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Thoughts about the writing life, professional issues, the state of the industry and philosophical concerns for writers.

Henry’s long ride with death

twistedvintage-deathride2

Henry rode with Death his entire life, but it never really cramped his style.

For the most part, other people couldn’t see Death, hanging on his coat-tails wherever he went, and whatever he did. It was usually the very old and the terminally ill, and Henry learned not to frequent hospitals and old folk’s homes after a (bad) decision to entertain his grandmother and all her friends in the Gentle Repose Rest Home. (There was nothing gentle or restful about the walker-enabled slow stampede away from the Henry’s constant companion.) In the early 70s, Henry had an intense relationship with a sensual hippy who was into transcendental meditation and tantric sex. The latter, especially, seemed to help her pierce the veil, and during an hour-long climax she spotted Death, hanging around in their bedroom.

“He looks bored,” Jenny had said.

“Yes. I think Death is bored much of the time. You’d think there would be a more efficient way to do it.”

“To do what?” she’d asked, and then adjusted her position a bit. “There. That’ll keep it going.”

“Well, everyone has their own Death. I can see them all.”

“Oh, me too?”

“Everyone. Your’s looks more bored than mine.”

“Hmm. Let’s ignore them, then.”

But for the most part, human beings were unable to see Death, hovering around them at all times. For Henry, it made the world seem a bit crowded. For every person, there was a dark doppelganger. A cloaked figure with that signature scythe.

It always seemed a bit cliché to him, that Death would represent itself in such a hackneyed way, and one day, Henry asked his Death about it. This would have been years before the incident.

“So, what’s with the scythe. Why do you all have them?”

Death was speechless. It had never realized that Henry could see it. “You’re aware of me? Like, my physical presence?”

“Sure,” Henry said. “I can see all you guys. Or whatever. It’s hard to tell with those cloaks and masks.”

“It’s not a mask! It’s my face, man.”

“Oh. Sorry. Well, what is the deal? Why the outfits.”

“We thought it would be helpful branding. You know, so when you’re supposed to see us, you know what’s about to happen. That way we get fewer ghosts. Most people become ghosts because they don’t see us coming, or the just don’t believe it’s us.”

“So what happens after?” Henry, like all humans, always wondered.

“I can’t tell you that! Who says anything happens?” Death said.

“Fair enough. You’ve got to keep the mystery alive. All part of the brand, right?”

“I suppose so. You have no idea what happens to me if I tell you anything about what happens after.”

“Bad?”

“It makes me seem like a pussycat. Now, let’s go back to me pretending you don’t see me, okay?”

“So you did know?”

“Of course. I was there when you were doing your tantric thing with Jenny, you know.”

“Right. I wonder whatever happened to Jenny?”

“Died of a heroin overdose in 1977.”

“Bummer,” Henry said. “She was one of the good ones.”

Death was non-committal.

After that conversation, Henry got back to the job of living his life. After Jenny he’d met and married Diane, and they’d had two kids. He worked in a large corporation, building a career that eventually led to upper management. He was the kind of boss that everyone liked, even the shareholders. He had a joy in living, in engaging with people, helping them when he could, that was infectious. He lived every moment as fully as he could

Then one day Death spoke to him again. He was at the carnival with his kids — it was a spur of the moment kind of thing. He’d taken the afternoon off from work, and pulled his son and daughter out of school, and they’d spent hours riding the rides, playing the games. The rollercoaster looked too scary for the children, so Henry said he’d ride it first, to show them it was okay. That’s when Death said:

“I’m really not suppose to do this, but I have to warn you not to get onto that rollercoaster.”

“Oh?” Henry said.

“Yes. Because, you know, there are many times when you could die and this is most assuredly one of them. Definitely one of them.”

“So you’re saying I’ll die if I get on the rollercoaster?”

“Well, all the probabilities say that. I don’t make the final decision,” Death said, and then added. “Shit, I’m really not supposed to tell you that.”

“But you have an impact.”

“Of course. I have some impact. In fact, I’m the guy who pulls the trigger, so to speak.”

“So it is up to you?”

“Ultimately. But I have to have really good reasons to not . . . follow orders.”

“Understood,” Henry said. “Now, let’s go show my kids there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

The FatnessThe End

Enjoy some of my longer fiction now. Get The Fatness, a satire about concentration camps for fat people and bureaucracy gone mad, in all the usual online places:

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Alltop laughs at death. Photograph via Twisted Vintage.

Writing The Fatness

The Fatness

Click the image to get it at Amazon!

I’m not sure how interesting it is for readers to know the story behind the story, but I thought I’d share my experiences with writing this book.

This one was personal.

I’ve struggled with weight issues most of my life, so I found it quite difficult to write a humorous account of what it would be like to be imprisoned for your weight.

Really difficult.

As is the case for many of my novels, the idea for The Fatness first came to me, in a dream. I’d been reading The Obesity Myth, by Paul Campos. It’s an eye-opening non-fiction about the bad science surrounding the idea of the obesity “epidemic.” This was sometime in 2005, the year ENC Press published my first book The Amadeus Net.

So that’s a horrible notion, I thought. Concentration camps for fat people. That’s terrifying. And strangely compelling. I could see people thinking this was actually a good idea, policy wise. But I trust my readers to know satire when they see it, so I wrote four chapters…

They were terrible. There was nothing funny about the book. It wasn’t biting satire, it was just bitter.

I made several other attempts, all failures. Six years ago I even got as far as completing an outline and a large chunk of a draft. But it wasn’t really what I wanted the book to be. It was strained and really not funny in a way that was compassionate for the inmates of the Calorie Reduction Centers.

Then four years ago I got serious about my own weight issues. I worked with two wonderful personal trainers and got my weight down below the dreaded 30 BMI for the first time in years, and for some reason, that gave me the ability to write the book. I think I needed to understand the process of losing weight so that I could communicate it properly. Within the course of a year I managed to produce a draft of the book I felt was good.

The following year I worked with my editor and produced two more drafts. Then my life got really complicated. My long-term relationship ended, my dog died, and I started a new and extremely challenging work position. (Sounds like a bad country and western song, doesn’t it?) So it took a few more years until I was ready to start the publishing process. Yeah, sometimes it takes that long.

This is the longest gestation period for a book I’ve written. By comparison, my first novel, The Amadeus Net, was a breeze. It only took 10 years from start to finish.

But I think it’s the best book I’ve written (so far) and the positive reviews seem to back up that feeling. I’m particularly pleased that readers feel the book is satirical, yet has a big heart that is compassionate for people struggling with weight issues. As the book taught me, there’s no easy answers.

Learn more about the book here.

Buy the Book

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Feeding the Beast

This is a script for a piece I read on CBC Radio (Ontario Morning) way back in 2006, when some people still didn’t know what a blog was.

Feeding the Beast

by Mark A. Rayner

Hi, my name is Mark, and I am a writer with a problem. There is a monster eating my novel.

It is an insatiable beast. A slobbery demon that greets me every day with an obscene wink, and asks:

“What are you going to feed me this morning, Mark?”

It’s my weblog. Or blog for short.

#

Blogs are the latest version of the personal web page. (You know, the kind of website that has lots of cat pictures on it.) But blogs are used for a wider variety of things than that. There are blogs about technology, history, books, politics, bat-grooming. You name it and there’s probably a blog about it.

Some people treat their blogs like a diary, except instead of writing in a book with a lock on it, they’re posted online for everyone in the world to read. Many of these blog-writers — or bloggers — get fired from their jobs for revealing wildly inappropriate things about their workplace. I’d say that happens to about half of them. The other half thinks its cool.

But the one thing all of them have in common is that to be successful, blogs must be updated on a pretty regular basis. The more often, the better.

They must be fed.

#

“Skwib requires sustenance Mark. Must have copy.”

My Beast is called The Skwib. I feed it short fiction, satire and the occasional bit of humorous commentary.

It likes the short fiction and the satire the best, which figures… That also takes the most time to write.

And so, part of my morning writing time — time I should be devoting to my new novel — is taken up by the Beast.

This would be fine if I was some kind of genius, a prolific scribbler. But I’m in the Thomas Mann school of writing. He’s the German dude who wrote The Magic Mountain, and said:

“A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” Though I imagine he said it in German.

So why start and feed a blog? I don’t know. It’s kind of like asking me why I used to wear a leather tie, or rugby pants. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, I’m not so sure, but the act of feeding it does keep me writing, no matter what.

#

“Feeeed me.”

The Fatness

Click on the image to check out an excerpt.

Okay, gotta go, I think it’s started snacking on my short stories now.

The End

Update, 2017: I’ve been starving the beast of late, which I why I have a new book coming in November, called The Fatness:

A satire about concentration camps for fat people and bureaucracy gone mad. (A love story.)

You can check out an excerpt here.

Originally published August 2006. Photo by Danielle Blumenthal, via Flickr.