The City Lights

Hey everybody, back from Thanksgiving break. Hope my American followers had a great holiday (and that everyone else had a great week/weekend as well). Strange times, for sure; hard to get into the spirit of things with how warm it’s felt lately, especially on Thanksgiving itself. Found myself sitting on the porch in short sleeves and not particularly chilled. Compare that with last year, when we had snow on the ground. I can’t remember it ever being this warm this late in the season. Hope it doesn’t bode ill for 2016.
 
Otherwise, had a good time visiting family and taking lots of photographs. Found some interesting postcards in Harrisonburg as well, ones that you can expect to see soon as I discuss locations in my novels. For now, here are some photos I took Thanksgiving night in Downtown Harrisonburg, to try to get a little cheer in the air. Will be out for oral surgery later this week…not sure what that means for the update schedule. In the meantime, have a great week.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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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Face-up to the Afterglow

Back again. What is it they say in Twin Peaks? Ah yes…

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Did I mention I’m a big fan of the show and can’t wait for the return? I’ll have to get around to that post about the show’s symbolism someday.

Anyway, last week I examined why I left the dark fantasy/horror genre; today I’d like to discuss my issues with self-publishing and the indie community circa 2012, which boils down to bad behavior, specifically the sockpuppets, reviews for cash, and endless Goodreads. Obviously not every or even most indie writers participated, but enough that I became uncomfortable associating my name with the movement.

At first I hoped to set a good example, but the events that I described last week made me quite aware of my own irrelevance and I became frustrated, sad, and exhausted. It didn’t help that I felt very insecure and had no idea what I wanted, either. Of course, knowing the genesis of my own issues doesn’t change my struggles with them. I had to work through them.

Truth is, I didn’t understand what I wanted from my career. I was chasing the dream of mass readership without understanding what it would take to achieve such a goal. Pollyanna as it may seem, I thought that I could write what I wanted and the market would come to me, not understanding how rare such an event can be. I would need time to come to terms with this; in the meantime, I decided to walk away, divine just what I needed, and reinvent my career.

Best decision I ever made. No regrets whatsoever. I realized that money is not a motivating factor for my fiction. It’s a “hobby with benefits” for life. Of course, I still want some external rewards, specifically some recognition. Nothing wrong with wanting that, but it won’t fall in my lap, either. I recognize the uphill battle that I face, and I’m ready for it. In fact, I’m working on some plans to get there, which I’ll talk about next time.

Drafting

Last week I described my new writing process, in which I focus on each chapter, honing it to a fine point using a multi-pass system, each ending with a 10-minute free write highlighting the needs for the next pass.

Execution of the second pass relies on the free write but does not necessarily use it as gospel. Chapter 16’s notes mandated a deeper dig into Dean’s feelings on using drugs in the hospital waiting room in order to highlight why he went ahead and did it anyway. That was a must, while a note about the new meth head character’s (she was still the young mother in the notes) abusive boyfriend got cut when it didn’t make sense in the context of their discussion.

With the second pass done, it’s time for another free write, this time focusing on theme and nuance. The notes for the third pass of Chapter 16 re-introduced the boyfriend as part of a short exchange in which the meth head, now known as BC, tries to gain Dean’s confidence. Here you see a key difference: in the second pass the boyfriend stood as a throwaway line to explain BC’s past. In the third pass he shows how she uses anyone in her life as a tool. Key difference in usage that highlights the importance of theme in the third pass.

Each chapter gets a minimum of three passes, with a few getting up to five, depending on what the chapter requires. Critique group fits in here somewhere as well, as their changes are included in the final pass of this draft.

Still not clear on the final editing process, but the goal is to make it much quicker, reading through it as a novel in its own right, taking notes for changes. This should prevent a chapter-by-chapter redo, allowing for smaller touch-ups and corrections, but each step has surprised me thus far. Expect to see more on that in the future.

The Drug

Ativan-Oral-pictureAnd now we talk about Ativan, AKA Lorazepam, and its role in the novel. Introduced in 1977, the drug is a hypnotic intended to treat anxiety (Dean’s initial intended use), insomnia, and acute seizures. It has a high physical addiction potential and, sadly, impairs memory loss, which leads to the practice of using high doses as a date rape drug. It’s also sometimes used a pre-anesthetic, to help calm the patient and inhibit memory formation as anaesthesia is performed. It’s relatively fast-acting, hitting the system much faster than most drugs in its class, which is also important to the story.

Speaking of drug class, Ativan is a benzodiazepine, or benzo. Benzos work on the brain by enhancing the effect of the neurotransmitter GABA, a chemical which enhances sedation. These drugs are known for being highly addictive, having a quick onset of tolerance, and generating a horrific withdrawal, which can include amplified anxiety, muscle spasms, psychosis, and hallucinations, to name just a few. To give you an idea of the magnitude of this withdrawal, have a video of a guy who took benzos for far too long. Keep in mind that he only took these as prescribed.

Dean used Ativan in college to help him get through tests and quit cold turkey when he realized that he had become addicted. He stayed clean for close to 20 years, but he couldn’t resist when his friend and dealer, Goose, offered them as payment. Here’s a teaser of that scene:

Goose, it seemed, had a sense of mercy, for he shook his head. “Naw. I think I’m ready to go home. Can you drive me? I normally wouldn’t ask, but…”

“Of course you would,” Dean said, and they both laughed.

Goose shrugged. “Guess you got me there. I’d appreciate it, though.” He dug in his seemingly never-ending pocket, producing a small, tight ball of tinfoil. “This should cover my gas.”

Dean took the foil ball without quite comprehending. “This…uh…”

Goose patted his hand before withdrawing. “I meant what I said about you needing to calm down. It’s a handful of atties. That’s some good money right there.”

He stared at the ball, licking his lips, a roaring in his pained head. He shouldn’t take it; once you built a physical addiction to benzos that shit stuck with you. He had not forgotten the pain of withdrawal. “I don’t know if I should…”

“You should, and you will. Doctor’s orders. Now can we please get out of here?”

Don’t open the door to pain, his father had said, and he knew it to be the truth, but a tickling in the back of his brain kept taking him back to the good times. It hadn’t all been pain; in the early days the drugs had eradicated all anxiety, allowing him to focus, work hard, and, most importantly, avoid any emotions whatsoever. Wouldn’t they help just a little in dealing with the frustration of quitting his habits? No anxiety about being alone forever, no fear of what he might dig up in his past, just sweet bliss. At last he nodded and slipped the ball into his pocket. “Yeah. Let’s head home. I could use some sleep.”

“Good man,” Goose said, and patted him on the shoulder. “Onward, Jeeves.”

The message here is nothing so facile as “don’t do drugs”. Ativan has helped me to fly in situations where I would have been terrified and I think they can be a great tool in limited use. Dean’s problem is more that he’s on a slippery slope with an already-shaky sobriety. The drug opens him up to behaviors that put him in jeopardy, ultimately leading to a mistake that will haunt him for years.

Next week we’ll talk about Dean’s relationship with his parents and his propensity for prostitutes. How’s that for alliteration?

This week’s photo was taken at the remains of a motel just north of Front Royal, Virginia. I don’t know a whole lot about the General Lee Motor Court, but it appears to have been a decent place back in the mid-20th century, as seen here:

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Not much remains today. It’s difficult to access by road, but I did get a shot of the rusted hulk of a sign, which perfectly captures that “lonesome yet comforting” aesthetic that I described last week:

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That’s all for now. See you next week, with our Valentine’s Day special!

Friday Photography Week of October 12th

Okay, so here’s the deal: I’m trying to be a more productive author, which is why I haven’t had a Friday entry in some time. It’s just a lot to take up to 3,000 words from my fiction writing and put it into the blog. Not that I don’t like sharing with folks – not that at all. I just think that it’s a better way to spend my time.

HOWEVER, I do like sharing things, and I want to give my readers something extra. I also love to take photographs and haven’t done nearly enough of it lately, so I’m going to do something for the next few weeks: I’m going to give you Friday Photography, where I share my photographs from that week. It gives me some motivation to take more pictures and offers you some more unique content.

This week I have some of the pictures that I didn’t use from the Cox Farms visit, along with one of my favorite water fountains. Enjoy.

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