A Dingo Ate My Baby

It’s getting into late June…

Holy crap.

I’m not sure I believe that.

How the hell did it get be to be late June already?!

By the end of this month, I am “supposed” to be at least halfway through the first draft of Silence.

Err…

I think I need to dust off some of those old excuses I used way back in college. “I’m sorry, professor, but there was this baby, you see. And a pack of dingos. There were definitely dingos…”

Yeah, my professors never bought it either.

The hard part isn’t inspiration: Yellowstone is not short on that particular commodity. Electricity and good wi-fi? Those are problems, but inspiration is pretty much everywhere.

No, the problem is the right inspiration – and the right environment. For someone who grew very used to writing in the taproom of a brewery, adjusting to “writing on the go” while surrounded by mountains, trees, vicious bears and a supervolcano that is – quite literally – right under my feet is something of a challenge.

I’m essentially at the 35% mark. So much for schedules and planning…

On the other hand, I do now know just what bison smell like up close, so I’ve got that going for me.

The worst part is that I am writing…I’m just not writing what I’m supposed to be. There’s an old maxim in writing that if you put off writing out an idea that comes to you – even in the middle of the night – you are guaranteed to forget it. Well, an idea came to me a week or so ago…in the middle of the night.

You know the refrain by now: I had to write it.

During my work week, I can squeeze in a couple hours of writing each day. What did I do with the two or three writing sessions I actually managed to complete this past week? Yep, you guessed it: I started fleshing out that idea that came to me.

Harrumph.

Connor and Oz are mad at me, now. They think I’ve forgotten them…

It really is a good idea, though.

 

p.s.

Sorry about the late post this weekend – I actually had the one that went up Saturday night written and ready in plenty of time, but when I tried to upload it on Thursday…well…remember the problems with electricity and wi-fi? Yeah, both hit me. And with 8 trillion people in the park every single day, the one Verizon tower I can reach gets a bit, umm, overloaded.

If I can remember to set my phone to upload overnight, I do promise to do another photo post this week.

 

You Can’t Outrun Who You Are

IMG_0163Enough’s enough.

I give up.

Take this job and shove it.

I quit.

We’ve all been there. Hell, we’ve all very likely been there more than once. There was this one job, way back in college…

Never mind, let’s…err…not discuss that particular incident.

Bad jobs aside, that “I quit” moment can come all-too often in the other spheres of our life just as much as it does with work. I have, for instance, mentioned my serial bachelorhood more than once, I believe.

But what happens when that moment hits you as a writer? Writing isn’t, for me, a job; it’s who I am far, far more than what I do. So what happens when you face that Johnny Paycheck moment in regards to the words? That’s more than the song, that’s more than walking out on a shitty job, that’s real.

I hit that moment.

Oh, I fought it and fought it. I did whatever I had to to balance the “real world” with the writing. But still everything paled and faded. The words and emotions and thoughts weren’t the same.  I wasn’t even connecting with myself, let alone with a reader.

I’ve said it before: I write this blog for others, but I write the stories for me. When even that fails, something has to give.

I had to give up, I had to shift my focus and my efforts. I had to quit.

I quit the real world.

As writers we always talk about the stakes for our characters. What do they have to lose? What is at stake?

Well, for me the stakes were huge: I had writing to lose.

I gave up everything else instead. I put my life into storage, grabbed a couple of bags and agreed to a deal to live and work in Yellowstone for the next six months.

It’s made all the difference.

The words are back, and the honesty and truth of the emotions. I work my ass off five days a week…I hike and camp and drink my ass off the other two days…and I write every chance I get.

Wait, you thought I was gonna quit writing? Are you nuts?

It’s who I am.

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…

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?

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?

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

IMG_0060Some of those close to me understand why I have such a reluctance to put down roots. As soon as I start to become a “permanent” part of the scenery, whether by career or possessions or relationships, I start to get itchy. Okay, so I’m not Neil McCauley from Heat, ready to walk out on everything in 30 seconds (and, yes, DeNiro makes that sound cooler than I ever could), but I am someone who thrives on…well, freedom.

The freedom to do what I want, when I want.

That is, by the way, reason # 345,675 why I’m no longer a “career guy”.

Writing – both novels and prostitution…err, freelance work – helps to feed that urge in me. I can, honestly, work from anywhere. In fact, it is better for me to work somewhere lively and interesting rather than a place quiet, calm and private.

I also love to see what’s around the next corner, and to do my own thing on my own timeline. And, yes, I fully realize just how terrible a potential husband that makes me, thank you very much. I came to that realization a long time ago, and just stopped worrying about that part of life. Shit, I’m not even a good candidate for a damned goldfish…

At any rate, the point is this: I tend to wander. I tend to confuse the hell out of people to whom that kind of life is nothing more than fiction. I tend to be that guy who always has “Whatever happened to … ?” placed in front of his name.

I mentioned above that some close to me actually understand my thinking and impulses, but reality itself says most of my family and friends think I’m more than a bit nuts.  Oh, they try to understand.  And, for the most part, they do a good job of rolling with the way I live, but they still think I’m a total loon.

And you know what? They may be right.

It takes a certain craziness to give up a successful career and become someone who immerses himself in all the varied experiences of life. It takes a certain craziness to be the guy who is always wanting to test the greenery on the other side of the fence. And it takes a real, full-bore craziness to just up-and-go with no real warning or planning.

Yep, I’m fuckin’ crazy.

On a whim* I accepted a temp position for the summer in a far-off national park. I won’t make shit for money…I won’t secure or advance my “life” a single bit…I won’t be any father down the “road to success” than I was when I woke up this morning…

*Okay, I will admit to having done a decent amount of research on the companies involved, and the experiences of those who’ve already done it…

BUT…

But, I will spend a summer doing something, well, different. But, I will have stories to tell…and stories to write. But I will continue to live a life that I really don’t care to ever have described as “ordinary”. And, in all honest (and false-practical) bluntness, I will reiterate that I can write from anywhere…

I’ve seen and done things most people can only ever imagine. I’ve been places I could barely dream of as a kid. I’ve been trapped in place for a long time now, and it’s time check out the horizon again.IMG_0172

I am not, to return to the title, one of the lost.  I just haven’t yet given up that need to wander…

The Middle Way

The first bit of advice anyone gives when you start writing is “don’t quit your day job.” That’s not because they want to keep out any new competition, as some people like to charge, but rather it is hard-won common sense.

Writing is a hard way to make a living. Very hard. Even if you bust out short stories and freelance projects every week (along with whatever novels you’re writing, or are intending to write), the money is…well, terrible. And freelance writing is a whole lot like prostitution: you have to get out there and hustle yourself constantly, then be whatever your john…err, client wants you to be.

It’s also a lot of work just to drum up business. I know, I’ve done it…to an extent. It is exhausting, time consuming, and frustrating in the extreme. But writing novels is worse. Those people you see on TV? The writers with the huge advance for a first book, a massive apartment in downtown Manhattan, and hot chicks hanging on their every word? Yeah, they’re about as real, and as watchable, as a Jar-Jar Binks rendition of MacBeth

But how do you write, I hear you ask, when you have to work full-time as well?

It sucks, but there are folks who pull it off. The hard part, unfortunately, comes when your job takes so much time and energy that you don’t have anything left for the writing. There is also, in all honesty, that feeling that you’re not a “writer” at that point. And that is frustrating on an inner level and can (and often will) affect your ability to, well, write.

But there is another concept, one that tries to walk a fine line down the middle of those two options (suffering as a freelancer or suffering as an office monkey). You have to decide what is more important to you: the writing, or the security of steady work. For me, it is – and was – the writing. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I had left a perfectly good career to start my own business anyway…when that business failed, turning to writing just made sense.

Writing had also become more important to me, by that point, than a traditional career.

So I currently try to walk that middle line. That means the writing is first priority for me: everything I do is there to support the words. But, to help with the writing (and the reality of life), I take other work…more than I’d like, actually. Quite intentionally, I do not pursue or get into high-level work. I can’t (well, won’t) commit to a serious, non-writing career-path again, so I focus instead on work that offers the flexibility to live my life the way I want, but also isn’t completely pointless and soul-destroying*.

*By the way, if anyone out there is looking for an ex-sales&marketing-monkey with an overactive imagination and expertise in beer, history and pop-culture trivia, drop me a line…!

When I wrote the post a few days ago about self-confidence – about “the clothes that don’t fit anymore” – this is part of what was on my mind. I gave my youth to work and career (sorta). I don’t regret it, aside from some missed opportunities, but I can’t see going back to that life. How the hell could I ever get the same satisfaction from a sales report, or a marketing plan (or a fucking TPS report, for that matter) that I get from seeing my thoughts and words come to life on the page?

By the way, if you’re wondering, living as a full-time novelist does begin to open up as a possibility (barring amazing luck, perfect timing or pure genius) by the time you publish your fifth or sixth book. Yay, something to look forward to!

Self-publishing, on the other hand, is a different beast entirely. It is also, most assuredly, no faster to reach that point of self-sufficiency than is traditional publishing. Self-pubbing also has its own unique challenges and problems, and is not the “fast cash” many people seem to think (and want).

The Price Of The Words

IMG_0163

There’s an image out there – one I’ll admit to having held myself back in the “good ol’ days” – of the starving, suffering artist. Somehow that suffering, that instability and desperation, made it all…well…better. You could only create if you were broke and on the edge of personal disaster every moment of every day.

What a crock of shit.

I’ve been (relatively) rich, and I’ve been dirt poor. On the whole, rich is better. Anyone who says differently, anyone who points to their “happy days” of poverty, is living in a utopia of nostalgia and selective mental editing.

It is neither noble nor artistically enabling to have no idea if you can make rent next month. Throw in shit like wondering how far you can stretch $3 worth of cheap pasta and canned sauce…or like knowing the places that offer free bar snacks because at those you can get a “meal” for the price of a happy-hour Bud Light…

Why am I talking about this? Mostly because I was thinking about what it takes to write. I do suspect this is a question with no single answer, so all I can do is talk about what’s true for me. And what it takes, for me, is self-confidence. No self-confidence and there are no words on the page.

That is the difference between those who can (and do) write and those who just think/dream of writing. You’ve heard it a million times already: writers write. Well, take it from someone who knows: it is hard to think and dream and plan and then actually put it all down on paper when you’re obsessing about the demands of the “real world”.

Without the self-confidence – and the mental & emotional space – to lose myself in the writing, it is very, very hard to actually write. Honestly, that’s why you see so few new and/or fresh voices published nowadays. It is hard as hell to find (or make) the time & freedom – not to mention the access! – to break into the profession enough to succeed.

This is not a purely economic thing, by the way, and I don’t want to give that impression. I focused on that aspect in this post because, well, money matters. It matters a lot.

This life ain’t Star Trek…there is no space-magic to meet our daily needs. We have to fend for ourselves. Later, in another post (or two) I’ll tackle other aspects of self-confidence, other things that help and hurt. For now, however, I just wanted to note that which ties so many of us together: the frustrations of daily survival and how those affect the work. And note, specifically, how hard it can be to trust yourself, and to find the right thoughts and words, when the light at the end of that tunnel is oh-so-goddamned-far-away.

Sorry, but I have no answers. There are no magic words, and no easy solutions. But, and this is the important bit to know and to remember: you are not alone.  No writer, however we feel, suffers alone.  Whether you know them or not, there are others out there sharing your struggles…and, hopefully, your triumphs!

Want a beer?

[N.B. – this is the post I mentioned a while back, the one I was sitting on…]