Day Three: It’s about time, sort of

I used to watch Family Ties as if it were some type of religious experience. My world centered around my day of worship with the Keaton clan. I read from the Book of Alex P. Keaton, citing passages to any who would listen for the week to come. I could probably come up with a communion reference, but I’m too stumped on what to do with hymns to make it that far. Actually, I’m a cup of coffee short of anything useful at this point. Do run if that frightens you. I’ll understand. For the rest of you, I’ll just state the show was a profound cornerstone of my television watching youth, and get on with it.

There was an episode in which the immense pressure to succeed drove young Alex to a product called No Doze. I want to explain what it did, but I feel as though doing so would undermine the whole ten seconds it probably took the writers to come up with that one. I think you get it. I hope you get it, because if you don’t you likely don’t understand much of anything I say.

No Doze apparently transforms one into the Fonz.

No Doze apparently transforms one into the Fonz.

I thought of this episode yesterday as I worked through what I could of Chapter Two in the oppressive bubble of time I squeezed it into. I think most people imagine writers carving out long periods of the day, hunched over a screen, snack drawer askew, ringlets of drinks past scarred along the desk surface, the absolute presence of silence draped like a canopy of protection against potential distraction. For the record, this isn’t a real thing. At least not to those of us who like to keep the companies we owe money to happy. For the marginal few who have lovely wonderful delightful people who pay them to write–bless them so–this still isn’t a real thing. They just don’t have to deal with bubbles of time. Bubbles of children, perhaps. But they did that to themselves.

I managed 425 words yesterday. 425 words that represent 0.0047222% of the total projected length of 90,000 words. For those of you who don’t like to math, that’s less than 1%. It took me just under an hour to present the universe with these 425 words. I have no idea how many of those 425 words will survive. If we go by the standard that 1 in 1,000 baby sea turtles survive into adulthood, then you get a fair approximation as to how many words of my 425 children will emerge from a first draft and survive into a published book. There’s a high degree of attrition with words.

If I had No Doze, I could probably knock a book out fairly fast. I’d have time. Time in which there would be no bubble, no oppressive need to hurry, no disruption. Then again, in the 80’s, researchers at the University of Chicago determined that mice who were deprived sleep over a period of two weeks began to have their bodies break down and literally draw them to death. So, I guess sleep is important. Even Alex eventually learned that. Science found the whole Let Sleepless Mice Die experiment odd enough that they tried it again two decades later. No Doze. No such a great idea. Back to my bubble it is then.

What made me ponder the whole No Doze story was no so much the little writing I did in the little time I had available. No. It was the pesky story that popped up a few hours later to say, Hey, maybe you should have started that chapter this way…

Ugh. What a bastard. And it might be right. Probably is. Maybe. Likely.

Damn it.

Regardless the plan is the plan. Write the book. Edit it later.

For now, Chapter Two introduces us to Judy Christie Christie Blume Agatha Blume in a way that I find fitting enough not to make any changes. The story wants me to lay out exactly what is going on in the first sentence. I get that. I may actually agree. But I’m still trying to understand who Agatha is and what to do with her. I’m not ready to toss her in the deep end yet. I want her to sit with me on the steps and observe for a while. Get acclimated to the temperature. Build up the courage to make the leap.

And with that, my bubble of time has elapsed. The second one arrives later. I need that for Chapter Two. In the meantime, here’s the completely unedited 425 sea turtles trying to make it to the ocean. Adulthood is another matter altogether.

Chapter Two

            Agatha Blume paused mid-stroke, brush locked in a battle with a tuft of brown curl, and waited for the knock. The three-beat wake-up call arrived on time, precise, pointed, her mother’s voice muffled through the door. Same as every morning.

“Agatha, sweetie, time to wake up.”

The door opened, as if her words were all the invitation she needed, her mother’s slim face wedging into view. Once upon a time, Agatha had complained about the invasion of her privacy. That the least her mother could do is wait for an answer. That had lasted a week, until Hurricane Betty tore her apart, leaving a trail of verbal debris that included bills paid, meals cooked, clothes washed and general momness employed over her time on this Earth. Agatha had realized then that arguing with her mother accomplished nothing.

Fortunately, she found another way to deal with it. Her mother couldn’t annoy her if she had nothing to annoy her about. No annoyance, no arguing, no yelling, no grounding, no problem. From her thirteenth birthday on peace had reigned, and she had no desire to break the unspoken truce.

She just needed to be careful about it. A toe in the water here and there. Enough to stay ahead of the arguments. Too much and her mother would be the least of her problems.

“I’m up.” She set to brushing her hair, fighting through a new tangle. Some days she thought it would be best just to chop it all off and be done with it. But she didn’t have that kind of face. The kind without freckles. The kind that didn’t require hair to make it worth looking at. She wasn’t that kind of pretty. Truthfully, she wasn’t sure she was any kind of pretty. The hair, frustrating though it could be, at least framed her face well. Made her blue eyes pop. Or so she’d been told by Justin.

Granted, that was before Friday had happened. She’d had the whole weekend to come to terms with the fact that Justin’s opinions no longer mattered.

“Oh. So you are. I didn’t hear you. I’m beginning to think you don’t need me anymore.”

She was across the room in a few quick steps, staring at Agatha’s reflection in the mirror, taking the brush from her hand. The curls obeyed her sweeping strokes in a way Agatha could never manage.

“You’re growing up so fast. Where has the time gone?”

Agatha stared into her mother’s reflection, fighting a smile. “Nowhere as far as I can tell.”

Day Two: In which one may not be one at all

A hero is only a hero unless they aren’t. A bit hard to be a hero if you’re edging off screen at the moment the crisis begins. Likewise, a confident Well, by Golly, I used to be a hero doesn’t do much for a gathered crowd short of create a swell of sympathy for the fallen.

I mean, in The Matrix, Neo goes to see the Oracle, uncertain about what he will hear, and hears the bad news that he is not The One. Only he is. He just has to believe it for it to be true. He just has to make a choice for it to be true. What if the Oracle had said Well, you were The One, until you weren’t. Tough too bad for you, huh?

That would be kind of deflating, I think. Like landing the lead in Broadway musical, seeing your name in the early publicity, then getting the boot a few days before the curtain first opens. Then who are you? You’re the street name people can’t recall without using GPS. The Mexican place–um, whatever it was called–where you had that great burrito that one time. That kid you knew once in elementary school that punched you in the ear. What was his name again? You are the person that Google was created for, because without it you never existed at all.

So, that in mind, meet Donnell Shepherd. He’s a sweet guy. Forty, a bit autistic, terribly fascinated with time, and a severe thorn in my side. Why for, you ask? Well, he’s the former lead of Specimen A. The one who quit then came back after his slot was filled and asked for a job, any job that allowed him to stay on with the project. I told maybe him something had opened up, but I’d have to check with the story and I couldn’t guarantee permanence. Three books is a lot of space to devote to a story and if I just tossed him in Willy-Nilly and it threw a fit about him not being invited, he might find himself dead all quick like. It was beyond my control, I said. Just one of those writing things. He pondered it a few days, then showed up out of nowhere when I was driving back from Richmond, all eager to sign on and confident he could convince the story he was a vital cog worth keeping.

Ha. As if the story cares about anyone.

Look, in the words of Gordon Ramsey: Here’s the thing. You can’t trust a story. Oh, sure, it’ll lead you in with kind words, stroke your ego, tell you how pretty you look in that dress, and wonder aloud how such a creation could be wandering about without someone latched onto your arm. You’ll swoon, giggle, blush, and loose all ability to speak whatever language it is you thought you knew but seem to no longer be able to recall. It’ll pour you some tea, talk about where it sees your relationship going, lead you onto your path and then SQUASH YOU LIKE A BUG.

The story is like your older brother who told you that one time you’d absolutely love being spun around by an arm and leg until your glasses fly off, the blood rushes to your head, and you nearly loose consciousness while you cry. If I had known I would have been spun into an alternate dimension, I might have said no. I mean, you. If you had known. This isn’t about me. Never was.

Ahem.

The most improbable part of this is that Donnell’s pleas worked, to a degree. He not only got his job back, but he got dropped into the first chapter as the focal point of view. Now, it remains to be seen what context his POV maintains going forward, but who wouldn’t want to be aboard the Rebel ship trying to evade capture from the Star Destroyer in the opening of A New Hope? Except the rebels, that is. That didn’t end well for them. Whatever. Moot point. He’s the lead into the story. I’m still not sure how he managed it. God, I hope he didn’t sleep with the story. Gross.

Nah, Donnell’s a nice guy. He wouldn’t do that.

Besides, there’s a very real chance this version of Chapter One doesn’t make the cut. It might not be Chapter One at all. It feels like a Chapter One, but the original Chapter One in Anointed felt like a Chapter One and yet became Chapter Three in the final edits. The existing Chapter One came out of nowhere to steal the lead at the last minute. The current Chapter One of The Storyteller was Chapter One from the beginning, only notably different by way of the fourteen-thousand, five hundred and sixteen edits it’s undergone. By Universal edict, I’m required to say that number may be exaggerated a bit, but you can’t convince me it’s by much.

So, all that in mind, here is a look at the newly minted Chapter One of Specimen A. I’m pleased with it. Donnell showed himself well, and what he experiences is the catalyst to everything that will follow. I have attached a Word document and a .pdf, so that you have options. Options are good. Even Donnell would agree, providing those options allowed him to get to work on time. Read up. Please offer your thoughts in the comments (though my posts on social media are fine as well). This is meant as an interactive project, and I’d love to hear what you have to say as I drop bits of the book in (and ramble about mostly nothing otherwise).

Happy reading. Nah-noo nah-noo.

Chapter One Original (Word Document)

Chapter One Original PDF

Day One: In which one is the day, and the day shall be one.

I am Captain Impossible. I am also highly caffeinated¹.

That could mean that I am the captain of impossible things, or that I am so impossible to deal with that I’m often found wearing a fancy hat and tugging at my cuffs as I comment on the breeze. I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Nevertheless, here I am, prepared to undertake a project that could be–might be–an impossible chore. Blogging my way through a book project sounds a bit like bludgeoning myself with a hammer just to see what will happen, or at what point I begin screaming Why am I doing this? But FUN FOR YOU! You get to witness it!

I may need to rework that simile. Then again, the whole point of this is to offer a raw, unedited look at the madness that is writering, so you get what you get. It’s my hammer. Don’t tell me what to do with it. I’ll turn this whole thing into a Three Stooges free-for-all quicker than you click your way clear and run from the room screaming why, why, oh Dear God, why is Shemp?

From left to right, I believe they are Writer, Plot and Story, but I could have them confused.

I didn’t want to have to say that, but you left me no choice.

Anyway, if you’ll please stop interrupting, I’ll continue. I was talking about the book I want to write. The working title is Specimen A. It’s Young Adult. It’s one of those speculative fiction/fantasy deals. Originally, it was supposed to be a straight up adult fantasy, but then my main character quit and I found this teenage girl who said she could nail it. And she did. Originally I figured the story would be a one-book ordeal. Then the story told me to screw off and expanded while I slept. This happens. If a writer ever tells you they knew exactly where the story was going from the moment they started, they’re lying. Damn things are like kids in a sugar factory, bouncing all over the place while you run after, arms wide, expecting they’ll bounce your way any moment. Nope. I can tell you where the story is showing me it wants to go now, but it may change its mind. It may have no choice, because some random back-story character will probably pop his head up on page 101 and say Hey, I’ve got something say, all right? And you’ll be all, The Hell you do. And he’ll be so What if I was a woman and married to that guy? And you’ll jump out of you chair and scare the bejeezus out of your cat because you’re like WTF man? Where’d you even come from anyway? And the story will pipe in with I’m good with it, just so you know. And that will pretty much be the end of your outline.

Writing, ladies and gentlemen.

So instead of a general fantasy, one book story with a forty-something year old protagonist, I have a Young Adult trilogy with a female teen as my lead, and, oh, the forty-something year old wants to know if there’s a smaller role he can accept because his agent said it would be good for his career. What a putz. Fine. Whatever. But he’ll probably die. If the story is so inclined. Book One is called The Progenitor. I think. Yes. I like it. Done.

There is, gratefully, a constant in this all. The story hasn’t departed from the original concept, and I’m fairly certain it won’t. The story remains the tale of a main character who discovers … something … about something and something and something happens to … something … or someone and something.

No it’s not. But writing these damn one-sentence synopsis is a frustrating thing. Just find a book on your shelf that you’ve read and know ok well. Summarize it in a sentence and make me want to read it. Not a run-on sentence either. Like 25 words or less. I’ve edited more synopsis than I have pages of actual books I have written.

Specimen A: A young girl discovers her ability to move through time is neither rare, nor unexpected, and leads to a revelation that will change her world forever.

25 words. Boom. Not happy with it, but it’ll do. I much prefer the fifty to hundred-word plus synopsis that allow a deeper crawl into the where the story is going.

I could take a different approach. One I would take if I were a bookseller rather than an author. In that case: Imagine you had the ability to travel through time, but you knew someone, or something, was watching you do it. They don’t like it. They want to find you. You’re pretty sure they want to kill you. So you try to keep your movements through time short, simple. A quick shot through a day of school, for instance, because you don’t want to see your best friend who you saw at the movies with the guy she knew you liked. Or to the night before because you want to study for the pop quiz you’re about to fail. Then you encounter a boy who has the same ability, only he isn’t trying to hide it. In fact, he’s quite reckless with it. Even worse: He moved into the future and found himself in a coffin, and he’s determined that he’s going to die in two days and the best he can tell is that it has something to do with you. However, his presence has awakened those that have been watching, and now they know your secret. They know what you can do, and if you don’t do something soon, the boy won’t be the only one who dies.

I’ll leave it there. As I’ve said before, I want to avoid spoiling the reveal of what is happening. At least until I write that bit. If the story lets me, that is. Ugh. Stories. Can’t live with ’em, can’t be a writer without ’em, amirite?

I have vowed to keep these posts around a thousand words or less, and with this sentence (technically, the footnote that follows, but, um, whatever) I have crossed that. So, that’s it for now. My next post will be after I write the first chapter, which may or may not be tomorrow, life depending. Might be Friday. Because, you know, you’re going to mark that on your calendar. But I’ll add a link to the entire chapter, and await the torrents of comments that will undoubtedly follow.

¹ Which is neither a by-product of, or leading to, previous or future statements, but rather a non-parenthetical aside lacking in necessary format and function to provide insight into much of anything except that I do, indeed, like coffee.

An Idea at 10,000 Feet

“So, I’ve got this idea.”

“I literally just tensed up. Like you were going to hit me.”

This is a real thing, apparently. I tell my friends I have an idea, and it’s like I’ve catapulted a cow over the rampart. RUN AWAY.

I like ideas. I have many of them. Some of them become living breathing things. Others squirrel away in my head, awaiting the End of Days and Mental Apocalypse that will signal end of Me. Some of my ideas have worked. Some of them worked for a short time then flamed out badly. Some idea were quite splendid, but ultimately forgotten. A couple of them right-out sucked. But I keep going, producing ideas as if planting for a bountiful harvest come Fall, never the wiser, never the worse for it.

Like I said, I like ideas.

This a page from one of my favorite ideas EVER.

This a page from one of my favorite ideas EVER.

Ideas are the seed of creation. Plant them, water them, talk to them about your league-leading fantasy baseball team, and wait to see what happens. Do this daily and the growth will amaze. Forget a few days, give it half water, half evaporated passion, and maybe not so much. Forget it altogether and try to contain the shock and horror when you realize your ideas are smoking-hot scorched earth. I often time find myself in the in-between there, a shortcoming I continue to work on. My little factory of ideas is overrun with product. Distribution has been a bit slack.

Which brings me to my point. You see, I have this idea…

I want to blog my way through a book, open the door to the reader, offer raw material and my thoughts on it as I take the journey from conception to completion. The aforementioned friend, who shall remain nameless no matter how tall or bald he may be, thought me–perhaps justifiably–insane. Why would I want to put myself through the added strain of writing a blog every time I’ve written my day’s work? I don’t know. Jeez, if I had to come up with reasons for the vast majority of my ideas, I’d have shut down the factory long ago. I’m not what one might term an A-type personality, after all. I like cheese, and I damn well prefer to sit while I eat it. That said, I do believe that the exercise–and it would be precisely that–would be an interesting one. I have no idea how it will go, and I have no real plan for what material, or how much of it, I will share. But, being able to lay out the process of creation for all to see would have quite an appeal. If not to readers, then perhaps to writers. At worst, it will to me.

Again, this is an idea. In my head it seems a good one. At least an interesting one. But we’ll see. What I do know is that having people monitor my work and (EGAD!) even comment on it as I go would be significant motivation to create the best manuscript I’ve ever written. Then, after I’ve produced this other-worldly masterpiece of literature, the publishing industry will be so fond of the process they’ll create small rooms along Broadway in Manhattan, windows looking over the work space of writers in need of motivation, their day’s work scrolling atop the space, or accessible via tablets on the outside of the glass! They’ll be forced to record videos about their day’s work! People will watch the breakdowns as they flow from euphoric to despondent, from absolutely certainty to complete despair! BRILLIANT!

Then again, maybe not. My ideas can get away from me, after all, otherwise my friends wouldn’t fear them.

So here’s what I am proposing: I have an idea for a Young Adult fantasy novel. It’s been sizzling away in my brain meats for some time, and I’m pretty sure it’s at the right temperature to break out and devour. When next I write here, I will begin the process, detailing the idea, where it came from, how it has transformed, and give a rough idea of where I see it going. I’ll refrain from talking about the end point, or revealing spoilers that might dampen the reading of any material I post. Also, I’ll refrain from posting entire chapters, as I’m not entirely sold that people won’t run away screaming. If, however, you find yourself one who might be up for taking post in the bookstore of my mind and reading all that I have written, I’ll gladly create a way for you to do so. But you’ll have to let me know. Which seems a rather simple thing to say, but this is me we’re talking about. Assume nothing.

The working title of this project is Specimen A. If it had a subtitle it would be: The Progenitor. It may well wind up with both. Or neither. Or one. Who knows?

So there you go. My idea. Well, my most recent idea. We’ll see how it goes.

The Immutable Lifing of Life

Nine months, twenty-five days, and some hours I’m too lazy to count. That’s how long it’s been since I last wrote here. I guess that qualifies as an appropriate gestation period of silence. Oddly enough, birthed unto the world, that silence now screams, betraying the calm that was my earnest effort to ignore it forevermore.

It’s not my fault. I just didn’t want to do it.

In part, I admit, because life has been … well, it’s been lifing pretty hard. That’s not to say that its myriad pokes and prods have left but puncture wounds and headaches. No, it’s pushed, encouraged, picked me up in moments of stress and told me it would all be okay, then kicking my ass because I looked like I needed it. Still, the lingering lifieness of life has left my writing focused to work I wish to get published rather than words that summarize my current state of mind. The need for those words to be structured properly, for the story to be conveyed with ease, perfect flow, characters worth remembering, everything that makes a book what you hoped it would be, has far outweighed the need to blog. In essence, I mean to say that I want to be damn good at it.

So there’s that.

Ugh. I just saw this picture. The webbernuts seems to exist solely to see how many different ways it can make people cry.

SO MUCH LOVE.

SO MUCH LOVE.

What’s interesting, and eternally frustrating to me, is that much of the lifingness of life these past months has to do with matters of a personal nature. I won’t talk about that on social media, or certainly not here. Which sucks because I’ve always viewed my blog as a therapist of sorts. One that offers no feedback, true, but one that patiently waits out my rants and thoughts and worries and fears and more thoughts and more fears and more worries and sad. So, the few times I’ve wanted to write about it, I’ve arrived to find the door closed, the Inner-me offering a finger waggle then pointing me away. And so I trudge off, hands in my pockets, lip pouted, mumbling about something inane that Inner-me just ignores because it’s inane.

And there you go. It all makes sense now, doesn’t it?

There’s no real point to this. If you’re reading, I apologize. Thanks for stopping by. Leave a quarter on the counter on your way out, if you would. I just wanted to write … something. This is certainly something. Pride. Beaming. Smiles everyone. Welcome to Fantasy Island.

I actually do have something to announce. I just can’t do that now. Basically, I have the news, I just lack the trumpet. I mean, I don’t know how to play  a trumpet, per se, but I can make noise with one. Which is a lot like writing. Making noise. I can make noise. I’ve also been working on a new book, with additional side projects, while continuing to push The Storyteller and the Shadowheart of Ahriman (which has endured more blood cleansing than a dialysis patient, but is somehow better off for it). Maybe for the sake of having someone read something I’ve written or am writing–which is a more difficult task than I could have imagined–I’ll just start posting bits on here. Maybe you can read a whole book out of it. For free. Why not? I wrote it for it to be read. Sure, I’d like millions of people to be enjoying it, but the simpleton mathematician in my head seems to think one is greater than zero, so okay then. If for no other reason than to keep him from mathing, I’ll do that. I hate math.

This is the only certifiable math I’ve done in a good many years:

The Simpson are no longer funny, because math.

The Simpson are no longer funny, because math.

Chew on that. Just don’t expect it to make sense.

 

The Historically Bothersome Butterfly

I don’t remember when it was, but whenever it was, I watched the movie Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. The Moss was there. Must have been last year. Anyway, the movie begins with the lowdown on the crisis: A meteor is on a collision course with Earth, and this time Bruce Willis couldn’t save us. Or at least I like to imagine it was Bruce Willis. The film didn’t specify. So, the meteor is coming, and we’re doomed. Nothing can be done. There are no superheroes coming to the rescue, no amount of scientific trickery to call upon, or no word from God to pacify the internal need to know that humanity must live on. Just The End.

To my great surprise, I found myself overwhelmed by a feeling of peace. Of happiness. Of relief that, just like that, life could end. No more struggle, no more anxiety, no more stress, no more self-doubt. I could take hold of the trusty eraser and wipe the Board of Life clean.

I think, somewhere in there, the shock overtook me. I mean, obviously, this wasn’t really happening. I knew that. But I had never before had such an overwhelming joy at the thought of it all being over. To know that I could finally put down my weapons, my gear, dust myself off and breathe a hearty sigh of relief. It stunned me. I’m not sure I can recall the first thirty minutes of the movie. Then again, I’m not sure I can bring myself to watch it once more to find out. I don’t want to feel what I felt again because I liked it so much.

Allow an injection here, if you will. I’m not suicidal. Though I’ve contemplated the end many times in my life–several since that moment watching the movie in fact–I have no desire to end my life. It’s not a choice I could make, or one I am willing to make. Much like murder, I suppose. I trap insects and set them free for a reason. I say this only because I don’t want the thought or fear for my well-being to intervene in what may or may not be a casual read. I’ll die when I die. Not a day earlier. I’m fine with this. I do actually enjoy living, after all.

I spent a great deal of time internalizing that moment, trying to determine what it meant. All I can deduce is it meant I’m not at all happy with my life, or my place in it. Maybe that’s a stretch. Maybe it’s dead-on. I don’t know. However, it led me to a simple question I can’t shake. Where did it all go wrong?

I can remember a great deal from my childhood. More vividly than is ultimately helpful, it would seem. I remember this kid:

The Sonny's BBQ Padres, age 12.

The Sonny’s BBQ Padres, age 12.

I remember walking to my games. I remember playing them. I remember moments in the field, pitches I saw, the final scores. The first season I played, I fouled off exactly one pitch. One. I swung and missed at everything else. By age 12, I was clinking balls all over the field, one of the best bats on the team. Something happened between age 10 and 12 that changed everything I was as a baseball player. I think it was me. I happened. I practiced, I played all year with my cousin, I watched the Braves on TBS every day. And it clicked. I made a conscious decision to be better, and I became so. And as the years passed, I got even better. I probably could have kept going, made something of it, but in tenth grade I grew eight inches, turning me into a gangly all arms-and-legs buffoon with the coordination of butter. My skill set suffered and I quit. I could have taken the coach’s advice, worked out to get my body back in line with my growth, and likely found myself right back where I was. But I didn’t. And I’ll be damned if I can remember why. Or how I did it without feeling loss, or pain, or regret. I could have simply walked into another room for all the difference I felt.

It could very well be that writing finally found a grip where it couldn’t before, my focus on becoming a writer of substance narrowing my vision enough to allow the loss of a true passion. Yet, instead of seeing the more traditional path of the writer–in the modern sense that is–and furthering my education, building credentials through said schooling or articles or what have you’s, I chose to bypass college and travel. To see more of America than I had seen. To pour my soul into writing without the interference of an instructor’s voice. And, honestly, because I hated school. I didn’t want to endure any more years of study. Not institutional study any way. I wanted to learn. I just wanted to do it on my own terms. I made this choice without any hesitation or doubt. Into another room I went.

I met a girl when I was twenty-four. Exactly twenty-four, as it happened. At the time I was steeped in church, looking for answers to life’s myriad questions. She had just moved into town. We sat next to each other. We laughed. Emboldened by my favorite celebratory day of the year, I was exceptionally charming. So much so that, though she was away the remainder of the summer, I left a favorable impression she couldn’t shake. Several months later she surprised me at work with an invitation to her birthday party. Well, not a party so much as a dinner celebrating such in which her mother played a prominent eye-cutting presence. A few months passed and a romance blossomed. A proposal happened. A year and half later, I had a house, a wife, two dogs, a cat, and the distinct feeling that everything in my life was coming into focus. Then something happened. I think, looking back, it was me that happened. She had health concerns, sure, and they taxed me physically and emotionally (not to diminish her own suffering), and brought stress into our marriage, but it wasn’t really the cause. Religion became an issue, as I had begun to question my devotion to the church life, and to Christianity. This was a problem, but as the judge in divorce court would later say, plenty of couples of diverse faith co-exist. It could have been surmountable, I suppose. There were arguments about where things were going. Attempts to rectify what had been lost. But I admit to being horrible at articulating what bothers me at any given moment and loathe to cite minor problems when they happen in exchange for accumulating them and dropping them all at once in a twisted jumble of “what?” Which never goes over well. Then one day I just decided I was done. Just like that, it was over. I gathered what belongings I could carry and left the state. My home, my marriage, my life in that backwards, sleepy, little town, gone. Poof. And when the divorce was done, my move final, and my hands washed clean? Yeah, I just let it go. Moved on. Didn’t give one thought as to whether or not I made the right choice. Yet another room.

You know what? This happened AGAIN.

The factors were different, and the pressures of life much greater, but almost ten years from the time I met wife #1, I met wife #2. As before, there was a very brief courtship. Three months to be exact. And we were married. I can’t front the blame alone, ultimately, for the failure of this one, but end it did, and when it was over I was glad for it. I moved on. This happened near the time I lost my business. I’ve detailed it before, and there’s really no point in doing so again; but there’s definitely a parallel. I never considered the full spectrum of owning a business and what it took to run one. I just did it. And I’ll be damned if I didn’t take people down with me. Which is, perhaps, one room I didn’t blithely pass into. I don’t like bringing people pain or suffering. I don’t even like upsetting them. I just seem to somehow. By way of decision or circumstance, I have left a nice little row of destruction along the way. People I still love and care for, and I can do nothing to correct this wrong. I can do nothing to alter the choices I made.

These are mere examples, mind you. I have many more. Places in my life where I made decisions that now confound me, and leave me wondering what would have happened if I chose otherwise. I’m sure I’m not alone in this phenomena, but I only have my eyes to weigh them against. Only have my expectations. My dreams.

From that fateful day I left baseball forever, I’ve wanted to be a writer. No, a published author. No, a successfully published author. I do have two books published, which is nice. Good books. Not great, but good. Entertaining and fun. They were received well, which is something. I have a great children’s story I haven’t found a home for, and a few other stories I’m working on I believe could also be great. I’ve worked hard to become what I am as a writer. Same as I did as that kid who couldn’t hit. But there have been no breakthroughs. No a-ha moments of career-altering discovery. Instead, I place myself in the company, by work or network, with writers who have achieved my dream on their behalf. It’s infuriating. And depressing.

It may occur to you that there is no exact cohesion here. You would be correct. I’m just taking out garbage I’ve had a touch too long and hoping not to hit you over the head with the bag.

I used to be more active on Facebook and Twitter, but I’ve backed off because I don’t want to let everyone know how terribly unhappy I am with my life. I have the Moss, and she’s well worth bragging about (and an incredibly talented photographer at that), but what do I have otherwise? Just struggle and frustration, disappointment and despair. One bad decision after another, with a few good ones sprinkles in for taste. I’m not where I want to be in life, so I don’t talk about it because I don’t want everyone else to know I’m not where I want to be. I want to see the light, to feel the hope, to know that everything I’ve been through–whether by my own hand or not–will be worth it. My break is just ahead. My time.

But it hasn’t happened. Maybe that’s why I felt the way I did watching that movie. I’m tired. Losing hope. Losing faith that all the decisions I have made were made with a singular purpose in fate. And so I spend far too much time analyzing a life’s worth of decisions, wondering which of them would unravel the tapestry too much, which would incite the butterfly to flap a typhoon into my future. Then again, I can’t evade the sensation there’s a typhoon here already. What that I have would I be willing to lose in order to gain what I want but can’t seem to receive?

It’s a fruitless quest, searching for an answer like that. Regret is a pain in the ass. It will always be a pain in the ass. I remain steadfast that life has a purpose. Nothing is random. I lost a bookstore but gained a publisher and the Moss because of it. I haven’t rejoined the published world, but I’ve written in that time and improved dramatically. I don’t have what I want now, but maybe I need to have nothing in order to fully appreciate what I will have later.

I’ve never been one to prattle about me. I don’t spell out my woes to anyone other than family, or the Moss. I don’t pretend my life is great, but I don’t allow for sharing that it is not. I like to laugh. I just find it hard to do that these days.

I can’t deny that news reports of a meteor bringing about an Extinction Level Event would pacify me greatly. Not because I want all of you to die, but because knowing the end is at hand would allow me to once and for all let go of every disappointing decision I’ve ever made. Then again, maybe I can just whip out the scissors and cut loose all the rattling cans I drag behind me. More decisions.

Of course I’ll accept good news, in any form instead.

That would help.

Because Writing About Writing is What Writers Do

Somehow, it’s reached a point these days where you aren’t really considered a writer unless you’re writing about writing. I can’t really say whether that’s good or bad. Perhaps because I don’t know, but more likely because I avoid reading most of them. One might deem this tutorial littering of the internet a consequence of self-publication, in that everyone who wants to see their book in print (or on a Kindle or whatnot), can then take to their respective blog (or blob, if you’re my mother, bless her heart) and detail all the ways in which you can achieve whatever level of success they deem they have attained.

Again, good or bad, I don’t know. This is just a truth we all have to accept. Maybe there’s useful information out there that can help you. Maybe there isn’t. No idea. I mean, I can’t tell you what the Onion is writing about today because I haven’t read it. I know it’s funny though. I can guarantee that. And it’s there. There is far better than not.  Just like writing a book. It will always be better to you if it is there than if it is not.

There you go. Hallelujah, praise Timmy Christ, and may the force be with you. My writing lesson of the day. If you don’t write a book, you don’t have a book you have written. Genius. I have now joined the ranks of pseudo-professional writers who have blogged about writing. I am nearly complete as a human being. I’m one drunken tour of Scotland’s Pub of the Day Club away from ascension.

So, what do you do? How do you decide whether the advice you’re getting is advice you should be taking? Look, the truth is–the thing you need to know before taking this whole writing thing to the next level–there’s no such thing as a simplification of writing that any one person can offer. As with life, the process of learning about writing is an extensive and exhaustive process. One blog, one book, cannot cover what you need to know. Yet here you are, all engrossed in my words, or perhaps just hiking your way across the internet one click at a time, so allow me to illustrate my point in as simplified a way as I can so you only have to read one blog about it. Then you’ll know everything you need to know about writing. Ready?

Writing is hard.

Boom. You’re welcome.

Ok, so maybe that was too concise. But the truth remains. Are there varying levels of talent in which writing becomes less hard? Absolutely. Tom Robbins forged a career out of his brilliance, tapping one mind after another with a skilled hand that is not so much stratospheric as it is alien. Yet, he wrote every manuscript by hand, working on each individual sentence until it was exactly what it needed it to be. He didn’t use word counts. He just let the work tell him when he was done. Which is not “as easy as that.” That’s fucking hard. That insane-level genius. Sure, it comes easier to him than it does to most everyone else, but his easy isn’t easy for him. It’s grueling.

Writing will kick you to hell and back, then wait for you to stand so it can kick you around some more. It’s a giant sponge sucking all your time and energy, then squeezing it down the drain while letting you know it’ll be right back k thanks. It’s something that requires you to spend more time in a world that doesn’t exist than the one you’re supposed to be living in. It offers you an array of friends you can’t live without then scoffs at your genie-in-a-bottle wish that they were real. It tempts you with hope, then insists you proceed with squashing all level of hope anywhere and everywhere for everyone you create, and, shamed though you are to admit it, love. It coaxes you with the allure of wealth, readership by the millions, adoration and praise, then leaves you with a waste basket of rejection and the realization that you have yet to leave the workforce, and probably won’t anytime soon. Writing is your mistress, and it won’t be satisfied with an occasional text. It wants all of you, but it doesn’t want you to stay over, and it sure as hell doesn’t want to be anything else. It wants you to succeed, it needs you to succeed, but it doesn’t stop badgering you just because you don’t.

And you know what? You love it. You revel in it. You slosh around in your misery like a pig in filth. You devour the entire helping of writing for the pure gluttony of it, then dive into the fridge with an appetite for more. Writing is that friend you can’t live without, and it both is and isn’t there with you at every waking moment. It is the single greatest love-hate, abusive relationship you will ever know, and it will inspire you to journey into the greatest, most wonderful, corners of your mind, where mystery and fantasy burn like wildfire, where romance and seduction beat like a heart, and where the entire universe is willing to bow to the supreme truth of 42.

This is what you want. This is why you believe you exist. This is why most of your earth-based friends and family have difficulty understanding you. This is why you creep people out in crowded spaces as you stare off into alternate realities, completely unaware of your surrounding, or of the uneasiness you leave those in your path. This … this insanely hard, difficult, maddening, bitch of an art, is why everything matters, and why every struggle is survived, every fear faced, every trace of indignity of self ignored.

If not, you can stop looking for advice on writing. You can stop worrying about improving. Just write. Do your blog thing, keep a journal, write whatever your kids or family seem to want to hear, but leave the advice on the shelf, leave the expectations be.

Because writing is hard.

And quitting it is impossible.

Charles in Charge and Writing Do Not Mix

Sometimes I’ll do anything I can to avoid writing. I’ll run from the computer like it’s a Charles in Charge reunion special. Reading, destroying brain cells on Facebook, over-managing my fantasy baseball teams, catching up on baseball news I already knew, Words With Friends, walks, shopping, driving, sitting on the patio like a grown man in time-out, harassing the cat … name it. It runs contrary to the idea writing is my passion, my life, I know, but I do it regardless. Not because I’m afraid to write. Rather, because I’m afraid to write badly.

On the surface it’s an absurd statement. It reeks of a failure in confidence. If you’re afraid to write, avoiding it for any reason, then perhaps writing isn’t for you, right? However, I don’t lack confidence in my writing. Though I’m no savant and have a great deal yet to learn, I’ve worked hard on my craft. Besides, Publisher’s Weekly thought well of me. Shouldn’t I? My issue, though, isn’t with my talent, or my ability to weave a compelling tale, or whether or not what I’m about to type will be pure crap. The ‘delete’ key takes care of that. If not, editing exists for a reason. What I’m afraid of is producing work that floats off into the ether like space debris: forgotten and forever to orbit in the dark vacuum of nothingness. Perhaps that means it was bad, perhaps it doesn’t. Sometimes you can feel so damned positive you’ve written something great–or at the least good–only to watch it wander into an uncaring world that as much notices it as avoids it altogether.

Maybe that doesn’t qualify it as bad, exactly, but as a writer it becomes difficult to separate good from bad when feedback is non-existent.  Sure, you get some words of encouragement from those who know you, or from other writers, or beta-readers, or even your Publisher/Editor/Agent. They like it. They praise you in widely generic ways. They might even specifically site an instance in your work they particularly liked. Which makes you smile. It makes you proud. It gives you that momentary feeling of heroic wonder. Then it becomes print, you talk about it through various social media portals, maybe you have some events, and you wait for the accolades and reader reviews. And wait. And wait. Ultimately, the silence invades your mind, leaving a gap in your defenses wide enough for an F5 tornado of doubt to plow a destructive path through your pristine landscape of ignorant bliss.

No matter how much you talk it up, nobody’s talking back. Your book sucks. It must. It has to. You re-read it. It doesn’t feel as sublime as the last time you looked it through. Are you no longer blind to the truth, or have you allowed silence and doubt to insert their impression in your head? What does that mean for your current manuscript? Should you suspend writing in order to review what you’ve written? Will this unedited piece of unfinished potential crap offer you insight as to why your recent work is failing? Or are you over-thinking it? Of course, you can go to your Publisher/Editor/Agent for advice, but they’ll tell you to cool your jets, this kind of thing happens all the time. But no, you think, this is happening to me. It wasn’t supposed to. My book was good.

Or was it?

It’s troubling to think all this can cross through the mind in a fraction of a second. Even more troubling, however, is the anticipation it can and might likely happen to your work-in-progress–before you’ve even finished it. You have constructed a fully viable, fully entrenched, vision of your manuscript’s future while it still doesn’t even know how it will end. The characters are gathering for an intervention and you’re in the corner wallowing about how nobody will ever care about anything you write. Ever. I suppose if I were a parent, I might better understand this, or how to cope with it. My cat doesn’t inspire worry. Her naps will always be quality naps.

So, I’ll stare at the computer screen, eyeing the open Internet tabs, finger ready to open Scrivener. I might read what I have to that point, if I haven’t wandered off already. Maybe pack the laptop and head out for coffee, read it there. Maybe take a drive to hunt for inspiration. It doesn’t happen all the time, and generally by the time I’ve begun typing, my fears have waned. My characters are at the forefront. I’m a God, moving pieces, orchestrating fates, divining obstacles. All is good. My work is good. My story is good. My book, so far, is good.

I’m a writer. I don’t write simply because I can. I write to entertain, to bring something to someone’s life they will enjoy and share. It’s narcissistic, cathartic, inspiring, and humbling. I like to imagine a God, creating a Universe, filling worlds with living creatures, molding paths, futures, destinies, holding arms to Heavens when the job is done, with a notable “Huh? Awesome, right?” expression. That God would be bummed if even the crickets went silent. I guess it’s okay for me to be as well.

I just need to keep writing.

Maybe a drive first, though.

The Peaceful Madness

A writer breeds madness.

Truthfully, this could be said of any artist. Any Creator. We are gods, after all, desperate to create worlds in which we’d much rather be, sculpting rules and destinies from the jagged peaks of our imagination, reforming the memories of our past and the hopes of our future into triumphant tales of heroic adventure. We write the code for the program, doing so with a reckless arrogance, ignoring reality in favor of the most favorable path to redemption. Not simply for our heroes, but for ourselves. And when we step away from our narcissistic free-for-all, we find bills, hunger, war, political mudslinging, and for many–loneliness beyond repair.

Something happens in the process that alters us forever. We begin to long for the worlds we created.  We begin to hunger to complete the stories, to enhance the landscapes, to better realize this fantastic scope through which we peer. Reality becomes less real. Fantasy more believable. Either word seems insufficient and life gets twisted somewhere in between. We find more time to stare through windows on scenes so far removed we appear to be catatonic, or angry, or one Sugar Snap away from inviting Dig ’em for a lengthy stay.

Our worlds live and breathe in our minds, taking on a life of their own; and though we see the world as perfect, the characters as family, we find the words lacking. Not simply because we doubt their ability to convey, or because they are insufficient or weak, but because they don’t breech the boundaries of space and time. They don’t open a portal to our worlds. They don’t allow us to escape. So we keep writing, we keep creating, we keep building, hoping to find something of our fantasy within the reality we are trapped.

We never do. Yet, the desperation is a madness we crave, the only place in which we truly find peace.

There are times I find this idea unsettling, depressing, an incurable infectious disease in which small pieces of my brain melt helplessly away by the day. Then I find things like this in my work:

“It is apparent to me now there is less between imagination and reality than I dared dream. I wonder at times if closing my eyes will be the end of me, or if I can never truly begin until the world fades to black. Therein lies the deceit of lightness and dark: They serve your need, or leave you mired in blindness, unable to distinguish truth from lie.”

And I realize my madness can manifest in beautiful ways. My characters can trumpet my words in ways I will never be able. My stories can bring civility to the war between the lightness and dark; and though I may never step foot in the worlds I create, I can give them life, hope, and a path to fulfillment. I can give them–with due struggle and pain–all that I want for myself. I will give them a life that pushes what they can handle, but allows them a heroic end. A Happily Ever After. I know their path through and through. I don’t know mine.

I can only hope, when my final second ticks and the clock draws into silence, I have left words that resonate. Words that, beyond belief, beyond the bounds of reality, have given life to worlds that will always be visited by eager minds. Perhaps then I will truly know peace.

So I write and I dream, and I hope that somewhere, in some world, there is someone writing my story, smiling at my ways, counting the days until I can be the hero I was created to be.

(Insert Non-Snarky Humorless Title About Self-Publishing Here)

I try to be serious. Really, I do. I’m just not very good at it. My mind wanders, and I start thinking about all the things I could fit in a can of peanuts. Minus the peanuts, of course. I’m not stupid, after all. Then, my once proud, informative, title about a forthcoming Self-Publishing seminar turns into The Devil is in the Peanuts, or 100 Ways to Freak Out Your Cat With an Empty Peanut Can, or the more functional There is No Peanut, Only Zuhl. None of those have anything to do with Self-Publishing. I can see no amount of philisophical twisting that will bind my peanut to the topic. Yet, I persist, and now I have a full paragraph about nothing but my wandering mind’s affixation with an empty peanut can. So…

Riiiiiiggght

 

Yeah.

Anyway, my point was to talk up an upcoming event that is useful to all you local writery type people in the area. Saturday, June 7th, from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. in the Decatur Library AuditoriumThe Georgia Center for the Book will be hosting a seminar on Self-Publishing, moderated by my inconsistently focused brain and whatever function of my physical self I can pull together on that day. We’ve assembled a panel of four gifted and knowledgable minds to discuss the various points of the Self-Publication process, and whether or not it’s the right course for you to take. Whether you’re waffling over Self-Publication vs. the Commercial Industry, wondering about the pros and cons of staying digital via the ebook, starting your own Indie Press, or simply overwhelmed by the sheer volume of Self-Publication possibilities and in need of some clarity, you’re going to want to join us.  The Publishing Industry is in flux, after all, and having the chance to further your understanding of where you should take that manuscript you’ve worked so hard on is essential. Maybe you find that you’d rather stick to the grind of finding an agent, seeking that Big Publisher Contract, and letting the process carry you forward. Excellent! Our panel is well-versed in that process too! Ask all the questions you want! After all, there’s a great deal of benefit in staying the course, and having the opportunity to explore your options will only bring you greater confidence in that decision. However, even notable authors, such as Daniel Wallace (Big Fish), have explored the Self-Publishing route.  Wallace has found a great following for his latest work, pitched through the crowdfunding website InkShares. The Hybrid Author has the choice, from manuscript-to-manuscript: Commercial or Indie?

What you need are options. To better understand those options, you need information. That’s what this seminar aims to offer. Now’s the time to chase your dream, in whatever form you wish it to take. With knowledge comes great power. Or more peanuts in your can. HEY! I just tied it together!

Good job, brain.

So, short of yammering on about all-the-things-not-topical, I present you with the four esteemed guests who wish to fill your head with peanuts (Get it? The Empty Can is now your head! Because … just … never mind.).

S.R. Johannes

  S.R. Johannes

 

S.R JOHANNES is the award-winning author of the Amazon bestselling thriller series, the Nature of Grace, featuring the titles Untraceable, Uncontrollable, and Unstoppable. She is the winner of the 2012 IndieReader Discovery Awards (Young Adult category) as well as a Silver medalist in the IPPY awards for YA Fiction. She was nominated for 2012 Georgia Author of the Year (Young Adult category), a Finalist in The Kindle Book Review’s Best Young Adult of 2012, and a YA Finalist in the US Book News Best Book of 2012. 

 

 

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley

 

COLLIN KELLEY is the author of the novels Conquering Venus and Remain in Light, which have just been re-issued in new editions by Sibling Rivalry Press. His poetry collections include Better to Travel, Slow to Burn, After the Poison and Render, chosen by the American Library Association for its 2014 Over the Rainbow Book List. A short story collection, Kiss Shot, is available exclusively for the Amazon Kindle. A recipient of the Georgia Author of the Year Award, Deep South Festival of Writers Award and Goodreads Poetry Award, Kelley’s poetry, essays and interviews have appeared in magazines, journals and anthologies around the world. He is currently writing his third novel, Leaving Paris.

 

Bill Bridges

Bill Bridges

 

BILL BRIDGES is an award-winning writer and narrative designer of numerous games. He was one of the original developers of White Wolf’s World of Darkness and is the co-creator and developer of the Fading Suns science-fiction universe. He is a Fellow at Atlanta’s Mythic Imagination Institute.

 

 

 

 

Barbara Friend Ish

Barbara Friend Ish

 

BARBARA FRIEND ISH is the author of the Compton Crook Award Finalist novel The Shadow of the Sun and the 2015 novel The Heart of Darkness. She moonlights as Publisher and Editor-in-Chief for Mercury Retrograde Press. Books edited by Barbara have been covered by Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Locus Magazine, and electronic and print outlets worldwide. Her cats run her life.

 

 

The seminar will begin at 11, running for an hour as I lead the panel through a section of questions. We’ll break for 30 minutes, come back and devote the final hour and a half to your questions. Each of the panelists will be available after the seminar, should you have any further questions, or wish to purchase any of thier books. If you have any questions about the seminar, you can email me at steelez@dekalblibrary.org.

Hope to see you there!