Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Presence

Last week's work went well, especially considering a mysterious Christmas Eve illness. I didn't realize what was going on, and I suppose it may have just been food poisoning. I'll probably never know now. Regardless, I edited to chapter 18, and am feeling very good about this home stretch. I now have a better understanding of what was missing in an epilogue yet to be written, and having scanned most of it within a short span, I am more familiar with this new retelling, this rewrite. Earlier in the process I was worried I had written the same story. I have banished that fear.

I had a good conversation with a writer colleague, and her questions put me in a great position to see what my story might look like to different eyes. She is preparing a piece for submission herself, and I think the process was as beneficial for her as it was for me. We're supposed to be getting together for a more in depth chat this week. If I had my druthers, I would be able to finish everything before that meeting, not because she's read it, but because I'd be able to have a discussion about this writing because I'd be carrying all of it with me.

I worked on Christmas Eve. Stumbling to bed that evening, delirious from mental fatigue, I thought to myself that I would be giving myself the best present: belief. If I believe in what I'm doing, I told myself, then I will put in the work required as if I have no choice but to succeed. I achieved a strange kind of head space where a lot of different things made sense in their insanity. "Of course I give myself hard work as a present. That means that the results are valuable, that what I'm doing is worthwhile, more than a lot of other distractions that I could be succumbing to." Of course, I was also sick, so maybe we'll just chalk that up to fever dreaming.

I'm ahead of schedule, with all next week penciled in for work, also, though I doubt I'll need it at this point. If I can finish the rewrite, with this new section I have in mind to add, edit it, and fix the formatting, I might actually get a chance next week to relax before I go back to work, because I will finally have that new novel, that new story, to submit to new publishers. It's been a while since I had something complete, and unconnected to previous writings. Sometimes it feels like sweeping water in the bottom of a well. It isn't going anywhere, but if I focus, I can make sure a unit by unit section is perfectly dry, dry enough to maybe get at whatever is at the bottom of a pit of wishes.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The first act

The break has started, and so has the work I planned to do during. A friend of mine paid me the compliment that he was really impressed with my ability to look at how much time I have, and stick to a script of how to spend it, in regards to completing my creative projects. Naturally, after that conversation on Tuesday, I squandered that afternoon, Wednesday, and even Thursday. To reach the first week's mark, I had to work Saturday morning. But, it did get done.

I am learning a great deal, and at least for the first third of the novel, I am happy with the rewrite. Just about everything that I had in mind to fix has been taken care of with the third drafting. The world holds up a lot better, feels a lot more distinctive. I have mental images of it now, how it feels and smells and sounds. Connecting with the festivities of this weekend, in some respects, it's a lot like Endor. But I also know in what ways it is not like Endor at all, and for that I am very satisfied.

Something else I got into at the tail end of work some weeks ago, was writing a comic script. My novella, Silver Age, is about 50s era super heroes, and in my mind it was always a graphic novel. In my extremely sluggish networking, I have come across someone who has pushed farther into comic book creation, and when she read some bits of Silver Age, she disagreed with my assessment. So, trusting her knowledge, I have decided to look into having art commissioned for Silver Age, but not going farther than that in regards to making it into something that it currently is not.

And that void is how my newest idea came about. I said comic script because that is what I am writing, deliberately. At least, that's what I think I'm writing. This could of course be very similar to that debacle of a screen play I attempted, or worse, the stage play I devised. At the very least, the screen play was finished, it just wouldn't have resulted in a very good movie. The stage play didn't even get past the first page.

But to move away from the many failures I've enjoyed, this script so far is pretty entertaining. I am not approaching it as so serious a thing. I have the sci-fi rewrite after all. I am imagining it as a 12 issue series, relatively small in scale, though substantial in scope. I had the idea after reading some things, and watching some things, and thinking about the less developed, backdrop ideas present therein, and it was a great activity to use up the useless pockets of time that exist at the tale end of semesters in academia.

My apartment is slowly filling with stapled groups of paper bearing typed print and arrows and circles scratched in angrier font. I don't know what to do about that, and I'm not sure I'd want to even if I did. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Deep see, diving

Last night I sat down and started going through the rewrite. I was equipped with some print outs, highlighters, pens, and some notes I took concerning what I remember leaving out, messing up on, and just holes in general that needed filling. I didn't get very far into the process. Initially, I was happy because there were no serious errors, and as I went along I actually recalled stopping around chapter 10 or so, and going through the beginning just to make sure I wasn't imagining things. I thought to myself, "Oh, well, this might not even be worth it. Surely the beginning is fine."

That sentiment quickly changed when I piled on the knowledge I had gained by actually finishing the rewrite. I thought the pen would be enough, circle here, arrow there, some underlining, some striking through. Then, I put the pen down, and took up the highlighter. Entire sections needed to be scrutinized under the bright ink. I was reminded again of a writer friend's appraisal that many times, my sentences and passages need to be "unpacked." The more I see it, the more I understand what he meant.

A different friend, also on yesterday, accused me of being "Hemingway-esque," on several occasions. She is a Shakespearean scholar and somewhere between my expressing dislike over the excessive nature of that style, and those who take from it, she blurted about my lack of description. That's when she compared me to the author of few words. "I want poetry," she confessed. She also admitted that she had thought it previously, and wanted to say it, but wasn't sure if it mattered, because she still thinks my writing is good. So, we cleared the air.

I did not come away thinking that I should change my style, but I knew all along that this novel was different. She'd read my urban fantasy, where the setting is the next room over from the everyman's everyday. That, for me, is an essential aspect of urban fantasy, of the supernatural or horrific tale. First, it has to be recognizable, not so the reader invests, but so the reader falls backwards into the belief that the setting is the world they know, so that when things start to bloom with magic, they can believe that their own world might have some wonder, also. This new story is science fiction. With aliens and spaceships and advanced technology as mainstays within the genre, descriptions become more important. I knew that, going in, and busy clouds of highlighter insist that I did not do a great job.

Good news is that I'm in a good place, finally, to address those things, to take a step back and focus on the detail that occurs within the framework of a story of which I am finally proud. I am confident that I can do it. I am less confident that I can do it in a time span that let's me achieve such a goal by beginning of next year. However winter break is upcoming. Maybe I'll throw myself into it, and see what happens.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Up, up, and up

The end is near. Of the novel that is. I can't be sure if what I've drafted is award-winning, best-selling, critically-acclaimed material, but it feels really good to almost be done. It should've been done earlier this year, and as the weather thawed, ignited, and cooled off again, I consistently kicked myself for not being dedicated enough to it, for taking some weeks off. I second guessed, even third guessed. Even still, I know that the editing is going to be taxing and brutal, but I'm still happy. Get it all down before you realize it sucks. Words from my mentor, that I've actually passed on to several other people. When he first said them to me, I could not fathom how useful they would be.

It's November, so I've been asked about National Novel Writing Month. I won't be participating. I explain, and I believe, that the occasion originally was for people who kicked themselves year in, year out, about the book they "should" be writing. They take notes, they ponder, they tell a lot of people about it, then the words never quite find themselves onto a page. November is a good month, in America, with businesses winding down in preparation for the winter break, very few events are scheduled, and the Thanksgiving holiday makes the work month feel like half a month. Perfect time to plop down somewhere and bang out 50,000 words. But for me, I'm at the end of a project which I've already been working on. I'm not going to rush it, or do anything different for it than what I have been. I just don't need the incentive.

And what I did need, I found yesterday. Some people talk about writing themselves into holes. Crashing through the pages with little regard, gripping tightly to the creative muse and holding on for dear life. And sometimes, that kind of abandon can pin one into an unfortunate situation, sort of like barging into a villain's trap. The story logic and established facts of the writing create the sand pit or trap door or locked room. Then, following a bit of panic, it becomes time to calm down and write oneself out of that hole. Something similar happened to me. Not that I didn't see it coming, but I did find myself in a situation where the event would have increased impact because of its vicinity to the end of the book. I want all the words to be good, all the scenes, all the characters, but I work extra hard on making the beginnings and the endings that much more vivid and satisfying, if possible. So a situation that I hadn't put much weight on, after examining my outline, suddenly would be one of the seminal things that would characterize how the book ended. Pressure. And after a few days of brainstorming, I think I found a way to pull it off nicely. So, there's that.

There are changes occurring at my publisher. I'm a professional though, so that's about all I'll say. It has been very educational to learn how things work, and how they can change. The world is broad and filled with all kinds of people. I say that not to state the obvious, but only to point out how much more broad it is beyond my initial conceptions. As far as the people go, well, what I have been mostly intrigued by is finding the kinds of people I already knew, in places I never thought I would find them. Also on the topic of things I will only hint at, I may have a really interesting opportunity beginning of next year. Hopefully that won't fall through. I am using the chance as a spring board to make 2016 better and brighter. I'll be submitting the novel, starting a new one, and applying to read again at the local book festival. And maybe even a signing.

The sky is the limit, is what they say, but I think the limit is only us.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Fear and failure

I recently had a sit down with a new writer colleague. She had written a short story, and I had given over a piece of mine. The reason I had submitted something to her was she held a group activity discussing "show vs. tell" which is a trend in writing that trips up a lot of authors. It generally comes down to saying something explicitly (telling) rather than describing the thing and letting the reader infer (showing), usually through active voice. Her own effort was something she had been working on and was looking to improve on. I had read the first few chapters of a novel she was working on, in exchange for her giving me thoughts on my published one. That went a bit poorly (she cried), so this time I was focused on doing a better job.

And I think I did. There were no tears, and there was much productivity all around, with her saying after the meeting that she felt like we had a lot to give one another, and she felt we even had similar styles. I'm still mulling that over. It feels like, in my gut, we have more to learn from people who are different from us, but I don't have any evidence at all to that.

The monitor for my desktop is on the fritz. It has been for a while, honestly, and I somewhat ignored the problem getting consistently worse until I had to accept that it needed replacing. It's been about a week, and I realized that while I don't use it very often, I do depend on its use in the back of my mind. It cuts down my entertainment options by about half, which was pretty devastating once I did the math. Some days went by as I worked that into the reality of my routine.

Then today I woke up with chapter 20 on my brain. I laid in bed, wondering what that was about, tossed and turned for a couple hours, then I got up and wrote. In retrospect, it all made sense. I lament my lack of productivity because I always compare it to one summer, years ago, when I totaled my car. I had nowhere to go, and worse, no way to get there. The lack of doing anything gnawed at me, as I've always tried to hold myself accountable for my part of my own success. People have to read, but I also have to write. So I did. I forget if it was June or July, but I wrote a chapter a day for that entire month until I was done. I've never been able to produce such an effort since, but I've also had transportation since then. Things to do, people to see (want and need). Life. It really can get in the way.

I'm not sure what I'll do with this information moving forward, but I'll probably write more. My monitor isn't getting replaced anytime soon, and that, I realize now, isn't necessarily a bad thing.

In other news, I discovered my greatest fear (so far). It snuck up on me, the way those things do. That was the other reason for the tossing and turning, and also why I went to bed so early and so listlessly. I feel better about things today, sort of like finding a hornet in your car on your commute to work. Just have to hope it doesn't sting me; sideswiping a bus isn't really an option.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Bear down now, time

A new story is officially in the works. It even has a working title. A while back, months, I had an idea for a re-imagining of my original fantasy idea, the first book I ever finished and submitted. That work itself was a rework of a rewrite of a mulligan, and over the years, as I've grown, and studied, I realized that while I liked the story, and many aspects of it, some of the bones weren't durable enough to hold up such an ambitious project. Since writing that book, I wrote several others, as part of a series, and learned a lot about staying power within that sort of situation.

The re-imagining, as I put more and more weight on it eventually proved just as flawed. The difference was this time I could see it. This time I didn't commit a lot of time and energy toward it thinking it was one thing, when it was actually something else. I didn't have to go back to the drawing board either. As I was analyzing the weaknesses of the project, the lack of investment on my part because of certain similarities to previous projects, the lack of complexity within the underpinnings, the lack of connectivity between important characters, I actually happened upon another idea that I had set aside and apparently forgotten. That idea was an extrapolation of a few different things which had occurred to me personally, and that I was interested in, and it all took me to a new place, on multiple levels, in regards to what I could do with a story, and how far it could go. My pen began moving on its own.

And finally, I have enough details, enough random snippets on pieces of scrap paper that it's become impossible to keep it all together in my mind. I have to put it down in an organized fashion, or I will inevitably lose it. In my experience, stories can get to a critical mass point, where it occupies too much of a writer's waking mind, it crowds the brainspace. It's too heavy to carry around all day. Dropping it onto a stack of pages is less of a chore or activity, and more of a release. And I'm happy about being at that point, excited even.

One of the difficulties, of course, about being intrigued by a new project, is finishing up old ones. Chapter 19 is in the works, and I wouldn't describe it as a slog, overly much, but I would never call it easy. A few of the recent chapters had disagreeable lengths. In some cases, it didn't take me very long to get to where I needed to get to in order to continue the story I had outlined. In other cases, I discovered some things along the way that couldn't be ignored, or rushed, and by the time I was there, the chapter had ballooned far and away beyond the upper limit I set for myself. And I can't go back and fix it either. I have to get it all down. I have plenty of reasons to stop; I don't need any more.

No reviews back yet from the release... which I guess came out only a couple weeks ago. Time is always misbehaving, from my perspective. It never goes as fast or as slow as I'd prefer. It makes it really difficult to predict if I'll have enough.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Quiet industry

The book is out. It was released from pre-order status yesterday, and on the occasion I took some time to reflect on the scant few years I've been at this. I had the opportunity to talk to a new colleague about my writing and books, and I always talked about where things started, and how, and when, but comparing the dates of publication to the timeline of effort, it's only really been four years. It feels like longer to me, of course. I'm reminded of that interview where the reporter asks the entertainer about their "overnight success" and the entertainer gives the reporter that look, the look, insight into all the time when no one knew who they were. I'd like to have an interview like that someday.

I'm up to chapter 18, and the novel has turned out about as well as I could expect. I can foresee only a small number of wrinkles upcoming, and then I can call it a finished draft. It's exciting to feel like things have worked out well, but also disheartening to think that it's taken me this long. I look back at all the time I wasted, all the days when I could've been writing and wasn't. I look forward, though, and am happy that I can begin trying to open a new chapter of this story I'm making up as I go.

I don't have a lot to say, which is I think why I don't find myself doing this very often. The Con has come to town again, and I don't feel very motivated to attend. The book festival is happening again, and it is an anniversary of regret that I went, read from my book, was terrified, and haven't tried to go back since. I want to change that, but I don't know what smaller steps to take to build up to it.

I am also developing a new short story idea, but that is slow going, like always. As I said last time, telling people about it might have been a mistake. Whenever I think about it now, there's a hint of it that is disgusting to me, like a portion of it is under-cooked and I can literally taste it. I think if I develop some more of the parts that I feel good about, as opposed to simply hopeful, I think it will restore my confidence. The plan, moving forward is for there to be a holiday season of submissions, the novel, the short story, grad school. Perfect time for a miracle of acceptance.

In the mean time, though, I'll be in my quiet little corner, making plans out of dreams.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Working it out

Sometimes I take to scribbling down thoughts into this space, and I find myself snatching at thoughts but coming away with smoke between my fingers: a sign that I should probably be doing this more often.

I am a member of a writing group, the third such since I started treating all of this seriously some five or so years ago. I don't attend meetings very often, but my lack of productivity has little to do with my truancy. The other day though, I found myself spending time with the group's founder, but for personal reasons. He seemed to need friendly company, and I decided a long time ago that if a person wants to be a certain kind of individual, they must do the kinds of things that individual would do. I like to think that I'd be there for people, and it wasn't even too awkward that I, he of the low group attendance, would be there for him for non-writerly company. I went without knowing how long I'd be out, and some 8 hours later, I found myself at a different writer's group meeting, one that he invited me along for. The next day I swatted at foggy recollections of how my day turned out so unexpectedly.

On that note, I reflect how strange it is that things work out the way that they do. I met a new person, a new person who seemed more than excited to read and review my writing, all because I was trying to be there for someone else. I don't think that's how things works; that's too neat and tidy. I do think that things can work that way, sometimes, though. I think that's the reason for the slot machine ideology. A person just keeps pulling the lever, they keep themselves open, they keep working, they keep believing, and then one day, the machine they've glued themselves to starting making all kinds of noise, and paying dividends. Nothing has happened with the reading or reviewing so far, but I guess I can try to remember to update that.

Also, at the impromptu meeting, we discussed stories we're working on. I went through a premise for my latest science fiction offering. I don't know if it did very much for me to talk about it, to answer questions about the plot, to expose it to the light of day by giving voice to it. It's very early, and I realized that I try not to do that, but only after the fact. Even still, it hasn't curled up and died in my mind, not yet. I'll probably still write it. I will definitely be writing something, because the story came about because I had to confront my behavior, of submitting short stories to magazines, getting rejected, then giving up on that story. No matter how confident I felt about it when I wrote it, it would just take a single and hasty rejection for me to lose all confidence in it. This time I'm not going to do that. This time I'm going to believe in my work, despite the ridiculous nature of the submission process, the skewed perspectives and slush pile mentality and small-minded editors. This time, my aim is to submit the story to several places, back to back, to stand in the lobby of the building until they throw me out. Maybe had I been bigger about this in the beginning, I'd be further along now.

So I've been examining my short comings in general lately. It's a work filled with sighs. Chapter 16 has been completed to some satisfaction, and I am very disappointed that it's taken me this long to get this far. I suppose it could be that the story is just that good, but I'd be lying to myself. I think it's good. I don't think it's great. Moreover, the extra time I've been spending on it has not made it that much better. And right around the corner is more submissions, for novels, for grad school. I've always believed that things will get in the way of writing, if we let them. But now I also think that all the pushing and shoving accrues a kind of fatigue. Maybe, if things are equitable, this will all also make me stronger.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Not a drug leading to wellness, but fullness

I've been deeply ill recently, which was an experience. It only happens once a year or so, long enough between bouts that it's always new again what that feels like. I always have the strangest thoughts duriing. Michael Jordan played an NBA Finals game feeling like this? Why don't heroes in comic books ever get the flu, this is much worse than being clipped by a bullet in the arm. Then, days later, my brain kicks back on. Ideas float behind my eyes, and I feel well enough to snatch at them, to even pay attention to them. Then I realize how sick I really was. All previous brain activity was focused keenly on how bad I felt right then, and comparing it to how bad I felt in the previous instant.

But I still should've written. It would be easy for me to blame my sickness, but the truth is, I grew very afraid that this re-write project was a waste of time. I became fearful that I had spent all that time and effort just to create the exact same story. Without meaning to, the outline had gradually drifted back in line so that the same kinds of events were happening. I felt stupid for not noticing that, and I felt that I had done the story a disservice by not doing a better job of curtailing what was clearly an unconscious re-reading of the old story which I had in mind. I felt like I had forgotten large swaths of the previous telling, so that was an indication that I had flushed it all out of mind. But I knew that short of complete amnesia I wouldn't be able to avoid things completely, so some similarities were fine, but ultimately that was a lazy response to what seemed clear in retrospect.

And that paralyzed me. I didn't know what to do, or where to go. I had no one to talk to who I felt would immediately understand my predicament. At least not without a troublesome amount of backstory. So I sat in that for a few days, waking up to several solution-less mornings. Yesterday though I really mined out what I was looking at. It's the same characters, I reasoned, with the same desires and conflicts, generally, in a very similar setting, the only main difference, the reason I went back and started over, was to more deeply develop everything. It shouldn't have been surprising that the story would be similar, and was I really so unhappy with the original story that ending up with a better version should make me feel terrible? I don't know if that was the way out of that spiral, but so far it's been enough. The next step I'm taking is to be honest in my examination of what weaknesses the story has, now, and moving forward.

Which is the rub. This process exists in every workshop setting, and on top of every editor's desk, but doesn't get discussed a lot in how-to books or on advice-laden blogs. Ultimately, everyone that engages in a creative activity will hit a wall, and to surmount that obstacle must embrace a serious dose of introspective honesty. Because the question that constantly needs to be answered is "how do I get better," so first an artist has to understand, with certainty, that they are incomplete, that they are not perfect, that there is still something they are not doing that prevents them from being better. Which can be hard when praise isn't cascading down from everywhere already. Creating something is liken to becoming a parent of that thing, and it can be hard to embrace an absolute knowing in regards to imperfection. No one thinks, "man, that could've been better," and yet they should, if they want to improve.

So, feeling less confident today, in that I am only confident that I'm still not good enough. Taking down the streamers and balloons from my pity party. Time to get back to work.  

Monday, July 6, 2015

Writing in head

I have written to the end of my outline. Which is an interesting phenomenon, depending on whether it happens at the end of a book, or in the middle. I am speaking of the latter case, of carefully following the bread crumbs of my story then stooping to pick up the next and finding the space vacant. I was somewhat busy this week and weekend, but I slated the time well in advance. I did everything except check the outline. When I got to it, it had one sentence, a short one, which was a stab that I took over two months ago about where I would probably be now. I wasn't wrong, but there also wasn't much to the sentence, just a flimsy and vague idea. I could've written, but there would've been no understanding of where I was writing to. So, I backed up, and am going back to work on the outline. On the plus side, the re-write continues to feel like a sounder idea. The story feels more full.

I also didn't see my colleague to talk about how his dissertation is developing, on account of the holiday weekend. He did text me to say how excited his committee is about his outline, as well as his mentor. I wasn't sure if he meant that they were thrilled at the content of his story or the framework of his outline. I assumed it was the former, however much I have been surprised at how different the academic process is. He told me again that I could market myself as someone who assists others with such things. Among other items, I will be looking into that this week. I couldn't hurt to know more, right?

What I did do was hike. Twice. And if you knew me personally you would understand what a big deal that is. A friend went with me once, and he told me, in response to all of my grumbling and whining, that I had maybe romanticized the activity, and that while there were beautiful scenes and fantastical moments, it was still hard work. Which I never got from other people who "love hiking." Because it is hard work, and I did romanticize. There was very little of the calm moments I imagined, none of the opportunities I'd have to mill through stories in my head. No, I was very much focused on not tripping and falling, and not getting lost. I still got lost, too.

I got my first review for the prequel story I wrote that I posted on fiction press. The person seemed interested in the rest of the story, and was certain that there was more to the story. I took that to mean that for that one person, it was a success. A show I started watching recently insisted that if ten people read a work, they will come away with ten different ideas. I'm not sure if watching it will be good for me. The characters are likable, but they experience an unrealistic amount of success, and the show montages past all of the hours and days and weeks and months of soul grinding effort that it takes to earn those rewards. All signs point to my living between those nicely cut scenes for more years yet.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Pleasant little burglaries

I've been staying productive, I think. Yesterday I finally, finally finished the editing process on the fifth book, and earlier that week received a release date of September 1. There've been some policy changes so the cover is getting done last. I think all in all, I made some progress professionally. There was a snafu with my editor of choice, so the editor in chief ended up working with my on my manuscript. I might have mentioned it, that becoming a positive interaction. She even went so far as to say that she would "be happy working with me on my future projects," which I took to be a positive sign. Even if it was a little thing like I was easier to work with, that means something I think.

Someone suggested that I start a fictionpress profile, as a way to garner readers. I didn't really get it, but this person had more readers than me, so I could hardly write the advice off. So, I did. I'm still working on getting everything sorted out. I put up the prelude story that precedes the first book in the Where Shadows Lie series. Maybe if anyone ends up asking if there's any more to the story, I can direct them with a link. Though, that feels like it's essentially me saying "Sure, give me money." Another friend recently picked up my first book, in the midst of a concussion recovery no less, saying that I deserved to get paid for my work. That was really nice.

Also, I've been interviewed again for that first book, also. That was also more luck. I got an email last night from the writer who hosts, and I had completely forgotten. I did the interview before it was hot outside, so several months ago. Maybe it's fortuitous that things are occurring in such close proximity. I really hope I get to discover how it all works. From the outside looking in success seems to be equal parts preparation and luck, with preparation being composed of bits of networking and diligence. I'll let you know when I know.

Last weekend I struggled out half a chapter for the sci fi novel. I wasn't happy with it, as one might imagine, but I was happy that I started. I got it to a turning point, where all I have to do, in theory, is bring it home. It was more difficult than I had thought to keep that momentum up while I was starting and stopping edits on the other book at random intervals. I realize that I really am one for schedules. The day of, I resent my past self for bargaining my time away, but it's much better than feeling robbed on a sudden whim.

The work with  my colleague has been interesting as well. Interacting with someone who's purpose it is to write a story, or counter narrative wrapped inside the epoche concept, that has no real understanding or practice of what the elements of a story are, or could be. I've been told, in our meetings in stylish about town coffee houses, that I could present myself as a dissertation doctor. The concept seemed oxymoronic, not having a graduate education myself, but I accepted the compliment, as I do with any positive regard.

Sometimes I look up and wonder at how my weeks wrap around one another, serpents of time eating one another's tails. I'm happy to say that I haven't grown any negative feelings about it though, like useless appendages. I guess a little tired for a lot of work is better than equitable trade.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Broken stride

Two things recently coincided. I stumbled, and failed to keep up a consecutive week of writing, and the second round of edits for the novel began. I received the file middle of last week, the very same evening when I reminded myself to email my editor the following day, because it had been some weeks since I last heard from her. The email the file was attached to was warmer than the first, even complimentary. She said the novel was close, had very few problem areas left, and that she enjoyed working with me on it. When I finally opened it and started working on Saturday, I saw what she meant. It was almost as if the hands that had touched that edited version were gentler, and more accepting. It felt like she was beginning to understand, and that felt great.

Then on yesterday I stumbled. There were lots of moving pieces to a social weekend, but I know, looking back, that I had enough time to sit down and commit. I just didn't. In that regard, despite to what extent I enjoyed myself, I came away disappointed in my effort. I was in a good rhythm, and now it's going to be another uphill battle to get that back. The one good thing I can say is that never once have I thought about putting it down, or hanging it up, whatever the metaphor.

Which is one of the main reasons a former co-worker reached out to me in request to help him with some writing he's doing. It's academic, so that's that, but still, it is putting words on a page. I recently went to a lecture of a friend who studies in the sciences, and I have a better understanding of the writing that they do, which is mostly a clever and strategic organization of a lot of someones else's words, very little of their own, so I won't compare it to that. But when I asked my colleague why me, because I correctly surmised that he knew other writers, he told me because of all the writers he knew, I was the one who had stuck with it. Which is not how I would describe it, but I took the compliment anyway. It was nice, at least, to be perceived as someone that hadn't yet given up, no matter what else was going on in my life.

Thus, in regard to attaining my earlier pace, I have a few conflicts. This extra work for my colleague should take some concentration, and of course the game is progressing into its third week. I can say that the second round edits will be done before this weekend though. I worked for hours and hours on Saturday and Sunday so that I would be able to accomplish that, and I only have about a third of the manuscript left to peruse. It's cleaner this time. I've been amazed, and finally comfortable, with the fingerprints an editor leaves on a manuscript, how a specific person creates clarity and conciseness. This one has a thing with the word however (I do use it alot) but has no problem apparently with a bit (which a different editor despised). This editor uses the long dash-- a technique I never quite developed. Previous individuals I worked with, not so much. So, yet another journey.

Summer is setting in, and with it, the memory of where I was and what I was doing when I needed a jacket to go outside. Time moves on in apathetic fashion, and I am off again, attempting to catch up.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Remembering not to forget

Chapter 13 was drafted, and with a bit of flourish. In my more quiet moments, I've wondered where the drafts of the first iteration stop and the benefits of the re-writing begins, and have come up with nothing. The net benefit is that this story is better, and more full, but there are times when I am making something I did in the go round better, and there are times I'm off the beaten path completely. I also don't know to what extent I should be aware of things I did previously, much less how to forget about those things. I think, "well, this happens next," and sometimes, sometimes, I catch myself in a reminder of, "no, anything could happen. Don't force it."

Currently, I'm in a grouping of sections that all take place more or less concurrent with one another during a world event that came about in the development of the setting in preparation for the rewrite. Maybe because of the nature of the event, or maybe for some other reason, I'm finding myself making room to provide opportunities for unveiling. In the past, I've been accused of riding the knife edge between not giving enough information and giving enough to make it a mystery. In so doing, I've lost a lot of readers, I think, or, more than I should have. I haven't discovered the reason for this yet, but I'm still searching.

A feminist read my first book. I only mention her personal ideology (political stance? gender view?) because she pointed out that there is no mention of the female gender, or any female character in the first 25 pages. She counted the pages. Given that the book is only 160 or so long, that is a moderate chunk. What's more, I didn't even notice. It was humbling to have something like that pointed out. Despite how I think I feel about women's rights issues, and however long ago I wrote the first book, the facts are the facts. I suppose this is normally the part where I defend myself. But, even though there are female main characters, to have a dearth in the background could be indicative of something. After she told me, I went and looked at all the stories I had written in the past year. I think I've gotten better, but, who really knows.

This week I'll start running game again, something I haven't done in conjunction with writing a novel in some time. I'm interested to see how my system balances the draw on my mental energies. Yesterday, I thought I might try for chapter 14. I had the time, and I really felt like I had the words. I didn't, but even feeling confident is a nice change of pace. Considering the possible reasons behind it, all I could think of was that my outline is so much stronger this time. The story has confident bones.

So, I guess it's fitting that I've waxed on my past in an effort to improve my future, given the season. I feel good. Insert snide, pessimistic comment.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Fail yours and fail wells

I am almost at the conclusion of the break between semesters that constitutes my Spring vacation. Not a vacation from writing, but from the job description I send to the government every year. At the beginning of the break I had high expectations about how to use this free time. Twice the number of chapters was my first thought. I doubled down on that and imagined even that I could write every day. In fourteen days, I could finish the novel.

With four days left of my vacation, I have two chapters written, and not even two complete chapters. I went in and worked on two which were short and unrealized and poorly executed. It took me time to figure out where I was in the story, and even then I don't find myself very well grounded. I rushed it. I panicked, thinking that if I didn't start, I would never start. And if I never started, how could I ever finish?

The rest of the time was spent seeing friends, and I didn't even get to see them all. Maybe in general I am the type to make plans and then not follow through. I feel like things used to be different. I have to admit that when people compliment my work ethic, it feels good. It makes my whining feel more justified. "I'm doing the work," I say, and no one I talk to frequently disagrees with me. I guess that means I'm either doing the work, or I haven't surrounded myself with people who will push me.

Regardless, even if it was on accident, I'm feeling back to my old self. The person I was back before I would experience another series of professional set backs and failures. The person who had a plan, and was quietly going about executing it. One of the friends I caught up with hit his own set of road blocks, and spiraled out into his own coping mechanisms when confronted with that rejection. I guess it happens to all of us.

This morning I won't be writing because I am attending a ceremony, the last ceremony for a school that is closing its doors. Once, it feels like a while ago, I worked there, and it really helped my heart to assist with the matriculation of individuals who were in dire straits. Upside down, turned about, angry, and hurt, and lost. It was dark for them, and all I had was a match's length of light. It wasn't a lot, but I also had some amazing co workers, and together, for some of those young people, we were able to provide a path. I speak of my own pitfalls, but for many of these individuals, what is to come is a sight deeper, and a sight darker than the average trap. I will not dress in black.

Nor will I mourn. Because the occasion of the ceremony is a graduation. Some of them made it, and however few that did, however many years the school was open, no matter what percentage of young people that were helped, they allow for the choice to highlight the failures, or celebrate the successes. Today, I think, I will choose to believe that the failures are what make the triumphs so valuable. That there is good in the bad times. That being able to choose is an objectively good thing.

Thus, in a season of loss, I am focusing on my gains, like the welcome little flame atop a candle in the dark.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Time, travel

The first round of edits is done, and I am less sad that it took this long to get into the mix for the fifth book. I used my freshest eyes yet to look at something that was going to be published, and I could better hear the voices of all the confused people that were frustrated by my writing style (a friend recently told me, after years, that sometimes I write "around" ideas). As I've gotten older, I've fallen out of love with being clever and become married to making sense. Doesn't mean I'm any closer to being intelligible, though.

When I put the story down, I had a few conclusions. The first was, again, at how badly I committed to the initial book, not just because it was the most juvenile, but because the first book is the most important. I didn't read Harry Potter, or Twlight, the Hunger Games, or any of the others, but those series, that success, all started from those first books. A delicate amount of responsibility was assigned to them, and evidence shows that they did the work. Looking back on my own initial effort, now that I have gone down the road some and carried with me perspective, I can only shake my head sadly. 

In counter to that self-shaming, I present a glimpse of 2008. The novels were just notes on scraps of paper, conversations with friends, light, light research into various subjects and perspectives. I was watching television, reruns of a show that had long fell into syndication, when I caught up to a terrible moment that fans in previous years had suffered through. As so often does, real life imposed itself on fantasy. An actor left, and writers compensated. Terribly, I thought. I sat down and worked my frustrations out over fanfiction that I didn't even put my name on. I knew it wouldn't be worth anything, or I thought it wouldn't be worth anything. The reviews I got then were like the reviews I get now, slim trickles of cheer from obscure corners of the internet. As fate would have it, I was having a conversation with someone who had tried her own hand at fanfiction. I mentioned mine in an attempt to resonate, and hunted down the links to follow through. 

I found more reviews. Several times more than when I walked away from those stories in the same year. It was a classic flame out. I had come through, slaked my desire, and passed along (I think we all admit that if literature is a healthy, committed relationship then fanfiction is lower than tinder...izing?). It was catharsis. I wanted the story created by those characters to exist like it would if the whims of the actors playing them didn't matter. And once I had fixed that error, I came to realize that it could not be fixed. So, I walked away. 

"Utterly brilliant, I wish you would finish it, the writing is fantastic and I so need to know what will happen, thank you for both stories. Please consider taking up your saga again."

That was posted in March of 2014. When I read it, and others, I blinked in confusion. What came into focus was a younger version of myself swearing that I would never abandon my stories the way some others had. I would make sure they had a healthy diet of brainstorming, strong musculature induced by fearless editing built on a solid skeleton of outlining. Every last one of them. Unbeknownst to that younger ideal, an older me would later grow sardonic and jaded and delete stories I came back to and couldn't remember the reasons for, wake up in the night with the spark of an idea then grumpily go back to sleep. I would call my own words stupid and terrible. 

I had a birthday recently, and I received a few different gifts, on and around the day. I think a lot about what I would go back and tell a younger me. Probably the best present I got this year was a memory of what a younger me would tell me now.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Pain, relief

This time I am not going to harp on about how much planning I did, and how little doing. I am less productive, by the year, than what I am realizing was a golden period of flourishing proliferation. It may just be unrealistic to capture all of that again. Or maybe I should be searching for the rocket fuel that propelled me through all of those words and pages those years back.

I have not written a single page on the sci-fi manuscript since last Fall. I went into grad school applications after completing the ten chapters, reached a stopping point, and thought I had laid all the ground work to get right back on that horse after I received all my feedback (read: rejections). And now here I am, a good few months after I finished submitting the last of the paperwork, and not one page.

Instead, I went looking down a dry well, and found some poetry in myself. Going back to that form was sudden, unexpected, and fulfilling. I discussed the phenomenon with a friend who just as occasionally writes music. I am not a poet, is what I decided. I believe, as I told him, that a poet can force it. I believe a poet can wake up every day and find some gem of inspiration in how dawn dew mingles with powdery pollen, or the grim determination of a spider rebuilding its web, ambitiously in the path of more human progress. Me, my poetry is like mid 30s back pain. It comes, sometimes strong sometimes not, and stays, for a day, or maybe part of a season, then, one day I wake up and it's gone off some place else. So, I prefer to say that I have written poetry, implying that it may never happen again, and is often a surprise when it does anew.

I also broke down and committed to some critiques. One writer's group I belonged to, and never attended, closed. Another decided to move all of its infrastructure to social media. We meet, but it seems like we hardly ever do anything productive, however this could be because I go so infrequently. But stories are cropping up on the web page, titles with buttons below them begging to be pushed, preview, download, upload revision. After five or six submissions, one of them my own, I waited for something else to happen, something new. Nothing did. So, I scrolled to the bottom of the list, sighing the entire time, downloaded the first one, read, and critiqued. I reached out to the author to ask about whether they wanted my feedback at all. Then I moved onto the next, and the next. Like I was experiencing that circle again, I recalled my memories in my workshops over the years. It was not unpleasant.

For my own submission, two people not in the group were nice enough to give mine a once over. Well, thrice over. In the beginning they used words like "confusing" with facial expressions that were searching, reaching, then more quickly, "let me read it again." Ultimately, it seems like for the most part, they understood, but there was no confidence in their understanding. "Yeah, that's what I thought was going on," after I explained, then "but" and they paused, and thought, and shook their heads. One of them, even with all of that, used the word fun, and asked to read other things I had written as well. It seems like an objective success, albeit it a mild one, yet I did not come away feeling like what I wanted to transmit was received. I am not sure, thinking back, of what I was hoping for.

And of course, I lied. A friend asked me if I was still writing every day. I said yes, without even pausing. Over the following days I thought about just how big of a lie that was. About what writing was. Did I think about my stories every day? Yes. Did I think about how to improve other stories I had come across every day? Yes. Did I read every day? Yes. And yet, not a single page more.

Rare dinner company reminisced with me about our first meetings with one another. "I did not realize then," he said, "to what extent you were driven to create stories." Early the following week, after ruminating, I asked him if he had meant that as a compliment. "Neutrally," he said. "I meant it as a statement of fact. You wouldn't be you without it." I wouldn't be me, he said.

All of these are like little resolutions, stamped by date and time, cast into the well of infinity to echo at whatever volume. I stood up tall, and made more plans. Then, the first found of edits finally arrived for my fifth book. More excuses. More sighing. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

I, you

So as per usual, I got done posting a bunch of stories, and then I just checked out. Need to stop doing that.

I can say though that I much prefer posting writing on the blog more than I do actually blogging. Need to untwist that knot, as well.

Was speaking with a new writing acquaintance and it turns out she writes almost exclusively in 2nd person. I had limited interaction with that point of view, stemming directly from my mentor in college telling me, "don't write in 2nd person." He didn't explain why, nor did I ask for an explanation.

Looking back now, I realize that 2nd person has a lot of inherent problems that 1st and 3rd person free the writer of, and the author has a lot of responsibility to begin with, but 2nd person adds on a few more hats. Most importantly, for me, is that the reader has to instantly buy-in, which is far beyond being interested, or curious. In 1st and 3rd, the reader is reading about someone else. Someone that can have all the eccentricities and flaws that good characters have. The reader can judge, can discriminate. They are free to feel how they wish. In 2nd person, the reader is the subject of the story. Suddenly those nice, detailed idiosyncratic foibles are theirs, and they have to sit with them, as part of the immersion agreement. That can be tough.

But, having met someone who was so confident, so oblivious to the terrors that I had been made aware of, directly and indirectly, gave me new perspective. I had to think for a moment about when I tried my first and only 2nd person story, and why I never tried again. It's been over ten years at this point.

So as per usual, I wrote.

A Wrong Kind of Right

You just need a little money. Not a lot, but definitely some. You got no clue about the lights, or the water, or anything else your parents are always grumbling about, fighting about. Things are like that second frozen loaf of bread, on-sale brand, so when it comes out of the package you have to be gentle or it will crumble in your hand. Dad didn’t take out a new loaf when he ate all of the previous one, so now you have to wait, leave the slices out on the paper plate to sit in the afternoon shadows peeking through the kitchen window.

“So what you think?” Pi asks.

He needs to know because you need to know. Both of you need to have an answer before tomorrow. And it needs to be the same answer, too.

So here’s what you think: it’s just air. Space. You weren’t even using your backpack all the way, anyway. The notebook, a spiral, pens, maybe a book. The rest is just air, space going to waste. And somebody wants to pay cash money for that.

So here’s what you say. “Man… I mean, if it sounds too good to be true, it prolly is.” It sounds good. It sounds like the right thing to say. “Sure could use that money though.”

“I know right?”

You do know. And here’s what else you know: ain’t nobody in this world giving money away for free like that. No one in your world, anyway. Mr. Charles and his friends, renting out backpack space, ain’t just looking at you and Pi, just because you and Pi stay where you stay. If they can get two book bags, then they can get four. If they can get four, they can get ten. And somebody is going to want to know about whatever it is you’re carrying. The folks around, Dr. Watts and Mr. Leaks and Miss Pennington, none of them care much about your burdens on most days. But you know. You know if you add this one, it would be the day when they ask.

“I say we do it,” Pi says.

You think. And you think. But here’s what you remember: your folks scrambling for extra money during tax season, claiming other people’s kids like you grew an extra brother and sister overnight, that stack of bootleg movies that y’all watch sometimes, comparing the quality to others and how well the hustle man holds the camera. You remember your grandmother telling you sometimes it’s okay so long as you don’t get caught.

“I just dunno, Pi,” is what you say, and you keep saying it, long after the bread is soft.

So the answer is no. Not a big no, but a small one, like maybe if Mr. Charles came around again, after he got some other folks roped in, and it worked out alright for them, maybe that little no might turn into a little yes. But that ain’t how it works. A no, even a little one, is something folks remember. You’re left to guess, as the days roll back into a stale kind of normalcy. Your shoes stay the same, your clothes stay the same, but you see them, the bright spots of color that appear in streaks all around you. It would be easy enough to spot the yesses, even the little ones.

You wouldn’t have been mad about an after school special ending, whispers following finger pointing and the fake police finally getting some exercise. At least, it would’ve made some sense out of something. You don’t wish bad on nobody, but you do wish some good on yourself. And you did the right thing, right?

So here’s what happened: nothing. More than a couple folks got paid, and now Pi smacks his gums at you when he sees you. He might have even gone back to Mr. Charles with a big yes, with a begging yes.

You will wonder about this for the rest of your life. Every other time money is tight you’ll wonder what you could’ve bought with Mr. Charles’ money. Sometimes it’ll be food, and sometimes it’ll be clothes. A paint job or brakes, a flat screen or a baby stroller.

If you knew, really knew, about what was happening inside of all those other people, about the weight they were carrying, and how it wore them down, you might feel better.

But you never will.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Hearts of Darkness, Part XIII

When he caught up to Jarvis again, he was back at the bus stop, waiting. David wondered how long the other man had been coming to grips with the things that David was suddenly wrestling with. And even then, how had he.

“I spoke of us, but,” Jarvis said, staring straight ahead. “I understand your kind to form groups. Packs.  What I learned from dying is the trouble with moving one finger one inch when not motivated to do so. However speaking is the most difficult part, as if telling secrets long after were the most impossible thing in all of this.”

David watched, as Jarvis spoke. His chest was inert. His words did not disturb the air at all. It was almost as if he were moving his lips, and thinking his thoughts loud enough for David to hear.

“When one has spent so much energy and focus in existing, to take lives to extend one’s own, everything else going into that becomes less complicated. I have never heard of one such as you, alive, and alone. I suppose your decisions will be difficult.”

David said nothing. He waited with Jarvis in silence. And when the bus came, he boarded in silence, and sat in silence. His stop came up first. On the ladder of society, Jarvis’ residence was nearer the bottom, as close to the bottom as Walter Lancaster’s was to the top.

“Would you mind if I came by every now and again?” it was the question David had been saving up all his energy to ask. He wasn’t very involved with any process to mine out what else he wanted to talk to Jarvis about. But the man had used the word us.

“Do as you wish,” Jarvis said.

David nodded. It was a cold response, but it was also a consistent one. He stepped off the bus, and watched as it rolled off toward the Barrow. That was the first on the list of places his co workers told him not to go. That was where Jarvis could be found.

Drained, he laid on his bed as soon as he was back inside his apartment. He didn’t bother with his shoes, or this time, even checking his messages. What to do with forever. An eerie question. He was deeply, deeply glad that he did not have to be burdened with such. Only tomorrow. Which was plenty heavy enough.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hearts of Darkness, Part XII

David thought about the man in the garbage and his fighter of a dog, as the scenery outside transitioned from abandoned businesses and liquor stores to luxury boutiques and grocery stores. The bus took them even further past that, and eventually, when things got too nice, they were back to walking.

David was dressed comfortably, but even if he was jogging his attire would not have been confused for workout clothes. Jarvis looked out of place from head to toe.

“On your left,” the large man said, but didn’t stop walking.

David turned his head to look across the street. He saw the gates of a closed community, thick and iron, but beyond it there were the flashing lights of police cars.

“Walter Lancaster,” Jarvis said. “Was a man of great means. He had nothing left to consider in his life but how long it would take for him to die, despite his excess.”

David watched the people passing by in their cars watch the two of them. He thought about the friends of his family, and their means. He thought about his own family.

“He wanted me to make him what I am,” Jarvis said. “I refused. Walter Lancaster was the kind of man that believed he could control people, because so many things had turned in his favor before.”

“Those men had something to do with that,”

“They were sent by him.”

“Wait,” David said, stopping. “You even killed this Walter Lancaster person?”

This time when Jarvis stopped, he turned around before he spoke. “I did. But not because he asked me, and I refused. Because he was behind the killings.”

David was struck again, things in his mind that he knew, or had at least been told and believed, were torn down.

Jarvis held his stare. It was particularly effective because the man never seemed to blink. “Were they normal killings, I would have abided, but he designed them to call out to me. In doing so, he was attracting the attention of others.”

David felt the old urge draw breath. He had been completely healthy for days, such was his constitution. His father had lied, but he was not wrong. There was something wrong about Jarvis. In Jarvis. The stench was there, too, but something let him pull back on the leash. “So you killed him because he threatened,” and David looked around, trying to see all of Bay City, or at least understand what it was.

“Yes,” Jarvis said. “What would you do with forever?”

David picked his head up, but Jarvis was already walking away.

“So now you know. There are those in this city who know of us, and our character. Some are like us, most are not. You have chosen the nightmare. There is no hiding. You see them. They see you.”

David spun a slow circle, in the present and in the past. He wondered back through every conversation and interaction, for clues to separate the bystanders from the ones Jarvis spoke of, the Walter Lancasters.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hearts of Darkness, Part XI

When David closed his apartment door behind him, he sighed. He locked it, too, as if maybe turning it would turn back everything that had happened. He was famished, so he ate. He checked his messages while eating as he cooked. He cleaned his teeth and steadied his voice before making the return calls. The story he told was that something had hit him after he left work. Not feeling well, he went right to bed, and woke up the next day, only an hour previous. He was feeling much better now. Truth was the best vehicle for lies.

That night, he did not run. The oddest thought occurred to him when he realized that Jarvis knew his address because he had returned his wallet. He thought about the huge man swooping in through one of his windows. And doing what? He had his chance to kill David, and he didn’t. Not like all those men on that roof. Or the two strangers with their green car. David thought about what his father had told him. It probably wasn’t all lies. He probably told his son whatever he needed to, to garner the desired results. But he didn’t lie outright. Truth was the best vehicle for lies.

David had his worst week of work since first getting the job. He told his co workers it was the last remnants of the bug. By the middle of the week, he recognized that something had changed, and by the end he realized that he needed to make a decision.

On Sunday, he thought about church for the first time in years. It would’ve been nice, he thought, to have some place to go to get the answers to his questions. Instead, David went back into the ghetto. He brought along a bag that had his wallet and a change of clothes, but he also kept his teeth hidden behind the top of his zippered jacket, and his hands in his pockets, except for when he knocked.

The place wasn’t difficult to locate. He had the scent, and when it came down to locating which specific house, the area of dead grass and weeds, the rot in the wood and foundation, gave the place away.

Jarvis opened the door, and did not look surprised. David wondered if they tracked by scent also.

“What is it that you want?”

David thought about that, about the man’s odd way of speaking. “I’m not just curious,” he said. “I really want to know.”

Jarvis observed him for a long moment. Then a longer one. “Wait here.” He left the doorway and the door open, and returned in a few moments. When he returned he closed the door behind him as he walked past David, who followed.

“Where are we going?”

“To answer your questions.”

Jarvis seemed to have the same familiarity with the bus system that David did, who felt better about not being able to drive. It was a bit strange for people such as them to be taking the bus, but there they were. He didn’t sit next to the larger man. He couldn’t; he told himself it was because Jarvis was so broad.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Hearts of Darkness, Part X

David didn’t know what to say. He looked down at his body. He knew how to take whatever nick or cut or bruise, and extrapolate what actually happened. He was blue and purple in places, injuries he couldn’t place. He had been cut, and he had been bruised, to the point of bleeding.

A wallet flopped in between his legs. “There were nothing else among what remained of your clothes,” the giant said.

David’s ears twitched at hearing the voice. It was a deep and hollow sound, like wind blowing through a rotten tree. There was no life to it. He picked up the wallet, and opened it to see his ID card. He still hadn’t gotten around to taking the driving exam. David closed his eyes. “Thank you,” he said. It felt strange, and it felt wrong, but he could not have fathomed what would’ve happened had the police found his wallet so near the murder scene. Murder. His eyes opened again. “Who are you?” he asked. When the man did not answer, he turned and looked.

Those same pitiless eyes were boring down into David’s head. “Jarvis.”

David waited for a last name. Which reminded him of Dr. Alex, and his job, and his life. He slowly, slowly stood up, wobbling on unsure legs.

“Why are you here?” Jarvis asked.

David wondered that himself. He observed the hole in the side of the building, but found no real evidence aside from that. But no, Jarvis would know why David was there, naked and cold, specifically. It was difficult to understand, a lot of things were, but he had brought him. Jarvis wanted to know why David was in Bay City.  “I’m,” it was an appropriate and awkward circumstance for honesty. “I’m hiding.”

“Good,” Jarvis said, picking up the radio again, a bit carefully, and walk deeper into the building, toward a set of stairs. “Go back to your life, and forget this like a dream.”

David watched him go, resolved to do just that. “I don’t know where I am. And I don’ have any clothes.” He felt the words coming, but didn’t think about whether or not he should say them. They just came out. He was back on the landing again, thinking about up or down.

Jarvis stopped, but did not turn around. Then he kept walking, down the stairs.
David felt dejected and abandoned. He also felt better, that Jarvis was out of the vicinity. All the shudders and chills not brought on by the weather afflicted him and David crouched and clutched at his wallet. He remembered the stories from his father, the occasional tale of his siblings when they came to visit. There were none such as Jarvis on the island. But David wasn’t on the island anymore.

When the music outside stopped, David remembered it had been on the entire time, far enough away that it was just in the background. He snuck to the same window Jarvis was using and looked out. He appeared to be on the second floor of an incomplete housing community. He could see other buildings that had been faced, or were just frames, others without roofs that sagged from having water rained on their insides. There were lines drawn out to pour concrete and an empty fountain surrounded by a dirt and gravel turnabout.

In the circular driveway was a colorful sedan, bright green with humorously enormous wheels. It had stylized writing on the back window and exhaust fumes flowed from aggressive tailpipes. The trunk was open, and two men were watching something intently together. Jarvis entered the scene and the men with the car cautiously greeted him. David frowned in thought. Jarvis wasn’t dressed very similarly, but his attire and theirs could be classified as urban. He looked like their big brother, or father, if they were children. Maybe he stayed nearby.

Their conversation was brief, and looked a lot like a robbery. One of the men surrendered his jacket, and the other his pants and boots. Jarvis gave them a whole wad of money. No one died. After that, the two men rolled away in their bizarre vehicle. Moments later, Jarvis was presenting David with the clothes.
“Thank you,” David found himself saying again. And again, he found himself speaking to Jarvis’ back as the big man walked away. “Why did you kill those men?”

This time when Jarvis stopped, he also spoke. “You fight like someone who has never lost something. Na├»ve. There is a difference between being curious, and really wanting to know. This is not the manner of thing that you can un-know once you do.” Then he walked off.

After he navigated his way out of the modern ruins, and to a bus stop, and then onto a recognizable bus, David wondered about the things Jarvis said. He wondered if he was just curious, or if he really wanted to know.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Hearts of Darkness, Part IX

His hearing came back first. There was a booming, a thump, distant vibration, then noise ricocheting in his direction. It was more rhythmic than chaotic though, almost like music. Breathing in, David caught the stench that triggered memory. The rot. He jerked away from the contemplations, feeling sore muscles beneath naked flesh. Wood pricked his skin, and glass, and cold. He creaked his eyes open to see a blurry room with skeletal walls and unevenly spaced floorboards. A gaping hole in the structure cast blinding brightness on his prone form. David tried to move again, and recoiled from the pain.

He remembered what would usually follow the disorientation and mystery. People with their hands on him, grabbing and pulling, faceless assailants that always ushered him back to the cage. The pain was much greater this time, and the soreness, to the point that this time, even though he knew they were on their way, he would not try and hide.
He had killed all those men, after all.

The stench made him frown. Made him realize that time was passing, and he could sense no one approaching. Just the strange, booming music, and now and again snippets of unintelligible conversation. David tried his eyes again, and found the scene around him clear and in focus this time. He turned his head. That didn’t hurt too much. At first, when he laid eyes on the very large man, he didn’t recognize him at all, then things in his mind snapped into focus, too.

Again, David tried to move, but gingerly this time. He groaned as he rolled onto his side, then screwed up his face as he sat up slowly. The man, the giant, was at one of the skeletal building’s windows, looking out. He seemed to have no awareness, or at least care, for David’s movements.

After David was sitting upright, panting from his efforts, there were footsteps. No, not footsteps. The building cried at each step’s application of weight on its old braces. The big man made no sound at all, unto himself.
David turned to see him moving in a wide arc, around and into David’s field of vision, but he was several rooms away, visible through the framing beams. Between two slats, the giant placed an old radio, and then turned it on.
At first, it was only static, and then, with a few careful adjustments, the device began playing voices.
More music. David had never heard Jazz before, but assumed that’s what he was listening to. He waited through the trumpets and drums and piano for things to make sense. He looked into the face of the man, and saw the same expression from… how long had it been? David opened his mouth, and the big man went back to twisting on the dials.

This time following the static was speculation between radio DJs about recent violence in Bay City. One person spoke about the police discovery of the bodies of several men on the top of a parking structure, and the other questioned if it related at all to the wild animal that tore through the shopping district. David remembered the concern and superstition the news people on the island would press into their words. These two were somehow more detached. They simply both agreed that people should stay indoors come nightfall, and that it would probably be another bad Bay City winter.

The large man turned off the radio with a succinct click.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Hearts of Darkness, Part VIII

What he saw was a giant. Since leaving the island, people’s description of David had changed, all reflecting how much smaller he was than the average American male. Several inches shorter, and less broad, the words used decreased him even more. The men in suits were taller than him, with bulging chests and legs beneath their formal wear. The individual they were after was to them as they were to David.

He was wearing clothes not too dissimilar from the thugs in the alley, tough looking boots and military pants, a worn leather jacket thrown over a zip up hoodie. All black. Things began to fall apart in David’s mind. Nothing made sense.

From his floor level vantage point, the man did not look cornered at all. His posture, even ringed with a dozen pursuers was unaffected. David strained to hear, but the distance was too great. He couldn’t know what they were talking about. He could not imagine someone defying what was so obviously encasement. A cage.

Then the wind changed, and what assaulted David’s nostrils made him clamp a hand against his mouth to suppress a snarl. He tumbled back into the stairwell and clamped a fist onto the guard rail, grinding his teeth. He had never sensed such… rot. It reminded David of the family’s cemetery, what an open grave smelled like after a gentle rain. Deep, dark, dead earth. He knew, without knowing, that everyone on the rooftop had already died.

The gun shots shocked him back to his senses, and he chanced another look, but he immediately wished he hadn’t been so curious. The scene was surreal. It was like watching a crowd of people scurrying underwater, trying to catch one person who was unaffected by the medium, the lack of traction, the need to breath.

It wasn’t David’s intention to stay for the massacre, but he was there for the last body to drop, a perplexed man looking down into his empty holster, then raising his head to look around at all the prone bodies of his colleagues. He made eye contact with David there at the end, right before he was shot in the head from the side. He was shot three more times as he fell, and then his pistol was dropped onto his chest, still smoking.

David was angry, and he couldn’t say why, which was a terrible sign. It had taken him years to understand that when most people became furious, usually there was something they could point to. Pain or frustration, powerlessness or grief. This was that other rage, the one David had avoided for a lack of control. But it had been building for longer moments than he acknowledged, and as always, disrespectfully tossed him over its shoulder and carried him off. There was a golden explosion in his vision, and all his other senses were multiplied in intensity. His skin burned. His bones broke. And David Cruz was gone.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Hearts of Darkness, Part VII

There wasn’t just the one man in the suit, looking around like he wasn’t looking around. There were several. They never met up with one another, but they were all encroaching on David’s hiding place. They moved as if directed by a careful and controlling hand. This was it. They thought he would fall on his face, fail because he had been set up for failure, undereducated and underequipped. The miracle of his work at the clinic had forced their hand, and now they were coming to take him back. To put him back in the cage. David thought about his savings account at the bank with the nice people in their offices. It always smelled like jasmine. David thought about a different savings account in a different city with different people in different offices. Every time, for the rest of his life.

But he also didn’t want to kill again.

“Target location confirmed,” he heard someone say.

David’s heckles rose as he sunk down even lower, examined the area around him, an open garage space with no vehicles, a stairwell leading up and down.

Movement in the stairwell stopped him cold. Two pair of footsteps, no three, and they were moving quickly. They reached his floor and… kept moving.

David blinked in surprise, quietly stepping over to the door of the stairwell.

“Target is on the roof,” he heard someone say.

Through the narrow window, he saw the men continue up to the third floor, the last of them removing a pistol from a side holster. David looked around again, as if it was all a trick. He checked and double checked, and every time he confirmed that they weren’t coming for him. The men in suits were there for someone else.

The simplest thing would’ve been to jump from the second floor, not to enter the stairwell at all. But it was easier to open the stairwell door, and walk out onto the landing. It was easier, and yet more difficult. The roof was up two floors, twice the distance, twice the amount of stairs that would lead him to freedom. There was no good reason he could think of to go up instead of down. No good reason.

At the top of the stairwell, several men were discussing a plan. David couldn’t put sense to the words they were using, but he understood the concept of hunting. Their quarry was within their grasp, and they had overwhelming numbers, however their intent was not to kill. They were going to great pains to capture intact whomever it was they were after. David wondered about what kind of fugitive hunt this was. These weren’t police.

Then those in the stair well walked out onto the top floor, and David stealthily followed them. He’d seen a movie like this once. Part of him was expecting to see a different version of himself, from the future, or the past, or an alternate reality.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Hearts of Darkness, Part VI


All told, the terrier survived the surgery, but his life was irrevocably altered. He didn’t see Summer. The homeless man, presumably his owner, never resurfaced. David went looking but the man had vanished in a mysterious sort of way, a Bay City sort of way. But he had secured a job. Steady, decent work doing something he could convince himself to be invested in on most days. Except for the occasional animal with a particularly bad owner, once he had acclimated to the facility, things went smoothly. The others accepted him for what he was, and behaved when he asked. The murders did not abate. David learned that Bay City had the nation’s highest death rate for homicide killings as well as unsolved missing persons cases. The people weren’t soft, unlike the people on the island, who only sometimes had harder layers deep within themselves. The people of Bay City were guarded, some even predatory, like the hooker in the hotel bar, or the robbers in the alley. The ability to identify oneself, as a member of a group, was meaningful, and like a new pack, the co workers at the clinic took him in, and helped him about places to go in the city, and not to, where to live, where to eat, places to avoid after dark, or even during the day.

After a humid summer came a gray Fall. David had found his bearings along with a fuller appreciation of the seasons. Bay City was not always cold. Sometimes it was sweltering, sometimes mild, and most usually wet. He’d even taken the train twice to see the capital of a nation his island could only be a territory to.  Life was engaged in a smooth dance where everything blended together, and he blissfully lost track of the fleeting days and weeks. When his six month lease ended for his first apartment, he upgraded into a year-long arrangement with a nicer place, in a better part of town. That was the first plan of his to succeed. David hoped it wasn’t the last. At his new apartment, settled into his new life, he sought out the physical distraction of exercise. Running was most natural, so running is what he did, at night, in the safe environs in his new part of town, down alleys, through parks, and across squares.

David just knew he was running for the enjoyment, but one cold evening, he thought that maybe he was still running from other things.

It was a flash of white on an otherwise black clad man, on either side of a dark tie, between two breasts of a matching suit jacket. David remembered his mother’s kitchen in a way that made him realize that slowly, slowly he had been forgetting those memories all along. He skidded to a stop and reversed course. He glanced over his shoulder, scanned his surroundings, but the man was gone. Everything clung to the baseline of his beating heart, and David found himself hidden away in the parking structure of a nearby office park, cowering. He waited, and then he waited some more. He waited until long after it should’ve been safe, then he climbed stairs to look down on the area around him, crouched down in the shadows, peering into the open darkness.

Part of him expected to laugh about it later, to be elated that he had loitered in an empty parking deck for over an hour for no reason at all. And maybe without some months in a place like Bay City, most of him would’ve believed that were possible. As it was, he was rewarded by his paranoia.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Hearts of Darkness, Part V


Watching it all happen was like a crazy sort of disaster. David found himself looking ahead, and projecting backwards, trying to piece out what had happened and why. How he could have avoided things. Then there was screeching tires and crumpled metal.

David ran into the scene, perceiving the smell of blood and fear, hearing screams and whimpers. A near miss. That’s what they would end up calling it. David found the Jack Russell’s crumpled form shaking from pain. He could see that one of its back legs was broken, and maybe some ribs.

“I’m sorry,” David said, on his knees, reaching a hand down to pet the animal’s head.

This time he did hear the footsteps approach. A woman in scrubs was sprinting over with a medical bag.

David looked up and around, at the wrecked cars. Air bags had deployed. A round man was speaking to a thin woman as she clutched her head.

“He’s still alive,” the woman said, crouching near David. “Good, good. Okay. Can you back away please?”

David moved backwards, and looked at the people again. “What are you..?”

“No one was seriously hurt. Paramedics will be here shortly. Plus I’m a vet, not a doctor.”

The strange day continued on into late afternoon. David waited in the waiting room as if the animal was his. “We just met,” is what he said when people asked the obvious question.

The woman from before, the vet, came out from behind the closed doors, and gestured to him. She wanted to talk privately. Her posture matched that of the people in his mother’s telanovelas. It wasn’t good news.

“I’m sorry, I never got your name,” she said.

“David. Cruz.” Maybe she needed his full name for paperwork or something.

The woman nodded. Her eyes lingered on his face, then looked at his shoes. “Alex. Marsh. Doctor.” She shook her head, and her eyes stopped dilating. “They told me you had been waiting,”

“Oh.” David thought. “I just figured it was the right thing to do. I didn’t really have anywhere to be.”

“I see. So who are you?” she asked. “I’m sorry, that isn’t really how I meant to ask that.”

“No, no, it’s fine,” David said, and passed a hand through his hair. “I’ve been trying to figure that out myself, honestly. But, you aren’t here to tell me,” and he lingered.

“Oh,” Dr. Marsh threw on a different attitude altogether. “It’s still touch and go. The little guy is a fighter. A tech just told me that someone was still waiting, and I had some time.”

“Right, right,” David said. “Well, I hope he makes it. I’ve actually been looking for work, so I think I’ll take after his example, and fight. Thank you, Dr. Alex Marsh,” he said, and smiled.

He was halfway to the door when she offered him a job.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Hearts of Darkness, Part IV

“I said give me your wallet,” and he held the knife up.

David began to reach for his wallet slowly, and froze. “I’m sorry, I can’t do that.”

The one with the knife blinked, and glanced at his accomplice. “Look. Shorty. Where do you see this going? We don’t want to hurt you, man.”

“It’s all the money I have,” David said. He couldn’t ask for more. Calling home and asking… he couldn’t call home at all. David thought about the last kiss and hug he would ever receive from his mother.

“I don’t give a, man get this fool,” the one with the knife said, and stepped forward.

David turned and ran. He was facing the wrong end of the alley, but he had to hope there was an outlet. Outrunning the thugs wouldn’t be difficult, but a dead end was still a dead end. Sprinting along, David felt better, like breaking down the fuel in his legs was breaking down the worry in his bones. He needed a job, that was plain, but it didn’t have to be in civil planning. Just so long as he didn’t have to go home. Go back to the island.

There wasn’t a dead end, but there was a high fence. David glanced over his shoulder. He’d left the robbers at a previous turn in the alley. Staring ahead, there didn’t seem to be anyone around. David accelerated, angling for one of the walls. He exploded from the pavement, aiming at the patch of bricks adjacent to the fence, and kicked over. He landed on his feet, like always.

When he stood up, he heard a croaking noise, and looked over to see what appeared to be a homeless man gawking at him. And that wasn’t all. The homeless man appeared to have a pet, a malnourished Jack Russel, that was barking with its ears back. David puts his hands out in front of him, and squatted.

“Whoa there, sorry, hey, sorry, I’m sorry,” he said soothingly. How had he not seen the man? He was in the garbage, almost literally, but still, looking at him, he was clearly not garbage.

The man pointed, slowly. The dog inched forward.

David had to get out of the alley. He had to get out of the alley and back… where? He lowered his head and looked the animal in the face. “No,” he said.

The Jack Russell and nameless man both reacted. The man didn’t have the agility to sprint away, but the dog did, directly into traffic.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Hearts of Darkness, Part III

The next morning he spent on the phone, calling local engineering firms in the city, explaining that he had a dual degree in civil planning and engineering, and was looking for work. Two of the places sounded interested until he explained where his degree was from, and how reputable it was, despite the fact that they had never heard of it. He changed his story to looking for a paid internship. Hunger forced him downstairs, to the hotel bar.

A dozen different people were discussing all sorts of things. David ate fish, and eavesdropped. He heard the woman coming, and smelled her before that.

“Is this seat taken?” she asked.

David turned to see a woman about his age, slim and pretty. How she looked did not match how she smelled at all.
Her perfume was pleasant enough, but beneath it, she smelled like one of the dockside hotels. “No,” he said, because it wasn’t.

She sat, and they began to talk. The topic of the weather folded into commentary on the city beneath it, which segued into David’s earlier failures at securing work. The conversation swerved strangely around David’s residence in the hotel despite his joblessness, and he could feel her tugging, pulling at something. Eventually, she remembered she had some place to be, an important business meeting she had been waiting for. The man behind the bar smirked. He looked like he would say something, and then an older man down the bar from David cursed while shaking his head at the television screen.

David scanned the flat panel and squinted. The sound wasn’t muted, just very, very low. A body had been discovered, and police believed it was an animal attack.

“Third this season,” the older man said.

David paid stiffly, then quickly went back to his phonebook upstairs.  His distracted efforts were even less successful than his focused ones from earlier. Laying in his bed, looking up at the ceiling, he did math in his head, and thought about his need for proper interview clothes, a resume, a briefcase, a firm handshake and gel for his hair.

By the time night fell, he was in the cage again. For every year of his life, he had a memory of his mother, and the men guarding them. His father. He even lived at home when he went off to school. Just because he couldn’t see the island, didn’t mean that the island couldn’t see him.

The next morning he checked out of the expensive hotel. He walked to the nearest bank, and investigated the fullest qualities of the plastic cards his father had given him. The teller looked perplexed. He had questions, but didn’t ask any of them. David didn’t help the man’s curiosity, only accepted the windfall and absconded.

With a new number in mind, he walked and contemplated. What if he couldn’t find work? He needed to find a more efficient way to live for the time being. What if he couldn’t find work? With a new daily allowance, he could extend his situation for a substantial amount of time. What if he couldn’t find work.

David walked into an alley and put his hands to a brick wall. He pushed, dissipating some of the stress in his shoulders and back. He grit his teeth and breathed. He wasn’t going back.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Hearts of Darkness, Part II

David avoided Miami, all Floridian ports, actually. He told himself it was because he didn’t want the hassle. Because his skin was always on the lighter side, more yellow than brown, more Caucasian than Hispanic.

“What’s next?” he asked the captain.

“Savannah,” the man said. He seemed agreeable, but he was providing a favor, and his men did not understand. Likely, they were losing money by the day because of their bizarre route, and over time, everyone had come to understand who was at fault, but not why.

David knew only small bits about the shipping industry, and sailing business, such were his family’s interests, and his involvement in them. He knew even less about Georgia. “And after that?”

The captain looked down at his notebook, and turned a page. “Well, Bay City.”

David knew absolutely nothing about the US eastern seaboard except there was New York, Boston, and then a bunch of other places with less important names to the south.

“It’s near the capital,” the captain said. He had finally gotten to the point of trying to influence the very important stranger off of his ship.

David nodded, trying to look considerate in inconsiderate circumstances.

Several more days passed, and the weather made his decision for him. David knew there were cold places in the world, places where animals needed layers of fat and fur, and one’s urine would freeze moments after leaving the body. He had seen snow in the movies, and heard about things like mittens and sleds. But those places always seemed far away. He had never considered that there were a thousand different grades of unpleasant weather in between the perfect climes of his home and the north pole.

He couldn’t have them turn back to Savannah, so Bay City it was. Bay City, where from the boat he still couldn’t look back and see the island. He didn’t realize until right then that he was unconsciously trying to sail as far as possible away.

He thanked the captain. He didn’t know how much money his father had given the man, but he added to the sum. When he walked down the gangway, he did not look back. The new scents mingled with the memories of older ones. This was a dock area, but it was also not like any dock area he was familiar with.

The first night was spent at a hotel several miles away. The first series smelled strange, unsanitary and spoiled. The next were the same. By the third group, David realized all stay over stops would have a similar combination of chemical cocktails covering the odor of a hundred different guests. He spared no expense on a room on an upper floor, stared out at the lights of the frigid city that was his new home, and slept in the bath tub. He dreamed of the cage.