Relax, Folks

I admit it: I’m a simple man, amused by simple things.  Beyond the Simpsons and Mel Brooks and Monty Python, I get a huge kick out of conspiracy theories…and especially out of the folks who obsess about them.

Right now, easily the most entertainment is coming from “flat earthers”.  For whatever reason — and I have zero idea why — this particular conspiracy theory has bubbled to the top in terms of media mentions and attention.  It’s that bubbling to the top that has made it fun, however!

The stories and Youtube videos about these folks — both for and against — are entertaining enough…but then you get to the comments.  Oh, the comments…  My God, are those comments pure gold!  Heck, they’re more entertaining than the dang stories/videos themselves.

orgin_of_secret_societies-invertNow, as much fun as I have with the believers of that theory, it is those who are obsessed with attacking them that provide some of the funniest moments.  Don’t get me wrong, the whole “flat earth” thing is loony as hell…but it’s no loonier than the Freemasons being a nefarious, centuries old plot to dominate the world (as opposed to a bunch of old guys who like funky handshakes and hanging out for drinks a couple of nights a week…). It’s certainly no loonier than the “aliens among us”, or the Illuminati, or the Rosicrucians, or the…ah, hell, go ahead and pick your own!

But, for some reason, the flat earthers just seem to get some opponents going.  A number of folks take the whole thing personally, get well and truly angry and upset about it.  Hell, to a number, it represents not a loony, very small-time conspiracy theory, but is instead a symbol of the complete breakdown of modern society.

Oh, please.

The flat-earthers no more represent the end of civilization and the triumph of ignorance than a pair of 80-year-olds exchanging secret handshakes represent a secret cabal controlling the fate of humanity.

Honestly, I think the people who get so wound up and obsessed with “debunking” the looniness are the reason it even exists in the first place!  Oh, I’m sure there are folks out there who really believe the Earth is flat*…all of about five of them.  No, most of the “flat earthers” aren’t believers, I’d say; it’s far more likely that they’re out there just absolutely trolling the shit out of the angry folks.

discworld_main*I think Terry Pratchett had it about right with Discworld: It’s flat!  And on the backs of four elephants!  Who are standing on top of a turtle!

Think about it: you post a video, or a link…you make a few comments…and touch off a firestorm of people working themselves into a frenzy and a fury.  You then grab a beer, sit back, and laugh your ass off watching people twist themselves into knots linking your “flat earth” crap to every problem they see in the world: the left will say it shows how the right have destroyed education!  The right will say that, no, it shows how the left has destroyed the family and the last vestiges of morality!  It’s inbred rednecks! No, it’s college snowflakes!  It’s Americans!  No, it’s Canadians!

I’ve never posted a link or story or video on the whole “flat earth” thing…but, my God have I enjoyed the show that follows!

Really, folks, is the whole thing worth getting upset about?  Just how empty does a person’s life have to be to get upset about someone else beliefs?  Just how vituperative and politically narcissistic do you have to be to turn a cheesy conspiracy theory into anything more than a laugh?

Great, now I’m getting myself back into a “conspiracy-theory-mood”. Hell, maybe someday I’ll actually finish that satire I’ve had kicking around the back of my mind for the last couple of decades!

Ignore The Writer In The Corner

“Hey — I was wondering if you could give me a hand…wait, are you okay? What’s wrong?”

A wipe of the eyes, and an excuse: “It’s nothing, just some allergies…what do you need?”

There’s a reason why I train the staff and regulars at the brewery to leave me alone when I write. I get very into what I’m writing at the moment; if I don’t care about the characters, and about the death scene I’m writing, why the hell would any reader?

This is part of the deal, for me, as a writer. I’ve described before how my ideas are the ghosts that float around the back of my mind…and about how Connor & Oz were those ghosts who just wouldn’t shut the fuck up, who wouldn’t leave me alone and let me get on with other shit. No, they demanded to be written…and they became, over the course of all the effort and thought and emotion I’ve put into them, real.

Do your characters talk to you?

Is there any question more awkward to answer to non-writers? Because…well…of course they do, of course my characters talk to me.

If they didn’t talk to me, they couldn’t tell their own story. If they didn’t talk to me, they couldn’t force me to change my plots and plans and ideas to suit themselves. If they didn’t talk to me, they couldn’t, in the end, be real.

But it does make things awkward as hell when you write in a public setting. Especially when you’re killing one of those characters off…

I have become, it must be said, incredibly scattered today.

One (death) scene written…not really planned, nor really tied into the other stuff (because it’s the end of Flicker, and has nothing really to do with Silence), but written nonetheless. A second scene half-finished, before the emotion and the words ran out…

Hey, let’s try something different! I know — blog posts!

Two blog posts — yep, TWO — half-finished, as well. After the intensity of the first scene, it’s just hard to truly follow through and finish…well, anything.

This is why I usually try to have a plan for what I’m going to write in a given session. This is why I (usually) don’t just “wing it”.

On the other hand…I made myself cry. And, yes, as much as all the rest: this is why I write.


You sit out at the end of the jetty, several hundred feet from shore. A drink in one hand, perhaps, and a cigar in the other. The ocean stretches in front of you; not just as far as the eye can see, but as far as the mind can wander.

The sun dips, touches the horizon. Fire in the sky, and in the clouds. The ocean turns from blue-grey, briefly, to molten metal. You can’t break yourself away; you continue to stare blankly, to watch and absorb the closest thing this world has to infinity. There is nothing in front of you but water. Intellectually, you know that a few thousand miles away you will find islands and peoples, but there is no room for “intellectually” when you’re staring out over the edge of the world.

No, when you’re looking out into that infinity, there is nothing in your universe but sunset and water and thought. Memories and dreams…a certain emotional distance from the world itself…and the “knowledge” not that you are at the end of the world, but that you have everything in front of you.

Erm, I may have done that once or twice.

The ocean, the “knowledge” of living at the edge of the world, and the endless sunsets that wash over the water, are about the only things I truly miss about Southern California. The peace, and the rather unique trains of thought, that come with sitting out at the end of that jetty…or on the deck of a ship at sea…or just on the beach, with a building bonfire behind you and the sunset in front… For all of those things, that feeling of possibility is the same, that feeling of the infinite.

I’ve lived in the east, as well. I’ve sat on Cadillac Rock and watched the sun rise, felt the first rays of anyone in the US. It’s not the same thing. While sunrises have that feeling and connotation of hope, and the promise of the day (and times) to come…it’s just not the same. Not to me. It doesn’t have the same feeling of being on the edge, of staring out over…well…everything.

I have, you may have guessed, a thing for “infinities”. They are powerfully attractive…and, just as much, they are terrifying. They remind you just how small you really are, and just how insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Oh, my times watching the sun set were not terrifying — those times kept the infinite at arm’s length. But those times are not all…

Swimming in the water, laughing and half-drunk. Three of us, as playful and immature as only (relatively) care-free guys in their mid-twenties can be. Almost a hundred miles away waited the harbor, and the restaurant where we would meet others to recount the successes and failures of a weekend spent deep-sea fishing.

Two others waited on the idling boat, a safety-net that half-drunk twenty-somethings don’t usually worry about. A joke, then, in their eyes: the idling engine engaged, the prop allowed to spin slowly and edge the boat away.

It took a few minutes. A few minutes of play and stupidity above the huge kelp-banks at the edge of the continental shelf. A few minutes, then I was stone cold sober. A few minutes, then I was more terrified than I ever have been. It couldn’t have been more than a quarter-mile or so, but the boat looked like it was halfway to Hawaii. The knowledge hit me — the very real, very close knowledge — that I really was hanging over infinity…that infinity wasn’t at arm’s length, but was right under my unsupported feet.

If you don’t know the Pacific Ocean, just past the continental shelf you go from a depth of a few hundred feet to twenty thousand

And I could feel every single one of those feet under me.

That was infinity closer than arm’s length. That was infinity’s ability to terrify.

Both ends of that spectrum are important: the warmth and the terror. Both ends come in to play in writing; have to come in to play in writing. As writers, we talk a great deal about “agency” — about our protagonists’ (necessary) ability to make their own choices, and to impact their own surroundings & situation.  But, even with all of the careful plotting and characterization, even with all of the agency and planning, you have to leave room in your writing for the infinities. You have to leave room for your character to sit at the edge of the world and wonder…and, just as much, you have to leave room to hang helplessly above the edge of the world and fear…

Reward The Little Things


More specifically: what are the celebrations I give myself for achieving successes and milestones in writing?

Okay…so, first off…I write in the taproom of a brewery. One could (quite reasonably) argue that every single one of my writing sessions is a “celebration”. And that’s even before you get into the philosophical considerations of the mental and emotional rewards of writing…

Okay, okay, I freely admit it — I do use my “office” for a certain amount of…err…self-reward. And, no, that’s not nearly as dirty as it sounds. What it does mean is that I’m a very goal-oriented person in anything I do professionally.

I have a specific, concrete goal for each and every writing session. Now, it helps to keep in mind that I design my outlines, and my stories, based on “scenes”, and each scene is intended as a goal to be accomplished in one writing session. It doesn’t happen every time, but when I am successful in achieving that goal, I reward myself for achieving that day’s goal with a mini-celebration. I reward myself — at the least — with a beer and a quiet, internal little “Yeehaw!”

But it gets more complicated from there.

I think most writers are aware that some sessions — like some scenes, and some ideas — are just more “successful” than others. For those, something special is in order. For those times when I get done and I know that everything just clicked — for those times when I have that feeling that says “oh yeah, nailed it!” — a celebration, or at least a (ahem) self-reward, is definitely in order. Those are the times when I don’t reward myself with a beer. Nosiree, those are the times when the bottle of 14-year-old single-malt might just happen to come out…

The bottom line isn’t giving yourself a drink as a reward. Just as it isn’t any other form of self-indulgence. No, the bottom line is that you have to motivate yourself…and anyone who has spent more than five minutes managing in Corporate America knows that motivating involves not just the stick, but also the carrot.

Dangle yourself a carrot — allow yourself a reward for the small victories as much as for the large.

Sure, when you sign that five-book-deal with a major publisher and are preparing your acceptance speech for a major award, you reward yourself. Of course you do. And if you don’t? Well, disfunction is its own reward, I suppose.

But what about when you absolutely nail a scene?

Or, hell…what about when you finish a chapter?

Or you take a new direction with a character?

Yeah, “writing is its own reward,” you say. And I get it…I really do.


…but you have to give yourself those little extras — those perks — that tell your subconscious, “hey, this is worth doing!”

If you don’t reward yourself for the little victories, why would your subconscious believe that you’re going to do a damned thing for the big ones? Would you believe a boss that did that to you?

I know I wouldn’t.

If you’re like me, writing is who you are, far more than it is what you do…but that doesn’t mean you can treat yourself like shit.  It doensn’t mean that you’re slave-labor. Quite the opposite in fact. It means you have to keep yourself motivated and working; it means that you have to reward yourself for the little victories as much as for the big.

That five-book-deal, by the way? That reward is set and waiting…and it involves a velvet couch, a bow-and-arrow, and a bunny-suit.

You don’t want to know.