Sunday, November 30, 2014

The more things

Sometimes, the solution to a given issue can be terrifyingly simple. I'm 90 minutes from having a functioning website again, three months removed from the situation first cropping up. It was a five minute fix following a two minute conversation.

Sometimes, the solution to a given issue can be terrifyingly complex. The news out of the American midwest crawls and lurches like a hungry creature slick with steaming tar, dripping acrid confusion. It isn't something people want to touch, or closely examine. I took some time to post some thoughts on social media, and have some conversations to schedule, some face to face interaction and honest dialog. I feel like that's the best I can do. It probably isn't, but that isn't something I want to touch, or closely examine.

Tomorrow is the 1st of December, two weeks prior to the first of six grad school application deadlines I plan on preceding for this year's volley. I found some programs that fully fund their students, and for the bargain all that is required of me is violating the bounds of my comfort zone and do some driving when the time comes. Deep, deep down, I am happy at what this process might grow me into. I'm even grumbling less about it, by the day.

November was a time for a lot of people to crank out a lot of words, but hardly any came out of me during that span. I have finished the first ten chapters of the sci fi novel, and sent those off to be scrutinized be other individuals. I spent the time following working on some contemporary pieces, convinced that last year's rejections were due in part to my sending "genre fiction" in my creative packets. Last spring, when I received those missives, I was afflicted with a kind of blunt force trauma, then I was sad and frustrated for much of summer. Fall, I wrote. Here winter, I am trying again. I am confident enough now to say that if I am rejected again, I will apply again next year. I'm better than I was, because of that conflict, and I also know that I am better than those who reject me believe.

In another shift, I was called out for having an eight-year-old profile picture on that same social media. It's a photo of all the friends I made during my early college years. It's the only such record that exists, such was the differences that came to affect us all eventually. After some weeks, I took a different photo, of a pile of pages and notes and drafts, all with hand written and typed words. A notebook. My laptop, flash drives and ear buds. A pen. I figured that this was a fitting substitute, an update that was both lateral and progressive. This, I feel, is the best encapsulation of these fleeting days.

Change. A constant. Paradox.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Person: odurate, visionary

Chapter 9 was halfway done before I had to stop and have a conversation with myself. About things like comparisons between characters making decisions that were true to them versus decisions that were better for the story, for the fluency of the reader or the authenticity of the setting. This right on the heels of coming back to the novel after the hiatus I took to get a short story cranked out for a contest. Ironically, I ended up sending something old, rather than something new, borrowing some advice from a friend along the way. Not that I think the hiatus is to blame for my falling off track of what I wanted to accomplish and in what timing. There's enough to go around for everyone.

I asked a friend recently about things he felt he was good at, and that might do the world some good, and how many of those things he had on his bucket list to do. Like most people who ask those kinds of questions, I was hoping to find some of my fear of mutual exclusion in him. Instead, having just been officially licensed as a lawyer in the state of Oregon, he referenced that. You don't have to imagine how that made me feel, because I'll tell you: less than good. Sometimes, my introspective nature gets in the way of more social plans that I might have. This thing I asked my friend about, a decision I might make, a path I could strike down, is one of those things. It involves helping people, moreover in a capacity that I've already been working for some years. I feel like I'd be more willing to jump at it if it didn't involve such constant interaction, scrutiny, responsibility, and expectations.

I got some advice from a mentor that made me feel bad about the entire process of hacking it in academia, and the advice was supported by a confidant who is in academia, making her own way. I really don't like it, and I feel like I might just be miserable if I do the things "people do" to get ahead in that field. I was advised to take a step back, breathe, observe my other options. Misinterpreting that, I immediately signed up for an opportunity to present myself as an editor at a conference being arranged by a contact I never thought I'd hear from again (and... wasn't taking any steps to change that). It occurs to me through all of this that the first quality of a destined hero is good listening skills. Not strength, not courage, not speed, not luck. Well, maybe luck, but primarily the ability to understand what people are saying when they give you advice.

Bringing it full circle, the problem with the chapter was perspective. Specifically point of view. I had the wrong character telling the particular part of the story, and that forced things uncomfortably. Whereas if the camera were handed off to someone else, it all worked a lot more smoothly. So, I'll be fixing that. Then I'll be moving on to chapter 10, and then I'll be taking an extended break. I think regardless of what happens, I will still apply, wish for my yes's and weather my no's. It may or may not be going through the motions, but the weird thing about all this is, despite what the fairy tales say, no one wakes up one day in the position they want to be in. In certain ways, we're all preparing. Thus, I must prepare. So I will write something less terrifyingly new, but still no less me, to present to these persons on admissions boards.

And hopefully this time next year I'll be looking back, rather than looking forward.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

"Wrote you were a hearer"

I was happy for myself, about who I was. Someone invited me to a friend's "low country boil," and all I really heard was the opportunity to see an old friend that I hadn't greeted in person in many months. One of those things where we made plans that quietly and repeatedly fell through. The invite triggered a commitment, a resolution. And hours later, a curiosity. I had no idea what a low country boil even was.

Parts of the South Carolina coast region are close to, or below sea level. The low country. And boil, well, shell fish, corn, potatoes, and sausage, all together with bonding seasonings. Also, there's a lot of it. I had heard about community events, and attended times and places where I was told what they were, but that night seemed like the truest definition I had been presented with. Except for a few of us, everyone there was from the neighborhood. I arrived with that friend, first, and things were pleasant enough until the couples began arriving. "And this is my wife." "And this is my husband." I stood, I sat, I moved, I mingled, I went inside and watched television.

I was watching college football when I felt the presence of a shadow, not like passing glances or brief looks. The kind of stare that inquires after social courtesy. I looked, and then it happened. "Someone told me you're a writer." My response was, "I like to tell myself that from time to time, too." I wasn't sure why I affirmed, much less why I responded in that way. The conversation that happened, probably, was inevitable. It didn't drag, and it wasn't unpleasant, but it was unquestionably there, like a surprising odor in the backseat of a taxi. But I survived. "I like what you said about..." and they explained, and then left, and I somehow felt better that I had held up my end.

Later, I had seconds, and then later still I had thirds, but after that I realized I still had things to live for, the tastiness of the food notwithstanding. I found a circle of individuals around my sex, around my age, and I stood shoulder to shoulder with another man and waited for my turn to tell a joke, to recite an anecdote. I chuckled, and marveled at the lighting in the house's back yard and the glow of the embers in the fire pit.

Then it happened again. A man across the circle from me stepped forward, breaking the chain. "I heard there was a writer here." I was already checking my phone, but I did not stop to volunteer. I might have even raised the device a little closer, to check my text messages more fiercely. "There he is right there," and some pointed, in such a way that he was very close to poking me in the face. The first man stepped forward, and the circle vanished. An hour and a half later, I would notice that my feet hurt. I spent almost all the time between his statements and my replies trying to figure out why this was happening.

I came up with nothing, and I came away resolved to be thankful that someone had thought enough of my efforts to speak confidently to people they knew, so the point that I would be ambushed with questions. I imagine that the things people say about us when we're not around is closest to how they really feel.

I went to bed late, and woke up early, and recalled some of the blurry events intermingling with my imaginations. A man named Wolfgang, through a dense German accent in tenacious conversation pointed at me with one finger, the remainder of his fist clinging to a tumbler of moonshine, and said "you must save American writing." He blinked sincerely, and my response was, "the next writer I see, I'll be sure to pass along your message." 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Such a prickly thing, choice

I sent the story off. Not to the contest, but to the readers I remembered who agreed to look at it for me. I wasn't in any particular hurry, but I did find myself in a frenzy over tiny, logistical details. Thrice I looked the story over to smooth its roughest edges, and thrice I ended up adding or changing or adding and changing. The story was already over 5000 words, which isn't a lot for a stand-alone short, but with all my manic meddling, it ballooned to 6000. I knew I had a problem.

So, with the first step of acceptance, I pushed it through the electronic womb at friendly bystanders, hoping they wouldn't be mowed down. After the first draft, I knew it was bad. After the second, I thought it was alright. After the third, I was convinced somewhat of both. I will have to submit it by the end of the month, and I refuse to do it without looking it over twice more after I get some degree of feedback. I cannot help but think that I will be sending off a woefully imperfect product in a week and change.

The sci-fi novel isn't on the back burner, but I do have to take some time to decide if I am going to earnestly pursue a traditional MFA program for next fall. This blog post deflated my confidence greatly. One of the places I submitted to had an author on staff with a Hugo, which is a science fiction literature award. Admittedly, there aren't many of those floating around academia, but they do exist. It never occurred to me that it would be that grade of uphill climb. So, in regards to considering grad school again, I have to make some decisions about what I will write, and what kind of writer I will present myself as when I apply.

Which seems a bit tragic to me. After all, I hide myself as it is. Among other writers was the dream haven I am considering spending thousands of dollars to access. Why should I have to be someone else there? It isn't that I want to only write speculatively, but I do speculate. So, if a submission is to be sent, then it must be a contemporary one. It isn't that the novel isn't in me to write. I believe this is what people say that this is "the principle of the thing."

So we'll see. As the temperature drops, and on comes falls, on fall the dominoes in a line. Crooked and bent and jagged and terrible.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Medicine from morpheus

Chapter 8 is drafted. I have my eye on 10 being a stopping point, to go back and see how this rewrite is taking shape. By the time I get there, I imagine the draft so far will be well over 30,000 words. Somewhat predictably, because the setting isn't contemporary, but speculative, much of it has to be described within the prose. Where chapters of my modern novels hovered around 2500, this time around they're in the ballpark of 3500. Not sure why I find that interesting. The more people I meet and conversations I have, the less I find these sorts of ideas to be commonplace.

I had a dream that spurned me to act on the email sent to all previous applicants of a writing contest I continue to fail to place in, or get an honorable mention, on an annual basis. Such behavior compels me to clarify the definitions of sadism and masochism, just for my own edification. One of the ideas I've had going in was to pump the brake more on the quiet wondering and tap on the accelerator in regards to the flashier, overt conflicts. We'll see if it makes a difference. In the mean time, it would be really nice to find a publication somewhere that was receptive to how I naturally go about telling stories.

Work has been interesting. The premise of education in my state has been less neutral, more decidedly negative. Grad school applications loom, and the shadows are not the least bit helpful even given the summer climes. Yesterday I attended a retirement celebration for my old boss. The first day of the rest of his life. He survived with a few dozen gray hairs and one of his original hips. Should be a pleasant enough twilight. It made me wonder how long, and hard, I would have to work before I could rest on my laurels. Guess that's pretty presumptuous, that I'll have some to rest on.

Which brings me to relocation. Unlike anyone else that I know, I don't have a spouse or own property. I am unequivocally unattached to anything save for my crippling home-body-ness. I lament that the next few months may very well be a turning point in my life when all I seem to have to go on is "well, this seems like it might work out." A friend of mine experiences this phenomenon when he plays video games that have choice-driven narratives. If given a choice, he likes to go down one path, reload a previous save, then make a different choice. Ironically, I find it completely acceptable to go on feeling, and let things work out how they'll work out. I assume it's because I know it isn't real, that it won't affect me deeply either way. But in real life, there are years we can never get back, tens of thousands of dollars we may never see again.

The longer I live, the list of things I'm sure of becomes shorter and shorter. But, I still feel better when I write, and it still seems right to feel better. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Back (on) track

Trying to form better habits. Still not sure if blogging regularly is good, in the long term. Creative story ideas abound.

Yesterday I attended a writer's group meeting, something I hadn't done in some months. I got up that morning and churned out a large bit of chapter 7's draft. At the meeting, labeled a "write in," I pecked away at a few more paragraphs. Functionally less productive. But then, there were things to discuss. A younger man sat down next to me after coming into the room, and looking around at all the full tables. I was reminded what it was like on the school bus for the first day of junior high. I offered, he sat, and said, "what's your story?" and nodded at my work. I never knew it could be that simple of a question. I couldn't tell him all I wanted to say in one sitting, and I felt good and bad about that.

And like I said, there were things to be discussed. The group was considering a joint publication project, for a variety of reasons. One stuck out to me as odd: "publishers want people who are already published." Chicken. Egg. What? It was not the sort of meeting that disintegrated into bickering and cyclical sub-conversations. People had done research, and brought constructive ideas. Not a lot got done, but I was satisfied with the conversation. I double checked on some copyright information for stories I have floating out in the aether, making sure I could submit them. I noted that I could, stated that I was ready to contribute immediately, then retired back to my cave. My only other outer thoughts were "since we're working for free, those doing the work should have the most consideration for how we do things."

I mentioned chapter 7. When I finish drafting 10, I am going to go back and take a good hard look at this new path I've struck down. I had an intensive critique session with a writer friend that I came away feeling very good about. I am close to loving how things are being smoothed and folded. When I look back after chapter 10, I will be able to more definitively state my feelings on things. On the horizon are the things I must do for grad school submissions. Even though it will be this weekend, I am not even considering the local convention. It's on the list, attending as a guest and not a patron, but a few places down, I think.

I'm back again to having a solid idea of what I want, so all I have to do is focus on manifesting the how.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Falls

I guess this was all a big hiatus. Likewise, I suppose there are more than a few things to update.

I've restarted the science fiction series. It took me so long, I think, because part of me really didn't want to put in the work. I couldn't have said it was perfect, or even very good, the way that it was, yet I was much more inclined to patch it, in places, stint, bandage, and staunch where it needed. Rather than tear it all down and start with a surer foundation. Objectively, I have to admit that even though I have many more months of work ahead of me, the book will absolutely be better. Everything I learned writing the first original novel, and half of the continuation I am able to incorporate into this new version. Looking back, even joining the world building group was of some help, even though I never work-shopped my world. I prepared its details as if I would, and that mindset put me in place where I could start all over again, and not feel like I failed.

That endeavor led me to another place of light and shadow. My fantasy trilogy, which I finished over a year ago, and have been sending out and receiving rejections for, just isn't very good. Over the last seven years or so, the things that have come out of me fall into two broad categories which can be classified, loosely, as business and pleasure. The former falls under the school of thought that art exists for purpose, that something is being said by the creator, and the mark of its success or failure is whether or not it incites a reply to that statement by the receiver. The latter is just about everything else. My "wouldn't it be neat"s and "hey that's an interesting idea"s. I don't dislike the story, where it came from, and what it stands for, but when I think of one of the things my mentor told me, that a true professional never publishes his "juvenalia," I think those three books qualify. It was a bit crushing to admit that to myself, but there was another liberating moment when I realized that that fantasy series did not have to be my fantasy attempt. That it served to cut my teeth, and now I can really sink in with sharper implements. I even have an idea; so, another goes on the list.

Likewise, there is the failure of not getting into graduate school. I interviewed for a job some months ago and was asked what was the accomplishment I was most proud of. I put a lot of eggs into that basket of higher-higher education, of that being the time, sending out for letters, writing confidently both the essay and my creative samples. It never occurred to me at all that I wouldn't get in, which made the defeat that much more crushing. But I didn't break into pieces over it. I lamented, and I regretted, but not for more than a day. The next morning, I sighed to myself in the mirror and thought that I would just try again. That's what I told them I was proud of, and it wasn't much of a lie. I'm still not to a place where I can be proud of how I handle failure, if only because it requires the failure in the first place. But I'd be lying if I said I learned more from my successes. I certainly do not.

Creatively, it was a summer of stepping back, either on purpose or being hurled. I cannot revel so much in my continuing to take steps forward, because of a very real sense that I'm running out of time. I couldn't say why I feel that way, either. But things are a little clearer, and I am happy when I look forward at what I might accomplish if I stay on the path I'm on. Life isn't necessarily better, but it is life. It's only worse sometimes.  

Friday, April 4, 2014

Spring worrying

I did it. Last month I finished the last novel in my Where Shadows Lie series. Well, I almost did it. Last month I almost finished it, but on purpose. I left off the epilogue, because I didn't want to write it then. I wanted to write it when I finally submit it somewhere. I wanted all the experiences I'll have to weigh in on that final punctuation. But for the series' entirety, really, there isn't much more story to tell.

The reason all of that didn't sound more joyous than it might have is because new problems have cropped up since then. I have new challenges, and have experienced new failures. Foremost is the science fiction story. I might have mentioned that meetup group I joined last year, the one that dealt primarily with world building. I joined that group because of my sci-fi story. Because I got about half way through the second book and recognized the setting as too two dimensional. I could see the strings holding things up. The sky was painted, and the bushes and trees and sun and stars were all props.

So now I've finally, finally gotten around to fixing those problems. Turns out, the things are like creeping ants, and every time I find one, I encounter others. Today, I turned a corner. Five times was the charm. Five times I took out a sheet of paper, or opened up a document file to make a list, or re-layer a subject with description. For the first four, I encountered problems like, "Well, if they converted this machine for use as a vehicle, all it would need is new tires, a larger cabin, more seats... and gearing. Wow, crap. Who could make automobile gearing? What tools are required? What tools do they have?" But today, I approached the center of things from a direction such that it didn't all cave in behind me when I moved forward.

The second problem is less easy to solve. In fact, it doesn't have a solution at all. It just is, which is why I focus on it less. I guess you could call it character building. I failed at something I never thought I would fail at, and the activity led me down an introspective well of feelings on the subject. They were mostly negative, to be sure. But then the sun went down, and came back up again, and I was still here. I guess that means something. Actually, as the sun continues to set, and rise again, I become more sure of that fact.

I went to a retirement celebration for a former co-worker. I wrote once, in an attempt to culturally explain the concept of graying, that "star dust collects most readily on the heads of the wise." I thought of that line as I looked around and saw all the silver hairs. They weren't all gray, of course, because I was there, along with others around my age. We sat by ourselves, sort of like a grown up kids table, and every now and then one of our elders would come over and none too subtly hint that the torch was being left to us. A few times, they even stopped to talk about what they wanted to do now that they stopped having things they were required to do. One man seated next to me said, "I'm not going to wait until I'm 60." There were nods all around at that. It occurred to me that some people work in order to earn their rest.

I wasn't sure then, why I work at what I work at, and I'm still not sure. I do wonder though, if I have enough words in me to carry me to 60. I especially wonder if the words will be good enough.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Up

I wish I could report that the chapters of the novel have matriculated out of the teens, but I've yet to write chapter 20. It was very much uphill for a while, and it's still uphill, but where before I toiled in the shadow of clouds surrounding seemingly limitless peaks, now I can see the character of the heights I've almost reached. When I set out to finish off the series, I had a lot of goals, and the first among them was to finish things up well, to put as much energy into this last book as I did every book leading up to it combined. To the end of getting everything down with a significant degree of verisimilitude, I went back and read all the previous novels. I think it's paid off, but at this point I've done this enough to know that the first draft is only the first draft; it's a long way removed from an idea and an empty page, but still far afield of a published book. Still, I can see daylight, and I'm happy about it.

I've also moved, here in the new year. The process has been a bit like Christmas when I was very small. The day came when I had many boxes to open, and each was a mystery, yet I knew all of the items contained were mine. Unpacking has been interesting, and I've gained great insight into how I'll move in the future, which is good, because 2014 has brought with it a lot of uncertainty and guarantees of change. I guess it's something that would be good for me to get used to.

Hobby wise, I swapped one game for another, the first I abandoned as an adult that was taking a realistic look at how I spent my time and how much it was worth to me, the second I joined as the same adult that still wanted to be able to afford to spend hours on whim and fancy. It's turned out to renew my daily percolation of creative ideas, and given me some interesting conflict over how I spend my creative energy. For a few weeks, I was very distracted with the new ideas of the new game that it got in the way of my other writing. It was then that I realized that I had gotten a bit away from my control, that I could be creative for however long I wanted, but my focus had become flabby and unused. The next step in wrangling myself will be to get a leash on that particular quality.

Then there's the patience. The applications were submitted last month, but I feel like I might have more than a month to wait, even for a rejection. Also, I have another idea coming to me, but it's forming at about the speed it takes for ketchup to drip from a new bottle. I think that maybe if I start writing, it might come faster, but as soon as I focus on it, I think maybe it's moved a bit, and I go back to waiting. As terrible as it feels, the uncomfortable lack of control over the passage of events, I think I've gotten better at waiting. Someone actually used the word zen in relation to me the other day. There's always hope, I suppose.

So, I'm back, and I'll be around. I even got around to updating my main page to reflect how many books I have out now.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Time travel

Missed the new year by a few weeks, I guess.

The applications are in. My mentor told me to let him know "when" I get the good news. It's nice to have people believe in you.

Now is also about the time that I start sending emails to publishers I submitted to back in the fall. Missives to the tune of "Hey, so... I sent a submission in. The three months have passed. Did you guys get it?" It's a pretty fragile situation. They could have gotten it, and they could still be mulling over its merits. Or, it never arrived, or worse was long discarded into a slush pile somewhere. Either way, it's just as likely that they will have never heard of me. I guess it's not so nice to not have people believe in you.

Work has started back up, and this time around I got a chance to sit in on some of the conversations the counselors have with the students. They pull up graphs and charts and talk about what's against them, things they didn't even realize, and how slim the margin of error is. Here recently I have come to realize to what extent I personalize a lot of things I come into contact with. I'm on staff. I'm supposed to be an example they could aspire to. But I think about my own margins of error. Sometimes, sometimes whether I'd start over and do something different if I had the chance.

On the flip side, lots of story ideas. I happened upon a strange technique that I'm pretty sure wouldn't work for a game I could run, and with no way to test it out before I attempt it. Lyrics of a song come to me when I think about it, "I live my life without rehearsals." Another idea I had involved another segment in a string of stories I'm writing about a future world. Two of them were in my submission packet for graduate school. With another I wrote and didn't send (though I did submit it to several contests, and after it failed to place, I placed it here) this would make four stories set in such a way as to present a panoramic view of a time beyond now. I think about having time to write all these things down, and I think about where all my time is going that I don't know if they'll ever live.

I'm up to chapter 18 or so in the novel. I say or so because the amount of focus I've had for that lately is commensurate with the accuracy of the statement. Viewed by the number of pages and words and chapters, I'm fairly close to finishing. I fear in my heart though, I might be much closer to done. This last book is difficult because it is filled with murky depths of the kind of sadness that can stick with one, and affect the dreams. It isn't necessarily my intent to plunge the reader or myself into some depressed malaise. I realize now, maybe like I should have realized from the initial writing of the first book, that it just isn't a happy story. And now I can also see that the ending is about the same.

I wish I had some sage advice, for myself and others. I do have a voice recording of my mother saying how much better 2014 will be. I decided to keep it, not to listen to it over and over again, but just the once, come this time next year.