Tuesday, December 26, 2023

My First Podcast!


I always wanted to learn how to make and distribute a podcast, so I recently made THE BURNZO CAST. This episode, entitled "Getting Your Novel Done," may be one of many or my first and only lol. It's about 20 mins. The topic in this episode is writing-related, but future episodes could potentially be about anything and everything (e.g. pop culture, current events, movies, music, video games, literature etc). Check it out!





Available on Spotify: https://lnkd.in/e4ET9xCq


Also available on Apple Podcasts for your iPhone/iPod: https://lnkd.in/eiueXJs2



...



MATT BURNS is the author of several novels, including Weird MonsterSupermarket Zombies! and Johnny Cruise. He’s also written numerous memoirs, including GARAGE MOVIE: My Adventures Making Weird FilmsMY RAGING CASE OF BEASTIE FEVERJUNGLE F’NG FEVER: MY 30-YEAR LOVE AFFAIR W/ GUNS N’ ROSES and I TURNED INTO A MISFIT! Check out these books (and many more) on his Amazon author page HERE.

 

 


Other writing-related articles by Matt Burns that may be of interest to you:



(NEW!) Getting Your Novel Done

 

Getting Your Screenplay Done

 

Making Your Good Writing Great


Writing the Sequel

 

Writing the Trilogy


No-No, Learn to Love the Rejection: Some Sage Advice for Writers in Search of an Agent or Publisher

 

The Story Behind Supermarket Zombies!


The Story Behind The Woman and the Dragon




Other trending articles by Matt Burns:



A Love Letter to the Emerald Square Mall (about the death of the shopping mall age)


NEVER FORGET the Fun-O-Rama (a traveling carnival memoir)


Some Wicked Good Times: A Love Letter to Newbury Comics


Video Store Memories


I Dream of Dream Machine (a memoir of the local video arcade)


Skateboarding in the 1990s


Revisiting the Blair Witch Project


PROXOS IN THE PLEX: A Goldeneye 007 N64 Retrospective

 

100 DAYS of ZELDA: Revisiting Ocarina of Time

 

I USED TO BE A GAMER: The 8-bit Nintendo Years


WAAF Goes Off the Air


Heeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Charlie (a story about Burns’ recurring nightmares featuring Charlie Chaplin)


Remembering That Time I Tried to Stop a Shoplifter at the Wrentham Outlets


The Strange, Surreal Moment of Being Called a DILF Inside a Panera Bread Restaurant on a Wednesday Afternoon


Weird Times en la Weirdioteca

 

RIP PowerBook G3

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Getting Your Novel Done

 


About a year ago, I wrote a blog entitled Getting Your Screenplay Done. People found it helpful, so I thought I would write a similar blog about getting your novel done. This may be useful to you whether you are writing your first novel or you’re a veteran writer who is experiencing writer’s block and/or a lack of motivation with your current work in progress.

 

I recently wrote a novel in about two months and I did this during a period of time when I felt extremely burnt out as a writer and also when I had a bad wrist that made it difficult to type. Looking back on it, I’m not sure how I pulled this off, but I did. There were many moments when I thought I was going to quit, but I somehow managed to move forward.

 

Ok, when I say that I wrote this novel in “two months,” I feel like this statement should be made with a couple of asterisks next to it. First of all, the novel is not overly long. It’s about 60,000 words, so we’re not talking Stephen-King-length here, but we ARE talking about a novel that is 10,000 words longer than F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which is about 48,000 words, but who’s counting? Second of all, when I say I wrote the novel in two months, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I first wrote a screenplay version of the story that itself took me about two months to write. I never would have written the novel so quickly had I not written the screenplay first and I’ll explain why that is in a moment. All in all, I guess it would be more accurate for me to say it took me about four months to write the novel.

 

How did I do it? In the words of the wealthy industrialist John Hammond after he’s asked by Dr. Grant how he created Jurassic Park:

 

“I’ll show you.”

 

The best way to ensure that you’ll be successful in getting your novel completed and in a timely manner is if you start with an extremely detailed game plan. For some people, this game plan may come in the form of a very detailed outline (to learn about my outlining process, refer to my previous blog Getting Your Screenplay Done). As for myself, I find that the best way to write a novel is if I take things a step further and write the story as a screenplay first. The screenplay not only is great to have in case you want to turn your story into a movie someday, but it also ends up functioning as an incredibly detailed (super-detailed, really) outline for your novel. With a screenplay completed, you will have the structure of your story all worked out ahead of time. You’ll also have a bunch of dialogue all written as well.

 

Whether you prefer writing an outline or writing a full screenplay like myself, you will find that it’s so much easier sitting on your ass and beginning the writing of your novel when you have a good solid roadmap navigating you through the novel-writing process. I’m sure some novelists out there simply sit on their bee-hinds and start typing with no game plan whatsoever and, who knows, many of them possibly end up writing a masterpiece, but if you’re reading this right now you are likely not one of those writers. You do not want to begin writing your novel without some solid, extremely well-thought-out game plan because, trust me, you’ll be setting yourself up for failure.

 

Once you have a good solid game plan, whether in the form of an outline or a screenplay, the next step is to sit on your ass and begin writing. You will feel extremely overwhelmed knowing that a modest novel is about 300 pages and around 60-80,000 words, give or take, and you have yet to write a single word. But you must put yourself into the proper mindset. Your goal right now is not to write the entire novel, because that will feel overwhelming and, when you’re overwhelmed, you have the desire to quit before you even start. No, your goal should be to write the first ten pages of your novel. That’s it. First ten. No more. No less. Ok, maybe a few more pages if, say, your first chapter ends on page 13, but you get what I’m saying.

 

After you’ve finished the first ten pages, edit what you have written so far and make them look as nice as reasonably possible. While you’re doing this, you are working certain things out in your head that you want to work out before you proceed with the rest of the novel. This is kind of like your “trial period” where you determine whether your story will actually work as a novel. As you go over the ten pages, you will get a feel for whether you have enough material to fill approximately 300 pages of a book. You will also get a feel for how the story should be told, whether in the first-person point of view (think Great Gatsby, told from the perspective of Nick Carraway), third-person omniscient POV (where the narrator has access to every character’s thoughts), limited third-person omniscient POV (where the narrator has access to a single character’s thoughts), second-person POV (think Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City) and also whether you should be telling the story in the past tense, present tense etc. Nine times out of ten you’re going to realize you do, indeed, have enough material for a novel and, once you go over those first ten pages a few times, you are likely going to feel energized and excited about continuing with the novel-writing process. In short, seeing the first ten pages come together puts to rest any doubts you may have had about whether writing the novel was a good idea. If the first ten pages are garbage, which, again, will only happen one-out-of-ten times, then put the novel to rest. But nine times out of ten, you will be pleased with the first ten pages and subsequently feel more confident about what you are doing.

 

Once the ten-page trial period is over, what you want to do is come up with a writing schedule. In my Getting Your Screenplay Done blog, I suggest that you be on a ten-page-a-day writing schedule, but I think ten pages a day when writing a novel is extreme. I would say five pages a day is more reasonable. Depending on how busy your life is, you may have to do three or two pages a day. Or maybe only writing on the weekend works best … say, 25 pages per weekend? Whatever you come up with, it’s important you stick to the schedule no matter what. Sure you can take a day off here and there, but the more you stray from the schedule, the more likely it is that you’ll lose your writing momentum and losing your writing momentum greatly increases the chances of you throwing in the towel altogether.

 

So let’s say your writing schedule is five pages a day. If you keep that schedule up, you can have a novel of reasonable length completed in about two months. Will you take days off here and there? Sure, but a 60-80,000-word novel could be all done in two-month’s-time if you adhere to the schedule and it is so much easier to stick to said schedule when you have a good solid game plan and, remember, you do have a good solid game plan because you’re working off of an extremely detailed outline or even a straight-up screenplay. See how this is all coming together?

 

Now, this next step is optional, but what I did for my most recent novel is I stopped every 20 pages, give or take, and went over what I had written so far. I mainly did this out of necessity, since, as I mentioned before, I was typing with a bad wrist, so I could only type so much before I NEEDED to give my wrist a break. There is a voice-to-text feature on my computer, but I find voice-to-text awkward and annoying because it doesn’t get all the words right and you usually have to immediately edit all the text as you go. I did use the feature here and there, but I mostly tried to type manually for as long as my wrist could handle.

 

Anyway, yes, about every 20 pages or so (or until my wrist started hurting) I stopped, went back and rewrote everything I had written so far. I of course still needed to use my wrist for this, but rewriting and editing isn’t as hard on the wrist as straight-up writing in the raw, so it was one way I could give my wrist a rest but also remain productive at the same time. I wanted to make sure I kept moving forward with the project no matter what.

 

Although I did this rewriting out of necessity (i.e. to give my wrist a rest), I still found that stopping to rewrite after every 20 pages or so was very helpful. I usually found myself saying, “Hey, look, those 20 pages turned out much better than I would have thought,” and this encouraged me to keep moving forward with the novel. Basically, every 20 pages, I was reassured that writing the novel was a good idea and not a complete waste of time. 

 

So would I recommend you doing this as well, even if your wrist is in fine shape and don’t need to rest it every 20 pages? 

 

On one hand, yes, I would recommend doing it, especially if you get to a point in the writing process where you fear that what you’re writing is terrible. Once you go back and clean up/re-write what you have written so far, the writing will inevitably get better and you’ll feel more confident in moving forward. 

 

On the other hand, you may simply be better off not stopping and going back to clean up your writing until you get to the very end of your first rough draft. Why? Because there is the distinct possibility that you stopping may kill … yes, that’s right … your writing momentum and that’s the last thing you want to do. I remember that when I wrote my first novel way back in 2009, I went full speed ahead all the way to the finish line and never once went back to clean up what I had written. I was so afraid that, if I stopped, even to rewrite, I would screw up my pace, kill my momentum and somehow convince myself to stop writing the novel. I didn’t even want to give those doubting voices in my head a chance to get the better of me. I just wanted to get the rough draft done, as quickly as possible, even if what I was writing was a mess. I knew editing later on down the road would take a lot less self-discipline than what was needed to get an initial rough draft completed.

 

So, again, rewriting as you go is optional. If you’re afraid that it will kill your momentum, which I think is a very real possibility, then just keep going, man, and don’t look back until you get to the finish line.

 

At this juncture, I feel it’s important to mention that, around the halfway point of writing your novel—that is, around the 150-page area or so—you will more than likely start running out of steam. You’re going to burn-out bigtime, baby. I think it’s pretty much unavoidable. Most people will see this as a sign that you need to take a break and, although this might be a good idea in order to recharge, I would recommend against doing this. The problem is that, if you take a break, you will kill the aforementioned writing momentum and once that is killed, there is a very good chance you’ll call it quits and never go back to the novel. What I suggest doing instead is shifting gears into a different writing-mode, one that is extremely bare-bones. What I mean is that all you should worry about from this point forward is getting the bare bones of your novel down on paper. And I’m talking as bare as it gets. Imagine that you’re running the Boston Marathon and you’ve run strong and at a great pace during the majority of the race, but now you’re on your last couple of miles. You’re completely gassed out, but you’ve come too far to simply give up. What you need to do is shift gears into a half-assed-looking jog in order to get yourself over the finish line. If you’ve ever run in or watched the Boston Marathon, you know what this looks like. We’ve all seen the gassed-out runners doing the limp-legged, bare-minimum jog down Boylston Street in order to finish the race. This is what you should be doing in order to complete your novel: do a sorry-looking, limp-legged, bare-bones-minimum jog over the finish line. Don’t worry about fleshing everything out. Just stay the course, get those bones down onto paper and do whatever it takes to get yourself over that finish line.

 

In the case of my most recent novel, I got to a point somewhere between the halfway point and the three-quarters point where I felt I was running out of gas. I was going to stop. In fact, I was literally saying to myself, “This isn’t happening. It’s not meant to be.” I was pretty sure the novel was terrible, but I wasn’t going to be completely sure until I had gone the distance with it. Also, I had already come so far. It would be a shame to throw in the towel after writing 150-plus pages. So, what I decided to do was not worry about the writing being perfect. Just get the barest of all bare bones down on paper. And then worry about fleshing everything out later when I had the rough draft completed.

 

Well, my plan worked. Not only did I end up getting the draft done, but when I read over what I had written, I was shocked to see that, although it was by no means perfect, my first rough draft ended up being waaaaay better than I thought it would when I had my … well, let’s call it a mid-novel crisis. I’ll put it to you this way: I was extremely glad that I hadn’t stopped writing the novel when I had my ‘crisis’ and wanted to stop.

 

Using the Boston Marathon analogy again, the mid-novel crisis is tantamount to getting to Heartbreak Hill. It’s the point when things get extremely rough, but if you’re able to persevere, you will be able to get to the finish line on schedule, somewhere around the two or three-month mark. Victory!

 

Once your draft is done, you can take a deep breath because the hardest part is definitely behind you. Sure, you have to go back and flesh everything out, especially the parts where you were writing in “bare bones mode,” but I find it’s much easier to go back and do that when you already have a draft done.

 

When it comes to rewriting and fleshing everything out, I would recommend going chapter-by chapter. I usually start with chapter one, go over it several times until it’s looking as great as possible and then move on to chapter 2 and do the same thing, then chapter 3 etc. I basically treat each chapter almost like a separate short story unto itself that I need to make as perfect as possible until I move on to the next. I find that I feel less overwhelmed when I do the rewriting of the novel in this manner because I feel a sense of accomplishment after rewriting each chapter, almost as though I’m completing multiple short stories in an anthology.

 

While I usually start at the very first chapter in the rewriting process, with my latest novel I actually started at the midpoint area, so at around page 150 or so. I did this because I knew the first half of the novel was in much better shape than the second half. I knew that most of the second half of my novel was written in bare-bones-mode after my mid-novel crisis and would need the most work. So I rewrote from the middle to the end and then went back to the beginning and rewrote all the way until the end. This way, the second half of the book that was written in bare-bones-mode went through two solid rewriting phases. By the end of it all, the bare bones were no longer bare. They were nice and fleshed out.

 

When I’m done with this rewriting process, I like to then read the entire draft out loud to myself. Reading your work out loud is essential. I don’t care if you’re the best writer in the world. You can’t get a good proper feel for the rhythm of your writing until you read it out loud. You also will pick up on words or phrases you use too often, such as ‘very’, ‘just’, ‘really’, ‘sort of’, ‘kind of’, ‘some’, ‘pretty’, ‘but’, ‘a little’, ‘a bit’, ‘starts to’ and ‘however’. Trust me, reading the work aloud is a game changer. To use a Spinal Tap reference, your writing might be a ten, but reading your writing aloud to yourself will bring it up to an 11.

 

My Microsoft Word software has a “Read Aloud” feature on it and I find this tool extremely helpful. However, I still read the work aloud to myself since there are issues with my writing I only pick up on when I myself read it out loud. Ideally, it’s good to do both: have your work read aloud to you by the computer and also read it aloud to yourself. For more tips about making your writing as great as possible (i.e. taking your writing “to an 11”), read my blog Making Your Good Writing Great.

 

All right, I think that’s all the novel-writing wisdom I want to impart to you right now. Everything I’ve said so far in this article is not a full-proof way to successfully get a novel completed. You may ignore some parts of my advice and heed others. Some of my suggestions may work for you while others don’t, but I feel that there will be at least some useful takeaways for you here, however small or large.

 

Overall, I think that the most important thing to remember is to keep moving no matter what. There are little devils lurking in the wings, patiently waiting for you to stop to take a sizeable break (i.e. more than a few days break) and they seize this opportunity to pounce and convince you that your writing is no good and it’s best to stop. Don’t let this happen. Don’t break the momentum. Don’t ever stop. Taking a break to recharge your battery and get a fresh perspective on your writing is definitely a good idea, but I personally would recommend you don’t do this until you have a first draft completed and that means after you’ve gone through every step I’ve mentioned in this article. Ok, if you MUST take a break between the bare bones rough draft phase and rewriting phase, then so be it—that’s probably the safest time to take a break if you need one—but otherwise I think you should keep moving until you have a draft complete that is edited, rewritten and fleshed out. Once you have that draft done, I would actually say that it’s essential to take a break, get away from the work a while so you can recharge and get a fresh perspective on your writing.


 

 

 

MATT BURNS is the author of several novels, including Weird MonsterSupermarket Zombies! and Johnny Cruise. He’s also written numerous memoirs, including GARAGE MOVIE: My Adventures Making Weird FilmsMY RAGING CASE OF BEASTIE FEVERJUNGLE F’NG FEVER: MY 30-YEAR LOVE AFFAIR W/ GUNS N’ ROSES and I TURNED INTO A MISFIT! Check out these books (and many more) on his Amazon author page HERE.


 

 

Other writing-related articles by Matt Burns that may be of interest to you:

 

Getting Your Screenplay Done

 

Making Your Good Writing Great


Writing the Sequel

 

Writing the Trilogy


No-No, Learn to Love the Rejection: Some Sage Advice for Writers in Search of an Agent or Publisher

 

The Story Behind Supermarket Zombies!


The Story Behind The Woman and the Dragon




Other trending articles by Matt Burns:


 

A Love Letter to the Emerald Square Mall (about the death of the shopping mall age)


NEVER FORGET the Fun-O-Rama (a traveling carnival memoir)


Some Wicked Good Times: A Love Letter to Newbury Comics


Video Store Memories


I Dream of Dream Machine (a memoir of the local video arcade)


Skateboarding in the 1990s


Revisiting the Blair Witch Project


PROXOS IN THE PLEX: A Goldeneye 007 N64 Retrospective

 

100 DAYS of ZELDA: Revisiting Ocarina of Time

 

I USED TO BE A GAMER: The 8-bit Nintendo Years


WAAF Goes Off the Air


Heeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Charlie (a story about Burns’ recurring nightmares featuring Charlie Chaplin)


Remembering That Time I Tried to Stop a Shoplifter at the Wrentham Outlets


The Strange, Surreal Moment of Being Called a DILF Inside a Panera Bread Restaurant on a Wednesday Afternoon


Weird Times en la Weirdioteca

 

RIP PowerBook G3

Monday, October 30, 2023

Scenes from Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary Norfolk, MA.


In the summer between 4th and 5th grade, the summer of 1992 to be exact, I went to the week-long Stony Brook Nature Day Camp at Mass Audubon’s Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Norfolk, MA.

 

I don’t remember too much about the camp other than that we hiked on Stony Brook’s nature trails, constructed wooden bat houses, messed around in the marshes looking for various organisms, made a solar-powered “oven” out of aluminum foil and there was also an overnight campout, not at Stony Brook for some odd reason (not big enough, maybe?), but in the nearby Foxboro State Forest.

 

At the campout, I was first introduced to the phenomenon of how “Wint O Green”-flavored Life Savers would spark in your mouth when you chewed on them. Everyone in the camp chomped on a mouthful of Life Savers and watched them spark in each other’s mouths.

 

I also have memories of us playing “Manhunt” in the woods or some game that was similar.

 

Furthermore, I remember grunge music was big during this time, so when I think about going to camp at Stony Brook, songs like Pearl Jam’s “Even Flow,” Alice in Chains’ “Would,” and Nirvana’s “In Bloom” come to mind.

 

I don’t remember any of my actual counselors except maybe in an extremely vague way, but I do vividly remember the “CITs” (i.e. counselors in training) because they were of high school age, seemed soooooooo cool, and two of the girls were extremely attractive blondes that I had a major crush on.

 

More than anything else, what stands out in my memory was Stony Brook’s “enormous” waterfall and I put “enormous” in quotes because it felt much more enormous as a child looking at it. This waterfall was one of the last things you would see on the Stony Brook hiking trail. It was like the big climax to the mile-long hike.

 

I would say more about Stony Brook’s nature camp, but I don’t think there’s much more to say about it except that it left me with fun memories that still pop into my head today at random times, like when I’m washing my hair in the shower or folding my laundry.

 

Recently, I revisited Stony Brook and shot some video footage there. I hadn’t been to the wildlife sanctuary since I was at the nature camp, so since around 1992, I suppose. That makes it, what, more than 30 years? 

 

Anyway, here is some of the footage I shot that I thought I would share:





...


MATT BURNS is the author of several novels, including Weird MonsterSupermarket Zombies! and Johnny Cruise. He’s also written numerous memoirs, including GARAGE MOVIE: My Adventures Making Weird FilmsMY RAGING CASE OF BEASTIE FEVERJUNGLE F’NG FEVER: MY 30-YEAR LOVE AFFAIR W/ GUNS N’ ROSES and I TURNED INTO A MISFIT! Check out these books (and many more) on his Amazon author page HERE.




Other trending articles by Matt Burns that may be of interest to you:


 

Remembering That Time I Tried to Stop a Shoplifter at the Wrentham Outlets

 

A Love Letter to the Emerald Square Mall (about the death of the shopping mall age)

 

The Strange, Surreal Moment of Being Called a DILF Inside a Panera Bread Restaurant on a Wednesday Afternoon


NEVER FORGET the Fun-O-Rama (a traveling carnival memoir)


Weird Times en la Weirdioteca


Heeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Charlie (a story about Burns’ recurring nightmares featuring Charlie Chaplin)


Some Wicked Good Times: A Love Letter to Newbury Comics


Video Store Memories


I Dream of Dream Machine (a memoir of the local video arcade)


Skateboarding in the 1990s


Revisiting the Blair Witch Project

 

WAAF Goes Off the Air


PROXOS IN THE PLEX: A Goldeneye 007 N64 Retrospective

 

100 DAYS of ZELDA: Revisiting Ocarina of Time

 

I USED TO BE A GAMER: The 8-bit Nintendo Years

 

RIP PowerBook G3


Getting Your Screenplay Done

 

Making Your Good Writing Great

 

Writing the Trilogy

 

Writing the Sequel


No-No, Learn to Love the Rejection: Some Sage Advice for Writers in Search of an Agent or Publisher

 

The Story Behind Supermarket Zombies!


The Story Behind The Woman and the Dragon

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Remembering That Time I Tried to Stop a Shoplifter at the Wrentham Outlets


July 31, 2023. I hadn’t been to the Wrentham Outlets since before COVID and I was in the market for some new sneakers. Thus, I thought it was a good time to “hit up the outlets,” as the cool kids like to say.

 

The first thing I noticed about the gigantic outdoor Wrentham Outlet Mall, established in 1997 featuring such outlet stores as Nike, Old Navy, Burberry and Bloomingdale’s, was that it was a completely different scene from what I experienced a couple weeks earlier at the Emerald Square Mall (read about this in my blog HERE), which is basically located right up the street from the outlets, only about 15 minutes away. Where ‘The Emerald’ was basically a ghost mall (some even call it a “dead” mall), the Wrentham outlets were more alive than ever. It was around 4 o’clock in the afternoon in the middle of a Monday and there were TONS of people there and I mean TONS!

 

Most of these people appeared to be tourists and many of them appeared to be from foreign countries. They all smelled nice. Whenever I passed them by, I could get whiffs of cologne, perfume and/or body lotions—heck, maybe it was only their shampoo—but, whatever it was, it smelled great. They were all dressed nice as well. I’m talking designer clothing, designer sunglasses, designer purses, and designer sandals with well-pedicured toes and all.

 

Overall, the people at the Wrentham outlets were absolutely beautiful people. And I’m talking both the women and the men.

 

But especially the women. I don’t know if I’m going to sound like a male chauvinist pig when I say this, but I hadn’t seen so many hot chicks in one place at one time in quite a while. And a lot of them were dressed in rather revealing clothing. The style these days seems to be wearing extremely short denim shorts that ride up so high that you can begin to see cheeks, if you know what I mean.

 

Walking around the outlets, I felt both underdressed and somewhat outclassed or maybe completely outclassed. I was wearing a nice pair of plaid shorts that I got at Kohls, a Repo Man T-shirt (FYI: Repo Manis a cult film from 1984 starring Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton), a baseball cap that said O’Neill on it, Nike-brand prescription sunglasses and lemon-lime-colored Asics running sneakers, so it’s not like I looked like a complete slob or anything. Yet, I still felt underdressed and “below” all these people that were walking past me in their designer-looking clothing. I felt like I at least needed to be wearing a pair of salmon-colored shorts to fit in with these folks.

 

I went to basically every shoe store at the outlet mall. First, the Nike outlet, which was mobbed with people, and then the Asics outlet, the Converse outlet, the New Balance Outlet…

 

When I got to the Reebok outlet, I was hit hard with a flashback of an incident that happened to me at the Wrentham outlets, right outside the Reebok store about 20 years ago. One Saturday night, I think around the 2002 or 2003 area, I was at the outlets alone, shopping for sneakers (this was basically the only reason I went to the Wrentham outlets), and I found myself walking down the front walkway, adjacent the main parking lot, heading for the Reebok store.

 

Ahead of me, I saw a mall security cruiser pull up to the walkway. Two mall cops got out of the cruiser and confronted a man on the walkway holding an extremely large plastic shopping bag. They exchanged words for a moment, none of which were audible to me, but then the man suddenly dropped the bag on the walkway and started booking it away from the mall cops. Apparently, this guy was a shoplifter and he was on the run. Heading right towards me. Being pursued on foot by the mall police. But this dude was sprinting fast. They weren’t gaining on him.

 

I had about three seconds to decide what to do.




The scenario seemed familiar. I had seen it in movies and TV shows a zillion times. What would happen is some thief would run at the hero of the movie and the hero would trip the thief, the thief would fall to the ground, then be apprehended by the cops. It was that simple.

 

This was reality, though. And even though I had about three seconds to work this all out in my brain, I knew that this wouldn’t be as simple as the movies made it look.

 

I knew I was going to do SOMETHING. The thought of just letting this guy go didn’t even cross my mind and I don’t say that to make myself look like such a tough-guy hero. I simply don’t think I had enough time for fear and inhibitions to get the better of me. I saw a shoplifter running at me. Every movie and TV show I had ever seen told me that I needed to do something. So, yes, I was going to do something.

 

But the question was what I should do. I didn’t think I was slick or tough enough to trip the guy. I didn’t know any martial arts, either, so “sweeping the leg,” Cobra-Kai-style, was pretty much out of the question as well.

 

Nope, the only thing I could think of (again, in about three seconds time) was to get right into the shoplifter’s path and try to bodycheck him. 

 

And this is exactly what I did.

 

I got in front of the shoplifter and, for a split second, I could see a look in the man’s face, one that basically said, “Oh, you’re trying to stop me, are you? That’s what you think?” His eyes widened into an “it’s on” kind of look.

 

I braced myself for impact. And, boy, what an impact it was.

 

Keep in mind that this guy was a solid build, maybe weighing around 180-220 pounds while I was rather thin, weighing in at about 130-140 pounds at that point in my life (I was about 20 years old). Also, he was running at a full sprint. As for me? I was completely solitary, standing my ground with my arms out in front of me in almost a cross bones formation. I certainly didn’t have enough time to think about physics, not that I knew all that much about physics then anyway (I still don’t). My brain didn’t work out what would happen when this dude who was much bigger than me, running at full speed, would run right into me, the thin scrawny 130-pounder, standing absolutely still with no velocity behind me whatsoever.

 

Well, here is what happened:

 

The guy nailed me. And I went fucking flying. Backwards. I landed right on my ass and literally did about three backwards somersaults on the walkway there.

 

As for the shoplifter, he kept running, turned a corner and disappeared. The mall cops kept pursuing him. They ran right past me, said nothing and disappeared around the corner as well.

 

Despite getting nailed and taking such a tumble, it was a miracle (especially in retrospect) that I hadn’t been injured. I mean, that situation could have ended up so much worse, for both me and even the shoplifter. He could have nailed me, I could have hit my head on the pavement and I suppose I could have even died. Then, the shoplifter wouldn’t just be a small-time shoplifter anymore. He would be a murderer, not in the first degree of course, but he would have been a murderer and probably would have ended up serving some hard time. That is, unless, his lawyers could convince a jury that it was all my fault for getting in front of the shoplifter and it was actually ME who was doing the assaulting and the shoplifter was simply body-checking me in self-defense. I’m not sure if a jury would go for that back then in the early-2000’s, but these days it may be different because stopping shoplifters in this day and age is largely frowned upon. Shoplifting in many cities is basically only a measly misdemeanor as long as whatever you’re stealing is under a thousand dollars or technically it must be under $950.[i] You’re supposed to keep your distance and let them steal whatever they want and if you do anything to stop them, especially if you use any kind of force, YOU could easily end up becoming the bad guy doing something wrong.

 

Anyway, yes, other than maybe some bruising, I wasn’t injured in any significant way, at least not that I was aware of. I got up from the sidewalk, somewhat in a daze. I heard one bystander ask me if I was ok and I said “yes” and then proceeded to walk into the Reebok outlet. That’s right, there was nothing more to what happened. The cops didn’t question me or anything. The whole incident was over pretty much as soon as it started. Other than that one bystander asking me if I was all right, it was almost as though the whole incident never even occurred.

 

As for the shoplifter? Well, when I used to tell the story to people, I would say that, despite my attempt to stop the shoplifter being pretty much unsuccessful, I did SLOOOOW the shoplifter down and the mall police were able to catch up to and apprehend him after turning the corner.

 

However, I can’t say for sure that this actually happened. The truth is that I have no idea whether the shoplifter was ever apprehended. I assume that he probably was, but I never followed up on the incident. Again, I just moved right along like nothing had even happened, partially because I was so shocked and stunned due to everything happening so fast.

 

Now, if this same incident occurred today, a couple things would have happened differently. First of all, I’m pretty sure I would have gotten injured by such a hit. My body is not as young and elastic as it used to be. It has been ravaged by a bad case of Lyme disease and it doesn’t take much for me to get an injury. If I was, indeed, injured (and, again, I’m pretty sure I would be injured) I would likely be kind of pissed off about it and I would possibly pursue pressing charges, even though in this day and age maybe it was my fault for trying to stop the guy to begin with.

 

Also, if it happened today, I would probably try to get surveillance footage of the incident. In fact, I regret not doing this back in 2002/2003 when the incident occurred. Surveillance cameras weren’t as prevalent at the time, but the incident occurred in the very front part of the Wrentham outlets, so there must have been some surveillance footage of the incident. I would have been interested in seeing the footage, mainly to prove to myself that the incident actually happened the way I remembered it happening and also to confirm that I got hit as hard as I remembered getting hit.

 

Would I do it all over again? I mean, would I again try to stop the shoplifter today? Well, like I said before, the law is a lot more uncertain these days. You try and stop a shoplifter in the year 2023 and it seems like you can easily turn into the perpetrator. All store employees are trained to NOT confront shoplifters and civilians are basically told the same. If you do try and stop a thief and the thief gets hurt, you could be held liable for the injuries and you could even maybe be charged with assault or worse. Seriously, Google the question, “Should I stop a shoplifter?” and most of the articles that pop up will tell you it’s not worth the risk to your own safety, of course, but also not worth the risk of liability. Why? Because the force you use could easily be deemed too excessive. Even if it’s not your intention to injure the shoplifter, it could easily happen in your attempt to stop them and then, boom, suddenly the force you used, however minimal, could be seen as “excessive.”

 

That all being said, I think I would have to still do something. For my dignity’s sake. Because, honestly, if I hadn’t done anything way back in 2002/2003 and I had simply let the guy run past me…well, I don’t think I’d be able to live with myself. I think it would have haunted me, likely to this day, if I had done nothing. I would have felt like a total coward. So I’m glad I did something, even though that something kind of made me look ridiculous in the long run, going flying 10 feet or so, falling on my ass, doing backwards somersaults on the pavement etc. What I did was messy, certainly not slick like anything you see in the movies, and I’m not even sure I slowed the guy down and/or helped the mall cops in their apprehension of the shoplifter, but at least I did SOMETHING.

 

Sometimes I wonder if surveillance footage of the incident still exists. I wonder if the mall cops used it as evidence in their prosecution of the shoplifter. Maybe they always wondered who the mystery man was who tried to stop the shoplifter, got body-checked and went flying onto his coccyx. Maybe they wanted to give me a big award or something. Maybe they wanted to give me a free shopping spree at the Wrentham outlets where I could buy all the sneakers I wanted. Maybe they wanted to give me the keys to the city or…well…the town of Wrentham. Maybe they wanted to make me Time magazine’s “Man of the Year.” Who knows, maybe even the President of the United States would have wanted to meet me.

 

Or maybe the incident fizzled out as quickly as it fizzled in. No charges were pressed. They let the guy go. That is, if they even caught the guy to begin with.

 

I also wonder where that shoplifter is today. In the slammer for something else? Or did he change his ways? Did he feel bad about body checking me? Who knows, maybe he felt so bad about hitting me that he swore to never do crimes ever again and subsequently went on the straight and narrow. Maybe that was my purpose. Maybe I was placed there at that time to wake the guy up. Stealing is one thing, but hurting people? That wasn’t the man he was and he felt terrible about everything. And now, who knows, maybe he found Jesus and became a priest. All because of me.

 

In other words, it wasn’t my purpose to stop him that night. It was my purpose to change his life around.

 

Wishful thinking? Maybe. It’s probably more likely that the shoplifter is still out there in the world somewhere being a total asshole and general menace to society.

 


 

MATT BURNS is the author of several novels, including Weird MonsterSupermarket Zombies! and Johnny Cruise. He’s also written numerous memoirs, including GARAGE MOVIE: My Adventures Making Weird FilmsMY RAGING CASE OF BEASTIE FEVERJUNGLE F’NG FEVER: MY 30-YEAR LOVE AFFAIR W/ GUNS N’ ROSES and I TURNED INTO A MISFIT! Check out these books (and many more) on his Amazon author page HERE.

 


 

Other trending articles by Matt Burns that may be of interest to you:

 

A Love Letter to the Emerald Square Mall (about the death of the shopping mall age)

 

The Strange, Surreal Moment of Being Called a DILF Inside a Panera Bread Restaurant on a Wednesday Afternoon


NEVER FORGET the Fun-O-Rama (a traveling carnival memoir)


Weird Times en la Weirdioteca


Heeeeeeeeeeeeeere’s Charlie (a story about Burns’ recurring nightmares featuring Charlie Chaplin)


Some Wicked Good Times: A Love Letter to Newbury Comics


Video Store Memories


I Dream of Dream Machine (a memoir of the local video arcade)


Skateboarding in the 1990s


Revisiting the Blair Witch Project

 

WAAF Goes Off the Air


PROXOS IN THE PLEX: A Goldeneye 007 N64 Retrospective

 

100 DAYS of ZELDA: Revisiting Ocarina of Time

 

I USED TO BE A GAMER: The 8-bit Nintendo Years

 

RIP PowerBook G3


Getting Your Screenplay Done

 

Making Your Good Writing Great

 

Writing the Trilogy

 

Writing the Sequel


No-No, Learn to Love the Rejection: Some Sage Advice for Writers in Search of an Agent or Publisher

 

The Story Behind Supermarket Zombies!


The Story Behind The Woman and the Dragon


NOTES:


[i] Ohanian, Lee. “Why Shoplifting is Now De Facto Legal In California.” Hoover Institution, 3 August 2021, https://www.hoover.org/research/why-shoplifting-now-de-facto-legal-california