Echoes of Ovid

I like exploring hotels . . . especially the long empty hallways, late at night. I keep expecting to see ghosts or encounter out of work gods or have strange adventures. None of these things ever happen, unfortunately.As I write this, I’m sitting in a hotel room in glamourous Flint, Michigan.

(ADDED: It’s actually three weeks ago. But in Quantum Physics, time is merely a construct of our limited perception. So.)

I like hotel rooms. They make me feel grown up. Which means I also hate hotel rooms. They make me feel lonely.

There is, perhaps, a correlation there worth exploring. For that matter, I like exploring hotels . . . especially the long empty hallways, late at night. I keep expecting to see ghosts or encounter out of work gods or have strange adventures. None of these things ever happen, unfortunately.

Which is another reason why I hate love hate hotels.

(Also, I’m meant to be home with my family. That’s another tick in the “hate” column. It isn’t right, being separated from the people you love and who love you.)

In this hotel somewhere, someone is intermittently pounding either the ceiling or the floor. I can feel the shockwaves shuddering beneath my feet every so often.

Could be a ghost, I suppose. Or a god. But I’m too tired to get up and explore. I was up early this morning and, after a long long day, I’ve got to be up early tomorrow as well for another one, even longer than today.

It’s been like this a lot lately. These past few weeks have been long ones, each day progressively more hectic than the one before. I’ve been on the road a fair amount, traveling for work — getting up too early, spending all day talking and working with people, staying up too late to catch up on the things I was meant to be doing during the day.

Sometimes, most times, my evenings are devoted to just sitting and letting my batteries recharge. And then I have to get up too early the next morning to do it all over again.

These are busy times, so much so that this post was meant to already be out there, skipping about with April and spreading all my good news like so many colored eggs. Unfortunately, it has had to suffer in limbo until May sashayed in the door and gave me that come-hither look.

(ADDED: And even May is looking a little long in the tooth, with June vamping it up just around the corner.)

See, even innocent, well-meaning blog posts have to suffer when I get too busy.

(ADDED: Also, apparently I’m anthropomorphizing the months as Vargas pinups.)

Fortunately, all those good things that were supposed to happen back in April still happened. And a few others showed up for the party as well.

Such as this…

“The depth and literary flesh of the two lead characters is one main draw of the work, but the real star here is Camp’s near-perfect prose. This is a beautifully written book, plain and simple. Few contemporary authors write with such elegance.”

Those are some very nice comments that Wes Covey wrote about “Assam & Darjeeling” over at The Contrarian website. You can read there rest of his review here.

Anastam by The Ten Thousand ThingsWes is also a helluva musician/composer too, as I’ve recently discovered. His band The Ten Thousand Things is just about to release their latest album Anastam. I’ve listened to it streaming on the Lux Eterna website and can safely say that I’m looking forward to picking it up. You should check it out as well.

(This is not payola. The fact that Wes does very cool things with sound and music has nothing to do with the fact that he also wrote a rather nice review of my book.)

This Ain’t No April Fool’s

Assam & DarjeelingI posted this at the beginning of last month but I’m not sure people believed me. Chalk it up to bad timing, people jaded by holiday shenanigans, poor choices in the combinations of art and copy, or just Mercury in retrograde… take your pick.

But! While we’re on the subject of books, a mixup at the printer has given me the chance to offer softcover copies of “Assam & Darjeeling” for only $10 (shipping and handling included).

Looking at it one way, that’s only five bucks apiece (plus shipping and handling).

Looking at it another way, that’s over 60% off the cover price.

You could even say it breaks down to just over a penny per page.

Any way you parse it, $5 is a helluva deal for a story that people all around the world seem to genuinely like and even love.

(I got a very nice note this morning from a new reader in Croatia, by the way. How cool is that?)

Full disclosure: The books have a small printing error on the spine and a little bit of scuffing on the corners. It’s the sort of thing that you might not even notice if you weren’t looking for it. But it’s there. So.

So . . . despite the April Fool confusion, people have been picking them up — either for themselves or as gifts or to donate to their local library.

That being said, I’ve still got a number of copies left, so order yours now while they’re still available.

UPDATE: The special priced copies have all been sold. You can order the regularly priced ones here.

Nostalgia Ain’t What it Used to Be

Yesterday A few days ago Last week Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak to a group of high school students and their parents. It was part of the “Write Away” creative writing competition — an annual event sponsored by my friends Ken and Alice Jones in partnership with the Hastings Community Foundation.

I got to read all the entries and participate as one of the judges. It gave me an odd sense of deja vu, reading these poems and stories. I was reminded a great deal of what my own early work looked like, when I was writing around that same age. I’ve still got a lot of that early writing, actually. It’s all tucked away in my filing cabinet. I haven’t looked at it in years.

Leading up to the event this week, I spent a lot of time working on my speech. All this preparation mainly involved pacing around my office and talking to myself, working through the Very Strange Ideas that I have about writing and trying to cover all the aspects of how important writing is to doing well in school, getting a good job, and persuading people more attractive than yourself to take you seriously as a romantic prospect.

(I left that last bit out of the final speech.)

All in all, things went well. Most everyone stayed awake and I had the chance to talk briefly to one or two of the writers — particularly one young man who, I suspect, has a good future ahead of him. It made me very happy to have the opportunity to personally tell this to him (and his parents).

People said nice things to me as well and I have no reason to think they were being anything but honest when they said that they’d enjoyed my speech. So that was also nice.

A few of you have asked if the speech was recorded. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to arrange that. However, I did have a fairly accurate outline of it in my head, based on my notes and ramblings. The following is pieced together from that and isn’t so much a transcript as it is an historical reenactment. You can also listen to me reading it here.

It’s worth noting that the awards ceremony was in an old church. There were pews and everything. I did not, however, opt for using the pulpit. Probably wise.

After the initial introductions and thank you’s, I warned them all that I was going to say Some Strange Things. I warned them three times at least. I don’t know if they believed me at first, but I think a few of them realized that I wasn’t kidding once I started in with this…

“Now shall I tell of things that change.
New being out of old.
Since you, O gods, invented mutable arts and gifts,
give me the voice to tell the shifting story
of the world.”

Anyone know what that is or where it comes from?


It’s okay, this isn’t a test. I’ll just tell you.

That’s an invocation, a specific kind of prayer to the gods. This one in particular is an old prayer, over two thousand years old. They were written by a Roman poet named Ovid, the opening lines to his masterpiece “Metamorphoses”.

Like many of his contemporaries, Ovid began his work with an invocation to the gods. In part, he was asking their blessing on his efforts. He was also sending a nod their way, acknowledging the source of his skill and inspiration.

Ovid was taking all of the mythologies that had been told for hundreds of years and bringing them together, uniting the stories of the Greeks and the Romans for the very first time.

Uniting the gods for the very first time.

No wonder he started with a prayer.

Ovid was listening to the echoes of all of the stories and myths that had come before, adding his own voice to them and crafting stories that would echo down the years to us today.

“Metamorphoses” is still being read today. You might have studied it in one of your classes. At the very least, you probably will once you get to college.

But you already know many of these tales. The stories of Ovid have spread far in the past two thousand years. You can hear echoes of them in the faerie tales you read when you were little. They echo in the books that you have sitting on your nightstand, in the television shows you watch, the movies you go to, the comic books you read — well, the comic books I read — and you can hear them in the video games you play.

I even hear echoes of Ovid in your stories and poems. For some of you, the echoes are very strong. In other, maybe a little bit faint. But they are there nonetheless.

Just as Ovid eavesdropped on the past and added his own voice to carry these stories forward, so too are each and every one of you. As writers — and you are writers, all of you — you are adding your own voices to strengthen these stories, and others in the future will hear the echoes of your words as well.

The poet Muriel Rukeyser said that “the universe is made up of stories, not atoms.”

Which is, I suppose, precisely the sort of this you might expect a poet to say.

It’s very poetic but I also believe that it happens to be true.

Think about it. Everything we know about the world and the universe beyond, it’s nothing more than a collection of stories.

A mathematical formula is nothing more than a story, putting a shape around reality so we can hold it in our mind.

History and Science, Mathematics and Physics… these are all stories.

Our understanding and experience of the universe?

It’s all stories.

Poetic, perhaps. But if anyone believed Rukeyser’s was speaking literally, we’d probably say they were crazy.

That might be true. They just might be crazy. And, according to some current research in the area of Quantum Physics, they might also be right as well.

According to some researchers working today, there is strong evidence to suggest that the universe itself — everything we know and experience, the whole of existence all around us — is the secondary by-product of a primal information.

The burst of information, the force that brought all of this into existence is sometimes called the Big Bang.

Appropro of our venue here tonight, you could put it another way: “In the beginning was the Word.”

Whatever you believe — and I don’t pretend to fully understand the science or theology of it — the universe has its roots in some kind of ancient information.

That is to say, everything that’s here now is an echo.

Including us.

Everything about us is nothing more or less than a story. If I ask you to tell me who you are, you begin by telling me the shortest story you know: You tell me your name. And then, from there, you tell me more of your stories.

Our thoughts are a collection of concepts and images; they’re stories. Our family histories, our memories, our futures and our past — it’s all stories.

Your first kiss… your first day of school… the first time you have your heart broken… the birth of your first child… the first steps they take… the last steps you take…

These are nothing but stories. We are nothing but stories.

I’m not just saying these things to be deliberately weird. I actually believe them — and not in some kind of poetic, figurative way. I believe all of this on a literal level as well.

This is a holy thing to me.

And if I were you right now, sitting there, I’d probably be wondering why this guy was telling me all of this weird stuff.

I’m telling you this because I want you to understand that I’m not kidding around when I say to you: You are, each one of you, a Writer.

Don’t say you’re an “aspiring” Writer. Don’t call yourself a wannabe. Don’t say “when I grow up I want to be a Writer.”

You already are a Writer. You’re writing.

You’re doing something special, something other people can’t do.

I don’t say this arrogantly. This isn’t some kind of superiority complex. I’m not saying you’re better than anyone else.

Lots of people can put words together, make sentences, communicate their thoughts. Fine.

But Writers are different.

Writers take those things — letters and words, sentences and paragraphs . . . the atoms and molecules of stories — and they combine them together in such a way to produce something greater than the sum of its parts.

That’s what Writers do. That’s what you do.

When you write, there’s a force at work in your words — the same force that echoes throughout the universe — that creates a chain reaction in the minds of everyone who reads them.

Like I said, that’s a very holy thing to me. It’s the kind of thing that Ovid recognized was at work in his stories, a force for which he humbly gave thanks to the gods.

So should we all.

They asked me to come here tonight to tell you about how writing opens doors for you, helps you find a good job, expands your career opportunities. All of those things are true but that is not what I came here to tell you tonight. Obviously.

I came here to tell you this: Don’t be afraid.

Don’t be afraid that you’re not good enough. Don’t be afraid that you’re too young, that you don’t know what you’re doing. Don’t be afraid that you don’t have any good ideas.

Just keep writing. Every day.

Don’t be afraid. Don’t hide what you’re doing. Let your parents read what you’ve written, let your friends see it if they ask.

Don’t be afraid that people won’t like what you’ve written. Some of them will love it. Some of them will hate it. Some of them won’t even bother finishing it, if they even read it at all.

Don’t be afraid of any of that. Just keep writing.

Don’t be afraid of other writers. Don’t be afraid to share your work together, to trade compliments and criticisms back and forth. Start a little Writer’s Group, get together with a few others once a week and read what you’re working on. Collaborate and play together. Encourage and hold each other up.

Don’t be afraid.

Don’t be afraid to send your work out there, when it’s ready. Don’t be afraid to send it to a magazine or a newspaper or a website. Don’t be afraid to send it to an agent or a publisher.

Don’t be afraid of rejection. There will be rejection. Keep writing anyway.

Don’t be afraid. Keep writing.

Don’t be afraid that you won’t ever be famous. Don’t be afraid that you won’t be on the New York Times bestseller list. Don’t be afraid that you won’t ever be rich.

Writers don’t write to be famous. They don’t write to make lists or win awards. They don’t write to get rich.

You write — I write, we write — because it’s who we are.

It’s who you are.

So don’t be afraid. Keep writing.

Now I’m almost done, I promise. But I’ve got a few things to say to your parents. You can listen in…

Mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles . . . first of all, let me say Thank You.

Thank you for being here tonight, for supporting your children. You’ve got something special here and I’m glad to see so many of you here tonight.

If a coach took you aside and said “You know, I’ve never seen a kid throw a forward pass as well as your son does…” or if they said “Your daughter can sink ten in a row from the top of the key, over and over again…” or if they said “They’re they best goalie I’ve ever seen at this age…”

You’d be over the moon. You’d move heaven and earth to help make the most of their talents, skills, and abilities.

It’s what we do as parents, after all. I’ve got kids, I know.

You get up early on the weekends to get them to practice. You come home from work and, instead of kicking off your shoes and collapsing on the sofa, you head out to shoot baskets until it’s dark. You sit in the rain and cheer them on during the away games. You sacrifice. You pay for uniforms, off-season leagues, summer camps.

It’s what we do.

But when you’re kid’s a writer . . . who knows? Most people don’t know the first place to start. They might not discourage their kid . . . but they might not do much else.

Moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles — your kids are Writers. I have to say, some of them are exceptional. They’re the equivalent of the star quarterback.

And they need your help.

You need to do everything you can for them. You need to learn about the world they’re heading into. You need to help them navigate the path ahead. You have to learn everything you can about the publishing industry, about how agents and editors work, about submissions and cover letters and synopses, you need to learn about the Internet and the new technologies that are emerging and how writers are using them.

Your kid needs your help, as much as if they were a star athlete. Even more, because the road ahead is almost unknown, unexplored by most people.

They need your help.

And, like I told them, I’m telling you: Don’t be afraid.

Don’t be afraid that your son’s walking around half the time with his head in the clouds. Don’t be afraid that you’re daughter’s always got her nose in a book. Don’t be afraid if she spends all her free time writing in her notebook.

Let them read. Let them write. Let them take the creative writing classes and attend the workshops and writers’ groups. Let them write.

These are the things they need to be doing. That’s their practice. And you need to encourage them to be doing it every day.

And don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid that they’re going to grow up to be an *dramatic pose* Artist. Don’t be afraid that they won’t have any prospects. Don’t be afraid that they won’t get a good job.

They’re writers. They’re learning how to communicate, to craft concrete meaning from abstract thoughts, to capture people’s minds and hearts and imaginations, to develop messages that persuade or educate or, yes, even sell.

They’re learning discipline, endurance, self-confidence. They’re learning how to begin, manage, and complete projects. They’re learning how to enjoy the effort it takes to make something good, to make it better.

I’ve worked in sales, public relations, politics, corporate communications, marketing, internet development, and advertising. Every single boss I had, from the best to the worst, absolutely valued the talents and skills I had as a writer.

Don’t be afraid. They’ll be fine.

And even more, they’re learning about empathy and human life. They’re learning how to communicate, how to see things from different points of view. They’re learning skills that will make them better wives and husbands, things that will make them productive members of their community.

And they’re going to tell your grandchildren the best bedtime stories ever.

Don’t be afraid. The worst case scenario is that they end up with a good job that they enjoy, a life that has meaning and fulfillment. And that should be all that any parent can hope for their child.

Don’t be afraid. The worst that can happen is they sit up at night after the house is quiet and the chores are done, after everyone’s asleep, and they work on their latest story, or that poem they’ve been playing with, or their next novel.

That’s a pretty good life. Every once in a while they might even get to go and say strange things to some high school kids and their parents and hand out some awards.

They’ll be happy. Trust me. I know what I’m talking about.

So don’t be afraid.

– – –

So . . . there you go. It’s a bit long, I know. But the nice lady in charge said I could go as long as I wanted. Which is exactly what I did.

Apart from a few changes here and there — a few additions, a few deletions that I’ve made to clarify things and make me look cleverer than I deserve — that’s pretty close to what I probably said. At the very least, it’s what I meant to say and tried to say, as best I could.

I believe very word of it. And I sincerely hope some of the students and their parents heard it.

At the very least, it was the high point of a very long week. And so I’ve decided to share it with you here.

(If you subscribe to The Gospel of Thomas podcast, can also listen to a recording of it as well.)

Speaking of Memories

This was about as cool as I ever got. A young Ted Knight.To share a little solidarity with the high school kids, the latest episode of The Gospel of Thomas features one of my earliest stories — something I wrote back around my Sophomore or Junior year in high school.

It’s called “Memories of Green” and it’s probably one of the longer things I’d written up to that point.

It’s very “high school” in some ways, very Napoleon Dynamite sketching on his notebook and bragging about his skills.

I feel a little protective of the gawky, insecure kid who tapped it out on an old Royal typewriter late at night, taking the time to do three or four drafts before calling it finished. In kindness to him, I haven’t changed a word of it. He did the best he could and, honestly, I’m not sure it’s fair to go back and try to make him better than he was. I’m not sure I could write this story better now. I’d probably goof it up in the process of trying to fix it.

At any rate, only a few people have ever read or heard this story. Now you can too.

The Smartest Car that I Ever Saw…

Genius CarAnd while we’re on the subject of podcasts…

Regular listeners of The Gospel of Thomas know full well my enthusiasm for (and debt to) the eclectic local music collective known as Genius Car. In addition to providing the show with it’s rollicking fun theme song (Wes Meixner’s excellent “Leather Tamale”), each episode features at least one or two songs from their regular ICS collaborations.

A while back, they asked me if I had any lyrics lying around that they could use. I had a few things, but I also suggested they give me a couple of themes to trigger some new ideas.

Here’s what they sent me:

  • Hubris of Man
  • Murder Mystery
  • On the Run from the Law
  • Routine Morning Operetta
  • Getting Fit with Pontius Pilates
  • Time Traveling Prostitute

Some good stuff there. I sent them a few things that (admittedly) I whipped up pretty damn fast. Despite the obvious shortcomings on my end, it was nice to get a handful of brand new songs a week or so later.

From a process standpoint, it was interesting to hear the finished songs. I learned a lot about what to do (and what I shouldn’t have done) when writing lyrics for someone else.

You can read my original lyrics and listen to what Genius Car did with it all in the next-to-latest episode of The Gospel of Thomas.

Genius Car doesn’t have a website up and running just yet but you can get connected with them on Facebook — and, just between you and me, all of their songs to date are available for download if you poke around a bit looking for a link on their page. The words “Hey jerk…” should be your clue as to where to go.

I love these guys. Here’s hoping we get a chance to do it again.

Singular Achievement Phenomenon

Arkle!And speaking of music, I was tapped by Arkle to co-host a new show about One Hit Wonders. We’ve got a couple of episodes in the can, with a new one on the 11th of each month.

The first is a mini episode exploring the relative merits of “Funkytown” and our June 11th episode covers the spectrum of pop music pleasure and pain, from “Who Let the Dogs Out?” to Alien Ant Farm’s cover of “Smooth Criminal”.

Fun stuff. You can listen to the first few episodes here, with a new one on the 11th of each month.

(In my mind, Arkle is a Green Lantern duck. That’s what I visualize when we’re doing the show. In reality, I understand he’s actually a very nice guy named Brian who has scaled the heights of Mt. Powerdorkery and gazes down on the rest of us benevolently as we struggle in the foothills. Just saying.)

The Book at the End of this Monster

(ADDED: And now it’s three weeks later. My schedule is not nearly so hectic as it was . . . although it looks like this might be temporary. Things might heat up again for a few weeks soon. But, before they do, I’ve got one last thing to share…)

Congratulations. You hung in there and endured a ridiculous amount of podcasting news.

As a reward, I’ve got some actual news about Writing: It’s looking very likely that my next book, the too-short-to-be-a-novella-and-too-long-to-be-a-short-story The Cradle, will be available later this summer.

And by “available” I mean you’ll be able to download, listen, and/or buy a copy of your very own.

For those of you who have been asking, this is another Jee story. And, I should mention, this isn’t the only other Jee story. Nor is it the first thing that happens after Assam & Darjeeling. Suffice it to say that it takes place sometime between the dock and the palace door.

If you haven’t read Assam & Darjeeling, you’ll probably want to do that first. Fortunately, The Cradle won’t be available until August, so there’s plenty of time to catch up.

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