Archive for the ‘Personal Stories’ Category

GOATS EAT CANS VOLUME 1: Of Course They Think I’m Hot

In Personal Stories on June 5, 2012 at 1:14 am

In honor of our newest book of the month, LitU is proud to present a a sample chapter from Steven Novak’s Goats Eat Cans Volume 1.|




I was in high school. It was about 11:30 at night, and I was driving home from my job as a ride operator at Six Flags Great America in my mother’s GEO Prizm, which I was allowed to drive only to and from work.

Yes, I know. I led a glamorous lifestyle, didn’t I?

Anyway, I was stopped at a light on Grand Ave about three miles from my house, when another car pulled parallel to me in the next lane over.

The song “Waterfalls” by TLC was blaring from the speakers so loudly that it literally shook the seat beneath me.

Keep in mind, that this was way back in 1996, so an annoyingly loud TLC song was a slightly more acceptable and common occurrence.

Honestly though, is TLC acceptable in any year?

Hidden beneath predictable lyrics and a laughably common beat was laughter and voices—the laughter and the voices of girls—real life girls.

Girls scared me. They still do. I swallowed deep.

Quite unexpectedly, the music lowered. “Hey, cutie!”

I sort of half-glanced toward the car and spotted a girl with dark brown hair hanging halfway out her window. She wasn’t drop dead gorgeous or anything, but she wasn’t unattractive either.

Plus, she had boobs. I liked boobs.

Was she talking to me, though? She couldn’t have been talking to me. Why would she be talking to me?

I looked over my shoulder and in the other direction, expecting to find someone more befitting of the description of cutie. There were no other cars. It was just me and a streetlight and the dark.

Holy shit. She must be talking to me.

I sort of turned my head again in her direction, though my eyes opted to look at the street instead. I was moving like Frankenstein in a full-body cast after a ten car pile-up on the I-10. My heart was beating double-time. My limbs were shaking. There was absolutely no way whatsoever I would have been capable of eye contact. My head would have exploded and drenched the windshield in brain matter.

“Me?” It was a lame response. It was also all I could manage. It squeaked out of me like I was a timid twelve-year-old girl being asked on a first date.

“Yeah, baby! You wanna follow us to a party?”

Oh, sweet lord.

What the hell was going on? This kind of thing wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I wasn’t entirely sure it was supposed to happen to anyone in real life.

This was how pornos began.

Another girl with blonde hair and a shirt so low I thought I was staring at the Marianas Trench leaned out of the back window with a beer bobbling around in her hand. “Come on, sexy! Follow us!”

The light in front of me turned green.


Let’s stop for just one minute and take a breather, shall we?

Here’s the deal, in high school my mother used to tell me that I was the coolest kid in my class. She even tried to convince me that the only reason people would pick on me, throw crap at me, or get a little group together and beat the snot out of me was because they were jealous.
I was well aware that she was shoveling me a steaming pile and hoping beyond hope that it would make me feel better. That’s what moms do. I just wish she could have come up with something a bit more believable.

Jealous of what exactly, mom?

Maybe it was because my oversized hindquarters were so dimply, they looked like the surface of the moon and were more red than the lady-lips of a porn star after filming fifteen separate films over the course of a three-day period?

How about my shy, not-so-vaguely girlish personality?

My lack of self-esteem?

My bad hair?

My terrible fashion sense?

The fact that I smelled like a sweaty sock filled with poop, dipped in olive oil, and swabbed with dog saliva?

I’d always assumed that my mother was either too nice for her own good or a complete idiot. With a car full of girls playfully referring to me as cutie in their flimsy tops filled with their perky flesh, I couldn’t help but wonder if she was onto something.

Maybe I was a cutie.

Maybe I was the cutest cutie that ever cutied in the history of cuties.

They seemed genuinely interested in me. Maybe I was cooler than I thought.


With images of boobs and lips, and booze and crotch (neatly shaven or otherwise) clouding my brain, and despite my better judgment, I hit the gas and actually followed the car of my new drunken friends.

It was unexpected, and it was exciting. My chest was heaving. The hair on the back of my neck was standing at attention, and the stick in my trousers was doing the same.

About fifteen minutes later, their car stopped in front of a house with seventeen or so other cars parked around it. There were multi-colored lights flashing from inside. The music was blaring. There were empty bottles and dented cans scattered across the lawn. It was an actual party.

It was an actual party with actual people, and I was actually there!

I tried my best to steady the wild beating of my heart and slow my pulse. I was experiencing a weird sort of nervousness I’d never felt before and trying my best to put thoughts of orgies and booze and all sorts of unspeakable debauchery out of my head. I didn’t want to step out of the car with a hard-on.

That might have been awkward.

I couldn’t believe I was doing what I was doing. It was so unlike me. It was something cool people did. There were to be cool people at this party, and I was going to be one of them. Finally!

This was going to kick so much ass!

SPLAT! Something smashed against my windshield.

SPLAT! SPLAT! SPLAT! Two more pelted the side, and one slammed into my mirror.

They were eggs.

Someone was throwing eggs at me.

I peeked through the splattered yolk on the windshield and noticed the dark-haired girl standing outside her car, laughing. To her immediate right were a whole group of idiots in hysterics.

Damn, cool people.

Damn, cool people with their cool tits and cleavage and cool hair and mostly non-offensive body odor.

I hate cool people.

SPLAT! They disappeared into a yellow, gloppy haze just as another egg hit the passenger side window.



Guess they ran out of eggs because those last three were rocks.


Steven Novak is not only an official member of LitU, but an author, blogger, podcaster, illustrator, graphic designer, and the host of LitU’s official podcast. You can find everything you need to know about him, and a bunch of things you don’t, at NOVAKILLUSTRATION.COM.


Self Publishing Update

In Personal Stories, Thoughts on Publishing on February 14, 2012 at 6:17 pm

When I was a young lad of 15 or 16 I had a friend who was in a rock band. He asked me if I wanted to be a roadie for the band and help them out with stuff. It sounded cool so I went to my friend’s house after school and sat in on their band practice in the basement. When it was all over the band turned to me and asked what I thought. I was eager to be “cool” so I told them that it rocked and they rocked and everything was wicked awesome!

I was hit with a wall of blank stares.

Finally, my friend broke the silence and with a laugh said, “He’s afraid to tell us what we did wrong.”

Sure, I wanted them think I was cool so I told them what I thought they wanted to hear. My first time there I didn’t want to tell them that this or that sucked.

I learned that day that the best thing that you can do for a friend is to tell them the truth. Do it nicely, but be truthful. Tell them what was great, what was good, and what sucked.

It’s what friends do.

***Flash forward to present day***

I’m an old lad of 30 or 35 (or 43) and I have plenty of friends in the world of self publishing. I am a firm believer in self publishing so on a daily basis I hang out at web sites that distribute self published books. I download short stories and novels from these authors. Having lived in this self pub world and sampled a lot of what it has to offer I feel that we’re friends and I can be honest with you.

We are friends, right?


As friends I believe that you need to hear this. I believe that it’s time for an honest sit down and a serious reality check. I think that it’s time that we discussed the good and the bad.

The Good

  1. There is always something new to read.
  1. There are some AMAZING undiscovered authors out there! When I was a young rocker there was nothing quite like finding that little known band that just rocked it like no one else. The feeling was even better when they got big. It was like you had bragging rights to being one of their first fans.
  1. The great authors that you discover are very approachable. Do you like the new Stephen King novel? Just try emailing him to let him know your feelings. Think that you’ll get an answer? Maybe, but probably not.
  1. The self pub industry is one of the most helpful collections of people I’ve ever met. Lit U is a perfect example of that exact statement. Lit U is built on the idea of helping when and where you can…and Lit U is not the only one! I’ve run into it with many self pub groups out there.
  1. The self pub industry is growing and becoming a more positive notion. The industry leaders are realizing this and more doors are opening every day.

Are you sitting down? Good, because it’s time for…

The Bad

Please keep in mind that this is passion that is speaking. I love you and I just want to see you do your best, but let’s be honest here:

  1. There is no excuse for not finding someone to edit your spelling and grammar. Most word processing programs employ a built-in spell checker. Feel free to use it. I suck at spelling and grammar and the English language in general. Some of my best friends are editors. I make them bacon and  they make me look  like I am not so stupid.
  1. Trends and fads are nice…nice if you are into the subject. For the rest of us it is a painful existence. Oddly enough my point here is that you should write what you like to write and not whatever the  latest  craze might be.
  1. As a self pub author you will wear many, many hats and job titles. Do your best to perform each duty to a professional level, but for the love of God , if you have to pay someone to make a decent cover for you then please do it! No one will even read the blurb if they are turned off by your sad graphics. For me, this is the one place where you want to hire a professional…or at least someone who doesn’t still use Paint as their graphics program. Nothing angers me more than seeing the multitude of shitactular covers that I see on a daily basis. For the love of all that it awesome, please scrap the cheesy fonts. Yes, that means you Mr. Blood Dripping Font. There are a million sins here. The point is DRESS YOUR PIG before bringing it to market!
  1. People can smell bullshit from a mile away…two miles if they are Jersey natives. There is a fine line between self promotion and being a complete dick. Know the difference. Please.
  1. Author photos – This is one of my pet peeves because this should be the easiest of all of the tasks that you have command over. Writing is hard, editing is hard, graphics are hard, but picking your bio picture is easy. When I see an author picture that is obviously cropped from a group photo I want to throw a lit paper bag of doggy doo at your house. I want to poop under the front seat of your car on a hot day, roll up the windows, lock the doors, and throw away your keys so that by the time a lock smith has opened your door the smell has eaten its way into your carpet and is a daily reminder not to use stupid blurry cropped pictures. Author photos should be CLEAR. They should be of YOU and only YOU (unless your wife is super hot and works at Hooters…then I’ll make an exception…or if your husband is an MMA fighter, then I have no choice). Take a look at your favorite professional author. What picture did he or she use? COPY THAT STYLE dimwit.
  1. Be PROUD of what you do. I will personally slap the next self published author who tells me that self publishing is a four letter word or any other negative connotation. If you believe the media’s hype then you are in the wrong business. It’s like a chef who says that he is an “artist”. No, you cook food. You are a chef. Be proud. You’re doing something that not everyone can do. It’s like a bartender saying that he is a mixologist. I call bullshit. You pour liquid from one too many sources into various containers. You tend to the needs of the thirsty at the bar. Be proud and pour your ass off with the best of them! I can’t tell you how many self pub authors hide from the “self pub” title. “Oh, I’m an award winning wordsmith .” Sweet Sassy MaLassy! I say that’s malarkey!  I wear the title of Self Published Author with honor and I dare you…double dog dare you…to try and tell me it’s wrong or bad. I’ll put you in a rear naked chokehold  and dry hump you until the referee pulls me from your embarrassed backside.

I could have more easily said that the world of self publishing is getting better and to stop doing stupid things, but what fun would that have been? And when do I really get so many opportunities to work in poop references.


Your friend,


Ryan O’Neil is not only an official member of LitU, but a voracious eater of all things once alive. His official blog can be found here

More on Writing…

In Personal Stories, Thoughts on Publishing on July 8, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Many of my fans (estimated to be in the mid-single digit range) have asked many questions of me, but the one question that I receive the most I am unable to divulge here. The second most asked question is, “How do I become an author?”

Not sure why they ask this of me, but as I sit here eating cold corn on the cob in my basement office I shall purge a few of my best writing secrets in hopes of cultivating a new bacon loving rock-n-roll junkie bubble bath taking writer in the making.

“Write what you know” – CLICHÉ and lame, but also semi helpful. However, write what you know does not mean that EVERY tale you craft has to be about an author who comes from the same type of city that you were raised in or dream of living in. While this clearly worked for Stephen King, it gets old…quick. My interpretation is simply to write what you have an interest in…something that you have half a clue about or you will face the dreaded “research” which, at least in my case, kills the free spirited word spewage.

“Read, read, and then when you are done read some more” Really? For rizzle? Much like research forcing yourself to read in hopes that your skillz getz betta is a possible recipe for burning out. Read when you want. Isn’t it more important to…write?

“Rejection is part of the game” 100% true. You need to let rejection roll off of your back. I have a nice binder that I keep my rejection letters in. Some of them are better than others, but in the end they are still rejection letters. Unless they say that you are ugly who really cares what the contents of a rejection letter are? Not me. Sure I’ve been disappointed, but it was nothing that an extra slice of bacon couldn’t resolve.

Find at least one person (two or three if possible) who can be completely honest with you. 98% of your family and friends will blow smoke up your ass because, well, for some reason they like you and fear hurting your feelings. A strange 1% will tell you that you work sucks simply out of jealousy. It is that golden 1% that will tell you the truth. These are the people you want in your corner when you’re looking for someone to proof read you treasures.

Be social. Oddly enough so many of us writers are so creative, but not social enough. Who cares if your widow finds your hidden gems after you are gone and reads them weeping over your urn that she has decorated sweetly and bedazzled the hell out of. If she is the only person to have read you creations then it’s all for nothing. Get out there and be annoying…I mean social. This is by FAR the toughest part of the journey for me.

Lastly, get Steven Novak to design your cover. If your work sucks it will still sell with an awesome cover. Steven knows how to dress a pig better than anyone I know…I should know…it worked for me! People LOVE the cover of Plain Old Kirby Carson (which is available at – please contact me directly at for information about signed copies) and it has opened several doors that an otherwise lame-o cover would have been able to do.

Well, I hope that has helped any of you young aspiring meat eaters and/or authors.

Pleased To Meat You,


Ryan O’Neil is not only an official member of LitU, but a voracious eater of all things once alive. His official blog can be found here

Thoughts on Self Publishing

In Personal Stories, Thoughts on Publishing on March 7, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Many, many years ago I had a somewhat popular blog in which I rambled on and on about the assorted adventures I’d had as a younger man. It was the kind of stuff you talk about with friends while drinking a few too many beers and listening to music from a not so distant decade of excess and indulgence, the only difference being that retelling these tales on the blog was not done to boast or inflate the ego, but 100% to entertain.

After roughly a year of spewing my stories and entertaining a few people at my expense (and following in the footsteps of another young blogger who shall remain nameless at this time), I had the idea to compile the best of the bunch into a book. I knew that no agent or publisher in their right mind would touch this drivel, so I thought it best that I take it the route of self publishing.

At the time the thought of self publishing conjured up images of an old creepy man selling tattered books from the trunk of his tattered car. I saw two crumbling cardboard boxes barely holding back the stacks of unsold books. A handwritten sign proclaimed to all that you could purchase his book today for the low price of $14.99 $10 $5. The wind kicked up, creating small cyclones of trash and other street debris that would eventually pick up his old hat and toss it clumsily down the street…

Basically, as a good friend once put it, I thought of self publishing as a place where good books went to die.

And I did self publish that book, and I did learn a lot about the business. I did everything from beginning to end and eventually put my book on the market, where it promptly died. Truth be told, there is a good chance that attempting to sell a book to the same people who have already read the blog for free wasn’t my best business decision. It was a great learning process.

Many years have gone by and the self publishing landscape sure has changed. The options and possibilities are almost endless, but there still seems to be some fear (or so I thought) about going down the road of self publishing.
I conducted several informal questionnaires and talked with several of my author friends and I was shocked at what I learned. I honestly thought that the main reason why people go the standard route of publishing would be simply because it is the more socially accepted method, the process that has more credibility. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Not one of them cited credibility as a reason.

I should have guessed that the number one reason why “struggling artists” choose not to self publish would be MONEY. More people than not mentioned that having the expenses paid for by someone else was most important.
I do believe that the face of self publishing is slowly changing. Every day more and more quality work is published by everyday people who choose to go the non-standard route. Being able to get your work into a large distribution channel and seeing your book available for sale by major book stores is a far cry from the days of peddling your books from the back of creepy looking cars. You still have to wear many hats when self publishing and work your tail off to get your product noticed, but that’s the life of an up and coming author!

Self publishing can work for you, but you have to work for it.

Ryan O’Neil

The Business Of Art

In Personal Stories on February 26, 2011 at 4:26 pm

Whether you’re working with an established company or rolling up your sleeves, poking your thumb in the eye of the establishment, and doing it yourself, the business of being creative is a funny thing. Truthfully, like Mel Gibson and little Joey Finklestein’s Bar Mitzvah, or Taylor Swift and my ears, the words “creative,” and “business” simply don’t belong together.

Quite a few years ago—not long after I left the brat-gobbling, beer-swilling Midwest and headed for the shores of sunny California, I stumbled onto my first professional job as an illustrator. It was for a picture book being published by a small publishing house local to the area that specialized in direct market stuff. I’m pretty sure that the company has long since folded.

Maybe it had something to do with me? Maybe? Naw.

Anyway, I was pretty damn happy when I got the call to do this thing. I was still working as a production artist for a local newspaper at the time and this was going to be a big break for me. Sure, it was a smallish, semi-local publisher, but it was much closer to what I had always wanted to do with my life.

Believe it or not, when I was twelve years old my lifelong dream wasn’t to. spend five days a week whipping up ads for local video stores that still offered Beta movies in their selection and local real-estate “tycoons” that insisted on using pictures of them taken in the 1970s for their bios.

You aren’t fooling anyone, Fred Anderson of Red Wagon Real Estate. The three-foot afro is a dead giveaway.

This was going to be a job drawing! It was going to require me to spend days lurched over my drawing table! I was going to dive in and let it all hang out! I was going to blow the minds of these people! My work was going to be so damn amazing, and fresh, and heart-wrenchingly honest that I would single-handedly take their company to the next level! After the book hit the shelves, I’d have editors lining up outside my door, just begging for me to illustrate their next book!

There was no doubt in my mind that they would start throwing cartoonish bags of money with dollar signs painted on them through my bedroom window. I was going to be the next Chris VanAllsburg. Plain and simple. I’d be better than him in fact. Chris wouldn’t be fit to wipe my keister after a particularly stick bowel movement.

As you’ve probably already guessed, none of that happened. In fact, none of what I ever think is going to happen actually happens, and Chris Van Allsburg has yet to see my sticky poop.

My plans started to crumble almost immediately after I received the story I was going to be illustrating from my editor. You see, it sort of sucked. I mean, it was really, really bad. I’m not talking about Michael Jackson dancing, parking garage bad, either. This was more like Michael Jackson luring young boys to his bedroom with the promise of “Jesus juice” bad.

I immediately convinced myself that the story wasn’t my problem. I couldn’t control it. I had nothing to do with that. Bad or not, I was still going wow them with my illustrations. I was going to hit the illustrations so far out of the park that I would take this remarkably crappy story and elevate it to a higher plain.

I dove into on my preliminary sketches that night. The editor asked to see them in a week. He didn’t seem to know who he was dealing with. I didn’t leave my drawing desk. I’d get home from my day job and work my tail off til three in the morning. Nothing was going to stop me! The sketches were supposed to be due by the end of the week and I managed to get them things done in a measly two days. Two days!

They were good too, quality stuff, the kind of sketches that convince rich socialites to get undressed for you and pose if you happen to be a stowaway on the Titanic.

I called my editor and told him I was faxing them over. (Yep, I typed fax. This was quite a few years ago, and no, I’m not your grandpa.) He sounded impressed with my speed. “You’re done already? Wow! Fantastic! Send them over. We’ll take a look and get back to you tomorrow sometime.”

Send them over I did. Tomorrow came and there was no call.

What the hell?

I imagined he would’ve been doing back flips in his office – knocking over furniture as a trickle of urine leaked down the leg of his pants. Maybe he would have decided to take his buddies out for a beer to celebrate just how damn incredible the sketches I’d given him were. I pictured him being so happy that he’d somehow stumbled across this diamond in the rough of an artist in the middle of nowhere . . .and yet there was no call.

Maybe he was so hung over from partying that he took the day off?

It didn’t make sense.

The next day came and finally my phone rang. He didn’t sound as excited as the first time we’d spoke. “Yeah, ummm . . .I’ve gotta tell you, Steve. This, well . . .hmmm . . .this just isn’t at all what we were expecting. In fact, I really can’t think of anything nice to say about what you sent over.”

My heart sank into my shoes.

“Ummm, we’ll give you a chance to fix these up, but, I don’t know.  Things might not work out.”

My ego dropped to the floor as well.

Unsure of what so say I responded with, “So, no back flips then?”

Okay, I’m lying about that. I didn’t actually say the back flip thing. I was thinking it though. The back flip thing and something along the lines of, “Holy hell, I’d love to smash my fist into your face so hard that when I pulled my hand back, I’d wearing your brain as a boxing glove.”

I reworked the sketches, keeping in mind the suggestions he’d made. When I was done they looked like an absolute pile of shit. They looked so bad that I considered giving Chris Van Allsburg a ring and asking him to come wipe them up.

Feeling completely defeated, I faxed them to the editor a few days later. A day after that I got another call, “These are much better Steve. Absolutely fantastic! We love them!”

Well, that’s just peachy, I thought to myself. Because I can’t stand them.

To this day I still can’t look at the finished book because I hate it so damn much. In fact, I think it’s easily the worst work I’ve ever produced. It’s also got my name right there on the front over in big red letters – which is just slightly less annoying than an evening of awkward stand-up comedy from foul-mouthed troubadour John Mayer.

So what’s the moral here? Screw doing your best work, because business loves crap and crap means business.

Okay, maybe that’s actually not the moral.

I just thought it sounded funny.