the 9My favorite holiday is Halloween. Anyone who knows me even nominally knows that. I dig on dark stuff, and Halloween has that in spades. It’s also a playful holiday centered around giving (and getting) candy and embracing fantasy (and horror) in the ways we dress and things we do.

I love it.

That said, I’m about to drop a bomb. Halloween is my favorite holiday, and I could easily argue it’s the best. (In fact, I did just that a few weeks ago.) But of all the holidays we celebrate, the one we probably need more of most desperately isn’t Halloween.

It’s Thanksgiving.

And yes, I’m about to go all philosophical on you, so buckle up.

There are a lot of good things about our culture, but one thing we don’t do particularly well is gratitude. We’re all about getting. Not so much about giving. And we hardly ever pause to express true gratitude for what we already have.

Even on Thanksgiving, we tend to focus on food. We literally try to fill ourselves, acting out the weirdest inverted ritual ever. Nothing says gratitude like thanklessly stuffing your face, right?

As a side note, I agree completely with anyone who takes issue with the roots of Thanksgiving. It’s been a hypocritical holiday from the get-go. Even so, it’s the only damn day we even pretend to be thankful.

Whatever your feelings about the holiday, itself – and I really do get it if you hate it for its history – we still need more of the supposed message behind it.

We need more gratitude.

Gratitude is healing. It gives life meaning. It makes even the hardest day better. I can’t overstate its value, but that won’t stop you from rolling your eyes when I tell you to be thankful.

Please don’t. Instead, let’s start imaging ways to incorporate gratitude into our lives and our art.

I’m going to focus on gratitude this whole month. I’d love to have a discussion with you about that. Like, a real discussion. I’d love to hear your comments, and I’d even be happy to write whole articles based on your thoughts if you have suggestions for ways gratitude can be powerful.

Tell me what you think in the comments below. Oh, and take a few moments when you’re done reading this to think of at least three things you’re grateful for.

I promise, it’ll make your day better.

Halloween is the Best

I’ve made a bold claim in several recent posts. Bold because the subject is very much a matter of personal preference. Here it is.

Halloween is the greatest holiday. Period.

And yes, I really believe that. Not only is it my favorite (see how I freely admit personal bias?), but I have actual evidence to support the theory. A few years ago, one of the very, very smart people over at Psychology Today published an article entitled “Why Halloween Is The BEST Holiday”.

BOOM! I’m breaking out science, bitches.

Okay. Maybe that was a little over-zealous. But when I came across that article, I very nearly screamed in victory. Not only does it align with my opinion (isn’t it nice when science does that?), but it also makes some good points.

As usual, I recommend that you read the entire article. But I know some of you won’t, so I’m going to give you the three reasons the article offers for why Halloween beats the pants off of every other holiday.

Here they are:

1. “Halloween decorations are fabulous without being heavy-handedly sentimental, pompously expensive, or in need of complicated wiring.”

2. Candy. (Hard to argue with that one.)

3. “Halloween is the holiday where you are supposed to knock on the door of people you don’t know and expect them to give you a gift of something fun to eat or a donation for a good cause of your own choosing.”

That last one is the clincher for me.

Think about it. There are holidays that challenge us to think of others, to be socially and globally minded, to give, to share, to interact with neighbors in ways that are uplifting, but does any other holiday make it so damn simple?

No. The answer is no.

And sure, you can argue that Snickers Minis won’t solve the world’s problems. You’re right. They won’t. I mean, those are powerful little buggers, but they aren’t going to heal all our wounds.

And yet, if we’re to create something better, purer, more worthwhile for ourselves and future generations, the path to that place will be paved with selfless, creative acts of giving, both great and small.

Halloween is very much an embodiment of that sentiment. For that reason (and many more—check out the art above), Halloween is my absolute favorite day of the year.

I look forward to this year’s celebration with anticipation and glee. Whatever you’re doing on Halloween and the weekend leading up to it, be safe, have fun, and indulge your darker side.

It comes but once a year. Don’t waste it.

Have you ever wondered where Halloween originated? Why we trick-or-treat? Why we wear costumes? Or even where the word “Halloween” came from?

If you’ve got 2 minutes, I gotcha covered. Check out the video below from History.com. It’s the quick skinny on the greatest holiday in the world.

the-witchThe night I saw The Witch was odd.

I loved it. For me, it was an instant classic. It was the essence of what I want from horror without anything extra.

The friends I saw it with hated it, down to the last person.

Without giving anything about the plot away, here’s what I loved.

First, it’s a basic story. There’s no crazy-ass twist. No one is trying to trick you. You have at least as much information as any of the characters throughout.

It’s all about the creep factor. There’s very little gore. No jump scenes. The thrills don’t rely on any kind of gimmick or crutch. The plot itself is sinister, and that’s what makes it work.

It’s paced nice and slow without being boring. Not once during the 92-minute runtime did I feel restless. I was never anxious for the next scene. Instead, I felt like I was eating a well-planned, multiple-course meal.

It’s packed with deeper meaning. Seriously, this is one of the most thoughtful, thought-provoking horror films I’ve seen. The story arc begs several metaphysical questions about who we are and who we will become.

Unfortunately, my companions that night found it to be slow and simple. I attribute a lot of that to two differences – differences in taste, and differences in cinematic preference. The first is obvious.

As for differences in cinematic preference, some people go to movies to be entertained without any kind of intellectual work. And hey, that’s legit. There’s nothing wrong with that.

I tend to get the most (in joy and satisfaction) from movies with meaning, so The Witch was right up my alley.

If you’re looking for a thoughtful thriller this month and you haven’t seen it, I recommend it highly.

Do you know how hard it’s been on me? Do you have any idea?

Each year I eagerly await the arrival of October. Not only does the month bring my birthday, but also my favorite holiday. However, I try to hold off calling too much attention to Halloween until this, the most magnificent month, has begun.

It’s finally here.

To celebrate the arrival of the best holiday (You can disagree. I don’t mind if you’re wrong.), I’d like to share a cover of one of my favorite songs.

I’ve heard a few covers of “This Is Halloween” from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. While Marilyn Manson’s cover is good for what it is, the one below is my current favorite. Not only does it sound good, but it’s got oodles of goofy charm, as well.

Give it a listen and get in the mood for some wicked good scary times. And if you’ve ever given even passing consideration to taking a stab (get it?) at writing horror, this is the month to do it.

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I’m have mixed feelings about New Year’s resolutions. I make them more often than not, but I understand why some people argue against them. Most people don’t keep them. And really, it’s not all that healthy to limit your periods of personal assessment, goal setting, and intentional growth to once a year. But there are people who pull off resolutions, and I never want to discourage others from setting goals.

So, yeah. Mixed feelings. I’ll tell you want I don’t have mixed feeling about, though. Condescending judgment.

If you don’t want to make resolutions, that’s fine. If you want to preach to all your friends about the futility of resolutions, that’s fine, too. I mean, I’m likely to tune you out or leave the room, but it won’t offend me that you (1) have an opinion and (2) feel the need to share it, even aggressively. But if someone shares their resolutions with you, no matter what your stance on resolutions in general, do not knock the wind out of their sails.

Be nice. Wish them luck. Tell them they can do it. Save the sermon for someone else.

It’s simple, really. If you feel tempted to take pleasure in raining on someone else’s parade, it may be time to take a good, long, hard look in the mirror. That’s mean. Don’t do it.

You don’t have to agree with others to support them.

And if you’re a writer, I encourage you to consider setting a few goals of your own. Nothing crazy lofty. Steer clear of the unattainable. But you might seize the collective momentum of all the resolution-makers and commit to reading more, or a doable but consistent writing schedule, or even just personal journaling.

No, you don’t have to wait for New Year’s to make those kinds of promises to yourself, but here we are. Don’t avoid growth just to be contrary. Go ahead and jump on the band wagon. We’ve got plenty of room.

Whatever your plans for 2016, I wish you and your family the very best. Happy new year, everyone.

Happy Holidays

Sometimes I struggle with knowing what to post this time of year. Not with fiction. That’s usually easy enough. I don’t feel obligated to reference the holidays, and if a holiday-related story comes to mind, I tell it. Easy, peasy. It’s the non-fiction stuff, like my On Writing posts, that leave me scratching my head.

I’m tempted, more than you know, to make quasi-political statements. Then I remember that’s not really what this space is about. While I’m an opinionated person, I have always refrained from airing my views here. Openly, anyway. (Read my stories. You’re sure to catch some of them intermingled in the fiction.)

I’d be lying, however, if I didn’t confess to misgivings about that approach. On the one hand, it can put potential fiction readers off to know my personal views. On the other hand, I have as much right to say what I think as anyone else, and it’s not like my values don’t come through loud and clear in my stories. Besides, I’m not trying to court every potential reader. I’m not trying to write the next ‘great’ airport news stand book. I have no desire to be James (fucking) Patterson.

Heh. How’s that for a snarky little jab?

All that to say, I don’t think there’s a ‘right approach’. If you want to be outspoken about your personal views, be outspoken. If you prefer to keep that stuff private, keep it private. If you air unpopular opinions, you might lose some potential readers, but looking yourself in the mirror every day matters way more. Use your best judgment and go with your gut. If you feel like you’re muzzling yourself, you probably need to speak up.

And when you do, don’t apologize. You have as much right to say what you think as anyone else.

Happy holidays, my friends. Whatever you do or don’t celebrate, I wish you and your family the best. Enjoy any time off you get, avoid fruit cake, and take a moment to appreciate all the good things you have.

On WritingI’m going rogue.

Generally, my ‘On Writing‘ posts are straightforward. This post, and (I suspect) the next few, will be of the tangential variety. There will be connections to the writing process–after all, life’s larger themes have an undeniable and reverberating impact on our fiction–but I may not be talking about word-count or grammar.

To start, on Thanksgiving Day, while prepping, I flipped on the radio. I was in the mood to hear voices, but not music, so I tuned into NPR. My timing was fortuitous, and I joined them just as they were beginning an hour long special entitled “The Science of Gratitude”. The program explored the concrete, objective impact of gratitude on everything from stress to productivity. While it’s not surprising to learn that gratitude generally makes you a better person, the show detailed results far beyond what I would have expected.

The take-away for me was that it’s important to be thankful. There’s almost no way to say that without sounding trite, though, and it’s one of those messages we tend to regulate to after school specials and kindergarten classrooms. It’s a nice thought, but we don’t have time for that shit in the dog-eat-dog reality of the adult world.

Pfff.

You’ve got time to be grateful. It’s not like working out. It doesn’t even cut into your schedule. It’s an attitude, and one well worth cultivating. It’ll make you happier, more pleasant to be around, and it will almost certainly make your writing better. (There’s your tie-in, kids.) It costs you nothing, and it benefits you in a variety of ways. If you refuse an offer like that, you’re either a masochist or an idiot.

Hopefully not both. That’s a dangerous combo.

If you’re sold on the idea of gratitude and don’t know where to start, do the same kind of thing they would do in kindergarten. Make a list of 3-5 things for which you are thankful. Big things, small things–it doesn’t matter. You could do it in your head, but it will stick with you better if you write them out.

Yeah, it’ll feel silly, but no one has to know you’re doing it, and it benefits you. It’s like a high fiber diet. You may not want to advertise it, but shit will be a lot easier to deal with if you just do it.

Find something to be thankful for today. Make it a point to reflect on how lucky you are, even for just a bit. Then try to carry that sense of gratitude with you in all that you do, including (and especially) your writing.

Oh, and if you’re interested in hearing the full radio program, you can stream it here.

Flash FictionAs promised last week, here’s the follow-up to last year’s Back in Black. I can’t say much about the story, though, because the fun of it is in figuring out what’s going on. If you haven’t read Back in Black yet, do that now. Skipping it will mean you have no idea what’s going on in the story below.

Plus, I’m asking nicely. Do be kind.

I don’t write a lot of stories like these, playing with subtle references to meaningful metaphors. Maybe that’s why I get such a kick out of doing it when I do. It’s more like a game than anything else. I’m seriously considering making it an annual thing. It might be entertaining to follow the decline of Black Friday in fiction. (And that, my friend, is as much of a hint as you’re going to get.)

If you have feedback, as always, hit me up with a comment below. Compliments and criticism are both welcome. Now, on to the story.

fade to black

“The night before Thanksgiving is the biggest bar night of the year.” Two said. “I mean, tonight’s a good night, but Wednesday was epic. Did you know that?”

“You may have mentioned it,” his companion said. One was sitting next to him at a table near enough to the bar to be convenient without being in the middle of the swarm.

Even if it was two nights too late to be the biggest night of the year, the bar was still crowded. Patrons ran the gambit, from young, dumb and full of cum to the middle-aged and older. They were flirting. They were dancing. They were sitting in dense clouds of smoke in the corners. And they were drinking. They were drinking a lot.

“It was a fun night,” he said.

“I bet.”

He shrugged. “But tonight’s good, too.”

“Mmhmm.”

They sipped their drinks. Both were buzzed, but and they would stay that way for the majority of the evening. One might or might not achieve a greater degree of inebriation before it was all over. That depended entirely on whether or not she could get lucky. Odds are, she would. Two, on the other hand, was destined to get good and hammered, staggering home in a drunken stupor so severe it would kill the average alcoholic. The beautiful part was he wouldn’t even suffer a hangover the next day.

He looked around the bar, admiring his own handy work. Not that it it had taken much effort. It’s pretty easy to lead a horse to water when it wants to drink. Two was staring down a guy at the next table.

“I don’t think he’s into you,” Two said.

With a frown, she agreed. “I think I’m taking the wrong approach. Save my seat. I’ll be right back.”

She shuffled off in the direction of the bathrooms, ducking and weaving her way through the crowd. A couple of minutes later, a slender guy in his older twenties took her seat. Two smiled.

“Ah, so that’s the hang up.”

“I think so,” One said, now with a male voice. “We’ll see if this yields better results.” She leaned back in her chair with an air of indifference. It made her look like a douche bag, but an attractive one.

It used to freak Two out when she did her gender-swap thing. Then he went through a period of intense curiosity. What must it be like to snap your fingers and turn from he to she? When he told her he was wondering, she promptly offered to show him. After assurance she wouldn’t do anything to embarrass, trap or harm him, he agreed.

The change itself hadn’t felt like anything, but when he looked in the mirror he saw a female version of himself staring back. That was weird enough, and then he tried to walk. His center of gravity had moved, and he staggered in his first few steps. That had been a fun night, culminating in the two of them sharing a bed. While he enjoyed it very much, he hadn’t asked to revisit it.

She made it look easy, though, going from vixen to virile male effortlessly. She took a lazy swig from the half full glass in front of her and smiled at her prey.

That’s what this is, Two thought. A hunt. But he didn’t say anything. After all, he was wearing an orange vest, himself.

Instead, he flagged down the nearest passing waitress–somehow they always saw him–and ordered another round. Then he thought about Five, easily the most epic asshole he’d ever met, and Three and Six. They hadn’t been as cocky during this year’s prep meeting. Things were changing, the tides once more turning in his favor, and he wondered what they were up to at that very moment.

Allowing himself a brief period of self-satisfaction, he indulged a fantasy. What if they were at a bar, very much like this one, knocking back drinks, complaining to each other, already talking about the good old days when folks cut family time short and went to bed early so they could wake well before dawn to go stand in line? What if, without even thinking about the delicious irony, they were giving themselves over to him at that very moment?

He imagined the scene. Five would most likely be slumped over an unnecessarily clunky beer mug, so pissed off that he couldn’t even speak. Beside him, Three and Six, the brother and sister, would be gossiping with each other over some variation of appletinis, their gestures tight and quick. That’s how they got when they were upset. When they lost.

And they had lost. They’d pushed things too far. People were beginning to see the day for what it had become, and the predominant attitude was, “Fuck that. I’d rather eat a shit ton of turkey and watch the game.” In a few years, there might not even be any sales. Two had won, and all he had to do was wait out the predictable yo-yo pattern of human nature.

When he snapped out of his fantasy, he realized One was no longer next to him. She’d made her way to the neighboring table where she was sharing a laugh with her mark. He seemed in favor of her makeover. Two had to give it to her. One was good.

He felt a tap on his shoulder. He didn’t even have to turn and look, though. Instead, he motioned to the now empty chair. Seven took a seat.

As always, Seven was immaculately dressed. His expression was confident without being smug. He looked like somebody’s rich uncle, a distant figure looming in the wings. Of course, that’s what he was. Always nearby, waiting for moments just like this one. Two had practically summoned him.

“You have every right to enjoy it,” Seven said.

Two thought about that for a moment. Five would be irate if he were here, screaming about honor among thieves or some such shit.

“Do I look like I’m not enjoying it?” Two asked.

“Not as as much as you could be. The day is yours. Drink. Dance. Fuck. Do whatever you like. The others won’t interfere. I’ve seen to it.”

Two smiled in spite of himself. He knew what was happening, but he didn’t care. The day wasn’t his. It was Seven’s. It was always Seven’s, no matter which of the other six managed to win out for second place. That was Seven’s way. But did it matter? Even if he couldn’t take the top spot, he was riding higher than Five, Three or Six. That was worth something right there. He could live with that.

“You’re smarter than they realize,” Seven said as thought reading his mind. Hell, maybe he was. It would explain a lot.

“You want something to drink?” Two asked.

Seven laughed. “I’m smarter, too,” he said. Then with a flourish he stood, nodded, and left.

When Two turned to look for One, she was gone, as was the guy she’d been wooing. Back to his place, maybe, or even to the bathroom. That girl didn’t care. As long as they consummated. And maybe that was all that mattered. Not besting his rivals, but reveling in his own nature.

He slammed what was left of his drink and ordered, not one, but two more. It was time to get down to business. It was time to get drunk.