No Rebirth Without Death

I’ve talked before on this blog about about wildfires.  About how, unless you’ve experienced one, you simply cannot imagine the inexorability, the sheer malevolence, of a force of nature with a seeming mind of its own.  You can read one of those earlier posts here, by the way.

I’ve talked about expecting fires, and about watching fires.  About living through them, and about smelling them.  Hell, I’ve talked even about having to evacuate from them.  One thing I’ve never really talked about, however, is what comes after.  About the devastation, and the loss.  About, also, the survival and the rebuilding.

Now, one of the guys I currently work with is a retired fire chief, so maybe I should just sit back and let him write this damned post — that’s a man with scars and stories to cover just about everything you can imagine.

But…well…this is my blog, so it pretty much has to be my own thoughts.

I was hiking today, through an area devastated by a large fire about 8 years ago.  It’s an eerie feeling,* walking through a place like that.  It has a graveyard feel to it, a feeling of being surrounded by death and loss:

*Talking about eerie — just wait ‘til I write a post about Quake Lake, that place will most definitely get your hackles up…

Of course, the thing you have to keep in mind, even as you walk through devastation and destruction, is that life…adapts.  Hell, life — at least life up here — needs the devastation and destruction of wild fires in order to reproduce.  The seeds of the lodge pole pine are held inside the cone by a resin that melts only when the temperature is well over 130 degrees Fahrenheit.  That tree, just as one example, will completely die out without fires.  Even amidst the destruction, then, even amidst the detritus and scars, new life springs up:

It’s humbling to think about, in a way.  The destruction and devastation that is so fearsome to us, that is so hated and loathed, is in the longer term a vital part of the rhythm of life.  It goes back to the truth of an old saying: there can be no rebirth without death.

I honestly don’t know if the images above of the little bits of green growing amidst the blacks and greys of a blasted landscape are sad or hopeful, but I think that’s the way things are supposed to be — always with that touch of poignance, always with that mix of bitter and sweet, always with that knowledge of death and loss leavened by the hope of what is to come.

And that, of course, is why I write about the broken and hopeless.  Why I write about those with nothing to lose…because they have everything to gain.  Because they can be one of those little bits of green…

Who Do You Write For?

I was out hiking the other day, and I started thinking about audiences.  About the “how” and “who” that every writer is supposed to keep, at the very least, in the back of his or her mind as the words pour onto the page.

Hey, these are the kind of things I think about when hiking in the middle of a blizzard.  Wait…what…you’re surprised by that?  Shit, I write entire scenes in my mind as I hike!  Now, whether I manage to retain them or not is another question entirely…hence Rule #1: you write it, right away — you always write it.

Ahem.

So, audiences…

I suspect I’m not alone in my instinct to “just write”.  Just write the words…just write the characters…just write the emotions and thoughts and needs, and let the rest of the bullshit take care of itself.

Look, I’ve mentioned before the questions that irk the hell out of me — well, one of the biggest of those is, “Who are you writing for?”

I’m writing for me.  There ain’t no other answer in my little corner of the writer-ish universe.  In the words of my current protagonist, I write “for me, and for my ghosts.”

Why the hell should I worry about who?  Why the hell can’t I just write the damned story that lives in my head, and let the chips fall where they may?F35DD251-9923-4993-84FD-B837448F60E9

*sigh* Apparently, even writers have to adult sometimes…

Okay, so when I get over my artistic snit, even I have to admit that your audience matters.  A story written for my high school senior niece would, of necessity, be pretty damned different from one written for my brother…and different yet again as one written for my parents.

Your audience matters.  It matters to the tone, it matters to the plot, and it sure as hell matters to the characters, and how you portray them.

Honestly, I don’t think anyone who has read this blog for more than a couple of posts will be surprised by the fact that I’m nothing more than a big, arrested adolescent.  I’m a twelve-year-old with a car and a job, as a friend once told me.  And, believe me, I like it that way.  I also write that way…err, maybe not as a twelve-year-old*, but most definitely as an arrested adolescent.

*There is far too much abuse of booze and drugs in my stories for that, not to mention far, FAR too many uses of various versions of the word “fuck”…

I didn’t set out to write in the YA space, by the way.  Hell, I didn’t want to write in the YA space.  I just wanted to write stories about the lost and broken, about those ground under the wheels of progress and success.  I just wanted to write stories about the darker realities of life, and about the underside of the future that I see coming.  That those stories all center on the young, on those we would normally call “innocents”, is more an outgrowth of my own life and history than it is a coherent choice.

The problem is that as of now I’m stuck in that space, at least from the point of view of the publishing industry.  That means I have to keep in mind the norms of YA, and the ever-changing unwritten rules of YA.

Shit, I write about drug addicts and prostitutes.  I write about hopelessness and depression.  I write about suicide and murder and nihilism.  I write, when you get right down to it, about the death and (hopeful) rebirth of hope.

Err…

Umm…

“Do your characters have to curse so much?” one editor asked me.

“The story is great, but can you get rid of the drugs and sex?” asked another.

Yes, the fucking well do.

No, I fucking well can’t.

*sigh*

So much for adulting as a writer.

I will prostitute the hell out of my soul for success in the writing game.  I will sell pieces of my anatomy, and of my family’s — little does my brother know, but his left testicle has already been traded to a publisher for a deal on a couple of articles! — but I won’t sell my story’s soul.

Well…shit.

When I set out to write this post, I wanted to talk about how we writers have to keep in mind our audience.  How we have to be like salesman in that we have to always tailor what we say to our audience.  Then my own pride — my own soul — proceeded to undercut the shit out of that argument.

Maybe that’s why I’m an EX-sales-monkey.  It certainly is why all my writing deals seem to be lacking the number of zeros that would truly make me financially secure…

But…well…shit…

My brain hurts thinking about this crap.

Shit, I’m a writer.  I just want to write stories.  I want to write the stories I want, the stories that live in my head.  However many — or few — folks out there who actually want to buy those stories is, well, secondary at best.*

*Sorry, Dad, but I’m just never gonna bring those old business and sales skills to my writing life…

Okay, I can hear the demands in my head — the following group of pictures were all taken in that famous blizzard-driven, winter praradise of JUNE:

 

I Don’t Know

Really?  Did you think I wouldn’t do a special post with June 6th right around the corner?  C’mon…

I’m a fairly brave individual…or so I’ve heard.  I’m brave, they say, because there ain’t a whole lot in this world of which I’m well and truly afraid.  There ain’t a whole lot that gets much reaction from me beyond some tension and a shrug of my shoulders.  But…

But, there’s always a but…

But, I’ve never had anyone want to kill me.  Oh, I’ve had people want to kick my ass — had a lot of them try, too.  I’ve had bears contemplate just how I’d taste garnished with some berries and a nice drink of fresh spring water.  I’ve even had a wolf pack stalk me for a couple of miles…

But I’ve never had anyone really try to do me in, however.  Never had anyone whose own life depended on ending mine.

I’ve never waded ashore with the freight-train sound of shells ripping overhead.  I’ve never heard the snap of a bullet just feet away.  I’ve never felt the ground shake from explosions, never had my eardrums blown out from the concussions.  I’ve never had my life lie in the hands of compatriots on either side of me.

I’ve never seen the blood flow from a fresh chest wound.  I’ve never heard the screams and moans of the wounded and dying.

When you get right down it, I’ve never felt the reality of true, undeniable, unstoppable fear.  

I can’t tell you — just as I can’t tell myself — if I would have been a hero or a coward on D-Day, because I just don’t know.  I don’t know, and I never will.

Look, I’ve mentioned before that Naval History is one of my great passions.  I’ve mentioned also that that topic, along with video games, is how I got started writing professionally.  I may be an expert in Naval History, but I’m an expert who has never lived it.

I don’t know, and I can’t know…not truly.

Oh, I’ve done oral history interviews with Marines who waded ashore at some of the most godforsaken places in the world, just as I’ve done interviews with sailors who lived through some of the worst battles in history.  I’ve talked to, and learned from, men who swam away from an exploding ship, only to spend days more in the water…only to watch their buddies, their fellow survivors, get pulled under one by one by the circling sharks.

I’ve listened to all that, just as I’ve written about all that.  I’m considered an expert on all that…

…and I don’t know.

I don’t know, and I can’t know.  I don’t know it because I never lived it.  It is all, when you get right down it, just words and images to me.  Just emotion and memory learned second- and third-hand.

“I didn’t do a damned thing.  I just worked in the mailroom.  Now my buddy John, he was the real hero…” so said a former sailor, a man in his late 80’s.  A man who fought in, and survived, the most surprising and impressive victory in the long history of the US Navy.  A man who worked in the mailroom on the Sammy B Roberts…a man whose worst day involves more courage and accomplishment than the entire sum of my life…

It’s always someone else, to those Marines and sailors I’ve talked to.  It’s always that buddy, the one who brings a wordless tear to their eyes.  It’s always those who are lost, but are never forgotten.

That man died not long after I spent a couple of hours with him.  He died without me ever expressing my gratitude…or my awe.

Just as those who truly remember June 6th, 1944 are dying.  Just as those who heard the ripping of bullets, and the freight-train rumble of shells.  Those who felt the fear, and still waded ashore.  Those who lost friends and brothers, and still waded ashore.  Those who know.

We’ve all heard Eisenhower’s plan, just as we’ve all heard the codenames: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.  We’ve heard those things, but they are just mnemonics…talismans that no longer do a good job of invoking the reality that truly matters:

4,414 Allied soldiers died on June 6th, 1944.  Most were from the US, UK, and Canada, but losses came also from Poland, Australia, New Zealand, and the Netherlands.

Almost 9,000 soldiers in German uniform died that day, as well.

7B620855-2577-4D9F-8C52-79AB7156719CI’ve never heard the drums of war, and I don’t know.  I don’t know, but I know enough to pay my heartfelt respects to those who do…to those who were there.

Other Duties As Assigned

Let’s get one thing straight, my hands were made for hockey, not for fiddling with tiny pieces of plastic.

I mean, honestly, my career as a brain surgeon ended sometime around the first fistfight, then things just went downhill from there.

So why, I have to ask, was it me who started to put together the tiniest little freaking Legos I’ve ever seen?!  Okay, a dozen pieces can be kinda fun…but 720?  Not 72…SEVEN HUNDRED AND TWENTY!B6AFBA8B-7AC2-47BF-8AF3-942757D113C8

Just look at this picture of two of the pieces in my hand…I mean, sheesh.  Mission Impossible, here I come…

…umm, does anyone know if you can you get carpal tunnel from freaking Legos?

…an hour of this and I suddenly feel the need to get on the ice and check something…

3C8982DE-CF80-4ECA-80A1-2ADB557372A4I had a couple of ten-year-olds stop by when I was working on this “project”, by the way.  They helped…a lot.  That, of course, just made me feel worse — if you’re only as old as you feel, then right about now I’m pretty much 630.

*sigh*

I’d love to sit here and turn my little project into some blog post that is both profound and enlightening, but, well…7D6D7FF9-57EF-47DC-8CB8-040C83992645

At this particular moment, I’ve switched from Legos to this:

Sunny and 60s…writing on my iPad…drinking a good beer…and Yellowstone is — quite literally — just feet away…

Maybe being a grumpy, slacker of a writer ain’t such a bad thing after all.

img_0011Now where the hell did I put today’s chapter notes…?!