Halloween Post: Rockin the Box

Talk about something strange; while I’m sure I’ve mentioned Harrisonburg, VA as my birthplace and my bio states that I grew up in the Shenandoah Valley, I don’t think I’ve talked about my actual hometown. While I would call Dayton, VA my hometown, I spent the first five years of my life in the “unincorporated community” of Lacey Spring.

I credit this to being five when we moved away. Oh, sure, I have some solid memories of Star Wars toys, of playing with Tony across the street and rapidly discovering what it meant to be on the outside looking in (he was the only Hispanic kid in the neighborhood, I was the only fat kid), and of being hit in the face with a rock, but when it comes to Halloween, the nominal subject of this post, I have precious few memories. Photos exist, to be sure. I’ve seen the chubby little kid in brown corduroys with a lavish spread of Halloween candy, and a toddler in a Big Bird costume, but I have no tangible recall of those moments.

My strongest memory is of making a trek to the Lacey Spring Grocery on a hot day to get Sunkist soda, which was always my favorite. It felt like such a long walk back then, but Google informs me that it was a mile-and-a-half. I suppose that’s the nature of being a four-year-old with four-year-old legs. Sadly, the grocery closed down at some point and I can find no photos of what it looked like in its heyday. I recently visited the place, and here’s what it looks like today:

Lacey01

The place is white in my memories, which makes sense with that block of white on the right-hand side. Paint job at some point? Anyway. We moved to Dayton in July of 1981; easy to nail down the date as I have vivid memories of that July 4th. They shot off fireworks from the high school down the street, which blew my little mind. Granted, Dayton’s population couldn’t have been more than 750 people at the time, but compared to Lacey Spring it was a veritable metropolis, full of possibility.

The park where I played as a child.

The park where I played as a child. In ’81 this was an empty field.

We lived in Dayton for 14 years and, consequently, most of my Halloween memories revolve around that place. Hell, it still retains a spooky vibe in the Autumn, even when I revisit it as an adult. The thing about Dayton is that so much of its history still lives on, from the circa-late 19th century buildings downtown to the graveyard (which itself once abutted a long-lost church) with graves dating back to the 1700s. Oh, let’s not forget the potentially-haunted Silver Lake, which was the previous site for said church until a spring flooded out the grounds. Supposedly there are still gravestones in some spots, though I have no idea if anyone has verified this claim. The point is that the ghosts of Dayton’s past still walk the grounds, and it was a fertile place for my imagination.

Silver Lake

I loved to walk the streets around Sunset as the days grew short. A lot of people in Dayton still relied on wood stoves to heat their homes, so the place had this wonderful smoky scent that permeated the air. Imagine a combination of that odor with the loamy smell of fallen leaves and the ambient blue-and-purple lighting that fell across the nigh-deserted side streets and alleys. Absolute magic for a kid fascinated by the dark and decay. I’d stay out there for hours until the sky went black, and even then I’d sometimes linger under the oaks, peeking up through the last few wavering leaves to watch the twinkling stars overhead.

Dayton didn’t have a large population of kids, but we celebrated Halloween hard and well. Oh, we had our usual childhood stratification, with the older kids focusing on pranks and the younger kids focusing on trick-or-treating (sans parents, of course, you could still safely walk the streets alone), but there was a sense of it being a town-wide event. 1985 and 86 were the best that I can remember, though 85 is a little fuzzy, save this photo of me with that year’s Jack-O-Lantern. Note the sweet Movie Channel T-Shirt.

Movie_Channel

My touchstone would be 1986, which would be my last year in Elementary school and represent a jumping-off point to adolescence. We had just discovered the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and, while I would have to wait until Christmas for my own system, several of my friends already had theirs, and they were playing Castlevania that Fall. This would become my go-to-world to visit while I walked through streets, imagining myself as a rogue vampire hunter roaming the graveyard and climbing through construction sites. How could you resist such a fantasy? Practically crack, pure distilled badass as far as I was concerned.

Castlevania

And boy did I think I had a sweet costume in place that year. I didn’t dress as Simon Belmont, the hero of Castlevania (that would be a few years later, for a school dance), but I had something else in mind. That year also represented the last big bang of toys for me, in particular M.A.S.K., GI Joe and Transformers. I had developed a fascination with the recently-released Transformers movie, in particular the character Blurr, a fast-talking futuristic car/robot combination. I have no idea if he’s made an appearance in the live-action movies (I avoid those as much as possible), but I was in love. I had to dress as this robot. Now, keep in mind that this is what the character looked like:

Blurr01

By now you may have figured out that we weren’t exactly rich and, even if you did have money back in those days, you couldn’t exactly pop down to a Michael’s  and buy costuming materials. You either bought off-the-rack or tried to build your own the best you could. Blurr wasn’t a star character like Megatron or Optimus Prime, so the off-the-rack option was gone from the beginning. So, being the, ahem, creative child that I was, I decided to create one myself. With boxes. And face paint. And hair dye.

It turned out about as well as you’d expect. I mean, it wasn’t a terrible idea, but the execution lacked poetry, to say the least. It would become a neighborhood legend, in fact, spawning the nickname Boxman. My parents, God love them, have preserved this moment of shame so that I may share it with you.

Blurr

Not pictured: boxes on feet.

Hey, at least I tried. Sadly, no evidence remains of the Belmont costume, which actually did turn out pretty sweet and got compliments.

Such is life.

Hope all who celebrate have a Happy Halloween, and I’ll see you next week with some talk about Historical Preservation.

Monday Sanity Check: Dragging the Depths Edition

Mary and I have a years-long standing tradition of filling our Octobers with horror movies. The interesting thing about these marathons is that we inevitably hit some sort of theme, quite by accident. Last year it was Satan and possession. This year it’s the 1970s and living doll movies (like the fantastic Tourist Trap, can’t recommend that enough). This weekend we decided to watch the 1979 version of Salem’s Lot, as Mary’s been jonesing to watch it.

It hasn’t aged well. Don’t get me wrong, it had some creepy moments, like the kids hovering outside windows and Geoffrey Lewis as a vampire (see the photo below), but overall it suffered from corny dialogue, poor adaptation choices, and pacing issues. I mean, SEVERE pacing issues. The first hour of the story could have been cut out and it would have been all the same for it. I get that King’s book was just as much about the goings-on in a small town as the vampire threat, but this stuff dragged the movie into the mud.

salems Lot

Don’t get me started on the changes made to Barlow’s character or the limpness of the confrontation between Barlow and Callahan compared to what transpires in the novel. I’m tempted to check out the 2004 adaptation, but while it’s closer to the novel, it apparently has its own issues. Is it really so hard to put together a two-hour version of the story? It didn’t seem that hard based on what I saw, but what do I know?

Innocence Found: Purcell Park and Came to Believe

It’s no secret that Stephen King is one of my biggest influences, so I suppose it’s appropriate that he’s made me re-think things. I follow King on Twitter and have been enjoying his tweets about Molly, aka the Thing of Evil. They’ve been great as a fan and, more importantly as an author, in that they made me re-assess my interactions with current and potential readers.

Looking back, this site suffers from the lack of a personal touch. In those rare times where I’ve put the focus on something other than my fiction or the act of writing itself, it’s been to talk about myself in relation to the craft. This includes writing about influences, detailing personal development within the craft itself, and other writing-related topics. I’ve kept you at arms length. Now I’ve never been a “look at me” kind of person, owing to some negative early experiences, and I tend to think that stories should speak for themselves, but I also like to get glimpses into some of my favorite authors’ lives. So, I figured, why not open up a bit, share some things, especially when they intersect with my fiction?

You can expect a blend of slice-of-life and status posts, but I also want to talk about the sights and scenery of the Shenandoah Valley, especially as they relate to locations in Came to Believe and the other forthcoming books in the series. This is not so removed from my personal life as it first appears, as I grew up in the Valley and feel much of its history in my bones; I didn’t appreciate the place growing up, but these days it’s clear just how much it’s shaped and informed my worldview, for better or worse.

This week we’ll start with the very first scene of Came to Believe.

“I said, ‘where are we’?” Her voice had gotten a little higher this time, with a hint of panic at the edges.

 

Answer her, his weak side urged, but still he said nothing. He switched off the headlights and slowed to a crawl, studying the houses that lined the street. The neighborhood backed up to Purcell Park, with its towering oaks, baseball diamonds, and jungle gyms. The park was his destination, and while it might seem suspect to take a teenaged hooker there for business, he had few remaining options for such an encounter.

Here we meet Dean Rohrer, a dentist with a penchant for prostitutes who is taking what is to be his last “pleasure cruise” into Purcell Park, a sprawling blend of multi-purpose fields, picnic shelters, and playgrounds located near the heart of Harrisonburg, Virginia. The park opened in 1954 and is home to a “Kid’s Castle” that was installed sometime in the 80s and was likely part of the reason I went there so often, typically as part of group outings.

Purcell

My memories of these outings are somewhat hazy, though they often involved picnics, baseball, and, of course, said Kids Castle. There may also have been a girl involved, but that memory is hazy at best.

Kids_Castle

I can’t speak for other kids who used that Castle, but it sure put the fear of tight spaces into my heart. I was never a small kid, in weight or height, so it was always a snug fit at best, “age-appropriate clearance” or not. As a result, I didn’t spend a ton of time in the castle itself. My time was better spent roaming through the emptier back fields and trails, stopping for a softball game here or a baseball game there; mostly, however, I wanted to soak in the isolation of the place. What can I say? I was an only child and used to solitude. I loved to break away from the group and wander through the empty spaces.

This sense of solitude and peace, more than anything else, is what drove me to select Purcell for the book. Sure, I could have gone with Hillandale Park, where I was offered my first cigarettes and most definitely had an encounter or two with a girl, but therein lie the problem: I had imbued the place with such a sense of sleaze over the years that it felt too obvious, too dangerous. I preferred the idea of him “corrupting” a location, as it would also offer the opportunity to “redeem” it in the future.

Ultimately, this is all subjective and down to my personal experience. I’m sure a lot of people had quite different experiences with the park in question, but I needed to operate on this level to get the appropriate emotional tone.

As a footnote, I revisited the place during the early drafting stages. As always, everything looked smaller, especially that Castle, but the memories came flooding back. I was also dismayed to see that things had decayed quite a bit, but there’s a revival underway for the place, which warms my heart. So much of Harrisonburg’s history is vanishing in the name of progress that it’s good to see some preservation efforts. Let’s hope it’s enough.

kidscastle2

Oh, one more thing before I go. On November 7th, I’ll be participating in the Extra Life gaming marathon to raise money for the University of Virginia Children’s Hospital, and your donations are greatly appreciated. I plan to stream at least some of the marathon, where applicable, at http://www.twitch.tv/workingdogv1. I’ll be posting a schedule in the coming days. In the meantime, I’d be ever so grateful if you’re able to donate to the cause. Even $1 will help. You can donate by going to my Extra Life page. If you’re interested in participating, I can also answer any questions you might have and point you in the right direction. Thanks in advance to everyone who helps to make this event a successful one.

Next week I’ll talk a little about Halloween in the Shenandoah Valley; specifically, what that was like when I was growing up. Hope to see you then.

Monday Sanity Check: Skyline Drive Edition

“Happy” Monday to everyone. Hope you had a great weekend and got a chance to do something relaxing and peaceful. The wife and I headed out to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and took a ride down Skyline Drive, stopping at just about every overlook to take some pictures. I’m still sorting through the photos (there are easily 100+), but here are some I’d like to share.

Fave01 Fave03 Lookout14 Lookout16 Road02

Emerging From The Writer Cave

Hello one and all, I return from my Writer Cave bearing good news. I know, I know, not the first time returning, nor will it be the last, I’m sure. Blame it on an overwhelming drive to finish up this novel in the face of more than two years of work. But hey, at least I’m in the closing stages of Came to Believe! Well, the last few chapters of what is ostensibly the final draft, anyway. A few more steps to go through after that, but I’ll talk more about that on Friday.

Which brings me to the topic of this post: I have a plan for this space now.

Now, don’t expect to see content as ambitious as what I’ve posted in the past. I’ve shifted priorities to focus on quality in my novels, which is rather intensive and eats up a lot of writing time, which means daily posts are just not possible. It’s sad and frustrating, but it’s reality. And at least I do have a reliable process now, after five years of searching. One of the biggest lessons of the last ten months or so has to been to trust this process and understand that it will ultimately provide, even if it seems at times to be magic. Again, I’ll talk about this more in the near future.

My current goal for this space is to provide a “home base” of sorts for my efforts, both writing and marketing. At the moment, this means a weekly post focusing on the major themes of what is beginning to look like a series. This series revolves around the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and, more specifically, the city of Harrisonburg and towns of Dayton and Bridgewater, though other towns are represented. It’s an area that is undergoing a transformation from rural stronghold to metropolitan region, all driven by an influx of student loan money. It’s a rich vein to mine, with lots of ephemera that only shows up on the sidelines in the books but could be expanded upon with the proper time and care. That’s what I want to bring you in the weekly posts.

 

CoveredBridge15

You can also expect a bi-weekly update on the status of my latest works and talking about my overall writing, pitching, and marketing process. These will be quicker entries, just a few hundred words to get you up-to-date.

In the meantime, I’ll also be updating my Facebook Author Page, Pinterest boards, Tsu page, and Twitter with relevant content; for example, you may see me talking about Halloween in the Shenandoah Valley here and sharing some photography from past and present Valley Halloweens over on Pinterest, all while talking about this year’s festivities on the Facebook author page.

It should be an interesting adventure, and I hope you stick around for it. More in the near future.

 

 

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?

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.

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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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