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.

</promo>

Monday, June 15, 2015

Identity Heft

Things are crackin' again. I did a long editing pass on the book (which is to say I read it over and fixed the most glaring errors and omissions), trimming about 5000 needless words. Then I tacked on a few new ones and we're at just a shade under 97,000. I've been hacking at it all weekend and am, for the time being, back in a pretty good flow.

Speaking of flow, my work life has always had a whiptastic (whiplashtic?) ebb-and-flow to it, something that ironed out nicely for a time when I started consulting. While it's still a good concept and my clients are still happy, I need more of them and I'm a bad promoter. I've always been a bad promoter. I was growing almost completely through referral, but referral seems to have played out for now. So now what?

I don't know.

Even worse? I don't really care that I don't know. 

I've been contemplating this lately as I swing and miss over and over. I'm definitely not happy about it and it's definitely a drag on my comfort level, but I get no heartburn. I'll tighten the belt and figure it out. I'm doing all I know to do but beyond that, I don't see the profit in freaking out. That's probably why I suck at it (and at making money in general) but there it is. 

Meantime, my website was sitting there offering services and information to exactly nobody (this blog has roughly 30x the lifetime hits the site does and it's only been up half the time without ever a single ad bought for it), so I rebuilt it with a focus on the passion projects. Audiobook test samples will be going up before long, and, if somebody buys me enough of the right kind of cocktail on a given night, I might even post a couple of very embarrassing music projects I did a couple years back. I might even move this blog there.

That leaves social media. The only space pertaining to consulting was my linkedin account, which primarily produced BS leads, shitty contacts and a blizzard of email spam. Oh, and endorsements for skills I don't have. I closed it, probably for good. Everywhere else, I know I've been slacking lately as I pursue more paying work, but I tend to ebb and flow there as well. I'll be doing a little book promotion in the next month and I think it's high time I learned what the hell I'm trying to do in that department. 

All of this boils down to a fundamental thing I've embraced and avoided my entire literate life. I talked a little about this dichotomy in my last post, the perennial knee-jerk aversion to the thing I want to do. It's been there a long time, mostly because I decided when I was very young I wanted to figure out money first, find a career that would pay well enough for me to explore my art (read with a shitty French accent). I explored a lot of avenues. I found a lot of dead ends. And obviously, I still don't have it covered, but, I mean fuck sake. How long do I keep putting off and putting aside the one thing I've always wanted to do?

Tactically, I know I shouldn't be writing this. I don't gain anything except a bit of a milestone on what could easily be another long run up to a dead end... that and maybe a few seconds of clear conscience. I have no idea what prospective employers / clients / business partners will make of it. I don't know what you'll make of it. It's just that the idea of trying to excuse my doing this and my wanting to do it is becoming untenable. 

It's hilarious and gross when you think about it; I've been trying to sell out for about 20 years. Nobody really bought, and the few that tried ended up just a wee bit short at the register. I'm not talking fault here, either. A lot of things just didn't work out and I certainly share in the blame, if only because I should have been on another track entirely the whole time. I've always tried to maintain a sense of integrity in my work, whatever it was. I do the best I can. I just wonder now how much that integrity counts for when I'm hiding behind it from the things for which I'm accountable only to myself.

That one's always buggered me too. I'm getting better at it but, like with my aloofness to all things personal finance, I don't have a firm sense of what I owe myself, let alone what I should negotiate with other people.

Maybe it'd help to own up to who and what I am. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Mental Health Break

Or broke, as it were.

This two-month hiatus wasn't planned or anticipated but it was kicked off in grand fashion. Work got a little crazy, then a bit of a celebration for a close friend happened and a great time was had by all. I've talked about the aftermath of these sorts of things before, and I'm no better at dealing with it now than then. It's a shit excuse, but it's the one I had and I took it to the house. I also rocketed up almost twenty pounds in the space of three weeks..

About four or five weeks ago there were a few tenuous moments where I almost turned back to the book but didn't. A couple of work projects ended, one quickie started and ended, and blah blah blah I flaked. After that it was all downhill until I got out of the bad eating / drinking / sleeping spiral I was surfing.

I don't know if I'm really out of the skid yet, but at least my hands are back on the wheel. I got my weight back down to where it was before all of this and I thought I would start back on the book this (last?) week, but part of getting right with myself was admitting I need to bill more hours and that means going out and looking for more work. It's one of those things I'm perennially, irrevocably bad at no matter how or what I try. So that's cost some energy while offering up the best sort of excuse.

Now those I'm pretty good at. I'm the da Vinci of excuses.

The good news is that I opened up Nothing Will Burn and looked it over tonight. As happens with most of my faves, it's better than I remembered. Tomorrow I'll work on it unless something truly awful happens, and we'll say the same for the night after. Do we make it a streak?

Who the fuck is "we?"

But seriously folks, that's it for the progress update. In a nutshell: NONE. It's probably more information than you needed and I advise you to stop here. What follows is basically just another whiny, sort of masturbatory paragraph I mostly can't stop myself writing at the moment, so consider your triggers warned:

Things like this will probably happen again as I drag my knuckles along this loping path here, but I will get there. I generally do with things I've decided to do. The recurring theme in these potholes I hit (as I positively smear a palette of metaphors with a wet mop) is how big every little thing looks once I stop moving. When I started this book, it felt bigger and bigger in scope, but I never felt under its shadow until, I guess, I was no longer on top of it. Makes sense, if maybe it's a little on-the-nose. I guess what I'm saying is, though I've been in spaces where all the small things have appeared large many times in my life (none so much as after a good partay), I've never wanted so badly not to do something that I simultaneously wanted so badly to do. Were I cut from finer cloth as a writer, I imagine I would have tried to inflate that duality into something iconic and meaningful, like the peace sign on the jarhead helmet inscribed with "BORN TO KILL." Well, I don't have the fucking energy. It's just weird. And it happened. And I'll be so glad when it's gone.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Back in the Game

That's a pun. Get it? 'Cause my bad back... is in my game...

Yeah.

I've been considering, rather than writing, this post for a week, partly because it would take too much effort and partly because I'm not sure it amounts to much more than a whine. Last Friday I got a pretty good back spasm. It took me completely out of everything until Monday. I've been semi-functional this week, but writing time comes at the time when the tightness tends to be worst, which is at night when I should be sleeping anyway. Also, it's taken on an interesting form this time around: the last couple of days, I could stand in relative comfort, and I could lie on my back with my feet up. I could not sit or recline. When I first got this thing, all I could do was recline.

Anyway, I managed to squeeze in a writing night on Monday night, between the worst of it and this strange side affect time. That was a good night; I brought act one of Nothing Will Burn to a close. I've been thinking it was going to be muddier, more of a segue, but it didn't go down that way and I'm glad. Right now it's sitting at ~87,000 words, with the first thousand or so of the second act in. If you happen to have read the last post recently (it has 75k right in the title), you'll note that that was two weeks ago, and I'm not currently on a great pace. I think that's another part of the reason I waited to post this; I wanted to see how the back injury played out, and how it affected things.

Short version: not well.

I found out, for example, my laptop makes a great standing desk on this high counter I have. I can do almost everything I need to do normally on it, except write. Writing standing up is a no-go.

Would you believe I'm injured in a way that it hurts to fart? I mean, honestly.

On the other hand, I haven't missed a day in the gym, although I haven't been able to do much there. I can work smaller muscles where my back is supported and for some reason, I can barely walk on the treadmill but I can do the stair climber without a problem. Backs are weird.

I know I'm going to hear from a number of people that I shouldn't have gone at all. They may be right, but here are two things I know: 1. When I do go, my back loosens up and I can function for hours afterword, which is important if you're as bad at making money as I am. 2. I have to lose weight. I still haven't shaken what I gained over the holidays, and this tends to happen when I'm overweight and not when I'm not. It's far less frequent -- when I was really big, it seems like I got them about every five or six weeks -- but I wonder now if I can't fight them off more or less permanently just staying in shape. I was under 220 for about six months and never got so much as a threat.

So really, that's it, that's all. I bit the bullet to crank out another thousand-ish words and this post, and now my back sucks again. I'm going to take it to bed. A week from now I'll be back to normal unless I do something to aggravate it, and I hope to be in the neighborhood of 100k. We'll see.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

On Interruptions and Turning 75K

I decided not to write tonight. That's the first break in a long streak working on Nothing Will Burn, and since it's been a while since I posted an update, here's where we sit: a little less than 76,000 words (which works out to roughly 285 pages), a myriad of story arcs, one plane crash, one coyote attack and one psycho cop. None of those are spoilers. Oh, and yes, the water babies play in. How the hell could I leave out a thing like that?

There's more, too, but a lot of it would take putting down some back story and I just don't have the energy to rehash it here. "So why the night off, you lazy sod?" Well... mostly because I've imbibed. Not a lot, but enough that I can't keep focused on the page, now that it's 2 AM on a Saturday morning. Also because I've been fighting a rogue internal clock for a couple of weeks now and I'm tired as hell (shout out to the random assholes calling me from Maryland and hanging up at 8:00 in the morning. Really appreciate that). Were it only for those two things, I might have powered through, but there's something else.

Within two days, a few of my closest friends in the world experienced two deaths in their respective families. Today was the second. Neither of these were shocking, sudden, or otherwise all that unexpected, but they were beloved family, and they'll be missed. So that's more than half the reason for the drinking; I've sworn it off on all but... heh... occasions, but we seem to know few other ways to remember our people.

Right now it's got me a little drained in my head, so I'm gonna chuck this blog post up there and call it good. I expect more beer and spirits to flow tomorrow night, so if I'm gonna get anything in, I'll probably have to sneak it in during the day sometime. That'll be an interesting experiment in itself; I've been having a hard time keeping my attention on the task at hand any time other than late at night, when I'm not living under threat of a phone call I have to take or an email I have to read and answer. That it's a Saturday, I think, matters little.

The strangest outcome of this is that I'm okay with it. Even if I don't sit down to it tomorrow, I think I'm alright. That could change between now and then, but I don't think so. The only unifying theme in my life at the moment is that I'm writing this book, come Hell or high water. Every once in a while, I'm tempted to break one of the ground rules just to feel like I'm making something happen, like skipping a part I'm not sure how to proceed over rather than keeping the whole thing coming in a nice, linear fashion. I know this is the best way because I've tried both, frenetic and linear, and frenetic is a death sentence of discontinuity  and busted character arcs. I guess some people can do it that way, but I'm not one of them.

So that's it. Aside from the teasers in the first paragraph, all I've really got to leave you with is the affirmation that I've tacked on half-again the length of the first draft since we last talked. So that's something. As ever, it still feels long. That could turn on a dime, but it's hard to imagine how. I'll be back at it and surging come Sunday night at the latest, but for now, I've decided not to beat myself up for missing a night or two. In the immortal words of a Kentucky state representative who accidentally discharged a firearm at the capitol, it happens.

Oh, and I love this story. So it's got that going for it too.


Friday, February 13, 2015

50K Words In

Happy Friday the 13th!

Okay this is the last milestone I can reasonably talk about for a while. 50,000 words. If anything, it seems like a spot to acknowledge that I think I'm committed to see it through to the end, no matter what that means. In a way, it's a load off.

It's feeling more and more like a pretty long book, somewhere in the 200k-250k range. I could always be wrong about that, but I've got a lot of stories to tell that all add up to this one big one. Also, and I'm trying to temper this, I'm learning a lot about my little desert burg ("You know, The World's Biggest Little City," he says as he slowly stabs himself in the eye with a spork), and it feels right to work from the real places, names and things. Now, of course I'm not working off of or even referencing any real people here, and in the final edit the names of some or all of the places could change (even the town, if it comes to it), but an interesting thing has happened as I've researched things we all find familiar: YOU CAN NEVER GET THEM TOTALLY RIGHT. The reason for this is regional differences; firemen in LA are different from firemen in NY are way different from firemen in Reno and Sparks, for example. The vehicles are different, the sizes and functions of the companies are different, the techniques and demands on their skills are different, and so they all have different vernacular. What I guess I'm trying to say is I'm researching on the fly, but I'm going to go back after I'm done and clean it up, which will probably mean adding things, at a point in the process where I'm used to subtracting.

Apparently I'm also too tired to paragraph correctly. Sorry about that.

Anyway, there's a huge, overwrought lore in the greater Reno/Tahoe area (I can't think of them as one area, but they've been marketed that way so long nearly everybody does) relating to some strange local geographical features. The weirdest one is Pyramid Lake, so named for the rocks jutting up out of the middle of the lake. It is weird. I've driven by it on both sides, and I'll say this: photographers never want to do the desolate visage of this place justice. The picture I posted comes closest of all those I found, but you sort of have to see the thing in person to understand the flat-rolling despair it inspires with its hole-in-nothing locale and largely shapeless, dusty beaches. It's not hard to imagine why people have dreamed up such morbid creatures as the water babies when you see it (that's the angry spirits of discarded infants who drown people, particularly fishermen; forgive the lack of a link but every article I could find kind of sucked). It is, quite literally, an oasis, and one that a thirsty man might prefer was a mirage when he comes upon it.

Or, as a friend of mine puts it with an indulgent grin, "It's where the Truckee River goes to die." He's not wrong. The Truckee River runs from Lake Tahoe along CA-89, then east along I-80, feeding a number of reservoirs along the way but snaking right along I-80 all the way to a place east of Reno called Fernley, were it hangs a counter-intuitive left and beats a jagged northerly track to Pyramid Lake. There is no outlet. That's pretty weird too, and a square many have tried to circle by insisting an underground river created by seismic and/or volcanic activity runs between it and Tahoe.

BTW: I can't source any of this, other than badly- or totally unsourced articles, a horrifically bad youtube power point presentation, and vague impressions local people have of these things. I'll try and find some reasonable books on it, but in the meantime, Google to your heart's content, and also at your own risk.

There are other cool things: mining ghost towns, the Berlin–Ichthyosaur State Park (which is actually about 120 miles ESE of Reno but is still somehow part of the local aesthetic), UNR, the sudden, open expanses of desert, and obviously the casinos... Reno understands itself better than it tends to get credit for, and it loves its own mark it's quietly making on the world.

So that's all a long way of saying the book is long-getting-longer in part because I'm liking the ride. Being here has made things possible for me that wouldn't have been otherwise, not the least of which is this book. The setting lends a tone and a weirdness that makes a story like this one seem more plausible than it might even deserve; I don't know yet because it's not even halfway done.

I do know that in some parts, you can ride a dirt bike out of your garage, into the desert, up past a haunted lake with a stony pyramid sticking out of it and on into the Black Rock desert on a flat, dead lake bed they call "the playa," where you won't likely encounter another soul unless you've planned badly and run into a bunch of dirty, stoned people partying around a giant wooden effigy they plan to burn down at some point. On this itinerary, you'd never spend longer on a paved road than it takes to occasionally cross one if you didn't want to. Think about that one, particularly if you're an urban or suburbanite tenderfoot like I am. It's weird. And it makes weird things seem possible.

And it makes you want to push weird as far as weird will go.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Quick NWB Update

My internet is down. It’s 2:00 am as I write this, and my internet is down. Just thought I’d log that for posterity and point out that I’m going around this little obstacle, at 2:00 am, to bring you this little update:

On a pretty good streak of working on the book every night, despite work running late a few times in the last week or so. Hit the wall tonight at about 39,500, which is, for reasons of my arbitrarily compulsive nature, a bummer. I really wanted to crack 40k.

Ooohhh and look, my internet is back up. I think that’s my cue to cut this short, not that I had a lot more to go. Real quick, I wanted to mention a quick foray into non-fiction on a couple of recommendations by a friend of mine: 

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, which didn't appeal to me but was a bestseller when it was released. If you're more into nature and solitude than I am, it might appeal to you. I reviewed it on goodreads.

Currently reading The Devil's Teeth by Susan Kasey. This one is getting me. It's about the Farallon Islands (about three hours outside the Golden Gate), the great white sharks that congregate there every year, and the people who study them. Particularly interesting if you're from the Bay Area or happen to be obsessed with great white sharks (and intermittently, I'm both). 

I try and track/report/review what I'm reading on goodreads, so if you're ever stuck for something to read, check me out there.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Rockin' / Rollin'

Gonna pull a long day tomorrow (technically today now) at work. If it goes bad, it'll be the first day in weeks (even when I was really freaking sick over the past weekend) that I didn't work on Nothing Will Burn. I put in about 2000 words tonight, which puts it just over 32,000. And it's still in Act I. I still have characters whose names will change, and certain elements of the plot will either go by the wayside or just morph along with the flow. So far, I'm cool with that. It occurred to me a few days ago, in a fever dream, I think, that it has so many moving parts I can just take out what I don't like. That's actually always the case, but it's easy to get married to something that appeals directly to me. Sometimes I'm the only one.

I'm really hitting my stride. It's hard to say how much of this I'll like in the end. I do know that it's getting easier and easier to sit down to it and pound it out, for better or worse. I think better. My mind is still too scrambled to just pick up where I left off, so I have to go back over the last page or two to pick up the thread. That's the part that's getting easier. It's how I know. Before, I would have to look back chapters and chapters sometimes if I hadn't touched on an arch or a character in a while. Now it's all moving to the front, where it belongs.

That's a funny thing too: my day job has always been the opponent of writing, except back in the poker days. I've got that largely to thank for Picks, if I haven't mentioned that before (I know I've mentioned it). The rest of the time, most jobs have just fried my brain. The work I do now does that too, but something about committing fully to the writing, maintaining diet and exercise, and taking as little work as possible that makes me responsible for other people is paying off. My mind isn't what you'd call "fresh" at the end of the day, but I can eat, decompress a little, and find an extra little push to get me through a few more pages.

Also, I'll say this: I'm not good at doing much better than surviving. I've always been that way. Two points spring from that that seem important: 1) At some point, doing this became synonymous in my mind with surviving. That's a little overdone, but I'll live with it as long as it lasts. 2) There is no way in the world I could be doing this if I were in a relationship. That was true before I got so invested it; it'll probably be true for a while to come.

And I'm cool with that. Dating sucks anyway.

So I'm a cliché. I'm a starving, broke (possibly hipster) writer with no real plan or prospects for the future, greatness, or even really a satisfying existence beyond getting the weird shit out of my head and into a few of yours. There are probably pills for this. Fortunately, those cost money.

I know there will come a time I'm not so content. I'll lose an account, or have to repair my car or get really sick or hurt and have to pay for that somehow. I know; I've done it and been there and all that. That's why I took the time out to get this down. This, here and now, is me. The rest is just static with somebody else's hand on the tuner. Sometimes I get to slap that hand away and fix it, but it's good to know what I'm listening for.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Nothing Will Burn

The new book (23,000 words strong as of right now) finally has a working title: Nothing Will Burn. So far, it's set in Reno but I think I might just be using the layout and local feel for a jumping off point. We'll see.

I'm also pretty stoked to know a little more of what it's about. I'm not gonna get too into it here (spoilers) but I will say that as I suspected, it's part of the "Addie" universe.

It's also taking a ridiculous amount of research. Part of me wonders if I'll be this anal about future works, and another part of me just wants to do this kind of thing all the time. New media has instilled an unpleasant duality in me: I'm terrified to get things wrong, but I know if more than, say, five people read anything I write, I can expect to hear I did anyway. That's part of the allure for a fictitious Reno-like city rather than Reno itself.

On the other hand, I'll be taking care (particularly in editing) not to regurgitate research onto the page. For example, I have this German character I really like who saw some rough shit in Europe in the 90's. I knew that before I read up on 90's-era rough shit. Turns out, as with anything, it's way more complicated than I projected from what headlines I remembered. He could have been a book on his own. He won't be (I don't think), but he could have been.

I'll also be in the position, very soon, of trying to ask experts in various fields what they would do in certain hypothetically impossible situations. I expect mostly bewilderment (and quite possibly annoyance) in response, but I'll probably be able to mine a thing or two even out of that. Should be fun.

Comedy and Tragedy in the Time of Smileys 
One of the reasons I'm keeping this blog is to track my attitude toward things I'm working on at various phases. It only figures that new things start out at an unfair advantage, but this is one only semi-new. I actually put the first words to page way back in September with one scene in mind and no idea what was to come next. Currently, it's still the first scene in the book and still really central somehow, but I didn't even finish that scene originally before I went into a little tailspin, as one sometimes does. I got precious little of consequence done during that time, but I have a real sense of being back on the horse now. I feel pretty good about this one, both because it's new and because it's flowing.

And because I like it.

It's been a while since I had that -- the last thing I finished and liked was a short story called "The Egg Timer" for an IWM anthology. That was published back in July. Between that and September, I dinked and dunked at the two novels I've had in the works forever, and which may be dying on the table. There really is something to be said for sitting down to something every day and at least trying to make it go, particularly while it's still most alive in your mind.

There's also something to be said for cutting dead weight loose. It's easier to talk like that with a viable project in the works, but I guess that's the lesson: always be working on something. At the moment that sounds like a deal. I'm intrigued to see how long that sentiment lasts.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Je Suis Charlie

It turns out I've been tired because I've been fighting off a hell of a cold. I don't get sick often -- I usually skip the flu season altogether -- but when I do, it's always quite a ride. That's not why I haven't gotten around to a Charlie Hebdo post yet, but it plays in.

 Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images
The attack on a satirical French magazine most Americans haven't heard of (including me, to be fair, until it was firebombed in 2011, after which it dropped back out of my consciousness until last week) crosses me up in so many ways I can't help it get a few of them down. Unfortunately for anybody reading this blog even semi-regularly, I don't really have much choice as far as outlets go, so, consider this your </rant warning>.

This is a hedge, but just indulge me one more paragraph: in as much as I think about it at all, I'm an atheist. I've found (mostly through unfortunate encounters in cyberspace) that this can mean a number of things spanning a great range of ideologies and levels of enthusiasm (read: hatred). To me, it mostly follows the strictest definition of the word: I recognize no god or deity's existence. That's it, and that's about as far into it as I generally think. If that gets your hackles up, hear me now: YOU ARE THE PROBLEM. If your reaction in any way involves corrective action or violent language or imagery, let me try again, a little slower: YOU. ARE. THE. PROBLEM. If, on the other hand, you experience no visceral effect and can go on reading the rest of this (or not, and just go about your day, otherwise unaffected), then I say, with no irony and in whichever theological dialect you choose, Go With God, God Bless, God Be With You, etc.

Now that I'm done hedging, a little about the very little I know about Islam. First, a metric shitload of people identify Muslim, at least to Pew Research (that's 23% of the world's population if you really don't like links). Next, I knew a few in school, and that only came to my attention incidentally, long after I'd actually come to know them. Also, as with every other major world religion, there are competing factions, the largest of which are the Sunni and Shia, respectively.

Other things giving much of the western world pause make Islam indistinguishable from other world religions at various stages of their existence (and indeed, Islam borrows, for lack of a better term, from Christianity and Judaism), but it's not really worth getting into here except to point out that other world religions have had their extremists, and most still do. To say it's out of time or proportion is pretty hypocritical: it's still extremism.

Which is the point. Just about every problem the world faces today can be traced back to a binary worldview. It's this, or that. It cannot be both or anywhere in between. On or off, all or nothing, black or white. No shades of gray allowed, no compromise. No nuance.

You'd think science would win out in a world like that, but here's a crazy thing: even science doesn't do that. Einstein famously said, in response to a now-accepted feature of quantum physics, that, "God does not play dice." While he was likely right in a literal sense, what bothered him was that even at the most fundamental levels of observation, most things come down to probabilities rather than absolutes.

But I digress.

It's oversimplifying, but I think the efficacy of extremism comes down to two basic things: an unwillingness to do one's own thinking, and an unwillingness to refute a charismatic and / or powerful voice saying that which one would like to hear, which is, admittedly, not much more than a restating of the former; I make the distinction only because the latter deserves its own category. It's not oversimplifying that extremism's end goal is either total homogeneity or all possible destruction in that pursuit.

That brings it back to Charlie Hebdo, and really every satirist, journalist, writer, or any other thinker injured or killed for a belief, or even worse a tenet of a belief. I don't really care that it's Islam or that it's specifically the prohibition of images. The only reason for a proscription like that is the suppression of art, specifically because art celebrates nuance and spawns or communicates ideas.

See paragraph three if that statement inflames you.

CHRISTOPHER FURLONG/GETTY IMAGES
Buried in plain sight whenever freedom of expression is at issue is the right not to give a fuck what others may think, or The Right To Offend as I've suddenly been hearing it called. Americans tend to think of ourselves as the vanguard of ideas and free expression, and yet most of our major news outlets are ducking behind blur filters and big pixels in their coverage of the attacks -- attacks they ominously remark may not be over. Sure, you'll get the images of disembodied, bloodied child parts littering a street in the aftermath of a bombing, but a cartoon rendering of a Middle Eastern man, well, we do have standards.

That's what gives the extremist his power. His rules are not intended to be amenable to the palest version of real life or even a shred of thoughtful existence. They are not open to question and any infraction will be met with violence.

Which begs the question: What then?

France responded as we all should, and they've had it right all along. The lowest estimates put the turnout in Paris at 1.2 million people protesting the violence, and Charlie Hebdo is publishing a run of 3 million copies in 16 languages (versus their normal run of 60,000 only in French), featuring, once again, Muhammad. Only this time he's crying, holding a board saying "Je Suis Charlie” or “I am Charlie,” the slogan the world adopted from the march on Paris. Above him in French: “All is forgiven.”

As I write this, Wednesday night, CNN, NBC, ABC and Name-Your-Network-News are, no doubt, blurring (BUT VERBALLY DESCRIBING IN THE DIREST DETAIL!!) this very image as they have been since this all began, and really, since always. I hope to hear differently, and if I do, I'll update this paragraph.

I also hope my meaning is taken clearly here: If you're offended by my posting this image, that's your right. However, if your offense can even be mapped on the same scale as my offense at the murderous retaliation to images like this over the years and now in France, perhaps check out this handy guide on How to Suck at Your Religion.

And just BTW: It's not out of retaliation of any kind. It's a stand against violent men. But for that, I and millions of others wouldn't be doing it.

So there it is: my Charlie Hebdo rage in a nutshell. That's all it really is, and that's why it took me so long to get around to it, though I knew I probably would eventually: I didn't really know what I had to add to the discourse and certainly nothing I've said will have a measurable impact. But sometimes things just need to be said, even if not for the first time. That's what the survivors of the attack at Charlie Hebdo are doing. That's what we all should do, if we can.

Or we can all just do nothing.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Trying Not To Spin

It's late and I'm tired, as is usually the case when I write these. I should probably be getting to bed, but it's that kind of tired that's more likely to stick you to the mattress, convince you you can't even read, and spin your mind though all the things you have going or have yet to get going or have already completely fucked up. It's that hot tired, the tired with momentum, like Sandra Bullock spinning away from the station in Gravity. That's this kind of tired. It's a bastard and I'm getting to where I give in to it less and less, opting for the tired that is actually painful but sometimes results in sleep.

Sometimes.

So, instead, I'm gonna rattle on about my new story. Or book. Why not call it a book? It is a book.

It doesn't even have a working title yet, but just tonight, I tacked on another two thousand words to put it at about 12,800. Part of the reason I'm excited about this one, apart from the prodigious pace (for me at least), is it's the first time I've ever really put much of my own experience into a work of fiction. I'm setting it in Reno, where I currently live (something I've only ever done once before, setting "Simon Says" in Emeryville when I was there), using themes and versions of general conflicts I've had with people in my life (not something I've really ever done), and using elements from personalities and experiences around me, be they people close to me or just people I know a little about indirectly. I've never done that before, and not by any conscious choice; it's just never worked for me.

I've always thought this was a gap in my toolbox. A lot of writers I respect (and a number whom others do, despite what I may humbly think) have pointed out similarities between their characters and people they've known, occasionally going so far as to say one character or other is that person. I doubt I'd ever do that; it doesn't seem right to first flog somebody with your unvarnished perception of them and then put them into a situation of your making to respond as you think they would or should. In the end, you're only lampooning yourself and everything you get wrong.

Sunset at the Nugget's annual rib cookoff in Sparks.
On the other hand, my oldest, best friend once told me a story -- a really weird and pretty funny thing he himself saw -- and I've been trying to work it into one of my stories ever since. It's in this one, as is, already, a cartoonish version of another thing that happened to him. I come up with some twisted shit from time to time, but there's just no way I'd have ever gotten anywhere near either of these two incidents.

Another thing that just surfaced tonight: I think it may be another foray into Addie's universe. I'm not sure yet, but I'd definitely welcome it. I've always thought there was more to do there and it would make it another first: none of my stories link or relate at all, at least as far as I know. If this ends up being that kind of a rabbit hole, it's likely a deep one.

Okay I can feel my brain shutting down. I'll take that as good and hit the sack with hope for the best.

But seriously, I need a title.

That's gonna bug me.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Cracked Reflections

The groupthink around this time of the year is so pervasive, you have little to do but drop anchor in defiance, or drop oars and steer as best you can around the worst of the hazards. It's true of all the stores, the gyms, the music, the TV, the media in general and, consequently, thought itself. I think I've been resisting that more than usual this year, perhaps more out of spite than anything.

In either case, I finally hauled anchor and went with the flow for a few hours tonight. Truth is, I'm tired. I have to think of this year as a net gain, what with getting the book out in print, deciding to re-commit to writing, and spending my first year totally on my own in time untold -- and in a new place, which has grown on me immensely. Even with all that said, I can feel a more urgent vibe to everything. Lately my body tends to demand more maintenance and tolerate fewer abuses, and my brain just can't decide what the fuck it wants. Its only real habits seem to be fighting off sleep and thinking back on things I messed up.

So yeah, not very zen.

One thing that does stand out is that I leave 2014 mostly guilt-free. Even now, I look upon that statement with suspicion but I think that's only a reflex. I've done alright by just about everybody as far as I know, at the very worst having only done less than I might have liked with a few. It's unusual, particularly when I'm tired, but the guilt parade has to pick me up and carry me farther and farther back in time. Not that that stops it, but it does take the edge off.

I've mentioned to people close to me that I'm not where I'm supposed to be. I haven't been since I was eighteen, and I've been able to feel it viscerally ever since. I had a life path more or less planned out, but I made a bad decision that ended in a hard detour of that big, shimmering highway. The details aren't that important; the long and short of it was that I had a partial scholarship lined up for sports, but I put an abrupt end to my sports career trying to be a hero. It was stupid and I let it change everything in an instant.

A lot's happened since then -- like, officially the other half of my life so far. I'd happily trade most of it for where I was going, but there are a few things, mostly relationships I've had (and even still have in a few cases), I never would. I can't say to a certainty I'd be right not to, but it's my best guess with what I know now.

Wow. That's a baaaad couple of sentences.

This blog is the longest-running and closest thing to a journal I've ever kept. I think it has to go into the plus column on the 2014 tally sheet, for the same reason I continue to update it: people are reading it. Friends, family and total strangers check it out from time to time, just often enough to keep it alive in the back of my mind, nagging for another entry if only because I said I would do it and you all know it. In the first post, I promised it would be honest. It's been more than that; as is probably clear, I rarely do so much as an editing pass. There's still no filter here, saved for things that simply needn't be said.

But here's one thing that does: Thank you, to everybody reading the blog, the twitter feed, the google+ page, and, more than anything, my stories. Writing is the only thing I currently do that I was meant to do. It took knowing that somebody could actually be reading and enjoying it to get me back to doing it in a real way, and it feels like getting back on the right heading, back in the direction I was always going before I got stupid and full of myself. So thank you, thankyouthankyouthankyou.

Here's a quick preview of 2015, at least as far as my feeble powers of prediction can go: I have three novels in the works, and shorter ideas seem to be floating in with more regularity now that I'm knocking the rust off those old gears. I decided a couple of weeks ago I would try and take the honesty-in-blogging promise at least another half-step further, and talk about the projects as much as I can as they develop without giving too much away.

Back in September, I mentioned in Indie Writers Monthly that I had two novels in the works, a very long, multi-volume dark fantasy novel and a crime novel with a supernatural element I can't decide whether to expand upon or scrap altogether. That's still true. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I alluded to another story I was starting, and that I didn't know what the hell it was. That's also still true, but I've got a shade under 10,000 words on it now, and I can't conceive of a way it ends shorter than 120,000. It might go a lot longer than that. That one's got the momentum at the moment so that's where I'm focusing my effort, but these things have a way of changing quickly and without warning. I'm not really driving that bus.

I'm hoping to get Picks into audio this year. It's not my highest priority, but it is the kind of thing I could obsess on just long enough to hit the point of no return some summer day and end up knocking it out in a couple of months. On the other hand, I've flipped a couple of emails back and forth with a very talented indie voice actor, so if he and I can work something out, I'd say it definitely happens this year.

Speaking even more aspirationally / less urgently, I also have an artist friend that wants to do "Addie" as a short graphic novel. That probably doesn't happen this year, but it could.

So, short of calamity or a hell of a high-paying IT contract coming my way, I'm getting something new out this year. It's not a Resolution (I desperately hate the bovine concept of them); it's something I decided I few months ago, when I found a road sign I've been looking for and finally got back in the right lane. It's a deadline. A very loose deadline, with only you to hold me accountable.

And that seems to be all I need.