When The Parts Don’t Line Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Insurance Company Spire of Doom.

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

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

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

AMERICA FUCK YEAH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Vanished Worlds and Historical Preservation

Hey regular (and new) readers, good to be back. As I said last week, had a minor health setback, but am ready to work once again. Word to the wise, though: avoid swimmers ear if at all possible. Shit is deadly serious. Now I’ve had a kidney stone so I can’t say it’s the worst pain I’ve ever encountered (although that was over in like an hour), but the words “agony”, “torment”, and “suffering” all easily float to the top of the mind.  I’m talking throbbing from neck to temple, the kind of stuff that makes you curl up in the fetal position and pray for death. Conversation was, quite simply, beyond me for a day or two. Real one-star experience, if you know what I mean. F–, would not recommend.

But hey, I’m doing much better today and can actually hear out of that ear, which was a pretty touch-and-go proposition for a few days. Now to ramp my activity back up to pre-pain days.

Anyway, moving on to this week’s (or should I say last week’s) topic, a few words on why I’m so fascinated with the past and historical preservation. One of the prevalent themes in my photography – almost a quest, if you will – is seeking out remnants of the vanished past, bits of detritus and ruins that remain from a long-gone world. This is not necessarily a matter of nostalgia, though that can provide a fun boost to such searches. It’s more about exploration and context and, consequently, what those can mean for your emotional landscape.

Take the photo below as an example. This is a shot of downtown Harrisonburg, Virginia during a holiday season in the late 50s or early 60s. This was an era where “downtown” really meant something, before malls came along and wrecked that paradigm.

Downtown_HBurg01

I came along too late for this era, by far; this was the world of my mother’s childhood, one that she’s described in glowing terms but which I couldn’t quite grasp until I saw this photograph. The reality pictured here haunts me as I consider what such a world looked like, felt like, smelled like. By the time I arrived on the scene the department store in the center of the frame had alreayd entered its decline phase, soon to close forever and live only in memory and photographs like this one. I never knew a world with that JOE shop, or the clothing store next to it. My memories of downtown are seedier, more ramshackle, a place that you visited only when you absolutely needed to grab one of the famous Jesses’ Hot Dogs.

Now even that world has vanished, replaced by a movement to attempt to revitalize the downtown area (but which is still falling short due to a combination of short-sightedness and the times having moved on from such mid-00s trifles). Here is a photo of the place from Christmas Day 2014. The big gray building on the right, a public school administrative building, is what remains of the department store above. I can’t say for certain whether the buildings to the left are the remains of those old stores. They don’t appear to be, but much can change in 50 years, including facades.

Downtown_HBurg02

This is where context is so important. The place looks sparse and utilitarian, even on Christmas Day, with little more than the modest wreaths to even indicate the season. The photo by itself might not spark much feeling if you didn’t look at that one above, didn’t know that this place once thrummed with its own vibrant sense of life. With that in mind, you can imagine those angels covering the two windows of the school building, of that display in the window above the entrance way. There’s an ache to the place, a bittersweet emotion that’s hard to define.

Historical preservation becomes near and dear to my heart where this emotion crosses with historical relevancy.  It’s about holding on to the floating ties of a vanished world, about offering context to the world around you. I’m continually shocked and amazed to discover strange realities floating just out of our mind’s eye, waiting to spring to life; the home that was once a convenience store, the general store converted to a restaurant. The lives that once intersected at that location matter, and it matters that we are aware of that convergence.

Now you certainly can’t save everything. I’m also a believer in change and progress, and sometimes it’s truly not worth the time or effort to save any hint of, say, a hot dog stand down the street. But we can save photographs from that time and us amateur archaeologists or whatever you want to call us can seek out the remains that may still stand.

This is why I photograph the places that I do. It’s why I think it’s important to photograph the detritus of places like the General Lee Motor Court, so that we can not only revisit places that we might have once known and get that hit of nostalgia, but also to contextualize our ever-evolving world. The ghosts of the past are all around us. We need to not only notice them, but reach out and grab hold of them, even if it’s simply capturing an image. Without that context, we can easily lose sight of just how our own world can vanish at any moment.

General_Lee03

On another note, expect a status update on my woefully-behind-schedule novel on Friday, and next week I’ll be back to talk about our upcoming trip to Culpeper, Virginia and what it means to me to be on the open road. See you again soon.

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.

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.