Finding My Way

I fell in love with everything science fiction and horror at an early age. My first memory encountering these genre’s occurred during a family trip (my mom, my sister, and I) to visit my grandmom in Atlanta. It was a six hour trip from our house to hers, and on this particular trip my mom decided to introduce us to Ray Bradbury‘s “Dark They Were and Golden Eyed.” I don’t know if my mom was trying to change my life, or if she was just sick of me and my sister arguing, but that tape brought quiet to the car either way. I felt like I was actually on Mars watching the story unfold. I don’t remember much else from that trip besides being in awe for a few hours, not thinking for a second about the passing miles under our feet. Before I knew it we were in Atlanta, and all I did know was that I wanted more of this peculiar feeling that this sci-fi recording had given me.

As for the horror, we got a taste for that on the return trip in the form of a 1946 radio show called “Suspense.” My mom owned the whole set of old tapes, and I couldn’t be more thankful. On this week’s episode of Suspense was a story called “The House In Cypress Canyon,” a story written by Robert L. Richards about a couple moving into a new house on the edge of a canyon. There are many things off about this house, and during the story the couple gets quite acquainted with these oddities. At two or three particular parts during the tape, I remember actually screaming because of the intense volume change where the suspense is broken. My heart was racing, and again I felt as if I were actually in this house and the story itself was happening to me, I was terrified, and loving it.

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My ideal dinner dates

It wasn’t long after this trip to Atlanta and back that I picked up my first “scary” book, whatever you call horror for kids. Goosebumps, by R.L. Stine, stole the show. I wasn’t one of the kids who could just read for thirty minutes and put a book down, I would sit for hours, and start to finish a book, given the series was easy to read, and rather short. After flying through the Goosebumps books, I don’t think I read for a while. I believe I was going into middle school at this point, and sports, friends, and girls were taking over most of my daylight hours. At night I had to do homework, and was forced to read things I absolutely hated. I think school negatively affected my reading for a good while after elementary school.

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What i felt like being forced to read

Required readings would be the death of me. I can’t explain how much I hated doing things I didn’t want to as a child. Every summer I had a list of books I was to read, they might as well have been different types of torture I had to endure. Sure, I read the books, but I didn’t retain anything, my senses weren’t alive while reading. I was a zombie whose eyes were just reading back and forth and up and down across pages. I don’t think I started really reading again until maybe eighth or ninth grade when two of our required readings were Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck, and 1984, by George Orwell. I fell in love with reading all over again. While reading Of Mice and Men, I found myself in tears, an event I didn’t think was possible whilst reading, and 1984 just completely blew my mind. I was old enough at this point to realize that these were just stories people dreamed up, and I was actually thankful that they were required readings, otherwise I don’t know if I would’ve gotten to them on my own. Reading was once again something I could see myself doing in my free time.

I started reading the Resident Evil books, by S.D. Perry. I loved the way Perry described the world, the monsters, and the way the suspense drove you onward as a reader. However, this stretch of reading didn’t last too long. Skateboarding and girls had taken over my life. Required readings were once again the bane of my existence.

It wouldn’t be until I was in my mid-twenties that I would start, and continue to read in my free time. I have my mom to thank for this new uptick in reading. She recommended I read some Greg Iles books. I hadn’t read a book from cover to cover since dropping out of college (for the second time at this point), and figured I’d give it another go. I started reading The Devil’s Punch Bowl, the first crime thriller I ever read, and I couldn’t put it down. I couldn’t get enough Penn Cage, the main character in a good few of Iles’s books. Iles quickly became my favorite author, and Penn Cage my favorite character.

My second favorite author, the author of my favorite book, This Book is Full of Spiders, is David Wong. This book, along with John Die’s at the End, made me laugh out loud multiple times while keeping me mesmerized by his storytelling. If you haven’t read either one, I highly recommend them, John Die’s at the End is the first in the supposed trilogy (the third hasn’t come out yet), and Spiders the second.

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The first in the trilogy

Stephen King is unquestionably my third favorite author, and I believe my writing style is most influenced by him. I would read myself off a cliff if he so wrote me there.

I’m currently reading End of Watch, by King, the third in the Mr. Mercedes trilogy.

I’m patiently waiting for the third book in the Natchez Burning trilogy “Mississippi Blood,” to come out. And, am also patiently awaiting for David Wong to come out with the final book in the John Die’s at the End trilogy. I can’t wait any longer!

If you’re interested in any of the readings mentioned you can find more information on them  below. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Dark They Were and Golden Eyed

The House in Cypress Canyon

Goosebumps

Resident Evil

Of Mice and Men

1984

Natchez Burning trilogy

John Die’s at the End

Mr. Mercedes trilogy

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The King and I

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The Master Himself

Stephen King has written over fifty best-sellers in his time as an author, and while he’s renowned for his fiction, one of my favorite books he has written is the non-fiction book titled On Writing. The first part of the book is about how he came to be a writer, while the second half goes on to talk about the actual craft of writing.

The first half of the book provides stories of his childhood, stories of his mishaps in high school, stories of his entrance into the writing world, emotional stories of success, and most importantly, stories of the things he learned the most from; failures.

When King turned in his first newspaper article to John Gould, the editor of the paper in Lisbon, upon editing Stephens draft, John says to Stephen:

“When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story,” he said. “When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

I thought that was a beautiful way to look at writing fiction; as two people doing one job. It makes the process seem like teamwork, when all you’re doing is writing things the voice in your head is saying, but when said the way Gould puts it, makes it seem like something greater. King speaks more on Gould here, where he also brings up the “Village vomit,” a newspaper he wrote himself that would wind up getting himself into trouble in school. I found this early failure quite entertaining.

This book doesn’t spend long on grammar, surprising for a book on writing right? King breaks down writing with a metaphorical toolbox that all writers should have. In this toolbox, every writer should have at least three shelves, and only the first consist of grammar and vocabulary. I like this because I have been out of school for over five years, and I haven’t taken an English class in about ten. So, while I can write a sentence that can be easily understood, I can no longer break apart and define each part of this sentence as I once could’ve. In short, quick and painless was the section of grammar.

King goes on to describe his schedule, something I desperately need to boost my writing consistency. He says that when he is writing, he is writing every day, and sets a goal of at least 2,000 words, and the door he shuts when entering his writing room doesn’t reopen until those words have hit the page in their entirety.

“If I don’t write everyday, the characters begin to stale off in my mind–they begin to seem like characters instead of real people.”

I’ve started multiple stories that I haven’t finished, and I believe this quote explains why. My characters have staled, they have become stories, and I am unable to tell myself the story because the story is no longer real to me. Consistency has always been a problem for me mostly because my schedule changes by the week: Some weeks I’ll work all mornings, and some weeks I won’t get off work until midnight or later. So finding a concrete time to write, as Stephen recommends, presents a problem.

The piece of advise I find most helpful is about writing what you know. It’s something I’ve always done because it flows the easiest, things don’t seem forced, and I can sit back and tell myself the story.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is actively pursuing a career in writing. It breaks down a schedule for you to follow, gives you vital information on writing and getting into the world of selling, and is an amazing insight into the early life of Stephen King.

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A Bit About Me

My name is Mike Stanley, I’m 30 years old, this is my blog.

I was born in Atlanta, Georgia, but didn’t end up staying there for very long. My dad died when I was two years old, and shortly after that we made the trip to Gainesville. He was missing for two weeks before the Atlanta Police Department located his body. I can’t imagine the pain my mother went through, having two kids, my sister not even a year old yet, and having a missing husband. He got in a car wreck on the way home from work one night, and they found him in a ravine a good thirty or forty feet below the road. I’ve only visited the actual site once, and though a bit chilling, it didn’t seem any different than any other spot on that road, except for the railroad crossing just before a slight turn right where he went off. I imagine he was going too fast, hit the railroad crossing and just lost control. But, he was also into computers back in the eighties, and I’ve always entertained the idea that he was “taken out” by somebody in the government because he knew more than he should’ve at the time. But, that’s another story for many more pages.

A few facts about me:
1) I’ve been a cook for twelve years now, and hating it for a solid ten.
2) This is my third (or fourth) time at Santa Fe.
3) My memory is extremely awful. (planners or fail)
4) I’ve had six concussions. (memory?)
5) I’ve had five near death experiences.
6) I’m happy to be alive.
7) Alcohol is a problem. (semi was)
8) I play disc golf in almost all of my free time.
9) I’ve skateboarded for fifteen years of my life.
10) I have no idea how I managed to stay alive to see thirty years pass.
11) Favorite books: The Stand, by Stephen King.  http://www.stephenking.com  and This Book is Full of Spiders, by David Wong. http://www.johndiesattheend.com

So, now that you have the facts let me expand a bit.

I became a cook fresh out of high school (12 years ago now). I was attending Santa Fe on a scholarship at the time, and doing nothing but drinking, skateboarding, and sometimes making it to class. I had no idea what I wanted to be in life. Looking back on it I find that funny, because ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always written. When my mom used to ground me in elementary school I would fill up pages and pages with all the words I could think of, the good, the bad, and the misspelled. But as I was making my way through high school and we were taking all kinds of career tests, I never once considered writing. At the time I probably had three or four journals full of poetry. I’m talking pages cried on, rage spilled, hatred filled poetry of first loves, first fights, good times, bad times, and random made up shit. But still, writing never occurred to me as a viable career option. I probably think about this way more than I should, I just can’t wrap my head around how I never even gave it the slightest consideration. Nevertheless, I made my way to Santa Fe, for the first time.

Santa Fe felt much like high school, and much like in high school, I still had no idea what I wanted to do with myself. I had to pick something, and since I was overlooking things that I loved doing, I just went with engineering based off the simple fact that I was always good at math. So, at this point, I’m loaded up with math and science classes, loaded up with homework, and doing nothing but cooking after school, and getting loaded after work. I got about halfway to my AA before dropping out. I had a problem blacking out, and instead of learning my lessons, I just kept blacking out, that’s how I accrued all the concussions and near death experiences. Only one concussion was from skateboarding (sober).

The same thing happened the second and third time I tried to get my shit together at the Fe, and I failed all the same. I failed to realize what I actually wanted to be three times in a row. But this fourth time, I cannot fail. To fail is to die in the kitchen, and I will do no such thing. I stopped drinking to the point of blackout about two years ago, and since I’ve just been making money, saving money, and rethinking what I want to do with my life. Since I screwed up so badly at Santa Fe, I’m having to pay for everything on my own until I can get my success rate back above the sixty-seven percent passing rate. It took a while to save for it, but now it’s happening. So, fourth times a charm?

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The Unnecessary Sucker-Punch Catalyst

I’ve only blacked out with rage two times in my life. The first was when I was about nine years old. I was playing basketball with one of my neighborhood friends. He told me not to hit his dilapidated backboard because he didn’t think it could take anymore, a ridiculous request at best. We were playing “21.” And as anybody who has ever played “21” knows, there are a lot of free throws to be had. My second free throw is up in the air when, lo and behold, I hit his backboard. The ball bounces by me, I bend down, pick it up, and turn to shoot when I’m met with a fist to the face. I don’t remember what happened in the ensuing seconds, I just remember coming to in an all out fight in his front yard. We got pulled apart pretty quickly, but I’ll never forget how scared I was by being mentally absent and out of control of my body for those few seconds. That was the first time I got sucker punched, and the first rage induced blackout. My second rage-out wouldn’t happen until I was ten years into my culinary career, about 20 years after the first incident.

My night started out just like any other shift; I was in a good mood, full of energy, and ready to deal with whatever my piece of shit managers had to throw at me. That last part is key, the turnover rate at that restaurant was through the roof, while employee morale was through the floor. They couldn’t keep good cooks. Management really had a way with people. I dreamed up this “OUU” policy that I swear they really stuck by, and it stands for overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated.

The kitchen manager loved to treat every employee in the kitchen as if we were his misbehaving step children. He would stand in the expo window just staring back at us, and as soon as anything went over twelve minutes he would ask us for it. We had four computer screens on the line, one for saute, fry, plate (salads), and grill. Once any entree went over twelve minutes it would turn red on our screens, and if he was in that window we knew it was only a matter of time before his face would turn the same color as those ticket times. By the time he had to ask you for anything again his demands were amplified and he’d have spit flying out of his mouth as he would incessantly pound his fists in the window. He is one of the worst human beings I have ever come in contact with.

It was a Friday night, this night of rages, and we were all expecting to be busy. We were down a fry guy because he was “stuck” in Jacksonville, and didn’t think to call to let us know until he was supposed to be clocking in for his shift (these are the kinds of people this restaurant could keep.) So, I knew what I was in for, and was prepared to work harder than normal. I had my “six P’s” taken care of (proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance,) and was bouncing around the line trying to bring struggling stations out of the weeds. Saute was having the most trouble on this particular night, so for the majority of the rush I was working pans (cooking with the saute pans.) There are only three usable burners on saute, and I can only cook two pastas per pan, making a total of six pastas that can be cooked at one time. Our stations screen can hold about fifteen tickets before we go “off screen” and a little number in the corner shows us how many tickets we have off screen. We were between plus fifteen and twenty off screen when my kitchen manager starts harassing me.

“Mike, you have two cajun pastas at fifteen minutes right now.”

I’ve already told him we would be putting out slow checks because of the lack of burners and the surplus of checks we were accruing. I tell him that they will be ready in two minutes. Fifteen seconds go by:

“Mike, I need those cajun pastas.”

I let out a sarcastic laugh and shake my head as I already know how this is going to be. I tell him two more minutes. Ten seconds expire this time:

“Do I need to come back there to get the food out?”

I’ve already told him twice that we need his help on fry, so I keep my mouth shut as my rage is steadily increasing. I’m sweating my ass off putting out the best looking food in good time for the rush. I’ve got at least ten cajun pastas, and half of them have special instructions, meaning I can only cook one per pan. This back and forth goes on for about another hour, me calmly giving him times, and him asking me for the same things mere seconds later. I get to the point where I can’t take it anymore. I walk around to the back line to take some deep breaths and escape his voice. No more than a second after I reached the back line, I see him come around the corner and start to yell at me. I lose my shit. I remember starting to walk towards him and beginning to scream, and the next thing I know, I was back on saute, and he was back in the window. The grill cook on the other side of the line was laughing, but everybody else was silent.

After the rush died down, I went down to talk to the grill cook to find out what happened. He said I was screaming at my manager all the way back to the line, calling him a piece of shit, saying he couldn’t do my job if he tried, and that when I give him times, they are real times, so don’t ask me for shit ten seconds after I give you a two minute ETA. I expected to get talked to after the shift, and possibly get written up, but none of it happened. He knew exactly what he was doing, and I think he expected something like that to happen.

After blacking out I was terrified something horrible had happened. But, I just I sat on saute still cooking but shaking mad. Furious because it happened again, and terrified that something like that was even possible without getting sucker punched.

I’ve since left that horrible, horrible place, and am much happier as a result. I’ll never get over how I felt when I worked there, and I actually worry about that. I’m still in a kitchen, but instead of being treated as someone’s misbehaving child, I’m treated as a near equal, which is all I can ask for in this industry.

How I Ended Up Here: A Kitchen Tragedy

They say the mind works in mysterious ways, and I’m certainly a believer. I started working in corporate kitchens almost twelve years ago. I was surrounded by older men and women who appeared to wake up consistently hating life. I told myself I would never settle. I would never be so content that I would allow myself to be subject to hours and hours of stress everyday, and be alright with it. But here I am, eleven-plus years later, doing the exact same thing, and only getting paid a few dollars more.

I was a good student, I just never learned to study because I never really had to. I stayed on the “honor roll” until my senior year in high school, when I got my first “C.” I graduated with a 75% Bright Futures scholarship, and had no hint of anything remotely near an idea as to what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I enrolled in Santa Fe Community College, which was basically an extension of high school, and found out that studying was something I would actually have to do to be successful.

This was the first time stress had introduced itself into my life as a permanent fixture. I was working at a deli thirty hours a week, and trying to be a full time student. I felt as if I was incapable of studying, in part because of two unruly roommates, who also happened to be two of my best friends, and the fact that I had just taken my first drink of any type of alcohol a few months earlier and was completely enthralled with the euphoric episodes I’d have while drunk. Needless to say, my mental focus shifted from studying to drinking, and from making it to class to sleeping enough before I had to work. My grades took a hit, and after my second semester I was on academic probation, which would be the first, and least serious, of any probations to come.

Two semesters in, and I was still without a cause. I took a semester off to gather my thoughts (drink), and find out if I could come up with anything that sounded interesting and slightly fulfilling to spend the next fifty years doing. I spent my entire time in high school writing in journals, and my thoughts would always run wild when I’d pick up a pen, but for some reason I never managed to put two and two together. I wanted to be a writer, but didn’t realize it until I had already lost my scholarship, dropped out of college, and began developing a serious alcohol problem.

I was already excelling in the cooking industry, being that I have half a brain, and am a hard worker, but I was still telling myself not to be content. Don’t settle, don’t settle, don’t settle. But with every year passed, and every drink downed, I was becoming more and more content, and like wet concrete in the sun, I was settling.

No matter how settled I get, concrete can still be broken apart, mixed together again, and laid down to set somewhere completely different. I intend to write my way out of the kitchen.

NOTE: This blog will take you through various experiences of my life, hard times, good times, horrible times, incarcerated times, near death experiences, and current rage if it just so types itself out.