Post Three Million and One

I’ve started and stopped a post three million times in the last few days.  Every time I get some words down, it turns into a post that I’m “forcing,” and that just sucks.

For those who don’t know, forcing = bad writing.  No matter what you’re working on, if you are forcing the words, you’re starting off on the wrong side of the bell curve…and that climb to reach even “average” is pretty damned steep.

So I’m forcing the content, and the words…oh, and my keyboard is starting to go bad…

Welcome to writer-hell.

*sigh*

I could, I suppose, just do a post on politics…

Or a list post…

Or I could remove my own spleen with a dull spoon, for that matter…

I just wrote five hundred words for a freaking football site, goddamnit!  No problem with that post, by the way, even though my interest in — and passion for — football is nowhere near my passion for writing.  But here?  Here I’ve written 175ish words about…not writing.

Is it really all that bad if I start in on the scotch at 7:30 in the morning?!*

*A favorite movie scene of mine, by the way, comes from “Mr Mom”:  Michael Keaton is trying to act all tough and ‘manly’ when his wife’s new boss comes to pick her up.  “Want a beer?” Keaton asks.  “It’s nine o’clock in the morning!” comes the reply.  “Scotch?” Keaton responds.  That scene still cracks me up.

Ahem.  Never mind.

Oh, I did have a couple folks ask me if I’ve made up my mind about which fantasy series to write.

Err…well…no.  Not really.

One of the things I do when I’m thinking through and trying to prep a story is write a few random scenes — unplanned stream-of-consciousness scenes, I should add — from different POVs.  Doing that lets me explore my characters to see if there is any there there.  It also lets me explore different voices and narration options.

I doubt it needs to be stated, but I’ll put this little lesson out there anyway: your story’s narrative voice and tone are freaking vital to the story itself!  You absolutely cannot just “wing it” with that stuff.  You have to explore and test and find the right fit, or your story will fall apart no matter how good the characters and plot.

The thing with the two series I’m looking at is that I don’t yet have that clear voice and tone.  I have the characters for both (I think!).  I have the basis for building plots for both of them, as well.  What I don’t have is exactly how I tell those stories…

Hence my exploration and writing of random “test” scenes.

I suppose I should offer an example.  I’ve put it up here before, but below is one of the “test” scenes I wrote for Somewhere Peaceful to explore some of the dynamics for my protagonist (specifically his relationship with his father, and the incident that changed his life).  Keep in mind, the bit below is exactly what I described: random, unplanned, unedited, stream-of-consciousness writing…it also (somewhat accidentally) defined the tone I used for the stories, albeit from a different character’s POV.

Oh…and this scene feels kinda right to post again given everything that has happened in the US in the last 6-8 months…

Riot Memories: Connor’s Dad

The biggest crime of it all is that I’m not there to tell you this myself.  I will never forgive myself for that.  You and I have had our problems, but in spite of disagreements and arguments, in spite of my failures and the ruin I’ve made of your life, you’re still the only good thing I’ve managed in this miserable universe.

I went to the Market that day just looking for a few drinks.  I was off work, and our visit the day before was eating at me.  My last words to you were pissed off, and through all eternity I can never make up for that.

I should have known something was wrong.  The atmosphere was too tense, the voices too quiet and the tempers too short, for it to be a normal day.  A couple of beers over lunch was enough time to see that atmosphere grow worse and worse.

Finally, I could hear a commotion at the hatch to the transit dock.  Not really shouting, but voices raised in question and answer.  Anger and stress everywhere.

I should have left.

Instead I went to see what was happening.  That decision changed everything.  That decision ruined your life more than everything else I fucked up, and that’s saying something.

You know the Market, that area around the door is pretty tight.  It might be just the stairs coming down from the entrance, and a bunch of stalls and tables, but it is packed.  Nothing really substantial, but more then solid-enough for a semi-converted cargo hold.

Johnny had told me the takies were coming.  He said he’d heard about about some kind of raid.  I guess the Council assholes decided it was time for another crackdown.  Can’t leave Dockside alone…no, sir, we can’t have the poor bastards just getting on with life and business.  Not when there’s money to be made from taxes and fines.

No one knew what the fuck to expect.  Everyone I asked figured it would be a few Stationside cops and a Council agent or two.  Roust the stalls a bit.  Confiscate some shit.  Harass people for not having implants.  The same shit they pull every few years.

An assault?  Nope, not a fucking soul saw that coming.

The guy next to me had a buddy workin’ the slime farm.  He got a flash over his screen that the universe was goin’ ape-shit.  Then the message just stopped.  The last words were something about cops and guns.  Dude musta been in a hurry ’cause his message made no fucking sense at all.

Everyone knows the Council would never put a gun anywhere near Dockside; too much chance of shit spiraling out of control.  No one wants blood on their hands, not when us poor-ass scumbags are nice and isolated a thousand clicks from their perfect little Station.

I guess shit changes.

They musta hit the Ops center first because they definitely had control of all the major systems.  The hatch just popped.  No warning, none of the usual shenanigans, it just popped open to let in a flood of assholes in black.

They weren’t storming in with guns pointed, which I guess is a miracle, but they were still ready for trouble.  They were pretty fucking free with their clubs, and they used their riot shields like battering rams.  I was in the back of the crowd so I didn’t get hit, but fuck me if I didn’t get half-trampled by people trying to turn and run.

I was thinking about getting the hell back to our pod when the shit really started.  I know the hold is fifty feet high, and sound echoes like mad in there, but damn if that wasn’t the loudest few minutes of my life.  Insults and threats were everywhere, but mostly I remember the screaming…the fucking screaming was the worst.  I almost pissed myself.  It was definitely time to leave.

Trouble was, more and more people kept pushing in.  Everyone wanted a piece of the goons who were trying to beat their way in.  Those goons all musta had the same bullshit fantasy about being bad-ass special-forces types because they came in wearing all-black fatigues and tried to look like some fantasy version of an assassin.  Fucking idiots.  Everyone wanted a piece of them.  I’m not small, but fuck if I could push back against all the bozos who wanted a go at the cops.

Then I heard a shot.

Well, I didn’t so much hear the shot as what came after: dead silence.

I haven’t heard silence since I left Mars.  You haven’t been on a planet since you were six, so you have no idea what it’s like.  To hear the Market go absolutely still and silent, even just for a second, was the oddest, worst thing I’ve ever heard.

Then all hell broke loose.

I thought it was bad before, but that was nothing next to what happened.

I’ve been in riots, and what we had going until then was a normal, garden-variety riot.  Some broken bones, a shit-ton of damage, and nothing more than funny stories and bad feelings.  That shot changed everything.  It went from riot to full-fucking battle real fast.

“Push back the takie cops” became “kill the takies” almost instantly.  It’s Dockside….I think the Stationside assholes forgot what that means.  They’re used to being the only ones with guns in their safe, quiet station.  Well, half the Market was armed…and all of it was panicked.  Shots came from everywhere, but you could barely hear them over all the screaming.

People were pushing and shoving, trampling each other to move around.  No one was going the same direction, no one knew what the fuck was happening.  All we knew was that it was time to get out.

The place was a nightmare.  All the stalls had been turned over and everyone was panicked as hell.  Everything as far back as Snug was a mass of chaos.  I don’t know if most folks were rioting or running, but no one was gettin’ anywhere in all that shit.

I’m not much for brains, you know that better than anyone, and I’m even less for bravery.  When I smelled the smoke, I gotta admit I joined the panic.  A fire.  A fucking fire.  In the Market.  That place is a death trap at the best of times, but in the middle of a fucking gunfight?  Anyone who didn’t get out was screwed.

I didn’t get out.

I looked back and saw the last of the cops back away through the hatch, then the fucking thing slid shut.  Even over the noise and chaos, you could hear the locks seal.  That left only the one way out, the door back into the res-holds.  The Market is only three hundred feet long, but it might as well been three hundred miles.  With everyone screaming and panicking, there was just no way out.

A minute later the lights snapped off.  I can barely make my way through that place at the best of times, but in pitch dark?  We were all screwed…then screwed times ten when the air-system shut down.

You don’t think about them very much, but the hum of the blowers and filters going is literally a part of life.  When everything shuts down, however, you can’t hear anything else.  Shots; screaming; shit crashing; none of it was loud enough to drown out the silence.

There was no air, and the only light came from a fire that was growing fast.

Yeah, we all know that’s a possibility.  We all know the only safe way to deal with a fire is to completely cut off the affected hold, but who the hell expects that to happen to them?

The smoke was the worst.  There was no circulation, so the air just hung there and let the smoke accumulate.  I must’ve been near the heart of the thing because it was only a few seconds before I couldn’t breathe.

Then some big bastard knocked me down and pushed over me as he ran for the door.  I tried to pick myself up, I really did, but I just couldn’t.   I was already half in the bag, and random assholes kept stepping on me.

I looked over and saw some girl who was in the same boat.  She had a baby with her.  I don’t how or why I noticed, but that kid looked exactly like you did the day your mother bugged out on us.

The last thing I saw was that kid’s blue eyes, and his hand reaching out to me for help.

Fuck, I can’t even die right.

The Things Of A Life

It sounds stupid, but I’m struggling with what to write.

Oh, not just here on the blog, but in general.

It’s not that I’ve lost my vision or focus. Rather it’s that I’ve lost…well…habit.  Look, like most writers, I’m a creature of habit. I need a place to go have coffee…and to write.  I need a taproom to go drink beer…and to write.

Okay, let’s be honest: most writers have a strong relationship with obsession, and with the compulsiveness that so often rides shotgun with that.  For me, that means I need to get into a rhythm in order to really write.

What I don’t need is…what I have right now.  What I have right now ain’t workin’.

Over lunch a friend and I talked about this.  Now, I didn’t phrase my side to be bitching about writing in general, I phrased it as bitching about coming up with posts for this blog…

Err, sorry for using you as a dodge.

Anyway, my friend threw a suggestion at me.  Now, when I first considered his thought — and even in the hours after — I dismissed his suggestions.  “Nope, no one wants to read that.  I’ve tried shit like that, and the numbers of reads and likes went through the floor,” I replied.

“Wait…how much do you get paid from your blog?”

“Uhhh…”

“Exactly.  Fuck the reads and likes, and any of the other zero dollar metrics you talk about.  Just write what you want.”

Ahem.

I’m struggling with what to write — especially since you couldn’t bribe, threaten or otherwise cajole me into writing another freaking word about Trump and where he is taking this country.  Nope.  So, instead…my friend’s idea…

“You’ve travelled the world, right?  You’ve pretty much done everything?”

Err…yeah.  I have.

“Write that, you fuckin’ moron.”

I thought about what that looks like.  Now, my experiences — the things I’ve seen and done — are freaking everywhere in the fiction I write.  I can’t be ME and not write about them…

—That night, at 2:00 am outside a convenience store in Arizona, when the hooker was on the pay phone while her two or three year old daughter clung to her leg…

—That roma woman who read my palm, then literally cursed me because I didn’t have any euros to give her…

—That time I almost got arrested because I’m an obsessive idiot…

—That time I got passed-out drunk on a Royal Navy destroyer…

—The thirty seconds I spent standing inside a gas chamber at Auschwitz…

—The time I watched a wolf pack spend twelve hours taking down a bison…

But none of that is what I should write about, I decided.  Nope.  Firstly, I’ve written about most of that on this blog before.  And secondly…none of that defines, well, me.

Oh, it shaped me…it meant a ton to me…but the heart and emotion of it?

Yeah, it is those experiences that I haven’t yet talked about that I need to use here.

This is going to be a series of posts, by the way.  I have to organize the damned thing somehow, and doing 2-3 posts makes the most sense to me.  So, here comes the first of those…

This first post is going to be the top memories my parents (and their generation) will hate.  Sorry, Mom and Dad.

Oh, wait…a rule!  Hit play on the song I have listed here.  Don’t worry about the video, just listen to the song as you read. It not only is one I absolutely love, it is what I am listening to as I write this):

5) Stevie Ray Vaughn in concert at Huntington Beach, CA — Sting and Phil Collins came on to play two songs with him.  I cried…it was that freaking magical.

4). Phish in concert at Loring Air Force Base — at the time, the base had been freshly closed.  Over the several days of the concert, it became the largest “city” in Maine.

3)  A nameless rave in Berlin — in some random warehouse set-up for an underground event, it marks the first time I ever tried ecstasy.  If you’ve read my story “A Night Like This”…well…yep, there you have the genesis…

2)  (Kinda) Breaking into St Peters Basilica — very literally, I ran over a priest while viewing the Sistine Chapel ceiling.  It turns out the priest was (a) American, and (b) newly working at the Vatican.  When I told him that I was lighting candles for my sister in every cathedral I came to, he let me into a side chapel in St freaking Peter’s freaking Basilica to light a candle.  I still miss you, Sally.

1)  (Really) Breaking into the Colosseum — staying in Rome for the first time in my life, I had toured everything,  Except the Colosseum.  That was closed because there was a concert that weekend.  Paul fucking McCartney had decided to make me wait to view the damned thing!  Nope. Along with a few others, I…uhh…toured the place “after hours”.  I was quite literally standing in the middle of that partial floor, trying to imagine what it felt like with everyone staring at you, when the flood lights kicked on and the cops started yelling.  I was faster, then.

The Perfect Evening

Well…I didn’t sink the boat.

I didn’t sink the boat and I got to spend a week on the water.   A week that was about three years too short…

As good — and as needed! — as it was, that wasn’t what I sat down to write about.

Nope.

I sat down to write a post about the death and destruction of our shared spaces.  About the lack of “commonality” that is one of the big things tearing at our society.

I sat down to write about that, but it is topic that is going to take a lot more thought and planning than I had done before I can really do a decent post on it.

But I still have the urge to write…still have the urge to put out something.

I’ve lived all over the US.  I’ve travelled all over the world.  I have — not to be an arrogant asshole — been places, and done things, that most people only dream about.  Aside from the images captured in my photography and my writing, I have the memories and experiences that are as real to me now as the hour I experienced them.*

*Yeah, yeah, it’s that “perfect” eidetic memory thing.  Welcome to my world.

I remember climbing a hill on an island off Croatia’s shore, only to stumble into a meadow with the most vibrant purple flowers I have ever seen…

I remember the oppressive weight of walking through a block of old-school Stalinist apartment blocks in Poland…

I remember standing in a gas chamber in Auschwitz…

I remember walking into Saint Peter’s Basilica for the first time and thinking, “Good God!”…

I remember the smells and sights of the souk in Marrakech, and of the spice market in Nice…

I remember the adrenaline — the chaotic mingling of fear and excitement — of my first face-to-face encounter with a 750 pound grizzly…

But do you know what sticks with me?  I mean what really stays in my mind…and in my soul?

65DA41BA-92C5-4FA8-84C8-81BA51576E3DI remember sitting on a hill not too far outside of Kyoto, an hour or two after sunset, and watching the fireflies.  The barking of a family of foxes in the distance…the stars coming out overhead, clear and bright…the humidity holding the heat for far too long…the fatigue in legs and mind from a day spent exploring a place in which — in spite of speaking the language and knowing the culture — I still felt more alien than I ever had before…and the, well, freaking magic of fireflies…

Look, I had seen plenty of the damned things in my life.  I went to (my second) college in Maine, for heaven’s sake, and we had no lack of the damned things up there…

I had seen them, but never before had I come close to the experience of that evening.  Never before had I experienced that kind of power, that kind of magic.  Never before had anything touched my soul like that evening.

It was perhaps the most perfect moment I have ever experienced.

For every shitty, miserable moment I have experienced, and have written — and there’ve certainly been enough of both — there are just as many of those special moments of power and memory to offset them.

Even more, there is the magic of the fireflies…

If The Boat Don’t Sink

Is it just me, or has 2020 lasted a decade so far?

I mean, c’mon, this year has just plain sucked from pretty much every perspective, and it doesn’t feel like it’s ever going to end.  I know we have all the fun and games of the election to look forward to — and I think we all can guess how that is gonna go! — but the cynic in my soul (and my brain, my heart, even my freaking toenails) likes to sit there and wonder just how much worse things can get before November…

What was it they say?  Oh yeah: the best part about being a cynic is that you’re never disappointed.

We’ve had almost no rain around here this summer…now I’m waiting for a Yellowstone fire that will rival 1988.*95EBE35D-B242-4A8B-BB70-41CBFB304F6B

*Note — there are always fires in Yellowstone, but usually they are small.  1988 was different…in 1988 better than 30% of the park was on fire at the same time.  It was horrifying.

World tensions are doing nothing but getting worse…now I’m waiting for someone to kick off a freakin’ war that, of course, the US will just have to get involved in.

The economy is shit, and getting shittier…now I’m just waiting for the economic fear and despair to team up with the social tensions tearing at the nation and turn this thing into a full-fledged clusterfuck.

EFCE8900-59F3-4C53-955D-33A03E3F7ED3Crap, Bill Murray had it right in Ghostbusters: “Human sacrifice! Cats and dogs living together!  Mass hysteria!”

Or, in the words of Armageddon, things are gonna basically be “the worst parts of the Bible.”

Oh, and let’s not forget the fun of (potential) manmade disasters, either.  You just know, given how this year has gone, that some half-drunk aho is gonna run a 200,000 ton tanker onto the rocks somewhere.  The Rs will blame it on environmental rules and BLM, while the Ds will blame it on Wall Street and Thomas Jefferson.  Crap, I could write the headlines and talking points now and not be far off!

From time to time I’ll get into discussions with friends and acquaintances about writing.  Usually, those talks are about the mechanics of plotting, and how characters affect — and are affected by — said plot.  No one ever wants to talk about imagery, or metaphors, or language… *sigh*

Anyway, people will say, “it’s just not real.  That much bad stuff never happens in just a few months or a year!”

Ahem.

9A86E1A2-EBDE-4626-8D48-F685AFEDBFDBYour Honor, I would like to submit into evidence the year 2020.

Of course, a story that is unremittingly negative…

A story where nothing breaks the plot’s run of terrible events and bad luck…

A story where the characters simply suffer and suffer…

That story just sucks.

Kinda like 2020.

12857173-C9F7-4C56-9CBF-99CEDF0F2AC1Crap, I need this sailing trip more than I thought!  On that note, by the way, I will try and post at least a flashfiction piece while I’m up on the water, but we’ll have to see.  If I manage to stay true to this year and sink the damned boat, it might be a while…