Not Actually A First-World Problem…

So I come home from a hike this morning.  I went early into the backcountry, just to spend a couple of hours before the coming storm hits.  The snow back there is knee deep at this point, so I’m tired from the workout.

No problem, I’ll just go inside and get out of my wet stuff and pound some coffee.  That’ll fix me right up.


What the hell?

Why the hell are there THREE moose hanging around the door?!

1193190949_1Hey, I used to watch Rocky & Bullwinkle, I know how this works.  They’re just harmless, cute ruminants.  They’ll probably just skedaddle when they hear and smell me.

Oh, wait, they’re not deer, they’re fucking MOOSE.  They don’t “skedaddle” for anything, they stand and stare and contemplate converting to carnivorism.


It’s not just three moose…it’s a mother moose and her two daughters.


So, a quick lesson for you, if you’ve never encountered a moose up-close before.  They’re, uh, kinda big.  I don’t mean big like an NFL player, I mean big like in a moose vs. car fight, the moose wins.  They’re not as huge as bison, but they’re not far off, either.

Anyway, I came to a stop about fifteen feet from Momma Moose and she…well, she stared.  She stared like any mother who was worried about her daughters would.

I wasn’t a guy just trying to get inside to relax, in her world I was some creeper in a trench coat on a playground…

It’s a reminder of an old joke, “What can a fifteen-hundred-pound moose do?  Anything it wants.”

images.jpegDeer would’ve just run.  Elk would’ve just run.  Hell, even a mama bear would’ve started herding her cubs away.  Momma Moose?  She owned that damned area, and I was the one who was gonna have to leave.

I am, just to let you know, typing this over breakfast at the cafe down the road…

The Medium

Does it matter?ink-bottle-parchment

Does it matter to you just what is the vehicle for the words you read?  How about for those you create?

That’s a hell of a question.  The ex-sales & marketing weasel in me says, “No freaking way.”  You fill every channel you possibly can, you give potential buyers every opportunity to buy your work.  That’s Sales 101 (subject to a couple of special-case corollaries I may touch on later, but probably won’t).

The reader in me, however…

The reader in me thinks the whole argument is silly.  I like books.  No, honestly…I really like books.  There is something infinitely satisfying about opening a physical book to read, something infinitely … err … more about reading words printed on a page.  A physical book is, to me, an experience and a quality that an electronic screen simply cannot

Now, I have given some ground on this moral absolute — books and stories I want to savor, books and stories that matter, are purchased as books, but the less important stuff?  The books I’m unsure about?  The stories in my chosen genres I’m reading not out of true interest but simply to stay involved with what is current?  Yeah, those get the iPad treatment.  But it ain’t the same thing, not to me.

I am, as I believe I’ve mentioned before, also pretty weird…so your mileage may vary.

Okay, so that’s the personal aspect, but what about the professional one?  Does it matter if a story is published in purely electronic form?  Or does it have to be in print to be real?



Crap, I don’t know the answer to that one.  I’ve never gone the pure-electronic route, I’ve worked and fought and bled to be in the “physical” space.  Oh, I know the numbers involved in both, just as I know the pluses and minuses to both.  What I don’t know is what that means to me.  And, yes, I’m writing this post because I’m struggling with mediums, struggling to decide if I actually want to continue to work and fight and bleed to live in the “physical” medium (and all the entrenched east-coast bullshit that goes with it).

So, I ask again: does the medium* matter?  Does it matter to you as a reader?  Most importantly, does it matter to you as a writer?

*And, no, I’m not talking about the Promised Land of TV…let’s leave that to “Game of Thrones” and “The Expanse” and “Man in a High Castle” and the handful of others that have passed that particular gate…

0*H2ZlUUFyJwz-Dw1s.Err…on that “special corollary” note I mentioned earlier: am I the only one who would be willing to pay, and I mean really pay, for a special version of favorite books?

In the brewing world we take special, limited release brews, stick ‘em in 22-ounce “bombers” with special labels, and charge a hefty premium for them.  The counter-intuitive result is that the more is charged, the more something is (often artificially) created and billed as “limited release”, the more people are willing to pay…often to a ludicrous extent. Think $30-50, or sometimes more, for a “special” 12-ounce bottle… “Why, hello, Mr. Profit-Margin!”

the-last-guardian-collectors-edition-ps4-3Video games kinda started my professional writing (long story, not gonna go into it)…and that industry does something similar. Add a printed instruction book, a cheap printed map, and maybe an action-figure or some other form of kitsch (I still have my Fallout lunch box, thank you very much) and you can charge triple for a “Collector’s Edition.”

Well…what if some nutty-ass writer or publisher decided to do something similar?  I’m not talking hardbacks, I’m not talking “signed” copies…what about a special font on handmade paper pages, and a hand-tooled leather cover, for a favorite fantasy story?  Shit, a couple thousand bucks for Masters of Rome in scroll form?  Yes, please.

What about  a bespoke, dedicated reader (looking exactly like the Guide, of course) for Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy?  Oh hell yeah…

Err, okay, nerd-rant over.  Thanks for playing.

The Sum of All the Parts

IMG_0163IWSG Question o’ the Month: Besides writing, what other creative outlets do you have?

Pretty easy question this month, you would think, since I’ve talked about this topic a few times before.  Heck, I even spent some time thinking about this topic over the last couple of days, thinking about the points I wanted to make, and even about the structure I wanted to use…
Then my unconscious mind remembered just how random and unprepared I tend to be when I write these posts and … umm … well … my train of thought has never met a track it couldn’t jump.

I started thinking less about creative outlets, and more about breadth of experience and quality of life.  I started thinking about the kinds of things that come into play in my own writing, things like balance and adventure and random wanderlust…

Some of what I thought about, I should say, are other creative outlets.Gdansk 1  In addition to writing, I am also a photographer.  Photography is an outlet that very much influences how I write.  It is fundamental to how I envision and create scenes, and to how I try to write them.  When I visualize my scenes, I very much think in terms of contrast and color, in terms of light and shadow.  It’s more than just visualization, however.  That contrast comes into play in my characters and settings, as well.

Personally, I think anyone who lives and works creatively absolutely needs an outlet different from their primary one.  We need a different way to think, a different way to feel, if we want to truly empower our chosen field.  For me, that other expression is photography…

Train_wreck_at_Montparnasse_1895…and that’s where my train of thought and planning jumped its tracks.  That’s where I started thinking about other things: things like experience, and passion, and the life I’ve lived…

I can’t play music.  I gave up learning the piano when I was 11,* but that doesn’t stop music from being the other major force in my writing.  Without music, in fact, I have no writing.  Without the passion and energy and inspiration it brings, I sit at my keyboard and stare blankly.

*Yes, Mom, you were right back then, I DO regret quitting!

But that’s not all, not by a long shot.  You need more than inspiration and creative outlets, you need life.

I talk and joke about my “other” life in the craft brewing world, but it is a very real thing.  Beyond writing and photography, I have my passion for brewing & cooking…for flavors and textures and combinations.  I describe it to folks, my love of brewing and cooking, as similar to music: it is the process where you can turn a bunch of disparate and unrelated parts into a whole that is far more than just their sum.

Kinda like writing,* in fact.  When everything works, a completed manuscript is so much more than just “characters + plot = story”…

*Imagine that.  Ahem.

But that ain’t it, either, or at least not all of it.  Those things I talked about, they’re are all parts, but they’re not the whole.  You need more than that, I think … you still need life.

Intellectual passions come into the mix, too, of course.  I love history, as well as astronomy, languages and literature.  I love those things, and they all play a vital part in what and how I write.  As do, of course, other influences in my life: the Russian films I admire, and the Japanese philosophies I’ve explored, and the socio-cultural wrongs I see, and the politics I abhor, and … and … and.

I’ve been just about everywhere, by the way.  I’ve lived at the geographical and social extremes of the United States, and I’ve travelled the geographical and social extremes of the world.  I’ve been drunk in some, ahh, questionable bars in Tijuana, and I’ve sat silently in the most beautiful cathedrals and basilicas.  I’ve been overwhelmed by the ruins of Rome, and lived amidst the awesome wonders of Yellowstone.  I’ve transited the Panama Canal, and swum in the Adriatic.  I’ve windsurfed off Spain, and kayaked the Bay of Fundy.  I’ve spent a day in silence at a Buddhist monastery in Japan, and a night reveling amidst the chaos and excess of a rave in Berlin.  I’ve explored the poorest slums of central America, and the grimmest Stalinist apartment blocks in Central Europe … I’ve walked through all of that, then I’ve walked to the mansions and “palaces” that lie just a few miles away…

I have, in short, tried throughout my life to do it all.  I’ve tried, and I’ve barely scratched the surface.  And that is all part of what I need to write, as much as are my other creative outlets.

If you take away even one of those things, my writing is less … I am less.  The sum that is my writing, the sum that is me — the two are the same thing, really — is made of all those things.  It is made of them, yet it is more by far than just their sum…

A Thank-You Note

There’s an old saying, “a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet.”  

Umm…no.  Just no.

775B2F31-2E6B-4EF3-8D02-9B54ACD10D5DThat is not a saying I can get behind.  A stranger is a problem…and a talkative & friendly stranger is a danger.

Yay for cynical misanthropy….?

That being said, I do have friends.  I have very good friends.  I have friends that even the lapsed-Christian in me is willing to call a “blessing.”  I have friends without whom I would, quite honestly — and quite literally — be dead.  

As anyone who has struggled with depression can attest, there is always that quiet, demanding urge to hide away, to be “left alone.”  When things go well-and-truly downhill, that urge can see you go days, or even weeks, without contact.  You ignore the phone…you ignore the texts…you ignore the emails…

It doesn’t matter who’s trying to get hold of you, your mind tells you that any contact can only be worse…

Oh yeah.

8069D7BE-D493-4FE3-AA60-52921C6D19A8I live in the freaking mountains, well outside of any real town or civilization.  I live where I can far-too-easily hide in the backcountry, in the isolation and loneliness that that little siren in my mind so croons about…

But I’m blessed with friends who won’t let that isolation stand, won’t let me fall into that trap.  Friends who insist on contact and communication and interaction, friends who won’t leave me the fuck alone…

Friends who have, more than once, saved me.

I wrote once before about holding on, about my need for those who can and will help me in spite of me.  I’m not alone…and that means everything.  As alone as life, and problems, can make me feel…I’m not alone.

And that’s why I’m still here to type this.

This isn’t so much a blog post as it is a thank-you note, a letter to those who have helped me to hold on.  To my family, to Don and Morgan, to Jonathon and Angela, to Billy, to Matt and Bill and Jason and Brent … to all those who have helped me to hold on, who have helped me to stay rooted in this world, all I have to give are my thanks.

I owe you my life.

To everyone else, I can only say this: there is someone in your life hurting, someone desperate and afraid and alone.  Find them.  Find them and help them.  You can’t make them “better,” you can’t “fix” them, but you can help them to stay rooted…you can help them to remember that they are not alone.

Whether it be trauma or depression or some other so-called “fault,” I don’t care what is the root of their problem, they need your help, they need your support…they need YOU.

No one deserves to live without hope or love, no one deserves to sit on a branch with a rope around their neck…

Musical Addendum — I’m posting below a song I have talked about before…the reason why should speak for itself: