Out and About

Wait…it’s been HOW long since I did a blog post?!

See, this is what you get when you destroy your routine.

In my “real” life — in my life exploring the backwoods, and traveling the world — I crave adventure and unpredictability. I intentionally seek out the unexpected.  Real life without those things, to be honest, is but the palest, most miserable shadow of existence I can imagine.  But in my writing?

I don’t know about the other writers out there, but I am very much a creature of habit when it comes to writing and creating.  Maybe it’s because I am, when you get down to work and professionalism, pretty damned task-oriented.  Give me a complex issue to solve, and I will break everything down to the constituent parts to get it done.  Back when I thought wearing a shirt & tie every day was the route to happiness, that quality made me a good project manager.*  It has translated, now, into the ability to break down how to write a story into the component tasks that can be achieved in a single writing session.

*This was not a natural skill for me, by the way.  I had to learn it the hard way.  To those younger writers/folks out there who think you only ever have the skills you are born with, and that success only comes from success, I will say this: I learned to be task-oriented from failure.  I failed miserably in life- and career-terms a couple of times before I figured this shit out…

It is those writing sessions, however, that are the problem.

My “real” life might consist of this (and, yes, this is an actual example from my travels): wake up in the hotel, get lost walking through the city trying to find some random hole-in-the-wall bakery for breakfast, then flip a coin to determine which train to take next…

When I write, I can’t do that.  To be fully productive, I have to have a routine.  I have to get up and go to a coffee place for breakfast, and to write.  After lunch, I have to (a) go to a taproom or (b) sit in a nice spot outside, and write.  I can of course do those things at home, but it doesn’t work as well.

I’ve said before that writing at home is not a route to success for me.  When I am out in the world, I am surrounded by life and by others (as strange as that sounds, coming from someone as quiet and introspective as me), and that makes my writing more open and energetic.  It makes the writing easier, too.  I don’t have to force the words when I am out and about amidst all that life, they tend to come on their own.

When I am sitting at home, however, my writing veers towards the introspective and internal.  That “at home” writing is when I withdraw inside myself…and when the black dog comes most into my thoughts and words.  Working at home leads to words on the page that are not comfortable to read, and still less so to write.

Erm…

Okay, so this post took a wrong turn somewhere around Albuquerque.*  

*To my international (and younger!) readers: if that line makes no sense, that’s probably a good thing.  It refers back to a frequent line from that literary genius, Bugs Bunny…

I was actually planning on doing this as a list-post, with a few random points that hit me as I read the news this morning.  I am, however, already well over 500 words into this piece, so I think I’ll have to put that list together for a post later this week.  Nope, no list today! Instead, you get the random ramblings of a guy barely into his second cup of coffee…

Oh, and in addition to the list, I have an image I want to do for a flashfiction piece this week, too.  I am trying not to think about that piece, actually.  At least, not yet. Not until I am ready to give it that hour of undivided attention and focus it needs.  As for the image?  Walking down a dark road, and ahead snowflakes falling gently in the light of a streetlamp.

Shit!  Now I’m thinking about it…

Flashfiction: “Movin’ On Up”

Wake up and go to work. Come home for some TV and sleep. Check your accounts to make sure the paychecks go in, and the bills go out, at the right times…

Lather, rinse, repeat…

Hold on a second, something just hit me.

Holy shit, in the time it took me to type that last sentence, this post just changed from a random piece I wasn’t sure was even gonna work into a flashfiction piece (that I’m still not sure is gonna work, just like every flashfiction piece I write)!

I don’t know how it is for others who write, but, well, welcome to my brain and how the idea and creative process works…

At any rate, let’s give this a shot, shall we?  And to illustrate the “one hour rule” I have for my flashfiction pieces, I’m taking the idea that just hit me and starting to envision and write at 9:05 AM.  I’ll (hopefully) be hitting “Publish” no later than 10:05 AM.

{Note — it is now 9:55, and I am about to hit that “Publish” button…}

Movin’ On Up

He went to work every day.  Never late, never absent.  Hard work and dedication had paid off for him.  After four years on the second floor, in a tiny beige cubicle, the call had come.  He was on the way up, they told him.

Up he went, then.  All the way up…to the third floor, where the cubicles were grey.  The walls stood all the way to his shoulders, up there.  Extra space and privacy?  What more could he want?

His pay was up, too.  Oh, the taxes took a bigger bite, but his daily checks of the bank app on his phone were still satisfying.

Four more years, then.  Four years of overtime and vacations to Columbus.  Four years of satisfied little sighs when he checked his phone.  They had even come to know his name, his bosses.  Well, six of them knew his name, anyway, and that wasn’t too bad.

Finally, an extravagance.  Those satisfied little sighs when he checked his phone had grown larger and larger over the years.  They had grown until he felt comfortable enough to step up at home, too.  No more Columbus for him.  No sir, he was on the way up!

He shuffled back into the office after his week-long vacation.  Sunburnt, hungover and exhausted, the week in Sarasota had been everything he’d dreamed.  As tired as he was, he felt ready to face the next year with a renewed vigor.

He had his eye on that corner cubicle down the aisle from his.  It had a view, that cubicle.  A glance out the small window and he’d be able watch those going to and fro on the elevators.  He’d even be able to see the office doors.

They were the Promised Land, those offices.  The dream he never dare mention.  Life with walls and a door!  The ultimate goal.  He would reach that office.  He had confidence; hard work was always rewarded, wasn’t it?

And then, after the office?  All those satisfying little numbers on his phone would grow and grow until he that magic day when the hard work was no longer necessary.  Then he would be happy.  Then the trips to Columbus and Sarasota would become trips to Paris and Tokyo.  Then the drudgery would give way to adventure.  Then life would truly begin.

The years were a blur in his mind.  His wife and kids were a blur, too.  The hard work continued, and he continued on the way up.  Up to that corner cubicle he coveted.  Up, even, to that office.  So what if half of it was taken up with boxes of paper they had nowhere else to store?  It still had walls and a door.  It still was his own space at work.

The demands on his time were up, too, to go with the bigger numbers on his phone.  He hadn’t made the last few trips to Sarasota, however.  He couldn’t go, he’d told his wife, not if he he wanted those numbers to really climb.  

He’d make it up to her, he promised.  When those numbers were up enough, they would go to all of the places they never talked about.  When he was up enough, they would really live.

She had cried a bit, then.  Oh, she had tried to hide it, but he could feel her tears.  He would make it up to her, of course.  In the end, he would make it up.

The kids were gone by the time he reached the fifth floor.  His wife by the sixth.  But the little numbers, they were impressive.  Dreams became plans, then.  Plans for month-long trips to Europe and Asia and Africa.  Plans to see the world…to see all of the world.  This what he had worked for.  This was the way up.

The seventh floor and a new office.  Oh, not a corner office, but still one with windows and a secretary shared only with six others.  They all knew his name now, of course.  They all proved that by speaking at the funeral.

“He was too young…” they all said.  “He’d climbed so far,” they all said, “only to die at the top.”

He never did make those trips.

Musical Note — it’s an older song, and most definitely not one of the greats of musical history, but it still kinda fits…

Unquiet Words

Do you ever get cocky?

Ever know that something won’t work, but still think you can overcome the universe and make it work for you?

That’s pretty much me right now.

Look, I’ve talked before about how I need life and activity around me to write.  I’ve talked about the sense of release, the sense of freedom, that comes with writing in coffee shops and taprooms.  To write — I mean really write — I have to be out.  And that’s great, as far as it goes.  But sometimes…

But sometimes you’re at home, and the urge hits you.  Sometimes you’re somewhere quiet and peaceful and alone, and the ideas start to come.  That’s when my iron-clad rule #1* can become a problem.

*You always write it, right freaking then.

Now, for most writers a place of quiet, peaceful serenity is probably the best place in the world for the creative process.  Unfortunately, I’m not most writers.  Hell, we established that when I described the fact that I couldn’t write a story in linear order if you held a gun to my head.  I can’t write the scenes in the order they appear, and I can’t write when it’s peaceful and quiet.AF488EBD-3EAC-4D16-942B-85A0EEA3E32F

Yeah, yeah, I know…I’m weird.  You’re just now figuring that out?

So, here I am, sitting at home and trying to put my thoughts and ideas into words.  In the peace and quiet.  And it just ain’t working.

Oh, I can get words onto the page, but they…uhh…they kinda suck.  Do you have any idea at all just how frustrating that is, by the way?  How frustrating to know, as soon as you type them, that the words you’re putting down are a waste of time and effort?  That you’re just going to delete them later?1A69DA5C-BF5D-4E3D-8042-98F1A0E64B9A

Honestly, I feel like I’m in detention, being to forced to write lines over and over.

Screw it, I’m not working today.  I think I’ll just head over to the bar for a beer and a thousand words…

Oh, the crosses I bear to be a writer.  But, hey, I’m doing it so you don’t have to.  Yeah, that’s it!

See, I’m not just a writer, I’m a giver…

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”: