Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Just Keep

Blastoff.
I felt sorry for myself earlier this evening and drowned my sorrows for a while. This is normal.

Given that I boldly stated that I was essentially a happy person a couple of days ago,  it's time to resume that most fleeting and desired state of being. The event that caused the down feelings is gone, the feelings are past and hey - it's a new day tomorrow.

Sometimes it's easy to move forward and sometimes it's not. That slope is slippery and if it's been raining then the possibility of a terrible mudslide makes moving forward an adventure, doesn't it? It wasn't the two beers per se, but the time spent sipping them that allowed the feelings to pass. Time is the cure for the I don't wanna do this any more blues.

For me at least. In this case.

Still, frustration will dig its grubby little double-barbed, rusty hooks in if I let it. Can't do that. Gotta let it go like water off a duck's back.

Don't let the bastards grind you down. Punch back. Kick hard. Stab for all you're worth. Never give up. (Never surrender!)

Heh.

Tomorrow before sunrise I stand, ready to be knocked down again. C'mon, who's with me?

The Pile

The desk is calling to me.
Good ol' Chuck Wendig popped into my head this morning on my daily walk:

Finish your shit.

But I have, I tell the ghostly voice in my head. I've got a novella, a novel, three or four short stories that are done. The drafts are finished. They're almost ready to go out to my trusted beta readers.

Fiiiiiniiiiishhh yoooooouuuuurrrrr shiiiiiit.

Dammit.

He's right. He caught the 'almost' I threw in there. I've got the write as fast as you can part down. I'm pretty good at that. I've even got editing my stuff into a readable draft covered. But actually 'finishing', meaning taking that story to a level where it's really ready to run naked out into the world, well - that I'm not so good at yet.

This requires a good deal of focus. What gets in the way are all the other ideas that have been waiting patiently in the green room of my head to get on stage. They're all clamoring for time in the light and time is the commodity I have little of. Of course, that's an excuse. I could find more time to write if I watched less TV, spent less time noodling around on Facebook and Twitter and playing Words With Friends.

All my excuses suck. I guess I haven't figured that part out yet.

Time to finish my shit.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Behemoth

It seems to me that there's a larger disconnect in the Amazon v. Hachette brouhaha than just books. I may be delusional in the end, so bear that in mind.

The online world is so programmed to shop at Amazon first that it appears - and this is with only minimal research - that there are no successful self-publishers who have not used Amazon. Hybrid authors also offer direct from their websites DRM-free PDFs of their books but they are also listed on the online giant's books pages. In short, Amazon is the be-all, end-all online shopping experience no matter what anyone wants to believe.

This isn't Amazon's fault. It is one of their successes but it troubles me. With the demise of locally-owned video, record, and book stores over the last 15 years as well as the desire of people to shop without pants, we are heading for a scary future ala Wall-E with the online behemoth standing in for the Buy n Large Corporation.

A lot of control is in the hands of Amazon. It dominates in a way that has been forecast for decades, eating up small shops and sites and developers with impunity.

And I'm part of the problem, too. I acknowledge that I've bought a great deal of merchandise from Amazon because the discounts were too good to ignore. The convenience they offer is intoxicating and I've often bemoaned the loss of local book stores and music stores. I miss talking to the staffs at these places who would get to know me and my tastes a little. They were so much more fun than the "Other people who bought this also bought..." lines at the bottom of every page I visit on Amazon.

In the end, Amazon should just be one more retailer in a world filled with retailers. It shouldn't be the one-stop shopping experience that even grocery stores have tried to be. It's good for people to move about in the world. Yes, we're busy but to be honest we could probably spend less time watching streaming tv and film, right? Would it hurt to analyze how much screen time one spends each day?

Maybe priorities are skewed. Determine what's more important. It's up to the individual. For my own part, I don't want to be essentially confined to a moving chair on a star ship looking for a new planet to ruin. Maybe I'll spend more money on particular items and maybe it'll take longer to get to me if I buy online. That's okay. I don't mind.

Because I'll try to support creators I like as directly as possible. If someone chooses to self-publish and offer their stuff directly I'll try that first. Then I'll head to other online retailers than Amazon.

Or maybe I'll have to put on some pants and head out to a bricks and mortar store with real live people in it. What a concept.

Monday, August 18, 2014

From the Glad to Be Alive Dept.: One Year Later

(This post contains frank language that may offend some delicate, shell-like ears. That's your warning.)

This week last year I nearly died.

That's not an exaggeration. Every doctor I've talked to ever since has remarked at how close I was to dying. At first I was all "they're just saying that" to "holy shit it was way worse than I thought" to "how the hell do I avoid this happening again".

I'm not going to preach to you about taking care of yourself. You'll either do that or you won't and I don't judge you one way or the other. I will only point out that if you sit for more than an hour you need to get up and walk around. And that the 10,000 steps a day thing isn't bullshit.

The update is that I weigh less now than I did at this time last year. My blood pressure's good. The ulcerative colitis is very much under control. In short, I'm as healthy as I've ever been. I am still working on losing more weight just so I can keep feeling better and better. I am diligently monitoring everything I can, changing lifelong habits slowly but surely. I hope.

And the real point of this post is look back and note the things that were warning signs. For instance:

  • From about mid-March I'd had an occasional, often really painful, stitch in my left side, like I'd been running a quarter mile at top speed. Which is something I haven't done since junior high and would never dream of doing even now. That stitch was apparently a large clot on my left side. The doctors told me that the heaviest burden was on my left. It hurt like a bastard my first night in the hospital. 
  • There were other little pains that added up and added up in retrospect. In my legs, my shoulders, my chest. I went for a walk early in May and had a terrible time breathing. I hadn't been walking in a while back then so I figured I was just really, really out of shape. I was out of shape, but I didn't recognize that sucking for air on a brisk walk over even ground should have really shocked me.
  • The Sunday before I landed in the hospital, I mowed the yard. In increments. Normally it takes about an hour to mow the entire yard and I had to stop and catch my breath four times. I actually sat down for that. Still, I thought maybe it was something more to do with my heart than with my lungs. My chest hurt but I was going to get my heart tested in two days so I didn't worry too much. But I should have been terrified.
  • I went to my son's open house at school and made it through exactly two classes. I was out of breath, sluggish and sweating. No way was I going to go up stairs. Feeling awful for missing the chance to talk to his teachers and feeling bad physically are not a good combination. I was going to the heart test the next morning. I would tell them about that night.
  • After the heart test - 6 minutes on a 10% grade - I was completely incapacitated. The next morning would be when I would go down hard. I called in sick and spent the day on the couch and then in bed. I felt the worst I'd ever felt.
Until the next day, the worst day of my life.

So I'm watching everything, waiting for those little signs to amount to something less than half what I remember from the experience before. I can't go through that again. I won't.

And if you notice aches and pains that are out of the ordinary, go get 'em checked out. Don't wait for these things to add up. Really, don't.

All this applies to every aspect of your health. Don't be afraid to ask for help. 

Finally, I've been appreciative of you putting up with all these health updates. I've survived a year beyond nearly checking out, that's enough. Things are good, stable. So I expect this'll be the final update on my health. Unless something else happens we'll return to occasional posts here about writing, entertainments, politics, or whatever may be on my mind. Thanks for reading.

I'm glad you've been here, as much as I'm glad to still be here, too.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Systems

Here's some really great writing advice courtesy of NYT bestselling author Alex Grecian:

Do not follow systems that tell you how to write a book. Just write a book. Write a book every day. Always write. That's the actual system.

It was good to see that as I was contemplating actually going ahead with a new novel. I really want to do it differently than the last two which I started on November 1 in 2011 and November 1, 2013, respectively. (The 2012 NaNoWriMo book is only about half baked. It is desperate need of a page one rewrite but that's neither here nor there for now. Suffice to say it's on my list to complete.)

Whisky, notes and music. I'm all set.
All writers have at least one shelf full of books on how to write, including a couple that promise to let you in on the 'secret' of writing. In my experience, the 'secret' in those books is that it was written well enough to sucker you into buying it with the hope that the particular system contained therein is one that will work for you.

Grecian's advice to "always write" is the real secret. The more you write the better you get. All it takes is practice, practice, practice. There's no easy way to write unless you discover it for yourself.

While it's true that some of the things in some of the books on my shelf of writing advice have helped me, I've adapted each of them to my specific needs of the moment. The same things do not work the same ways twice. The constant for me to this point has been NaNo. The support of my local group has been invaluable. It's possible that I'll still be writing this book as NaNo starts, in fact it's likely. But I don't know that I'll be an official participant this year. We'll see.

At this point, I have to get better as a writer and blasting out pure story without worry - which is the point of NaNo - means more work later on. Now I want to write with distinct purpose, editing as I go along, watching for the things that always trip me up when I start editing a completed NaNo book. I have a list of those things in the Scrivener file with the story so I have them close to hand if I want to check something or think I need a reminder. Dunno if it'll work or not, but I'm going to give it a try and see what happens.

I'm gonna use the actual system advocated by Grecian and write every day. No matter how long it takes to get to the end. (Which I know, by the way.)

Friday, August 15, 2014

No, YOU Stop It

I'm done with the angry articles that tell Hollywood or celebrities or writers that endlessly repeating themselves is stupid. Well website editors, so is endlessly repeating essentially the same article over and over and over with only slightly different focus or subject.

So YOU stop it first. And stop it right now.

I mean, come on. So what - you don't like the trope. Get over it. Move on. Stop mentioning it, stop grousing about it. Move on. Stop it. Better yet, write your own story or create your own art or make your own TV show without the tropes you despise.

No, really.

While I'm at it, quit it with the lists of things "You Didn't Know" about everything. The truth is YOU didn't know, Dear Writer, and you're headlining link bait. Done. Stop it.

For all our sakes, please find something else to write about. Stop being angry that you didn't know everything. Stop being angry that you do know everything and no one is listening to you. You're boring.

Really.

Find a lot more positive things to write about will you? Please?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Day Later

Still a lot of strong, deep feelings this morning. Another sort of rambling post to come, I suppose.

Outrage and horror and sadness at what's going on it Ferguson, Missouri. Reporters being shot with rubber bullets then told to evacuate the area so it can be cleaned up, residents being gassed, police officers in full military gear standing off peaceful protesters with dogs and this is 2014 in America. Something is just not clicking somewhere. Police are supposed to be here to help people - 'to serve and protect'.

These actions in Ferguson are going a long way to further separate the majority of Americans from what the police are supposed to do: 'protect and serve'. That said, looting and rioting are not helpful, either, and I don't endorse criminal actions on either side. There are opportunists in both camps and they're the ones that get picked up by the media and used as justification for reprehensible actions.

I thought America was more grown up than that.

Deep, deep sadness at the news of Robin Williams' death. He hit at the exact right time for me to be influenced by his manic style of comedy and improv. I learned every line of Reality... What a Concept! inside out. I watched Mork & Mindy every week and saw all his movies. When he stretched into dramatic acting with The World According to Garp and Moscow on the Hudson, I thought it was brave. I learned later on that comedians often make excellent dramatic actors but it doesn't necessarily work the other way 'round. I went to see Aladdin in the theater because hey, Robin Williams as a manic cartoon genie? SOLD. It didn't matter that I didn't have a child at the time. I was there.

He gave me (and everyone) soooo many hours of joy. We all quoted all his lines from Good Morning, Vietnam. We all riffed like he did in Aladdin. And when I saw him in One Hour Photo and Insomnia, he was the consummate actor. Those two performances were so unlike anything I'd seen from him before. I was blown away.

Reports are repeating endlessly that he was depressed and we all know he battled with addiction. This terrible combination isn't a weakness, it's a disease. We who don't feel it to the extent that he and far too many others do shouldn't be judgmental. I've had my own bouts of depression with thoughts of suicide. I held the very sharp boning knife and all I had to do was lean into it and it would have all been over. I didn't because of the love I knew there was for me in my world and because the pain - as bad as it was - wouldn't last forever. None of us know exactly what Mr. Williams felt or was going through but that doesn't stop traditional and social media from speculating.

That does no one any good. What should be repeated over and over and over is that there are resources for fighting back depression. We all have friends who struggle and we all need to let them know they are loved by us. To you, my friends, I am glad to know you and though I don't see you often enough I think about you and I want you to be happy.

I want us all to be happy.

In the midst of all the horrible fucking things happening in the world including the mess in Ukraine, the stupidity in Gaza, the terror in Iraq, the totally preventable awfulness in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, and Nigeria, there's a ray of sunlight in my world. My baseball team, the Kansas City Royals, are in first place in August for the first time since I think 1993. Their current winning streak (8 games!) and the way their season is going is something to appreciate. Look up the Royals to find out why this is a big deal. And the win last night that put them in sole possession of first place in their division was something that did, indeed, make me happy last night. I needed it.

So the fear that drives the chain of command in Missouri is debilitating. Having power doesn't mean you're not scared so it's essential to look at exactly why you're scared. The over militarized police with their insanely big weapons are afraid of average people expressing their own fear and outrage. The fear that drives someone to end his life because he just can't see any other way out is harder to control. Sometimes control eludes us. All the time that loss is tragic.

But sometimes, if you believe enough and work enough, things fall together and your team comes through. It takes all of us believing and working together. Don't let your friends pull back.

Reach out, overcome your own fear.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Statement

So I've been pursuing writing prose pretty seriously for several years now. You've followed my journeys through several NaNoWriMos and if we interact in the world (or on Twitter or Facebook) you know I'm always talking about this or that story. Always mentioning how many words I've written in a day and so on and so forth.

I'm a writer. I've had a couple of things published and there's more to come. But I've yet to find a way to break through in a larger fashion. I wrote a novel that's been read by a handful of people and there's acknowledgement from those readers that it's good. Maybe it's the best thing I've written yet. I don't know.

Thinking about it, I have started wondering where the ideas behind my stories are falling. Are they wholly original? Not quite. Some of them not at all. Is my voice original? I don't know. I hope so but I don't think I'm the person to be able to say that. I'm confident, though. I can say at least that much.

Yeah, I've been doing some soul searching, looking introspectively at my work and writing habits in an effort to determine what it is I write.

I can call it science fiction all I want, and it is, but that's not all it is. There are elements of fantasy to it, like Star Wars. There's romance to my writing as well, like Firefly is romantic not like Harlequin bodice rippers. And when I really think about it, there's not as much science as there is in the kind of SF stories I like best.

People need to be able to categorize one's work. Scientific Romances were actual things though now they're archaic. I like Science Fantasy but I don't want that label to dismiss the interactions between people that are so important to great stories. Of which I've written none. Like I mentioned above, some of my stories are okay, maybe good. Not great. Not yet.

As I write more I gain confidence. My saving throws for stories lately haven't been what I need and that discouraged me for a bit, but I still gained experience points. Every so often I'll level up. One of these days I'll get there.

I'm science-literate but not fluent. I need to work on that. I suppose that will inform more stories, too, and allow me to find if not original ideas then at least original takes on them.

Knowing that I'm not as good as I want to be is something but not everything. It's not a mistake to think that I'm a decent writer. Not wholly original but competent and with enough knowledge and experience to show promise. So instead of dwelling on the downside of competent, I endeavored to figure out what I do well. That's the Venn diagram above. That's the reminder I need to help me focus and improve.

So that's what's next. Feedback is the important step here. I need all I can get: good, bad or ugly. It won't hurt my feelings and I'll try mightily to keep from becoming discouraged but the feedback is essential.

Okay, long, rambly post has to end here. I've got writing to do.


Friday, August 01, 2014

Bot Calls

So the first day I was on vacation, while my wife and I drove across Missouri, my cell phone rang. When we stopped, I checked it and didn't know the number. We drove on.

Not thirty minutes later, it rang again. I ignored it until we stopped again. Same number. No message. What the hell? Could it be someone from work? It wouldn't be anyone else.

It was several hours later the phone rang again while we were driving. (Now we were somewhere in eastern Illinois.) When we stopped for the night I looked at it was, once more, the same number that had called me twice before. And no message.

So I Googled the phone number and found it was a bot where no one ever left a message, no one ever spoke if the receiver of the call actually answered. Lots of complaints against this number.

Just weird. The phone rang again and guess what number it was?

I slept, not worried at all any more about the bot.

It called again the next day. Three more times. I formulated a plan to answer the thing with "You do not have the right to use my voice for any purposes. Now what the fuck do you want?" Didn't implement it, though. We drove on.

It has, however, given me an idea for a short story. So I'm signing off here for today to put some more thought and effort into that story. I recommend Googling things rather than trying to use a reverse phone number lookup. I got a lot more information a lot more quickly and without paying anything.

More later.