend’s house studio (let me know if you’d like to listen to it, I’ll send you a copy).

Tessandra was there recording that album with me, several of those songs written for her. Sometimes it’s as if she always has been here, just hiding behind the curtain of space and time, waiting until I was the right age to know her. Life is full of fun illusions like that.

Sometimes, too, I think of my Grandfather. He was a writer and a lover of literature and I’m  sure he’d be proud of me. If I ever write a western novel, I’ll dedicate it to him. I still have his letters, the ones where he tells me I’m his “favorite young author”. I have his rejection slip from Bantam Books in a black suitcase. Seeing it fuels me to want to one-up him.

I return my thoughts to the planet flying around the sun at 67,000 MPH. I am on that  planet, in some strange dimension where there are masks and people and horror movies and literature and love and music.

I can’t get over it. There are people around who love me – we are rare things.

To be a conscious creature with a brain and a spinal column, upright, breathing, as the sun and rain replenishes.

It’s the awesomeness, the mystery, the wonder, I keep coming back to. It’s my religion.

On my 25th birthday, I am a holy man in his pajamas.

Greater things to come.

Your friend,

Tylor J. Mintz

Boredom as a Universal Force

How much of our lives is due directly or indirectly to the influence of boredom, that incessant threat to our mental livelihood? We find that people devote many years of their lives to their hobbies, passions, chores, jobs, and careers — because, well, what else would they do? Because we are animals with an expanded consciousness, to eat, breathe, sleep and reproduce seems not enough. Unlike cats and dogs, we find it unfitting to simply live in the present moment until we are dead. Instead, we require filler – life filler, existential filler. The needs and desires of human consciousness are indeed great, and they require great action, commitment, and dedication. Otherwise, we are apt to feel the force of boredom dooming our minds into the dusty, cobwebbed corners of passivity.

The “extras” which fill in our time upon this earth are composites of culture and creativity, enabled by ennui as a looming and dark influence, not unlike death. I believe that even religion, just as much as it was a creation to satisfy mysterious questions about our place in the universe – was initiated as a vanguard against emptiness and malaise. This is especially the case for religious observances, holidays, and sacrificial processions. In the self-righteous eye of the priest or the holy man, boredom is sacrilegious because it is completely non-devoted to anything, including the higher power(s) that be. For one to regard life as tedious, one must necessarily infer God or the Creator to be a tedious artist.

Human beings may even behave aggressively, to the point of killing one other out of boredom. For how could two or three tribes ever live in the same jungle or upon neighboring lands without the eternal entertainments of death and danger? Wars are always justified by imperatives, yet they must cloak themselves over an emptiness, accompanied by the question often spoken with a drowsy nod and shrug of the shoulders, “Why not?” Indeed. If nothing better to do, why not art? Why not religious service? Why the hunt of an animal, and not of a man seemingly deserving to be made a meal of?

***

Now for a personal anecdote on this universal force of boredom. When I was a child on the playground at school, my friends and I would invariably find ourselves bored to bits. The monkey-bars would cease to be an amusement, as well as the bright yellow slides, which were, after all, intended for “babies”. We’d wander around condemned to ceaseless monotony, awe-struck by “nothing to do”. There was a forest on the outskirts of the field, and some of us would wander there. Soon enough, this was forbidden by our teachers. We found ourselves, once again, wandering about the grounds, aching for something meaningful to spend our time on.

After nearly two weeks of this stagnation, we stumbled upon a grand idea. We would split into two warring armies and fight each other. But, over what? What was worth a war? What precious item or possession might be worth such conflict? Upon the grounds were a finite number of large rocks, and due to their rarity, they were worth a great value. It was therefore decided we were to have a long and violent “Rock War”.

One army of children would discover a pile of precious stones behind the covering of some bushes, raid them, and hide them in another secret location – behind a tree, under the woodchips, beside a fence, etc., until once again discovered by the other side. One had to be extraordinarily sneaky in finding the rocks, because being caught on the enemy’s base meant certain hell to pay.

The war waged on for many months. Each forty-five minute recess session was a display of brutal conniving and militaristic tactics. At one point, upon locating a magnificent pile of rocks, I was caught red-handed by an enemy soldier named Tim. Tim pushed me into the dirt and wrapped his arm around my neck, employing a standard choke hold. He had me pinned there for what seemed like half an hour, very much intending to suffocate me. Two little girls ambled over and witnessed what was happening and so ran and notified our playground attendant.

Tim was swiftly taken away by the higher authority and I returned to the battlefield. Tim, the sociopathic little twerp he was, spent the rest of the week in detention. I, however, was awarded a rare, purple stone for my bravery, and for suffering inordinately while in the line of duty. And yet suffering was the one thing we did not do in this legendary rock war of ours– quite the opposite. We were delighted, entertained, amused, and totally swept away from that terrible tyrant of time – ennui.

***

People committed to activities and hobbies (whether they be chess, golfing, going to the cinema, sewing, gardening, playing card games, etc.) often claim that they “do it to pass the time” – as if the activities themselves were absolutely necessary for clocks to function and for time to continue to exist. It is as if the fourth dimension of the universe (Time) were an option according to our discernment. Perhaps it is. As we learned from Albert Einstein at the beginning of the 20th century, time is relative.

It is also said that philosophers are unmarried people with nothing better to do than think. I tend to believe this to be a correct assertion. Hobbies and activities, wars, religious observances, philosophizing, painting, writing, sculpting, all things of form and beauty as well as chaos and disarray are done out of instincts relevant to a particularly human consciousness. How related these instincts are to the influence of boredom might be well summed up as thus, if are to take a page from Descartes:

I think, therefore I am bored.

I am bored, and therefore I think.

Make no mistake! I don’t want the reader to get the impression that everything in life is purely due to boredom. My aim is to simply provoke a questioning of boredom as a very significant feature of the human experience…