Sitting on Your Hands (Writing Short Stories)

I remember when I was a kid. December 23rd, always. That was the day, never fail, that we would cap off our fall semester, for TWO WHOLE WEEKS until the middle of the first week of January, when I’d return, with the other rugrats, to the doldrums of the classroom.

Now, we weren’t rich, weren’t upper-middle-class, just hard working folk that had enough to cover what we needed and then just a little bit more. I never had the latest, most expensive toys that come from the time-honored tradition of Parents Gone Wild on Black Friday that carries over to this new generation. No, I say, my parents went not for the latest fad for me, but in the unique and interesting thing that none of the other kids had.

On Christmas Day, I sat giddy, surrounded by what was always the coolest collection of childhood curiosities, and, aside from playing with them, I couldn’t wait to show the toys off to my friends.

Of course, we lived on the wrong side of the tracks (not really, but we were separated from our village and lived on its edge.) So I had to wait. All of this magic under the tree, and I was forced, through circumstance, to sit on my hands.

This is short story writing. You spend days in anticipation, and, like my parents, try to find that unique thing, pouring your heart through your mind through your fingers to a page or screen and at some point, you’ve created something that you want to show to everyone you see. But you can’t. It’s not like you’ll ruin it, or spoil it. It’s just that–and this is lesson #1 in being a writer–people have limited amounts of time. Someone who reads every story you write as soon as you write them is a rare treasure. 90% of your friends will read it. 10% of those people will actually read it, and 10% of those people might get back to you the next time they see you. Don’t hate the players; life’s hectic.

Mostly, people, if they read it, will read it when it’s published somewhere. And getting a story published takes time. You have to pick a spot, lookout for open submissions, etc.–even a good writer has to sit on their hands for a while.

So, moral of the story: if you see a writer who looks like they just landed a half-court shot, but no one saw it, they probably just finished a kickass short story.

Outlaws and the Men Who Built America (Why I Write Crime Fiction)

I write crime fiction. It’s fun, it’s entertaining to my readers, and I know hundreds of other crime writers. But I’ve written other genres as well, and I, once and again, have to ask myself: why crime?

I write about sick shit, terrible crimes. I crudely kill people off with a stray sentence. But if you know me, you’d know I am a deep, thoughtful person. And a total pacifist. So why do I use my literary voice to show you the worst in people?

I’m a history-minded person, and I have a theory. Let’s say it starts in the late 19th century, the “Gilded Age”, where the Carnegies and the Vanderbilts and the Rockefellers were listed as the “men who built America”. But they funded the build. The real men (women and children) who built America worked sixteen-hour days, six days a week, doing grueling work in unsafe conditions, totally disposable, and paid so poorly that they could work their whole lives and never get out of debt to the company store. And if they had enough, went on strike? The U.S. Army would come to the rescue – of the “men who built America” and with rifle and cannon, blew strikers away.cigar-factory

That was the Law. Indentured servitude to the very few. So when people like Jesse James started making the papers, they caught the pubic’s attention. They were stars because the only difference between Jesse James and the workers who went on strikes was that he got what he wanted before the Law started shooting at him.

The outlaw, even on the run, was truly free to the factory worker whose technical freedom was only a few square miles.

Every time we’re struggling under the weight of a law or laws – be they criminal or social – we boil a special kind of desperation under our skin. Those who skirt those laws, moreover, those who flaunt those laws, become mythic to us. We can’t bring ourselves to be them, but God, we want to know how they tick.

This became especially important after the horrors of World Wars I and II, when writers struggled to unlock just what it was that allowed a person to kill thousands in one day and believe that they were doing an acceptable thing. We seem to revolve around glorifying the criminality and reeling from it, and nothing captures that like the fiction that donned the black hat and the flawed anti-hero.

Applying this theory to modern crime fiction, I see the weight of Law more on a social front – the disconnect that we’ve acquired in the social media revolution. At the beginning of this century, we talked to each other; now, we bury our faces in our phones. I see rural crime and noir expanding its popularity. Because today, a person not attached to their phone or laptop is flaunting the social law. I also see gritty, hardboiled gaining in popularity, with simpler plots but much more character and scene development.

So that’s my theory. What’s yours?

The Future of Our Work – Will Anybody Miss Us When We’re Gone?

Herman Melville began his writing career in Troy, New York, a city that has bee the basis for my own fiction. His story is interesting, and has resonated with me, and maybe a few others in the writing community. While considered renown for his writing during his active years, he wasn’t financially successful. On top of that, his books went out of print by 1876, fifteen years before he died. He became a minor footnote in American literature, until the 1910s and 1920s, when his work was “revived” in the Melville Revival.

That story paints me a picture, as it should you. If not for the revival, “Moby Dick” wouldn’t be a ubiquitous name in public. Even people who haven’t read the book know the story of Ahab and the white whale.

I have six books right now; not much. But times are changing. There are millions of books out there today, and 1% of those books “make it.” Renown is held by a few, though talent is held by many. But a sea of even talented voices is still white noise at full blast. I may not “make it” in my lifetime. So I’m thinking of ways to hedge my bets – technologically.

I keep up with all the cool techie shit, and when I came across an article on the M-Disc, a DVD or Blu-Ray Disc that can preserve data (my writing) for over a thousand years, I was intrigued. The M-Disc optically burns your data into “stone” (a synthetic mineral layer). This got me thinking about archival storage, and I did some digging.

Archiving your work is not the same as backing it up. You archive your work to form a permanent record. The media you use will be obsolete in ten years, and you can only hope that in the future, technology will exist that can read and decode your data by another method. Backing up is what you must do when you’re alive to do it, and there’s some helpful info below on that.

M-Disc, if it holds, has the longevity that nothing else does. Physical books are durable, but they aren’t made like they used to be. Any number of things can destroy them, and they’re bulky. Hard to store for centuries. DVDs start to lose data after six months. External hard drives, three years. Flash drives, five years. And gold archival discs? fifty- to one-hundred years. And the cloud, theoretically forever, is only as good as the company that stores it. Will Google be around in five hundred years? (Think of these timelines when you’re backing up your work).

Now, why talk of five hundred, or a thousand year? Because it’s likely that there is, and will be, such a glut of work out there digitally that it will someday get purged, or just lost. A solar flare, a big one, could devastate society for years, and wipe everything digital off the map. Work that’s been durably archived will last. M-Disc is good, but it’s a disc, that can get cracked. Maybe something better will come along.

But when the future is trying to figure out our time, I’d like to know my take has a chance of being heard.

DIY Education in the 21st Century

When I was eighteen thru twenty-five, I paid for- and attended five colleges, where I majored in bong hits, binge drinking, hangovers and ditching class without being removed from campus. A young Liam Sweeny could get financial assistance and scholarships for an education he wasn’t ready for. A current Liam Sweeny can’t afford a college, but has the drive to secure an education.

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‘Welcome Back, Jack’ to be Released from Down & Out Books

In 2013, I completed my transition into full crime fiction with the finishing of my first hard-boiled detective novel, Welcome Back, Jack. For about a month, I released an early version of it independently to a select local audience, and was propelled with its reception to seek a more traditional publishing arrangement.

Down & Out BoDown and Out Books logooks, headed up by tireless publisher Eric Campbell, is a powerhouse indie publisher of hard-boiled crime, and the respect it gets among its peers is well-earned. With books from authors like Les Edgerton, Jack Getze, Richard Godwin, Matt Hilton and so many others, I have great hope that Down & Out will cradle my book in its scabbed, bloody hands.

The release date is to be announced, but will likely be in the fall of 2015.

Author of Crime, Mystery and Noir