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.

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.


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.