Sunday, March 26, 2017

Where's Annie?

Thank you, Bookworm for Kids!  "With edge-of-the-seat adventure, this gunslinger heroine takes on all sorts of dangerous villains and shows the world just what one girl can do."

"I strapped on some chaps and spurs and sat down with the authors. They graciously answered a few questions." ~ Greg Pattridge of Always in the Middle.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Valentine's the Gusto Way

You can be cheap yet still be romantic. C’mon, you’re probably an artist of some sort for cryin’ out loud if you’re reading this, so use some imagination. Those who really know me will tell you I’m the cheapest bastard alive—a mantle I proudly accept—but I’m also efficient and effective. And the thing is: Creativity squashes money spent every time when it comes to amore…unless your conquest is the superficial type. In that case, this posting is not for you and good luck. I’ll float you some cash if I know you, but it probably won’t be enough. And you better have a sports car.

Let’s go over these in promotional package style. (I’m putting on a Comedy Con—will be posting more about it on here soon—and as of late, I’ve been pitching to potential sponsors with deals that you just can’t refuse)!

The VIP Working Man Deals: In these scenarios, you have some free cash to splurge a little, around a 100 to 150 bucks.

The trick here is to avoid being manipulated like mindless cattle. Dinner is probably the best option, but don’t go where you always go! Find a place with character. It doesn’t even have to be ‘fancy’, but it must feel adventurous. It’s this simple, if you want it to be spicy in the bedroom, the dining experience is the way to get the flavor going. Maybe you try something completely new. When you roll the dice like this, there’s a risk of the meal falling short of your expectations. Again, that’s okay. It’s part of the thrill. You can kiss afterwards and make it all better.

Another epicurean approach, again observing this budget is to simply get a really nice bottle of wine. You can pick up a bottle of Dom Perignon in said price range. Pop the cork with your sweetie and enjoy some white grapes and cheese with this sparkling luxury while watching the sunset…or sunrise, if you know what I mean. Wink wink, nudge nudge.

The Intimacy is More Important Than Money Deal: Relaxation is paramount in romance. At about half the price, these are the best bang for the buck. Wait, that sounded a little crass…

Get comfortable and rub each other’s backs. You don’t have to be a masseuse. You just have to be caring. Music, or a movie, and maybe a stiff drink are nice pairings with ‘stop-the-world-and-take-a-breather’ technique.

Prepare a special entrée for your honey. I’m such a lousy cook, it takes me an hour to make Minute Rice, but from my single years, I perfected a few meals, one of them being steaks. The first time I grilled them, I nearly singed my eyebrows off because I didn’t know how to fire up coals, but as they say, practice makes perfect. I grill them so well now that it actually fooled my girlfriend into thinking I was some kind of chef. But I relish wining and dining her. Oh, and here’s a trick with onions, guys. Everybody knows that a tough dude never cries, yet cutting onions can test you. The trick is to make sure there’s plenty of ventilation, direct a fan toward the kitchen area to blow the onion fumes away, and breathe through your mouth. You’ll make Superman look like a squeaky voiced adolescent. Then again, some ladies dig the sensitive type. In that case, leak all over the place and tell them about your beloved cats.

The Zero Money Option: Tell her how you feel. If you’re a writer, you should have this in the bag. Take the time to really get it right on the page. And that’s why I’m telling Julie and all of the world how lucky I am. She patiently helped me to find the way to true happiness—absolute appreciation of what I have. Everyday, I become a better man with her in my life. I love you.

Gusto Dave

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Stars of the Silver Scream: Halloween 2016

Greetings ghouls. It's that time of year to surrender your machinations for just a moment to heed my curse of required viewing and reading, burnt offerings that exemplify proper horror.
For you bloodthirsty types, just go ahead and return to your corner of purgatory. If I have to explain to you that gore does not equal terror, then you don't belong in this crypt. Go revel in your sanguinary satire while the rest of us feel a real chill to the marrow.
And our first fright may have single-handedly restored the crown to American cinema for horror. The Witch is elegant, authentic, and most of all, a cringe symphony. It begins by locking you in the 17th century, forcing you to listen closely to the archaic English. When religious persecution causes a family to be banished from their colony, the cruel frontier deals them much more than just back-breaking work. Oh indeed, there is a witch who will entrance you and an uncharted direction with disturbing revelations.
John Carpenter worshippers will likely spot It Follows as a tribute to the director, especially from the soundtrack. If you were a teen in the 80s, there will be no escaping the haunting stroll down memory lane from the style of this chiller. There's one caveat. It Follows is better than just about all the low Bs of said decade. The story gets to the point in the first scene then never relents.
Rated R, David Cronenberg's remake of The Fly gets all over your skin like a swarm, but has fun. Compared to Jaws which was rated PG, the insect tale is actually quite tame. By today's standards, you may even find it okay for kids, but I'd suggest only if they are in double digits.
After the People Lights Have Gone Off, a short story collection by one of my fellow Coloradans Stephen Graham Jones, is the creepiest prose I've read all year. You won't be disappointed...which means you might lose a little sleep. Keep an eye out for them slick shadowy things. And for heaven's sake, don't turn around too fast if you feel a hot breeze on your neck.
Ghosto Dave

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Sweet Spot in Prose and Comedy

All these postings about the similarities between writing stand-up and fiction, and I missed the big one. I mean gargantuan. If it had been a dinosaur it would have devoured me.
Perhaps it suddenly rang in my ears after studying Deacon's advice featured on here last month, or because I just wrote a routine that's been heavy on my heart, or due to me plotting a YA novella. Whatever the case, the skeletons under both arts revealed themselves to me.
Why do you like to write? For sure, there's a vanity element to it. Yeah, it's fun as well to turn a phrase or describe something colorfully in sparse wording. But if you shine the light deeper into your soul, you'll spot the real reason.
Because we're all bursting to tell the truth.
Lies surround us day to day like a growing breeze. Propaganda, the internet, advertising, your job -- they all spread it on thick in some way. It's so inconvenient to tell it like it is. So, in an artist's creative way, we like to sneak the truth in without bludgeoning the audience with it.
You've created these unique characters. The plot is tight. Your dialogue is cool. With much deliberation, you clipped parts that would slow the pace. And somewhere in that word count, you put your heart out there...because it's a safe place to do so.
Of course, our convictions can differ from others'. I find that where we all disagree the most is on the perception of a problem or how to solve one more than if something is day or night. But I digress. The point is: We all have two cents burning to get off our chests.
When I dismissed writing cutesy standup and went for a subject I feel strongly about -- the truth as I see it -- the payoff felt much better. We'll call it that artistic angle of persuasion.
For instance, optimism (or what it has morphed into in today's society more succinctly because there are no other good names for it) is annoying to me because it appears to ignore reality. Never wanting to offend anyone, yet dying to blurt out the way I see it, I worded my routine this way:
I'd love to be an optimist, but it's hard for me to understand them. They're mantra is, "The glass is half full." Well, if I'm on the couch with a half a highball of scotch and I got to get off my butt to pour some more, you can bet I'm going to drink what I got first. What do you know? Contrary to their cult beliefs, the glass really is half empty!
Gusto Dave

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

All Hail the Deacon!

He is simply one of the best.
With my first ‘attempt’ at comedy in 2010, I met David “Deacon” Gray, veteran comedian and New Talent Coordinator at Comedy Works. We’d actually been introduced online through a mutual friend because we’re all from Oklahoma, but with the face to face acquaintance, I realized why they called him Deacon. A preacher’s brother, his kindness and guidance are treasures, especially in the comedy business. Humbly and with consummate professionalism, he offers pointers to his flock. For instance, he stresses to newcomers the need to say or do something to help the audience like them immediately when they take the mike.
Now writer friends, doesn’t that sound familiar? Hook the reader on page one. Create a character with whom the bookworm can identify and admire. Funny how entertainment and arts have these techniques in common.
Speaking of scribing, Deacon has a Bachelor’s of Arts in Journalism with an English minor from Oklahoma University and it shows. An author can listen to his hilarious act and detect attention to word choice, brevity (the old less is more rule), elaboration if needed, and of course that old literary device: irony. Just listen to how sharp and fresh his performance is.
He is an inspiration to watch and I’m glad I know him. Honestly, I get a little star-struck around him.
Welcome to Chiseled in Rock, Deacon!
CIR: I’ve been dying to ask you this: Have you ever pursued publication?
DG: The short answer is no, I’ve never submitted anything I’ve written to a publisher.
The only experiences I’ve had that might be similar involve self-publishing. Growing up in Oklahoma gave me a strong DIY streak: I learned to make my own fun. So, for three years immediately after college (1991-94), I published a zine in Norman, Oklahoma. It was named the Oklahoma Comic Review, and featured comic strips, political cartoons, puzzles, and, yes, a monthly column by me. Usually it was just new jokes I wanted to try out, but sometimes I would write a column in character. I remember one column was supposedly written by the Review’s plumber.
Then, in 2003-04, I published a couple issues of a smaller zine called Gray’s Journal, which was really just an excuse to print the pieces in my notebook that were too long or too weird for the stage. One was a happy alternate ending to Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. Another was an intervention for a man who said, “wassup” too often. I think the longest piece was three pages. That might be the closest I’ve come to writing and publishing prose.
CIR: A common tool used in prose and stand-up is the simile. It seems the more I try to come up with a good one, the worse it gets regardless of whether it’s meant for profundity or wit. Are they best from you a la seat-of-the-pants?
DG: To me and my way of communicating, simile and metaphor are absolutely critical.
So much of what we do as comedians is getting people to shift their perspective, to see something routine from a different point-of-view. And there are times when the ideas we are trying to convey might be too sublime, too blunt, too odd, or too much of a stretch to state simply.  Metaphors act as verbal ambassadors and provide the audience/reader with a touchstone with which they can get to the ideas more easily or more elegantly.
For instance, there’s a huge distance between saying, “Donald Trump is a racist,” or saying, “Donald Trump is your racist uncle.” The first idea is too on-the-nose, too politically charged, and too open for interpretation (i.e. too broad). The audience is left only with the choices of agreeing or disagreeing, usually based on their prior experience and opinions or what they think the comic means by ‘racist.’ It’s not likely that you will change anybody’s mind with the first statement.
But by employing a metaphor, the second idea is softened, personalized, and makes it easier for the audience to identify and understand. Everybody has a racist family member, so that communal idea provides a step to what you are trying to communicate about Trump. And, most importantly, that step makes it more likely that the audience will accept the shift in POV.
CIR: When writing a joke, do you follow a method, or jot down something that strikes you as humorous, maybe both?
DG: I don’t have a method, unless endless repetition and rewriting counts as a method.
In most cases, an idea will occur to me, usually provoked by something I’ve seen, read, or heard. Sometimes the idea will present itself in complete joke form, but usually I just pick up on something about the idea that I find absurd or ironic or grandiose. Then it’s up to me to cast it in joke form.
For instance, I looked at my notes from last night, and I had written this: erotic novelties. I saw that on a sign on Santa Fe last night, and something about the word ‘novelties’ clanged in my ear. It’s not a joke yet, but I can see the premise in my mind: is there anything truly ‘novel’ about what they sell in that store? What would it take to catch me by surprise?
The next step will be to write it out in joke form, and see if I can refine it to match my voice. Then I will try it on a stage somewhere.
CIR: Do you test a bit with anyone to see if it might ‘push the limits’? The reason I ask is I’ve never heard you perform anything that rubbed the audience the wrong way.
DG: I think part of my personal maturation as a comedy writer was discovering that I could be subversive without poking somebody in the eye. As a young comic, I had plenty of material that was edgy and provocative. And that material worked fine… for a particular crowd. Anyone outside of that small group usually saw it as heavy-handed, obvious, and self-righteous. ‘Oh, you’re in college and you think war is bad? Didn’t see that coming.’ There was no surprise in those jokes; no revelation.
At some point, I switched to a sugar-pill approach. The idea now is to slip difficult ideas into bubbly material so that the audience doesn’t see it coming. I think that’s a thousand times more subversive, and also provides for bigger laughs because the audience is surprised. One of my biggest joys is making an audience laugh at a difficult idea with a light presentation. That way there’s irony in both the words and the performance.
Here’s a recent joke that might help illustrate the idea.
“My parents were Baby Boomers, so that makes me Generation X.
Now we’re into the Millennials, and, after that, is the Probably Fucked’s.
Then the What Did You Do To The Planet’s.
And then the Ooo We’re Thirsty’s.”
Didn’t see that environmental message coming, did you?
CIR: How important is it to cultivate following online? Probably like comedians, writers, who often tend to be introverted, are constantly nagged by agents to do so.
DG: It’s important if you are looking for commercial success. Like it or not, most consumers do their shopping online now, and social media drives people to your product. Also, a good online example of what you do can often lead to more work. I’ve been booked for gigs off of videos I have posted online. And there are lots of stories of comedy writers who got job interviews based on their Twitter presence.
CIR: Did you always know that comedy was your calling?
DG: I always knew I wanted to write and perform comedy, but I didn’t know that it was possible to make a living doing it. I grew up very sheltered in Oklahoma in the 70’s. The idea of being a stand-up comedian was about as likely as running off with the circus.
I remember the first time I was booked in the comedy club in Oklahoma City (in 1986). The booker gave me the dates, the number of shows, the comics I would be working with, and then offered me $250. That stunned me. I had never been paid for doing any kind of performance.
CIR: From my point of view, your job as coordinator must be difficult. With the tons of comedians in Denver wanting their shot, I think you’re constantly queried—almost like a literary agent. What do you do to shut down?
DG: The most difficult part of my job is the reality of the occupation: many are called and few will make it. Almost all of the young comedians believe they are only one good set away from a big break that will lead to their own Comedy Central series. But the reality is that stand-up is a difficult job that requires a lot of work, luck, and discipline to survive.
Out of a hundred comics, only ten have the talent and skills to succeed. Of those ten, seven will quit. The remaining three will have a career, but only one will get any fame, and that fame only lasts a second.
So, with those odds, it’s wildly important that you love what you do. My happiest day in comedy was the day I stopped chasing fame and started writing comedy that was true to me. And, ironically, that was when I first started having some success in the business.
When you love what you do, you never shut down. I spend my time away from comedy thinking of ways to produce more comedy. If I went to the beach, I would just think of jokes about the beach.
CIR: Thank you, Deacon!
Friend him. Follow him. Buy his CD. Catch his standup when you can.  You too, will be hailing his humor.
Gusto Dave

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

5 Reasons to Join me as a Technophobe

Did you know that Weird Al Yankovic majored in Architecture? I’ll get to the nexus of this posting in a moment, but I have to cheer how much that fact came as no surprise to me. He has always struck me as a balanced right and left brain. He started high school at age 12 because he was so ahead of the curve.

Nothing in my past is worth boasting about to that degree, but I was a science major as well with my eyes always wandering to the heavens of creativity.

And now my point: I embrace science in spite of all my artistic endeavors. So when I share with you very real fears about technology, you can bet I’m not being flighty. Come with me as I write my most horrific piece, because unlike my creepy fiction, this is REAL. I’ll try to make it just a little bit funny so you won’t bolt outdoors and scream, “The world is ending!"

Deaths will increase due to texting and driving. Can you imagine the old cowboys complaining about the horseless carriages, and how those big pieces of metal colliding with others would cause fatalities? Surely an opposition group pointed this out back in the early 1900s. We pressed on anyway in the name of speed and convenience. Want to hear the scary part? A demographic exists out there that can’t even begin to fathom WHY THEY SHOULD WATCH THE ROAD INSTEAD OF THEIR PHONE. They grew up in Techworld so it’s normal to them to have eyes on a screen all of the time. Put all those lawbreakers on horseback and I bet they wouldn’t give a damn about the gossip from their besties.

Identify Theft is so bad that YOU can’t even get to YOUR accounts because of all the protective measures on them. Just wait until it’s time to start drawing your 401k. Don’t be surprised if you’ll have to send in a swab of your skin for DNA tests monthly just to get your check. I actually carry cash most the time now. If someone robs me face to face, at least they only get off with a few bills and not my whole damn life. Identity theft actually makes muggings look BETTER. Our money is safest through paper transactions only now.

Television used to be free. Remember that? Everyone complains about the economy, but if we weren’t forced to foot the bill for cable (because that’s the only way to get your local stations now clearly), you’d have more disposable income. With the ‘pulling of the plug’ on analog broadcasting in 2010 to supposedly upgrade to digital receivers that don’t work unless you live 5 miles from the TV station, now you have to go without just the regular old news unless you shell out for the internet—another expense we didn’t use to have.

Just like road rage reared its ugly head in the 80s because traffic reached an all-time high and drivers, disconnected from being actually face to face with another person, did abominably stupid things like hit their brakes in a huddle of cars, endangering everyone on the road, social media has emboldened morons to new heights of asinine aggression because they are not in proximity to the people they hurt. Most of us, when we go to a get-together, were raised to be cordial to the other folks, in spite of our differences. This means keeping your mouth shut about politics and religion for the most part because you’re simply not going to agree with everyone on everything. In a way, there’s nothing actually social about social media, because the correspondents don’t ‘feel’ each other. The reason we have a law that forbids yelling fire in a crowded house is because some turds actually did just that. So, as more lamebrains carelessly stir the hornet’s nest on the internet, lying, provoking, they can actually threaten our freedom of speech.

Phones are insanely expensive! Friends, they’re not that complicated of a device. But you have to pay between $300 and a thousand dollars for a new one and they don’t amount to much more than a radio. Seriously. The word ‘wireless’ just means radio waves, the exact same ones you used to listen to FM and AM with, except it’s digital. If you don’t believe me, ask any engineer. And you have to get on a plan with that phone. A contract. This is progress?

It comes down to this: The tech industry is convincing consumers that they need things that they don’t actually have to have. And then they’re taking just about ALL of your money in doing so. And too many consumers are using the technology recklessly. Hopefully I was careful with my rhetoric on this 'tech' device. Thank God it's still free.
Of course technology has helped us in so many ways. Not the point of this article, though. Arrogance and 'turning our brains off' are the real dangers. Lest we forget, the Titanic was a technological marvel. But not a one advancement in engineering on that ship could have prevented the disaster caused by the smug, thoughtless imbeciles who touted it as unsinkable.

Gusto Dave

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

It's a Long Road, Which Ever One You Choose

Everything that has anything to do with wealth and fame in the arts is competitive. And honestly, competitive is too soft of a word. You’re-more-likely-to-get-attacked-by-a-shark-on-a-mountain-then-drown-in-a-bowl-of-Jello, if that were a word, is more fitting.

That’s what comedy has in common with writing novels: It’s tough to make it. Last time, I promised to look at the similarities between the two pursuits.

The Slush Pile: An affectionate term for the stack of manuscripts on an agent or editor’s desk, blocking your quick attention. A lot of times, you don’t get any attention unless the publishing pro knows you or sweet talks someone into reading all of his or her backlog of submissions. That I know of, there’s no cute jargon for this waiting list in comedy, but it’s alive and well. The kicker is that the traffic holding up the ‘look see’ of your first chapters—besides apathy from the recipient—is usually hacks destined to give up (like me) when they discover the alarming amount of effort it will take for moderate success. Comedy venues are clogged with these too.

It takes a minimum of ten years to make it. Bryan Callen—Google him and you’ll recognize his face—says that he doesn’t give advice to new comedians, but he warns them that it takes a decade to get somewhere with it, however that’s defined. The same goes for writing. Stephen King started at age 8 and got his first short story in print at 18. And Carrie, his big break, came years later. Think about it. You could become a doctor or lawyer way faster.

Oh yeah, there are workarounds. Just like a turnpike pass, you can pay for quicker rejection. Contests abound in both worlds. In comedy, the pressure to wobble out onto the stage is intense enough. Add to that a competition and you get lovely stomach pains. But the entry fee is usually cheap. In fact, when I competed at the Comedy Works, I adopted the attitude that the fee of $20 is the equivalent to buying a ticket just to watch the act…only I got a bonus of getting to be up there too!

Theft of intellectual property goes on in both arts. It’s probably worse in comedy. The ever cool Mario Acevedo said that someone in Germany put their name on one of his books on Amazon. It looks like someone did that with my Tattoo Rampage as well. Funny thing is: it doesn’t bother me about my novel. The joke’s on them. They’re not going to make any money off of it either! And with the stand up, two of my bits have been stolen and turned into internet memes. Comedians are known for swiping material.

Now for the filthiest word in the business, worse than any string of F bombs a slimy comic could bark into a mike…marketing. Yep. The big shots in comedy, just like publishers, harp about online presence and all that nausea. The reality is: Unless someone with power or fame endorses you or you invest your retirement nest egg into ads, at the most, you’re going to beg for free plugs and inflate your ego so erroneously that it’ll come crashing down like a texting driver on a mountain road once it finally hits you how you’ve prostituted yourself out. I see these poor young comics working themselves to death on social media and in dive rooms, yet they’re not gaining one inch of notoriety. Average consumers wouldn’t recognize any of their names. Same goes for writers out there trying to hustle without any backing. Believe me. Like a wide-eyed hick, I fell for that blow to ‘get yourself out there and network’. It’s not worth it. Of course, get out there and meet people because someone might be that voice who gives you the noticeable accolades, but leave the marketing to people whose job it is to do so.

Forgive me here as I end this article with the difference that drew me to the stage and ultimately killed my drive for submitting manuscripts. Success doesn’t have to be money. I would have considered myself a hit if people, other than friends, would have simply read my work. Fellow writers, it just doesn’t happen unless you’re New York pubbed. I’ve seen strings on Facebook where someone would ask for a reading recommendation. I’d jump in and say, “Mine.” But because my ‘publication’ is just another one of those E disasters, I was ignored. Who could blame them? But when someone chuckles at my wit, I feel success. Unlike wishy washy feedback from critique groups and editors, you know if your joke works or not right there before the audience. I can scribble an idea down in one day, tell it in front of a crowd that night, and feel that much craved payoff which most writers never get…unless they’re famous. Simply put, it’s magic. The coolest prose I ever wrote, getting a literary agent, the news that a Hollywood dude wanted to pitch my story to studios—none of them thrilled me like the roar of giggles at the Comedy Works for my sets. It’s a kind of writing—and comedy most definitely is writing, a much more difficult genre—that gives just and bountiful rewards for the effort. Sweet laughter.