Wouldn’t you know it…

Wouldn’t you know it…

I recently put up the money for one of WordPress’s good hosting plans to gussy up this blog as well as my new True Crime Wire. And wouldn’t you know it? I get so much work I don’t have time for my own blogging at all.

Which, thing is, I really want to do. But I have to admit that sometimes I get done with writing a post for my regular gig with Maxim or for one of my freelance gigs (there are a couple, including Vice’s tech vertical, Motherboard) and my brain is too drained to do much else. I’m trying to change that. 

We’ll see how that goes.

Don’t Go To Jail, By Saul Goodman, as Told to Me

Earlier today I wrote a vague post about my book. This afternoon, the Los Angeles Times published a first look at the book (not a review, an overview). So I can present it now:

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(Please ignore my MacBook, which is in need of a dusting.)

It was indeed written with “Saul Goodman,” after a fashion. (No, not Bob Odenkirk. He doesn’t write his own lines!)

You can buy DON’T GO TO JAIL here.

Book stuff

The book I wrote will be public later today (it will be available in early April). I don’t want to oversell it, but I’m proud of a couple of things: it’s not a serious book–it’ll be shelved under humor in some stores; it’s still about a subject I know a little more about than the average bear. I did have to do quite a bit of research but I knew where to look for that research.

A few years ago my profile as a writer was pretty serious. I covered mostly crime, often heavy stuff, not silly “dumb criminal” stuff. I’m still into true crime as a subject, but I have to admit the fact I got a chance to write something that might be funny in any way means a lot to me. This is an anti-funny way of putting it, but it’s true.

A thing I noticed about many writers and people into true crime is even if they were funny in conversation, it rarely showed in writing or discussion. This makes sense given the serious nature of crime, but at the same time it was really stifling.

So when I decided I wasn’t going to focus solely on crime anymore as a writer, I kind of looked for refuge in something else that’s always been hugely important to me: comedy.

I come from a funny family. My sarcastic, wickedly ironic father, and my sly, observant, witty mom. My late brother could have a room of people in tears when he was really on. We laugh a lot and always have. As a kid I tended to make friends with funny people. Starting in the late 70s I was more often listening to comedy albums than music, even though I ended up majoring in music in college. I have ridiculous opinions on comedy and a pretty specific list of people whom I find funny, favorite comedians and writers. A few are even friends—or at least friendly acquaintances—now.

There’s something satisfying in a personal way in knowing my first book will be organized under entertainment, as humor. That some familiar with my past work as a writer might even find it a real head-scratcher, that it’ll seem like a big 180 to them. It isn’t, though. It just feels a little closer to my natural bent as a writer and as a person.

And I hope it’s not the last book I have on those shelves, either.

So, I wrote a book…

And it will be out in April.

I wrote it over the course of a month, in October, 2015. That’s almost all I can say about it right now. But tonight I realized my book coming out made me feel like I should update this site more often. That, and I’m paying for a domain name now. So might as well, right?

If you once knew me as a crime blogger, my book won’t be a total surprise—but it is not a true crime book. If I’m being totally honest, I’m glad. Like, really glad. True crime is in vogue right now, which is mostly great, yet there was a time when I’d lost my taste for it and didn’t want to be identified with it. I haven’t fully lost that feeling, though I would never say a true crime book is off the table for me. It’s just that if I do write one it’s going to be something I choose very carefully and do with a huge amount of attention to detail and writing. I will not half-ass it.

The book I wrote—and this is giving nothing away—was supposed to be funny, too, and I hope I succeeded. That’s one of those things I just won’t truly know for a while.

Anyway, it hit me that I care about how things go with the book and I want to write more, and the writers I enjoy the most online are serious about keeping digital presences up to and including active blogs as well. So hopefully, in spite of all the daily writing I do for work, I’ll be updating this more frequently too.

Huh…

I’m always meaning to update more. Recently I got a freelance gig writing for Maxim Magazine, though, the last week and a half has been about adjusting to that.

I haven’t had a blogging gig in a while (if you’ve only read this site recently, my bio will tell you they aren’t new for me) and realized I may have even missed it. My specialties, if I have them, have been crime and tech, but I’m re-discovering pop culture blogging with Maxim and it’s fun.

In fact it’s sort of made me re-think my old ‘writing is blogging is writing’ philosophy. On the one hand, that’s correct. Writing is a skill. If people pay you to do it in any capacity, you should work hard to be good at it. But I’m remembering how the pace of blogging is so different, compared to, say, drafting and then polishing a short story, essay or a long piece of reportage. A lot of conventional writing wisdom says you draft sloppy first, then re-draft, refine and so on. You can do a truncated version of this when blogging, but for me at least, it won’t go fast enough unless I edit on the fly. And I can do that. It doesn’t always end up in a perfect product, but it’s often one I can live with and don’t feel dumb directing friends to read.

What I’ve begun to realize is I think I had an idea that blogging might be bad for other writing. It’s not. In fact, it might be excellent practice, and a route to instilling something too many writers lack: versatility.

I can’t promise I’ll do this–I’m also a dad and since I work from home the main housekeeper/cook most weeks (my wife is a better cook than I am but we tend to save her wicked skills for holidays)–but I could see how my gig with Maxim might actually lead to me updating this blog even more. I see stuff every day that I consider pitching to post for Maxim, only to see it doesn’t quite fit what they’re going for. But I think I may start popping that stuff here–which would actually make this blog what I intended it to be when I made it: one guy’s curated newsfeed of the weird shit that interests him.

Posting more stuff here, writing about a broader range of stuff than I’ve covered so far, will only feed and add to what I do for Maxim. Blogging is writing, sure, but after doing it for the better part of 15 years I’ve come to see it is its own particular skill, and there is no shame in my mind in making a conscious effort to get better at doing it.

On being boring

Every day I write a little in a moleskine. I date each entry. Most entries are just a paragraph, and often just things I tend to observe–the weather, something that happened with one of my kids, sometimes my exercise. Anyone finding that journal hoping to see some sort of Secrets of Steve situation would be disappointed; it’s seriously fucking boring.

I don’t do it in lieu of blogging, I just do it for me. It feels like, at this point, an oddly necessary practice. And for someone who has always prized trying to make his writing interesting, it feels almost like a zen thing: let yourself be boring.

A brake on my blogging–there are many–is that fear of being boring. I only recently realized this, and realized it was keeping me from writing at length in a way that I used to do every day. That daily or near-daily blogging, even before I had paying jobs doing it, mattered to me. I feel confident I can tweet something mildly amusing once a day–tweeting is pretty easy. But a whole blog entry? Apparently I’ve developed the attitude it must be Received Wisdom of the Ages or nothing at all. That’s arrogant bullshit, because honestly, I kept blogging after I began the practice (and blogging is a sort of practice) 15 years ago because I enjoyed it, not because I thought I was great at it. Having blogging and writing jobs later was a total surprise to me, and sometimes still is.

I think I still might do this thing on a regular basis if I just chill out and don’t worry so much. I’ve said before (I think) that I keep this space open for a reason, even though I don’t touch it for months. I think that’s true.

I recently read somewhere a good way to fuck up a goal is to tell people about it. So I’m not going to get into any goals I have re: blogging from here on out. I’m just gonna give it a go and see what happens. Practice is practice.

This space

I may renew an effort to update this thing daily for a while, just to see if I can. In part because my father’s fight against cancer is so heavy on my mind (because I live 1000 miles from my parents so I’m obsessed with my inability to help them) I find I have a need to write more often. Not about cancer. Not necessarily about whatever is going on in my head regarding my father and my relationship with him and how that has formed me. Mostly just to write and make a record of whatever.

Perhaps this counts as one of my parodies of the blogger apology for not updating more often. Which is fine. Hey guys.

On Midnight in the Month of June, On Fiction

At some point I decided this was my main blogging space. This is recent. What happened was I found myself dissatisfied with a return to Tumblr and casting about for a space that would by name and content give me the most latitude to blog what I wanted–personal stuff, true crime, history, weirdness, you name it.

I realized that space was sitting here all along, I’d already established it, and I’d been ignoring it since September of last year because–no lie–I forgot the elaborately complicated password I made to sign in to WordPress.

I know how dumb this is, don’t give me shit about it.

Anyway, I feel like one feature of my decision to focus on this space as my only blog, the place where I’ll put everything (I plan to eventually get a standalone URL, too) should be me giving myself permission to just randomly blog my inner monologue. At least once in a while. Ello is a good space for that too (shut up, it is. I like Ello), but today I’ll say it here.

I’ve been writing poetry and fiction for longer than I’ve been writing nonfiction or journalism. As my paid work has entirely been in blogging/journalism/nonfiction, that’s easy for even me to forget.

And regarding fiction, I’ve developed a concern: what if I’m geared toward short fiction? WHAT IF I’M A SHORT STORY WRITER?

This may sound silly, but it’s a legit concern if you ever want to sell your fiction to anyone.

I mean, I don’t think the short story is dead (I swear I’ve read musings contemplating this very thing in the last few years) but I do think that unless you’re George Saunders (whom I love, and keep your contrary opinion to yourself), short fiction is not the thing that punches a writer’s ticket these days. Everyone wants to be–thinks they are–a novelist.

And hey, I am fairly sure I have a novel in me. But not yet. When I write fiction these days, it’s always short.

Is this a function of having a ferocious case of ADHD? A limited set of functional, fictional, interesting ideas? I don’t know. At least partly, re: ADHD. I don’t think so, re: limited ideas. But I do think this maybe true, for me.

What I also think is that in general, the short story isn’t appreciated these days for its fundamental power, its ability to grab even the most random reader and draw them into an imaginary world.

Many of the stories that hit me hard at an early age were short fiction. One example that always comes quickly to mind when I’m thinking about this stuff: Ray Bradbury’s amazing “At Midnight, in the Month of June.”

I first read the Bradbury story in a collection of horror fiction when I was 12, and it blew me the fuck away. Passages like this:

She stood against the door in the dark. If moonlight could have struck in upon her, she would have shimmered like a small pool of water on a windy night. He felt the fine sapphire jewels come out upon her face, and her face all glittering with brine.

Or this:

He remembered that sometimes when he played hide-and-seek they did not find him at all; he would not let them find him. He said not a word, he stayed so long in the apple tree that he was a white-fleshed apple; he lingered so long in the chestnut tree that he had the hardness and the brown brightness of the autumn nut. And God, how powerful to be undiscovered, how immense it made you, until your arms were branching, growing out in all directions, pulled by the stars and the tidal moon until your secretness enclosed the town and mothered it with your compassion and tolerance. You could do anything in the shadows, anything. If you chose to do it, you could do it. How powerful to sit above the sidewalk and see people pass under, never aware you were there and watching, and might put out an arm to brush their noses with the five-legged spider of your hand and brush their thinking minds with terror.

… Were to me the quintessence of great scene painting. Everything about this story sang of the blue-lit and silent watches of the night, of silence, of madness. I had been that secret boy high in the tree, hiding as the summer night blued then darkened to indigo, studded with stars. Bradbury was painting a portrait of wrath and murder, yet I was reading it and immersed in and sympathetic to the memories and mind of the killer. No matter how psycho crime blog readers once assumed I might be, that’s not me. Yet Bradbury put me there.

That’s magic. And the story is what, maybe 10 pages long?

God. Damn. To me, Bradbury becomes a wizard in those few pages. He invokes the scents, the taste, the light, and the howling vacuum in the soul of his essentially psychopathic protagonist.

So maybe I’m a short story writer, when we’re talking made-up stuff. Maybe that’s my general bent.

If so? If I can get even one story out there one day that in a mere 2000 words does what Ray Bradbury did for me reading his cold poetry of murder for another reader?

Well, fuck yeah. Good enough. Let’s go.

Ha-ha, I lied, this wasn’t funny at all. After I wrote “Digging Ditches…” about my brother’s suicide (and received a great response, which felt good), I suddenly had a goddamned hard time writing again. I have another post in draft about Richard Parker (who pled guilty to murder earlier this summer) but it has been hard to finish. I think this is because it treads across similar territory. And way back in 2004, after I’d already been blogging for 4 years, I started a blog about crime stories in the news in part because I realized I fucking hated writing about myself and my life. I tend to save all that shit for solipsistic conversations with friends, my wife and one of 2-3 different pretentious-ass Moleskine notebooks I have laying about any given time.

I have refused to admit to writer’s block since I’ve had a Twitter account, because even when I couldn’t eke out a paragraph even for a paying gig, I could still tweet. But that’s a low bar, to be honest. My Twitter feed (from my @SteveHuff account) will always be kind of ragged and discursive, because I’m not angling for a comedy writing or social media editing job, I’m experimenting, which is easily done 140 characters at a time.

All of this is to say I feel self-conscious about not updating this blog more often, yet I’ve actually kept up with it better than any personal site I’ve created in the last 5 years or so. I think I will double down on that and pay WordPress whatever to add a unique URL. We’ll see if that’ll make me feel even more obligated to make a practice of this.

Because I do feel blogging, something many writers have mixed feelings about, is a valid form of writing or if nothing else, a valid way to stay in practice as a writer. So. Stay tuned, I guess.

The Unbearable Writeness of Blogging

I have, for a long time, hated blogging. What I hate about blogging is not the act of writing for public consumption. It’s the heavy load the words “blog” and “blogging” have carried for a few years now. In my mind, and I suspect the minds of others as well, the moment something you’ve researched, edited, and labored over moves from an “essay” or any other form of writing to a “blog post,” it feels somehow diminished. This is both a subjective attitude developed from peculiar, personal experience and something I’ve noticed in pop culture and the media. Tell someone you’re a journalist and they won’t blink–it’s a long accepted job, even if it’s one people sometimes reflexively dislike. Say you’re a blogger–even if it’s a paid gig–and watch many people try to put the brakes on a bit of a sneer.

So as other posts in this blog indicate, doing this is a frequent source of internal conflict for me. A lot of things figure into that, including the question of ‘why bother?’

After this post about my weight loss and many of the factors that led me to do it was highlighted by WordPress’s “Freshly Pressed,” I discovered something surprising: a ton of people are still happily blogging away, just because they want to. I found this out from the ongoing response to that post, and from reviewing the blogs of many who liked it and then chose to follow me.

If you listen to the nimrods who blog for popular sites (certain tech blogs, etc.) about social media, you might get the impression that tools like Twitter and Tumblr have killed old-fashioned blogging (a ridiculous term itself, since blogging isn’t even 20 years old, really) just for the heck of it.*

I think the response to my post featured on “Freshly Pressed” opened my eyes to the fact that blogging hasn’t really died out at all, and there are still plenty of people doing it because they feel compelled to. It may have begun to re-legitimize the act of blogging, in my eyes.

As a result, I’ve decided, after a silly amount of hemming and hawing, to focus much more of my writing in general in this space. A problem with the wealth of choices available to anyone wanting to publish much of anything online now is that very wealth…if you’re as ADD** as me, it’s often irresistible. I want to try that new Tumblr idea. I want to give that funny Twitter parody idea a shot. I want to check out this tool and see if it’s better than WordPress, or use that other one and see if it’s got better Google search penetration than Tumblr.

I want to, but I think rather than be distracted by the “oooohhh shiny,” I’m going to remain resolute and put it here, come hell or high water. I’m committing. It’s disturbing, and makes me uncomfortable.

That will mean a wide variety of weirdness, including pointless talking to myself posts like this. Something I try to not do, but continue doing. Thanks for following along, hope it’s worth your time. And mine.

*Backtracking: in 2005 I had been blogging for 5 years ‘just for the heck of it’ and someone invited me to write for their site for pay. That was news writing, not precisely blogging, but it led ultimately to, among other things, paid blogging, including launching and anchoring a blog about crime for Village Voice Media. After that blogging was officially a job, and that probably was the main reason I underwent a huge change in attitude about this endeavor.

**Medically diagnosed ADD, dammit, not self-diagnosed based on some online tests. The internet has provided innumerable tools for allowing people to glibly determine they are impaired or dying.