The moment he took the taser out of the case, I sat down and waited. I knew what came next. In that inexplicable sense of destiny, or fate, or the complete and utter understanding of my best friend/meta-sibling’s personality, there was nothing I could do to stop it. It took only, “I wonder what it feels like?” to inspire him into action. For three seconds, he held the charge against his arm, smile twisted in a blend of shock and amusement. Anyone else and I’m running to stop them. But this is the guy who covered his face in shaving cream in order to act like, I don’t know, a rabid Frankenstein or something, then wound up screaming his way down the hall because he hadn’t expected it to burn so badly. This is also the guy who filled a plastic container with butane, stuck his hand through the opening, lit a lighter, thereby (shock!) rendering his arm hair to curled, horrible smelling, reminders of what once was.
This is the smartest guy I know. No, truly, he’s brilliant. In fairness, this all took place over twenty years ago, so perhaps his judgment merely lost its battle against youthful curiosity. A fight we all remember losing more often than not.
I, myself, have lost that battle numerous times, predominantly in the pursuit of the ideal connection (a.k.a. Twoo Wove, a.k.a. Aphrodite, a.k.a. Zach’s Insane and Somewhat Naïve Quest for Completion). The trick—the part I always lose myself within—is getting beyond the initial connection and immediately attempting to translate that into some state of permanence. Some might call this a, “relationship”. I have called them, “oops, nope”. Still, I persist. After all, life can be whittled down to nothing more than an ongoing series of connections, right? Like the charge through my friend’s arm, we absorb the shock and it fills us. It enlivens the mind and heart; and, sure, it scares the hell out of us, but we do it anyway because stopping seems as likely as travelling through time in a DeLorean.
Speaking of which, I read an article regarding the activity of particles in relation to time. The prevailing theory the scientists presented stated that particles show behavioral patterns based on future events, working then backward through the complexity of what we know as “time” in order to reveal their true nature. Now, I have neither a chalkboard, chalk, nor Doc Brown’s manic energy to explain any of that; but it did get me thinking about the connections (and disconnections, for that matter) I have experienced in my life.
Perhaps, in this context, connections are actually echoes from the future. Perhaps we know we’ve met someone important in our lives because—as with the nature of particles—we’re seeing the result that will be instead of the emotion of the moment. Perhaps all of this is utter nonsense and merely an escapist means by which to avoid the reality of the patterns in my life.
Until recently, that pattern has gone like this: I find a connection, I feel alive. I have a sense purpose, completion, and a dingle-dangle twinkle of the ever-elusive surge of happiness. I dive headlong, the connection following my lead. The connection is strong, the pairing complex yet thriving on simplicity, the bond like, I don’t know, every metaphor for love ever stated. Something with flowers and sunshine, probably. Or waves across an otherwise silent beach. I could probably invent one that has to do with tacos, but it might make me hungry and then I’ll spin off into some tangent on cheese.
The point. Right. The non-cheese point is that every new connection thrives on the euphoria of discovery. The newness, the elation of two people sharing commonality and dreams. Ultimately, this wanes in favor of reality, personality, behavior, and the truth that some people just like to shock themselves with tasers to see what happens. And that’s okay. I didn’t know that. I was under some deluded impression that every connection required permanence. It had to last forever, otherwise what was the point? Not quite a shock to the arm, but I did do it to myself and marvel at the results.
Sometimes you meet someone, you share a connection, it feels ridiculously good, then the river of life leads you to drift you apart. Or, sometimes you meet someone, you share a connection, it feels ridiculously good, then no matter how much you want it to continue, the one you’ve connected with drifts away on their own, leaving you to wonder what in the hell of hells you did wrong.
And that’s okay too, I suppose. Everyone deals with this stuff in their own crazy ass ways.
I’m no atomic particle travelling backward through space and time, but regardless of outcome, I’ll take the connection, no matter the result. Sure, I have wants, needs, dreams I can’t shake no matter how hard I try; but I can’t be without connections. Which means I might need to fill the container with butane and burn my arm hairs off from time to time. I might need to shock myself just to see how it feels. I might even need to act like a rabid Frankenstein just to see who runs away first.
Life’s a crazy thing. May as well be a little crazy with it.
Let me just hit you with a bit of shocking, unedited, truth so we can move on: I have no idea what I’m doing. Ever. I’ll give you a moment to digest that. It’s big, I know.
All good now? Maybe keep a glass of the bubbly handy, if not. In testament to my general lack of direction and understanding, I’m just winging this. Kind of a stream-of-consciousness type thing, if you will. That can be problematic for me.
I make no secret of the stupid things I’ve done in life. I’ve listed many of them here over the years and had a good laugh at myself in the process. Should you wish to know more about me and the stupid things I’ve done, take some time out of your busy schedule, keep the glass full, and have a read. I don’t know whether that’s a wise recommendation, or not; but as that keeps with the theme of the day, we’ll go with it. Have fun. I’m a bit of a likable idiot, in that, “Oh, my, what brand of stupidity will he be a slave to today?” kind of way.
I don’t plan much of anything. Sure, I dream and fixate, handle my desire as if it were the most valuable gem in existence, then fall apart when it drops and smashes into cosmic dust; but I never truly have what one might call, “a plan”. As I understand it, life takes a good bit of prognostication, should one wish to excel within it. Ask me how the Braves will do this year, and I’ll give you a prediction. Ask me how my latest book, venture, or attempt at a relationship, will go and you get ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. My father asked me, after I graduated high school, to draft up a five-year plan for life so he could go over it with me. I moved out the next day. Not a plan. Just a reaction. Pure gold.
There is a reason I identify with Tigger
So, as we sit here together, please do keep in mind I have no actual plan for this. Any of this. I tend to operate better at this stage in my life if I cling to each word and watch where it takes me. Any effort to create a visual end point will only carry me off track. We don’t want that. Well, I don’t want that. I can’t presume to speak for you. You’re not here. I can’t see you. I have no idea what you’re thinking at this moment. Perhaps if I did I might consider my words more carefully, or generate something more akin to a point. Something like a plan, maybe? A loose sort of dangly string of a point? Something you can wrap your fingers around, just as a reminder there is a point to it somewhere? I don’t know. Just spitballing.
I’m a patient person. I can’t say this developed from my lack of planning, or if my lack of planning developed out of my patience. There’s a link there, I’m sure. One seems as connected to the other as an appendage to the body. You’d think they would work in concert at all times, but it wouldn’t be true. Truth is my patience is more like this … whatever it is I’m doing now. It has an end, somewhere. Could be the next sentence, could be another 1,000 words from now. Depends on what fuels it, how the line of Reece’s Pieces leads it from the shed and into the house. I would prefer the line of candy, honestly. Hell, I guess I’d prefer anything to nothing. It’s a great deal easier to be patient with something guiding it, right? Regardless, I am patient because I want to see the point of it all. I want to watch the sunset to the day, to feel the warmth of the sky as the horizon blankets the light, as the clouds blush, as night takes the stage. That’s why I wait. Who needs to plan for that? In the moment, you just get to be in it. Sure, there’s the potential for clouds to move in, for the sky to diffuse the brilliance of the sun’s farewell, for any number of distractions to prevent full enjoyment of the moment; but I’ll take any chance on the potential for a glorious sunset I can find. The payoff is worth it, even if disappointment and life’s persistent clamor can occasionally blunt the joy.
That may best sum me up, actually. I’m looking for the perfect sunset. I believe it will happen at some point, but I may need to see far more sunsets than I can process to get there. I have no idea how many. For that matter, I have no idea what ‘perfect’ is. I have no idea what I’ll do in the moment I realize I’ve found it. I can wait, however, because the sunset keeps trying. I can be patient because each day I know it will return and try again. I can put effort into waiting on it because I know it will put effort into setting. And when the moment comes, when the sun and I find perfection together, it will own me and every ounce of my passion for it. That’s as much planning as I can muster, and in the end it’s less planning than it is a fait accompli. In the context of time and space, it’s already happened. I’m just bumbling my way toward it.
I tend overthink that which I do not know. It’s a product of an imaginative mind contemplating a path to the perfect sunset. I’ve tried to stop it, but the theater of dreams won’t close. I’m not sure how I afford it. The power bill is staggering. Most of my life I’ve overthought situations, emotions, interactions, you name it. Anything and everything beyond the bounds of what I know as fact. I don’t profess to have the answers. I have no idea what will happen next. I only know I want to find that perfect sunset; and when I do, I’m willing to make the most of every second it offers.
In the meantime, until I know what I need to know, I’m going to patiently do and say a lot of stupid things.
Recently, I was dubbed the Man of Zeal by a woman who is, by her actions and heart alone, a superhero. I thought it a comical title for a good three minutes until it occurred to me she wasn’t all that far off. I am, by nature, a zealous person, running around half-cocked on a mission to salvage some sense of purpose in this thing called life. Some times the quest pursues the fantasy list of happiness and dreams only an idiot–this one in particular–would dare expect to realize, the rest to serve those around me. The two entwine, often, but generally I find the latter balances out the failures of the former. In the end, though, I just like to help people. I like to be there when they need an ear, a voice, a shoulder, a heart, some muscle, whatever. It’s what I do.
I never stopped to consider why. I never questioned if I should let someone else handle it. I just did what my heart told me and hoped to hell it didn’t break me. I have no idea if this is healthy, if this is sane, or if it even matters. I know I’ve been taken advantage of. I know it’s blown up in my face from time-to-time. I know I’ve overreached when help wasn’t necessary. And still, I trudge on, zealous in my quest to do something, somewhere, anywhere, for anyone I can.
I imagine that sounds a bit braggadocious. I’m certainly no superhero. As far as I know it, superheroes tend to succeed more often than fail in their endeavors. That alone disqualifies me. However, that isn’t the bait on the hook here. The above is merely a train of thought leading to the station ahead. To narrow the field a bit: It’s only just now in life occurred to me that I never looked for any return of this way I have. I wanted it, somewhere within. Some quiet place where my brain sat idle in its desk, hand raised, patiently waiting to be called upon. Could very well be why my relationships have blown up, or why I don’t have a deep circle of friends to visit or hang out with regularly. No idea. I guess it’s irrelevant to me.
Truth is, I don’t worry about it. It doesn’t inherently change who I am. This is the way I’ve chosen to live my life, and I’m good with it. I’m at peace with it.
But it got me to considering the others out there. You know them. They’re in your life. The people who do, not for gain or reward but because someone needs to. The people who call, text, message, visit, invite you to coffee just to see how you’re doing. The people who aren’t asking for anything in return. They just want to help. Some will consider their motives suspect. Some might find annoyance in their do-goodery. Generally, however, they are beacons of light in an otherwise dim moment. You know exactly who they are.
So, should you actually be one of the ten or twelve people who read this, I ask of you a simple task: Find the superhero in your life. Thank them. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them if they need any help with anything, or need to talk life and its myriad challenges, or would just like to sit silently with someone and have some coffee or food or whatever and not feel as though they fight the good fight alone. Don’t let them turn the conversation on you. For one day, one moment, one blink of an eye, be their hero. It will fuel them more than you know.
Twenty-three seconds into the accident, the nascent writer Joshua Alexander jumped for joy. Concentrating on the significant damage to the bumper of my Explorer proved challenging amidst the ever-maddening screams of “THIS IS MY MOMENT! I HAVE ARRIVED!” The poor kid who pulverized his car with my bumper, some student from George Washington University home on break, apologized repeatedly for his lapse in attention; though to be fair, I’m still not sure if he directed it to me or to the crumpled remains of his car. I consoled him, insomuch as I was capable with all the celebratory screaming coming from Joshua. To his credit, the kid remained stoic, clearly at war with the beside-himself-father in his head, taking complete blame when the officer arrived, while I stood at the back of my vehicle analyzing the damage.
“This is great. Fantastic. The best thing that could have happened.”
I countered that, citing that car accidents are not great watermarks of joy for anyone. Not that Joshua cared.
“This will pay for the conference. You should thank that kid.”
I hadn’t considered that. Granted, my bumper looked a bit as if the horrors of life had consumed its soul, leaving its remains to melt into a perpetual frown.
“It’s just a bumper. What do you even need it for?”
As far as I could tell, the moment offered an example as to the primary reason bumpers existed. If I learned anything from Bumper Cars as a kid it was to never play Bumper Cars with my older brother. He had this fixation on ejecting me from my car, or better, the entire ring. Of course, he also had a fixation with swinging me in circles from an arm and leg until my glasses flew off and I started crying, so maybe the Bumper Cars weren’t the issue. In the moment, however, I found my first appreciation for the lessons those ricocheting cars offered.
Still, I had a hard time arguing the point. It was just a bumper. What’s a bumper in comparison to a week’s worth of writing education that would certainly land me a contract with a publisher? Three days later, when the Insurance adjuster handed me a check for $1,100, Joshua’s elation caught up to me. The internal war began. Bumper vs. bills vs. writing conference. Bumper lost in the opening round, if for no reason than it shut Joshua up for a while, and the worst it could do was follow me wherever I drove, its downward slope of sadness perhaps warding off any other unwanted visitors. Bills … those were a trickier obstacle. Apparently, those are supposed to be paid? That’s what I’ve heard. Somewhere.
I guess I should probably mention I had quit my job three months prior in order to write a book. That seems important, in context. Bills and all. Sudden money at hand and the like. A lack of employment certainly made income a pestering nuisance in relation to actually paying for things. You know, the important things like bills. Food. Collectible Star Wars figures. Even writing conferences. Especially those lasting a week long and costing a thousand dollars. An amount I happened to have in my bank thanks to a careless kid fiddling with his radio at forty miles-per-hour as his car rudely greeted the stopped Explorer in its path.
Maybe I shouldn’t have quit my job, I thought for the one-hundred and thirty-first day in a row. As decisions went to this point in life, it ranked up there with the best of Not Good. Sure, I finished a first draft of the book (two if you count the less than stellar 1st person draft I finished in 21 days), and by the time the conference rolled around two months later I would have a good edit complete. The timing fit. The conference–my first ever–would offer me a chance to pitch it to agents and New York Times bestselling author David L. Robbins, who would be the judge in a fiction contest. My book, Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO was good, by my estimates. Okay, so I thought it was perfect. Something to behold. To cherish. To love and to squeeze and to call George. Surely the agents would agree and the whole suffering for my art thing would be worth it, just as I had envisioned. That singular dream in which I quit my job, wrote a book, went to a conference and BLAMMO … agent. Agent would become Publishing Contract. Publishing Contract would equal Advance. Advance would balance out Voluntary Unemployment. Success would follow.
THIS IS MY MOMENT.
Did I have a choice? Sure. I had many. Many, many, many, many of which began the day before I quit my job. Did it feel like it? No. No, between Joshua’s screaming and my inability to see the world of possibility as more than a single light at the end of a short road, the Universe basically sat on my head, declared itself the Master of My Destiny and urged the chariot onward. All of this wouldn’t have happened otherwise, right? Everything happens for a reason, after all.
RIGHT YOU ARE UNIVERSE!
Fueled by the need to risk it all, to bypass sanity in favor of chance (LIVE NOW FOOL!), I registered for the conference and submitted the first fifty pages of my manuscript for the contest.
Technically, yes? Officially … not so much.
The thing is … the thing I should mention is how incredibly tired of me I had become. I saw myself every day. In the mirror, staring back for that brief flash before looking away, lest I thought myself some kind of creepy pervert offering longing glances from the other side of the glass. I talked to myself incessantly daily (yeah, yeah talked … that’s the ticket), whether I wanted to hear me or not. I cooked for myself, cleaned for myself, got sick of my needy self and needed a break.
So, I sent Joshua Alexander to the conference. I’m not sure if I thought he would generate better results, or if it would simply be nice to not be me for a week. Truthishly, I can’t really recall a specific thought of why I should do such a thing. Maybe I took a back seat to the process and Joshua jumped in. I don’t know. I just don’t know. I’m just weird like that, I suppose.
Regardless of reason–and likely absent it as well–I made my way to the conference full of cheer and lofty dreams, toting my completed manuscript in a wooden box as if it were the lost Ark of the Covenant. I checked in under my name since Joshua, for all of his robust enthusiasm, still lacked both an ID and a bank account, settled in and made off for the Opening Remarks with another hundred plus writers. All of whom were likely themselves because they were smart that way. I sat next to a behemoth of a figure–a tall, muscular man stretched out across two chairs. As I have established, socializing is not my strong point. Joshua, on the other hand, seemed to have no issue with the complexity of Hello and jumped right in.
“Hi. Joshua Alexander.”
Good for you, Josh. Well done.
The man shifted, shook my hand, introduced himself as David L. Robbins and immediately launched into praise for my submission, about how he had planned on finding me to discuss it, and stating his wonder at the luck we would sit next to each other.
It’s possible, at this point, I considered dropping the Joshua persona to ensure Mr. David L. Robbins, New York Times bestselling author, knew who I really was. I offer the possibility of such a though only because I don’t particularly recall if I though much of anything at all. Not with Joshua in charge.
THIS IS MY MOMENT.
So, I let him run with it. Let him talk throughout the Welcome, carrying the conversation onward into my work, its strengths and weakness, the nuances of the craft of writing, echoing David’s belief that conferences were vital to the growth of a writer, and I don’t know, tacos or something. It went on for hours. The next day David even invited me to go watch him golf in between sessions. I became the envy of the entire conference, buddied up to David like a excitable, loyal, puppy. Everyone knew my name, curious about what I wrote, how I had managed to so quickly win the favor of such a notable author.
They were the best two days of Joshua Alexander’s life.
They were, in fact, the only two days of Joshua Alexander’s life.
On day three, David woke up and decided to invite good ole chum Joshua to breakfast. Strange thing though. The front desk had no room for a Joshua Alexander. David insisted they were wrong. Had them check and check again, taking potential misspellings into account. Nope. No Joshua. Confused and slightly embarrassed, David fell into full research mode, following the trail of Joshua Alexander to one Zachary Steele, in room whateverever. He called me. He grilled me. Questioned what reason a man with my name would possibly have to go under any other name, then laughed at me. For the rest of the week. As he told each and every person about the ludicrous tale of Zachary “Joshua Alexander” Steele. For the next few months, as we kept lines of communication open. For the next few years as our friendship grew, as he became a mentor to me as a writer. To this day, some sixteen years later, as the memory pops up and he needs a good laugh at my expense. His last words on this planet to me may very well be, “Tell Joshua I said hi.”
I will always accept life as a never-ending ride of Cause and Effect. For instance, I make really odd decisions, the effect of which tends to rail off into the deep recess of Shitsville. I get to relive them, marvel over them, and perhaps even grow from them, but damn. Just damn.
Every once in a while, despite myself, I get to follow a train of Cause and Effect that isn’t all bad in the end.
I quit my job to write a book, with the express purpose of getting said book published, thereby jump starting my career and minimizing the damage caused by Voluntary Unemployment. In order to facilitate this, I decided I should go to a conference to get noticed. Unable to afford said conference due to having no job, I made use of accidental money to fund my way. I changed my name for no reason, met the author I wanted to meet, made a sizable impression both due to my work and the fundamental identity crisis masquerading as me, and made a friend of David L. Robbins. David created James River Writers in Richmond, Virginia, invited me behind the scenes, to their conference, gave me time with other notable authors (um, hi there Tom Robbins) and awesome people, and taught me the craft. All of which made me a better writer. Fueled by the need for more, the hunger to be better in all aspects of life, I made other questionable decisions, one of which netted me a bookstore I called Wordsmiths Books. During my tenure as owner of Wordsmiths, I met a publisher interested in Anointed. She published it. Publisher’s Weekly gave it a good review. My career as a writer found first gear.
THIS IS MY MO … oh, wait. No.
SEVEN YEARS FROM … is that right? Seven years? Sevenish years, you say? Right.
SEVEN PLUS YEARS FROM NOW WILL BE MY MOMENT.
Sometimes the wrong way can be right. Just, like, way longer.
That whole “Day Whatever” thing? Yeah, I think that can go away now. I mean, posting in a succession of days that mark every day I have worked on the novel makes great sense. Not that I often make sense. I usually make not sense, and with great precision. So, it’s canned. On a shelf to be forgotten forevermore. Like Apocalypse Tuna. But NEVER FEAR! I am still here. Still hereing and being here and being not not here in order to post what I have written on the The Progenitor.
That said, in the time I have managed not to waste watching football, cheering my fantasy baseball team to a long-awaited league winner winner chicken dinner championship (Yeah that’s right, I play fantasy sports. What of it? I’m a dude who likes sports, all right? Back off, lest I pummel you with my sportish knowledge and bore you to tears.), taunting the cat, humoring the dog, and putting back a healthy dose of the Fall’s first batch of chili, I have created more words! Words that pair with other words to form sentences and paragraphs! Paragraphs that talk about stuff and lead to other stuff. Two chapters worth, in fact! In fairness, they’ve seen a light edit, but I tend to read through what I last wrote in an effort to drop back into the flow of the story, which always results in some alteration along the way. I edit, therefore I am, or something.
With these two chapters, Agatha’s adventure has officially begun. A bit earlier than I had expected (I’m at 12,000 words, and I thought I’d make it closer to 20k before everything really took off), but it feels right. The story’s never wrong. When it says it’s time to fly, you jump. When it says have some meat and chill, you better not be a vegetarian.
Speaking of jumping, as this story plays with the concept of jumping through time, the task I face is explaining this, and the results therefrom, in a way that is easy to follow and understand. If I have failed to do so at any point, fire away. You’re the reader, I’m the writer. I stand behind the curtain, while you fall asleep in a field of poppies, or head off on a witch hunt with but some sketchy courage, a tin brain, no heart and a stupid bucket of water. I know everything. You know nothing. NOTHING!
So, here it is. All six chapters. 12k words out of a projected 90k pushes me past 10%. It’s a small benchmark, but something about crossing 10% has always infused me with excitement. Hopefully it shows.
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.
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.
Regardless the plan is the plan. Write the book. Edit it later.
For now, Chapter Two introduces us to Judy ChristieChristie 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.
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.”
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.
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).
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: Ayoung 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.
“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.
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.
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.