Creativity, Expanded

IMG_0163“How has your creative life changed,” the IWSG question o’ the month asks, “since you began writing?”

Wait…since I started writing?

Well, I hit puberty, graduated high school and college, started (and ended) a couple of careers…

Okay, let’s limit that, then.  How about this: since I started writing seriously…since I started writing intentionally.   Yeah, that’ll work a hell of a lot better as a starting point than my years of random, impulsive, and inconsistent dives into it as a hobby.

Err…

That’s still a harder one to answer than you might think.  The “expansion” of my creative life into photography and music predates my “serious” writing.*  I still owe those creative outlets to writing, mind you — or, at least, to the creative urges that underlie my writing — but the timing is, umm, complicated.

*Hell, I never could have afforded photography as a writer!  Just to start up, I needed everything I was paid as a (miserably unhappy) sales & marketing monkey…

No, the biggest change to my creative life that I can attribute to serious writing is, well, getting outside of my authorial comfort zone.  Crap, this blog itself is a great example of that.  I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m a very private person.  Very private.  I never would have even considered an effort like Seat at the Bar without the lessons I learned, and the benefits I gained, from creative writing. And I certainly would never have come anywhere close to opening myself up with admissions about depression and talk about suicide…

But not even that is the biggest change. Nope, not even close.

No, the biggest change is something I (now) do on a semi-regular basis: microfiction.

Look, you all know — you know because I’ve told you often enough! — that I’m a long-form writer.  Short fiction and I just don’t get along. Oh, we tried to date and get together, but we just couldn’t make it work, so we went our separate ways in the end.  Oh, we would occasionally see each other at parties, but all we’d do is smile awkwardly and move to opposite corners of the room.

Well, since I started writing intentionally and consistently, I…err…well…  Okay, there’s no way around it, no way to sugar-coat it: I started drunk-dialing short fiction from time to time.  Nowadays, when we get together, things are still awkward and uncomfortable, but…ahem…the sex is actually pretty good…

I mean, really, c’mon — I spend three to six months just preparing to write a 125,000-word story, and now I’m posting — publicly, mind you! — 200-500 word pieces I write in under an hour?!

That’s just crazy-talk!

Crazy-talk it might be, but it’s a craziness that actually feels good.  It’s an outlet I never, ever thought I would use…and now I can’t see not spending a couple of hours a week on flash-fiction.  That is so far outside of any comfort-zone I’ve ever had, that I’m still not sure it’s entirely sane…

Shit, even when I was pretending* to be an extrovert during my sales career, I wasn’t this far outside of what is normal and natural for me!sticker,375x360-bg,ffffff.u5

*Fake it ‘til you make it!

And I owe it to the confidence and comfort I gained from writing.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

Musical Addendum: The Writer

Umm…

So…

I wanted to do an addendum to my original post today…

An addendum about music and ME

Look…I write.  That makes me weird…even without considering all the, err, weird things I do in my life…

I don’t know about you, but for me, the key to writing is that I pour myself into my works and my words.  But I do so only in ways I can control.  There is an awful lot of ME in my works and words, but only so much.

I am — I seem to recall mentioning before — a very private person.  Hell, as much as I love them, even my own family knows far, far less about me than they think they do…

Okay, fine…I accept it…folks don’t know me because I don’t let them know me — and that ain’t likely ever to change.  I did, once, giving myself to a partner.  I tried going for marriage, two-and-a-half-kids, and a suburban home…

Err…

It didn’t work.

I tried because I thought I had to…

Then I sobered up.  Or I drunked up…take your pick, really.

Anyway, I gave up on the “American ideal” and struck out solo.  Now, various movies and books and essays will tell you that “striking out on your own” is a good thing.  They’ll tell you that’s how great things are built, and that genius lies in, err, eccentricity.

By they way, they kick you out of the bar for eccentricity…trust me, I know this.  But, as often as I try to escape the bonds of sobriety and sanity, music always brings me back.

Maybe it’s because it’s because I listen to such a wide variety…

Maybe it’s because I can always find artists who have gone past the lines I never would cross..

Maybe it’s because I’m (finally) growing up…

When I was young, music helped to define a world I couldn’t understand.  I was too young to deal with booze and drugs and the suicides of friends, so I let the music give me the answers.

Later, I feared those answers.

No, that’s not right…

I was terrified of those answers, because they threatened far too much to close circle of my youth.

I won’t say that I’ve changed all that much since I was 18 — umm, I’m not sure I’ve changed at all — but if there is a change, it is because I now appreciate and listen to such a wide variety of music.  Look, I grew up and matured on Nirvana and Pearl Jam and the rest of the 80’s and 90’s music scene, but I have learned to appreciate so much more

I’m a middle-class white guy, but Billie Holliday well-and-truly speaks to me…

As much as I like energy and dissonance, Chopin is a fucking genius…

Mozart and Muddy Waters both changed the world…

There is a show on British radio that asks, “If you were stranded on a desert isle, what one album would you want with you?”

Oh, shit…

That answer ain’t easy.

Clapton…Pink Floyd…Genesis…Hendricks…

How do you choose?

How do you choose?!?!?

Right now, with where I am today, with where I am right now…

Deep breath…

Sink or Swim by Gaslight Anthem.

Unintentional Snippeting, The Final Scene

I’m not a Halloween guy.  I never have been.  Even as a kid, I wasn’t one of those folks who put hours and hours of thought and effort into a costume.  Nope, instead I was one of those guys who just threw together whatever I could at the last minute…

That hasn’t really changed.

One of the few times of late that I’ve done something for Halloween was last year’s 0.5K* Zombie Doughnut Crawl at the brewery.  Halloween just doesn’t matter to me, other than as a milestone on the trip to that holiday I really do get into: Christmas.

*Yes, you read that right, half a kilometer!

At any rate, today is Halloween and damn if I can be bothered to write a…you know…Halloween post.  It would probably help if I wrote horror or suspense stuff, but I don’t.  I write sci-fi and fantasy. So, unless you want a Halloween story about elves battling invading aliens, we’ll just skip the story idea for today…

It’s been a while since I did a post focused on writing, so I’ll jump back to that.  Plus, I can cheat and make this a music post, too…and I do love to cheat!

I’ve talked more than once about how music affects my writing.  Here is a recent post about how what I listen to helps to create the “soundtrack” for a particular scene.  What I haven’t delved too deeply into is how music impacts the creation of the story itself, how it can help to inspire not just the story, but also the characters and tone.

It’s hard to explain, so I’ll go back to my old “standby” of using my work-in-progress series as a concrete example…

I didn’t start off with a soundtrack, of course.  I started off with a couple of characters, and a setting, and that was about it.  I knew the boys’ backstories, and their current situation, but not much more.  It was those two characters, by the way, who forced me to keep working on the story.  I fell in love with them, and I couldn’t step away, no matter how much I “wanted” to work on another story at the time.

I need three things in order to start really planning and writing a story: characters I believe in, something to say, and the final scene.  Look, I know just how weird it sounds, but until I have that final scene, I don’t have the beginning of the story…and I certainly don’t have the tone or feeling of it.  For me, that final scene helps to make everything real.

I was stuck, then.  I had two stories — one I “wanted” to write, and one demanding to be written — but I couldn’t make progress on either.  I couldn’t make progress until…

…until…

…until I found the “soundtrack.”  Until I found that one key song that encapsulates what the story is.  It was quite by accident, by the way, that I found that one song…the one that led me to my final scene, and to what eventually became Somewhere Peaceful to Die:

Ah, hell…I wasn’t gonna do this, but when have I ever really stuck with my “plan” for a post?  Err…never, to be honest.  A bit of unplanned snippeting for you: the final scene to Somewhere Peaceful, written roughly nine months before I got the story to the point where it actually needed a final scene:

It was a heavy hatch, rusted and decrepit.  Just like the rest of Dockside.  Outside the compartment, there in the lowest levels, the air was fetid and foul.  The slime farm was considered one of the worst places you could go Dockside.  No one went there if they could at all avoid it, even the workers whose domain it was.  It was the perfect place for two boys, two ikiryo, to use as their hideaway.

The stench of mold and rot was overpowering.  The hatch was old, dating all the way back to the days when Dockside had just been cargo-cans full of the equipment and belongings to colonize a new star system.  That hatch squealed in rusty protest at Connor’s frantic efforts, resisted any movement.

Nothing, however, would slow him down.

He wasn’t sure he believed Sonthi, or the note.  He didn’t want to believe.  Oz was the strongest person he’d ever known; he kept Connor going, not the other way around.  Never alone, that had been their promise to each other.  And Connor had failed that.  Spin it however he wanted, color it with whatever guise of doing right he could fool himself into, he still had left Oz to face the consequences alone.

Connor’s arms surged and the seals popped.  He would not fail, not this time.

Inside was a tangled forest of massive tanks, convoluted piping and heaving pumps.  All were bubbling and gurgling as the life-giving algae — Dockside’s main air filter — was cultivated and cared for inside.  It was all automated, of course, all monitored from afar.  No one wanted to work down there.

The slime tanks made it hard to see, and the piping created a chaos of background noise that almost drowned thought itself.  Just a step inside and Connor was lost in that maze-like tangle.  He knew the compartment’s layout — he and Oz would come here to laugh and drink, come for the closest thing either had to privacy, and to quiet — but still he could barely see, could barely move.

A look around and he shuddered with dread.  There was barely any light.  The vast compartment was all shadows and shapes.  Kazuo’s goons could be inches away and he would never know…until they put a bullet into his head.

His breath was ragged and heaving.  He slowed: step, listen…step, listen.  He couldn’t hear shit, and could see even less, but he tried anyway.

Was that a sound?  A breath?

He pushed his head around a three-foot-wide pipe and looked.  There was a shadow huddled at the base of one of the massive tanks.  A small shadow.

Oz.

“Oh fuck…” Connor moaned.

Hard-won caution was lost.  Thought and concern were lost.  A single glance and he knew, that was his brother laying there on the ground.  Alone.

He sprinted through the cramped compartment, blind to everything but that small shadow.  He moved as fast as he could.  In a blink, he slammed to his knees and was turning that body onto its back.

The first thing that registered was the blood.  The blood was everywhere.

Oz’s face was pale, and his body almost cold.  Connor screamed in wordless rage and pain.

Those eyes opened — the eyes so often the source of the strength and comfort Connor needed when life was at its worst — and a blood-soaked hand reached up to touch his face.

A knife on the ground, covered in blood.  A fucking knife.  Oz hadn’t wanted a clean death, Connor realized.  He’d wanted to suffer, to pay the price for everything he’d done.

A dull clatter as Connor threw that knife away.  He tore off his shirt and gathered his friend into his arms, tried futilely to stop the flow from Oz’s wrists.  He could feel his brother’s life ebbing away.  A stifled sob and he managed to speak through the block in his throat, “What the fuck are you doing in here alone, bozu?  This ain’t what we always talked about.”

Oz was so cold, so pale.  Connor couldn’t stop the sob.  “Fuck…please hold on, Oz…don’t leave me.”

Oz pulled one hand free from Connor’s efforts, reached to touch his face again.  The stream of blood from his wrist was slowing.  “Spog?  No, Spog…go…get out, run…they’ll find you.”  The tears on Oz’s face were washing away the blood.

As small as he was, Oz had always been vibrantly alive, always full of energy and life.  What Connor held in his arms was cold and lethargic, barely recognizable as his friend.  “Alone is worse…” he whispered, choked.  “I’m sorry I’m late.”

“I’m sorry,” Oz said, his voice barely a whisper.  Too much blood had fled, too much life had ebbed.  “I fucked you over and you never knew.  I’m sorry.”

“I knew, Oz.  I knew…and I don’t give a damn.  Please hold on.  Who’s gonna keep me from fucking up if you leave?  Don’t go away…please.  We were gonna get off this shit heap, we were gonna find that peaceful place together.  I can’t do it alone, bozu.”

The body was so light in his arms, the face so grey.  Connor knew his friend had no time left.  The light in those eyes was already flickering, fading away.  With every faltering heartbeat he became more the ghost people named him than ever he had been in life.

Oz’s voice was almost inaudible.  “I’ll hold…I’ll hold as long as I have to, just as long as you promise we’ll be okay.”

“You dumb son of a bitch!  We’re okay…of course we’re alright.”  Connor could barely manage the words as he held his friend ever more tightly.  “Nothing you can do will fuck that up.”

Oz shuddered and grabbed at Connor’s shoulder even as his eyes closed.  “I fucked up…I’m sorry,” he mumbled.  “You never saw how fucked up I was.  You always thought I was just like you.  I’m sorry.”

“Just stay with me, Oz.  I don’t give a damn what you did, or what happened.  If you go, I got nothin’.  Don’t leave!”

“Go…run…get out.  They know where I am, you idiot,” Oz’s voice was the ghost of a whisper.  Then, even softer, fading, “Promise we’re alright, Connor.  Oh shit, why is it so dark?”

The hatch behind was still half-open.  Even over the pipes and pumps, Connor could hear noise, could hear the price he would pay coming nearer.

Connor tightened his arms and held Oz to him.  He stroked his friend’s hair and whispered, “We’re alright, goddammit.”  His shirt was already blood-soaked, had done nothing to help.  The flow of life from Oz’s wrists had slowed to the barest trickle.  He was almost gone.  “You’re scaring the shit out of me, Oz.  Please stay with me.”

“I love you, Connor.  It’s getting light again…so damned cold…I’m sorry I fucked up again…I didn’t want to die alone…oh, shit…”

The commotion was close now.

Connor held tight, offered what comfort he could.  Through the tears, “You moron, you fucking moron…you’re not alone…”

That slight body was still.  The blood stopped.

The hollow echo of boots on the metal deck.

Connor moaned, aware of nothing but pain and loss.  He rocked slowly back and forth with Oz’s body cradled close, remembering a friendship beyond thought and word.  It dominated everything in his mind, a friendship like no other from the day they had met.  The day when Oz had saved him from the life of pain and degradation that Oz himself had never escaped.  Through times both the best and worst, Oz had been his only family.

Connor screamed.

Voices barking…shouts…the squeal of the hatch.  He had no idea what was happening, and he didn’t give a damn.  His best friend, his brother, was dead.

The echo of boots…then a hand grabbed Connor’s shoulder, the grip painful and harsh.

By the way — on the topic of soundtracks — I have one in my head, as I’ve mentioned, for the scenes I write.  Weirdly, the soundtrack for the scene above is NOT “Ghosts That We Knew”, it is a song called “Be Still”:

On Hiatuses, And Creatures of Habit

Okay, look…I know I haven’t posted in a while. I also know that I’ve failed to fulfill the semi-promise I made in the last IWSG post to have several posts queued up…

I mean, shit, even my freaking MOM got on me for slacking on my blogging!

Okay, so, I’ll ritually drown myself in beer in abject humiliation, if that will make you feel better*.

*It sure as hell will make ME feel better!

When you get right down to it, the bottom line is that I kinda needed a break from blog writing. I enjoy the hell out of writing from my seat at the bar, but sometimes…well…sometimes it can start to feel a whole lot like homework. And, to be honest, I’ve always pretty much sucked at homework — I was always that kid madly scribbling away on an assignment five minutes before it was due. Thank God for a certain gift for extemporaneous bullshit with which I have been, err, “blessed”…

Ahem…that’s enough of that, thank you very much.

It wasn’t all about taking a break, however.

Nope, there were — as usual — other forces at play.

In a lot of ways, I am one of those people who likes to just make shit up…and I’m not talking about my stories, I’m talking about life in general. When I travel solo, my detailed itinerary looks a whole lot like:

1) Get off the plane
2) Do random shit
3) Return home

Crap…if you’ll recall, I am that random idiot who just up and moved to Yellowstone on nothing more than a momentary whim…

But that is just part of me. That is the personal me.  When it comes to work — especially when it comes to writing — I am very much a creature of habit. I like to have the same schedule every day. I like to go to the same places to do the same things. I like the rhythm that predictability brings, and the (surprising) freedom.

But…

But

BUT, those habits can turn me to the Dark Side, too. Yet another recollection for you: I took a job a few months ago, to help make ends meet. Err…well…it was mostly to temporarily use and abuse my employer for the health insurance, actually, but they’re abusing the shit out of me, so we’re about even I’d say.

The problem with that job is that I (far too easily) fall into it’s rhythm, rather than my own. That job’s obnoxious, creativity-killing rhythm, in fact, is the main reason why I left working for other people in the first damned place!

But, for the moment, I work my forty hours…and I get into the habit and rhythms of that schedule. Sadly, that rhythm makes it all too easy to forget that writing is supposed to be Job One. I don’t generally have the time to go to the coffee shop as much as I’d like…and I certainly don’t have the time/energy to go the taproom as much as I’d like — let alone as much as I need in order to truly keep up my writing.

I’ve mentioned before that writing for me is a thing of momentum and regularity. I need to be producing scenes & stories regularly in order to keep up that momentum. When it breaks? Yeah, when it breaks it’s not just one step back, it’s “go back to Start and begin again.”

Sigh.

The ghosts, by the way…

The ghosts that are my characters and stories…

The ghosts are fluttering.

Actually, they’re not so much fluttering as punching me in the face in order to get my attention.

Shit, let’s be honest here: the ghosts won’t leave me the fuck alone.  And the only way I have to exorcise them is to write them…shitty-job rhythm and habits be damned.

Remember what I said way back when? Writing is not what I do, it’s who I am.