And the NaNoWriMo Winners Are…

Not this guy.

I started the month off strong with a quick jaunt up to 21k words in the first week, largely re-written work from chapters on the second novel I’d started just after finishing the first, but then life hit me in the dick.

My peak writing times have always been late at night when I can reliably sit alone in peace with myself and my keyboard and a pair of headphones, but then I got a job.

I like my new job selling electronics at the local Meijer, but they started me off on a new third shift they’d never done before for the department and after the first week of working 6pm-2am I jumped right into a full third shift 10pm-6:30am. Let me tell you; eight and a half hours on your feet pulling stock, shelving it, and generally running around like a crazy person all night takes it out of a guy.

Though I’m getting used to the shift now and figuring out how to balance it with sleep, this month was pretty brutal and if I wasn’t working I was sleeping. Leaving no time or energy for writing.

The first couple weeks were especially rough on my feet as I walked to and from work about 25 minutes each way, was on my feet constantly, and had to contend with being uncomfortable in my five-year-old Airwalks with collapsed heels and no arch support or my even older dress shoes that had good heels but pinched my toes mercilessly.

A pair of gel inserts did some good after the first week, but not much. The resulting knot and pressure points, especially in my right foot, made the very effort of it all excruciating. It’s not a hard job, but it’s made ten times worse with bad shoes.

BUT!

I took my first real paycheck and got a brand new pair of shoes with memory foam insoles and plenty of room to breathe, and have been doing much better since. I’m still working that knot out, but it’s not killing me in the process.

So, my NaNoWriMo project to write the second book in my Unknown pairing fell pretty much flat. I have some solid chapters for it, and a better sense of direction than I had going in, and will by no means actually stop working on it when I have time and energy to do so, but for NaNoWriMo this year it’s a bust.

I’m not all that disappointed, of course. I didn’t get into the whole social aspect of the contest at all beyond some poking and prodding at friends to keep working, and as an exercise it never really seemed like something I needed to pressure myself with, but I did enjoy reading a bit of the struggles others had and updating my word count much to the chagrin of others while I could.

Maybe next year I’ll do better, and go at it with something entirely new.

In the meantime, though, work continues to be an interesting experience and I have plenty of time to build up ideas for the sequel and for things to revise about the first book. Hopefully that first book will see the light of day and an official “I fucking finished this thing” stamp of revised approval in the coming months as things settle down into a more manageable routine.

Congratulations to those who did manage to beat NaNoWriMo’s challenge this year, and to Kathryn for blowing past me by 10k at the last time I checked (five minutes ago), and as for the rest of you: Next year, beware! I’m coming back with a vengeance!

Muhuhahahaha!

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NaNoWriMo and The Unknown

We’re up to day three of NaNoWriMo now, and I’ve spent most of the time editing the handful of of chapters I already had done for the sequel to my first, yet-unpublished novel. I knew at the time that I was writing these chapters I’d have to redo a lot of it, and that’s holding quite true. The basic story is there, but I was struggling a lot  with how to reconcile the sweeping changes between books one and two and how that’d affect how my characters moved forward.

As of this post, I’ve finished the prologue and first two chapters to the tune of just over 13,000 words. I have one more complete chapter to rewrite, and then it’s on to the all-new stuff. NaNo’s goal is a 50,000 word count by the end of the month, and since my first book is over 95,000 and I wrote 56,000 of those in six days in March, I feel confident I’ll blow their count goal out of the water and more than make up for the fact I’d already written a few chapters.

In addition to the second book, though, I’m also going over my first one and making the revisions that I’ve been claiming I’d get around to since July. I’m trying to get as much of that done in the NaNo month as I can.

In regular-jack-off-life news, I got a job selling electronics at the Meijer location a couple blocks from home, and orientation starts Thursday afternoon. With that in mind, I’m trying to get as much done for NaNo as I can in the next few days since I’m not sure how my new schedule will affect my writing time.

Anyway, I thought in lieu of a ranting post about nothing I’d take a little time to define what it is I’m writing. I tend to speak around the subject of “THE NOVEL” in terms of what I’m not doing with it or how I got an idea for something in it, but haven’t really done much to give a look at the actual thing itself.

I started with a simple idea. An image, really. I saw in my mind a man who had a featureless white helmet that covered his face and sometimes shone with its own light source. He wore black, as all good vigilante crime-fighters do, but instead of a cape he wore a long trench coat with a hood he could pull up to hide his “face” if he wanted to go unnoticed.

He didn’t have a name, he didn’t have a gimmick. He didn’t even really have a history or a face or a defined age. I didn’t know if he was black, white, Asian, Mexican, or a green man from Mars. It didn’t matter. Over time, he defined himself as I wrote, to the point that by the end of the first book I felt he was a pretty well fleshed-out entity to himself. A little rough around the edges, with a few gaps, but mostly intact.

But in August of 2008, all I had was that image and a scene in mind. I knew it was a dark and stormy night –  because that’s how these things always play out – and I knew he had a job to do in a burnt-out shell of a church. That church was real to me. I’d driven by it every day for two years since some idiot put the torch to it claiming to be a Satanist, and though it was in the stages of rebuilding by the time I got around to writing the story I always rather liked the decrepit shell it had become and imagined what it’d be like if the area were a little rougher, a little more plagued by crime and homelessness, and a little less quick to rebuild its churches.

So, I wrote what I had, and it took over for itself. I put the first version of what I intended to have as nothing more than a fun short story I might do something with later down in about an hour.

Then I sat on it.

Then the laptop I’d written it on died its final, agonizing death, and I lost that copy of the story entirely. However, since I tend to remember just about everything I write down once, I wrote the whole story out again. This time in longhand with a pen and a legal pad. It had changed very little, and all the key elements and actions were still in place. I got a little more detail going, and by the time I finished writing it out I had another idea in mind for the character and how to use him again.

I thought, maybe, I’d use what I’d written as a script for a graphic novel or something, but by this point I was still very much just writing for the sake of writing. Then I kept writing, and I delved a little bit into topics like public domain super heroes from the 30s and 40s I could get away with using pieces of or updating, and though none of those made it in whole-cloth, the research was valuable for helping me make some decisions where I wanted to go. So too did I spend hours upon hours re-reading the myths and legends I’d enjoyed so much as a teen so I could refresh myself on details and find ways to merge mythic themes into this strange, gritty noir feel I was aiming for in the writing of the thing.

To that end, and my general dislike of trying to pigeonhole any one story into one of the woefully inadequate descriptors we call “genre” these days, I’ve applied my own “genre” to the effort as displayed on my NaNoWriMo page: Mythic Noir.

Before long, I’d done twelve chapters at just shy of 50,000 words and had what I thought was a good story going. It turned from a lone vigilante operating in a world without anyone else of his kind into an epic tale of a man struggling to cope with the sudden rise and proliferation of post-human entities and the question of why and how they had come to be.

But I let it slide. I hit a wall and instead of bashing through it I backed away from it, and the longer I went without trying it, the easier it got to just leave it laying. I focused instead on my RP work with PotP, and occasionally toyed with a short story here and there for my own amusement, and even spent some time trying to plot out the course of thousands of years after the novel’s own timeline to see where it was going and what else I could do.

I am, after all, a fan of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower and the way everything King wrote had something to do with The Dark Tower. Even in the most tangential sort of way. I wanted to do that with The Unknown. To send ripples from one man’s life and struggles through hundreds or thousands of years of history. I figured it was doable, but I had to be able to finish the book first.

Now that I have, though, I find myself needing to finish the second book too. I have a lot of short stories to tie into it later at all sorts of levels in the grand timeline, but I need to know how the Unknown’s story really ends. For that, I’ve always planned two books.

That’s what my NaNoWriMo project is about; finishing the story and moving on. One way or the other, his story will be finished. Though he might live on in the pages of short stories and side stories here and there in the way no pulp character really ceases to stay active, I’m planning (or maybe hoping) that this second book will be the final stage of laying the ground floor for whatever I do from here on out.

Before we get to that, though, I wanted to share a look at how it started. At the bottom of this post you’ll find a link to a separate page I’ve uploaded the entire Prologue to. You’ll notice right away it reads a little funny because I’ve taken it upon myself to experiment a bit with tense shifts. The prologue itself is written entirely in First Person Present, which I signify throughout the novel in italics as a way to mark certain events as action sequences of a more urgent feel than the First Person Past narrative allows.

Throughout, I jump between the two where it makes sense (though to some of my proofreaders it didn’t in some places and I’m working to fix the delineation between what “deserves” to be in what tense), and hopefully by the end of this preview folks will see why I do so. I felt it was simply a good way to get into the character’s head a little more thoroughly. I want you to decide for yourself who this man is and whether he’s in the right or not, and to do that you need to see him like I do.

Anyway, here ya go. Enjoy:

The Nameless Unknown: Prologue

At the Last Minute: @NaNoWriMo

NaNo-2015-Participant-Banner

Once upon a time, some friends told me about NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month, and I just shrugged it off. It sounded like a cutesy idea full of social media people getting together on a site to hold each other’s hands through the process of writing a novel, and I just wasn’t interested in that.

I liked being the tortured artist struggling to do it all alone. Nevermind that it took me seven years to finish one novel. Nevermind that novel still isn’t revised or published. It was dragged through me with all the rage and pain a person with male anatomy can conjure up to resembling birthing pains.

But, on the other hand, I’ve always been a strong RPer with a good group of friends who I can play off of and write with. People who can run the other characters and let me focus on just one main and a couple of NPCs. Those are the people who’ve been nudging me toward NaNoWriMo for years, and I’ve finally given in.

This might be the shortest post I’ve ever done, but it’s an important one. This is me declaring my intent to write the sequel to the first novel in the next month of the NaNoWriMo competition.

I don’t know that I’ll get into the whole community thing, and I will probably never attend a local event around the concept, but I’ll be updating my word count as I go and using the effort to try and push my friends along as well. That’ll be enough for me, right there.

I’ve scheduled this post to launch at 11:59pm Halloween night, and I’m just guessing that the title will pull off the act of actually tagging NaNo in the automated tweets that accompany all of my posts. Nothing like sliding in the door at the last minute with the least effort possible!

Already a NaNoWriMo participant yourself, or interested in watching the horrors I unleash on the contest? You can find me at NaNo right HERE, and I’m sure I’ll be writing a lot of NaNo-oriented posts this month as we go along.

Beware Clowns Wielding Baseball Bats

Picture it if you will. It’s 1997. MTV still knows a thing or two about airing music videos as a main attraction; not just a sideshow between promoting teen pregnancy for fame and misfortune. The venereal disease known as Boy Bands is running rampant through the day’s female youth, and though it’s always been lurking there in the underbelly of the culture it’s really taking on a new shape and ferocity; moving on from a simple chlamydia-esque nuisance to full-blown AIDS that the country will never really recover from.

American music is drowning in saccharine sweetness, and the hair-band metal that once drove MTV to national stardom has all but died. Metallica’s already put out Load, and what a load it is. A big steaming one that pissed everyone off and drove metal further into the shadows by taking all the metal out of Metallica. They’re hard rock now. They’re Van Halen. Even Van Halen isn’t Van Halen by this point. It’s even worse than Van Halen. Some dickhead frontman from Extreme is Van Halen at this point because Sammy Hagar had more tequila-oriented things to do. It is the first anyone’s even heard of Extreme, and the last we’ll hear from Van Halen for a while.

All the metalheads are either disappearing into their underground clubs or jumping ship to ride out the last couple years of the gangster rap wave, because metal is fucking dead in 1997. It’s a bleak, horrible time and the handful of metal bands out there still struggling by for airtime are starting to assimilate into the greater rap movement by either fusing rap lyrics into their own drop-D tuned guitar riffs or touring in weird hybrid shows like Korn’s Family Values Tour – where you can see Korn, Ice Cube, Limp Dickshit (oh, that’s Bizkit, right…) and Orgy all in one fantastically shit-filled show.

But all is not lost! For in the middle of that shitty little tour that got way too much fucking hype and legitimized way too many hacks, a bomb fell. It rained out of the sky in the shrapnel leftovers of a Germain airshow disaster, and it had two words scrawled on its casing we just had time to appreciate before being swept away by the blast: DU HAST.

Rammstein had come. Thank fuck.

Rammstein was America’s introduction to something that had started in Germany a few years earlier with OOMPH!’s second album, 1994’s Sperm: Neue Deutsche Härte.

I’m not even going to attempt to lay out the history and definition of the so-called New German Hardness. If you don’t know Rammstein by now you’ve been living under a rock. DU HAST was everywhere in the late 90s and early 2000s, and you could hardly escape it in movie soundtracks (The Matrix, anyone?), night clubs, and house parties.

That was the point.

If you took Pantera’s groove metal sound and threw it in a blender with a bit of dance club electronica, a healthy dose of Nine Inch Nails industrial and started screaming German profanities while the blades did their work you’d get NDH/NGH. The Germans could dance to it, the Americans could mosh to it, and if you didn’t speak German you could still enjoy it for the musical aptitude it took to balance all the moving parts.

Hell, in the case of some Rammstein songs it was pretty much a blessing if you didn’t understand German. Trust me. Some songs are just best left mysteries, because you will never feel clean listening to them again otherwise.

But this isn’t a music blog, and I’m not one of those “experts” who like to babble about genre defining moments, the technical perfection of one song over the other, or get into the discussion of the heavily masculine and occasionally homoerotic imagery one finds in NDH music. No, I’m just a fan of good music and a writer who can’t help but expound on the things he finds interesting.

See, in 1997 I was fifteen. My musical preferences were just starting to form into what they are today. Up until then I’d been every other mid-western kid listening to the same classic rock radio station as everyone else, drinking deep on the radio-friendly strains of Van Halen’s David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar years, the southern rock mainstays like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Foreigner, and occasionally getting a glimpse of Dio, Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden that made me yearn for that classic METAL sound instead of the classic rock endemic in my area.

Rammstein was something different. It was metal, it was foreign, and it was something German I, as a youth of largely German descent, could actually be proud to claim some tenuous connection to after having spent my entire grade school career learning absolutely nothing about Germany past WWII and the Nazis. It showed me there was more to metal than the American hybrid crap on MTV.

No one had bothered to tell me back then half the metal bands I actually liked back then were English, or that metal itself was not a strictly American invention but more a bastard child of the blues created after American blues artists had been paraded through the UK in the 50s and 60s and their sound had influenced a whole generation of early rockers. It was just not in the musical education of the time, and the Internet was young enough back then I’d have had no way to learn anything about those roots.

Rammstein opened that door for me, though, and once it was open there was no going back. I still listened to some American bands, but I got a lot pickier about which ones I let past my quality filters. I went delving into a world of British and European metal and found a whole host of acts who weren’t just interested in putting their name on TV and selling a bunch of merchandise to get rich. Sure, they wanted that stuff too, but they weren’t selling their souls to the cannibalistic, incestuous nature of the American music scene to get it done.

I’m not saying European bands don’t change, or they don’t do anything different, or they don’t form weird hybrid sorts of genres that often leave one scratching one’s head in confusion. Certainly that happens too, and it was just such an experiment that resulted in bands like OOMPH! and Rammstein finding their voice in the world music scene in the first place. It’s just that the bands I found seemed somehow more honest about what they were and what they wanted to be and just kind of stuck with that. They might change their image a little here and there, or swap members around so fast you might not even notice, but it always felt like there was something more authentic in the European bands. Something grown more out of a love of the music and the art of composing than the American way of doing things just because they’re popular in the moment or the rights to a song are up for grabs.

Lately, I’ve been delving back into those NDH bands I’d grown so fond of. I’d outgrown them for a while, or maybe just got tired of them after so many years when I found my way into more Scandinavian ways of doing metal (sweeping symphonic epics and folklore-laden musical and lyrical themes), but with my Duolingo kick of late I felt I’d get a little bit more out of the German bands now that I’ve actually undertaken a study of the German language itself. I was not disappointed, but I was a bit surprised by just the sort of thing I’m talking about here.

See, Rammstein is great and all, but they actually weren’t my favorite of the NDH bands. They were just the first to make landfall in the States, and the most popular. Even OOMPH!, who are largely credited with inventing the genre, never found a foothold in America. I’m not sure my favorite NDH band has ever even toured in America. If they have, I never heard of it.

They’re called Megaherz, and I found them right around the time their 2004 album, 5, came out. It was their first album with their second singer, Mathias Elsholz, and the only album he did with the band. Their original singer and band founder, Alexx Wesselsky had left after five albums, but here’s the thing: I didn’t know that.

I only had a scattering of songs acquired through various peer-to-peer protocols, and no full albums, and all the real information on the band one could find on the web at the time was in German. I’m usually pretty good at picking out tonal differences in voices, but Wesselsky and Elsholz sounded like the same dude to me. I didn’t know the difference between songs from the band’s first NDH album, Kopfschuss (their third actual album, but the first two were more alternative than NDH) and 5.

Nor did I know that when the next album, Heuchler, came out with Alexander Wohnhaas behind the mic that it was yet ANOTHER different singer. It just didn’t sound like it. Somehow, the band had managed to keep the same sound through three singers and so many member changes that only guitarist Christian Bystron and bassist Wenz Weninger have actually been with the band since the first album.

Some albums are a little harder than others, some songs are a little more explicit than others, but Megaherz itself has managed to exist as an entity faithful to the sound laid down in Kopfschuss in 1998 right down to today with their 2014 album, Zombieland – a feat achieved in no small part by their odd habit of updating popular songs for the new singers.

Mind you, I’m not entirely thrilled with the name Zombieland (the only non-German album title they’ve ever had) or the fact the band is presently rocking the zombie look pretty hard because the title track of the album is a bit of cross promotion with the German advertising for The Walking Dead, but musically the album still sounds like the Megaherz I know and the zombie look doesn’t quite fit the band’s actual sound or lyrics very well. But hey, if a little Walking Dead coattail riding is what it takes to get one of my favorite bands a little extra notice, fine. So be it.

Hypocritical of me, I know, but… Megaherz, motherfuckers.

So, by now you’re all Googling Megaherz, or searching them up on Spotify so I don’t have to explain that the title of this post is an allusion to their band mascot, a clown face that’s appeared on several albums since Wer bist Du? and is currently being portrayed by singer Alexander Wohnhaas in his zombie make-up on the new album, right? Right?

Oh well.

But, I had another reason for bringing up Megaherz besides espousing my love for the weirdness that is NDH metal. See, way back when I was writing the first half of my novel I tried to keep a running document full of notes. I had this idea that a writer has to write out his inspirations, his characters’ personality traits and key features and other details to keep straight what was going to happen and how they were going to evolve.

Crazy, I know.

Some people may work like that, but I just don’t. I just write, and write, and write, and mostly manage to keep it all straight in my head by the power of sheer genius alone. Back when I was keeping those notes, though, I was listening to a lot of Megaherz. I might have actually spent more time daydreaming about the story and potential film/TV adaptations than I did actually writing the fucking thing, and Megaherz was the soundtrack I had in my head for that time.

Notes on those early chapters actually include things like “Du Oder Ich for this scene”, “Glas Und Tranen for this one,” and so on. I hadn’t even finished the damn thing. I only got twelve chapters finished in 2008 before I put the whole thing aside for seven years, but I was scoring it in my head to Megaherz with only a lyrics-search understanding of German at the time.

After a while, my regular listening shifted and though I’d get the odd Megaherz lyric in my head here and there I hadn’t listened actively to the band in years until this week. The second half of the book was written largely under the influence of Wintersun – which I’ve expounded on before – but now it’s all kind of coming back around again as I sit here listening to Megaherz and thinking about how I’m going to get back into the story of those early chapters after so much time without really thinking about them.

I’d edited them down a little bit when I started on the second half, but I wasn’t in the same headspace I’d been in when they were written. I suppose the hope is that this little exercise will help bring just enough of that back up to pull my own hybridization feat; to merge the old stuff with the new and unite the two halves of the book into one cohesive voice again.

You know, before I turn everything on its head and get back to writing the second book.

 

Rambling Bit of Nonsense: 2am Edition

I know, I’ve been slacking on the blog posts lately and there’s not even a really good reason for why. I just haven’t felt like it. I look at the Add New Post page and nothing comes to mind to write about and then I go do something else and revisit it a couple days later to do much the same. So, why not a little glimpse of what I’ve been up to in this hiatus?

Here’s a hint: NOTHING.

Seriously. I have done nothing of interest since the last post. I randomly probe the aether by night, and sometimes day, looking for and applying for jobs or trying to figure out the technical issues preventing my computer from accessing certain work-at-home programs, and when I get tired of that or feel I’ve done enough for a day I go and do something else.

Sometimes I stare at a short story, find that I hate the last thing I wrote and delete it, and then rewrite a third of what I deleted before closing it and not saving because what I had was still better than the alterations. Sometimes I build a bit for PotP, but at this point I’m the only person actually doing any of that right now and I have three completed areas just sitting there waiting to be checked and copied in. With our illustrious admin typically absent and the fact the only other person with access to do copyovers is the “head coder” (for stupid reasons that presuppose that no one else can copy a file or work in a Unix environment, but are really all about said coders being jealous control freaks who believe they and they alone should hold the keys even when they don’t fucking log on for months at a time), though, there’s no real hurry to get them checked since no one can do it.

So there’s that, I guess.

Progress on novel revisions remains stagnate, as most actual writing is apparently beyond my capability at this time, but two more good friends (maybe three) are reading the first draft now and hopefully a bit of extra feedback will shake something loose in that department.

I’ve been doing a lot more reading lately. Usually in the hour or so it takes my brain to unwind when I finally do lay down to go to sleep. Most of that reading has been the complete Conan works of Robert E. Howard, and I admit I kind of put Ana Spoke’s book on the back burner once that undertaking began. I’m still working on it here and there, and find it an enjoyable read, but I’m pretty sure I’m the furthest thing there is from a target audience for the amusing misadventures of a perpetually oblivious twenty-something stumbling and bullshitting her way through life and her new job at what I’m pretty sure is a corporate cult.

I mean, her boss owns an Apache helicopter armed with Hellfire missiles, has at least one actual slave (the Gimp, which makes me think of the Gnu Image Manipulation Program because BDSM isn’t a thing I associate with at all), and arms all his employees as a matter of corporate policy. It’s absurd, and I can appreciate the absurdity, but in small doses of about a chapter a week.

Conan, on the other hand, speaks more to my usual mindset, writing style, and love of world building, so I’m devouring that and rather kicking myself for having taken so long to get around to it. One would think I’d have been a Conan reader an Age ago since Howard and Lovecraft were as close as Lovecraft could ever be said to have for close friends and Lovecraft’s been a particular favorite of mine since I was fifteen. I’d seen, of course, the Arnold movies, and I’d read at least four different Conan comic series, and Robert Jordan had even written some Conan stories before The Wheel of Time, but nope. Never touched the Howard source material.

Foolish, and being rectified.

Let’s see, what else can I babble about for no apparent reason?

I switched browsers today. I was tired of Firefox and it wasn’t working with one of the work-at-home sites I’m trying to get going, so I dumped it for my first love: Opera.

Before I switched to Linux I’d been an avid Opera user since Opera began. It’s a lovely browser that’s always been fast and loaded with innovations that everyone else ripped off. When Internet Explorer and Netscape were still dominating the market with their clunky interfaces and that ever-expanding list of individual windows for every page that’d creep along your Windows 95 taskbar like a trail of ants feasting on your system resources, Opera had already started toward the tabbed interface by opening all your pages in nested windows inside the main Opera window.

My old tower, though, ran a 32x chipset and Opera hadn’t been updating the 32x version of it’s browser by the time I switched to Linux, so I had to make due with Firefox. I like Firefox just fine, and on that machine it was the best option because Chrome is a bloated piece of shit that Google should be ashamed of. When I finally got this laptop running sans-hard drive with a USB drive instead, I just stuck with Firefox because Ubuntu installed it natively and it worked fine for what I needed it for.

But it’s been annoying me lately, and I’m tired of updating it and finding page load times going through the roof, unresponsive windows for minutes at a time, and generally causing a cascading effect across my other open programs whenever it decides to crash. So, since I actually have a proper 64-bit architecture on this thing, and was trying to find something that works with The Smart Crowd website (it still isn’t at this moment, but it’s my project for the night), I turned back to my beloved Opera for help.

The developers behind Opera made the somewhat controversial and unusual decision to shift the browser’s ethos over to the Chromium base that became Google Chrome and is otherwise maintained as an open-source web engine all its own, but whatever’s under the hood doesn’t interest me so much as the usability of the browser itself. It’s working beautifully, loading faster than Firefox ever has, I have a proper Opera speed dial again (Firefox doesn’t, and requires third-party extensions to pull it off), and my speed dial even has an animate star field background that goes well with my desktop theme of rotating Hubble images.

WordPress is working more smoothly than ever, too, so bonus.

I think I’m still going to wind up having to install hated Chrome to manage to do anything work-at-home, because small-minded people take shortcuts in coding to a specific environment instead of providing a wide range of compatibility, but I suppose I’ll live.

Anyway, I think I’m out of shit to ramble about, and sorry if anyone reading this thought they were actually going to get a quality post. It’s 2:30am, and at this point I just wanted to get something up here for the sake of the habit. Maybe next time I’ll have something worth saying.

Maybe.

Building The City

I spent the few days since my last post in a near-constant state of distraction, but not for any reason one might have known to look at me.

Sure, I had plenty to do in that time; including considering how this weekend’s little jaunt to a car show might go. But really, the predominant thought in my head was simple; the next post I make on my blog will be #50.

Yeah. All you people I talk to all day and see and spend time with who thought you were so important? Hah! My career (or hopeful one) could hinge on how I spend the 50th post for this blog, so fuck you.

Ok, not really. I love you all dearly, but I really do have to focus on writing more than I have been and on a blog that’s supposed to be the thing that keeps me writing, the 50th post seems like a mile marker I simply have to take a little more seriously than the usual daily-bullshit post or some half-baked plan to write stories centered around an iPhone game.

I really have been thinking about this one all day, though. I needed the distraction to keep me sane in the midst of such god awful musical selections (Frank Sucknatra and Lynyrd Skynyrd back to back? Seriously?) and wanton displays of redneckery. What else was I going to do but find a dark corner to be antisocial and plot? C’mon. I’m the villain, right?

Somewhere between the backwoods drives (because Google maps decided that was quicker than the straight-shot highway half a mile from my front door), the realization that Ohio’s terrain is abysmally utilized to create the most god-awful roadways known to man, and the knowledge that even the smallest towns around here are more gentrified than anything I’m used to in the Southeast Iowa/Western Illinois stretch of land around the Mighty Mississippi, I hit on this idea that maybe I’d spend a little time talking about home.

Add to that the knowledge I’ve spent ungodly amounts of time building areas for Prophecies of the Pattern lately (just finished the third in two months, starting the fourth as I write this) and considering the entire world-building process as a result, AND compound that with the knowledge I haven’t spoken much of my novel beyond vague references, AND the fact I’ve actually been reading Ana Spoke’s novel because she was gracious enough to provide a free promotional copy incentive this weekend and it’s got me in the novel-talking mood again, AND the fact that this is the most fantastically run-on sentence ever… I figured I’d just meld all that bullshit into one giant fucking post to celebrate the fact that this is indeed the 50th post.

I mean, shit, I’ve barely even started this post and it’s already 500 words before I get to the actual goddamn point! How fortunate for all of you.

So, here’s the thing. I like it here in Ohio. It’s not what I’m used to at all, it’s a completely strange area when compared to what I’m used to, there are a lot more people and only five who aren’t complete fucking strangers. In a way it’s refreshing. It’s a blank slate, and I needed that, but the problem with blank slates is finding a way to fill them up again. To write the story that goes on that slate. To draw the picture and define the data that slate contains.

I don’t have that problem in Southeast Iowa. Thanks to a misspent youth and college career, I know every nook and cranny accessible by car for 50 miles from my hometown of Danville, and can extend that reach up as far as Iowa City. It may be a small chunk of land to some of you who have lived in multiple states and countries throughout your lives, but it was MY chunk of land. From Gulfport, Illinois (where one Rex Gatling and I had many misadventures) to Mt. Pleasant, Iowa (where I spent half my childhood with my grandparents), to Iowa City (where college was great to me even though I never attended there) down to Fort Madison (visited only occasionally, on the most wandering of sojourns), that was home.

I love the Mississippi River, even though it’s a muddy brown mess year-round and prone to flooding the fuck out of Burlington’s downtown area every summer. The Old Man River is beautiful in its own way. It’s the defining feature of Midwestern life and once upon a time the steamships running up and down its length were the absolute pinnacle of transportation – because the fucking railroad hadn’t even managed to cross that big fucking bastard yet. I wouldn’t go swimming in it for the life of me, and everything I ever flushed down the toilet wound up there eventually, but if you live in the U.S. and haven’t lived on the Mississippi you haven’t seen a real fucking river. You’ve seen creeks and streams. That river is the only real river in the land, and fuck anyone who thinks their river means a good goddamn next to such a glory as the Mississippi.

But enough about that king of all waterways. One day I might tell you more. If you’re lucky.

Inevitably, there are two camps of people when it comes to the rest of this godforsaken country and how folks think of Iowa: those who confuse us with Idaho, and those who think we’re as flat and boring as Nebraska.

To the former, I can only say fuck you. You don’t deserve Iowa if you think it’s Idaho, and you need to go back to school and learn something about geography.

To the latter, though… well, fuck you too. Iowa isn’t flat at all. Iowa is made up of rolling hills formed sometime in the Devonian Epoch (419-3.2 MILLION YEARS AGO), and most of these are flint and limestone; meaning they used to be undersea. Limestone forms as a result of the mineral deposits left behind by marine life, meaning most of Iowa used to be seabed. Indeed, one can wander up into the hills of the Starr’s Cave Nature Preserve and find rocks with fossilized plants that could only exist on the sea floor. Indeed, the Nature Preserve folks make a very prominent part of their tour about this feature.

I may have been raised in Danville, found all my life’s best and oldest friends there, but Burlington is where I was born and Danville for all it’s quaint smalltown charm can best be considered ancillary to Burlington’s dominance of Des Moines county. My childhood was spent roaming the streets of Danville, but the moment I put my Size 14 shoe to a gas pedal (behind the wheel of my very own ’89 Dodge Dynasty) it was Burlington that consumed my exploratory heart.

I’ve driven every single street in that town of 25,000+. Most of my friends and family moved there at some point. My father is buried there. I went to community college there. I fell in love there more times than I care to count. Burlington, Iowa is to me what Bangor, Maine is to Stephen King: my muse given life in concrete and steel. It is because of this that we come to the real point of this piece.

King is without a doubt my favorite author of all time. I love Robert Jordan for the Wheel of Time, I love Lovecraft for all the madness and cyclopean visions of terror he brought me, and I love Dante and Homer and Ovid and all those who followed them for the richness they brought to my worldview, but King… King was my first foray into adult literature. I was twelve when I bought It on a whim because I knew there was a miniseries based on it running on TV and Tim Curry’s face on the cover was so goddamn captivating that I had to know all about this evil clown peering so dangerously into my little adolescent heart.

A lot of people give King fans shit. They make noises about not liking “horror” or how his just-folks brand of storytelling doesn’t follow all their nice little academic views, but anyone who tells you they don’t like King has never REALLY read King. The man is a master of his craft: storytelling. He doesn’t write to please your sensibilities. He doesn’t write because he’s trying to win awards and praise from every fucking institution under the sun; he writes because he HAS to write. He can’t help himself. The man can announce a retirement and then write more books in one year than he has since his coke-fueled 80s rage.

King builds worlds. Every word of every sentence, every line of dialog, every thought and action his characters take lend themselves toward establishing a world unique unto itself.  So what if he uses patois like it’s going out of style, or if he sometimes uses over-flowery language to establish a scene (“The desert was the apotheosis of all deserts…”). The man gets the job done in a way that frankly no one else can. He builds a world not by telling you everything about the world; not by laying out a whole book of history about the world or a glossary of ideas and terminologies you need to know; he builds a world by grabbing you by the dick and throwing you into it to discover the world as it comes to him.

He takes elements of one story into the next; to the point that he had to eventually tie about a third of his catalog into the Dark Tower series (my favorite of all time. Sorry, ghost of Robert Jordan). Bangor, Maine becomes a backdrop for some of his work, but so too do the entirely fictional realms of Derry, Maine and Castle Rock. Elements that King built from a lifetime loving where he’s from built themselves into everything he’s written. He rarely sets foot outside his comfort  zone, and when he does it’s not quite the same as those Derry/Castle Rock/Bangor novels. Unless it’s Mid-World. Mid-World, though, is everything.

So it’s to King I owe a lot of what my novel has become. I didn’t set out to emulate him at all, and the writing and subject matter should show that fairly well, but I learned a lot about world building from that crazy bastard from Maine.

I had a single image in mind when I set out to write the short story that eventually expanded itself into 95,000+ words (with revisions still in progress I expect this to climb rather than shrink if feedback given is any indication): a man stands alone across the street from a burned-out husk of a church in the pouring rain in a trench coat with a hood drawn over the smooth metal helmet that covers his head and face.

That church was real. A self-proclaimed Satanist put the torch to it a couple years before I wrote the opening scene. The city he lives in is my city. His has no name, but it’s Burlington to a T and blown up to Chicago-proportions. It’s a Burlington that could have existed if the death of the steam ships and rise of the railroad hadn’t made the river town obsolete.

The hills his City rests on, with diametrically opposed income classes positioned on the north hill and south and a downtown area in the flood-prone valley between the two – those are real. Our hero walks a city that never existed, but it’s a city I know like I know my own. It is my own, in more ways than even I want to mention. Every nook and cranny. Every dilapidated building, crumbling storefront, and struggling Mom & Pop shop… I know them because I’ve walked them.

One of the greatest mantras of writerdom is “Write what you know”, so I do. I write my city the way I know my city could have been. I write my city the way I wish my city had been. I write my city and make it mine the way I learned wandering down the streets of Derry when I was twelve.

Is it New York or Chicago with high-rises abound, people crowding every inch of real estate available, and that faceless swirl of life pulsing through the culture to define the way an entire nation thinks and moves? Nah. That shit bores me. Fuck New York. Give me my City any day; where a hero without a name can still do some good in spite of himself, where a woman can step out of the shadows and change the world, and where a dream can still mean something.

Where a writer can be something great.

Ain’t Dead Yet

It may seem that I have died and gone to whatever hell could hope to contain me, but believe it or not I am quite alive and well. For the most part. Today I had a murderous headache that would not be quelled by migraine-strength Excedrine until I piled four ibuprofen and a day of unconsciousness (did not wake til an hour ago) on top of that, but now I’m doing well enough to call it good-ish.

So, I woke up and checked my messages and found that one of my loyal readers (also known as my oldest friend, brother in crime, and sometimes collaborator in creative plotting) had left me a message stating: “The people are hungry for a BLOG POST. Hahaha. They need CKWS”

Don’t ask me what fucking people. I don’t know. But oddly I had a whopping 9 views today when I had maybe 2 all week. I never claimed this blog was reaching anyone. I don’t promote it at all; largely so I can get away with not writing for a week and not have to worry about losing precious readers.

Somehow, I actually gained a few by not writing anything. I’m sure there’s a metaphor for the futility of the writer’s expectations in there somewhere, but I’ll leave it up to you to solve for your damn selves. Can’t be spoon-feeding everything; you’ll never learn that way!

So, what the fuck? Why haven’t I been updating the blog?

A few reasons, really, but the most pertinent might be that I simply had nothing to blog about. I sat down a couple of times to start a post, found nothing really jumped out at me to write, and decided I’d just do it later.

Beyond that, though, I’ve actually been filling a lot of my free time (read: every waking hour I’m not looking for work) with other creative endeavours that simply leave me too drained to do anything else.

First, building. I wrote a post about this last week, so I won’t go into the details again, but I’ve been on a pretty hardcore building kick for the MUD that made me “famous”, Prophecies of the Pattern. I finished one 100-room area last weekend and jumped straight into a second that I might finish tonight or tomorrow. Building is a sort of creative jumping point for me. I can sit and pound  out descriptions for rooms, cities, towns, forests, creatures, people, and whatever the hell else goes into any given area for hours to keep the creative mojo rolling, and when that hits a high point I can ride the tide right over to another project and do that for a bit.

While one of those projects has been working  out the details of establishing a new central plot character for the MUD to help revitalize the world a bit, I’ve also been using that time to work on my other stuff. Namely: revising the novel at last, and picking away at a pair of short stories that are currently competing for completion. I had intended to finish one of them and send it off to TOR’s web imprint, but that one’s been going slower as a result of expecting more out of it, and the other has picked up a bit of steam, so instead of hinging on one I’m letting two stories duke it out in my brain to see which winds up submitted somewhere first.

Then there’s the German. I’m up to a twenty-one day streak on Duolingo and level 7 in German. I could probably be higher level by now as I spend a lot of time working on it, but I tend to only run a new set of lessons every two or three days and fill in the rest of my days with practices to rehash everything I’ve learned so far. It must be working, because I find myself thinking in German here and there when I recognize something I’ve learned and can express in a complete sentence. It’s been an enjoyable exercise so far, though at least one friend has declared it pointless because I should be learning Spanish because I live in America, not Germany. To which I say simply; I am a citizen of the world!

That’s really all I’ve been up to lately, though. I stay up until ungodly hours when my brain’s finally had enough of trying to generate creative things, and then I crash all day. I expect that’ll change once I finally get a solid schedule in place around an actual job, but for now I’m just riding out the wave as it goes. If that means I stay up til 6am (or 11am on weekends…) doing anything creative I can get my mind to focus on, then at least I’m not just sitting around brooding about doing nothing at all.

That wouldn’t be good for ANYONE. Except maybe you poor bastards. You’d get to see what madness really looks like in black and white.