Starboy Review (AKA An Article Where I Gush a Lot About Abel Tesfaye)

I got asked to do a review of The Weeknd’s newest album Starboy, which got ran over at Headstuff, as you can read here:

http://www.headstuff.org/2016/12/review-the-weeknd-goes-interstellar-on-starboy/

Forgot to put this here a week or so ago. I can’t stop listening to the album. I had to give it a score and I hate giving things scores. In general I dislike the idea of things being critiqued in numerical values. Judging art with math is just silly to me. But I totally get it. I hate things like Rotten Tomatoes scores and yet I look at them just as much as anybody else even when I know how full of shit they can often be. Regardless, Starboy is an amazing album and the best thing The Weeknd has done so far. I’ve seen a lot of people that are a lot less enthused about it and it’s disappointing to hear; I think it’s the ultimate blend of his darker trappings and his commercial aspirations, and it manages to splash blood across the poppy canvas he’s painted his own image on. It’s a total fucking blast and needs to get played really, really loudly.

Been extremely busy with working on rewrites of a number of short stories and drafts for novels so I’m using articles and reviews as ways of taking breaks from that side of my head while still exercising my writing muscles. Getting into painting again. Bitching about movies. Kicking general ass.

A Good Day, and Rambling About Flash Fiction

A Good Day, and Rambling About Flash Fiction

So, this way older piece of flash fiction of mine came out, and you can read it for free here:

A Good Day by Josh Sczykutowicz

I have way too much older work just sitting around, semi-stockpiled. I had a period of time where I was utterly obsessive about submitting short fiction anywhere and everywhere all the time and I just kind of stopped being that obsessed with it. It is one of the most tedious and time-consuming processes with generally very low reward beyond the psychological one that, unfortunately, I think I got pretty used to, and I’ve just been way more interested in novel-length work these days. I have way more material just sitting around on flash drives and hard drives that I’ve considered just vomiting up on here sometime because I don’t really care to go through the months-long process of waiting to hear back from somewhere just to get told “No” or twice as long to get told “Yes” and then have six people see it.

I have a lot of odd ill-fitting things that are really short and really prose-centric and there’s not a lot of places all too interested in that beyond microfiction mags from what I’ve seen; everyone wants a diagnosable plot rather than a suggested one and to me if you want that you should be reading something longer than 1,000 words. The most interesting flash I’ve read is usually inference-based writing. I remember reading Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts and the best thing in it was a story called Dead-Wood that was a page long and had zero dialogue. There’s a time and a place for different things and I don’t think that flash is exactly the place to try and sell me on some expansive sci-fi vision or some lore-entrenched fantastical realm. Show me a scene; give me a painting; give me a single frame that I can make the rest of the film around in my head. That’s what makes the form so interesting to me and the best of it that I’ve read leaves me haunted by what I’ve just taken in and not really needing to see more because my mind’s already filled in the rest. Give me a really human snapshot of a moment in someone’s life that connects towards and back into several others and I’m happy. Try to write a Wikipedia summary of your novel-length story in 1,000 words or less and I’ll wonder why the fuck you didn’t just write a novel.

I’m trying to get back into writing little flash pieces and short stories again that don’t explode into novella territory. I think it’s a good habit to maintain and a good habit to have. It’s really its own craft; being good at one form doesn’t mean you’ll be good at another whatsoever. I have so much respect for people who only write short stories their whole lives. That’s a commitment to an art that is generally undervalued and underappreciated. When you read a bad one it’s a mild disappointment but doesn’t feel like that big a waste of time and when you read a good one you feel like the whole world has fallen out from under you and you’ve landed someplace else extraordinary.

As a writer I’ll even get jealous, and if it’s really good enough, I’ll even go past that into sheer awe and inadequacy — that deep certainty that no matter how good I ever get, that level will always be out of my skill range. Amy Hempel does that to me in a way nobody else ever has. Almost everything she’s ever written stuns me. It’s incredible. I remember getting a completed works collection of hers at fourteen and reading half and saving the other half because I knew I needed to give myself room to grow with them and save some for my future self. I didn’t want to run out of her words, that’s how stunning they were to me. Things of perfect beauty. She can do all the workshops and explain her craft and dissect it all she wants, and while you can learn a lot from that, there’s a core talent at the heart of her writing that no workshop can grant you. It’s just amazing. She’s one of those rare people on an entirely separate plane of artistic existence and I’m always just grateful to get to see it.

So, A Good Day. This was a cool little flash horror piece I did back when I was just letting myself have a lot of fun with flash fiction and not worrying at all about any of the shit I do now. I rewrite everything a ton but this is one where I think, overall, the core piece really did not change all that much in a way that someone else might notice at the surface, more just neurotic obsession over specific syntax or word choices. I love good horror fiction a lot and this was a definite genre-specific piece. I just liked it. Hopefully you do, too.

 

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Skeleton Tree Review

My review of the fantastic Skeleton Tree album is available to read now on HeadStuff:

 

Review | Nick Cave bares his soul on the moving Skeleton Tree

 

I feel so overflowing with ideas and I love it. This is when I am happy. This is when I am real. This is when I am me.

I am me when I have half-a-dozen articles that I wanna write and six novels I can read in my skull and need to translate into word docs and a ton of short films I want to direct and plenty of features I want to write and all sorts of things flowing out of me, images I need to splash across canvas like blood or an evening sky, a red sky at night meaning sailor’s delight, or however that rhyme goes. I am me when I am 40,000-something words into the first draft of a novel after just a few weeks of progress and have spec scripts done and tons of poems done and I am dying, needing, striving to get these things out of me and into something others can perceive.

I love it. I love this. I love the creativity that won’t stop being inside of me. I love this freedom. I love this sense of limitless wonder and joy and euphoria and challenge and production and tangible proof of something that once existed only as a certainty within my head that is now something outside of it. I love it. I love it all so much. I love writing. Writers who say they love to write but act like they hate writing make no sense to me. All I truly love is writing. It’s everything else that seems so difficult to me. I don’t get those people. Do they just want to vanity of it? I don’t know. I am at my happiest when I am written into a corner and fighting to make a plot thread satisfy. I am at my fullest when I am fending my way through a second act and striving to get to that third that I’ve been dreaming of since I penned the first word of the first. I am at my richest when I am rewriting, having made the clay in the first draft and crafting it into a statue in the second or the third or the fourth.

I fucking love writing. I fucking love making things. I fucking love sketching and drawing and painting and making things. I love making things. I love feeling like a servant to ideas. I love feeling like I am humbled by my art. I love feeling like I know why I exist, and that I can prove it. This is all I want to be. This is all I want to do. The rest is research and noise and inspiration and obligation. I am so honestly, sincerely happy when I am doing this. I love when I am meditating and struggling to keep a clear head because too many ideas are flooding me. I love when I am falling asleep and leap up alone in bed, reaching for a notebook or a fresh iPhone note to jot down the new thing I know I must make a reality that I can share with someone else. I love it. I love it so much. It’s not always simple. It’s not always easy. But I can do it. I can do it. And I love to do it. This is me, goddamn it. This is me.

RIP You Magical Man

My whole life, I’ve loved movies.

I’ve been obsessed. I’ve liked them more than reality, most of the time. They’ve always seemed like the ultimate marriage of art – writing, photography, imagery, performance, music. I don’t know if I’d be that way if it wasn’t for what I started off with.

The earliest memories I have in my life blend together, and I can’t tell you which came first, but they go like this: I’m sitting in the living room of the house I lived in as a young kid, and I’m close to the TV set, and it’s big, bigger than me, and on its glass screen I’m watching a girl click her heels together to go home, and I’m watching a glass elevator burst through a rooftop, flying through the ceiling.

Seeing The Wizard of Oz and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory as a kid showed me things I wasn’t going to see in real life for years – beautiful, swirling, gorgeous imagery, fantasies that blended into reality, perfection and wonderful, full-color life that defeated the drab, dark, dingy worlds around them. They made me believe in magic. The blended together in that way that only the earliest, foggy childhood memories do, but they’re there still. Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka was enchanting to me. He was magic. He was life. He was the opposite image I had of every adult I had ever met. He was, quite simply, perfect. He was commanding; he was sweet. He was mysterious; he was warm. He was lovely.

All my memories go from there. I can chart my whole life in film, and on that chart, that’s where life really began – being a little kid, barely able to register reality around me, but registering the reality those two movies made, and I don’t know if my life would have ever really started in such a way if I’d not seen him pretend to be feeble, and pretend to fall, and then suddenly and majestically rolled with absolute grace.

I’d go on to love him in all the things everyone else ever did – anything with Mel Brooks was like heroin to me as a kid, and even though none of the jokes made sense to me, Young Frankenstein was an early favorite. Blazing Saddles was the kind of film they could never make at any other point in time. He was a beam of bright memory for my young mind to latch onto during the insanity of Bonnie and Clyde. I always loved seeing that man on the screen, and even though I didn’t know the guy, and even though there’s nothing that special about my memories, memories that millions of countless others have, hearing that Gene Wilder is gone – that man who I will always, always see in my head as that magical, frightening and unbelievably delightful agent of imagination and wonder – it hits.

I wasn’t old enough to ever be hit by the passing of Judy Garland. But in my weird, toddler memory full of VHS tapes and phantom lines across the screen, she and he are bound together permanently. None of this really matters, but it matters a lot to me. I’m not one for the afterlife, but if Willy Wonka taught me anything as a child, it’s that imagination is just as powerful as reality if all you do is believe, and in my imagination, those two are together, guiding one another through the land of Oz and that chocolate factory, singing and dancing, giving hope to a little kid who watches it happening, and making him believe in art and magic in a way that nothing else in his life would for years to come.

“Howl Their Song” Available Now

A short story of mine, Howl Their Song, is now up over at Open Thought Vortex:

Howl Their Song

The response on there’s been extremely positive and I’m happy to share something so many people seem to enjoy. This started as just total free writing late one night with no specific goal in mind other than the opening imagery, and it flowered from there. Half of the time things like that are just exercises not worth sharing, but this is a good example of the other half, in my mind at least. Themes of isolation, loneliness, detachment and searching for meaning are all at the core of it. And, yeah, I’m a Chelsea Wolfe fan — “Lone” is definitely the soundtrack to this thing, if it has one.

By and large I think this thing speaks for itself, and I hope you enjoy it.