Saturday, June 24, 2017

GUEST POST: On Willpower by Ann Sterzinger

Hey kids, I've got a special treat for you today! You may know Ann Sterzinger from the reviews of her novels, The Talkative Corpse and NVSQVAM (nowhere), that I've done on here. Recently, Sterzinger decided to branch out and write a book about fitness. Like diet and exercise, not me fitness boot up your ass. 

I'll be reviewing Disaster Fitness: Make Your Demons Do the Work over at Cultured Vultures within the next few weeks. To tide you over while you're waiting with your hand on your dick/pussy, here's Sterzinger on the nature of willpower and how her book will help you direct it. Yes, she's selling you shit, but I like the shit she's selling, so I'm hosting this for her. I'm nice like that. So be sure to check out her book, and maybe you can stop looking like half-melted ice cream.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed below are Ann Sterzinger's and not mine. If they cause you to fly into a homicidal rage, track her down and not me. 

Hi! I’m Ann Sterzinger, a novelist who somehow stays normal sized despite spending eternities sitting on my butt writing. I’m also certifiably mental; I should look like the comic book guy from the Simpsons, right? But nope, I’m 42 and people still won’t take me seriously, because I kind of look like a kid.

At a certain point I realized that if I figure out how I manage to do this, I can tell other people how to do it too. So I eventually managed to quit looking down my nose at self-help authors for long enough to write it all down.

Here’s the basic realization I came to: The most valuable commodity a person has is not time—it’s willpower. Especially if you’re a crazy person who wants to get in shape.

As proud as you are when you manage to white-knuckle it through a workout you hate and a diet that makes you suicidal, teh science mans have announced that you have only got so much willpower to spend each day, and then your brain cracks under the stress.

It makes intuitive sense. Think of how many days go like this for you:

You dragged yourself out of bed to work out this morning, you were nice to your ass-hat coworkers, and you ate a salad for lunch—but that last bullshit project that came in at work was the last straw. Trouble ensues. Cheesecake goes down the hatch. Whiskey shots get pounded.

Are you going to get up early and work out tomorrow? Giant bowl of nope, you say! Fool me once!

But imagine this: what if you could stop pouring that giant chunk of your daily willpower into your fitness plan?

At the risk of pointing out what you think is obvious, one of the major expenditures in your willpower budget is working out. Most people exhaust a lot of their mental resources just getting off the couch, and then pushing through the pain… and then you pig out afterwards, undoing all of your work and then some, because your willpower for the day is gone.

What if you didn’t have to exhaust yourself mentally just getting off the couch? What if you actually looked forward to exercise? Would you work out more often? Would you save that willpower to start your own business after your dumb job is finished every day? Would you escape the horrible loop of exercising so you can pig out, and then punishing yourself for pigging out with exercise?

Welcome to the way out of the cycle. The bad news is that the way out is straight through your personal psychological disaster zones. But the GREAT news is that I’ve written a book that will guide you along this fiery path to the willpower savings you need to improve your life.

DISASTER FITNESS: Make Your Demons Do the Work is a bitchy but compassionate workout motivation program that has been reverse-engineered by a lady who got tired of people snarling “Why are you not fat?” at her for free and decided to get paid to explain why.

DISASTER FITNESS is a fitness program for those of you who are tired of letting your mental exhaustion and whatever the psychiatrist says is wrong with you get the better of your fitness efforts.

Tl;dr version: The craziness of your brain and your life is making you fat. But you can totally use it to get yourself in shape again.

This isn’t a program that will help motivate you. This is a program that will cut your need for motivation.

It isn’t easy for me to bring you this information. I’m embarrassed to write about fitness. There’s so much stupid crap out there about it, for one thing; and more important, pseudo-intellectuals such as myself aren’t supposed to admit they work out anyway. But amongst the many things I’m sick of having to do for free in the Internet age, being sneered at for knowing how to take care of myself is up there.

So it’s time to tell people what I do, and ask them for legal tender in exchange.

I’m not the sanest or most together person in the world—for Christ’s sake, I’m a novelist—so if I can do this, anyone can.

This is the only fitness “secret” that really counts:

All the stuff that bugs you deep inside can become your secret weapon.

Be honest: When you look in the mirror and see a slob that doesn’t look like you, do you blame your mental health? Did you have terrible parents, a tour in Iraq, a chemical imbalance, a trauma?—Do you think it’s pinning you to your couch and your Doritos?

Here’s the truth: you aren’t a victim of your circumstances. You aren’t inherently lazy. The deck isn’t stacked against you. Inertia is not destiny. You have a mighty sword in your hand; you’re just holding it by the wrong end.

Your damage is a hidden superpower.

Somehow my crazy has helped keep me active. That’s an understatement; it makes daily physical activity inescapable. What’s the difference between you and me?

Nothing. Except for one little tweak:

I’m holding the sword by the hilt, and you’re holding it by the blade.

You may think you’re hopelessly depressed, but the numbness that started out as a defense mechanism can be used as a tool. You may feel hopelessly mired in “mental illness”—but each of your “disorders” began as a trick that a healthy brain learns to do to protect itself when it can’t escape bad circumstances. Your brain has developed marvelous coping tools. All you need to do is learn to rewire those tools to get you fit instead of getting you fat.


Cause I’m tired of hearing people complain about a problem they are perfectly capable of solving. I can’t make you a supermodel; I can’t make me a supermodel, either. I’m a girl and I look like Joey Ramone, for Christ’s sake. But we can be strong and healthy, and that’s always hot. And the way is straightforward, believe it or not. (At least compared with most of our other problems.)

As long as you have a problem to solve that is within your control, you’re the luckiest guy/gal in the world. Success beckons, and nobody stands in your way. To paraphrase Yoda, don’t bitch—do.

Give me a few puny shekels and I’ll tell you how to turn it around:

And this book is probably going to get pirated, so go ahead and donate to my patreon to make up for it:
OR donate to me via PayPal:

And watch my Grumpy Book Review of Jeff Gephart’s hilarious and thoughtful Accidental Adulthood. Grumpy Book Reviews is my new video series, in which I tell you what to read besides my stuff, while hopefully providing entertainment, even if it’s unintentional humor:

Check out the Disaster Fitness blog for more fitness advice, plus my personal blog (where Jeff has a guest post! Funny as fuck, as we used to say when I was a screwed-up but still not fat punk rock kid).

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Brief Thoughts 21

This series has reached drinking the legal drinking age. In the states, at least.

The Beginning Was the End by Oscar Kiss Maerth

I can't remember where I first heard about this book. The premise intrigued me, but used copies of it are pretty expensive. I was able to get it easily through interlibrary loan though.

Maerth's thesis is that modern man came into being from cannibalistic apes that ate the brains of other apes. The reason they ate brains, and why they were able to reproduce so much, is because brains acted as an aphrodisiac and increased sexual pleasure. What they didn't know is that eating brains caused their intelligence to increase and caused them to lose their body hair.  The problem is that it made their brains expand so much, it smooshed the brain against their skulls, damaging their brains. This resulted in mental sickness and a loss of the ESP natural to all living beings. This is why modern humans are so miserable and sick in the head.

Yes. He's entirely serious about this.

The first chapter is actually a very well written diatribe about the human condition and discontent with the modern world. In chapter two, it immediately takes a hard turn into kooksville, claiming intelligence can be eaten and that ape brains are an aphrodisiac. The evidence he provides is sketchy at best, things like discussing the importance of head and skull symbolism in many cultures, and ridiculous at worst. One of his claims is that different races evolved from different types of apes, with some races remaining in earlier stages of development than others. His evidence for this a collage of different people of races juxtaposed with different types of monkeys.

Also, there's aliens, because of course there is.

He claims that people like Jesus, Buddha, and so forth were born without brain damage which is what made them such wise men. His solutions to the problem of human's damaged brains are a vegetarian diet, meditation, and trepanation. Okay, not quite. He does argue that trepanation was an early means of relieving pressure in the head and that genetic engineering to expand the skull would be beneficial.

I'm not sure if I should be surprised or not that this book got little attention. The only contemporary review I could find was from Kirkus where the reviewer was obviously shocked by the book. Maerth apparently had a few disciples, but as far as I can tell, a brief pamphlet was the only thing he ever wrote after this. The book does have some notoriety from being an inspiration to the band Devo. They even named one of their short films after the book.

This book is a fine example of crackpottery, but I can see why Devo was inspired by it. It comes up with a pretty original story for humanity's origin and it's a pretty entertaining one. I'd recommend picking this up if you're into oddball theories. Used copies are pretty expensive, but you can get it pretty easily from a library or online.

Buy The Beginning Was the End by Oscar Kiss Maerth here.

Mythologies by Roland Barthes

After HAarlem VEnison told me that my poetry reminded him of Roland Barthes, I decided to take a look at one his books. This one seemed to be the best starting point.

Barthes uses the term "myth" here in a unique way. He refers to the meanings conferred on to things rather than to fictional stories. Though he does consider most of the meaning around things to be a type of fiction. The books is divided into two parts. Part one is a collection of essay about the "myths" of things in every day life like wine and laundry detergent. Part two is a longer essay that analyzes the idea of myth as a part of speech.

The book is surprisingly accessible. It may seem silly to give what amounts to a literary analysis on  things like professional wrestling and steak and fries, but it makes sense. Barthes is concerned with the perceptions that underlie language. The average person is going to deal with laundry detergent more than they are classic literature.

Part two is more difficult than part one, but not by much more. Here, Barthes explores the idea of myth as a part of speech more deeply, as well as how it intertwines with power in society. He uses an example of a picture of young black man saluting while wearing a French military uniform. He breaks down the difference between the picture itself, the young man in the picture, and what the picture represents. He notes how the "myth" of French patriotism in the picture obscures the history of French imperialism. Likewise, he explores how political myths in society develop working from a Marxist perspective.

This is seems like a good starting point for someone interested in the postmodernist view of language. I plan on checking out more of Barthes's work, as well as Ferdinand de Saussure, who was a big influence on this book. 

Buy Mythologies by Roland Barthes here.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Brief Thoughts 20

A Treasury of Damon Runyon

I recently learned about Damon Runyon. He sounded interesting, being a popular writer of humorous in the 20s and 30s whose subject was gamblers, gangsters, and bootleggers. I decided this would be the best place to start with him.

The arrangement of this book is kind of off. You'd think that they'd put all the poems together. Instead there's a couple at the beginning and a couple at the end. I think the ones at the beginning were supposed to separate the stories that make up the basis for the Guys and Dolls musical from the other ones, but even then, it felt weird. There's also a separation of sections in the index but not the text itself. It made the thematic and stylistic changes towards the end jarring.

While I liked most of the stories towards the beginning, especially "Johnny One-Eye," toward the middle the stories started to blend together and feel dull. I honestly couldn't tell you what happened in the vast majority of these. Maybe because of how samey the Broadway stories are, they're better taken in one at a time rather than all at once. I couldn't get into most of the stories towards the end either. The Turp stories (about an older Brooklyn married couple) were cute, but I couldn't get into the stories based on Runyon's home town either. The longer, non-Broadway stories at the end felt like they came from an entirely different writer. I don't know if these were early works or what. They just felt stuck in there because they didn't fit anywhere else.

I thought the poems at the beginning were corny and lame but the poems towards the end were much more enjoyable.

Overall, I didn't really like this book much. I might give Runyon another chance, when I was able to get into the stories they were fun, but this one just didn't do it for me.

Buy A Treasury of Damon Runyon here. 

Road Dawgz by K'wan 

The previous books I'd read by K'wan, Black Lotus and Animal, were both fun, page-turner crime novels. I picked up this book which was an earlier effort, being only his second novel. 

Of the books I've read by K'wan, this one was shaping up to be the best. Not just a crime novel, but a portrait of how a its protagonist, K-Dawg, goes from an ambitious yet affable criminal to a true villain. 

The problem is, towards the end it became clear that K'wan was too attached to K-Dawg to allow him to do anything truly despicable. Even though it seems to be going in that direction, K-Dawg doesn't completely lose his moral center. The narrative ends up treating him completely like an anti-hero. As a result, we get an ending that feels like a complete cop-out. 

Despite that, it remains a fun read and I'll certainly be reading more of K'wan's work.

Buy Road Dawgz by K'wan here.  

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Hey Kids, You Like Free Books?

From today (03/21/2017) until Saturday (03/25/2017), the Kindle version of my chapbook, the sky is black and blue like a battered child, is free.

Get it here.

Let me know what you think by reviewing it on Amazon or on Goodreads. If you review it for your blog or a website, please send me the link. If you haven't read it yet, I hope you enjoy it!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

New Flash Fiction Piece Published: "Cathy" at The Casper Review

Things have been quiet around here. I've been working on a novel and that's taken precedent over all other projects. Still, I've been sending out pieces for publication. One has been accepted and posted. The relatively new and excellent Casper Review has accepted my flash fiction piece for their site.

Read It Here.

Be sure to check out the rest of it. They have some great work up.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Brief Thoughts 19

Libra by Don Delillo

Delillo is an author who I've heard mixed things about. I've heard some regard him as embodying the worst of contemporary "high brow" literature while others have praised him. Since Cronenberg, one of my favorite directors, adapted one of his books, I figured he was worth checking out.  My library didn't have Cosmopolis, so I decided to check this one out instead.

Libra is a historical novel about Lee Harvey Oswald. It speculates that Oswald was a patsy in a CIA scheme to shoot John F. Kennedy, however that the assassination was supposed to fail. Oswald is portrayed as something of a fuck up. Which seems to be somewhat accurate to how he was in real life. He was an outcast in school, he was a wannabe revolutionary that defected to the Soviet Union, only to come back when he couldn't fit in. Even here, he becomes a CIA patsy picked specifically because it seems like he's a terrible shot. However, he succeeds in killing Kennedy when he wasn't supposed to.

The books is pretty solidly structured, going between Oswald and the CIA conspirators plot to shoot Kennedy. It reads like a solid thriller and still manages to go through most of Oswald's life from childhood. It does a good job at showing how someone like Oswald could become the kind of person who would shoot a beloved president.  There's also an interesting aspect where a "Curator" tries to sort out all the facts of the Kennedy assassination, concluding that the full truth of the case will never be known. It gives it a nice postmodern touch that isn't too alienating or overbearing.

One of my biggest problems with the book is that there are several times where the dialogue is very stiff and unnatural. It feels like Delillo didn't know how to properly steer the conversations where he needed to and just forced them. Jack Ruby's story line (the man who killed Oswald) also felt very rushed and underdeveloped.

Even though I've been to the Kennedy museum in Dallas, I don't actually know that much about the case. This novel was helpful in teaching me things I didn't know about Oswald or many other figures surrounding the assassination. Obviously, since this is fiction I had to check to see what was true, but it's a helpful guide.

I enjoyed this book and I'll try some more of Delillo's in the near future. I'll also probably try find more non-fiction work about JFK's assassination since this got me just as interested in it as visiting the Kennedy museum.

Buy Libra by Don Delillo here. 

Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music by Irwin Chusid

I've been fascinated by "Outsider Music" for a long time now. WMFU's website is a good resource for it, especially Irwin Chusid's effort to collect and archive fringe music. When I found he had written a book on the subject, I had to pick it up. Though it took me a while to actually read it, as I have a bad habit of doing.

As the title suggests, this book attempts to define "Outsider Music" as a genre and goes through the artists that fall within it. The genre includes music that's both outside of the mainstream and (usually unintentionally) ignores most conventions of making music. Often, the creators suffer from mental illness, or at the very least, exhibit unusual behavior. Of course, Chusid himself points out that this is a very slippery genre. He includes a chapter on Captain Beefheart who was both on a major label and made a lot of conventional music in addition to his weirder albums. Also, he wasn't mentally ill or erratic, he was just a dick.

While his attempt to define the genre doesn't quite work, this is still a fascinating book. Chusid recounts figures who worked all over the map, from complete amateurs to trained composers, who all made odd music. I was familiar with some artists here like Jandek and Wild Man Fischer, but I learned a lot about some who'd I never or only only vaguely heard of like the Cherry Sisters and Robert Graettinger. Chusid writes with a mixture of insight and humor, delving into artists in an engaging way even with artists he clearly doesn't enjoy.

Some of his choices for who he writes about are a bit odd to me. Beefheart for the reasons I previously mentioned. It also seems odd that he gives two sentences to the Chipmunks but only mentions Anton LaVey at the end where he names some other artists that might fit in the genre. It seems like music by the founder of the Church of Satan would be worth more than a mere mention. I also noticed the complete absence of Y. Bhekhirst and JW Farquhar. Though I'll grant it would be impossible to name every artist who could possibly fall in the genre. The book is also somewhat dated. It was released in 2000 and some of the artists mentioned have died.

Despite that, this book is a great read and valuable as a reference. If I ever want to find some weird music, I can just pull this out and look up the artists listed. Highly recommended.

Buy Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music by Irwin Chusid here. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Top Ten Favorite Reads of 2016

The year that everyone hated is over. So that means it's time to countdown my favorite reads of 2016. It was hard to narrow these down to just ten with eight honorable mentions, but I promised myself I would stick to that this time. Remember, these are books I read in 2016, not necessarily books released that year. 

10. Kanley Stubrick by Mike Kleine  

This novel was a departure for Kleine in that it's more narrative driven than his previous works. I'd say he succeeded well. He maintains his surreal style while telling an odd but compelling story about a man searching for his missing girlfriend.

Full review here.
Buy it here.

9. Mistah Kurtz! by James Reich

Reich explores one of the most mysterious characters in the English literary canon through this story. He sheds a whole light on Conrad's novel while creating an excellent one of his own.

Full review here.
Buy it here.

8. Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite  

Several authors I know list this as one of their favorite horror novels. It's easy to see why. This is a highly disturbing and emotional read. Among some of the best horror I've read myself.

Full review here.
Buy it here.

7. The Best of Joe R. Lansdale

A mixture of absurdism, horror, and Southern Gothic by an author who writes all of them equally as well.

Buy it here

6. Three Plays by D. Harlan Wilson

Wilson's foray into plays is funny, entertaining, and thought provoking. It's just as good as any fiction he's written.

Full review here.
Buy it here.

5. The Columbine Pilgrim by Andy Nowicki

This novella ranks with Selby's The Room and Thompson's The Killer Inside Me as of the best examination of a disturbed psyche I've ever read.

Full review here.
Buy it here.

4. Consensual by A.D. Hitchin 

Hitchin's exploration of perversity and misanthropy is a powerful read.

Full review here.
Buy it here.

3. The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea by Yukio Mishima

A disquieting and beautiful existential novel.

Buy it here.

2. The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays by Albert Camus 

A highly readable essay collection on the absurdity of every day life.

Full review here.
Buy it here.
1. The Ego and Its Own by Max Stirner

This book is a wrecking ball through the foundations of every belief system. That's an entirely good thing It wouldn't be number one on this list if it wasn't

Full review here.
Buy it here.

Honorable Mentions

- Arafat Mountain and The Mystery of the Seventeen Pilot Fish by Mike Kleine
- Anarchism by George Woodcock
- Spiritual Instrument by M Kitchell
- In Their Arms by Thomas Moore
- Answers of Silence by Geoff Cooper
- Deathtotheworld: an interracial racist love story by HAarlem VEnison
- The Maimed by Hermann Ungar