Dark Thanksgiving

Welcome back, dear reader, and first I’d like to say Happy Thanksgiving to those of you in the US who celebrate it. I have mixed feelings about the origins of the holiday, especially where it relates to colonial ties and what it represents for indigenous people, but I do like the idea of a time of year where people are prompted to reflect on what they have and understand that happiness is sometimes about what you have in hand, and not in the endless pursuit of something “more”. Gratitude is something that I practice daily for the sake of my own sanity, but anything that encourages more of it is a good thing, I think. Shame for the poor turkeys, but hey I’m an omnivore so I suppose I can’t say too much there.

That said, what a dark week it has been thus far. Warning: going to get up on my soap box a little here. Sorry if you don’t agree, but I also think that an artist’s political views are part and parcel of their output, whether it’s explicit in the works or not (and I prefer not to be overt in my fiction). Full confession, I am a “left leaning moonbat” who believes in equality of opportunity for all and the social contract – that we all benefit from our society and thus owe it to others to take care of them, beyond it just being the right thing to do. Don’t worry, it’s not going to become part of the weekly update or anything, I’m not trying to start a political blog here. This is still mostly about writing. I just can’t ignore what’s going on.

I have a dark history where it comes to sexual abuse, having been on the receiving end more than once, and so the past few weeks, or hell, is it a month now, have been difficult at best. The Roy Moore thing, though…that’s been a real capper. To see people not only openly defending this predator but also state that it’s preferable to vote for him rather than someone who defended civil rights? Sad times for the United States. And of course Trump goes and tacitly endorses the guy for the purpose of destructive tax cuts, but then he’s already cut of similar cloth so I suppose that’s to be expected. Then we get Ajit Pai and the FCC promising to gut net neutrality at the same time that we’re opening a path to more media consolidation and one company controlling a vast majority of the media in this country (and it enrages me that any of this is political hay these days, once upon a time basic fairness was viewed as a natural American trait).

It’s a lot to take in when you’re supposed to be thinking of family, friends, and gratitude. Add in that I’m away from my family, truly far away, for Thanksgiving for the first time in ages, and I’m very reflective. The good news is that our own little family is still going strong, and we’re all celebrating together, even if two of us walk on four legs.

All right, enough of that. On to the usual stuff: writing! And what a lot there has been. First, I’m in the process of wrapping up the fourth version of the In the Pines outline. There will certainly be a fifth, as there are too many chapters that still need polish. A little disappointing, but I’d rather do it right the first time than rush and blah blah, you get the picture. Some of the chapters are very, very ready, though. It’s just going to be a matter of putting some meat on those bones. And I didn’t get any real curveballs during this part of the draft, so I think the fifth version should really wrap things up. I usually have some major revelations or changes to talk about here, but honestly it all kind of came together, and the one larger development is actually a huge spoiler that would ruin the ending, so I will remain quiet about that one.

Next week I return to the Elkmont story treatment and wrap up the third act. That’ll put me in a good place to break the story into an outline and really start massaging things. Just looking at where I’ve come since the story treatment for In the Pines I expect a lot of changes, all of them good. I’d like to have that finished before the 1st.

But in the meantime there’s something new on the horizon. I keep a list of story ideas in Google Keep, one that’s always growing and changing; for some time, I’ve thought that one or two of those ideas might be the one to follow Elkmont, but every now and then something comes out of seemingly nowhere to grab you. Back in 1998, I started on a little story that I called Hauntworld. All that really remains of it are the first two chapters, some fragments of character descriptions, and an old website, but something about the core of the idea has stuck with me all these years. The original was about a seasoned detective and his rookie partner who are investigating a series of murders and soon learn that the killer, who styles himself as “the Imago”, has origins in another world and kills via supernatural means. The original write-up is a little silly, but the story popped back up in my head the other morning, along with a “what if”: what if this was a private detective rather than a cop, and one that operated in a world where the paranormal was more of an open secret than something that he happens upon? And what if he were getting on in years and deciding to take on a partner that he would groom to take over the business? What if there were schools that taught people how to do this work, and in the process of interviewing, he somehow gets a top-notch candidate, but the one catch (for him – I think she’s a great character) is that she’s a young black woman, and he fears he can’t relate to her but covers it with bluster?

The dynamics could be very interesting, with him teaching her his investigative methods while she tries to bring him into that world’s version of the 21st century. All while chasing a relentless supernatural killer with inscrutable methods and motives – the Imago returned. It seems like a pretty damn good hook, and the foundation for a series where we end up following “Zoe”, as she’s currently known. I’m kind of thinking of the genre as Neo-Noir Horror, but there will definitely be some comedic elements as well. And I’m almost having to resist writing some of this already, as the ideas for scenes are flowing fast and furious. I want to make sure I have plenty of foundation laid for it, first, as there will be some twists and turns.

Anyway, this will be Hauntworld, for now, and it’s the third book in my queue. Expect me to talk about it more in the near future as I develop the idea.

All right, that said, time to wrap this thing up with the usual photography feature. Hope everyone has a great holiday, and I’ll see you next week.

My brother-in-law hit me with the black-and-white challenge on Facebook, so I accepted. Also dug out my bass for the first time since the move.

Say this for the Midwest: the sunsets are stunning. And this week in particular has shown colors I haven’t seen since childhood.

Saturday morning we went to The Shack in Chesterfield, MO. Great place for coffee and gluten-free options.

Warning: controversial contents.

After breakfast we roamed historic Route 66 and found Stsovall’s Grove Dance Hall and Saloon. The site dates back to the 1860s in one form or another, and the current place opened in the 1930s.

Yep, that sure is a horse out front.

Freezing cold Saturday night, so we got the fire place going.

See what I mean about these sunsets?

One last sunset picture. Couldn’t resist this one. Too ominous. And check out the colors in the clouds.

Last pic. Clear sign that the seasons are ready to turn that corner into winter. Get ready!

Hot Steaming Mess

Welcome back and whew, let me tell you. This week has been a practice in dreams meeting reality. Let me get the personal out of the way first: the weather has sucked, our cat may be sick, work is absolutely ball-bustingly busy, and the culture shock of moving halfway across the country has set in. That’s not even getting into the bug that’s been going around the office, which laid me low at the end of last week and ensured that I didn’t get back into In the Pines until Monday. What I’m saying is that your trusted narrator is currently a Hot Mess, but I am striving for better. Trying to get better at my job and at my writing. It’s an ongoing process.

Speaking of writing, let’s talk about it, shall we? Last week I stated an intention to kick off proper drafting of In the Pines on December 1st and I think I can still meet the spirit of that goal, but a review of the first seven chapters reveals at least two that will need a further outlining pass. The good news is that the other chapters are in really good shape and I think further outlining would be pointless – I need to drill down into the details of the scenes and really let them live and breathe to get to the next step. I’m already seriously loving the two main characters. There are echoes of Corridors of the Dead in this book, to be certain, but I think it’s different enough to be thematic.

Anyway, let me elaborate at boring length about how I envision the process going. There will be one more outlining pass, which will be the fifth draft of the outline, but in this version I will take the “narrative-ready” chapters and start breaking down descriptions of scenes into actual narration and dialogue. For example, going from something like this:

The “camera” pans to her mother, hopefully surprising the reader. Now we set the scene: smells, sights. A tidy table, everything in its right place. Her mother drinks coffee and reads from an iPad, but frowns and looks up. Of course she’s not okay, she says, her daughter got attacked the night before.

To something like this (and again, keep in mind that this is a first draft and will be further refined because yuck):

Though Morgan’s mother sat on the opposite side of their tiny dining room table, in their tiny breakfast nook, she seemed to be a million miles away. Morgan’s words died somewhere in the middle of the neatly-arranged wasteland of artificial sweetener packets, honey bears, and napkins.

After a long moment, Morgan spoke again. “I asked if you’re okay.”

“I heard you,” Wendy said, but her eyes seemed unable to leave her iPad. What would she be reading? Work emails? The Wall Street Journal? Family Circle?

“Then can you answer me? Kind of rude to just sit there…”

Wendy sighed and lowered her coffee cup. At last she lowered her reading glasses and stared across the table at her daughter. Morgan would normally welcome this gaze, but now she couldn’t help seeing her own eyes staring back at her.

“Of course I’m not okay,” Wendy said. “My daughter got attacked last night.”

So you can see how nuance develops; though it’s not mentioned in the outline or in her character description, we learn that Morgan’s mother, Wendy, is cold, prim, and proper, but also has a Martha Stewart side. This will play into a subplot that comes up later.

I can do this kind of elaboration for each of the “narrative-ready” chapters while simultaneously working the chapters that still need outline massaging. I don’t know what to call this phase of the process, exactly. It’s a hybrid approach, for sure, but I think it will help me keep the overall plot in mind while I work on those straggling chapters.

My goal at the moment, however, is to finish plot outline Version 4.0 and then take another week off to work on the third act of the Elkmont story treatment because that bad boy will go in a drawer until the first draft of Pines is finished. Still to be determined on how long that first draft might take.

So, roughly, my current take on the process is to keep switching off between stories; Elkmont story treatment followed by first draft of Pines followed by Elkmont outline version 1. At some indeterminate point I’ll start workshopping the next novel in this merry-go-round, as it’s already starting to take some shape in the basement of my subconscious. Going to be quite the ride to see how this all plays out.

Of course, wouldn’t be a blog entry without the photos. Not as much to go on this week because of illness and general Hot Mess status, but here’s what I have.

This is Broemmelsiek Park in St. Charles County. As you can see, the fall colors were quite choice. This is very late in the year to see this kind of color for an East Coaster.

We were drawn to Broemmelsiek Park for its astronomy center. Really need to go star-gazing there one night.

A moment that felt tailor-made for a shot.

The park has several ponds. This one was probably my favorite.

After our journey we went to the Fireside Bar and Grill in New Melle. They didn’t have a ton of gluten-free options, but I can heartily recommend the bacon-cheese dip. Just make sure you have someone to share it.

We also happened to find the home of the Addams family in New Melle. Talk about a highlight! Hope you have a great weekend and week.

When The Parts Don’t Line Up

Hey there, welcome back. It’s Thursday again and you know what that means. That’s right. Prepare yourself for thrills, chills, and literary spills as I try to figure out what the hell I’m doing. It’s all a process, though, right? Right.

These days I have my hands on my hips and am shaking my head at the damn weather. Summer seemed to last well through to the middle of October (with a few reprieves here and there), then we got a week of Autumn, and now it’s straight on to winter, with sub-freezing temperatures and a thick layer of frost a week after 70-degree temperatures. I’m told this is par for the course for St. Louis, that we experience wild swings in weather all the time to the point that it’s very unpredictable, to which I can only say ayyyyy. Oh well, I suppose we’ll get used to it sooner or later.

At least the writing continues to move forward. This was my week off from In the Pines, which meant Elkmont, Elkmont, and more Elkmont. I’m working my way through “act 2” of the story treatment and already hit a portion that was driving me crazy. To set the scene, one of the five podcasters/YouTube stars goes missing (abducted, as it turns out, but they don’t know this), and an argument ensues as the others realize that their stoner friend hasn’t just wandered off and may be in trouble. Night has settled in and there’s a certain danger (aside from anything supernatural) inherent in exploring an abandoned mining town with little more than a flashlight and night-vision camera. You know, things like collapsing structures and falling through holes in the ground and whatnot.

The ever-lovely “star” of the show flat-out refuses to explore, as he’s above all that. This leaves the three somewhat rational members of the team debating on how to handle things. All agree that they need to search for their friend and no one person can do it alone. Skip ahead a bit and the two female protagonists, currently known as Katie and Theresa, are exploring the burnt ruins of the rich side of town while the ever-dutiful Bill “Country” Simas watches over the arrogant star of the show, James.

And here’s where I ran into trouble. My original plan was to have the stoner character, currently known as TeeTee, be dragged to the town square by a hostile group and we don’t see the male characters again until Katie and Theresa return to camp to find a nasty surprise. But my brain locked up on me here, refused to move forward. As always, I realized that when this happens it means that this is not how the story is supposed to proceed. So I backed up and rethought the scene structure. Theresa and Katie still have their adventure, but they don’t make it back to camp right away. James and Country have a minor altercation before things turn for the worst for them, and the two parties get split up for the remainder of Act Two.

The end of Act Two, of course, is supposed to leave your characters in the darkest of places, so we’re building toward that. I can’t tell you what that looks like, exactly, as even I don’t know yet, but I do understand the forces that are at work in the town and have some faith that I’m back on track.

Of course, tomorrow I return to In the Pines and try to nail down the fourth (and hopefully final) version of the story outline. My goal is to start writing the real thing on 12/1 and power through that first draft, but we’ll see how the outlining goes. These things, as you know, rarely work out as planned. I just have to go with the flow.

On a personal note, had a rather quiet weekend, as I participated in Extra Life 2017 on Saturday for potentially the last time (just no interest from folks and no donations. My time could be better spent). On Sunday we headed out into the badlands of Central Missouri despite being under a tornado watch and…well, just check out some of the stuff we found. As always, you can see more at my dumb little Instagram account. See you next week.

The Insurance Company Spire of Doom.

Love the look of a cornfield in November. So…melancholy.

Found this at an abandoned power substation. Not ominous at all.

More of that abandoned substation. Neighbors were paranoid about me taking pictures, but eh.

AMERICA FUCK YEAH

Found this in a little dive bar in Chain of Rocks, MO that was about 99% nicotine particles. Didn’t have any quarters 🙁

Ripple

Hey hey, it’s Thursday again, and you know what that means – blog time. Still hanging in there, still writing, still enjoying the hell out of it, though I find myself in a bit of a “situation” with In the Pines. This is the same kind of situation that has plagued me in the past, but as I said in the past, at least this time it’s on the outline level and the fix is measured in days rather than months.

Here’s the situation: as planned, I picked up the outline again on Friday, with grand plans to hone it to Version 3 and from there take a hop, skip, and a jump to Version 4 and then the first draft of the actual novel. Things were chugging along rather well, with an adjustment here or there, until I hit the portion of the story where Morgan comes home to find that her once-vibrant-cum-sickly mother has “recovered” and turned into a sickly-sweet manic version of herself. I went forward with a taken on this chapter that featured Morgan and Rosa (who are now attached at the hip because of Morgan’s off-the-rails boyfriend) dealing with this crazy but ultimately well-meaning mother.

And it just felt flat, which is obviously not something you want from a scene that’s supposed to be filled with manic energy. I puzzled over the problem, how to fix the scene and such, and realized that it might not be “fixable” as such; the dynamic entirely changed with Rosa in tow and I was not about to remove Rosa from the scene.  So the scene itself had to change. But how? Again, I searched my thoughts. The scene needed more tension to keep it from falling flat. What if her mother wasn’t so well-meaning? What if the nature of her “change” was far more sinister and threatening? From there it wasn’t a long trip to one of the book’s underlying themes: sexual agency and confusion.

A horror mentor long ago told me that one of the most powerful emotional taps that we can touch when creating horror is the sexual side; it’s part of what’s made Stephen King so effective, even if he comes across as a crazy creeper in some instances. Horror is about eliciting a response, about touching on the reader’s emotions, and to be honest I feel like sexuality has been something that I’ve kept at arms’ length in my genre works (not the literary novel I’m writing though, that’s for sure). I don’t want to give away the turn here as it’s pivotal to the second act of the book, but I think I found an effective way to combine sexuality and terror. At first I recoiled from the idea, but shit, isn’t that what I want the reader to feel, to empathize with what Morgan is going through? So I went for it, and it’s taking the second act of the book in a completely different direction.

I think I can circle back to the original ending, sort of, but there’s going to be a new subtext and a dude-in-distress subplot that I hadn’t considered before. As you can imagine, this is going to mean that the fourth version of the outline will need considerable massaging, so that mythical first draft is still a little way down the path. The good news is that if I keep this pace up, we could be looking at the end of Version 3 by the end of this week. Then it’s back to plotting Elkmont.

Just goes to show the ripples that a change in direction can send across the surface of even a well-planned novel, to torture the hell out of the metaphor.

In other news, this weekend I’ll once again be playing for Extra Life, trying to raise money for St. Louis Children’s Hospital, though I have to admit to being an utter failure to this point. Not that I can blame anyone; if your autumn has been anything like ours, money is precious. But if you happen to be able to give, please consider doing so at this link. I will be livestreaming off-and-on during the day, depending on which system I’m using.

Finally made our way back east of the Mississippi river Saturday, to a town called Alton, Illinois. Picturesque little place, though it appears to be struggling like many other once-industrial cities in similar settings. I’ve included some pictures below, as I’m obviously never getting to those Friday photo posts again. If you happen to be in that neck of the woods, I highly recommend checking out Bluff City Grill. Fantastic comfort food, nice bar, and great atmosphere. We’ll definitely be going back.

Downtown Alton.

A Jacoby Art Center Halloween display.

More of the Halloween display. Spoopy with a chance of skeleton.

Finally feeling like Autumn out here.

This place rocks.

Understand the Plan

Apologies for not hitting that Friday post last week, but work continues to be hectic and I’m fortune to get even one blog entry out the door. So hey, consider this a victory alone.

Considering life’s pace, I’m actually quite happy with how much writing I’ve done over the last week. Believe it or not, I’m on track to at least equal my productivity from last week and have made huge strides of progress where Elkmont is concerned. I’m about halfway through the “first act”, which entails the arrival of the characters, and am getting a good feel for their personalities and the clashes inherent in their goals. I’ve found a pretty good way to manage these, which I’ll talk about in a moment, but first I’d like to talk about physicality.

I am an intensely visual person, which is probably why I favor photography so much. I’m drawn to the unusual, the captured moment that reveals something you might not have noticed otherwise. It’s probably related to my love of the obscure (and not in a hipster way, more in that I find some divinity in those small details) and overlooked. When I create a character, they pop into my head visually. I can “see” their height, weight, hair color, etc.

Big deal, I’m sure you’re saying. Most writers do this, as it’s a big part of reading. Fair enough. I tell you this because I also find it important to imagine a story’s “stage”, to understand the overall workings of that world and how the locations fit together. In some instances I’m writing about a place that I know and can wander in my head. In others, not so much. When it comes to a place that’s been abandoned for 50+ years, it becomes even more difficult, as the original details of the place become obscured. How much is left of that building, for example, and has the foundation shifted? I can see bits and pieces of this place in my head but pulling it all together into a cohesive whole eluded me. I found myself itching to create a map of the place, and just decided what the hell; why not do it? So I took a pen and paper and took five minutes to sketch this out.

Yeah, my handwriting is spider-poop.

Not only does it give me the lay of the land, it also allows me to put the story beats into a physical context and have an idea, for example, of how far a character has to run to get from the general store to the hospital. Incredibly helpful, and something I plan to do for the rest of my books in the future. And it works on the micro level, as well; I created a map of the hospital as well and found that the contours of that building suggested some twists and turns to the character interactions. Which brings me to my other “map”: the character motivation map.

Elkmont promises to be my first book written from the point of view of multiple characters, and I need to do each of them justice, so each has their own subplots that thread together and form a background to the overarching plot. This means a need to understand what each character wants, both overall and through the different phases of the story. The answer seemed simple: I needed a chart. Beware, this chart has some spoilers, but I can tell you already that some of these details have already changed, so there’s no guarantee that they will hold.

As I said, the table captures overall goals for the characters, any observations about those goals and how they interact with other characters and the overall plot arc, goals for the three different acts, and obstacles to those goals in each act. The very idea of laying these down, like the hospital map, suggested certain contours. Katie and James both want to make a great YouTube documentary, but for very different reasons. This will cause some dynamic push-and-pull between them as they work together one moment to better the show and then butt heads in others when James insists on being the center of attention because of his marketability. And one character’s lack of ambition will grind at another character. And so on. Add those elements to the overall plot, which involves a dark hidden secret and vengeful ghosts of the past, and you’ve got yourself a stew, baby. Or at least the suggestion of an overall plot.

So I’m feeling pretty good about where I am with Elkmont. This is the giddy portion of the program, where I can just lay down stupid ideas and see if they go anywhere (usually not) and then winnow and shape as we move forward. Tomorrow I’ll be putting the story to a rest, though, with work on “Soul Eater” resuming. And while I haven’t done too much thinking about Soul Eater beyond finding a new title, potentially In the Pines, I also feel like I’ve learned a lot from the Elkmont experience and can transfer those findings over to the third draft of the outline. Before you know it, it’s going to be time to expand that outline into the real deal.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Hope everyone has a great weekend and a great Halloween, if you celebrate. We’ll be seeing the original Halloween on the silver screen Saturday night, after seeing the Exorcist last Saturday. Have to love those $5 horror movies during the Halloween season.

The Small Victories

Welcome back! I’m glad to report that you’re catching me on the upswing, which is a rare and beautiful thing this time of year (I’m usually starting that downward slide into the SAD doldrums right around now). Thankfully, I’m on the mend physically, mentally, and emotionally. The return to work has done me a world of good. I’d love to be that person who works better from home full-time, but I’ve learned that such excursions should be limited for my own mental well-being. For whatever reason, I prefer to work with the sound of other people around me, and some hustle and bustle. I suppose for the same reason that I prefer to work under some pressure – the imposed limitations push me. If ever I were lucky enough to become a full-time fiction writer, I would likely rent an office, or venture to the local coffee shop for work. I suppose that would be cheaper than rent.

Anyway, my point is that I’m doing better, and my brain ticked over at some point last week. I mean, I wrote over 18,000 words, a high point for this year. And this in the midst of taking on a new role at work and an increased workload as a coworker and friend transferred to another department. This week has been a little more difficult as I pick up the pieces, but I’ve found that each small victory bolstered my confidence and gave me what I needed. I think I’ll still hit 10K words this week, as I’m already sitting at the threshold. That was my old goal, and it would be nice to hit that consistently again now that I’m out from under a few shadows. The key is to make the time, and I think I’ve found a way to do it.

Enough of that talk. How about the actual writing? Once upon a time I had thought that the second draft outline of Soul Eater would be finished on Monday, but the job transition and related exhaustion changed those plans. The good news is that it was not a permanent change, and I finished that outline up yesterday. As always, the process surfaced some more ideas and issues with the approach. I know I went over some of this last week, but I feel okay digging into specifics now.

The original idea for this story revolved around a male millennial character who was a video game streamer and worked at the local gas station. His life was going nowhere, and he felt stuck living with his mother, who had moved them out of the city and into the exurbs to offer him a better life. Ethan proved to be a cypher, however; I could get into his surface emotions but had trouble digging deeper into his motivations. In addition to that, I figured out about halfway through the draft that I would need to shift perspectives from Ethan to Morgan, who Ethan pretty much knew as his best friend’s girl. And I learned that Morgan was easier to understand and presented more compelling options for the story. I finished that draft and chewed over the idea of shifting protagonists, as I always end up doing.

Shifting to Morgan has proven to be the right call, and I have made her friend Rosa far more important to the story than the original, while Ethan has receded to victim status. But this has brought a new set of complications: the story feels rushed, and a theme has surfaced that demands finesse. The good news is that the theme is crystal-clear, I just need to decide if I want to follow it to its logical end. I don’t know. If I don’t, I will need to do some more retooling. I’ve decided to let the story sit until next Friday while I chase the Elkmont dragon to its den in the mountains.

And what a den it’s turning out to be. It’s way too early to talk specifics, but this is the one that I mentioned last week that features a group of YouTube actors filming a lost town in the West Virginia mountains. A theme has already surfaced for this one, and I think it might be strong. I’ll have more to report next week on that front.

That’s all for this week. Look for more tomorrow, with the weekly photo post, and thanks for joining me again.

Extra Life, The Nationals, and Picture Log for 10/6 to 10/12

Time for the Friday housecleaning entry. I had originally intended these entries to be photo-only, but I think this is also a good place to tackle whatever happens to be on my mind, clear the cobwebs and reset for the weekend. I’m going to try to avoid talking about writing in these entries, but we’ll see if I can stick to that.

First of all, I’ll again be participating in Extra Life this year. For those who don’t know, Extra Life is an annual video game marathon/fundraiser that helps out the Children’s Miracle Network, a lifesaving organization committed to providing quality care for children, no matter what their ability to pay. Having grown up a bit disadvantaged myself, it’s a cause that is near and dear to my heart that aligns with one of my hobbies, so it’s a real no-brainer to participate.

I’m going to be honest; I’m struggling for donations this year. This is my fourth year, and each year I’ve seen dwindling returns, to the point that I am the sole donor at this moment. And this despite keeping my social media commitment and at times exceeding it. I’m not sure what else I can do, but I – and the children – could really use your help. I would be so grateful if you could contribute, even a dollar will help. My page is at https://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=275297.

Okay, enough of that. Moving on. It’s funny, I had this rambling diatribe planned for the next section of this entry, but now that I’m actually sitting down to write it, I’m at a loss for words. Here’s the deal: I’m a baseball fan. Baseball, not just my team, though I do love my team…well, teams. I grew up a Baltimore Orioles fan (though sadly too young to truly enjoy the 1983 Championship team) and still follow them, but my primary team became the Washington Nationals as I watched them stumble through the early years. Hell, I was present at that god-awful first game, and I’m talking FIRST, the April 3rd 2005 pre-season charity game at RFK stadium. They were terrible for those early years, but by God they were our team.

Which brings me to last night. And 2012. And 2014. And 2016. Heartbreak every single time. Last year it kind of became apparent that this team was lacking “something”. I’m not talking intangibles, as I’m not necessarily a big believer in that kind of thing, but for whatever reason, the pitching and hitting just did not click together as a machine. Championship teams, you usually see that happen – they get the hits they need at the time they need them, the pitchers come up strong, the defense works at the right time. Honestly, last night, while the Cubs were a bit of a mess, I saw it with them way more than the Nationals. See some of Javier Baez’s plays, or Heyward’s grab of Matt Weiters’ fly ball. The Nationals had their moments during this series, for sure, but it just never gelled. I’m not going to point fingers because there’s plenty of blame to go around, though for once I’m not sure that Dusty Baker is actually the problem. He made a few questionable moves, but it’s hard to second-guess most of them.

Anyway, I think it’s time to blow up this current iteration of the team. Hold on to Harper and Rendon until the trade deadline next year so they can up their value, then trade them for some young talent. Harper in particular should bring back some nearly-ML ready talent. Give Victor Robles the chance now that we’re free of Jayson Werth. See if you can deal Daniel Murphy now and give Wilmer Difo a shot at second. Try to build the offense around players like Carter Kieboom and Juan Soto. Trade Strasburg. Not sure what you do with Max Scherzer because of his contract, but maybe someone will take him. Fill the gaps with reclamation projects until the kids start arriving, see if some of those pan out.

I will always have a soft place in my heart for this iteration of the team (except maybe Gio Gonzalez), but this series made it clear that its time is past. There’s no sense in clinging to it anymore. Might as well salvage what we can from this nightmare.

All right, enough baseball nerding. On with the pictures.

Visited a great used game store in St. Charles, MO on Saturday. Wish I could afford one of these machines. Or put it anywhere.

Picked up this rare “import” vinyl from our local record store. I used to be a big Nirvana bootleg collector back in the 90s, so I couldn’t resist this, especially for the price.

El Tio Pepe’s in O’Fallon is already proving to be our local favorite Mexican place. Reminds me a lot of this authentic place we had back in Harrisonburg.

Caught this gorgeous sunset in St. Charles right after we got out of Blade Runner 2049. Fantastic movie, by the way.

Monday morning was crazy foggy. This isn’t my picture, but it really captivates my imagination.

October is the season for horror soundtracks on vinyl! This is a limited edition copy of “The Void” soundtrack, from Mondo records. Synth goodness.

Bertram was feeling particularly affectionate toward his mother. He’s gotten very sweet in his old age.

And last, the NLDS of doom. See you next week.

And We’re Back!

Not like I intended to leave in the first place, but being in pain will do funny things to your productivity. And make no mistake, I was in pain. A lot of it. I’ll spare the delicate nature of what went down, but suffice it to say that I had a lot of pain in a very sensitive place, and it ended up necessitating surgery. Minimally invasive, outpatient surgery, but surgery nonetheless – itself very painful, painful enough to cut through the general anesthesia. So you have two weeks before surgery and two weeks after for recovery and you get to the month we’ve had since the last entry. But I have not abandoned you, dear reader, and I have not abandoned my work. In fact, since Sunday I’ve been back to the grindstone better than ever.

I believe I’ve mentioned my latest project, a relatively straightforward horror novel. The interesting thing is that, as part of this project, I’ve developed a new method of drafting that seems to mitigate my worst habits. But let me back up.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks with my novels in the past has been my tendency to get three-quarters of the way through a story and realizing that it’s not working in its current form. I mean, hell, Corridors of the Dead was a different book altogether at first, with a different protagonist, which I retooled entirely. Room 3 went through several different iterations and a complete rewrite, as did Room 3 and Came to Believe, which is still stuck in Clusterfuckistan and may not make it out for another year or so. Clearly, the idea of doing the bare minimum of planning then diving in and adjusting on the fly was not working. Came to Believe even had a relatively complete plan before I started drafting, but it still fell victim to the same problems. So half-planning didn’t work, and going by the seat of my pants definitely didn’t work. A new approach was needed. I went down the full-on planning road.

So far it’s working out. As often happens, I quickly realized that problems with the POV character would necessitate a change in protagonists and in the dynamic of some relationships. I also learned that the first protagonist was kind of a cypher, somewhat boring. Another character stepped to the front of the stage, and the second draft of the plot has been all about her. In the course of creating this second draft, I’ve realized that there are pacing issues that can be shored up here and there, which will be addressed in the third draft. But I think you see where I’m going: in the past I might have written 75 to 100K words before discovering the protagonist didn’t work, which would necessitate a months-long total rewrite. In this case, I discovered it within 15,000 words of the plot, and the update is going to take a couple of weeks. And again I might have gotten through that second 75 to 100k word round and discovered the pacing didn’t work, so now I have to insert a chapter here and there then go through the text again to account for any ripple effects. Cue another six months or so. As it stands now, my plot is about 22,000 words, but again it will only take a week or two to insert the new chapters and adjust accordingly. By the time I’m finished, I’ll have a pretty good skeleton of the story that will be pretty easy to drape flesh over.

I’m hopeful enough about this new process that I’ve already started brainstorming another story idea and am allowing that to develop organically. I’m not ready to fully talk about that one yet, but it involves YouTube wannabes and a long-lost abandoned town in the mountains.

Anyway, thanks to those of you who have stuck around all this time. I can’t promise that the road will be clear from here on out, but I am doing my damnedest to stay on it. Hopefully you see some more fiction from me sooner rather than later.

A Week in Photos: 9/1 – 9/8 2017

Welcome to a new and hopefully ongoing feature, A Week in Photos. While I have many creative passions, the top two in my heart are writing and photography. I make my living with writing, but I would happily do the same with photography, if it were possible. Since it’s not, at least not now, I make sure to take at least one picture every day, whether it’s for practicing the art or just capturing the moment. A lot of these go on my Instagram page, but I can’t just post every photo. So I want to share some here. This is my last week, in photos.

Our three-day weekend started in Creve Coeur, Missouri with a visit to the Sugarfire BBQ restaurant. This was our first proper Missouri BBQ and good lord was it amazing.

After lunch we slipped next door to the Sugarfire Pie Shop, which featured the Greatest Bathroom Ever – a Twin Peaks-themed one. Of course Mary got the cherry pie.

More of the bathroom.

After lunch we headed to downtown St. Louis to see – what else? – the Arch.

That wasn’t all, though. We stopped on some side streets to walk around a bit and take some pictures. Downtown St. Louis actually has some beautiful buildings. It’s a shame that it’s mostly deserted on the weekend.

This great clock was attached to an abandoned building.

The Civil Court building, which looks very much like a Masonic temple, was just around the corner. Its architecture really struck us.

A close-up of the memorial in front of the building.

Sunday through Wednesday were mostly lazy days.

Forgot to gas up the car over the weekend, so I had to do it Thursday morning, which cost me commute time. While I was there, the sun exploded.

It’s been quite some time since I had a room that I could call “my own”, so I’ve been making the most of this new mancave by decorating it in a neon-chrome video game theme. This Atari neon sign arrived from eBay yesterday and it’s everything I thought it could be.

Friday morning September moon brings up to speed. See you all next week, when I anticipate pictures of St. Charles, MO.

Is It The Future Or Is It The Past? A Post-Mortem on Cooper’s Journey

Welcome back! I hope you had a good week. Mine could have been better, as physical issues put the kibosh on cooking out for Labor Day, but such is life.

Quick update on writing: I have finished the final versions of Chapters one and two in Came to Believe, and am now up to Chapter three, which is a whole new chapter and may take a little longer. But things are moving forward.

This week I want to talk about theTwin Peaks ending. Yes, THAT one. I won’t belabor the point, but I’ve talked about the show at length and it’s been a huge influence in not only my writing, but my overall thinking and worldview. Today I’m going to look back at one of my older posts, about Dale Cooper as the Magician, and see how close to the cut I was in some of my predictions and share some thoughts on the ending of season 3.

First, let’s look at my predictions for a season 3 Cooper:

How do we know he must ultimately ascend? Because he fails in facing his dark side. The show ended with one hell of a cliffhanger, his (doppelgänger) body possessed by Laura Palmer’s killer while he was trapped in the Black Lodge, a victim of his own failure to overcome the darkness within him. It’s fairly easy to extrapolate where the show would have gone from there…In order to become a master magician, the apprentice must face his or her own demons in what is known as the Abyss, represented by the High Priestess, whose light helps the apprentice pass through.

From there, Cooper would likely have learned to turn back the darkness inside of him, return, and reclaim his body, at which point he’d be transformed and truly be a master of the two worlds.  I imagine we would have seen what lay beyond the Black Lodge, as well. Even without seeing the completion of the journey, it’s easy to say that Cooper will become accomplished in both worlds.

I would argue that, while I could not possibly have predicted the way that Season 3 would go (and am ultimately ambivalent about the stuff surrounding Cooper’s journey), I pretty much nailed this one, even down to the High Priestess in the form of Janey-E,  but didn’t count on the contours of the journey or where he would end up, probably due to my own naiveté about the journey to mastery.

First, to the prediction of Cooper turning back his own darkness, I hadn’t really thought through that leaving the lodge would entail an unearned redemption; that Cooper’s reliance on outside factors would initially be his undoing.

To summarize where we are up to the point of Cooper’s reawakening in Episode 16: Cooper enters the Black Lodge with “imperfect courage” and confronts his shadow self/doppelgänger, who is working in league with Bob. Terrified, Cooper flees, loses to this shadow self, and ends up trapped in the waiting room for 25 years while his evil side rampages in the real world.

Eventually the planets literally align and it’s time for Cooper to come out of the waiting room; to, in essence, wake up from the coma. But the problem is that Cooper has not earned this awakening, and his shadow self is not so eager to give up control now that it’s held it for so long. It sets up a trap, sidetracking him to the glass box in New York (and in the process opening the door to something far darker) before sling-shotting him to the location of Mr. C’s tulpa, Dougie Jones.

In the process Cooper’s most powerful weapon, his intellect, is stripped from him, and he ends up in some netherworld between coma and waking life, with his body ambulating and his consciousness aware of what’s going on, but the connection between the two severed. This, I would argue, is where Cooper attempts once again to cross “the abyss”.

Now where I failed in my previous thinking – and possibly where Cooper failed – is in the thinking that he would have to do this alone. Quite the opposite, in fact. I would argue that one of the lessons of the series (and one that Cooper himself repeats in the show’s endgame) is that we cannot do it alone; though he faces trials, he has the support of a supernatural guardian in MIKE, an older mentor in Bushnell Mullins, and the High Priestess herself, Janey-E, who acts as a combination advocate and protector during Cooper’s path to rediscovering himself.

By the time Cooper awakens, when he hears the echo of a name from another lifetime and shocks himself into awareness, he has “had his heart filled” by the people around him. So it’s difficult to call the path through the abyss of Dougie-Coop just Cooper’s own path.

So yes, Cooper awakens and is full of purpose. One would even say…mastery? Full of courage, he sets off at once for Twin Peaks to confront his shadow self. There’s just one problem: he never actually gets to confront that self. That task falls to another “fool”, Lucy, whose husband was chosen by the white lodge to set these events in motion. And the task of defeating Bob falls to another of the White Lodge’s chosen few, a young man named Freddie. Cooper simply ends up being a ringleader here, not the master of his own destiny.

I was myself a fool when I thought that Episode 17 would make the perfect ending for the series. It would not, because again Cooper has not completed the journey. I think that’s reflected in the fact that he seems to observe the last moments of that episode from a distance, acting within the scene but also watching himself in the form of an overlay on the screen. He has, essentially, been cast back into the abyss. I haven’t quite puzzled together why “the Fireman” chose these other agents – that could be an entry for another time I suspect – but Cooper soon takes it upon himself to try to change the past altogether, to erase Laura’s death and reset the timeline.

Well now, I’m not going to talk about Judy, in fact we’re not going to talk about Judy at all. I’m still chewing on the whole Judy storyline and why MIKE and Cooper undertook this mission. That’s a murky bit of storytelling that I’m not going to wander into right now. Regardless, Cooper fails in his mission to save Laura (I’m sensing a pattern here) and ends up crossing worlds once again to try to find Laura’s “soul’ and take her home to her mother. Not going to spoil the ending here, but I think in the end we finally see Cooper reintegrated with the darkness in his soul, for better or (arguably) worse. There is a quite a bit of Mr. C in his mannerisms here. Does he fail in this ultimate mission? Lynch and Frost leave that ambiguous, at best, and by the end there’s still the lingering question of how much of the story really occurred at all and how much was in this version of Cooper’s head.

Ultimately success or failure really doesn’t seem to matter; mastery lies in the journey itself, which is why Cooper seems to be doomed to wander forever, repeating events with slight variations, over and over again. That is where I myself failed to understand the nature of mastery back in 2011. There is no real end-point for true mastery. It’s an evolutionary process. You may reach a peak that looked massive to you from the starting line only to find another, larger peak in the distance. So Cooper moves from the more present, physical dangers of BOB to the more identity-driven danger of Mr. C and on to the metaphysical dangers represented by Judy and this new reality. These could be seen to represent the magician’s journey from the physical to the ethereal (BOB), crossing over into the astral (the lodge and Mr. C) and now on into the spiritual and the very nature of the universe itself.

So we literally leave Cooper on the path (a street). There are plenty of places for the story to go from here, but if this is where it ends, I’m satisfied with Cooper’s journey.

But that doesn’t get into the other stuff, where I feel Frost and Lynch failed, and failed badly. I’ll talk about that another time.