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10.02.04 1:34 a.m.

Writing is a difficult trade which must be learned slowly by reading great authors; by trying at the outset to imitate them; by daring then to be original; by destroying one's first productions.  

-André Maurois


Previously in Xenology: Xen is a writer by virtue that he writes. As he is a writer, he gets to be critical of hacks. It's in the charter.

Throbbing Veins
I recently attended one of Emily's Tae Kwon Do competitions. She did excellently, of course, and would have done far better had the judges not decided that all black belts of all martial arts of both genders were equal and should be judged as such. Despite that, she still placed, so we are immensely proud.
However, Emily's success wasn't the only noteworthy event at the competition. Among the other vendors hawking their personalized t-shirts and martial arts key chains, there was a man in full uniform sitting at a card table full of books. I sidled over and looked at the cover. Aside from a dragon, there seemed to be nothing even vaguely justifying why he was hawking these books here. Reading one of the flyers he was pressing into people's hands, I learned that he was a black belt of something-or-other.
"But this isn't a martial arts book?" I heard a soccer mom to my right ask.
"No. Not exactly," he stammered. "But it... embodies... the spirit of martial arts!"
I picked up a copy and read the back. This was the first of a series about a werewolf who attacks dragons in a mythical land. Said werewolf might have also had to roll a plus ten biting attack and throw an evil bracelet into Mount Gloom, but I was more distracted by the continuation of their conversation, already in progress.
"...What sort of an age group do you recommend your books for?" the mother asked.
The man began to murmur the phrases "lots of cursing" and "adult situations," but revised his opinion to state that the books would be fine for anyone older than ten or so. Obviously he is a professional writer, as pointless obscenity is usually required for a classic work of literature. Few people realize that Ivanhoe is entirely written using variations of the word "cock".
Later I happened to be sitting in front of a ten-year-old boy who was excitedly reading aloud from this gift his mother had given him for sitting quietly while his brother competed. She had spent more than $25 so that her darling child could share with a younger pair of siblings the phrase "throbbing manhood." No, I am not making that up.
I spun in my seat and asked him what page he was on.
"Eight?" he guessed, evidently assuming that he was using his inside voice and that people within a five-foot radius could not hear him sowing the seeds of his first wet dream and subsequent descent into being a furry.
"You are on page eight and already the werewolf is displaying his throbbing manhood? That's a quality book you've got there. Well worth the money." Then I turned back and laughed as quietly as I could.
The boy seemed confused, as he knew that something like an adult had just admonished him, but not for the right thing. Finally, I think he just decided to react as though I were offended that he was reading naughty words rather than that he was proud to have shared god awful prose from an untalented hack. He slinked further down the bleachers and read the book quietly to himself. He is still proud to have found what I am certain he regards as subversive literature, by virtue that his watered down anime comic reading brethren will have never seen this particular lump of manure.
On some level, I guess I should just be glad that he can read.

Underdog Lovely
After gaping and giggling through Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow - a movie which hearkens the death knell for actors but is awfully pretty - Zack and I found ourselves in possession of an hour before I had to ferry him to his job. As I had been invited to and subsequently neglected Jacki's poetry reading, I gently shoved him in that direction.
I fear poetry readings as a matter of rote. The unfortunate but incontestable fact is that the world is not peopled with poets, at least not very good ones. Note that I do count myself among the lyrically declined masses and, as such, make very little effort to pollute the universe by trying to rhyme gerunds.
The reading was being held in a tiny coffee shop nestled among potpourri heavy faux antique stores at the bottom of Main Street, just before the hippies are scared off by running water and a lack of head shops. If some obnoxious girl proclaiming herself the poet laureate of New Paltz had not seized this space a year ago, it would likely be equally as reeking of artificial rose petals rather than weak coffee. How it manages to stay open is a wonder to anyone who is not aware that the answer is "barely and by shutting down unless someone is reading poetry." You are all a little more cynical for knowing that.
Jacki was well into her set when Zack and I arrived. The living room sized café was already littered with consciously disaffected college hangers-about, students, and adjunct professors. The night was warm and welcoming, particularly when confronted with the prospect of sardining inside. True, this did not afford us much of an opportunity to hear was she is saying to impassionedly - the only phrase that stuck with me was "underdog lovely" - but we were not there to hear.
We were not alone outside. Many had opted to be exiled from the coffee shop and the graces of their poet laureate rather than becoming the intimate acquaintance of elbows and knees. As our feet crouched Joann, whose story and influence will be discussed soon. Before us stood a gent attired, and I am daring to use my original phrasing, "in a leather jacket made with a bead-dazzler." My eyes signaled to Zack to observe the sight before me just before he turned and gave me a smirk of recognition. He was Jacki's possible ex, in that it is possible they have since reconciled or not but am not privy to such instantaneous updates as to her romantic entanglements. What was more obvious was that Jim, former counselor and classmate (in that order) of mine and long time inflamer of Jacki's humors, was sitting alone at an empty table and gazing blithely through the café's lace curtains at her.
Joann the Nameless
As I endeavored to covertly discover more the nature of Jim's interest (I doubt he would have noticed my approach before I had my answer) Joann nudged me and asked for a gun, motioning to a couple twenty feet away yammering and smoking. I cocked my eyebrow curiously and turned out my pockets to demonstrate my dearth of weaponry. She frowned her displeasure at this. I grabbed a miniature pumpkin on a stand next to her, mimed throwing it, and made my best impersonation of an explosion. She extended her hand for the ballistic gourd, looking appreciatively at its pantomimed firepower.
Zack noticed the exchange and, once we were cloistered in the sanctity of his apartment, I asked what he thought of Joann.
"I had seen her around town and thought she was attractive, but I didn't know you knew her," he stated.
"Well I do. When I worked at Summer Scholars, she was an RA for the parallel program of children that were not rabid. I agree that she is attractive. I will talk to Jacki to see if she is also single." He had not requested this final step, but nor did he decline the offer. Zack is such a dear boy, he deserves some educated arm candy.
The affair proceeded as follows. I contacted Jacki, congratulated her on her poetry reading (which Zack and I left shortly after she finished and was replaced by a bombastic bard who mistook speed of blank verse for quality), and managed to work "underdog lovely" into the conversation to show that I caught what I could. She, bright girl that she is, quickly understood from my cloying tone that I was after something.
"Yes, it's true. I wanted to know is Joann was attached at the moment."
Sighing dramatically, she replied, "She is always attached to someone, but no serious someone at the moment. Who? Your friend that you brought to the show?"
I told her that it was and cajoled Joann's contact information from her. Thereafter, and in the stead of Zack (whom I could not seem to contact and whose answering machine would periodically vanish), I chatted Joann up and filled her ears with the pleasantest things I could thing to say about Zack, which is quite a lot. Joann, in turn, told me stories of her past and her passions. Joann is not her name, at least not as far as I am concerned. She told me that she was adopted and renamed, her eventual family deciding that Joann was a good concession between "Josephine" and "Amber." I joked with her thereafter that she was a Nameless and should be given new names frequently to quench the nomenclature void.
All of this wooing in stead was going well, which rightly worried me. When next I actually managed to get in contact with Zack, he wistfully informed that he was having weekly ecstatic naked time with a painfully gorgeous redhead of his acquaintance. As he did not give me the official okay to get Joann interested in him, only telling me that he found her quite attractive, I can't exactly fault Zack for falling for this barroom Venus.
I mentally prepped myself for informing Joann of the bad news, though Jacki had assured me that Joann would be fine.
"Why would Joann be fine?" I asked, suspicious of her flippancy.
"Because she has been chasing the tail of some boy on our floor."
Problem solved and I shall never again woo without written consent.

Soon in Xenology: More Randolph. Estrangement. The Haunted Mansion. Sara the Goode.

last watched: Saved!
reading: Entropy in the UK
listening: Closing Time
wanting: to write.
moment of zen: observing poetry.
someday I must: poke badgers with spoons.

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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