When Laundry Is The High Point Of Your Morning…

It’s laundry day today. Really, is there any better way to start your weekend than laundry day? I mean, c’mon, all those weekends I spent going to Vegas or Mexico when I was young can’t hold a candle to the spin cycle…

I had an hour to kill while the washing machine ran, so I decided to (finally) read the news. I have, by the way, been pretty completely ignoring the news, the web – other than for this blog – and the rest of the world in general for the last several weeks.

It’s been glorious.

But today I spent forty-five minutes reading the news.

What the hell was I thinking?

I sat outside last night, drinking beer and watching a rare appearance of the aurora borealis (not as colorful up here as it is farther north, but still awesome). Less than half a day later I’m reading about the insanity that is the current state of our world. All I can say is: we’re fuckin’ nuts.

People screaming at each other because of the letter(s) after their name…fat nutjobs threatening nukes all over the planet…nail bombs at concerts…racism and segregation as a response to racism and segregation…

I once thought the last election was as low as we could sink. I should’ve known better. You never bet against humanity’s ability to look at all the options and choose the stupidest one.

Shit.

One day of news was more than enough for me. Unless fatboy really does nuke Hawaii, I think I’ll just stay off-the-grid for a while. Maybe I’ll check again in another month.

And people wonder why my sci-fi is dark, bitter and cynical as hell…

A Snippet: The End Of It All

Do you show your last card in poker? You do if you’re an attention-whore writer…  The story still has a book or two to go, but the end…?  Well, there was no other way for Connor’s story to go:

The place was much cleaner than he’d expected. There was no trash, no crowds, and the smell was little different from a hundred stations.

The uniform didn’t fit right, not yet. It was tight and loose in all the wrong places, and the young man chafed wearing it. He chafed more, it must be said, at his assignment.

All he wanted was to get through the Academy. Join a ship, live a little. The universe was a big place, and he’d seen almost none of it. Quite why people insisted on throwing the father he’d never known into every assignment, every conversation, every word, he didn’t know, but he was getting very tired of being ‘that’ kid.

The whistle blew and he stepped forward, a wreath in his arms.

Why the fuck was he carrying a wreath?

“On this spot died those to whom we owe everything,” the admiral intoned.

Pontificated, really.

Everyone else stood in neat lines, but the boy in the ill-fitting uniform had to step forward, had to present his wreath.

“The chaos and death that overwhelmed so many of our cousins missed us…”

Jesus Christ, just let him put down this heavy fucking wreath!

“…so many lives, and so much blood. More than anyone else, we owe to one man’s sacrifice our peace, and our survival. One very brave, very young man.”

Fuck…finally!

The young man stepped forward, placed the elaborate wreath on the stand in front of the tomb.

Surrounded by trees and simulated sky was that tomb. A simple marble block with an even simpler inscription on its face: a name and a pair of dates. Those the young man understood, but what lay beneath everything else? That still made no sense.

“Attention!”

A thousand people snapped to stand erect. Hands over heart, or saluting at the brow, whatever was more appropriate to their own history, all honored the sacrifice of the dead.

Those who knew the truth had defined that inscription, the young man knew. He knew the name, knew the dates – as did any good son – but the two words? What the fuck were they?

CONNOR SPOGELSE
2/2/163 – 2/28/183
SOMEWHERE PEACEFUL

Get Off My Lawn! Pt II

Ok, look…I know the hair may be going a bit grey, and my knees make more noise than a popcorn machine, but that does not mean I’m old!

If you’re only as old as you feel, I’m pretty much stuck in my early twenties.

So, the other day I had to get three new kids checked out with their banks so they can start working as cashiers. Yes, I said “kids”…deal with it. All three spent the entire 20 minutes saying “yes, sir” and “no, sir”. I felt like goddamned Methuselah.

IMG_0174But – and this is the important bit, kids – we cagey old bastards always get our revenge. There ain’t a 22 year old in the world who can keep up with me when it comes to whiskey.

Take that, youth and energy! Age and cynicism win again!!

Now where the hell is my walker? I feel like shit this morning…

The biggest problem up here isn’t finding good beer, it’s finding people who appreciate good beer. There is far too much PBR and Bud Light flying around for any self-respecting beer-snob to keep his or her sanity. Crap, I have to spend more time educating these folks on decent beers than I do actually drinking.

On the other hand, with this many folks from backgrounds so different and varied, I am getting a ton of new music to listen to. That is a very good, and very welcome, thing: my writing needed an infusion of fresh music. The old soundtrack was getting a bit stale, and it was starting to come out in the words themselves. New music means new thoughts and new outlooks…that can be almost as valuable to me as the change of scene has been.

By the way: if the last couple of posts seem a bit choppy it’s because, well, they are. I’m currently sitting outside trying to catch the last of the sun while I write this pout – two hours ago it was 65, now it’s 40…and In two more hours it will be in the high 20’s.

Not even a decent beer can keep my fingers warm at this point…

Drop The Keys And Grab Your Boots

Let’s set the stage, shall we?

I’m in the middle of one of the premier national parks not just in the US, but in the entire world. This place has natural beauty and escapism dripping from every square inch. So what do 90+% of the tourists do?

They get in their cars, roll up the windows, blast the AC and cruise through at 45 miles an hour.

What the fuck?

“Honey, slow down so we can watch the bear!” And then you get thirty cars, engines idling, pulled to the side of the road all shooting pictures through their still-closed windows. Just once I want to put a camera on a bear and let it get some shots of Homo Touristus.

If I see someone with a selfie-stick, I may have to throw them off the canyon rim…

I still haven’t even ventured outside of the area immediately around the “Grand Canyon” here because there are some killer trails to hike…not to mention the off-trail, backcountry hiking and camping. Give me another week or two and I’ll be ready to explore one of the other nexuses, but not before that.

With that in mind, tell me: just how the hell can you see anything useful or memorable from inside a speeding car? Let alone breathe the fresh air and enjoy the quiet? It is, to me, very much worth the risk of getting, err, molested by a hangry grizzly.

I do have to say – and I say this as a “city boy” at heart – all this nature is making the sci-fi harder to write. Those couple of fantasy stories/series that have been floating around the back of my mind? They’re coming to the fore…

All my bitching aside, I had a great day off: did a nice, long hike…wrote a good two thousand words, img_0029had a couple beers and we’re having another movie night tonight ( Deadpool, if you’re interested).  Today was a good day.

It’s A Parking Lot, Wang*

*I do hope everyone out there is a Caddyshack fan and will get the reference…

Err…a bit late today. Never got a chance to write a post over the weekend, and since yesterday was my Friday I was feeling a bit, umm, delicate this morning. Damn whiskey.  Anyway, here’s a post I had fermenting for later this week.

I just came back from another hike.  This time, instead of going off-trail I decided to follow the beaten path.  That is actually kinda sad for me: if you stay on the trail, you can only ever walk in someone else’s footsteps.

Stay on the trail I did, however…so instead of a normal post, I decided I would post a handful of pictures from that hike.  Now, please keep one thing in mind: my old (favorite) camera is long gone, and I am still saving for a new – and far better – one.  That means I was using my cellphone for pictures…and I am not comfortable taking pictures through a screen.  I need an eyepiece and lenses, not a screen and “pinch to zoom”.

Bah, humbug!

Ahem.  So, some pictures (the last one is mainly to illustrate just how much snow is still on the ground in some places):

The Silence That Never Comes

It took some thinking for this post. It especially took some thinking to use this particular title. Those blessed with good memory may recall that the above is also the working title of the current story I am writing (the sequel to This Place of Wrath & Tears).

Now, for Connor, the title carries the message and symbolism of his search for meaning and value in life. Of his nend to answer the question/problem of “there has to be more to life than this.” I hesitate to call it a search for faith, but in all honesty there is an awful lot of that in there as well.

That search, very obviously, has meaning for me as well. Crap, I wouldn’t write the damn story if it didn’t mean something to me. Just as I wouldn’t create characters, or use themes and subtexts, that are meaningless to me.

I had the day off today, so I went for a hike. Rather than go to one of the well known sites, or use one of the marked trails, I decided to set off for a bit of back-country hiking*.

*Yes, Mom, I carried bear spray and watched out for hungry and/or horny animals.

Where I call home has more than doubled in size since I moved there almost 15 years ago. Do you have any idea how long it’s been, among all those people, since I’ve heard silence? Since I’ve been able to get outside without people and dogs and cars and noise all around me? Hell, even the trails and national forests in my area are crowded and noisy.

I didn’t reach my destination on the hike, but I never expected to. The ground was snowy and marshy, the hills sudden and steep, and the way overgrown and difficult. I walked until I found a good spot and sat for a bit, just looking around me. Again and again I did that.

More than looking around, however, I listened.

I listened to silence.

The sound of tall trees in the wind. The sound of an animal a couple of hundred yards off. A few birds. The rushing of a tiny rivulet from the rapidly melting snow. That’s it, that’s all I heard.

All the things I haven’t heard in ages. All the silence I haven’t heard in…oh…decades, it feels.

Being who I am, I spent the time not just wrapping myself in all that silence but also thinking and planning about the thematic elements of Silence. And about what I want and need to communicate, both for myself and for Connor.

My time finally finding silence, and my thinking about Silence, was a reminder and a reinforcement for me: I write this blog for other people. Oh, I enjoy it, and I get both fun and benefit from writing these posts, but this is by definition something I do for others.

For good or for ill, I write my stories for me. That I share them is a side-benefit. They are more than the way I give life to those ghosts fluttering around me, they are the vehicle for my own thoughts and emotions…both the good and the bad.

That is why I can’t give up the writing, no matter how frustrating it can be. That is why I chose this life, and this outlet. That is why, honestly, it works: a reader doesn’t have to like what I write, but I promise you they will feel what I want to communicate.

Who could ever ask for more?

Ruts, And The Strangers You Meet

I’ve talked a bit before about characters, and about the thought and effort we put into them. But just as important are the assumptions we make about them…assumptions both as readers and as writers.

Jumping with both feet into a an entirely new group of folks, very few of whom know each other, is one hell of a way to start testing your assumptions and judgements about people. It is, honestly, like going to summer camp…just one with plenty of booze to smooth over the awkward bits (and create other awkward bits).

For someone like me, it is also a topic of some interest to expand that thought and wonder how my assumptions about strangers affect those I make about my own characters. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I also weigh all these strangers and new folks for personalities and life experiences to use for my characters…

People surprise me…all the time. In many ways that’s a good thing, since it means I’m not as jaded and cynical as I like to pretend. In other ways, it’s not so good since it means I probably made an ass of myself about them in the first place.

I think we can all agree on the need to be fair and honest in those snap judgments we make, and in the value of that fairness. But to those who read or write, or just plain dream, I will reiterate the broader question I posed above:

How often do you treat the characters that matter to you as strangers? How often do you step back to examine and reevaluate the snap judgments you made about them in the first place? Remember: good characters – characters that are complete and whole – should talk to you, should have depth and demands of their own.  Just like real people. Just like the strangers you meet.

I made assumptions and a snap judgment about one of my characters in Wrath & Tears that I regret to this day. The flaw is not so fundamental that I can’t go back and fix it, but it does mark a failure on my part to let her stand and tell her own story.

I knew, after all the revisions and edits, that I had not done her justice, but it wasn’t until I started trying to think about the assumptions I’ve made about the folks I’ve met up here in the park that I forced myself to really go back and look at her.

You never realize just how much of a rut you can fall into: a rut of people, places and things as much as of thought and experience. I had fallen into seeing and talking to the same people in the same places over and over. A couple of workers put together a “movie night” last night, and I was sitting and having drinks and a good time with several folks that never would have entered my orbit back home in my usual “rut”.

I love it. As a writer I love it, and as I person I need it. I joked about this in Monday’s post, but it really is like summer camp. Or better yet, your freshman year in college. You are, pretty literally, forced into close confines and friendships with folks from far outside your usual norm.

That is an experience and a skill that far too many of us who’ve made it through those early-twenties years tend to forget. Especially when you’re of the more…ahem…introspective type.

It’s Closed? Did I Hear You Right?

One of the things I’ve accused myself of in the past is taking these posts too seriously. Oh, I don’t mean to imply that I shouldn’t give them thought, and try to say something important and meaningful. But I have been known to flex my “introspection muscles” and write posts that can skirt desperately close to the line of  self-indulgence.

Nope, don’t want to do that…not now, not today.

I had another post worked up, one about the assumptions we make about the strangers we meet, and how that can (and often does) tie to the assumptions we writers make about our characters. I just reread that post to do the one real editing pass I give these posts…

Egads. Crikey. Insert your own mild exclamation here.

Took myself waaay too seriously on that one. I also had…err…well…nothing to really say in it, so it was a lot of words accomplishing very little.

Shit, I did enough of that in college. That is not a (bad) habit to which I really need to return.

So, to get to something equally pointless…but far less serious: the pub. Specifically, the employee pub.IMG_0175

It’s not open yet.

There are, in fact, claw marks on the door from my first encounter with that locked entrance.

Then someone told me it won’t open for another couple of weeks.

Wait…what?!

Are you kidding me? Even prisoners can get booze*, for fuck’s sake!

*Yay for prison hooch!

Now, I’ve talked to some of the folks who have done this summer work thing up here for a few seasons, and I know the pub can be…well…questionable (a bit like the donkey-bar in Tijuana can be questionable). But, crap…no one is here yet! There’s only a relative handful of staff around right now (within the next month another 500ish will arrive in my little “village”), so shouldn’t it be a nice place to have a drink or two after work?

But the universe hates me and it’s closed.

So just what do I have to do? I have to pretend like I’m nineteen again and visit other folks’ RVs or dorm rooms to have a few drinks with ’em. Shit. If someone mentions homework to me, I’m gonna feed ’em to a damn bear.

Yes, I’m a manager…yes, I’m supposed to be a good example…but, goddamit, I don’t want to drink scotch alone! It’s a crime to drink single malt alone!

So…now…it’s off I go to gather a six pack of a local craft brew and a flask of scotch, then to a gathering of like-minded degenerates…err, co-workers. If I get raped by a bison on the way home, I’m gonna be pissed.

Peeing On Trees

I can feel, already, the pressure falling off my brain (and off my soul).

Now, I normally don’t remind folks of this, but I write these blog entries ahead of time. Seldom do I need to sit there on the morning of a post and bang one out on the keyboard.

Err, if I do, I screwed up. I screwed up bad.

Since I am heading into Yellowstone for days/weeks/months – with all the spotty internet and change-of-scene and dislocation that that entails! – I am trying to get a decent backlog of posts queued up.

Building that queue means I have to think and write through some things that I might normally push aside, or…well…massage a bit before I put them down for others to read.

But you know what?  I’m not gonna do that right now.

I NEEDED this change of scene. I needed the fresh air…I needed a new dynamic…I needed, honestly, to do something random and short-sighted and stupid.

I am, by the way, very good at those particular aspects of life: random and short-sighted and stupid. I have a PhD in random and short-sighted and stupid. I’ve also had a lot – A LOT – of fun in my life! I am, of course, also completely broke most of the time…

Like most people, I didn’t realize just how uptight and stressed I’d become. I definitely didn’t realize just how much I needed to change my surroundings…even if only for a few weeks.

I am not, I long ago realized, a domesticated animal. I need to roam. I need to try new things. I need to pee on trees. Err…never mind that last bit.

Of course, taking a fairly large weight off my soul raises one interesting question: do I lose the bitter, angry edge that has defined Connor’s stories so far?

Wait…

A more relaxed, optimistic story for Connor?

Umm…

Err…

Excuse me, but I have to go find a tree to pee on…

My Spidey-Sense Is A-Tinglin’!

I’ve been all over the world. Err, well, at least over a good chunk of it (36 countries and counting). And just how many places have I been where there isn’t a freaking Starbucks every 100 feet?

Yep, you guessed it…just one: Bozeman, Montana.

The hotel I’m in has no breakfast (really, who the hell doesn’t serve breakfast?!), and I need coffee in the worst damned way, so it’s out the door I go to start scouting*.

*Thanks, Apple Maps, for being singularly unhelpful!

It’s either find a place, or eat in the hotel restaurant. And I hate hotel restaurants.

I hate Starbucks almost as much, by the way. Shit, Starbucks is America’s STD: once one appears, it’s there forever and it’s gonna get nothin’ but worse.

Coffee and a muffin, however, wait for no man.

Thank God for my magic spidey-sense about these things. Less than a mile from the hotel I found a pretty good craft brewery (406 Brewing, if you’re keeping score). But wait…it’s 8:00 on a Sunday morning. I’m bad, but even I haven’t gone THAT far down the rabbit hole.

Okay, so take note of the location and return to scouting…

A hundred yards more. Oh, thank every single thing in the universe: A COFFEE PLACE!!

Not just a coffee place, but a small local place with unconventional, creative individuals running it…and…andAND…freaking good coffee! I promise you, there is a chorus of angels singing around me as I walk through that door.

The morning started so poorly – “what do you mean, you don’t serve breakfast?” – but shit-howdy, the day has been shaping up so nicely since!

Even as I type this, I’ve had my coffee and muffin, and now I’m sitting in the brewery I found earlier and working my way through a taster tray of a few of their beers. I am, by the way, going to have some new ammunition for the Drink of the Month section…

And you wonder why I randomly decided to run off and spend a summer doing this?