I’ve had a lot of failures in my life—I feel I’m rather getting to be known for them—but there’s one giant failure I don’t talk about. This massive mishap is something no one in my family or group of friends brings up because they know it will probably set me off (or, more likely, because they’ve forgotten about it). It is something that makes me grind my teeth and hide my face in shame.
I’m talking, of course, about House of Guns.
I hate myself for even typing it out.
Ten years ago, in the wonderful time that was 2005, I wrote a novel during National Novel Writing Month. I had no job and most of my friends were off at collage, so the book was a breeze. I pounded out words for a month, having only the briefest of plots outlined in my head. And by the end of November, I had a book around eighty thousand words deep.
I loved that book; an action and suspense drama centering around a young twenty-something year old photojournalist (from what I remember) covering the desolate life of the common folk living in the future war-torn region that was once Central America. Specifically, it took place in Belize—which is what started my fascination with the country.
The title, House of Guns, comes from the part in the book when the photojournalist finds out that the house within the refugee camp he’s living in holds a secret basement packed with weapons and supplies. I was told by many people that the title was no good, but I thought it sounded so cool, so scary, yet also so mysterious—everything I thought my novel was.
About half of the book took place in flashbacks, and I don’t remember the writing being fantastic, but the story wasn’t bad. I think my love for it really came from the fact that it was my first novel as a supposed writer. I’d written one book before that, in high school, just to see if I could, but House of Guns was me going out into the world (so to speak) and beginning my career as a professional novelist.
I let a dear friend of mine at the time read it before anyone else. At one point in her reading, she stopped talking to me for a few days. A little while later, I got a call from her, angry that I was about to kill off a character. I laughed hysterically at her and told her to keep reading (as I hadn’t actually killed off said character). When she finished the book and I asked her what she thought, she told me that she liked it, but that it had made her terrified of me.
That was a great sign, I thought. Surely if such an awesome and nice dude as me could make my best friend scared of me, imagine what other readers would think! My belief in the book was reinforced.
I ran through the book once myself, making small edits that I caught. Then I started sending out queries. I collected my rejection letters like a good little writer, knowing that eventually I’d hit gold. Unfortunately, it would be fool’s gold, leaving me without the riches I’d promised myself.
Upon returning from a fishing trip with my dad one weekend, I rushed to check my mail. I didn’t know how, but I had a great feeling that something good was coming my way. I dialed up (these were the days when you had to dial up to the internet) and got onto my e-mail.
And there it was: My acceptance letter. I’d sent my novel as a whole in e-mail form to a publisher, and they’d accepted within two weeks. Now, most of you—particularly if you’re in the field of writing—know that this isn’t something that’s normal; but at the time, I didn’t know. All I knew was that my book was about to be read my millions of people.
I may have been a bit naïve back then.
They sent me a contract and I signed it before mailing it back (another practice that is not normal in the publishing industry). That’s when they got busy editing my book—or, at least, that’s what they told me.
I was issued a graphic designer to work the cover and an editor to go over the book itself. I got my cover design first and I was so ecstatic. It was cool and scary and mysterious—just like my title.
Then my editor sent back the digital copy of the text with a note asking me to go over it again and check out any other errors I might want to change. I began to skim the text. And I begin to catch things—little things; misspelled words, misplaced punctuation, minor things that hadn’t been caught.
Steam was rushing from my ears, but I calmed down long enough to punch out a reply to my editor asking if she actually edited my book. I informed her that I’d caught several mistakes just by running through it quickly. Her response was timely and something to the tune of, “if you give me specific changes, I will make them.”
I argued that it was her job to edit the book, which she clearly hadn’t done. She asked for examples. I pointed out a handful, saying that there were probably many more. She asked that I give her a full list and she would make changes. I pointed out that what was the point of having her at all if I was going to have to do all the editing myself? She explained that she had made changes.
Upon further review (by comparing the copy she’d sent me back and the original version saved to my computer) I found that she had actually made edits that were wrong. She had changed words that were commonly misused that I hadn’t misused (I specifically remember her having changed “let’s” to “lets” when I meant the former).
Wanting to complain to a higher up, I began searching for the e-mail of someone I could go to within the publishing house. Googling the company name, however, landed me with a stone in my belly. Dozens of sites, writers’ news sources, and forums complaining about the company. Many of them had similar displeasures as I did—poor editing, no attention, no marketing. I even found one article of someone who had purposefully submitted a novel with fifty blank pages just to see if they’d accept it (which they had, apparently).
I tried to contact my editor again, saying that I wanted out, but I was informed that I’d signed a seven year contract and that there was nothing I could do.
Thus, I carried on; editing the thing as best I could in the timeframe allotted and marketing it myself. The books went out and I received many sympathetic pats on the back from family and friends when they realized it hadn’t been given justice.
My first royalty check was for something like thirty dollars. My second, closer to ten. My third or fourth check was made out for just under three dollars. And the last check I received from them was for a negative amount (they had a return policy, which meant that several people had returned the book). Then the checks stopped coming—I’d moved a couple of times and I don’t think they even knew how to get in touch with me, even if they’d wanted to.
My contract has been over for a couple of years now, and I try not to give the novel any thought—good or bad. Every now and then I’ll come across the box of them that I bought when it was first published, sadly shoving the box back where I found it when realizing what it contains.
Before I started writing this piece, I did some more Googling. The company has since changed its name from Publish American to America Star Books—probably to get away from all the bad press it was getting. They have an F rating from the BBB, as well. I also Googled the book itself, which is no longer available on Amazon, thank goodness.
There is, however, one review for it on Good Reads—the only thing more shocking than realizing it’s on Good Reads in the first place. The review is three stars, “Liked it.” It may not be five stars, “It was amazing,” or even four stars, “Really liked it,” but that one person rated it higher than I would have after all the grief that novel gave me. And, ten years later, I suppose that’s some consolation.
Five years ago I was desperate for a car and had fifteen hundred dollars to my name. I went to one used car place and test drove one used car. I then bought that car because the dealer offered it to me for fifteen hundred dollars flat.
It was a purple-ish (some people said dark blue) 1998 Ford Taurus. I knew nothing about the Taurus, except that they were popular. Later, I would find out that they were popular because they were cheap. However, I did know a bit about Fords in general, including that it’s a domestic make and is sometimes referred to as “Fix Or Repair Daily,” a joke that I would later come to grumble with a certain amount of dissatisfaction.
An uncle once told me about motorcycles that you get Hondas to ride and Harleys to work on. As far as cars go, Fords are the equivalent of Harleys. They’re great cars that will last you a lifetime if you can keep up with them.
Over the next five years I changed my Taurus’ oil, replaced simple parts, changed spark plugs, replaced complicated parts, and spent more time than I would have liked asking patient employees at car part places to scan it for problems.
Although I do have fun working on cars when I can, that Taurus caused me more pain (both physically and emotionally) than my ex-wife*. I’ve punched brick walls, fenders, hoods, and vinyl siding out of frustration while working on it. I’ve had emotional breakdowns after spending half a day trying to solve an issue with that car. I’ve had panic attacks after seeing mechanics’ bills for fixing things on it that I simply couldn’t.
AND WHOEVER DESIGNED THE SERPENTINE BELT SYSTEM ON THAT DAMN MODEL SHOULD BE HANGED BY THE THUMBS PUBLICALLY!
After five years of pouring (literally) money, (figuratively) soul, and (literally) blood into that machine, she broke down again. I did all the usual stuff—I went to the auto shop and gave symptoms, picked up a few parts, replaced them—but, alas, it remained broken. My only option left was to have a mechanic look at it, but I really didn’t want to do that.
This was when I found an ultimate solution! One last option, previously overlooked that would, indeed, fix my ’98 Ford Taurus for good—once and for all! And, my friends, I’m here to share this ultimate solution with you. Thus, if you will, let me tell you my secret:
Step 1: Scrap your ’98 Ford Taurus.
Step 2: Buy any other make and/or model of car.
It was so simple, yet so perfect! Since following these steps, I have not had to worry about fixing my ’98 Ford Taurus once! In fact, I don’t have to worry about it at all, since it’s rotting away at my local Pull-A-Part, where some poor kid will rip the alternator out of it as he thinks, Ah, yes! This will solve the problem!
No, kid. No, it won’t. It might fix things for a while, but it will never solve the problem. Why not? Because the real problem with ’98 Ford Tauruses is not leaky transmissions or weak starters—no, the real problem with ’98 Ford Tauruses is that they are ’98 Ford Tauruses.
*My only regret in life is not yet being married and then divorced so that I can make actual ex-wife jokes…
About a month ago I wrote a piece on some of the faults of English. I could hear the cries of the people saying, “But, Garrett! How do we change things?” The easy answer would, of course, be to simply learn French, but for some reason I don’t think most Americans would go along with that plan.
The best solution, I believe, would instead to be to fix our alphabet. Our alphabet, consisting of twenty-one consonants and five (SOMETIMES SIX!) vowels, is in need of a heavy revision. We have too few letters, yet some of which are completely unnecessary. We operate on a basis that we can use a few letters to make a whole mess of complicated sounds—then, we make up new letter combinations to make the same sounds as other letters!
It makes no sense.
Luckily for everyone involved, I have more time on my hands than I sometimes know what to do with. Thus, I give you my proposal for the New English Alphabet.
In English, we use five (SOMETIMES SIX!!!) letters to represent our vowels. Unfortunately, in that same English language, we make more like thirteen vowel sounds. If we had different symbols for each of these thirteen vowels, people would spel werds correktly more often. Of course, I’m not graphic designer or whatever—let the creative team on six figure out what a short “A” should look like.
The long “A”: The sound you make when you say things like “angry apes say the letter ‘A’.”
The short “A,” or the “ah” sound. As in “that is one fat parrot.”
The other “A,” which makes an “aw” sound. For example: “Pa saw John in the thought car.” What’s a “thought car”? I don’t know, but it sure does show how stupid our alphabet is.
The long “E.” “Meat freaks me out.”
The short “E,” like in the statement, “Elves emulate elderberries.”
The long “I,” as in, “Why do I ride an ice bike?”
The short “I.” “Hit him in the lip.” (I do not condone violence.)
The long “O,” as in the sentence, “Go, Rose! Go! Uh…Oh, no…”
The “oi” sound, like, “Oi! This toy is covered in oil!”
The “ow” sound, as in, “‘Now, now. Can’t we all—’ KAPOW! ‘Ow.’”
The long “U.” For example, “The pool crew is here for you.”
The short “U” sound: “Uppercut!”
Not to be confused with the short-long “U” sound. This one is a bit complicated when you really think about it, but it can easily be maneuvered. While you say “pool” with a long “U,” you don’t quite say “pull” with a long or short “U.” “Look” is another great example of this short-long “U” sound. You wouldn’t say it like you do the name “Luke,” nor do you say it with the “uh” sound of a short “U,” like “luck.” It’s an in-between sound.
Ho boy. When you break down the rest of the sounds we make when speaking English, you get something like twenty-five consonants. For a bit of perspective: That’s one letter less than the alphabet we currently (because one day my Ultimate New English Alphabet will reign truest) use.
Many of the letters will remain the same, so I’ll just note where things differ—be it slightly or drastically.
“B” stays the same. “Boy,” “boat,” “billabong.”
“C” is dead to me. Although I would love to call this stupid letter completely pointless, it is not. It does have one use: The sound “ch.” Why do we even need the “C” if not solely for the purpose of “ch”? The answer is; we don’t. So, chuck your childish ideas of the letter “C” out the church window, because now it is only used for the sound “ch.”
“D” stays the same. “Dumb,” “doodoo,” “dung,” “dinky.” (There are a lot of mean “D” words…)
“F” stays the same. “Funny,” “fantastic,” “fabulous.” (There are a lot of nice “F” words—and one not nice “F” word.)
“G” to be used as a soft “G” sound only, as in the name Gloria and not as in the name George, which should be spelled Jeorj. Not to be confused with the name Jorge, which is Spanish and therefore I have no grief with.
“H” will be the same in regards to the stand-alone letter. “Hat,” “honey,” “hat filled with honey.” We will make some changes when it comes to throwing the letter into words willy-nilly. I mean, does the word “ghost” really need an “H”?
“J” will remain the same, but also (as mentioned) take over for the hard “G” sound. “Jake and George joking in gel.”
“K” stays the same, and also will be used for the hard “C” sound (and you thought I just had it out for the letter “C”): “Crank the Korn and pass the corn on the cob, Kevin.”
“L” stays the same, the lucky little letter.
“M” remains our familiar old friend, as well. “Many,” “monkeys,” “mooning,” “the moon.”
While the letter “N” will ultimately stay the same in many regards, there is a secret letter that needs to be addressed, too (and we’ll get to it later). “No,” “nut,” “narcotics.”
“P” will stay the same, but we need to stop trying to make it feel more important by giving it the job of the letter “F.” Sorry, the band Phish. Examples include; “Poop,” “pee,” and “potty mouth.”
Much like the letter “N,” the letter “R” will remain the same except for another tricky letter that will be explained later. The “R” you know and love will mostly be easy to spot: “Robots,” “run,” “robots!” “ROBOTS!!”
“S” will also be very familiar, save for two things. First, “S” will be used for any soft “C” sounds. Secondly, no more of this “sh” business! It’s a sound all on its own and it’s time for us to let “sh” out of the nest. So, say so long to silly sounds (and say hello to new letters!)
“SH,” our first new consonant! We should give it a whole new look, like an “S” with a Mohawk or something easier to write. You might want to fight me on this, saying, “But they’re basically the same sound!” To which I will reply by getting you into a chokehold, saying, “The ‘SH’ sound and the ‘S’ sound take different forms of the lips to produce—two completely different noises,” and follow this truth by calmly whispering, “Go to sleep now, shhhhh, shhhhhh!” until you blackout.
While I have you blacked out, I should probably also mention another “SH” sound: The humming “SH”! It’s a legitimate sound in the English language, and is a funny one at that. Think of words like “leisure” and “measure.” You wouldn’t say it “lee-shore” or “meh-shore”: There’s a little hum in there. This sound should get its own letter to avoid confusion like this.
“T” stays the same (“Tony the Tiger taking on Tigger the toker”), except for “TH,” which will promptly get its own letter:
“TH,” much like our new friend “SH,” should be its own letter. “TH” is so vastly different from the letter “T” that we say it with our tongues in, and project the noise from, different places in each letter. Don’t believe me? Try it out loud right now—your office mates won’t look at you weird, I promise. “T-t-t, th-th-th. T-t-t, th-th-th.” See?
The only problem is, there are two kinds of “TH” sounds. One is your standard “TH,” as in, “Thank a thin theologian.” The second “TH” sound is exactly like the first, except you hum while making the noise, like in the useful phrase, “This is it then?” It’s a subtle difference, but each of the “TH” sounds need their own letter.
“V” stays the same: “Venus,” “Virginia,” “vagina.”
“W” stays the same, too. “When the wind winds will we wonder why?”
“Y” is no longer a vowel. I hate you, vowel “Y.” But I love you, consonant “Y.” “Young,” “you,” “yo-yo-yiggedy-yo.”
“Z,” stays the same. “Zealous zebras driving Zambonis.”
Now come the two most subtle letters in our new Amazingly Ultimate New English Alphabet. They aren’t sounds you really think of, even when making them, yet we use them frequently.
The first is the soft “N.” It usually comes in the middle or at the end of a word. Sometimes it even seems like we’re skipping over the letter completely—but we don’t! We pronounce it with the delicately of a paper crane made of rice paper walking on more rice paper—or as subtly as a bad metaphor. Examples of this sound appear in words like “ring,” “anger,” and “think.” Say those words over and over. Try saying them with a hard “N” and realize how weird you sound and how all your office mates are definitely staring at you now.
Similarly, there is a soft “R” sound. It usually comes at the end of words, such as in “deter” and “anger.” Usually, it is preceded by an “E” or “I,” which gives it its lilt. We can circumvent confusion between the hard “R” and the soft “R” by giving the soft one a new symbol.
Besides the noted hard and soft “C” and “Y” as a vowel, there are two other letters which we can kick to the curb: “Q” can easily be replaced by the sounds “kyu,” “kw,” or “k.” And the letter “X” is really just used for “Z” and “ks” sounds, so why bother with it?
You may be thinking, “What’s the point of making all of these changes?” Well, for starters, it would help with spelling; “Just sound it out,” will be a legitimate thing to say to children, and will result in fewer adults getting punched in the gut by said children when they explain the correct spelling of words like “phantasm.”
It would also negate the need for dumb English rules which we constantly break anyway. “‘I’ before ‘E’ except after ‘C.’ Just kiddin’—why would you need an ‘E’ and an ‘I’ next to each other?”
The last reason we should switch to the Super Amazingly Awesome Ultimate New English Alphabet is that our current alphabet is so stale and boring. Can’t you imagine getting all new symbols to use? It’d be like getting a brand new car, without all the hassle of owning a brand new, shiny, beautiful, well-running car.
So let’s all send a letter to Congress, showing off our need for this new alphabet! Except, y’know, write it in the old alphabet until the new one is official. Congress is full of morons, after all.