About Mario

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Born and raised in Los Angeles, Mario Piumetti is a freelance writer of science fiction, horror, screenplays, and nonfiction. He has a bachelor's degree in English from California Lutheran University and an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University. An avid music lover, his work is heavily influenced by rock, punk, and metal. You can contact him at mario.piumetti.writer@gmail.com.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Good Times, Terrible Times

I'm trying to think just how many stories I've killed this year.  A few months ago, there was the alien invasion novel that I'd spent a few years on.  A few months after that was one about astronauts exploring a distant planet.  And about a month ago, I started a story about a kid raising himself in a zombie apocalypse; that one died a few days ago.

I don't admit this with pride.  It sucks putting down a story.  Some of these, like the invasion story, grew beyond the original conceit.  Others I felt weren't too different from what was already out there.  The one about the kid didn't feel any different than The Walking Dead: hordes of zombies, empty cities in ruins, etc.

I guess the "blind" is the best word to describe my week; it feels like I'm groping around blindly looking for that story that feels just right.  I could probably fit in among a thousand monkeys at a thousand typewriters.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Vampire-Slaying Presidents

Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter hits theaters on Friday.  Unlike a lot of people amongst moviegoers, I read the book before the trailers were whispered.  I'm not one of those assholes who sees a preview, gets excited, and then claims to have had a hard-on for the subject since day one.  Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (the book) by Seth Grahame-Smith left a profound mark on me as a reader and a writer.  Along with Dacre Stoker's Dracula the Un-Dead, it's one of only two novels that I've read nearly cover to cover in one sitting; actually, I read nearly three-quarters of Grahame-Smith's book without my ass leaving the chair.

As we all sharpen our metaphorical stakes, I'd like to take a moment to tell you why this book is so important to me.

First, it immediately hooked me.  Lincoln stood tall on the cover of the book with an axe behind his back and a bloody hand-print on his coat.  And when the 16th president is bloodied, and not in Ford's Theater, the first question that pops to mind is, "Why is he covered in blood?"  I picked up the book and the details sucked me in further right from the opening.  I still remember it, the author describing his (fictional, I presume) meeting with the vampire Henry Sturges, and talking about Lincoln's journals.  I still remember the description of those journals on the first page: "The books laid out in front of me were the only things now.  The ten leather-bound books of varying size - each one a different shade of black or brown.  Some merely old and worn.  Others barely held together by their cracked covers, with pages that seemed like they'd crumble if turned by anything stronger than a breath."  I'm a sucker for details, and the weight of the age of the journals drew me in.  I had to know more.

Second, Lincoln is human.  We have, I think, a somewhat mythologized view of Abraham Lincoln, the man who saved the Union, who ended slavery.  We don't stop to think about his baggage.  What I like about this version of Lincoln is that he does something very noble out of a very dark motive.  He's vengeful.  He's fueled by hate.  I always knew that flawed characters - from Oedipus to Darth Vader - where the most interesting, but Grahame-Smith seemed to nail it home for me.  Any pivotal character I write about must be fundamentally scarred because, as a reader and a writer, I have to know whether or not those flaws will ultimately do him in.

Third, it's a great genre story.  I'm a big fan of alternate history.  Just mention Harry Turtledove to me.  But this is meant to be a secret history.  Beneath the election, the Civil War, the assassination, what readers find is a fictional story woven in with historical fact.  To make up a story while keeping it within the boundary of fact is a very difficult thing to do.  I've tried, and almost always failed.  Grahame-Smith does it well.

Finally, the book and the writer have both inspired me to do better with my own work.  I met Seth Grahame-Smith just once in March of 2010.  He did a talk and book-signing at Vroman's in Pasadena, which stands out as one of the best author meet-and-greets that I can think of; we talked about the bullshit that is Twilight - "In my day, vampires were for killing, not for kissing," he said - and had a short, lighthearted debate over just how much justice Francis Ford Coppola did to Dracula.

I was still finding my feet in grad school and asked him if he had any advice for an aspiring writer.  Looking back, I think it was unfair of me to put him on the spot like that, but he was gracious enough to write something in my copy of Abraham Lincoln: "Don't let yourself get up to pee until you've written 1,000 words."

Seth, I'm halfway there and getting closer.  Thanks.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Literary Memberships and Subscriptions

For the last year, I've been a member of the Academy of American Poets.  In fact, this is my second time as a member; the first time, I was fresh out of college.  A couple of weeks ago, I got a notice in the mail that it was time to renew my membership.  I tore it up and tossed in the trash.  But I did renew my subscription to Poets & Writers Magazine, and I think I'm about to go into my second year as a member of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP).  The membership is a two-year stint when I signed up last June, so it's not up for renewal yet).

What was it about the Academy of American Poets that put it on the chopping block not once but twice?

I'm not about to disrespect the Academy.  It's a fine organization that's been around for years, decades.  But it wasn't right for me.  Over the last year, I've pretty much abandoned my poetry work.  There are events put on by the Academy, but they're all in New York, which doesn't help me living in Los Angeles with no travel budget.  In fact, the only benefit my membership has given me was the fact that I can put it on my resume.  At $50 per year, it just didn't seem worth it.

AWP, on the other hand, is a useful resource for a writer looking for a job.  They let writers know about any job openings nationwide through their monthly newsletter, have a career services program that makes it quick and convenient for writers to send their resumes and other relevant materials to potential employers, and they'll sometimes review you resume to see if there are any openings they feel you might be particularly interested in. 

Poets & Writers Magazine is another thing that I feel worthy of a writer, as they always have information on upcoming contests and grants, as well as wonderful articles on how writers can make the most out of their talents (this is in their "Practical Writer" section, which has become my favorite part of the magazine).  On top of that, a lot of the time, they have a cover story that could really boost a writer's professional spirits; any writer will tell you that a boost in morale is welcome.

If you think that joining a bunch of literary organizations is the way to go for your career, be warned.  These organizations are not gatekeepers to something grand, and membership does not promise that you'll wallow in literary luxury.  Instead, you have to find what's out there that works for you.


I worked on a short story tonight, and got a little over a thousand words added to it.  Not bad, even though at the last minute, I decided not to continue with it.  It was the usual reason: I just wasn't feeling it.  Yes, it sounds like something trite that a dork would say, but this dork was being honest about.

Ending the short story didn't bother me in the least.  In fact, nothing about writing or being a writer today bothered me.

I hopped into my truck and drove to Culver City where I reconnected with some Antioch friends in town for their residency.  Lunch.  Bullshitting.  Off-color jokes.  It felt like the year that went by since I graduated evaporated, and for a little while I was more at ease.  I breathed a little more easily.  I sat with a little more slack.  I even drove to Venice where I'd rented a beach house with some of my fellow students just before graduating.

None of this actually has anything to do with writing, but when I got home in the evening and sat at my computer, the words came out more fluidly.  Even though I ended up discarding the story, deep down I knew that I would be back on the horse in no time.  I don't know how I knew.  I just knew.  Again, trite but honest.

It's interesting what an afternoon with friends can do.  If you feel like you're in a funk with whatever you're writing (or just in a funk in general), give it a shot.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Kill Something

All writers need to kill something.

Oh, that doesn't sound good at all.  Let me rephrase: all writers need to kill a piece of their own fiction.  That's better.  See?  It sounds so much nicer when people aren't the victims.

I was going through some old papers yesterday and I realized that I still had the old alien invasion novel that I poured so much time and energy into only to see it end without the glory of a publisher.  I don't know why I held on to the hard copy of the drafts or the files of it I had on my computer.  It might have been, in part, because I spend a semester at grad school working on it, refining and raising it to a higher level of existence; I didn't want to see it destroyed.

Then, I took the drafts of their binders and started shredding them.  The notes too.

There's more to this than the mere clearing of space.  Keeping a failed novel is like hanging out with an ex-girlfriend while trying to move on with your new girlfriend; you're subconsciously tempted to repeat past mistakes.  And with every new one, you'll compare them to the old one.  I'm back to talking about books, by the way, not women.

So if you have a piece of writing that never quite worked out, get and destroy it.  I mean, physically destroy it.  That finality is an indication that you're ready to move on.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Love Letter (of Sorts) to MFA Students

My beloved grad school Antioch University begins its spring residency today.  It only felt appropriate to give a shout out to the friends I made there, some of who are still going through the MFA program, and others who teach there.  So here's what I learned during grad school.

First, if it feels like you're enduring two weeks of egotistical cocksucking, you are.  New students are scared and need that encouragement to feel welcome.  Graduating students need to feel that their two or two and a half years of hard work has paid off.  And you know you like being complimented on your skills too.  So, much like the holidays, the residency is a time to give and a time to receive.

Second, respect and savor the Tattle Tale Room.  This dive bar may look like a piece of shit (one of the perks of being a dive bar, after all), but it's an incredible hang-out, a forge of wonderful memories blessed by the gods of Rock.

Third, there will be people there who have a hard-on for saving the world from social ills like environmental destruction, economic inequality, and Republicans; and there are people who go to become better writers.  Just remember that it's a degree in creative writing you're after, not a degree in being a hippie.

If you feel like you're head is about to explode, Holy Cross Cemetery is right across the street.

If you're going to the closing conversation, bring tissues.  People cry there more than at the ending of Charlotte's Web, and there are more hugs than the end of a Saturday Night Live episode.

Paperwork and formatting suck major ass - terrible, hemorrhoid-ridden ass - but there is no Heaven without a Hell.

If you rent a beach house, pray that it gets rented to someone else at the last minute because then you'll be compensated with an even better house without an added cost.

People come and go, but the Four Points hotel will always be affectionately known as the Four Porns. 

That said, go learn some new shit!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Writing Workshops

Today wasn't the best of times.  I didn't go to sleep until six in the morning after a night of tossing and turning, pacing back and forth, and staring at the black page of a word processor.  It was sheer exhaustion that won me over in the end.  When I woke up and tried to get some work done on my novel - the sci-fi survival story - I couldn't get anything out.

It.  Just.  Looked.  Like.  Shit.  All of it.

As I tried to be more productive in other areas (catching a fly with your bare hands is productive, right?), I started to notice what was missing: workshops.

In case you don't know what a writing workshop is, it's when a group of writers come together to give feedback on each others' writing - what works and what doesn't; what the best parts were and why.  It's more than getting a pat on the back from your friends.  It's a chance for others to point out flaws that you might have overlooked, or to bring up questions and plot directions that you might have missed.

In other words, the workshop is something that they mention as an invaluable tool in every creative writing class.  In fact, it's my opinion that it IS the creative writing class.

Since finishing grad school a year ago, I haven't done a single workshop, and I think the absence is starting to make me second, triple, and quadruple guess myself; it's making me paranoid about whether or not I can actually write.

Time to go back to school.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Infamous Twitter Post

Kid Rock once said, "If it looks good, you'll see it."

Blogger.  Twitter.  Each in their own way is a great platform from which a writer can interact with his audience, but they apparently can't interact with each other.  At least, not perfectly.

I redesigned the blog because I thought it needed a fresh look.  I started a new Twitter page because I wanted to try and broaden my range.  Yeah, I thought that sounded simple too, but the new blog has a flaw in that it won't allow me to link Twitter to it.  No complaints.  I think the flip-card look is great.  There's just that one small hurdle.

So if any of you are wondering where the Twitter link is, it's in the "About Me" section.  Sorry.  It's not a click-and-go link but one that you'll have to copy and paste.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Big Fuckin' Questions

Every writer from the shitty to the outstanding needs to address a problem in whatever piece is being worked on.  Theme is very important, but it is no replacement for subject matter.  Instead, subject matter arises from theme.  There is a difference.

Paint can be used as an analogy for the distinction.  There's red, but then there are different shades of red (burgundy, rust, scarlet, etc.).

Theme is a general branch of material.  Survival, for example, is one of the themes that interests me, and it's a theme found in Robert Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, and David Brin's The Postman.  Now when you look at a theme, try to look at it in a different light.  Do NOT fool yourself into thinking you're going to find something that no one else has done before.  Stephen King did an interview for Under the Dome, and when comparisons to The Simpsons Movie were brought up, he said, "It's really not a question of whether or not something's been done before - the basic situation's been done before - but what you can do with it."

A useful tool in finding subject material is Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.  Maslow used this to help illustrate what motivates us.  Apparently, Freud was just partly right with the fucking.  That's just one of a number of basic needs like air and food.

The middle part of the hierarchy - the need for relationships, for acceptance and love - that's where I found the subject material for my book, boiled it down to a trio of questions: Who am I?  What defines me?  Where do I belong?

I can't tell you exactly how to find your questions.  There is a bit of serendipity and soul searching involved.  Hopefully this will help you guys out a bit.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Summer Vacation. Fucked, or am I?

Like most writers, I have a day job.  I'm a tutor.  I'm a tutor who's been told that summer vacation is starting to roll its ugly head around the corner.

When I was in college, summer vacation was a time of jubilation.  It was a few months spent drinking, going wild, and having sex with a couple of Swedish blondes who knew few English words and had fewer clothes.  Of course, that was all on my summer to-do list.  Nevertheless, it was a time that I could relax from being under the thumb of my professors.

Now that I'm older, summer vacation is an enemy to me.  It's the Vader to my Skywalker, the Khan to my Kirk, the Mandarin to my Tony Stark.  Time off?  Sure.  Time paid?  No.  Screw relaxation.  I want the sweet green, and you do too.

So how does a writer deal with the months of famine?  Tighten thy belt and prepare to lose at least ten pounds.  Personally, I think going crazy with boredom is the bigger concern.  This is my first summer out of school.  I was in grad school during the summer months, and even during a few years in college, so for me having time on my hands is a feeling I'm getting used to.

On the other hand, writers could seize this free time with both claws.  Think about it.  During the school year, I'll sometimes come home from tutoring sessions feeling so wiped that I can barely put together a grocery list, let alone a complete sentence.  With summer rolling around, I've got days, weeks, of free time in which I can devote just about all of my energy to writing, to submitting stories, to hopefully getting something published, and maybe even getting paid for it.

If you're a teacher and this is your first summer as a writer, I'm not saying it's going to be easy.  You're not going to be living the life of Frank Castle.  Hell, you're not doing that even when the paycheck's rolling in.

I don't know.  I guess I'm just trying to help keep the educator summertime suicide rate low.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Being Detached From Your Work

I checked my email yesterday and found a message from Tor.com, a science fiction publication.  To my surprise, it was a letter of response to "Patient Zero", a short story I had submitted nine months ago.  They rejected it.  I shrugged it off, probably because I had long since abandoned the story.  Anyways, it was old news to me, but I still printed the letter and stashed it away with other responses.

I also noticed how casually I took the news.  Any feelings of doubt lasted as long as it took me to get through reading the letter.  Nine months ago, it would have taken me maybe a day or two to get over a rejection and move on.  But in the nine months since I sent out "Patient Zero", I've abandoned a big novel, stopped myself from wasting time on another dead-end novel, and turned over half a dozen story ideas in my head, most of which I decided simply weren't worth my time; they just didn't work for me.

As you write, you have to be your own content manager.  By that, I mean you have to try to partition your mind into two aspects: the Writer and the Boss.  The Writer does the grunt work, the research and the production of a story.  The Boss assigns stories to the Writer; "Hey, Writer, what are you working on?  Well, fuck that shit.  I got an assignment for you."

It might sound weird, like something you'd expect from a guy with dissociative identity disorder, but it is something I encourage.  When you act as the Boss, you endeavor to take a few steps back from a project and look at it objectively.  You ask yourself, "Is this story really working out?"  If it's not and you're looking at the project as a writer, you might have too much emotion invested in the work.  You've spent time researching the material, and long hours have gone into writing it all up.  You don't want to say that the time spent has been for nothing.

How do you bring out the Boss?  You need time and distance.  For example, if you finish a a draft for a novel, take a week or two off from it (but no more than a month).  Give yourself time to forget some of the finer details and specifics of what you wrote.  When you go back to proofread, first tell yourself to be objective; imagine that you're going over someone else's work rather than your own.