When The Band Refuses To Play

You have this awesome nightclub down the street. Two or three times a week, all your favorite bands play there – all at once, four or five bands getting up on stage to collaborate and syncopate and orchestrate.

Why wouldn’t you head there with all your friends? It’s the best kind of party – people you love, music you adore.

You’ve been going there for – oh, god, you can’t even remember how long. But the best part is watching your favorite band’s singer do his stuff.

That singer is magical, man, with the moves like Jagger, that voice that howls like the wind through October trees, that ability to reach out and hold the whole crowd in the palm of his hand. Whenever he gets up on stage, you know the best part of the night has arrived.

Now, of course, he’s not everybody’s favorite singer, and there are nights when the other bands do it more for you. But you’ve been coming here for years, decades, and this cat is who you rely on. Sometimes you’re feeling low, not in the mood to party, and thoughts of this fella leaping up onto the risers is what gets you out of bed to shake those blues away.

And he’s always there. Always, always there. To the point where you don’t even question his existence – he’s just gonna be on stage if you go to that club you love.

Until he’s not.

Because one night, that singer’s a little shy. The band vamps for a bit, playing his intro music, and you’re like “That’s weird” but then he struts onto the stage and you almost forget it.

Almost.

But a couple of months later, there’s a bigger awkwardness where the band vamps for, like, twenty minutes, just this unexpected musical jam session where everyone in the club keeps looking off-stage in the hopes that the singer shows up – and eventually he does, and it’s an okay set but what the hell was that?

Yet that’s the weird thing: most nights, the singer shows up. He’s still a machine; ninety-five nights out of a hundred, he’s playing his heart out. But you’re so tense wondering if there’s gonna be that impatient band vamping that you start to tune out the other bands playing that night. It’s hard to relax and get into it if you know the end of the night is gonna be not the musical crescendo you wanted but this long, wheezing build-up that you spend the whole night looking backstage, seeing how the singer’s doing that evening.

And then the awful night comes up when the band plays for half an hour, strumming the guitars until their fingers bleed, and the singer doesn’t show up.

You didn’t even know that was possible.

And now that anticipation gets worse, because the club isn’t bad – you’ve still got all those other bands you love hearing – but for as long as you can remember you got that thrill of hearing your favorite singer croon you out, and now he’s usually there but the rest of the night has changed. You have to focus on different bands, struggle for a new kind of enjoyment, because maybe your favorite band might be off-stage tonight and you’re used to planning your evening around him and now he’s unreliable, that jerk.

More troublesome: Some of your best friends really, really liked that singer. He was the main reason they showed up to the club. And when that singer doesn’t play, they look to you confused and you feel weirdly guilty about it even though it’s not really your fault.

So you talk to your therapist about it. And she’s like, “This is completely normal for a man who’s been going to clubs as long as you have. In fact, your singer’s pretty healthy, it’s just that you’ve been really, really into music all your life and now you have to deal with the kinds of clubs that other men often go to.”

And you’re like, “But I want my singer back.”

And she’s like, “There are pills that can get him back.”

And you’re like, “No, the point is that I want my singer without the pills.”

And for weeks after that, spammers start sending you emails telling you how they totally know ways to get your singer back, just send like a billion dollars and this rhino horn extract will surely lure your singer back on stage.

And all the while you’ve got friends who are like, “Come on, man, your devotion to that singer is a little egotistic, isn’t it? We’ve been going to different clubs, clubs where they don’t even have singers and to think that a band needs a singer to be a real band is just some antiquated macho bullshit. Come on, pick up a ukelele.”

And you’re sitting there trying to explain that yes, you know that the singer isn’t the focus point of every band and you totally respect those all-acoustic bands, but for you the singer was the best part and it’s not that you’re saying that everyone has to have a singer but your singer is very dear to you and as such you’re gonna worry about his health.

But your therapist is right: the club is still super fun. The bands are still great to sing along to. You just have to develop a greater appreciation for the other bands, because he’s probably coming but you’ve gotta come to terms with the fact that your singer might not arrive to bring the night to a fine climax.

And for some reason, as you start to talk about this, you find it very important to stress that your singer’s in pretty good shape for a man your age, if you come to the club for some singerual activity you’re pretty much guaranteed to get a singer all up in your face, which is ridiculous because music is more than a singer, but for some reason a lot of bands don’t like to admit that sometimes their singer conks out.

The singer’s not important, really. It’s just… a transition. And you’re getting to appreciate different kinds of music, which is great, but deep down there’s a part of you that just wishes that goddamned singer would never miss his mark.


This essay has been a metaphor. It’s subtle. You may have missed it.

Living The Doritos Lifestyle (And Why It’ll Stuff Your Belly And Sap Your Dreams)

A friend of mine was complaining about videogames – specifically, open-world videogames. Because yes, technically, you’ve been given all of this free space to wander, an infinite number of possibilities…

…yet all the missions boil down to “Go here and kill these people” or “Go here and touch this thing” or “Go here and kill these people so you can touch this thing.” If you’re lucky they dress it up in different narrative clothing – that thing you have to touch is a bomb switch to save the orphanage from being blown up, or it’s twenty bear asses – but mechanically, it’s all pretty much identical.

I agreed with him. And yet I’ve beaten all the Elder Scrolls and Fallouts out there, ticking off quest after quest until all the quests are checked.

And I wondered: Is that fun?

And the answer is: Sorta.

I’ll admit it: I have a lot more enjoyment in the early stages of any videogame – the parts where I’m still working out what strategies are optimal, what these controls do, what my powers are or will be. And then, invariably, I get to the level where I’ve found my killer strategies, and…

It’s Dorito-eating time.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with Doritos, but let’s be honest: only the most dedicated of stoners savors a Dorito. Mostly you stuff them into your face because the taste is familiar, and they’re just enough of a burst of taste that it triggers some sense of satiation within you – but, importantly, not enough taste to feel you’ve had enough.

I think a lot of us have arrived at the bottom of a bag of Doritos by surprise – we didn’t think we were munching that many. Because Doritos are eating without being engaged.

Likewise, lots of videogame quests are designed to fill that “You’re playing something just engaging enough to feel like you’re accomplishing something, but not enough that you’ll get exhausted and quit.” Is it good? Well, like the Doritos, after a while you do it without paying full attention, so “good” is a weird definition. I mean, a lot of the time people eat the Doritos on some form of autopilot because it’s there and it’s something….

And so are those videogame quests. Will you remember them a year or even a month from now? No. Are they interesting? Well, interesting enough. They’ll let you slide through an evening in a sort of meditative trance. But when the spell is done, there you are, three hours gone and a couple of levels higher but not much has happened.

A lot of modern culture is designed around Doritos-style entertainment. The people at Doritos know how to create a chip that would be flavorful enough to shock you out of eating more. But that would mean that you would eat less Doritos, so they purposely engineer all that cool ranch flavor to ensure that the taste sails in between those shoals of “too bland to eat” and “so interesting there’s a finite amount you can consume.”

Savoring an experience takes focus, and effort – at least for most of us. And when we get home at the end of a hard work day, there’s the question of whether we want to eat one perfect piece of cheese that will fulfill us but we have to concentrate on, or just chow down on what’s there today and get full without effort.

But remember: you’ve got a whole marketing department that’s playing to your exhaustion.

This isn’t a condemnation of the Doritos lifestyle, though. We all have days where we want that comfort reading – those simple romance stories or potboiler fantasy novels where we know what we’re getting, and it’s our brain-goes-on-autopilot treat. I mean, I’ve got my level 82 dude on Fallout 4 because hey, I enjoy my own Doritos gaming moments.

But if you’re not careful, your whole life can slide into that Doritos crunch. You can fall into a repetitive numbness where you watch the Doritos reality shows and play the Doritos quests and eat the Doritos bags and then wonder at the end of the day why you feel vaguely sick from overeating but have never felt satisfied.

The answer is that sometimes, you gotta break free and turn the brain on for a bit so you can ramp your appreciation neurons all the way to the max, spiking out on joy so your brain can say, “YES, THAT’S IT, I’VE HIT IT, NOW I GOTTA SLEEP THANKS.”

Otherwise, in the Doritos lifestyle, you never sleep. You just… drift off. And the thin dreams you can grab are the dreams of an uncomfortably full belly attempting to digest something that’s really ultimately not healthy.

Why “You Got This!” Feels Like A Threat

“Once again, dear friend, I have a mighty problem that needs solving, and I don’t know whether I’m capable enough to fix things.”

Back comes the cry: “No worries! You got this!”

At which point my innards seize up as my internal monologue takes over: But I just told you I DON’T have this. I wouldn’t have brought this up as a concern unless failure was a very real possibility. I’m standing on the edge of my competence and peering into the black void of letting people down.

Except that you clearly think that I AM this capable. Which means that if I screw this up, I will now not only have fucked up in the ORIGINAL way, but I will now have let you down as well.

Whoah. That’s pressure.

I mean, I guess it would be nice to be seen as this Godlike, ineffable being who can surpass problems with mere willpower if I WAS that person – but I’m this easily-overwhelmable, forgetful, short-sighted and occasionally flat-out thoughtless creature who crawls out of his own wreckage on a regular basis. If you’re friends with me because I “got” things, then are we really friends? Or just strangers floating by on some awkward delusion?

And now, I have to figure out whether my bond with these you-got-this people is strong enough to sustain a correction. Sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes I just have to nod and go, ‘Yeah, I guess I got this’ and hope to hell I can either gottenate or bury my failures deep enough that they don’t see the stinkingly fallible human being deep inside. But with this person…

“Hey.”

“What?”

“Listen, To me, ‘you got this’ feels like you’re saying ‘I’ll leave your ass if you fail at anything.’ Can you try something else instead?”

“Like what?”

“I dunno – how about, ‘I’ll still love you even if everything collapses’? Is that true?”

“Oh. Yeah. My friendship with you is not contingent upon success.”

“Thanks, friend. That’s what I need to hear right now.”

Do You Want To Hear About The Novels I Might Never Publish?

Yesterday, I finished the first draft of a book – possibly one of the best books I’ve ever written.

You may never get to read it.

That’s because, when you’re a Professional Writer (TM), there’s a big gap between “What you write” and “What you can get published.” Most authors have a few books that got trunked because no editor wanted to buy them.

So when I bellow, “I have finished a 116,000-word novel!” and everyone rushes in excitedly to ask, “What’s it called?” and “What’s it about?” and “I can’t wait to read that!”, I feel guilty. Because publishing is slow and uncertain, and yes, I finished the first draft of The Sol Majestic in May of 2015, and diligent readers may remember that it came out two months ago.

And that was a speedy turnaround, my friends. And it actually got bought.

So usually, I don’t talk about my books in progress because I think it’s a walking Badfeels to get people stoked about writing that I honestly don’t know will ever see the light of day! But folks seem to be interested in my process, so what’s an author to do?

Then I remembered: I have a newsletter.

So here’s the deal: my newsletter will now be where my super-secret discussions of these mysterious works-in-progress will be discussed. I figure if you’re willing to have me email you every two months or so, you’re not opposed to me blathering about potentials.

So. I’ve finished a book that I call CORDED. It’s about rope-fucking and palace intrigue. I think it’s probably one of the least salable things I’ve ever created, and that’s saying something for a guy who sold a book based on time-travelling soup battles.

[If you sign up for my newsletter today], later in the week I’ll spill more details on this weirdie little book and the challenges therein. I’ll be like the pandas in the zoo – behind the glass, where you can watch me in real time as I perhaps fail to reproduce successfully.

And that’s where I’ll be sharing my progress.

(And should you want to ensure these novels see the light of day, literally the best thing you can do is buy my latest novel – and if you’ve done that, bless your heart, give it a bad review or tell a friend about it. The publishers will only buy my weirdy little books if the current ones continue to sell – and let’s be honest, The Sol Majestic got great reviews but it’s still a niche book, so it needs all the boosts it can get!)

There’s A Difference Between Being Enthusiastic With Someone And Enthusiastic AT Someone.

I don’t care for anime, on the whole. And I have been trapped in convention conversations where a woman is spewing anime information at me, and I tell her I don’t know that show, and she proceeds to tell me all about her love for some spiky-haired cartoon person and I have no idea what’s going on, and I would leave but unfortunately I made the unwise decision to wait in the same line as her.

I have also had excellent conversations about anime where I still didn’t care much for it, but the person discussed their love for some spiky-haired cartoon person and I went, “Oh! That’s interesting.”

The difference?

They paid attention to me.

In the first case, the woman wasn’t there to participate in a discussion – they had a firehose of facts they found interesting that they wanted to turn upon someone, and I was nearby. When I said “I don’t know that show,” they didn’t attempt to inform me why I should care about that show, but proceeded to tell me why they cared about that show – in the process, usually omitting facts that I would need to understand basic concepts like “What is this show about?”

In the second case, the woman was there to share a love with me, and as such they gave me a quick pitch for the show, and I said “Oh, that’s interesting!” and they proceeded to tell me about why this show was different from American shows, basically homing in on the aspects I asked questions in. Which made it a dialogue.

The basic difference in these conversations were twofold:

One was there to tell me how they felt about things.

The other was there to see how I felt about things.

And I bring this up because yeah, the nerdy “Don’t spew about your D&D character” is usually Socialization 101. (Not that there’s anything wrong with 101 courses.) But when I talked about how men often talk their way out of sex with women, there was an interesting sub-aspect to that:

See, men are often trained by society that they have to be interesting to women. Which… isn’t exactly wrong, because dick is cheap and abundant. A lot of seduction conversations are two-sided – the man is asking, “Will this woman have sex with me?” and the woman is asking, “Will this man give me sex that I’ll find fulfilling?”

So what a lot of men get taught to do is to spew their interestingness. They have a nice car. They work out. They have a good job. They broadcast all the things they have been taught that women find attractive (NOTE: this is not necessarily the same as what women do find attractive, which is why a staggering number of dick shots get sent prematurely), and they just sort of hope this cloud of Interesting leads them on the path to laiddom.

But in the process of doing that, they often forget to listen. They’re telling the woman how they feel about politics or news stories, but completely overlook how their partner is reacting to this.

And as I said yesterday, “If you can’t listen to her when she tells you about her job, you sure as well won’t listen to her when she tells you about her vagina.”

So you know, it’s not wrong to talk about your car or your fishing techniques or your politics. But it is wrong – at least, if you’re trying to forge a connection strong enough for a person to let you into their bed – to just firehose out a spiel that boils down to “I AM A VERY INTERESTING PERSON AND YOU SHOULD WANT TO HAVE SEX WITH ME” if you’re not actually going to notice when and what the woman says back.

Again. That’s close to Social Interactions 101. But judging from the many comments I got across the social medias yesterday, a lot of men still aren’t getting it. So lemme boil it down for you:

If you’re striking up a conversation in the hopes of sex, in many cases, listening will get you laid a lot more than talking.

Next up: Why Listening Isn’t Just Nodding Your Head And Agreeing With Everything She Says, Or: Why Am I Still Not Getting Any Interested Women When I’m Not Actually Contributing Anything To Their Lives?

I Want You To Give My Book A Bad Review. Honestly.

So I got my first one-star review on Amazon for my book The Sol Majestic, which called the gay teen romance “pedophilia.” (I think the guy was deeply confused about the characters, but what the hey.)

And I noted that that was the first review under five stars that The Sol Majestic has gotten, which should tell you one thing: It doesn’t have enough reviews. (Any book with enough reviews should rack up a mixture.)

To which someone replied, “Shit, dude. If you wanted bad reviews, you only had to say so!”

I do. I want all your honest bad reviews.

You know why?

1. Amazon Ranks Books On The Number Of Reviews They Get.
Right now, The Sol Majestic has 23 reviews. Once a book gets 50 reviews, Amazon starts treating your book better; it’s far more likely to recommend it to other people, it jumps in the search results, etc. etc.

(Some claim this is an urban legend, but in my experience, the big reviews gets the nod.)

Now, here’s the trick: Amazon does not care whether those magic 50 consist of good reviews or bad reviews. They just want sufficient feedback to determine that yeah, we have enough data to determine that people who liked this book also liked this other book.

So every time you leave a review, even if it’s “1 star dnf,” you are actually helping the author. This applies to other sites, too – GoodReads, Barnes and Noble, Powell’s, your blog, etc.

2. I Want People To Have An Honest Idea About My Book.
Here’s a weird truth about the publishing industry: Most authors have a good friend whose books they don’t particularly care for.

It’s not that their friend writes bad books, but rather that we all have different tastes. My books tend to have protagonists who are uncertain and anxious; if you want strong protagonists who bull their way through every situation, you’re probably not gonna like what I do.

And that’s fine.

As an author, I’m not here to have my butt kissed – I’m here to deliver a book that you’re gonna enjoy! So if you read my book and say, “Hey, I thought he spent too much time describing the food in The Sol Majestic,” you know what leaving a three-star review mentioning that does?

It tells people what they’re gonna get in the book.

And that, my friends, is awesome. I’m often driven to see things by “negative” reviews – I remember when Mad Max: Fury Road came out and a bunch of MRAs were complaining bitterly that it was stupid how a woman’s character arc eclipsed Max’s, that sounded awesome to me. And it was! Because one person’s meat is another person’s poison.

So please. Leave reviews – honest ones. Don’t flatter me with five-star reviews you don’t stand by, don’t leave “funny” one-star reviews for unread books.

But if you have read one of my books – or any author’s! – you will be doing everyone a favor by heading over to a website and leaving your opinion. It helps everyone. Even if your opinion is negative.

(And if you’ve read The Sol Majestic and wanna help me boost that Amazon count up to 50, I would be very very grateful. Thankew!)

When I Do My Best Flirting

If you’d like a handy hint on How To Flirt, here is my personal experience on when I am always on my A-game for flirting:

When I don’t realize I am.

Seriously. Half the time I’ll be told, “You’re so flirty!” and I’m like “I THOUGHT I WAS JUST BEING FRIENDLY I LIKE JOKES WHY IS THIS FLIRTATIOUS” and they go, “Don’t you know?”

No. I don’t. I mean, it’s nice if you’re responding positively, but boy, my own flirtations are a complete mystery to me.

So if you think I’m flirting with you, I mean, I’m probably not opposed to being more intimate, but that’s not my intent. I just radiate some weird-ass aura. And I have no idea how to turn it off.