Yet Another Post That Started With A Point, But Lost It…

I’ve been busy over the past week or so.  Oh, not too busy to think and write, but still busy nonetheless.  The fact that it is a business of my own creation and choice makes it a thing very different from those days when “busy” meant running to meetings I didn’t want to attend, with people I didn’t want to talk to, in places I didn’t want to be…

In that life, busy meant miserable.  Busy also meant trying to pass the day ever more quickly so I could get to those few hours of “non-busy” in the brewery taproom, spending time with those with whom I did want to talk.  Compared to those days, nothing will ever be “busy” again…

Thank God.

This busy-ness — the busy-ness of the last few days — has been a thing important to me on both a personal and a professional level.  And, no, before you ask, I have not shared it here on the blog.  It isn’t yet time.  When that time does come, however, you can rest assured that I will talk — probably non-stop! — about it here.

Even in the midst of all that busy-ness, however, I have been making time for myself to do more reading.  Now, as is usual for me, I have been focusing that reading on history.  I know, I know…you are very surprised by that.  I mean, who would ever have thought that I read history?  My God, before you know it I’ll be talking about crazy shit like astronomy and cosmology!

Ahem.  Never mind.  Let’s just /sarcasm and move on…

My reading of late has gone back to what is perhaps the greatest well in all of European history for stories of power politics and intrigues and ruthlessness: the English Wars of the Roses.  Look, there is a reason why Shakespeare’s most impactful characters and plays comes from his cycle about this period.  Hell, it was for the very same reason that modern writers take the Wars of the Roses as the basis for something like, oh, a million stories.  Shit, every single bit of Game of Thrones came from this freaking period!  Even the dragons!

Err…well…maybe not the dragons…unless, of course, you want to postulate early canons and artillery as “dragons”!

Err, sorry about that.  Give me a moment to /nerd too…

There, that’s better.

So, I’ve been reading about the Wars of the Roses and, well…shit.  What writer can not think about characters and plots with that particular bit of history in front of them?!  Even better — or worse, depending on your point of view — I’ve been diving back into the stories and details about the death of Edward IV; the machinations of his queen, Elizabeth Wydville; the ambitions of his brother, Richard of Gloucester (yeah, I pretty much refuse to give him the royal styling of Richard III — sue me, I’m convinced of his guilt); and all of the ruthlessness and maneuvering around the fates of the Princes in the Tower.

If you don’t know, by the way, that final phrase refers to the 12 year old King Edward V, and his nine year old brother Richard, Duke of York.  Now, no work of history can get into the reality of those two boys because, quite simply, all we can definitively say about them is that their uncle imprisoned and murdered them in order to seize the throne.  And in that simple sentence I just typed there lie literally millions of words of stories and characters and conflict as inspiration for a fiction writer!

The Princes in the Tower

There is a record, from a contemporary writer unaffiliated with either political faction of the day, about how people used to gather across the Thames from the Tower to watch the imprisoned princes come outside to play everyday.  Then…one day…the boys just never reappeared.  It was only after that disappearance that everyday, average Londoners turned against Richard Gloucester.  It was only after that disappearance that people began to question whether a man so popular and respected could be so ruthless and evil.

I’m sorry, but just how can you not take something like that and run with it?

One of the things I find most compelling about the whole story is the fact that not a single one of the players involved gave a damn about anything other than their own power.  Elizabeth Wydville was a grasping, ruthless woman committed to cementing her own (unofficial) power and influence over the government of England at all costs.  Richard of Gloucester had more official and legitimate claims to power — as regent, not king — but that most certainly wasn’t enough for him.  Hastings and Buckingham (if you remember them from your Shakespeare!) wanted desperately to cement their own power…

And not one of those people, trusted with the care of two young boys unable to defend themselves as much as they were trusted with the care of England itself, cared one whit for any of their charges.  Nor did they, to get more to the point in terms of today’s world and politics, ever bother to pause and think about what was best for the nation or the people.

And in all of that you have…everything.   You have characters who are sympathetic, and characters who are detestable.  You have conflict and tension on multiple levels, from the personal to the international.  You have scheming and murder; evil deeds and cowardice; manipulations and mistakes; hell, you have a dude executed by being drowned in a barrel of wine (!). You have, when you get right down to it, an illustration over just a few short months of everything that makes humanity so fucked up and miserable…and so very human.

Richard III

Oh…also…if you extend the window out a bit, you do get a touch of justice, too.  Hastings and Buckingham were executed by their former master, Richard of Gloucester.  Not much later, Dicky 3 himself died at the hands of a man whose claim to the throne was laughably thin; a man who barely spoke any English; a man whose grandfather was nothing more than a Welsh groom with the good luck to marry a (former) queen…

That man, who became Henry VII, had his faults and problems, but let’s be honest here — he not only killed Richard of Gloucester, he married the dead princes’ sister and gave eventual rise to a magnificent grandchild in the form of Elizabeth I.  So well done, Hank.

Err…on a pointless history-is-complicated note: Hank7 didn’t actually turn out to be a terribly nice guy.  He wasn’t a hugely bad one, mind you, but he was certainly no shining, chivalric hero.  His mother, on the other hand, was one of the strongest and most remarkable women you’ll ever come across.  Which leads inevitably to a whole separate character-inspiration rant.

*sigh*

Anyone who says history is simple, and writing easy, is either crazy, or lying their ass off.

Through My Words

So, one of the things you run into when you’re traveling the US are folks from your (old) neck of the woods.  I have, when you get right down to it, run into quite a few folks lately who are from my (old) neck of the woods in northern Colorado.  I’ve had some fascinating conversations with those folks, not just about the places and things we have in common but also about the frustrations and negatives we share.

I mention this because I met a couple today who ticked all of those boxes.  Not only are they from just up the road from where I used to live, but their interests are pretty damned similar to mine.  Even more intriguing, their story is pretty similar, too.  They, too, got sick of living where it is always crowded and busy; of living at a pace that never seems to leave time just to breathe; of existing, rather than living.

Now, look.  There is no conceivable way I can argue that living in Yellowstone offered a frenetic, crowded life.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  But when the time came to finally wrap up my time in paradise?  Yeah, the very thought of going back to the nuttiness of northern Colorado was something I just could not face.  Hence my current little wanderjahr.

At any rate, back to this couple…

They left the area with nothing but the idea of living a better life.  I met them because they now run a successful farm*, and have just recently expanded that farm by building a small restaurant and brewery on it.  That right there is pretty much, well, heaven to me.  The corn they use in the polenta?  Yeah, they grow that.  The apple that comes with the ploughman’s lunch?  Yep, they grew that, too.  The beer they brew?  No, they don’t grow the barley or the hops, but they use yeast grown from a wild strain they harvested off of their own pears…

*Remember, I’m a farm/agriculture nerd, on top of all those other nerd-isms I’ve shared on these pages…

There is a school of thought that says our fascination with historical fiction and fantasy stories derives from a need/urge to look back to the “old days”; from the urge to live a simpler life in a simpler time.  And, no, before you ask, it is not purely a thing of the modern world.  Hell, Sir Walter Scott wrote Ivanhoe two hundred freaking years ago, and 150 years ago Robert Louis Stevenson started in on shipboard life and pirates’ treasure!  But looking to a simpler life?  Yeah, I’ll buy that.

Hell, I live that.

One of the dangers of life, by the way, is defining and measuring yourself by increasingly complex things.  Living by the values and measures of the external world, rather than those internal to you.  Even writers suffer from this, to be honest.  It is far too easy, and too common, for us to define our success or failure by those measures set and valued by those who do not create the words.  We get caught up in being on this best seller list, or appearing in that magazine.  And, sure, those measures have some meaning — especially when the mortgage is due! — but do they really define us, or our words?

If this blog has achieved nothing else, it has allowed me to offer some bits of advice to other writers out there.  One of those bits consistently has been — and still is — that you don’t write for anyone but yourself.  If you are writing what others want to hear; if you are writing words that don’t matter to you; if you are writing solely for the external measures, you are writing stories that won’t last, and words that don’t matter.

Here is an image for you, a small picture to flesh out the words.  If I am writing for anything or anyone external to me, it is for this:

A kid sits alone, reading late into the night.  The day may have been normal, or it may have been terrible.  There may have been friends, or there may have been no one.  Whatever the day brought, that kid sits alone at night and reads the words.  The story and the characters…they come to life in the words.  They become examples to follow or to flee; founts of wisdom or insanity; examples of those who have overcome, or those who have failed.  The best of them…they become treasured friends.

I was one of those kids, sitting alone late into the night and throwing my entire self into the story.  I laughed with Ford and Arthur and the other hitchhikers; I triumphed with Garion and Pug and Corwin and a host of others; I learned about loss and grief from the likes of Roald Dahl and Kurt Vonnegut and, especially, What Dreams May Come

When I look back, I learned grace and strength in adversity from writers like Samuel Delaney and Ursula LeGuin.  I learned honor and duty from folks like Joe Haldeman and Robert Heinlein and JRR Tolkien.  I learned…

Shit, I learned everything, from everyone.

That kid, alone under the covers? The one who want — who needs — to read words that resonate and matter?

That is why my own story is still one of wandering and learning and trying new things. That is the simpler life I value, and that I will always be chasing. That is why I write: for that kid, alone under the covers, learning and living through the words.  Through my words.

Take My Advice: Skip the Jail, Sleep on the Sub

Ahh…is there anything quite like staying in the cheapest of hotels?

No.  No there is not.

A little word of warning for you: it’s fine to book a cheap hotel in the midst of a cross-country drive, but make sure it’s not the cheapest hotel in town!  Always, always, always go for something towards the middle of the pack, otherwise you end up in a beat-up, dingy place sandwiched between the county jail and a homeless shelter.

Not that I’ve ever made that mistake, mind you.

*cough*

Err, let’s move on, then…

Look, I know I haven’t blogged in…umm…uhh…

Well, shit.  I’m running out of fingers and toes, so it has been way too long.

That delay, that lack of writing, unfortunately is why I had to leave paradise.  As I wrote previously, I had to break the terrible, immovable stagnation that had taken hold of me in that place.

I can feel it pulling at me already, by the way.  I can feel the call of the mountains; I can just about hear the packs howling; I can feel the bears hunting*; the run of a stream just now filling with melting snow; the frenzied antics of otter families playing as they fish; the foxes and coyotes still torpedoing their heads into the snow to catch field mice…

*Every news story about a moron…err, tourist getting attacked brings some schadenfreude and a nod to Darwin’s immutable wisdom.

Shit, I could continue for a long, long time.

Yesterday I pulled in to a rest stop to have lunch.  It was actually a nice place, with lots of green space neatly maintained around a dense wood.  Do you know what I did the entire time?  I watched the tree line for the grizzly that I just knew could smell my lunch and would come ambling out to investigate at any moment.  Uhh, grizzlies?  In freaking Minnesota?!

Old habits are gonna die hard, I think.

I’m on the water now, however, and that means something.  I can see the expanse in front of me.  If the air doesn’t have the tang and bite of sea air, it is still…refreshing.  Heck, it’s refreshing enough that once I finally extricated myself from my jail-adjacent bed-for-the-night, the urge to write came.  Actually, it came at about three in the morning, when my drunken neighbors woke me with their screaming match, but just this once putting off the writing by a few hours was a good idea.  Ahem.

That urge to write has been a ghostly voice* at the back of my mind for a very long time now.  I didn’t always listen, of course, but it was always there.  Until the inertia took hold.  Until I sank further and further away from the writing, and the voice became more and more silent.  As the sounds of paradise became louder, that little ghost at the back of my mind became quieter.

*Wait…you thought Oz’s voice at the back of Connor’s mind came out of nowhere?  Silly, silly reader — of course that’s a freaking allegory!

I hate to say it, but it is only since I left Yellowstone that I can hear it again.  Of course, I had beer and extra-spicy wings last night, so the voice is pretty mercilessly making fun of me right now, but at least it’s talking again!

Oh, and here’s a bit more unsolicited cheap-hotel wisdom for you: if you want good, cheap food and beer, find the bar by the police station that the cops go to when they get off.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, this town may be — err, not may be, is — a dump, but it’s got a killer submarine museum on the waterfront that I need to go explore…

p.s.

Wait…you can AirBnB a freaking submarine in this town?  Are you fucking kidding me?!  How the hell did I miss that?  Yeah, it’s expensive as hell, but…you can sleep on a goddamned submarine!!

USS Cobia at the Wisconsin Maritime Museum

{Musical Note — hey, let’s go old school, just for fun}

Blood

Here is the ultimate truism in my little corner of the universe: No plan survives contact with my seat at the bar.

I started thinking about this post yesterday.  I thought more about it last night.  I thought enough, even, to begin making a plan.  Then…

Then came distraction.

*sigh*

Okay, sure, streaming a German TV sci-fi show was fun.  But was it fun enough to be worth putting off this post, and losing all track of what I had originally intended to say?

Err…no.  Not really.

In all honesty, the Germans just aren’t that good at TV.  Now, give me a British comedy, or a Korean historical drama, and we can talk about shows that are well-and-truly worth it.

So, well, today I still want to write a post.  What I had planned before is gone; as gone as all those ideas and characters I failed to write down.  What I have instead is a random thought, and some history and truth to go with it.

Back in my corporate days, I had a friend with whom I used to eat lunch on a regular basis.  Technically, I suppose, she worked for me, but that relationship was so tenuous and distant on the org chart that it might as well not have existed.  No, we were friends not because of shared professional concerns, but for very personal reasons.

This friend of mine had…history.  She is one of those who had seen and done a great deal in her life, and was a better person for it.  She also had a…well, secret ain’t the right word, it’s too damned strong.  She had an area of her life that was private, for her alone.  At one lunch, however, something I said caught her ear and we found that we shared that one private area — although we did so in radically different ways.

When my friend was young, you see, she had given her newborn son up for adoption.  I and my siblings, on the other hand, were all adopted (from separate families/parents) as babies.

You can see, I hope, why my friend and I connected so well.

She was struggling, my friend.  After almost thirty years, she was struggling with the guilt and loss that she had so effectively buried when she was young.  She had done some research and found a way, she thought, to contact her son.  What did I think, she had wanted to know.  How would I react to contact from my own birth mother?

Err…

Umm…

I was the wrong one to ask, back then.  I still am, I should probably add.  My siblings have been open and honest about finding their birth parents.  They have all done so, as a matter of fact, to varying degrees of success and satisfaction.  I on the other hand…

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I’ve never had any interest.  Not only would I not welcome contact, but I would be pretty damned hostile to any such attempt.

One of the hardest things I have ever done was to say that to my friend.  Oh, I prevaricated and softened.  I explained and talked and offered my siblings as alternatives.  But, beneath it all, there was no disguising just how I truly felt: the past is the past, and best left there.  I have no more emotional attachment to my birth parents than I do to a pair of old hiking boots.  Less, actually.  At least the boots shared hundreds of miles of exploration and discovery with me.

I never got to find out, by the way, just how things turned out for my friend.  It was only a few months later that I left the company to find my riches — HAH!!! — in travel and writing.*  I hope to hell that she did contact her son, and that they built a relationship that meant something to both of them.

*I’m still happier for having left, by the way.  A great deal poorer, yes, but much happier.  It comes back to that question that’s as old as mankind itself: just what is your soul worth?  There’s (obviously) more to that story, but we’ll save that for another time, shall we?

Similarly, I hope that my brother — the most recent of my siblings to trod (gently) down that path — finds nothing but happiness and fulfillment in his contacts.

For the writer, no matter his personal opinions, is there any dynamic more powerful to think and write about than such bonds of family?  The bonds of blood versus those of love?  Of shared heritage versus shared experience?  As I have done more than once on this blog, I’ll (try to) add something to the point by throwing in some words I once put into my protagonist’s mouth: “some families you’re born into, and some you choose.”**

**Not an original sentiment, I’ll grant you, but one that I hope means a bit more when you realize just where the writer is coming from.

As I’m working through the background process on another story, I find that these dynamics keep coming up.  They have, to be honest, come up in almost every story I’ve ever conceived.  They have, more importantly, been a part of every story I’ve taken past the point of conception and begun the actual writing process.

Write what you know, they say.  Write what’s important to you, I add.

You can boil all that down to an even more basic level, however: write you.

{Musical Note — hey look, to the surprise of…well…exactly no one, it was a song that influenced the creation of this post!}