A Bad Idea

Having another in a long chain of busy weeks, so I’ll keep the update brief and novel-focused today. Hit the halfway point on the second draft of Chapter 18 yesterday and I’m feeling good about its development. Should be one of those chapters that is good for review after the third draft, which is always a pleasant surprise. Some are more difficult than others. The current schedule looks like I’ll get to Chapter 19 right around Memorial Day week, which leaves the actual start date somewhere up in the air, as Mary and I are going on vacation that week. Sometimes I write on vacations, but I’ve found that weeks off can also be beneficial, so we’ll see how that all shakes off.

I’ve been setting long-term goals lately and I’m going to be doing my damnedest to get the initial version of the novel done by Labor Day weekend (the second anniversary of its creation). That gives me about 12 weeks to get through 6 chapters. Tight schedule, but doable with a good project plan. From there it goes to beta readers in early September and then on to my editor in early October, after which I’ll start shopping it around for an agent. I’m hoping to place it by the end of the year, but clearly that’s out of my hands beyond the submission process. I’m not sure when you’ll get the final version in your hands, but I think the delays have been worth it so far.

Speaking of release and previews and whatnot, my good friend Mary Doyle tagged me on a “777” challenge last week, wherein you’re supposed to share 7 sentences from page 7 of your work in progress, and tag seven other writers to share their own. I knew that would be a challenging portion of the novel, but I went for it. Unfortunately, it didn’t go so well. Didn’t get many comments or likes and no one took up the challenge, the sort of thing that’ll make a writer incredibly insecure, especially when you’ve poured the better part of two years into a book.

It sounds odd, but the good news is that the sentences came across as kind of creepy and weird; I say good because it’s not a reflection on the novel itself, but rather the format. As Mary (the wife, not Doyle) pointed out, Dean seemed like a serial killer in the posted snippet, one who was leading a naive 16-year-old girl into an abandoned park. Robbed of context, it had quite the sinister air. Now, Dean is many things at the opening of the novel – a womanizer, a snob, and a total asshole, but he’s not a rapist and/or killer. I mean, there’s skeevy and then there’s SKEEVY. He’s the former, not the latter.

Concerned about the long-term health of the novel, I shared the first three chapters with Mary (again, the wife) and she liked them, agreeing that context was essential to understanding the scene. Wipe the sweat from my brow on that one.

So, yeah, note to self, never share this kind of stuff without proper context, as it can come across quite disastrously. Strictly proper previews from here on out, and you’ll be the first to know. Live and learn, and whatnot.

Anyway, back to other matters. Catch you next week.

Gimme That (Old?) Time Religion

Hey everybody, it’s Wednesday, and you know what that means. That’s right, blog time!

I have a few things to talk about this week, but let’s start with the status update. Last week I had just finished Chapter 17 and planned to move on to Chapter 18 and…that’s where I remain. I’ve made some progress, just not as much as I would prefer, as the critique group intervened on the latter half of the week.

And that’s okay! I get so much value out of the experience that it’s not exactly a sacrifice. I got through the work with nary a scratch and traveled to the dreaded Baltimore for the meeting. As you can see, the place was in flames and I’m lucky to have gotten out with my life:

Baltimore2

 

Anyway, Chapter 18. I would like to be farther along, but the last few days have been focused on honing the chapter’s opening paragraphs. The problem? It felt too non-committal, too vague, which happens when your protagonist is blasted out of his minds on benzos. The scene needed juice, but how to get it? Ah, of course: look at it from the point of view of a critique. One thing never really added up, and it provided a hook for the scene. You see, Lindsay takes Dean to her place and Dean’s knowledge of the street on which she lives makes him a little uneasy. That prompted the question, how did he know of the street’s reputation, and what about it made him uneasy?

The street itself doesn’t have a bad reputation back home; my impression is entirely based on my own experiences. So why not share Dean’s experiences? It would give the reader more backstory and increase his anxiety about what might happen. That pushed things forward, and now I’m up to the part where he sees her apartment for the first time. Hopefully I can get farther in the next few days.

Now that other item that I wanted to talk about. I want to share a quick…well, ‘response’ is not quite the right word. Inspired post? Maybe that’ll work. On Saturday I was sitting around waiting for breakfast when this wonderful post from my friend Aniko Carmean popped up. I tried to write a few responses on her site, but they all felt kind of flat. The thing is, she was bravely sharing about a spiritual matter in her life, and everything felt like an empty pat on the back rather than a one-to-one relation. Thinking more about it, I realized it was a blog post. So…here you go. But first, read her post, it’s a good one.

Aniko, I get you. I’ve always been a spiritual seeker, and felt that hollow space in my life for a long time. I grew up Mormon, though we weren’t the most devout of members (at least until I was about eight years old). Still, even without being devout, I felt that I had some answers about what the afterlife looked like, what it meant to be spiritual, and the general shape of my “religious life”, for lack of a better term, going forward.

Then my teen years happened and, as teenagers often do, I found myself dissatisfied with the answers. Problem was, I looked around at my friends and most seemed pretty happy with what they had. My Baptist friends went to their church…well, religiously, and believed in the doctrine. Same for my Mennonite friends. And so on. It seemed that most people had not only been given a formula for spiritual happiness, but accepted it and found happiness. Age has revealed my situation to be far from unique, but it was a scary place as a kid growing up in the Bible Belt.

Maybe I didn’t have the right set of answers. I attended the Baptist church, sat in with the Mennonites, Brethren, Apostolic, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist…. I would have gone to mosque or temple or whatever else if they had been available to a poor rural kid in the 90s. I craved one of two things: either a “peak experience”, that one moment of insight, the universal curtain pulled back; or a sense of spiritual satisfaction.

Both proved elusive.

I turned to other methods of pursuing it as I got older, from drugs to meditation to magick, and while meditation proved beneficial, none of them got me to where I wanted to be. Still I had that aching spiritual hole, and I ended up acting in desperate and self-destructive ways as a result of this absence. Things didn’t change until I started attending 12-step meetings. Though the concept is usually accused of centering on Christian values, I found that it fused my mindfulness lessons with some Buddhist philosophies. I don’t know if it was the system itself or simply being in the right place and right time in my life, but it brought me to a place where I finally started to achieve that peace. I learned how to be happy with what I had, to accept that I can’t control everything (or even most things), and to look for the beauty in the moment.

My understanding has continued to evolve, and I’ve since learned that my temple, my church, is right here, on the page. The sanctuary for my soul is literally at my fingertips. Writing is my form of communion, a connection with the beauty that underlies life and what some might call God, or the universe. I prefer to think of it as the initial creative impulse. I’ve given up on a precise definition for my beliefs. This very absence defines the one thing that has eluded me this whole time: an understanding that you can’t (or at least I can’t) “pin down” a religious experience. It’s ephemeral by its very nature, a butterfly flitting from one petal to another. Each of those experiences over the year was my religious practice, whether it happened in a pristine chapel or a dirty basement, under a Protestant roof or a Catholic tent. The very pursuit was an authentic religious experience, with my obsessive quest for some sort of resolution or ending as a fools’ errand, focusing on the finger rather than the stars to which it points.

I’m not always happy or sedate. I have my bad days like anyone else, but I do at least have some refuge to which I can return on a consistent basis. I would worry about what happens when it goes away, but what is the point of that? The moment is what matters. That’s all I need, literally, for right now.

Anyway, enough rambling. Hopefully that made some semblance of sense. If not, I’ll be back next week with a lot less ramble. See you then.

Just Like Starting Over

Happy Wednesday, everybody, hope your week’s going well so far? Mine’s going okay, certainly better than the last few weeks. No sprained knee (well, still sprained, but feeling much better), and no cold. Some allergies, but hey, it’s Spring, and at least it comes along with the annual Springtime energy boost.The rites of Spring, you know: flowering trees, watery eyes, and 10,000 words a week. Or something like that.

Work on Came to Believe is moving along at a much quicker pace these days. Finished Chapter 17 yesterday, which brought the incubation time to a little over two weeks. Sounds slow, but believe me, it’s a major improvement on the debacle of Chapter 16.

So this means that self-edits on Chapter 17 are knocked out and to the critique group. Then the beta readers and editor and so on. I think that means the chapter will have gone through six or seven drafts by the time it reaches your hands? Anyway, we’re all about the rigorous quality control over here, that’s what I’m trying to say. The chapter came out better than expected, as digs into Lindsay’s more awkward (and endearing) qualities and draws the reader closer to understanding her, all the while showing a growing self-awareness in Dean’s head.

Stepped a bit outside the box on this one by doing something I had not done before: for a brief moment I separated the narrator from Dean’s headspace. Here’s the deal: at this point Dean is starting to experience new emotions, but he doesn’t have the emotional intelligence to sort through them or to even begin to put words to what they mean. Normally I’d just refer to them as an amorphous blob that he didn’t understand, but in this chapter his actions are kind of inscrutable without understanding the ambivalence he’s suffering. So I took the risk. I ran the idea (and the paragraphs) by a few people and they thought it worked okay, but we’ll really see if it pays off when I put it to the critique group. I just don’t want to risk the reader losing their connection to the character. We shall see.

Next up is Chapter 18, which I’ve described before, I believe. This is the scene where Dean goes back to Lindsay’s place for the first time and gets his first real glimpse into her day-to-day. I’m looking forward to it, as it’s a  joy to write Lindsay and this is another Lindsay-centric chapter. I’m getting really excited about writing her novel.

Not sure how much of Chapter 18 I’ll get to work on this week, as this is our critique group weekend and there are three sets of pages to which I must attend. No resentment here, though; the process always energizes me and makes me more excited to return to my  work with new insight. Good stuff, always.

 

Really rediscovering my love of writing. I suppose the “love” has always been there, but at times it’s the equivalent of a marriage: stable, happy, and reliable, but sometimes it’s a great deal of work. That sort of love. I’m talking more about the honeymoon phase, the very romance that led me to name this site Shaggin the Muse. Everyday I look forward to spilling  new ideas and emotions onto the page, really digging in and spending time with the characters. I can only credit the time off for illness a few weeks back, but whatever, it’s paid off. I’ve missed this feeling and hope that it can keep going for awhile. Writing  is awesome when you strip it of the desperation and frustration of the business. Sometimes you just need a reminder of the beauty that’s contained within the process, of the transcendent qualities of art, regardless of whether you reach an audience at all. Hopefully it shines through in the final product.

That’s all I have to say for this week. I’ll be back next week with some more information on Chapter 18 and maybe some more information on that Lindsay novel and my vision for the series.

 

Part of the Big Plan

Hey all, yeah, I know, I haven’t updated in about a month, maybe a little over. Sorry about that. The last month has been a total and complete…well, morass would be the more PC term, but I think clusterfuck is more appropriate. Started off with a major work disappointment (though that one looks more like a blessing in disguise as days go on), then a busy schedule for a major release at work, then the dual whammy of a bad cold and a leg injury. As you can imagine, productivity took a dip. Last week was the worst, though; imagine a cold where you only develop the token symptoms of a runny nose and rusty voice but your brain is complete and total fuzz and you just want to sleep 23 hours a day. Then imagine trying to write through that mess. Yeah, didn’t happen so much. Not even work, where writing is a simple recitation of facts and analysis, was possible, let alone hard work where I dig into my emotions and experiences.

All in all, a rather unwelcome series of events, but it may have a silver lining, as I returned to the novel yesterday with a full force that I haven’t experienced in quite some time. Let’s catch up on the status, shall we? I think last time we talked I was nearing the finish line on Chapter 16 and had maybe started Chapter 17. Since then, I’ve finished the first draft of Chapter 17, split its two scenes into two separate chapters (as they were quite different in theme), and both embarked upon and finished the second draft of Chapter 17.

Yesterday was all about re-reading the chapter and identifying opportunities to expand upon the emotional textures and themes. I’m hoping to start that third draft today, but we’ll see. It’s going to be a busy day. I do expect this third draft to be the final version before critique review. Thank goodness this chapter didn’t turn into a morass like Chapter 16. That thing was a nightmare, but also much heavier on the emotional undertones. This is a Lindsay and Dean scene, and like all Lindsay and Dean scenes, something of a joy to write. They have a pretty complicated relationship, but damn if I don’t enjoy every moment that they’re together. Perhaps they’re destined for destruction in the long term, but their personalities work so well in the moment.

I’m hoping that Chapter 18 proves just as easy to write, as it’s a retooling of a scene in the first version of the novel wherein Dean goes to Lindsay’s place for the first time.  In the original version, this scene took place relatively early in the novel and followed their third date, which produced a certain level of sexual tension. In the new version they have never been on a date and it’s following the traumatic events of Chapters 15 and 16. In some ways, it’s actually far more intimate, as both characters have undergone recent traumas and developed a level of trust that didn’t exist at that point in the initial version, but at the same time they’re both very leery of sex. The anxieties and questions hanging between them are very different, but should be fun to work through.

Of course, all this focus on Chapters 17 and 18 meant a delay in the blog entries, and again I do apologize for that, but…I think it showed me what’s important. I’m not going to be writing the big entries like I was before, but I certainly can manage a few hundred words on current progress and where things are headed, if nothing else. Hope everyone has been okay?

Omens and Portents

Welcome back again. I regret to inform you guys that I am still not back up to normal speed. My schedule is so crazy at the moment that I can only fit in the bare minimum for blog posts, nothing like what I’ve been providing to you guys before. I’m hoping that next week gets back to the regularly-scheduled posts, but I can’t make that promise just yet. Work and other commitments are consuming my time like you wouldn’t believe, spilling well beyond work hours into the evening hours.

Isn’t it a strange time to be alive? Things have been kind of hush-hush, but I’ve been following some of the “exercises” in the Arctic and potential confrontations between NATO and Russia. Talk about disconcerting. Add to that the huge sun flare  that caused trouble all over the world and today’s eclipse and it becomes very tempting to regard this as the passage to something very dark. It’s likely all a coincidence, but I can’t deny being on edge more than once over the past week, especially over that whole military situation. That’s one that bears watching, I believe.

Anyway, let’s review what’s going on with my progress at the moment. Great news is that I finished Chapter 16! And I think it’s really, really good. Obviously I’m biased and it’s hard to judge your own work, but I look at it by the metric that it accomplishes exactly what I wanted it to accomplish and does so in a fairly weighty manner. It’s a chapter that needed to have a certain gravitas, and while it took a lot of maneuvering to get it there, I think I have it. Now my critique group will tell me if it works as a whole, but that’s for down the road.

In the meantime, I’m in the throes of Chapter 17, and the first draft is going along pretty quickly. I don’t know that I’ll complete it this week (again, owing to my schedule), but I would not be surprised to finish it early next week, maybe by Tuesday. I’ll do what I can to get at it this weekend. The great thing about Chapter 17 is that it’s relatively light after the heaviness of the previous 3 chapters. It’s a chance for the reader – and the author – to catch their breath. In this scene, Lindsay arrives at the hospital after having learned of something bad happening to one of the main characters, meeting up with Dean outside the entrance to the ER. They have a brief chat and, upon learning that they won’t get to see their friend that night, head back to Lindsay’s place to console one another and really get down to the business of knowing each other. The part at Lindsay’s place is going to be an adaptation of a previously-written scene from the original version of the novel, one that had served as the tail-end of their first date.

It’s dicey, given their mutual sex addictions, to put them both in one place at a highly-charged emotional period for both of them, but I think them choosing not to get intimate is a way bigger triumph for the characters, a sign that this relationship is a little different, means a little more. And it greases the wheels for the climax.

I also planned out the next three to four chapters last night, which gets me up to Chapter 21. I’m aiming for the book to be between 25 and 27, so the end is well in sight, it’s just a matter of the events that get us there and what the climax might look like. I have a pretty good idea of it, but I’m still allowing it to be somewhat fluid as events change so much between conception and actual execution. I’ve found this to be the best method for telling a story, as I’ve mentioned before – keep that balance between spontaneity and structure.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep cranking away and keep you guys updated. I really want to get this one done by August and a series of events have convinced me that it’s time to redouble my efforts to get there, even if it means pushing other priorities down the list (though not the day job, that one’s non-negotiable). Funny, though, I use that flashback app that rounds up your posts from the previous five years for that date and one of the recent posts talked about how I was going to have to write new chapters for this novel and how it would be a long process – oh how naive it feels.

So yeah. I still owe you guys a longer, more emotionally-charged post, but I’m not there yet, time-wise or emotion-wise. I also owe you the continuation of the questions, but again, just don’t have the time. I’ll be back with that next week, hopefully. In the meantime, hope all is well with you in these strange, strange times.

Something for Now

Hey, heads up right away that this will be an abbreviated entry. Apologies, between this and the late entry last week it must seem that I’m slacking on my duties, but honestly I’m just slammed and at a weird point in my life. I haven’t had a good, restful week in over two months. At least I can share it with you? Maybe that’s the one saving grace of this whole mess.

As I mentioned last week, we lost a beloved pet, which sent me into a bit of a tailspin. Thursday morning started out looking somewhat okay – looked like a snow day, which would mean not too many people bothering me on messenger and a chance to get caught up with work and writing. Went out to do the morning ritual of feeding the cats and guinea pigs and found poor Wendell dead in his cage.

It wasn’t entirely unexpected; he had always been a frail guinea pig, victim of some mystery illness that the vets couldn’t quite sniff out. I suspect some form of cancer, as he had a cyst early in his life and was never quite the same after, but his tests came up clean for some reason.

So we knew our time with him would always be short, and honestly, we were damn lucky to get the four years that we got, but you’re never quite ready for it. It hit us hard, and it seems to have hit the other pigs as well, maybe moreso Quimby than Bertram. The latter seemed a little shell shocked for a day or two, but has returned to his normal self, while Quimby preferred to hide away and shunned any contact for a bit. We hung in there with him, though, and he’s come back out of his shell a bit. We really had no idea that they were so close, as they lived in separate cages and males don’t usually bond that much. All we can really do is be there for him until he gets through it.

Anyway, we’ll miss Wendell, and definitely remember him. He was one of those unforgettable pets.

Wendell4

All right, so like I said, shortened entry this week. Just too much going on between our loss, last week’s storm, a whirlwind weekend, and a job interview. Just wanted to check in with you guys and let you know that I’m still here, still cranking away. Time is by far the most significant issue that I’m encountering at the moment. The desire is still there, along with the will and/or motivation, whatever you want to call it. I just cannot find the time to work on the novel without something else intervening. I mean, hell, I’m managing to write between 10,000 and 20,000 words a week, but it’s always on something other than the book. Frustrating doesn’t begin to describe it.

Next week is going to have to be the center of an attempt to refocus on the novel if I want to finish it this year. At one point I thought I might have this done by July or August, but it’s beginning to look doubtful. Hopefully I can manage a few weeks of just working on it, and nothing but. Maybe a vacation in May? I don’t know. Next time we’ll catch up on last week’s question and get a new one going. Until then…

In the Frozen Heart

Hey everybody, welcome to the latest blog update. Sorry I’m late, but this week has been even worse than expected, as I lost a beloved pet yesterday. I’ll talk more about that next week, when I hope (HOPE) to get back on schedule.

Quick update on the tooth: looks like we may not salvage it. The dentist who performed the previous root canal completely missed a root, so that thing has been sitting in my jaw like a time bomb since the latter half of 2006. The Big League Chew Incident, as it is now known, may have been incidental, a minor thing to push the tooth into the red. We’re waiting on the results of a CT scan to determine final prognosis, but the endodontist did not sound optimistic. On the positive side, I did learn that there can be some professional beef between endodontists and dentists. Better believe that’s going into the novel.

Have I mentioned that my wife, Mary, is a writer? If not, I should have. She’s been in hibernation for a little while, but decided to “come out of retirement” for a worthy cause. You see, the fan community to which she belongs decided to honor a fallen member by putting together a fanfic compilation and donating the proceeds to cancer research. What better reason to start writing again? She spent a few months hammering out a novella and handed it over  to me last week for editing.

The job ended up being over 100 pages of editing in 4 days, some real record-breaking stuff (Friday night I basically collapsed into bed before I could cross the finish line), but the compilation editors seemed to really like the story and I learned quite a lot. Definitely a worthwhile venture. It’ll be some time before it’s available outside of the collection, but once it is, I’ll link it so you guys can check it out.

This leaves me with little to report on my own novel. The good news is that I’m up and rolling again this week, though I’m having trouble “getting in my reps” with all the other stuff on my plate. Still, hope to have something more to report next week.

Meet Goose

Of course, even with these prolonged absences I can still focus on the novel through this blog, and it’s time to do so once again. So far we’ve discussed the protagonist Dean, his sometime-friend, sometime-lover Lindsay, and Dean’s sponsor, LeRoy. What’s missing? Well, the second-most-important character of the novel: Goose.

So-named for his slick talk (“like goose shit through a tin horn”), he began life in the first draft as a stuffy sponsor named Stephen. Stephen was a point-of-view character who dragged Dean back from the precipice a few times but always came across as uptight and sensible, a real shame as I always intended him to have something more going on under the hood.

Thankfully, shifting the book away from Dean’s first meeting and toward his actual recruiting provided a means to transform Stephen from the stuffy sponsor with years of experience into the broken man who initially walked through the door. In this version he joins the group at the same time as Dean, in a sort of partnership, which establishes a whole different dynamic between the two.

A con-man by nature, Goose’s story begins with his arrest for prostitution on the exact same night that Dean got busted for solicitation. That’s right, Goose is/was a male prostitute.The symmetry makes sense in the context of their respective sexual issues. After Goose’s last arrest, his lawyer, Jim, told him about a special deal that he and a client had struck with a judge: the client got leniency on a solicitation charge by offering to attend sex addiction counseling. Always one to seize on an angle, Goose decided he would play the card during his next arrest.

As he’s waiting for his bond hearing, a local dentist walks in. Well, he doesn’t exactly announce the fact, but Goose recognizes him from his TV ads and figures this gives him a leg up, especially as he’s had a sore tooth for a few weeks. He teases the relatively naive Dean with an offer to help him avoid a permanent spot on his record: his knowledge for free dental work. Desperate and afraid, Dean accepts, and thus enters into a very odd but compelling relationship.

Their partnership is marked by the polar opposite nature of their personalities; where Dean is an uptight elitist, Goose is a little too easy-going and accepting. They’re good for one another, but also generate a lot of friction.

This brings me to the topic of Goose and religion. As you may have read between the lines, Goose is gay and grew up in a very religious, very redneck household. He tells the story of his sexual awakening in the novel and it’s pivotal to the story, so I’m not going to spoil it here, but suffice it to say that he felt “dirty” at a very young age, which made it hard for him to identify with the church. As he grew up the situation only intensified, to the point that his brain formed snap associations between the church and beatings. This ultimately resulted in him feeling a fight-or-flight reaction when any topic of religion came up.

Most of the time he handles it by being bombed out of his mind on drugs, but every now and then the panic surfaces, as it does during their first meeting when everyone stands up and holds hands to pray.

Remember what I said last week about recovery and spirituality being so intertwined? Well, imagine the difficulties that will present for Goose long-term and you get an idea of his central struggle in this novel.

Will he develop his own sense of spirituality outside of the church’s dictates? That’s a question that spans the novels, and while I have a good feeling about it, I can’t say for certain. We’ll all find out together.

Next time we’ll hopefully talk about the people who draw Dean and Stephen into this mess: their attorney, Jim, and his friend Peggy.

Question of the Week

Last week I asked about your personal hero, and really only heard from Aniko, who said that she didn’t have one (I think that’s a valid response). So…not too much to discuss on that front. Moving on to this week’s question:

What do you do to push past the fear of failure?

I get asked this one every now and then by aspiring writer friends: how do I sit down and just keep writing day after day, week after week? I always answer that it’s as complex and as simple as just sitting down and doing it every day, but I think it’s also about confronting and defeating your fear of failure.

Do I mean you’ll never fail again? Oh hell no. I fail on a daily basis, but that’s the thing: I allow myself to do so. Call it “sucking with a purpose” (and your dirty mind can take that where it wants, I know mine did already). I mean, I used to be frozen with fear when I faced the empty page. What if I wrote crap? What if I didn’t have my talent anymore? It could all prove what a faker I was, and that I had no business doing this stuff.

Feels silly now. The response is, so what? It’s not like an axe is going to drop from somewhere and behead me if I misuse “they’re” or my prose is hackneyed. I know this now, and so failure remains just another factor to writing, not the unstoppable wall.

But therein lies the catch, of course: I “know” this. I had to learn it – and I’m not sure how you teach it to someone. My knowledge came from continually pushing my boundaries, but someone else may learn it from constant iteration on an idea that seems terrible at first.

So…yeah. That’s my answer: I face the fear head-on, because I learn new things by doing, not by talking through them.

How about you? What do you do? Any mantras you repeat to yourself? Positive self-talk?

Photo of the Week

Another week, another winter storm, another weekend without photography. I’m aching for it now, but warmer weather is on its way, so I have a prayer of getting out there this weekend.

Seeing as we still have snow on the ground and may still have some right up until the warming trend, I thought I’d share this shot of a snowy field in a spot not too far from Purcellville, Virginia. Can’t recall the name of this “town” (really more of a street), but I found the spot gorgeous. Had to jump out of the car on the side of the road to get this. You’d be surprised how often that works.

Purcellville06

Slight Delay

Sorry folks, going to need one more day for the blog post. Lost a beloved pet this morning and it’s sent my schedule into a tailspin. Soon, I promise.

That Sugary Devil

Welcome back! Today marks a month of unmissed entries (technically five). May not seem impressive, but believe me, I’m smiling, given the sheer hell that has been January and February.

Before I get into things, allow me to put on my promotional hat and give you the chance to win something with…well, only a few strings attached. I’ll save the spiel: I’m giving $25 in Amazon funbucks to one winner. To get an entry, we need you to:

  1. Like this Facebook Page
  2. Share the pinned post at the top of the page
  3. Leave a comment and tag a friend

Hopefully that’s not too onerous. The giveaway ends on Friday, with the winner announced Monday morning. Hey, think of all the stuff you could buy with that.

Alright, on to the meat of the post. Last week’s entry was written with certain…assumptions. For example, it seemed reasonable to assume that the week would not go to utter shite and I would power through Chapter 16. Hah, I thought, I’d be well into Chapter 17 by then, right?

Yeah, well, life happened. Specifically, bubble gum happened.

Let’s take the way-back machine to segue-ville and talk about Big League Chew. For you folks not familiar with it, it’s pink, it’s shredded, it comes in a silver pouch that looks something like this:

BigLeagueChewOriginal_L4

You might recognize a certain similarity to chewing tobacco. That’s intentional, of course, as baseball players (always known for the wad of tobacco in their cheek) had designed the gum to operate in a similar fashion, ostensibly steering children away from the brown stuff. Reasonable trade-off? I’ll leave that up to you. As a kid, though? Pure gold! You couldn’t be a baseball player without a wad of something jammed in your cheek and I had already tasted the forbidden Skoal fruit and found it…wanting. Okay, it tasted like a toilet bowl.

Fast forward, oh, twenty years and I’ve generally forgotten about the stuff. One day my wife, Mary, as she will often do, pointed it out and guessed that I had chewed it as a kid. Spot on, I thought, and wondered if it might still be fun to chew? So I bought a bag and it surprised me – it stayed softer than other gums and had good flavor. It also helped that oral fixation and kept me away from more damaging sweets. Acceptable trade-off.

Until last Tuesday, that is. There I was, chowing down on a wad of the pink stuff when one of the amorphous sides slipped into the left side of my mouth, squeezing into a microscopic space between the bottom of my crown and my gum.

Could you make a knife out of spun sugar? Would it penetrate skin? I’m not sure, but the only description that I can summon of that moment is a sugary knife driven right into my gum. Cried out, spat the stuff out, and went back to work, fervently hoping that this was just one of those things that happen, like getting something stuck between your gum and tooth. A day of discomfort, but not much more. I mean, I’ve had the crown since 2006, but it had never presented a moment of trouble.

This felt like it might be the case on Wednesday morning. Sure, it ached a little, but nothing too alarming. I chewed on that side and felt a bit of pain, figured I needed to give it a little time, let it work out. By Wednesday afternoon, I could no longer deny that something had gone wrong. You know how you have differing levels of pain, and there’s a certain pain that falls in between the “annoying, but ignorable” and “oh my God my nerve endings are on fire” levels? Yeah, this was it. I didn’t want to curl up in agony, but productivity became impossible as I started to scout sites in search of some sign from above that things would be all right, especially if I just did one weird trick to ease the pain, preferably one that dentists hate.

Thursday morning put a sledgehammer through the idea of this being a passing thing. I was taking 800 godforsaken milligrams of ibuprofen and still I could only lie in bed, perfectly still, lest blood flow to that area and cause a raging flare-up. But hey, better than wanting to kill myself, right?

I called in sick and went to the dentist, who confirmed my worst fears: root infection (and please note, this tooth already had a root canal, so thanks for botching that, long-ago-dentist-whose-name-I-can’t-recall). Antibiotics, painkillers, and orders to schedule a root canal. Sigh.

Meanwhile you can imagine my productivity. Not a single word on Thursday; I managed a few on Friday, as the antibiotics had begun to do their job, but anxiety from a growing abscess and a codeine haze kept me from doing much more than the basics. Only on Saturday did I truly begin to recover and get back into the groove of things, though again – codeine. Yesterday was my first pain-free day, but I meet with the endodontist tomorrow to begin that whole gauntlet of torments.

Anyway, my point is that Chapter 16 has barely moved, and may not until sometime later next week. I’m also going to be saving the discussion of Goose and his religious issues until the next entry due to all of this insanity. Such is the way of writing.

Question of the Week

Last week I asked about your favorite childhood superheroes, and the answers rolled right in! Well, okay, two. Two answers rolled in. But I appreciate them! Mary had a tie between Superman and Underdog, because Superman could solve any problem and Underdog was earnest, clumsy, and endearing. Underdog! Now there’s an answer, and I think he ties in with some of what I discussed last week, about the essential humanity of a superhero making them interesting. Sure, he’s a dog, but no one is perfect.

Aniko also replied, choosing Sherlock Holmes because of his energy and intellect and the protagonist of Island of the Blue Dolphins, who I believe is Juana Maria, for her self-reliance and perseverance. Both excellent choices, and Holmes is a tricky one, considering he formed the template of a lot of the early detective comics that would give rise to Batman. I think that does make him a proto-superhero, akin to the Shadow or Zorro.

This week’s question:

Who is your personal hero, and why?

Oh boy, this opened a can of worms. The very idea of ‘heroes’ has bugged me for years, as I thought it dehumanized both the idolized and worshipped (idolator? Is that appropriate here?).

Such things always rub me the wrong way – why come at something with the assumption that you’re somehow “lesser than”? Maybe you’re not where that person is in the curve of their development, but surely that does not somehow make you a lesser person.

Maturity ruins everything, of course, and I realize that my point of view, while somewhat valid, was also limited. I stick by my criticism of the view above, that a hero is somehow perfect and you could never hope to attain their “level” in life, as if that means anything, but I recognize that the concept of a personal hero can also include viewing the hero as imperfect. In fact, a mature definition of the word should probably include that as a must. You must recognize that person as someone who occupies a body much like yours, who has their own weaknesses and flaws. What makes them inspirational is their ability to push past those flaws and fears and become something more.

Just writing that out, I realized my personal hero: Stephen Hawking, as the guy overcame adversity to the point that it’s become a side-note to his amazing accomplishments. He refused to be defined by the barriers in front of him and, in so doing, forced the world to do the same. That alone is amazing, but add in his incredible intellect and contributions to the world and I can’t help but stand in awe.

So how about you? Who do you most admire, and why?

Photo of the week

As you can imagine, I wasn’t exactly in the mood to go on a road trip this weekend, but hey, the thirst for photography is real, and I have a back yard. A kind of spooky, atmospheric backyard, in fact. Check out how the lights shine through the storm. Not the best shot I ever took, not by a long shot, but it’s fun.

Okay that does it for this week. Next week’s entry is kind of up in the air at the moment, given that next Wednesday is going to be really busy and I don’t know how this tooth thing is going to play out. I’ll be here, just can’t say exactly when. Hopefully I see you soon.

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The Shifting Sands

Hey everybody, welcome back! Apologize upfront if this entry seems disjointed, as I got a late start this week due to some edits on Chapter 16, which is taking a lot longer than expected due to shifting narrative priorities.

You see, in the original vision, the chapter started with Dean and some paramedics arguing about what he could do to support his friend following said character’s stroke. Unable to ride along in the ambulance, Dean followed the paramedics to Rockingham Memorial Hospital and found himself stuck in the waiting room. Anxiety and stress mounted, which led to him first downing Ativan, then masturbating in the bathroom in an attempt to ease his nerves. Pretty much what you’d expect for an addict in the throes of mortal terror. A problem arose when a male nurse entered the bathroom just as Dean “finished”, leaving him to clean up in silence. Thinking that he had done a good job, he slipped out and tried to be smooth with the nurse, who acted amused by Dean’s presence. It was only as he exited that Dean noticed a spot of semen on one of his shoes.

This sent Dean into a downward spiral, one only arrested by a call from Lindsay.

The second draft cut the paramedics and began with a nurse who would not allow Dean to follow his friend. Defeated, he slumped into his seat in the waiting room, where we then met a new character, an abused meth-head who spotted him taking his anxiety meds and wanted in on the action, going so far as to offer sex in exchange for the pills. They ended up doing the deed in the bathroom stall, with the condom breaking and once again leaving evidence on his shoe for the male nurse to spot. Repeat revelation, this time with a question mark hanging over the encounter. It worked, but still had some gaps.

Enter third draft. Meth-head gets more personality and we find out that she might know Dean’s identity. Some adjustments to Dean’s behavior here as well, as his character development had created a man who might not act on such a temptation. The reader needed to understand why he might relapse in this situation, so I talked some about how the temptation made him snap and how that makes him look like the asshole that we saw in Chapter One. That guy would most definitely take up the girl on her offer.

This had the pleasant side-effect of making his revelation much more believable: once he’s snapped out of it, he recognizes what has happened and how close he is to spiraling out of control. This, at last, convinces him that he needs to change. It made much more sense than being ashamed of some random dude recognizing his transgressions, though the male nurse does still drive some of that recognition.

These changes seem relatively simple on the surface, but they represent a radical shift that necessitated a lot of thinking and rewriting, hence the long incubation period. Now I just need to add a few flourishes here and build on the chapter’s themes to put it to bed. Then we can move on to Chapter 17, which has a very interesting lead and is already in pretty good shape. I’ll talk more about that one in the coming weeks.

Old Time Religion

Speaking of revelations, it’s funny how these things sometimes happen. For example, a simple quirk of editing led to an interesting discussion in our critique group, one that prompted me to examine how Dean interacts with religion. In Chapter 5 (or maybe 6), my fellow readers noticed a throwaway line stating that Dean had been born into a Mormon family, which contradicted a later statement about his mother being a raging atheist. This happened because I had originally intended to implicate the Mormon upbringing in some of Dean’s damage, but in the end that opened a bigger can of worms than I could possibly address, so I instead went with a mother who viewed religion as a crutch for the weak and a spiritual father who didn’t dare discuss it openly in the home. This push and pull left young Dean with an intense longing for an authentic religious experience and left room for more nuance than the Mormon angle.

Trying to fill the hole in his heart, Dean chased different denominations throughout his youth, going so far as to attend churches with various schoolmates, many of whom were only too happy to woo a potential convert. This chase ended with him becoming close to this kid, Paul, and Paul’s dysfunctional family, who played a big role in an event that pushed Dean away from spirituality and toward a hedonistic, secular worldview.

The question of spirituality becomes unavoidable when Dean joins Sex Addicts Anonymous, as Twelve Step groups are almost inescapably associated with churches and spirituality. The biggest and most intimidating of these connections is the requirement to develop a relationship with a “power greater than yourself,” which unconsciously brings up painful reminders of that period in his life. As with the dynamic between his parents, Dean will eventually have to reconcile the push and pull between his own hedonistic worldview and the call of the Steps in fixing his life.

He’s not the only one wrestling with these issues, though; next week we’ll talk about Dean’s friend Goose, his early experiences with the church, and his angle on recovery

Question of the week

Now it’s time to get a little more interactive. This might seem silly and awkward at first as I try to find the right format, but hey – have to fall down a few times before you can walk, right? The idea is to start posing questions, answer them myself, and then hope to hear from you. Maybe we’ll find a natural format in the course of our conversations. For now, here’s this week’s question:

When you were little, who was your favorite superhero, and why?

You know, this seemed like an easy one, but it surprised me. Batman seemed like the obvious answer, as he was close to my heart, but Spider-Man edged him out by a hair.

Both were down-to-earth heroes, at least on some level, and I liked that. Sure, Spider-Man had superpowers while Batman relied on his physical prowess and mind, but Peter Parker always seemed a little more relatable. Sounds strange, but that mattered to me as a kid, though I don’t think I could have articulated it. I just knew that he had to deal with school, with girl problems, and with family – all things that I either dealt with myself or saw around me. Sure, Bruce Wayne had lost his parents, but that kind of tragedy was too heavy, too hard to get my young mind around. Batman also had the advantage of money while Peter fought for what he got outside of his superhero persona; I could relate to the latter far better as a poor kid.Oh, and let’s not forget that Peter was a photographer, a far cooler profession to me than billionaire playboy. Funny how that works, huh?

So how about you? I’m really curious to hear your answer, so please leave one in the comments.

Photo of the week

This week I’d like to honor of the snowstorm that’s just hit us and rewind to a photo taken just after Thanksgiving of 2014. Snapped this one when we climbed a mountain in the George Washington National Forest and hit a bend in the road beyond which our little sedan could not continue. We pulled over and I hopped out, camera in hand, to find this place just waiting for us. Could not have scripted it better.

And that does it for now. Next week I’ll tell you a little more about Chapter 17, Goose and religion, and pose another question. See you then.

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