Optimates vs. Populares*

*Hey, I get to use that Roman history degree! Yeehaw!!

You talk to folks who are politically active – or even folks like me who just can’t stop ourselves from slowing down to stare at the car wreck – and most of what you hear are comments about the huge divides in modern politics. Lamentations, really, for the deep splits between left and right, progressive and conservative, Chevy and Ford…

The thing of it? That’s not the real problem. Oh, I know that’s what everyone wants to talk about, especially the self proclaimed “experts”. That left-right split, so old and traditional and dating back to the French Revolution, is just an easier sell for talking heads and TV ‘splainers than is reality. Anyone over the age of sixteen has had that dynamic engraved too deeply into their brain cells to ever really let go of it.

But it’s a load of facile crap. The problem does not lie in the tension between left and right; both of those, err, “systems” need each other far too much in order to survive. No bogeyman means no opponent, and no opponent means nothing to focus their energy upon. That’s the easy bit.

The hard bit, and the real divide and the real danger, lies not between left and right but between the entrenched – those with the power and the connections and the influence – and, well, the rest of us. You know, us regular schmucks who get zero voice in any of it.

I don’t care if you want to create a socialist utopia or shrink government to the point where you can drown it in a bathtub, if you ain’t one of the privileged few, you’re simply part of “the rest of us”. There’s only pitchers and catchers in this world, and 99% of us sure as hell ain’t throwin’…

To quote the immortal Jayne Cobb: “You people’ve been given the shortest end of the stick ever offered a human soul in this crap-heel ‘verse. But you took that end and…well…you took it!”

The easy metaphor is to refer to “the DC crowd”. And, for the most part, that is accurate: anyone making their living in and around Washington DC is very much part of the problem. But let’s not leave off the hook the donors and consultants and “thought leaders”. The folks who get the input, and who get to make their own rules…the elites, as they love to think of themselves.

You ever wonder why, no matter who is in power, we continue to get the same shit over and over? Yeah, that’s because there is no right and wrong, no conservative or liberal, no nothing beyond the self-interest and benefit of the few in power.

And, yes, I’ll trot out the old 60’s term – hey, I have a history degree, and sometimes the oldies really are the goodies – it’s the folks who are the establishment. That shallow, slime-filled pool of Ivy League-educated, Manhattan/DC/Boston/SanFran dwelling psychopaths who will do anything to ensure their own power and control.

If you’re on the left, you have ’em on your side: Chuck Schumer, the Clintons, George Soros, Tom Steyer, etc… And if you’re on the right, you’ve got ’em, too: Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, the Kochs, the Bushes, Grover Norquist…*

*Nope – still not touchin’ the Trump or Obama administrations. No sir, my personal thoughts/politics are still kinda-sorta off-limits.

I should probably point out at this point that this is why my current protagonist pretty much…well…hates everyone (not to put too fine a point on it). I’ve mentioned before, and I firmly believe, that in most of life there are no good guys and bad guys, there are just shades of gray. But let me amend that a bit: from a personal perspective, both mine and Connor’s, the actual bad guys are pretty much anyone who puts the value of power and influence above getting shit done.

I’ll close with a quote from Connor in one of Silence’s later scenes: “When you fuck people over because you hate ’em, that’s wrong. When you do it because you just don’t give a shit, that’s fucking evil.”

The Rites Of Spri…err, Winter

Oh, for the love of all that’s holy…

Do I really need allergies…now?!

It’s the middle of freakin’ winter!

When I was younger, I had not a single allergy. Not one. If I was sniffling and sneezing, it was because I was trying to get out of work not because anything was actually wrong.

For my first few years living around here it was the same thing. Then the allergies started to build. Nowadays, spring just sucks donkey balls. I pop Zyrtec like they’re tictacs, and I’ve completely resigned myself to not tasting a goddamned thing until about the end of June.

Now, normally this problem shouldn’t kick off until, oh, April or so. So why is it happening in February?

Good question.

For the last two-three weeks, it has been anything but February around here: temps in the sixties, clear skies, cool nights…

The trees and plants are even more confused than the people. Everything is starting to bud and grow and turn green, but only in a kind of half-hearted and slow way. It’s like the plants feel bad about the whole thing – not to mention knowing better – but it’s sunny and warm and what the fuck are you gonna do anyway?

Damned plants.

All I know is I’m sniffing like Pacino in Scarface, I can feel my sinuses turning to cement blocks, and my eyes haven’t been this red since my sophomore year in college…

How the hell do you concentrate with all this going on? Poor Connor…does anyone else get the feeling I’m going to punish him for my misery? I sure do.

The Dangers of Music

Since I just recently made the changes to this blog to reflect my interest in music (yes, as well as booze), I decided I should do a post on music itself.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is not a music blog. This is not going to be a music blog. Quite simply, I have neither the access nor the knowledge to pull off something like that.

Nope, this is still a blog about writing. Specifically, a place for me to (kinda-sorta) trace the process of writing a novel. One specific novel: The Silence That Never Comes.

But…

But music is important to me, and to my writing. It is a key part of the environment and atmosphere I need in order to write. Just as much as I need a place with life around me (coffee place, taproom, etc…), I need to have the right music playing (blaring) in my ears.

Now, to the point: there is danger in music. Great danger. {queue the Yoda-music}

At least for me.

There is always the danger of losing myself in the music I’m listening to. If I can’t lose myself in it, why the hell am I listening?

I’ve written stories in the past that were not based so completely on emotion…not based, to be honest, on characters and ideas that are so overwhelmingly emotional to me. Those stories sucked.

It took Connor and Oz – okay, let’s be honest, it took Oz! – to make me write stories that truly mattered to me, and truly reflected my own emotions and perceptions.

And that made everything better.

But…

But those stories have a lot of music at their heart. When I listen to songs and albums that are important to me, I have two real choices: I either write, or I sit in silent contemplation like some crazy freakin’ monk and let the music take me (and my mind) away.

A great deal of the time it is the second, by the way.

Especially if I’m drinking…sorry, but that’s just plain reality. I know, I know, I get in trouble for “glorifying” booze, but the simple fact is that it is a part of life.img_0139 Yes, Ben Franklin was right: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

The same lowering-of-inhibitions that makes me the most attractive human in the bar, however, also makes me throw myself into the emotion and meaning of the songs with which I have surrounded myself.

In the end, it comes down to a simple choice: focus on the music, or focus on the writing.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat there, pen in hand and paper at the ready*, but my mind lost in the music…and in the imagery it brings.

*Remember, I use different ways to write for different things: hand-writing for background and supporting material, typing for the story itself (and for these posts).

When I am writing scenes this is, thankfully, less of a problem. I obsess about my characters, and about my stories. Very little has the power to pull me away from writing them. The other, supporting stuff however? That’s a different story.

God forbid I start talking (or thinking) about editing….

Talking about editing is, in my mind, like talking about burying the dead. It’s necessary – vital, even – but I really don’t want to do it myself.

I should probably point out: I am writing this particular post at this particular time because I was sitting there on the patio, enjoying the sun and trying to write, and I got too deep into the music…

Maybe 600 words I wrote. Even handwriting, I should do double or triple that in a single sitting. If I’m typing, it’s more like 3,000 words…

That’s the big challenge in my life*: using the music to help me write, but not letting it take control. If I ever figure out that balance, I’ll be fucking gold.

*Bills? Failed romances? Pshaw…child’s play! I can ignore those and pretend they don’t exist. Music, on the other hand, not so much…

Give Me Uber Or Give Me Death!

I like mass transit. I’ve used mass transit all over the world. Hell, even stumbling, blind drunk I’ve been able to get around places like Prague and Berlin and Tokyo.

But in a (relatively) small city here in the US?

This is a whole different world.

Maybe I should set the backstory a bit: I wrecked my car. I still don’t know if it’s gonna be totaled or not, so I have no idea yet what is going to happen. But, me being me, I didn’t bother with things like rentals or loaners. Nope, I don’t need such things, I’m tough! I have feet! I have a bike!

Yeah, then my area hit a serious cold snap. I don’t mean, “Crikey, I need a sweatshirt” cold, I mean “Oh fuck, I have frostbite!” cold. I lived in New England…believe me, I know cold. I am not riding my bike in single digit weather. I might be a bit nuts, but that’s just crazy.

I haven’t felt so damned isolated and helpless since I was in high school (when we’re all isolated and helpless).

It is two and a half miles from my house to the brewery. The local bus runs a circuitous route that gets me there…hey, let’s give that a try!

*sigh*

Oh for real mass transit…

The bus is late: okay, it doesn’t matter, all I want to do is write, anyway.

The bus is, err…let’s be charitable and call it “rickety” and “run down”: it’s okay, I’ve had my shots.

The bus passengers are…?: it’s okay, I’m armed…oh wait, I’m not! Shit!!

But…and it’s a big but…I do have this neat little app on my phone! $1.25 for the bus or $7ish for Uber…guess where my future lies? At least until the weather gets warmer…or I get my car back.

In Europe, I am quite happy to be without a car. In America? People say, “Drive on over!” and I have to answer, “Well, err, I can’t.”

I think they would look more kindly on me if I was a plague-ridden psychopath who ate children. Their faces, their voices, strive for sympathy and commiseration but never really get past revulsion and fear.

For the moment, I number among the dangerous and diseased, the great unwashed, the carless.

What’s the number for Hertz again?

Behind the Curtain (a bit)

This post has been stuck in the purgatory of indecisiveness (about posting) for a while…but screw it, it’s honest and it’s me.  One thing to add is a musical thought to set the mood…a stanza from a song called “You Get What You Give” (yes, another Chuck Ragan song…I’m pretty sure I have a man-crush there, too):

When you hit bottom
Man, it’s hard enough to climb
Much less not lay down
Much less stay awake
Or hold your head high enough
To see what’s in your way

How do you say this?

I had other stories I wanted to write, but I chose to write a sequel to Wrath & Tears instead.  The others would have papered over the problems, but Silence just makes them worse.

The first story was a way for me to explore my own feelings and issues about suicide (more directly than people realize, given how close I was to the characters, and what I went through to write the fucking thing).

That book was supposed to be a one-off.  There were going to be NO sequels.

I don’t like exploring my own problems…I’m much happier talking about other people’s issues, to be honest.

But I couldn’t let it go.

I chose to write the second.  Worse, I chose to write knowing that it was going to, once again, have my own faults and failings as a subtext.

Faith, this one is about.  My own faith, and my own troubles therewith.  My own faltering, and my own lack.

I grew up a Christian.  For most of my life I have been a Christian.  Through some of the best and the worst times I have been a Christian.

I’m not sure I fit that anymore.  I’m not sure I believe anymore.

Maybe it’s because my path has been so convoluted and hard…maybe it’s because I’m weak…maybe it’s because I’ve forgotten the lessons I once knew.  I really don’t fucking know.  And I hate myself for not knowing.  I’m a failure for not knowing.

I’m self-aware enough to know that I have problems with self-worth and depression, but I’ve had those forever.  I don’t love myself, so how could anyone else love me?

I fight with that every single day.

This isn’t a problem about writing a book…this is a problem about being me, and I no longer know how to fix it.

I have, in all honesty, lost faith in myself as much as I have lost faith in God.

The coming Christmas actually helps…as weird as that is.  There’s a carol—an old one—that means more to me than all the rest: Little Drummer Boy.  It may be a semi-nonsense song, but if you really listen to the words it’s about someone with nothing in this world, someone with no worth, offering his own worship.

I wish I had that faith.  Shit, I NEED that faith…and I don’t have it.

I think with words, and I feel by spelling things out.  I don’t like or want to burden anyone else, but there’s also this nagging, itching need to explore and to know.  The only way I have to know is to write.  I play a very good fraud—I can be the most together, happy, connected person in the world when I choose to be.  And it’s all bullshit.  It’s an act.

I’m the kid in the corner who’s too scared to talk to anyone.  Reality and the real world aside—and intellectually I know I can kick the shit out of anyone I meet—I’m the kid who’s afraid of everyone else.

And that kid is winning the battle with the “me” that believes I can do anything…

The Scratching of a Pen

I talked a while back about the actual tools of writing.  Stay with me on this, the topic isn’t as pedantic and pointless as it sounds…err, I hope.

Hey, give me a break, I’m still on my first cup of coffee!

I’ve said many times to friends and family alike that “I think with my pen.”  The reality is probably better said as “I think with words.”  To really work through them, I have to record my thoughts somehow.  Just the act of doing so is often enough to get the chaos of thoughts and ideas and emotions straight in my head.  Even with the background stuff for the stories I write, I seldom have to go back and revisit*: I thought through the material as I wrote it, and it is now (generally) clear in my head.

*I’m talking about basic background info and theories/themes, not character and plot details…those I do revisit.  Often.

But how does that tie to the tools of writing?  It’s not convenience, and it’s not access.  No, instead it has far more to do with speed.  Speed of recording, but also speed of thought.

I type fast.  Very fast, actually.  Hey – you hear that mom and dad?  All those computer games and chat rooms when I was young actually did something.  Yeehaw!

At any rate, I type fast enough to keep pace with my thoughts…mostly.

But when I type, I’m putting words on the page as fast as the thoughts are taking shape.  There’s very little filter between brain and screen.  That’s one reason why I plan and outline my scenes before I write them: when I don’t, when I go pure stream-of-consciousness, it is far too easy to go squirrel-chasing…an event you may have seen on this here imitation pseudo-blog.

When I know what I want to write, however, and I have a goal and a theme to work with, I love typing.  When I type, I can write a lot…I think my record is a shade over 5,000 words in a day.  I don’t know about anyone else, but that’s a full-on metric shit-ton in my world.

But when I’m exploring?  Things have to slow down.  I need time and space between thought and word…I need the slow scratching of a pen on paper.  Aside from the fact that I love to actually, physically write, it is also the best way to consider and weigh and evolve the ideas as they come to fruition.

The idea behind this post came about because I am working on background material as we, err, speak.  I am writing the background material for DockRat 2, and exploring the thoughts and needs as I go.  Doing things like that by hand gives me more time to spend on those ideas, and more opportunity to develop and evolve them.

It’s still possible to go wandering off in strange and random directions, but since my thoughts are generally well ahead of my pen those squirrel-moments are less pointlessly random and more considered and effective.

Now there are downsides to the pen & paper thing, don’t get me wrong.  In a single session I can get a max of about 1,500 words put down.  After that my hand is a wreck…as is my brain (which ain’t all that unusual for me, I have to admit).

The other hard part, the other downside of the slower pace, is that the ‘filter’ sometimes gets clogged.  If and when I reread what I wrote, it’s a good bet that I unconsciously missed/skipped a few words here and there.  Usually it’s the small ones, as my hand struggles to keep up, but there have been times when I’ve had to decipher just what the hell I was talking about in certain sentences.

Editing is also something I split between on-screen and on-paper.  The first couple of passes are purely electronic.  It’s faster, and I don’t have to do all that annoying, clunky typing-in of hand edits.  But the last pass or two is (generally) on paper.  I want to really see and feel the words, in a way that my computer or iPad screen just can’t communicate, and I want that filter to be back in place between brain and paper.

So, the point of this whole exercise: the tools and the manner of writing do matter.  Every writing session has to have a point, both in what you create and in how you create it.  What are you going for?  Adjust how you work to fit that and you’ll be one huge step ahead.

Oh, and for those writers who came before and hand wrote their manuscripts from start to finish, I have nothing but love and awe!

Too Many Drinks Left on the Bar

When someone important dies in my world (the real one, not the ones I make up) we leave a drink at the end of the bar in his or her honor. Important means nothing like rich or famous or powerful. Important means someone who mattered: friends and loved ones.

Often we’ll honor those friends and comrades who never made it back from foreign lands. This Friday we’ll do that again for Veteran’s Day. I know a few who never made it back, and quite a few more who made it back but a left a piece of themselves behind.

As small as it sounds, that honor works because it is personal. It’s not trite words and generic symbols, it is a toast to the lost.

I had originally planned to write a Veteran’s Day post specifically on this topic, a post honoring those who never returned. I still want to do that post, but…after.

After I say the rest.

After I mourn.

Many times we honor someone all-but anonymous in the grand scheme of things, but someone important nonetheless.

I lost a friend this past weekend. Someone young and strong, someone with a great deal of life ahead of him still.

I sit here, fat and drunk and way past my expiration date, yet my friend died and left behind a beautiful wife and a pair of young kids who still need their father.

It’s not fair.

But it’s another drink at the end of the bar.

You didn’t know him, but raise a glass to him anyway. He mattered. Mattered to his family, to his friends, and to me…and I’m sick to hell of leaving drinks at the end of the bar.

My Favorite Character

I gave a bit of info and background on Connor last week, so now it’s time for something about the other main character: Oz.

In Connor’s friend and counter-part I wanted a character that had about him, on the surface, all kinds of questions and mysteries, and an awful lot of cognitive dissonance.

Oz is intelligent–brilliant, even–and a world-class manipulator of people’s baser instincts. He is smooth and confident and very, very capable. He is also a very-nearly-perfect physical specimen in some respects, even if he is slightly androgynous (think some of the Japanese anime heroes). He is always perfectly dressed, always sophisticated and fresh. He can be, literally, anything to anyone….and that is very much his job.

I dance around the topic a bit in the book, but the simple fact is that Oz is a whore. He’s belonged to one brothel or another since he was seven years old.  That living hell, all he has known, completely defined his life…until he met Connor. In Connor’s friendship he finally found more.

To the rest of the world Oz is cynical and arrogant, but beneath it all Oz is also incredibly caring and vulnerable. He is also completely and totally in love with Connor…a love he knows his friend can never return. That, however, doesn’t matter to him. To a whore, love is not the physical act; sex is just business. No, to Oz, love is intimacy and trust in a world where neither of those really exist.

He and Connor live in an intimacy and trust with each other that he cannot imagine ever finding again…and that is enough for Oz. So long as the pair have their stasis, their life as roommates and ‘brothers’, he has everything he wants.

Such love is also, for someone like Oz, a zero-sum game. Love and care and trust cannot increase in one relationship without being taken from another. Every step of the way as Connor falls in love with Nat, Oz feels the only person who means anything to him slipping away. He has, in all honesty, no real life or self-identity outside of Connor. The loss of the boys’ stasis is the most devastating and overwhelming thing that could possibly happen to him.

As Connor begins to grow away from what dockside has turned him into (a junkie, a thief, and a liar), Oz sinks farther and farther into hopeless despair and misery until all he can do is lash out. If he has to suffer, so does everyone else.

All that is the background stuff, the character sheet stuff. I have pages and pages on my characters…especially on Oz.

But the simple fact of the matter is that Oz represents the ghosts from my own past, the friends that have killed themselves. Oz is gay, and is in love with someone completely and totally outside of that kind of relationship. As were two of the three friends of mine who committed suicide.

Oz is my pain at their deaths. Oz is all the signs I missed. Oz is them.