Yep, I’m Late…Again

Normally I get the week’s blog posts written early. I like to have two or three ready to go so, when the time comes to actually get something up, I don’t have to worry about it.

This ain’t one of those days.

I had all weekend to write. I had all weekend to focus and concentrate. I also had all weekend for Halloween events.

Well, for Halloween events and hangovers. There may even have been some drunk texting…and all I’ll say about that is that, for the next zombie crawl & party, I’m locking my damned phone in the car.

Ahem.

‘Nuff said.

People who know I write love to ask, “What are you working on now?”

I hate that question.

I hate that question because the answer is always either insufficient, or confusing. Or both.

Responding with “Same book” just results in people looking confused and asking why it isn’t done yet. But God help me if I mention that I’m also exploring an idea for a completely different story.

Then the questions start: “What’s the plot?” “Who is the main character? The antagonist?” “What’s it all about?”

I don’t know, yet: THAT’S WHY I’M EXPLORING, DAMMIT!

And Silence isn’t done yet because, well, I’m having a hell of a time getting my focus back. I’m at the point in the plot where things are, err, “muddled”. I need to go back and clarify a number of points, as well as add a handful of scenes to play up a specific arc and theme I want to address.

Until I get all of that thought through and finished, I’m stuck.

It is times like this, of course, that I meet or hear about those writers out there who finish two or three books a year. Yeah, because hearing about that really helps! Look, I’m a one-story-a-year guy, and that ain’t gonna change…no matter how guilty and insufficient those “speed-writer” types make me feel.

Really…am I the only who feels that way? And when the hell did writing turn to the “faster is better” dynamic, anyway? Isn’t, uhh, ”better is better” the way to go?

Crap, this is why I need to bury myself and just go back to writing…thinking too much makes my head hurt.

I See Your Pokémon, And Raise You A D&D Character

Okay, dammit…I give in.

After running off on an uncontrolled Tolkien-tangent last Friday, I decided that I’ve talked about my epic nerdism often enough, maybe it’s time to illustrate.

So, well, a nerd-list. My nerd-list, anyway – a few of the things that I usually keep behind closed doors (no, not those things, dammit!):

What am I reading right now? An Echo of Things to Come – Book 2 of the Licanius trilogy by James Islington. A new fantasy writer out there, I’m impressed by his first effort. Plus, he describes Feist and Jordan as his inspirations…all he has to do is add Zelazny and Eddings and he spans the treasured fantasy reading of my own formative years.

Bonus reading: From The Dreadnought to Scapa Flow by Arthur Marder. Volume III, if you’re wondering. Remember: I did warn you that I was a naval history addict.

Not so bad, so far…but we’re just starting down the dark path…

Manga: yes, I read manga. No, I’m not an otaku…I think. Anyway, I’m currently reading No.6 by Hinoki Kino (an adaption of the Japanese “light novel” series of the same name by Atsuko Asano). I love the themes, and the tone…and, yes, Shion and Rat have had their influence on dockside. As a note, my Japanese has degraded enough that I have to read manga in English nowadays (I still watch anime in Japanese, however).

Speaking of which…anime: I just finished watching Noragami (waiting to read the manga, though, until I finish No.6). I’m currently trying to decide whether I want to start the huge Fullmetal Alchemist saga, or go into D.Gray Man first. Decisions, decisions…

Video games: *sigh* oh, dear…video games. Nowhere does my nerdism have more power than in games. I love games…of all stripes. My first love are RPGs, but strategy and simulations have a place in my heart, too. Currently, I’m splitting my time between Dragons’ Dogma: Dark Arisen and the remastered version of one of my favorite series, ever: Kingdom Hearts. Oh, my, do I love me some Kingdom Hearts. No, really – I love that series, but even I could never really understand the damned convoluted (insane?) storyline until I finally read all of the manga.

Nope, not a nerd at all.

And, oh yeah, my mega-bonus-nerdism of the day: the D&D character I was playing up in Yellowstone. A high-elf bard. A drunken high-elf bard. A drunken high-elf bard who hit on everything (and anything) that moved. The only magic item he had that mattered was a special cup that instantly sobered him up so he could just start drinking again…

Another (related) bonus: The Adventure Zone. You absolutely cannot go wrong with a podcast involving three adult brothers playing D&D with their father! It is one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever listened to. Do yourself a favor, and go check it out on iTunes (or whatever podcast app/source you happen to use)…no, really, go check it out.

Alright, so there really is a point to this post: being a nerd is okay. I spent the better part of my life trying to hide the kind of stuff that I loved, and that was a serious mistake*. If they’re nerds, let your kids – and your friends – be who they are. Let ’em revel in it…they’ll be happier, in the end, and so will you.

*You know what finally broke me out of the shadows? Playing an MMORPG with a small group of current and former NHL players. Hockey is (err, sadly, WAS) my life, and the funny incongruity behind going all uber-nerd with a group of world-class athletes cracked me up…and set my inner nerd free.

 

Wait…Who Said You Can’t Go Home Again?

I’m not sure if being away felt immensely long, or passed in the blink of an eye, but if ‘my’ brewery is anything to go by, it was more blink-y than immense.

A couple of times I’ve been in since I returned. How much writing have I done?

Err…

Well…

I know all the regulars, you see…

Okay, okay: none. Not a bit.

I’ll tell you what, however: the week-long welcome home has been fantastic. It is easy to get so focused on what I gained up in Yellowstone that I forget what I left behind. The camaraderie and brotherhood is different, but no less strong.

As much as I loved the Taiwanese kids up there, as hopeful and happy as they were, do I love the Wal-Mart contingent down here…as bitter and cynical as they are.

Add in John and his dogs the size of horses…and Rob and his inability to admit just how big a nerd he is…Aaron’s vampire-like inability to tolerate sunlight…Don’s constant shit-eating grin now that he’s found real love…Travis’ beer-centric nerdism that still makes me jealous…

It was like I’d never left. Surely, it couldn’t have been almost six months since I’d been here..could it?

Yes, it was…and don’t call me Shirley.

Couldn’t stop myself – sorry about that.

Bad jokes in reference to old(ish) movies? Yep, I’ve come home alright.

I love everything I lived up in Yellowstone, from the park to the people to the insanity of the whole thing. I loved it, in fact, enough to commit to returning next year…but there is a very good reason why this place is still home.

The traffic sucks…the prices suck…the mobs of people suck…but it’s home nonetheless.

By the way, you’ll never really know you’re home until you have a 135-pound Great Dane get so excited to see you, she turns again into a tiny puppy. And, yes, I do indeed have the bruises to prove it…

A Reminder That We’re All Broken

Okay, so I’ve mentioned before just how much I love music. Well, more than that, just how much music affects and informs my writing. Yes, there is a soundtrack in my head to the scenes I write. And, yes, I need music in order to write…especially, music that fits the mood and tone of what I’m writing.

I’m not going to go back and link to the posts where I’ve talked before about that – but it is something I’ve talked about before. And will talk about again, I might add.

But…sometimes the songs take on more power. Sometimes they connect, far deeper than they should. Sometimes they speak to me as much as they do my characters and my story.

An example of that: “C’mon Kid” by Dave Hause. This is not really a song that applies directly to Connor & Oz, in either of the two books. No, rather, it is a song that helps to define my own feelings toward the boys…the feelings and thoughts (from other parts of my life) that gave “life” to these particular ghosts.

Honestly, there ain’t many songs that break that 4th wall, and “cross the streams”.

But another one came up…and, hooh boy, is it a doozy.

It cuts to the core of the stories I am writing, and – more importantly – why I am writing them.

I’ve talked before about the ghosts of stories & characters in the back of my head. I’ve also talked of my own experience with death, and with suicide…and that Oz is, for me, the “face” of that particular demon.

I’ve written before about some of the deaths in my life (one here and the other here), but two have special power: two friends I lost to suicide….two seventeen year old boys who had everything ahead of them.

Two boys who lost their way, and their hope…and, in the end, everything else.

And so did those of us left behind.

I will not tell their stories here – they are not my stories to tell. But I feel those stories, still. And the loss. You didn’t know Mike or Trevor…and you never will. And that is the worst of it all.

Hindsight, to those who have lived through suicide, is the biggest bitch in the universe. All the things you should have said…all the things you could have done.

What if someone – anyone – had said the right thing at the right time?

Why the fuck didn’t I?

The problems were there to see…and the inevitable result if those problems were not addressed. And that, my friends, is what survivor’s guilt is all about: why the hell couldn’t I save them?

I do my best to give time and money to charity, and to various causes.  But there is one that really matters to me: suicide prevention.

Both of these boys, separated by twenty years as they were, shared the same problems…and the same despair. I don’t go hat-in-hand often, but if you want to understand, and to help, go spend some time with the “You Can Play” and “It Gets Better” projects.

Those weren’t around to help those I lost, but they very well could be that one right voice at the right time for someone else…

 

The song that generated this post?  “Missing You” by All Time Low.

An excerpt for you:

I heard that you’ve been
Self-medicating in the quiet of your room
Your sweet suburban tomb
And if you need a friend
I’ll help you stitch up your wounds

I heard that you’ve been
Having some trouble finding your place in the world
I know how much that hurts
But if you need a friend
Then please just say the word

You’ve come this far
You’re all cleaned up
You’ve made a mess again
There’s no more trying time
To sort yourself out

Hold on tight
This ride is a wild one
Make no mistake
The day will come when you can’t cover up what you’ve done
Now don’t lose your fight, kid
It only takes a little push to pull on through
With so much left to do
You’ll be missing out
And we’ll be missing you

The Post That Once Had A Point, But Lost It

Well, that didn’t take long.

Welcome back, introverted cynicism. I’d try to throw you out, but…well…you’re the only girl at the dance right now. And you did put out the last time we dated…

I swear to all that is holy, Connor threw a party when I was writing last night. “Finally!” he yelled, then proceeded to get drunk and tell me off for basically ignoring him for the last six months.

Ahem.

The writing felt good, though. It felt very good.

At any rate, that wasn’t what I planned to talk about in this post. That whole intro was, in fact, an overly-caffeinated squirrel moment.IMG_0155

Nope, what I wanted to talk about was perception, and point of view. Not our characters’ POV; there are a million posts and articles out there on that. No, what I wanted to bring up was our own internal thoughts as writers.

The genesis for thinking about this was, strangely enough, immortal characters. Specifically, what an character means to us as writers, and what they (often) say about us. And, yes, I realize just how goddamned arrogant it is for me – of all people, ME! – to presume to speak for anyone else…but what the fuck, just go with me on this one.

Let me sketch the scene a bit: a friend was telling me about a story of hers with a character who cannot die. Now, this friend is, well, there’s only one way to put it: she’s young. No big deal – she’ll grow out of it (while, of course, I’m busily trying to regress back into that particular “sin”). Now, the heart of the discussion came about because, at the same time, I have a story floating in the back of my mind about fallen gods, and the painful weight of eternity…

That got me to thinking. Thinking about what those characters meant…and how, in my little world of character uber alles, those characters define the scope and intent of the story.

To my friend, immortality was an expression of strength, a tool to be used and valued. To her – and her character – the world was a place on which to work her will. More importantly, those people/friends/characters ‘met’ along the way were pawns & tools with which her character could play.

To me – and my own main character – it was something very different. The years, and the world, were a weight to be born. More importantly, those met along the way were memories and loss. The isolation of such a character – whether wistful nostalgia or bitter regret – cannot help but define a completely different story.

And, yes, this is how I come up with story ideas: not with intricate plot threads or impressive climaxes, but with characters…and the what/why/how that comes with fleshing them out.

*shrug*

Hey, it (sorta) works for me. Your mileage may vary.

Tolkien actually touched on the price of immortality in some of his background material: the weight of millennia wore on Galadriel more than the movies, or the main books themselves, were ever really capable of showing. That weight – the fading that was a major subtext to the elves – along with her original backstory from The Silmarillion of overwhelming pride and her fall, make her a far, far more interesting (and semi-tragic) character to me than almost any other from those stories*.

*Those that most interest me may surprise you: Luthien, who gave up glory and strength for love (and, yes, she was a complete foreshadowing of Arwen)…Saruman, who fell because he believed you could use the tools of evil without becoming corrupted yourself…but most of all, Finrod – Galadriel’s older brother, and a bad-ass in his own right: he gave up everything (including his life) to keep a promise…and, yep, all embody the themes of LotR that meant so much to Tolkien. Crap, maybe some day I’ll do an entire post – or a week – on Tolkien’s stuff. Writers for the win!

Err…back to immortality, and the subtexts and themes that drive characters like that. Nearing 700 words on this post, already, so a point (and a conclusion…yay!) may be in order:

The immortal, uber-powerful character of our youth – of comic books and movies – is, well, boring. What satisfaction can there be in writing – let alone reading – about someone for whom the inability of time and death to touch them is a triumph? No, for that character to truly be interesting (to me), immortality has to be a burden. For me, time and death have to be lovers always out of reach, always running away, not enemies long defeated.

Or, maybe I think about this shit too much…

The Definition Of Insanity

Way back when – no, really, waaaay back when – I mentioned that I don’t write the scenes that come together to make my stories in anything resembling the order in which they appear. I have had, for a long time now, the habit of writing things whenever the mood strikes: a love scene here, a fight there…

You get the idea.

Well, for Silence, I decided to try something different. I decided to go in order.

Umm…what the hell was I thinking?

I do, of course, realize that my major problem with actually, you know, getting shit done was because I’ve been far too distracted by Yellowstone itself for the last six months, but there definitely has been more to the problem. Trying to force myself into writing scenes that I just didn’t feel at the time was one of my stupider decisions*.

*And, trust me, if there’s anyone on this world who knows stupid decisions, it’s me!

Believe it or not, I managed to figure out that problem about two months ago. But…well…I’m as stubborn as I am crazy: I tried to keep at it, anyway.

Ahem.

Thankfully, my return to ‘reality’, and to my regular writing locations, gives me the perfect excuse to make some long-needed changes.

No more going in order: it ain’t working, and I don’t need to prove Einstein even more right. Nope, back to cherry-picking the scenes I feel like writing. The set-up for that ain’t actually all that easy – I have to pay a lot more attention to the prep material I create for each scene – but it is more than worth the extra effort.

Shit, I can feel a weight lifting already. Just wait until I really sit my butt down in my taproom for a full afternoon of writing! I am literally – embarrassingly – all-but giddy with excitement.

Giddy.

Me.

The bitter, cynical asshole.

Crap, I can hear Connor and Oz laughing at me even as I type this.

Shut up, you two! You did this to me!

Umm…

Nope, not nuts at all.

Flash Fiction: Click

I don’t do these pieces/contests often…mainly because I am very much a long-form writer.  From time to time, however, I love the challenge of doing something so very different. To restrict myself so tightly is hard, and like watching what I eat, I have to learn to “enjoy” the things so very hard for me.

This is another piece I did for a flash-fiction contest.  Like the last piece I posted, this was a very tightly limited contest: one hundred words to tell a story.  There were no other parameters…I just happened to be in, well, a particularly dark mood at the time:

The rain poured down, plastered hair to head.

It wasn’t enough. Not enough to wash away the pain; not enough to change a life.

The cold iron pressed, made its mark.

A breath…two…it was time.

“I almost didn’t find you,” she said, “I’m sorry I’m late.”

He did look up, then. Only one thing did he see: those eyes. The eyes that encompassed his life.

“You’re not late,” he breathed. The rain was unnoticed, now.

A hand on his head. Fingers through his hair, trailing the warmth and strength so long missed.

He closed his eyes.

Click.

That Peaceful Place

I really need to tell my brain to stop working. No, honestly – I just spent three hours working through the basics of a story that has built in the back of my mind over the past couple of days.

*sigh*

I have another book-and-a-half to write in Connor’s story, I can’t even begin to consider something new right now.

It is a good idea, though…

No! Bad, writer! Bad, bad writer! Focus!

The good news is that I am…well…there’s no other way to put it: I’m home. Back to that place where I’ve done 90% of my writing over the past couple of years. Back to the place that so helped me to learn to let go of my inhibitions and just write.IMG_0879

Hey, you can go write in a quiet office…and you others can go write in libraries… Me? I need me a nice taproom.

I have a lot of stuff to write today, so for the rest of today’s post a (very) brief snippet will have to suffice.

One note: this is a very early and incomplete version of a significantly larger piece…but I like this little bit for a lot of reasons. I wrote it – by hand – while sitting in the woods in my own snowstorm. I had a lot more to say at the time, but the last line – and the personal memories & sorrow it evoked – ended this particular writing session:

Nothing. Not a sound. Not the trees, not the few small animals…not a fucking thing. Connor had never heard anything like it.

He had, however, dreamed of it.

The snow fell in fat, soft lumps, piled unheeded on head and body. The thin, wide-set trees offered little protection from the weather. They were companions and witnesses, not protection. The cold and wet meant nothing, however. They couldn’t penetrate the distraction, nor the shock. Couldn’t, at the root of it all, penetrate the silence…and the peace.

In Connor’s early days on Redux, the trees had been the worst of the many oddities the planet had thrown at him; worse, even, than the alien concept of weather. They had been, to the eyes of one raised in the claustrophobic misery of dockside, the most unnatural things in the universe. Beneath all the bravado and cynicism, they had reminded him far too much of just how much he didn’t know, didn’t understand.

They meant something very different now.

In that snow, in that silence, he began finally to understand. He was surrounded, now, by life…by more life than ever he had imagined in those years of squalor and pain and death. Surrounded by the silence, and the peace, that he had never expected to find.

I told you it was there, Spog. I knew you would find it.

That old rule, that first lesson from Oz, no longer ruled his life. Solitary, under those trees, Connor still wasn’t alone.

I’m sorry, bozu, he thought, the pain of Oz’s suicide fading to sad regret under the spell of that moment. I wish you could be here for this…for this peaceful place we always wanted.

I am here, Connor.

Bitter & Cynical For The Win!

I’m home.

Yay…?

Getting into a real city again was weird. For all that Yellowstone’s surrounding towns have to offer, not even the most charitable could call Cody or Bozeman “cities”. That is, of course, a big part of why I like them.

Hell, half the reason I went to Yellowstone in the first place was to run away from the crowding and craziness that are starting to take over the area I currently call home. The area to which I just returned.

I almost didn’t, by the way.  Didn’t return, that is. A winter in the vast, sprawling metropolis of West Yellowstone wasn’t sounding too bad to me at the end, there. But…

But family comes first, and right now family has to take priority over self-indulgence and my introverted desire to continue running away.

The trip home*, however, did have one very big saving grace: time and quiet to take stock of the writing I did in Yellowstone.

*Thanks, airport shuttle, for having ZERO heat in twenty-degree weather!

Umm…

Ahh…

That stock-taking kinda sucked.

The plan was to write something on the order of 80,000 words while I was living in the park.

“Hey,” I thought, “there’s nothing around…I can write my ass off.”

Yes, I was that big of an idiot.  80,000 my ass – I wrote 20,000. That’s it. Shit, I should be writing 20,000 in a couple of weeks, not over the course of five months!

And you know why I got even that much done? Nagging guilt and shame had their roles, of course, but also the faith and support of my friends.  Especially of those that read my rough draft stuff and tried to keep me focused.

Hell, I don’t think I can ever really describe just how much I appreciated one friend’s…well, there’s no other way to describe it: her outright bullying.

“How much did you write, today? Nothing? Go…shoo! Go write! Now!”

Now, I’m a pretty big guy, and Billy small enough to stuff into my pocket, but I just hung my head and went to write. And valued the friendship as I went.

The time up there did, however, change the tenor of the story a little bit. That’s fine for the last third of Silence – it was intended to return a sense of hope, and of meaning, to Connor’s life – but for the first bit?

Err…

It sounds weird, but I have to recover that bitter cynicism that so colored everything – both for me, and for him – before I left. One glance at the traffic as we drove home, and I decided that rediscovery probably wouldn’t be as hard as I’d first thought.

What A Crew Of Blessed Souls*

*Note – from Dave Haus’ “Meet Me At The Lanes”

I don’t leave for a couple of days, but this is probably the last post I’ll have time to put together before then. I figure Monday – while I actually am leaving to travel home – is probably a good time to put up another snippet…

At any rate, I decided it was time to sum up some things from the past 5+ months. Now, I don’t really have to say that I really did love it up here. That has, I think, come through in past posts, both written and photographic.

All I can really add on that score is a simple statement that Yellowstone was worth every minute, and every drop of the frustration that cropped up from time to time. Even if you never venture off the trail, even if you never try to follow me into places that haven’t seen a human in decades (if ever), it is well worth it.

No, what I lay awake thinking about last night was the people who are about to scatter to the wind. The people that I never would have met under any other circumstance. With only one exception, the group that remains to close the store is the same group that opened the place so long ago.

We didn’t know each other back in that first week of May. Hell, we had not even the slightest idea about each other. Yet, as different as we all are, we’ve become close…we’ve become real, lasting friends.

Those of us who write, like to think about how to break our protagonist’s stasis, how to shake him or her out of comfortable normalcy and throw them into the situations in which they can (and hopefully will) grow.

Well, five months up here broke my stasis.

I thought last night about what would have happened if I had not come up and, instead, any of these remaining twenty-ish people had walked into the brewery.

Nothing.

Nothing at all.

If we interacted at all, it would have been solely on the most surface and shallow of levels. And that would have been very, very sad. I would have missed that which has caused me – like any good protagonist – to grow and change.  And, worst of all, I wouldn’t have known what I was missing.

Crap, I’ll reiterate: I generally don’t do nostalgia. Err…well…oh hell, let’s just go with it, anyway.

Now, like any human, I’ve grown closer to some than to others, but all are people I like, and people I am the better for having met.

From Bridget yelling at me for change, to Ian failing to work through biblical hangovers…

From Mark’s pro-Trump sermons, to Onni’s anti-Trump jokes…

From Chandler’s retro-goth hair and nails, to Jess’s Shy Guy tattoo…

Twenty-plus people up here, all with their own foibles and tics…all with their own stories, and their own worth. A few, though…a few are the ones that really stick with you:

Steve R and Sarah N – for making me laugh…a lot. And people wonder why we all spent so much damned time in the office.

Sara P and Jarrod – for the friendship, and the pending marriage. There’s no way I’m not coming out to Mass. to visit.

Kody – for making me laugh…for skipping right past the few lines even I wouldn’t cross…and for just being that comfortable, confident kid you are.

Billy – for late nights of anime and podcasts and D&D…for reminding me I’m fucking old, and (most importantly) becoming one of my closest friends, anyway.

So many I’ve met, that I’ve come to know, but those few…those few really stick with you.

Thank you, all.