Sunday, December 18, 2016

Mourning in America

I'm sure that headline's been done.

It makes a certain grotesque sense that the year that crushed the world into smoldering shambles was about the best one on record for me. New job that I love, changes in my life to the good, thinking about buying a house in the not-too-distant future. I was in the worst spot I've ever been in by a long shot in 2015, and though I haven't entirely clawed my way out of the hole, it's gotten a little less steep at the top.

While that's been happening, I've been back to my old, circumspect self but for new and better circumspect reasons. I can't get into them a the moment. That's what that means. Consequently, this blog stopped along with my book, which was the really thin excuse I gave for starting it. I think I'll still run it when I get back to finishing the book -- and at the moment, I really think I will -- but I don't think this post fits onto that continuum.

This post is only here because I'm pissed.

I was talking recently about how the fury had gone out of me -- much of which animated things I wrote in the past -- only because things are better for me. For a while there it chastened some of my contempt for people in general and made me realize how much better it gets when you get out more. Live a little.

Then we elected fucking Trump.

When that happened, I'd been working in Canada for the week, completing a couple of projects and helping train a local Canadian. I submitted my absentee ballot a couple weeks before and crossed out of the country without even the vaguest premonition that I'd be coming back to, as that Canadian trainee aptly put it in an icy predawn parking lot, a smoking hole in the ground.

The reports you may have heard of people abroad not really getting the Trump phenomenon are all true. Folks I would only ever know for one day were very careful with me, but their curiosity was undeniable in that polite, tactful Canadian way, complete with the "eh?" (BTW: pretty sure they only do that to entertain dumbass Americans anymore.) They wanted to confirm it was nuts, pretty crazy. They were watching me to see if maybe I was one of these weird animals that liked chewing tobacco and rust bucket Chevys with 33 inch lift kits in disguise. They intoned it all as if it were obvious I wasn't, that that couldn't exist, that nobody really wanted what had happened... that it was an accident of hubris and sense of humor gone wrong, like Brexit.

I can identify. I grew up in a place where that was not only strange, but low-brow. Why would anybody leave a rusted-out shell of a '67 Chevy up on blocks on their front lawn? Why would anybody wear a trucker hat, let alone a fucking red one? Why would anybody talk like that? I came up so doe-eyed and insulated in a part of the country people fled to from those parts of the country that it wasn't strange to me to see people of color teaching my classes, being police officers, being on my sports teams. I even knew kids fresh off the boat. People were people, accents and weird tastes in food notwithstanding.

I guess all of this is a roundabout way of saying I don't get it either. I was born here, I'm white, I have struggled my ass off my entire working life and it never occurred to me to blame immigrants or welfare recipients or, (for the love of Christ, he said ironically) JEWS. What the fuck people? In my mind, it was always because I was a shitty student who blew out a hamstring at an inopportune moment, nixing any shot at a scholarship which would have been the only reason I would ever have chosen to go to college. That's why I struggled... that and a terribly bad sense of where to go for work. I've talked about that.

So for once, finally, I've gotten lucky and fallen into something that pays a living wage and seems fairly stable. I still work hard, like I always have. I try to work smart, too. It is from that comfortable vantage point that I can look at what's just happened to this country and say my contempt for fat, lazy Americans has been justified all along. When Obama got elected, I was really willing to believe it had been me all along, projecting my frustration onto the culture around me, watching the unforgivably stupid prosper and the sensible be smacked down over and over for prejudices that rationalized that fat laziness. I'd have never believed he could get elected and re-elected with all these morons clutching a ballot. I still can't quite reconcile how he did except to wonder at his skill as an orator -- man is he good at that. He figures, with a 56% approval rating, to hand the baton to a man who campaigned on and now is assembling a cabinet with values that directly oppose every one of his. And not just in a liberal-vs-conservative way. Much more in a think-vs-scream-and-plunder way.

CNN, ABC and NBC are now thought of by large swaths of Americans as fake news, while the pres-elect has begun to sign deals with right-leaning media organizations (NOT FoxNews, by the way, but they'll come around I'm sure), to get his messaging out unfettered by fact.

I was about to go on a tirade about this, but then I remembered the left on Twitter and basically everywhere else online rolling in a mud pit of ecstasy over an admittedly Freudian-looking typo Trump tweeted yesterday:

Image result for unpresidented  

This overlooks the fact that the tweet itself has only two motivations: 1. Poking China with a stick over literally nothing (illustrated in a moment) and 2. Riling his idiot base against China.

Later, hours after China promised to give the drone back, he posted this:


Which, as he is wont to do, ignores that he posted this a couple years ago:


But yeah, jump all over the typo. That's constructive.

This post isn't a case against Trump. That's been made by more and better than me, and is redone and updated every single day. It's more about the contempt I suspected was unhealthy while most of my dealings were with the dregs of a dying industry. Whether contempt can ever be healthy is a question for philosophers and psychologists, but I know that one particular contempt played a large part in starting this country and has likely been instrumental in every advance it has ever made since: contempt for the stupid and ignorant. You don't have to be elite to hate what those have wrought on the world since thought was possible and then eschewed for easier things, like belief. You don't have to be elitist to have contempt for the willfully stupid. You only have to think. What has that cost all of us? 

Barring some moonshot miracle, we're about to find out.

I keep hoping I'll have more time to write, maybe because I'd rather air things like this here than on the few people in my life willing to tolerate me. And I really do want to finish that book, regardless of whether another human being ever reads it. I want to read it. What's easily lost in a year that has shot by doing work and a few other things I love is that I'm this easily bought, which opens me up to my own contempt for my fellow man. Like I said at the open, fury at what I saw in the world wouldn't let me remain silent, but now even I am dumbstruck. 

For a long time, writing was the only worthwhile undertaking in my life. No longer true. Might never be true again. A big part of me hopes not -- I was fucking miserable.    

I doubt I'll be dumbstruck for long though. For some reason, this page pulls at me. Nags me. You wouldn't know it from a year of more or less empty of posts, but it's true. I think about this and my book all the time. They're my only ghosts. 

But being an American, it would seem, means also having a demon. Need to work on that.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Here are the states I've been to in the last three months:




Yeah.

Don't get me wrong; this is a brag. I fucking love it. I'm puritanically ashamed of the fun I'm having on this new gig. Call it over-correction of a very old habit.

What I want to report is that, while I still have nothing to report, I'm still working on the book. Progress has been slow and sporadic, but it's there. Turns out I really enjoy writing on planes, particularly when some airline sadist doesn't consign my diminished but still substantial frame to a middle seat. I think hotels will work out okay too, but I'm climbing a bit of a learning curve so I haven't quite had the energy to test them out with any real feeling. Another couple of months and I should know the answer to that one.

On a tangentially related matter: sales of Picks have been trickling in little by little on Kindle. No new reviews but something is happening. So thanks to those of you taking the (very shallow) plunge for the first time. I hope to follow up with more in the not-too-distant future. Maybe get more than an ankle wet.

To those who've been around since I started this: thanks! Also sorry! We're almost through another year. I'll be back with more after the holidays.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Zen and the Art of Making No Progress

So, a lot's happened since we last talked. For the TL;DR crowd: I haven't written another word on NWB. I know that sucks but I should be getting back to it soon.

I lifted this from his obit on legacy.com because it's awesome.
For the rest, know that I love you for paying attention even this far. I've been in the mode of saying things like that to people I know / are close to me / are meaningful to me for the last couple of weeks. The largest reason for that is my family just lost a stalwart, good-humored and indefatigable stump of a lovable man in my grandfather.

A week and a half or so ago I started a long post eulogizing him here, as I'd known better than to try at his actual services. I might still finish that post one day soon, but I realized that night, as I had at graveside and at the wake afterward, that I wouldn't be be able to do it without making it about me. It's just how I am and it wouldn't serve anybody but me.

So for now, I'll just say this: his name was Leo Doria and he lived from January 9, 1922 - August 25, 2015. I loved him a hell of a lot and so did an absolutely astounding number of friends and family. He was restless and industrious, he was musical, he was funny and he loved nothing more than taking care of his own and getting us all together.

Which tells you nothing and everything about him, really. You've never met anybody like him.

So I reeled from that (and even more from his slow-then-quick decline) the way I reel from things, which is to say I developed an appetite and ground my concentration down to a nub. That made it tricky for my deteriorating financial situation, particularly for the last few months -- they've been lean, those months, and I've been looking in earnest for a steady gig. I don't think I've been putting my best foot forward. Or at least that's the sense I've had as I got shot down on the heels of several interviews I walked out of with nothing but the highest expectations.

The good news is that I finally broke through and found that steady gig. I won't get too into it here, but the upshot comes to lots of training, travel and cool new toys. Add to that the time recovered from an exhaustive and exhausting job search and tumultuous nature of freelance work, and I should be able to get back into NWB with more consistency. Maybe even (gasp!) finish it. I know.

It only occurred to me in the last couple of days what a shitty stretch that was, and that it looks like I'm mostly through it, sort of all at once. I'll be getting back on something of a schedule, bidding friends and family goodbye-for-now, and settling back into a real work attitude, doing more of what I do well and much less what I do not.

Speaking of which: I have to be up in a few hours to catch a plane. As is so often the case with this blog, I have no clear idea what I've said. I only know I'm raving about being back again for the umpteenth time, but this one feels like it might have some staying power. I finally know how I'm going to get there and that is a whole other way to be.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

122500ish

Credit: Josh Hara / @yoyoha www.squirtgunhero.com
As I may have written about here before, every once in a while I'll forget myself and ruin a day with caffeine. I did my level best to do that today, but I was foiled. It was still a good day. The only downside was a night off from writing -- and not for a lack of sitting in front of the laptop and twitching.

So I'll leave you with a quick update: Nothing Will Burn sits right around 122,500 words, as it did last night when, in a sleep-deprived stupor, I wrote myself into a bit of a corner. I approach that unhappy state now. If I need any evidence of this, the idiotic pseudo paraphrase  "sleep to write another day" refuses to be left out of this post.

On the other hand, maybe it's a good mantra. I dunno. The truth is I'm too tired to tell and in too good of a mood, scattered and wordless or not, to give much of a shit. I do suspect tomorrow will be better. To that end, I bid you all good night and many thanks for your saintly patience.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Lines

Starting to settle into a routine, which scares me a little because I don't generally do well with routines. The bulk of the day isn't interesting but the eat dinner, listen to the news, mix a godfather and start writing kind of is. It's comfortable. That's weird.

So, to break it up because that's what I compulsively do, I'm jumping out of a bad (read: slow, distracted, flat) writing night to drop this post instead. Could be I go back to it. I dunno.

Drood by Dan Simmons
Privacy is one of those things on which I've always placed a high value. Maybe that's already clear in my whining about my taboos for a year on this blog. There are other lines around that, having to do with where my privacy and that of my friends and family stops. One of my favorite novels ever is called Drood by Dan Simmons, written from the first-person POV of Charles Dickens's friend and novelist Wilkie Collins. If you know your Dickens (and far be it from me to fault you if you don't), you'll recognize the reference to his unfinished novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. In Simmons's book, Drood is a phantom Dickens encounters in the aftermath of a train wreck, but goes on to haunt Collins right up to and possibly beyond the point of Dickens's death. Obviously there's more to it than that, and I gotta say it's a hell of a book worth not spoiling here.

I bring it up because a lot of it centers on Collins's jealousy of Dickens, both his mastery and what he sees as the price everyone closest to him (Dickens) pays, both in public shame and private degradation. I don't know the subjects well enough to tell how fair this is to Dickens or Collins, but it does raise some interesting questions I've seen raised around other authors, songwriters, artists and the like. I understand and, to a degree, endorse exposing one's own flaws, fears, hopes, et cetera -- vulnerabilities, in other words. On the other hand, there comes a point where it's tempting to draw on personalities around you for truer color in whatever you're doing. I never used to do that, but I'm undeniably doing it now in NWB.

But there are lines, and I hesitate to cross those that don't belong to me. As more and more of the story comes into focus, it feels more likely that people reading it might infer things, might wonder What I Was Trying To Say. I like a non-committal approach to that question: Everybody is free to make of it what they will.

Inevitably though, I know once people begin to infer, they don't slow down. It turns into an interpretative game of Whack-A-Mole. I only care about this in those closest to me, not least because there are so very few. So let me say this, pre-emptively (and probably inconsequentially): I'm not talking about any specific person here or in anything I've done. Nobody in the story is anybody I know. More importantly, I'm drawing on people I don't know every bit as much as people I do. So, as usual, I'm just being my over-analytical, under-observant self, and I'm doing it with a shopping cart.

Whew. So much better. I know that likely serves nobody in the world but me, but it's been on my mind. For anybody still with me and inexplicably still interested, as of this writing I've got a shade under 113,000 words into the book. Not a blistering pace from my last post on the 4th, but pretty good compared to the few months before. I'm trying to make that better. It's eating at me every day: I want to get this done. I need to get it done. I'm still shooting for a January release (that's if I send it out for editing and publish through CreateSpace), so I think I have until about September to finish it and do the rewrite. That's tight but I don't think I can handle it taking much longer.

Night!
Anyway, it's a beautiful night. Right about 67 degrees, no wind, a little rogue thunderstorm putting on a show to the southwest. My neighborhood is silent and I'm on my balcony with my laptop with about one small sip left of that godfather I mixed. Whether the book is going good or bad, no matter what's happening at work, moments like this, putting something into words (again, good or bad) are just the best. I hope it all comes to something soon.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

It's a 100k 4th Charlie Brown!

I pretty much ran errands and did housework for my 4th. The errands included gathering food, beer and Scotch, and the housework mostly involved raising an umbrella on my balcony. It could be said I did it my way.

The weather was unimpeachably perfect. Overcast, bit of a breeze, occasional drifts of drizzle (hence the umbrella), right about 70 degrees. I powered through a hundred pages or so of the last of Stephen King's Dark Tower books (I go through the whole series every few years), sipping my favorite beer and savoring a moment I just don't get too often these days. It was great.

I'm in a weird limbo with work right now, this holiday being one of those people don't know how / how long to celebrate and opting for the longest possible option in most cases. It's a breather I can use. And I have.

NWB sits at 101,000 words, which is about 1000 more than I've been rounding it up to for anyone asking in the last couple of months. I've been dancing with that sextuple-digit barrier for quite some time now, mostly just for a lack of time. I know I keep coming back to that excuse but, hell man, I need to eat. And I don't even eat much.

Which reminds me: the 4th is the first anniversary of this blog, which roughly coincides with the decision to go hard at writing. So how's that going? Welllll...
  • My collection Picks and my short story "Addie" got a couple of awesome reviews from Amazon customers. That inspired me to see that
  • Picks went into print. That got me a few more good reviews and inspired me to run a few 
  • Picks giveaways via Goodreads. Those didn't go as well. What I'm getting from that is that, if it can be said that I have an appeal, it's narrow. Random folks are not, by and large, going to pick up and love my work.
  • Indie Writers Monthly asked me to submit a story for an anthology. I did, and they included it, and liked it well enough that
  • I was interviewed in an issue of Indie Writers Monthly. They also reprinted my story for the anthology, "The Egg Timer."
  • I started what I thought would be a longish short story about a bar fight in the apocalypse but is becoming a longish novel about Reno in the apocalypse I'm currently calling Nothing Will Burn
  • A very good artist (who will remain nameless for the time being) has begun working on a graphic novel based on "Addie." I can't wait to see where this goes.
I won't bullet the word count milestones for the book, like cracking the big digit today. I do feel them (and it's goooood), but the only ones that really matter are getting it done and taking it to press. Also, this blog probably deserves a bullet or two in that list but it's not going to get one because it's not really for anything other than (bad) promotion, blowing off steam and/or grappling with my many psychological defects. Other than a quick scan for glaring typos, I don't even clean it up before I post. I'm usually too tired by then anyway.

So that's it. It's fitting somehow that these two milestones coincide: they're both arbitrary and yet feel meaningful nonetheless. To those of you following this blog and my work (of which there is precious little out there, I know, but hang in there), I'll say two things: Seek help, and thank you so much. I meant to keep on when I started all of this about a year ago, but having been here has set it firm and tangible in my mind, as have the words of encouragement both from people I already knew and people I didn't. It feels right. I'm glad I'm here. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Picks on Kindle Countdown! Addie for FREE!

Just in time for... nothing important, really...

If you're a Kindle user (or own just about any internet-ready electronic device (and I'd love to hear from those of you who don't (about this blog, I mean))), you can get your e-copy of Picks: Some Things I Dug Up at a discount now through next Monday. The best price (67% OFF!) is at a the beginning of the promotion (now) and gradually increments back to the normal price, so the best deal is always now.

If you need more of a nudge, "Addie," one of the stories from the collection, will be available for FREE during the promotion. Get it here. Read it before the Countdown, er, counts down. Then tell everybody you know to get the collection while the getting is good.

They probably won't thank you for it. But I will.

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