Monday, December 30, 2013

Post Final

Ah, yes. The final post mortem of the year, a place where girls are girls, men are girls, women are girls and girls, girls, girls. Rats, well, rats are still rats.

What the hell am I talking about? Right, the story.

I'd forgotten how much fun the clone stories are to write. It's an interesting setting, although this one doesn't have quite as much world building as usual (although it does have some, in between the cracks). They inhabit a spot that's 50% Conan the Barbarian and 50% Office Space.

One of the things which always strikes me about writing them is that I never really get stuck or slow down. They come on like an attack of dysentery. I sit down and come to about five thousand words later wondering just what the hell happened. I'm often a little surprised when I go back and read what I just banged out.

The only times writing slows is when I force the plot somewhere it doesn't want to. It's almost like Bo is sitting next to me, telling me about his life. In this one, I really had no idea how he was going to get out of the trap, even though Bo told me on the first page. The rat, I thought, was just there as scenery to torment him. Nope. Not at all, apparently.

I think it helps that each of these stories tend to be rather simple. They mostly fall into the 3 Act Lester Dent formula and conflict is pretty much a leads into b, b leads into c sort of deal. There's not much in the way of complicated interplay. Mysteries wouldn't work well, anyway, because clones tend not to be very imaginative. They'd rather beat asses rather than solve crimes.

And it's a cliffhanger, to boot. I wasn't expecting that, but I decided at the last moment I wanted it to lead into the McClown uprising metaplot which I'd been planning a while.

And yes, even though it's the end of the 52 week challenge, I'm not abandoning any of the serial stories I'm writing. I probably won't write them on any specific schedule, though.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Story The Fifty-Second: Into The Grind

And here we have it, folks. The fifty-second and final story of the resolution. No defaults, no skips, no misses.

Like the first story I wrote one year ago, it's about clones. Bo, specifically. And it's a cliffhanger, because I haven't stopped writing stories. 9451 words. I don't have the others up, I think, so I have to wonder what someone would make of this one without context or background.

My official final word count for the year: 247,948 story words. An additional estimated 78,000 words from blog posts. Yikes.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

White-knuckled Adventures, Thrill Rides And The Year's End

I've been harping away at this week's story being the last story of the challenge, but it didn't occur to me until just now that this is the final blog update of the year as well. Well, not counting the brief snippet announcing said last story this weekend. I'm not going to count that because I am deceitful like that. So, without further ado...

Status Update: The story's outlined and the coffee is damn fine. In a moment which was probably symbolic as hell, I ran out of beans this morning making this last pot. They died so I could awaken slightly more easily after my five day holiday weekend. Your sacrifice will not be in vain, beans.

And here it is. 52 weeks of Thursday status updates, some of them about writing, some of them about...I dunno. It's usually about seven in the morning when I write these bad boys, and they tend to be about whatever's on my mind at the moment. This early in the morning, I'm still ripping the cobwebs from my eyes and attempting to come to grip with the inevitability of having to go to work and be awake instead of being all horizontal on my sleep-implement dreaming dreams of war-aardvarks, robot badgers and my awesome ability to knock down brick walls with my enormous wang. Leave dreams about hobnobbing with the philosophical giants of the ages to the philosophers and classy folks. I dream about things that matter.

It's been an odd year. I started this resolution like a lot of New Year's resolutions, fully intent on carrying it through all the way. Nobody kicks off one of these things intending to drop it after a month like a bathroom baby at a high school prom. But, on the face of it, it was a lot of work. It looked like a lot of work from the start, and yes, it was.

I suppose if I were the sort of person who'd make numbered lists at the drop of a hat and then post them on the CyberWebs at the end of the year like it's one of those year-end lists or something, I'd go about it like this:

Seven Things I Learned Writing A Story A Week For An Entire Year

1. Failure is kinda cool.  It's okay to suck at something as long as you pick yourself up afterwards and try again, learning from your personal suck-Vietnam.

2. Smarter, not harder. I started out writing very long short stories. Novellas, even. Problem is...that's a lot of words to write in one week. After a while I had to ask myself exactly what I was accomplishing banging out 15,000 words in just a few days? Was I training typing speed? All the useful work I had to do was usually in the first six or seven thousand words--after that, I was just slogging through the story. It was fun to test the limits of my writing speed and the ability to crank through plot to reach a deadline but...after I did it a few times, proved my point, such things weren't that useful. I wasn't really growing that much, nor was I practicing much in the way of useful plotting and writing technique. I was just doing work. Occasionally fun, though. Now when I write short stories, I try to work shorter but more to the point.

3. I suck at pantsing, after a point. I can go about 2,000 words without a plan before it becomes painfully obvious I have no idea where I'm going with a story.

4. I suck at following outlines, up to a point. If I get too specific about what's going to happen in a story, I get bored and then writing the story feels more like a chore instead of something fun and creative. It's all about balance.

5. Get weird. I have the most fun writing when I'm trying new things: the stranger, the better.

6. Books don't just happen. There were a chain of stories this summer where I decided to serialize my way into writing a novel. This was a very bad idea. At least I'll have material to draw upon when I get the chance slice it apart and reform it into an actual novel. But it was a lot of wasted effort and it almost got to the point where I wanted to give up in disgust. Not good.

7. About myself:  the biggest things I discovered during the course of the 240,000 or so words (just from the stories, mind you--I'm not counting the blog) are simply a myriad of things about my own writing: what I'm good at, what I need to work on, what my voice is like when I'm writing in various modes, what makes me procrastinate and how to get working and productive. What makes me tick, what I'm not excited about doing, what gets me fired up. All those kinds of things.

So there you have it. One year of Thursday updates. Next up: the year began with a story about clones and it'll end with a story about clones.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Penultimate Mortem

The hardest part about writing this story is probably something not immediately apparent. I actually spent a fair amount of time deliberating how to structure Claire's voice. She's the second POV character in the novel I'm working on and I wanted to make her voice contrast with Cameron's.

There are a few things about Cam's voice which I tend to play up a bit: he's young and rather naive, but he tends to wander off into these Sam Spade-like world weary internal monologues. Each one has a launching point and a destination and usually serves as a vessel for either a bit of exploration of the setting or his background or gives justification for the next thing he's going to do...which usually winds up with him getting his stupid ass killed. Cam's very much a penny wise pound foolish kind of guy. He's based loosely on a friend of mine, in fact, who tends to jump into things without thinking things through all the way. No, my friend is not a wizard. He's pretty awesome, though.

Claire's intention is to be something of a foil for that nature. The danger of using a character as a contrast is that it's pretty easy to only flesh them out halfway. I don't think that should be the case--they should be deep enough to support themselves. She's a very external sort, doesn't spend much time thinking things through but shows more common sense. She notices people more, but doesn't fret over details quite so much. She's more of a doer than a watcher. She also hardly ever monologues and on the rare occasion when she does it's mostly brief but strange anecdotes about her family.

They both are very organized, but in very different ways. Cam tends to categorize and analyze. He's an observer, a bit of a detective (more on that later). He could look at the cars in a parking lot and tell you which of them belongs to people who work there, who's visiting and whether anybody there was just using the available parking spaces to carpool. He's clever that way. He usually has a solution for any given problem even if it's a stupid one.

Claire brings organization to chaos--she tends to be very, very bothered when things don't add up. She wants everything to make sense, to be predictable and is more than willing to make it so. She gets bothered when books on a shelf are in disarray. In a sense, she's a bit of a contradiction because she wears the trappings of being an anarchist, but she spends most of her free time on the cheerleading squad or prepping for college scholarships. When in stress she has a fight or flight reflex which usually falls towards the former rather than the latter. She is also based loosely on a friend of mine, who probably is a wizard but won't admit it to me.

Cam tends to think in a prolix fashion. Claire thinks in shorter and more blunt sentences.

Cam describes details; Claire tends to focus on people and patterns.

It was a lot to think about. A different voice is more than just different word choice or sentence structure--you're thinking about an entirely different brain and history, how the characters construct their universes. What they notice versus what they consider appropriate to admit while they're telling you their stories.

I expect redrafting and tweaking their respective scenes once I get done with the full rough draft is going to be a pain. Either that or she'll click and become natural to write.

As a side note, I really need to do more reading about what detectives actually do. Detective work is never like what you expect it to be as is the case with just about any fictionalized line of work versus reality. One of the things I want to do is lampshade some of the reality versus expectations. The crime-fighting kids genre tends to rely on some rather lazy cliches which would be fun to deconstruct a bit.

And also, holy shit. Week fifty-one. One more week to go! I'm really excited about getting cracking on the full novel. Stories are fun to write, but I'm itching to make some real progress. I think I've got a handle on what I need to do to not get bogged down again, the sort of balance I need to achieve between long term outlining and too much inflexibility. I plan on ratcheting up the conflict and the stakes while layering in vast amounts of random weirdness. It'll be fun.

I still plan on blogging regularly. Perhaps even more regularly, in fact: instead of posting stories (often), I'll probably have something up every other day or so.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Story The Fifty-First: Claire - In The Club

Not random at all this time. I've been toying with the idea of incorporating Claire as another POV character in the Cameron novel. She's too fun to be just an accessory to Cameron. I think it's one of the nudges the story line needs.

So I took her for a quick spin. This is a scene from farther along, somewhere early in Act II. Still playing around with her voice a bit, trying to get a feel for the sorts of things she notices, how she organizes her environment. Also, I like these sorts of forays into the surreal. They tend to be revealing.

And, holy moly, this is story fifty-one out of fifty-two! One more to go and that wraps up this resolution. More on that tomorrow, folks.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Hiccups And The Law Of Unintended Consequences

Status Update: using a lighter brew this time around. Paradoxically, this means a more heavily-caffeinated coffee. The dark stuff has a ton of flavor, which is why I usually drink it, but the heavy roasting also burns out some of the caffeine content. This is fine with me. Caffeine, beyond a certain point, just makes me jittery and gives me a mid-morning crash. This lighter bag of beans has a great flavor to it. Not too dark, not too light, but after a pot, I'm a shivering wreck. I think it's definitely going to be a special occasions sort of thing, for days in which I need superpowers or the ability to vibrate through walls like Silver Age Flash.

Surgery, even of the light and low impact variety--such as tooth removal--is an odd and complicated process. You never really know what to expect. I think being a doctor must be one of the most nerve-wracking professions in the world, because human beings are complex on a level which makes the most complicated precision Swiss watches look like hammers.

If computers were built like the human body, pressing the A key would cause the screen to fill with butterflies instead of printing the letter A. The space bar would cause pudding to ooze out the speakers. What I'm saying is, biology is weird and a few billion years of impartial ad hoc evolution will produce results which aren't always intuitive. If Intelligent Design is a thing, then God must be rather whimsical and prone to resolving decisions via coin toss and dart throwing.

In my case, I had my last two wisdom teeth pulled on a Monday a few weeks ago. What was the most immediate after-effect on Tuesday? You'd expect weakness, pain, maybe the usual effects of inflammation and blood loss. Perhaps a high level of fatigue, wobbliness and a grinding and persistent headache. You would be incorrect. The biggest problem I had was hiccups.

Normally, I get hiccups only in one situation: eating spicy foods. Since I grew up mainlining tex-mex, my bar for what is considered a "spicy food" is so high that, living in Michigan as I do, I very rarely exceed the threshold for food-induced hiccup-dom. It requires a small city worth of Scovilles or curry of a potence and concentration which would suggest it was personally weaponized by the Rajah as a genocidal tool against the invading British armies.

The hiccups, once they come, stick around for only a brief period of time and then leave. Holding my breath is the usual cure, although I suspect doing so doesn't speed their departure much. I've found the same thing happens with unwelcome visitors and relatives as well.

Tuesday morning, I got the hiccups from bending over in the shower to pick up the shampoo. They stuck around for an hour. Then I made the mistake of sitting down too suddenly at work. I coughed while drinking a glass of water that afternoon. I stepped outside and the sunlight was kind of bright, causing another attack. All told, I had six or seven separate attacks that day. Maybe eight, depending on what system of math you are using to count them. Conversations with friends and coworkers typically went like this: "I'm *hick* sorry, Steve that your *hick* mother ate your *hick* cat. My *hick* condolences. Also, gross."

Hiccups are distinctly unpleasant. They don't cause pain or even much discomfort. What I hate about them is more of an existential thing: it's your body telling you that no, you aren't really the driver in this meat-truck you call your physical vessel. The reminders come regularly, but not by any clock. You can think you are Scott-free, and then blam! Here's another one. If you are in public, it's accompanied by people laughing at you, because hiccups are a very silly noise. You wouldn't want to have a hiccup attack if you were the President, for example.

So, Tuesday was something of my own hiccup Vietnam. Luckily, I remembered all of the supposed cures and tested them in the hell-fires of my hiccup blood-bath. Holding my breath? Ineffective. Scared by a friend? I don't have any scary friends (which probably means I am the scary friend). Breath into a paper bag? No dice. Slowly drink a cold glass of water? 90% effective. Who knew?

And that's what's kind of awesome about life in general. Just the constant sense of not knowing exactly what's going to happen as fall-out from mundane decisions. It's why I tend to do weird stuff occasionally and say yes to the occasional odd-ball adventure. Although, come to think of it, not lately because winter kinda sucks and makes me want to hibernate.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Monday Morning Is Gray

Certainly one of my less cheerful stories. I think it might also be one of my favorites of this quarter. The focus, as I wrote, was more on economical and interesting description and I think I achieved that goal.

It started out as another random title, from here. I deliberately picked one of the less ridiculous ones this time around. The title was key because it gave me the idea for the central image, that of the ambiguity of the color wheel. I'm not sure I would have chosen to write something about Shakespeare on my own.

Writing about Shakespeare is something you have to be cautious about. It's easy to come across as pretentious, or worse, produce twee Ren Faire shit. There's a fine line between being literary and being the sort of person who sits around reading Signals and wishing you were Andy Warhol. Not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just territory you have to enter cautiously.

And, wow, story number fifty. Two more to go. I have to admit, I'm not going to be sorry to be done with this and on to the next resolution. I've had my fill of weekly short stories. It's good exercise. I certainly feel like I've had a training montage of some sort, possibly to some sort of Kenny Loggins-style hit which includes the title of the movie I'm in.

My next New Year's resolution is going to be in two parts, I think: make money with my brain and start blasting out novels. There probably won't be the same fixed milestones. I'll still blog regularly, because blogging is fun and the illusion of public accountability* is useful in making me stay the course.

* Even if my reading public seems to be mostly Russian indexing bots.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Story The Fiftieth: Shakespeare Is Gray

From the same generator which brought us "Angelo For Corrupt Time", one thousand words about Shakespeare, cancer, colors and hula girl coffee cups.

It's a rather melancholy story for some rather melancholy winter weather.

Expect fewer typos than usual because I finally got around to figuring out why my spellchecker wasn't checking spelling.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Meditations

Status Update: coffee is stronger and blacker than usual today, even for me. I think I used slightly too many beans. Even after one cup, I am caffeinated to the point where I could pound nails with my forehead or pee laser beams. When the crash comes, it's probably going to be a) at work and b) very severe.

I've been meditating a lot more this year. Usually, it's the first thing in the morning I do, between taking a shower and drinking my coffee.

It's nothing particularly new for me--I learned how the same way a lot of people learned how, I think. Early exposure through a karate class as a kid. It's one of those skills which has stuck with me over the years, along with the basics of being able to fall down relatively gracefully, tie a colored strip of cloth around my waist or stay in shape through regular exercise. It is something I haven't always made a regular practice of, and that's kind of a shame.

Meditation is one of those words which comes with a lot of baggage. I never mention doing it to friends or family, and for several reasons. For one thing, they assume you're attempting to achieve enlightenment of some sort or other, which is about as far from the case as possible.

Or they assume you've been reading from the wrong end of the book store and engaging in all sorts of alternate lifestyle behavior, like enjoying food that didn't begin its life as a cow or collecting pictures of unicorns and pyramids (shut up, I like unicorns).

Or I fail to mention it simply because bragging about things you do in your daily routine to maintain your health--mental, physical or otherwise--is an awful lot like bragging about brushing your teeth. It makes you look simple.

I meditate because it's a useful skill. One common view of meditation is that it's done for relaxation, which is only partially correct. You can relax with it, but that's not the entire story.

What I find it useful for is training focus. You settle down in a somewhat-but-not-completely comfortable position in a room which has few distractions. You sit for a length of time (fifteen minutes at a go, for me) and you simply concentrate on not thinking. Focus on your breathing, or the sounds around you, or your heartbeat. It doesn't matter. Whenever a thought comes up of any sort, let it pass. Swat it away, dismiss it, laugh mercilessly as it dissipates into a puff of malodorous smoke. Observe the thought as it develops, then let it go. Breathe some more. Dismiss other thoughts. Ad infinitum. It's surprisingly difficult and a never-ending task.

The human brain is designed to think, so meditation is an endless loop of smacking down irrelevant thoughts. Conversations with friends, musings about anteaters, snippets of music, anger, stress, all the noise of daily life--you're going to have it wash through you as you force yourself to sit still for however long you're meditating. Eventually (and not every time you sit down) you will reach a state of stillness and, hopefully, you come out of it feeling recharged and focused.

Eventually that ability to swat down stray thoughts will stick with you. Something happens which stresses you out: an argument at work, or someone cuts you off in traffic. Maybe you're having a hard time going to sleep because your brain just. Won't. Switch. Off. And then you realize that what's distracting you is simply that: a distraction, and nothing to do with what's important in life. And you dismiss the thought the way you do when you're meditating. It puffs into smoke and you finish your drive, or you go to sleep, or the stress dissipates, for now.

I don't really think of meditation as a spiritual thing at all. I think of it as cardio for your brain. It trains a certain ability to focus on the present, a mindful state where you can distance yourself from whatever you're doing, just being content to be there, whether you're writing a story or washing your dishes.

As a person who writes, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the practice of mindfulness. When I do it regularly, I find I don't procrastinate as much. I write longer because I can focus deeper on my writing, to the point of losing track of time or what's going on in my immediate environment.

On the other hand, part of being a creative-type person is that you're a creative type person because you always have voices in your head. You're always carrying on conversations with mental strangers, imaginary friends, historical figures, whatever. It's excruciating when you're meditating and you're forced to let go of a particularly interesting conversation or a useful train of thought. I've lost track of the number of story ideas I've had to dismiss meditating.

There's always a sense you're casting away something valuable, but you're not. You're just sending it back to the well, where it will marinate again and probably return when you need it, stronger for the experience.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Bing!

Well, that certainly wasn't even close to diesel punk. It's always fun to go back and read my wild-ass predictions about what each week's story is going to be about.

It's going to be an existentialist take on post-modern deconstructionist thought. I plan on riffing on Pablo Neruda and will follow a growing trend of modern thought about the distancing effects of modern media consumption. WRONG. It's about robots fighting sentient badgers.

It's going to be a thoughtful tale of two peoples' star-crossed roma--WRONG, sentient badgers again.

I'm a little surprised the story turned out as well it did given just how lousy I've felt since the tooth extraction. I'm mostly recovered. Between ibuprofen and coffee I am once again a mostly-functional adult human type being, with only the occasional relapse into grody headache land.

The story itself was kind of a riff on "Sure Thing" by David Ives, probably one of my favorite one-act plays. Instead of focusing on the courtship itself, however, one of the things I played with was the notion that this guy, who had an unfair advantage, was working towards an endpoint he wasn't necessarily wise enough to realize wasn't very desirable.

Unfortunately, due to lack of sleep/caffeination/whatever, the end result was a bit schizophrenic. There's a lot more setup than it probably needs, even though it was fun to write, and a lot of focus on the interview itself, which was also fun to write, but maybe not enough effort with the dismount. I think if I were to revisit this, I'd put up more red flags that the company he was interviewing for wasn't necessarily a good place for him.

Or I'd have the interview be for different stakes. Make it clear to even the most casual reader that he's barking up the wrong tree. Or spend more time dwelling on the notion that the reset button, even if it takes place over years, isn't quite so useful as people fantasize about.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Story The Forty-nineth: Abort, Retry Or Fail

No randomness this time. Instead a seed from my Big List Of Ideas, a story about useful failure.

Roughly 2300 words. The Universal Reset Button, Taco Bell, a job interview and the wrong damn microprocessor company.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Less Wise

Status Update: plentiful coffee, theoretically dark, if I would let it just run free and be itself (man). But no, I'm recovering from wisdom tooth extraction, so I'm slipping in extra calories where I can. In my case, it's drinking my normally dark coffee with milk added like the big wussy wuss that I am. Can't quite bring myself to add sugar, though. Largely because I can't figure out where my sugar is, if I have any.

This time around, the process of recovery is...better than last time. I think I'd lost more blood during the operation during my last wisdom tooth extraction. It made recovery harder than this time around. This time, I am wise in the ways of tricking myself into eating more during soft diets.

Also, I do NOT plan on going to a beer festival at the end of this week. This is very key.

Favorite moment so far: spitting up about two cups of blood in the shower yesterday morning, like Gene Simmons at the climax of a KISS concert. Apparently, when you have a hole in your sinuses you should NOT sleep on your back. Eventually, that buildup will drain when you least expect it, sparking the sort of moment which would usually be accompanied by Ave Satani in a horror movie.

I'm sure there's a parallel to writing in there somewhere.

I'm going to resist that urge, however.

I've discovered there are two things in life which you miss until you're not allowed to do them for a while:

1. Blowing your nose. Holy hell on a bucking leaf-blower do I want to blow my damn nose. According to my rather Nordic doctor, however, it would be a Bad Thing To Do, at least for a week. It would be like crossing the streams or starting a land war in China. Total photonic reversal, is what I'm saying.

2. Eat hard foods. Goes without saying, I guess. I turned down some perfectly good sausage yesterday, which is antithetical to my whole philosophy of life.

When I get over this, life is going to be one giant nose-blowing sausage party. It's going to be epic.

Also, at some point I'm going to write another story this week. I've been getting nostalgic about diesel-punk lately, so maybe a side-story in the world of "Roxy Rides The Train."

Monday, December 2, 2013

Digging A Hole

And I'm back from the Upper Peninsula. Banged out the story yesterday in between various preparations for this week's festivities. Assuming you could call having a couple of wisdom teeth out a festivity, unless you take a strict Viking interpretation of the affair. Blood? Check. Altered states? Check. Screaming? Hope not. It's a party!

Half my head should recover quickly, the other half, where my tooth has burrowed so far into my skull and sinus cavity it will most likely require a team of cartographers, spelunkers and symplectic geometrists to figure out how to get it out...probably not so much. The good doctor has explained his angle of attack. I have problems visualizing his solution due to my mortal limitations and stubborn insistence on adhering to the boring and usual three dimensions.

The story? Right, the story.

This was another random story seed, this time from this site. I selected the full five challenge objectives, since that's the sort of adrenaline-crazed daredevil that I am.

"A character will prepare for a birthday. During the story, a character drinks something that disagrees with them. The story must have a miner in it. The story must involve some horseshoes at the end. The story takes place a century into the future."

It was one of those situations where it gave you a lot and too little to work with. I wound up picking the "miner" aspect and running with it. Since it took place a century in the future, I decided to lampshade technology.

I've always been a little intrigued about situations where advancing technology allows constant connection, but not necessarily in a helpful way.

The default assumption of advancing technology, I think, at least by designers and power users, is that connection is going to be ubiquitous. The logical extension is that you're going to be online all the time, even during the most private and incongruous moments.

In a world where you're constantly participating in networks and conversations, it must be odd to find yourself in a position like the two main characters where you are always in shouting distance of help, but not necessarily in a position to be helped. Not sure I conveyed this quite enough in the rough draft, but it's there in the story. I decided to play it up a bit for the inherent gallows humor.

And I'm out until Thursday. I'll probably be capable of coherent posting by then, but if it's anything like the last dental procedure I had of this sort, the pounding headache will most likely make the post and--by extension--this week's story, rather cranky and disjointed. Which is to say, like most of the rest of my output.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Story The Forty-eighth: Always Connected

"A character will prepare for a birthday. During the story, a character drinks something that disagrees with them. The story must have a miner in it. The story must involve some horseshoes at the end. The story takes place a century into the future."

Good lord.

That's what this delightful thing gave me. Thank you, internet, for your never-exhausting supply of generators.

Roughly 1700 words. Miners, horseshoes, birthdays, social media and the Donner Party.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Umlauts

Status Update: Visiting the parental units, so I am at the mercy of their coffee choices. Not bad, just different. I am unaccustomed to having coffee with flavors added that are not coffee-related. It feels unnatural, like rain falling up or dogs wearing tuxedos. Actually, that would be pretty cool. Two thumbs up for dogs in tuxedos.

So, short update today. Not much in the way of writing happening as of yet. When I do begin this week's entry, it will be in a relatively narrow window of time since I'm having my last two wisdom teeth out on Monday morning and I don't have high hopes for my ability to hold two thoughts to rub together in my head for several days afterwards. My main concern after dental surgery is mostly about not drooling too much and forcing myself to eat. 39 years to 39 days in a single morning, folks.

Onwards and downwards.

On the incredibly long drive up, I usually have quite a bit of time to think. It's one of my favorite parts about visiting my parents--besides actually visiting my parents, of course. They are disturbingly awesome in their own peculiar ways and I love them both dearly.

It's an eight hour drive from where I live to where they live. Not only is it over the river and through the woods, it's over quite a few rivers and through about four hundred miles of woods. And several lakes which can easily be spotted from orbit. I'm sure Chris Hadfield went over them at least once while singing Space Oddity. It's a long drive.

I do a lot of thinking during this drive because I usually do it alone and the radio can hold my attention for only so long. During nicer weather, it's a chance to decompress and let my mind drift from the usual fantasies to slow pondering about the state of my life. I can't say I ever come to any major life decisions, but it has more subtle benefits. Think of it as eight hours of meditation and it would be closer to the truth.

One of the many things I thought about on the way up was how I always seem to do my best writing when I'm laboring under restrictions, usually arbitrary as hell and self-imposed.

I think it's because, for most people, having more choices actually gives you fewer choices. There's probably a name out there for this effect. I'm guessing it's a German name. The Germans have awesome names for everything, which probably explains why they're 24.7% more cooler than us and 96.3% more inclined to use umlauts, which are the Cadillacs of punctuation.

When all possibilities are open, the mind quails a bit and retreats to its comfort zones: you see an endless wasteland of choices before you and none of them resolve into a likely course of action. You pick left or you pick right. You go forward or backwards and those are the only of the 360-plus degrees around you you choose and you do it because you have names for those directions.

Even though you have all the options, you have choices arbitrarily built in even if you think you're acting freely and without preconceptions.

That's what I like about arbitrary writing challenges and formulas--it forces you to play by someone else's rules and they are rules which are alien to your own paradigm. Some of them may be arbitrary, but others exist for perfectly good reasons which may or may not be immediately apparent to you: the Three Act Structure, for example, has rising action cooked right in if you follow it correctly.

Of course, it's also fun to go off half-cocked and without a plan and see what your brain serves up. Variety, that's what it's all about.

In contrast to the drive up, where I think about things like this, the drive back down is somewhat less deep. Mostly I just want beer and a hot shower. Have I mentioned it's a long drive?

Monday, November 25, 2013

Putting Greelba To Rest

As mentioned yesterday, this was a random story seed from this site. The story seed was "A fuzzy biologist accidentally destroys a set of mystical objects and gets a fungus." It could just as easily have been "an angry woman becomes the castle and discovers the prince" or "A giant llama loses the world and swallows the ideal significant other."

As I said yesterday, some of the best ideas always come with a bit of disbelief and contempt. Usually, at first blush, they seem stupid, then you do a double-take, maybe laugh. Most of the times, when you see an idea and it doesn't seem somewhat ridiculous and ungainly at first, it's probably not a good idea. It might be serviceable or workable, but no more than that.

For example:

I'm going to write a story about vampires and high schools.

Workable, I guess. Not ridiculous at all, though.

I'm going to write a story about Chinese hopping vampires and how they founded American high schools. It's going to feature a character with a learning-related disability. Dyslexia, maybe.

Better! I'm a little embarrassed to admit that on second read through this post, I copied it into my list of story ideas.

All the hallowed stories started out slightly ridiculous. Who in their right mind would base several thousand pages of fiction on a make-believe world with elves? Tolkien must have been laughed at a lot.

Seven novels about a boy in wizard school? Edward E Smith's epic stories about telepathic space cops?

If you give some random person off your street a one-sentence summary of what you're writing and they mock you, then you're probably on the right path. Because conventional wisdom is horse-pucky, that's why; conventional wisdom is a consensus of millions of peoples' pre-conceived notions. It's an averaged response of barely-or-not-at-all-thought-out opinions. Some of it is logical and true: don't eat the yellow snow, don't stick your tongue on that, don't run with sharp objects. Some of it isn't. Sometimes you have to go perpendicular to it and see what sticks to the wall.

I reiterate now to emphasize a point: holy crap, only five more weeks to go! It doesn't seem like it's been almost a year, but here I am. I've had some lame entries, and this final stretch has been producing a lot of short, off-the-cuff stories instead of longer, better thought out pieces, but I've almost made it.

Still undecided what, exactly, my next resolution will be. It will almost certainly be novel-related, though.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Story The Forty-seventh: Greelba And The Endless Repose

Holy crap, only five more weeks to go!

Another random idea from a random idea generator. The story seed was "A fuzzy biologist accidentally destroys a set of mystical objects and gets a fungus." Spoilers!

Playing around with the generator, I was disappointed I didn't get "A cute cab driver decides to destroy the kingdom with the kingdom." The best ideas always begin with that "WTF" reflex.

Anyway, ca 2500 words. Computers and dying suns, rubies the size of your head and lots and lots of moss.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bad Dreams

Status Update: back to the routine again. Drinking black coffee, of a darkness and ferocity rivaled only by certain varieties of chemical agents only to be found in the worst sorts of chemlabs. Some day, I'll accidentally add one more ounce of grounds to my coffee machine and that's how zombie apocalypses start, folks.

Why the hell does "apocalypse" even have a plural form? You'd think one would be enough.

Anyhow.

I had a dream recently where I went back to some earlier blog entries and realized that my entry length had increased 300% since the beginning of the year. I felt a bit of chagrin over the fact--is my bloviating achieving some sort of critical density? Yes, I believe it is. Ce la vie.

It was an odd sort of thing to have an anxiety dream about. They always say that you should log your dreams so you can mine them for story ideas. Or sell them online as prophecies to wing-nuts. Either/or, I guess.

In my case, my brain never really serves me a huge variety of bad dreams. They always boil down to the same three things:

1. I'm late for something.
2. Tornadoes.
3. Haunted houses.

Thin pickings, unless I want to start up a new genre of horror stories involving being late for ghost-tornado-school.

When I'm not having anxiety dreams, I'm having Boring Dreams. The sort of dream where you wake up, go through the work day, have a typical night, maybe type some words on the internet while drinking awesome coffee, and then you wake up, only you have to do it in real life.

I had a dream once where I was stuck in a department store because I couldn't make up my mind which set of towels to buy. Plaid or red? Blue stripes or panda print? My brain is, occasionally, a very boring place.

Hell, I used to have anxiety dreams all the time about being naked in public. Then, at some point, I realized that random horrifying public nudity is actually kinda fun in a way and my brain stopped inflicting those dreams on me.

It's fun to think about, really. In writing, whenever you see a dream sequence, it's always a big glowing signpost that Something Meaningful is about to happen, perhaps in a symbolic form. Dreams are culturally ingrained in our collective psyche as a form of portent, messages from the supernatural world of great import. Mythology and religion is rife with examples: oracles and prophets, shamans and such.

When a character has a dream in a story, it's probably a good time to take notes--the author is going to get all poetic and Freudian on us. If it's the sort of story where fantastic things happen, then you're getting a taste of what the rest of the story's going to be about. If it's not, then you're about to get a peek at what's stewing around in the character's subconscious, perhaps get an alternate carnival house of mirrors view of what's going on in the story.

You never really see dreams as they really happen in real life. Pointless meanderings or childish portrayals of fears that the adult waking mind would dismiss out of hand without a second thought if the dreamer were awake and not a captive audience.

I suppose it's a cliche, that use of the dream sequence as a sort of scare quotes around Important-Stuff-We-Don't-Want-To-Come-Right-Out-And-Tell-You-About. But it's a fun one. It's probably why nobody really shies away from it--dreams are fun to talk about and even more fun to write. Unless it's about towels.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Post Move Wrap-up

And I am moved, fully. Astonishing just how popular you become once word gets out you've got a U-haul for the day. My own move went very rapidly because this ain't my first rodeo, so to speak. No cows, for one thing. I've done quite a few moves, enough to know what to plan for, what to avoid. So this one went pretty quickly.

And then I helped a friend haul a piano across town. After that, I snagged a remaining friend and headed out to pick up some furniture my boss was getting rid of. Three very nice pieces, all constructed out of what seemed to be some unearthly alchemical latticework of solid neutronium and depleted elemental heavy-ite. If there is ever going to be a zombie apocalypse, I know which furniture I am going to use to barricade the doors, assuming I can budge them.

As for the story, well. Not much to say, really.

It was a flash piece that I banged out between unboxing and apartment decorating. Just a quick monologue by a salesman from a future where ubiquitous 3d printers had changed the global marketplace. Sort of a nod to Neil Stephenson, I guess. There's some interesting issues, I think, when that kind of tech becomes very common. Designers suddenly find themselves with a lot more work to do. People who make stuff, less. I'd imagine that really complex designs will have some DRM baked right in, so you don't just download your friend's Camaro and print it out. If you did, some fail-safe would kick in and it would call the cops on you.

Good times.

Things are still up in the air, writing-wise, at least until I get a new computer desk to replace the one I tossed during the move (it was pretty old, a pre-fab dealie which did not age gracefully). The kitchen table is reasonably comfortable, but not for more than a half hour or so at a time.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Story The Forty-sixth: We Sell Dreams

Just finished up an extraordinarily busy week of moving, so here's an extraordinarily brief piece of flash fiction. Seven hundred words or so. It's about...3d printers.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Foresight

Status Update: the coffee today's a lighter variety, at least by my standards, which is like saying your bulldozer is light and graceful on its feet, capable of better pirouettes than your typical bulldozer. Not much in the writing department getting done because I'm between apartments at the moment.* In fact, I'm doing the equivalent of a shuttle relay just to get this post posted--I haven't gotten around to switching over my internet yet. It's weirdly refreshing but still a pain in the keister.

* Technically, I have two apartments, since I'm a big fan of forking over the cash to have your leases overlap for a week. It makes moving astonishingly simpler and easier to organize. Plus if you split it over a few days, your friends won't hate you as much for making them carry your endless boxes of books.

I predict flash fiction this week. It's hard to write long when you can't find your writer hat because it's buried beneath a pile of flotsam. It may even be buried beneath some jetsam as well, although I don't recall owning any jetsam to speak of. You never know.

WARNING: TOPICAL COMPARISON BETWEEN WRITING AND MOVING AHEAD

One thing that always amuses me about moving is just how many of your apartment layout decisions seems to be dictated by "I'll just put this here for now" and then forgetting to come back to it. Sometimes for years. You look at the top of your fridge and, in a fit of nonlinear thinking, wonder just why the hell you always keep your cleaning supplies up there, don't have any immediate answers, so you give it a good think and holy shit, you realize you've had it that way for six years because that's where you put it when you moved in. Then you face-palm and put that bottle of Windex on the shelf where you keep all your other cleaning supplies, resulting in about six months of not knowing where the hell the Windex is.

I tend to put something down in a convenient location, perhaps absent-mindedly, and now that it becomes part of my mental landscape, that's where it stays. It just never occurs to me that I can, and probably should, regularly revisit my belongings to see if there's a better place for them.*

* Actually, I do sweep through my apartment every few months with an eye for this sort of thing--now. I just lied like a big damn lying liar to make a point.

Anyway.

Happens all the time to me in writing (see, told you there was a comparison coming up). I'll make a decision because it's easy or the first thing to come to mind when I'm blowing through a first draft and, because the words are there, it's real to me. I don't stop to consider that I can change everything as much as I want. A character might have drifted over the course of fifty pages to become something completely different. Perhaps I need a location to be slightly different. Maybe I really do need to have that gun in the drawer where Andrew's trained war-aardvark (waarvark?) can find it.

I need to be better at realizing that I can change things at any point. It would speed my writing quite a bit, paradoxically, because I wouldn't be so hung up on continuity. I keep outlines, but what I don't realize is that they're more than a road map that I'm writing towards, but also something I can physically manipulate as I write. The furniture can change, so to speak.

Just as importantly, I need to work on getting better at marking off these placeholder bits, the parts where I just said "I'm putting this character here for now" and getting back to them later to make them actually work.

Something to think about, assuming I can figure out which pile of boxes contains my thinking cap.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Monday Morning Haircut

As I mentioned yesterday, I googled a random seed generator, here, and came up with this:
"This is a dark comedy with an undercurrent about exploration and the differences between the classes. The story is about elegant barbers. It takes place in Prague. Cultures colliding plays a major role in this story."
Once my eyes hit the phrase "elegant barbers" I was already writing.

This one was pretty fun. It takes me a lot more time to write good dialogue. I was down to a rate hovering somewhere between 800 and 1200 words per hour on this one, because I have to sound everything out in my head, make sure it's something the character in question would say, ask myself if what was said was something the other characters would feel the need to comment on. Fun, but a little taxing mentally.

As I mentioned yesterday, I pantsed this one, because I wasn't so concerned this time around with plot. My goal, once I sat down on the project long enough to acquire one, was to mostly focus on characterization and efficient description, which is why this one is filled with more oddball metaphors than usual.

The Prague detail in the random seed had some interesting repercussions. It took me to some interesting ends of Google as I found myself having to search for "bad neighborhoods in Prague" or "large Czech companies". It's okay for research to be a little shallow when writing fiction, particularly in rough drafts. You just need enough tidbits to scatter throughout your story to give your writing a veneer of authenticity, like ornaments on a Christmas tree.

Even if you feel like a complete phony, the deception can be surprisingly effective. People read the random details and just fill in the rest, assuming you know what the hell you're talking about, even if that's very far from the case. If there's one thing I've learned in my life is that it's okay to be talking out of your ass, as long as you say your complete bullshit with enough authority and gravitas.

Every once in a while you get caught with your pants down--somebody will point out that the Hotel du Palais is actually on the other side of town from where your characters are eating lunch and there's NO WAY they could have made it there in time to see Mrs. Jones get it in the neck from Watson, YOU BIG PHONY. That's okay. That's why you have an extra eyeball or two around to look at your bizniss before you do anything with it.

Anyhow.

228,000 words this year as far as my fiction goes, 295k or so if you count my blog entries. Seven more stories to go. Home stretch! I'm going to try not to fuck it up.

Probably another short one this week. Partly because this late in the game I'm just resting up for next year, which should be novel-tastic--I've got tons of ideas for staying on track with my various novels, it's going to be epic, folks--partly because I want to focus more on exercises and writing drills to strengthen my kung fu. And mostly because I'm moving this week and I'm going to be busy doing moving stuff.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Story The Forty-fifth: The Barbers Of Prague

Ca 3000 words. This was pretty fun--I googled a random seed generator, here, and came up with this:
"This is a dark comedy with an undercurrent about exploration and the differences between the classes. The story is about elegant barbers. It takes place in Prague. Cultures colliding plays a major role in this story."
"Elegant barbers" was all the prompting I needed. Getting to read about Prague to get some details to slot in was a happy bonus.

I decided to pants this one, as in write from the seat of my pants. Plot was mostly a secondary consideration, since I was focusing more on efficient characterization, dialogue and fun metaphors. More on Monday, probably.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Things I've Learned Rolling Cables (That Don't Want To Be Rolled)

Status Update: Plentiful coffee today. I misestimated the amount of coffee I had on hand on the last shopping expedition and I retrieved far too much vis a vis my current supply. If a blizzard were to roll over today, I would emerge from the vast and snowy drifts far too energetically. Starved but over-caffeinated. If I lost a pillow before I went to sleep tonight, I could recline on one of my spare piles of coffee. I would have uncomfortably-wired dreams of happier places, where jittery cows raced across plains strewn with discarded coffee cups, where waterfalls of pure espresso thundered into vast rivers of frothy latte. I need to stop writing this before it becomes a story. Also, now I want espresso.

Not much on the writing front at the moment. This week, I believe, is going to be another short-ish exercise week. Probably shooting for about two thousand words or so, unless my subconscious decides to take me on an adventure, which does, occasionally, happen.

Speaking of adventures, I'm moving some time in the next month or two. It's one of those thoroughly unexciting moves you occasionally engage in when you're a renter: if the place I lived in were a place I owned, this would be about the time I tore everything out and remodeled. Slapped some more paint on the walls, replaced some of the appliances, sending them to the appliance old folks home where they could trade stories about the glory days of the 70's.

I would replace the carpets with carpets that haven't seen quite so much gnarly action. I may put in a special request to go all Office Space on my refrigerator, which has been a thorn in my proverbial side for the last few years, but not thorny enough for me to kick up a ruckus about it, if that makes any sense at all.

But I don't have to, because I'm a renter. It's one of the perks of being a renter, that ability to not have to care about things. You can just drift around and not accumulate worries.

Since I'm fairly happy with the management and location of my complex, I'm simply moving to another apartment of the same general sort and layout as soon as one opens up.

I'm a firm believer in preparing for moves as far in advance as possible. I'm the go-to person in my social circles for moves because I'm usually available, I'm reliable, kind of a softy, and I'm in pretty good shape. I've been involved in some moves which were, to say the least, awful. Snowing sideways. Hundred degree weather. Up five flights of stairs. You name it, I've probably moved someone in it, because a lot of my friends are lousy planners.

My absolute least favorite parts of moves, though, are the ones where you have to move a ton of small, light boxes. I'd rather have to lift four heavy things than four hundred really light things.

So I'm preparing in advance as much as possible. I don't have a move date, yet, so I'm mostly cycling through my apartment, decluttering, reorganizing and generally straightening things out. When I do have a move date, I'll arrange a week of overlap so I have to annoy as few friends as possible with the small stuff. Also, it's just a good idea to get rid of the cruft, strip out all the nonessentials, lighten your existence in general.

As a nerd, it turns out I have a lot of cables. I've tossed a lot, given away more, even taken some into work, if they were of the useful variety. But I still have a ton. It's amazing how much space they take up if you leave them tangled, so I roll them up, tie them off and store them.

Cables tend to each have their own personality. You want to roll them one way and they resist. Sometimes you just have to let them have their own way, roll them the way they want to be rolled and then pack them up. Of course, once they're out of your sight, they instantly unfurl and tie themselves into knots.

It's an interesting mental exercise, because a lot of life is that way. If you try to force some things, it'll just go tits up (as my dad says) and at the end, you'll have just as big of a mess as when you started. If you go mostly with the flow, nudging gently along the way, things work out better.

If you work with the cable, understand why it bends the way it bends, you can achieve a compromise with it, find the point of stability where it'll let you make it neater and you can coil it tightly. Each one's different. Rope bends and loops differently than ethernet cable, which bends and loops differently than headphone wire.

I tend to have a lot of problems I've exacerbated by just brute-forcing them when I should have nudged them along. I suppose packing and uncluttering is a good mental exercise, a field test for all of life's different strategies.

Anyhow. No idea what I'm writing this week. I'll see if I can surprise myself.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Mooning

I think if I had to summarize my writing as succinctly as possibly, I'd say it was a series of lists, separated by commas. I use commas a lot. Maybe too much. My cruise control mode is to bang out phrases until I've gotten from point A to point B without being particularly mindful of things like sentence structure or grammar.

Maybe a likely challenge week is to see if I can get through a thousand words without using a comma. I'm...not sure how pleasant that might be. For me, it would be like getting through a five mile run without tying my shoelaces.

Anyway.

Fun story. I don't give myself the opportunity to write action sequences nearly enough, which is problematic because action sequences are a great way to keep attention on your story if you dole them out wisely. Like all tools, it pays to switch things up to keep the pacing fresh.

Somebody once told me, way back in the days when I had to teach English to put food on the table while I got the bulk of grad school out of the way, that peoples' attention spans tend to test out at roughly ten minutes. If you've been talking ten minutes, you need to change something in the environment. Sit down, move, stand on the desk, do a hand stand, whatever it takes to switch things up. Stories aren't much different. You've got ten sexy minutes before attention fades and if you don't blow something up every few pages, you're gonna lose your readers.

Oddly enough, that's the same advice Roger Corman gives to his screenwriters. The Roger Corman formula is that every ten pages something has to explode, there has to be a killing, or some nubile somebody or other has to get naked. No exceptions. In practice, this means that every ten minutes in his films, there's SOMETHING interesting happening. It's a good habit to get into.

People can be doing just about anything else than reading your book/story/epic poem about the Hungarian throat-singers/play/whatever. You have an obligation to make sure their time is well spent, doubly so if they're paying you for the privilege.

Among The Moons Of Jupiter was a sort of double-exercise. I pulled out a twenty-sided die, because I am nerd enough that I usually have a billion dice within arm's reach, of any flavor you care to name, save for the real oddities (I don't have any d5, d7, d9, d14, d16's or d30's...yet). I rolled for a random book from my library and got a classic pulp from Leigh Brackett.

I used that as a launching point for Chuck Wendig's Zero Fuckery Guide on character creation. I came up with a typical pulp hero. The hook is that he's a pacifist. He's seen so much action that he's come to a place in his life where he simply can't bring himself to kill anyone anymore. Also, the Earth was destroyed at some point, probably by some cartoonishly villainous method like a moon-based death ray laser. No subtlety here, nothing surprising, just an excuse to get into the action as soon as humanly possible. If this were a full length book, it would be the sort you pick up, blow through in an afternoon, and then promptly forget about. That's not necessarily a bad thing.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Story The Forty-fourth: Among The Moons Of Jupiter

2200 words, pure John Carter.

When I said I'd pick a book at random from my shelves and write in that style, I meant it. The result? Leigh Brackett's "The Secret Of Sinharat", a wonderful story about the adventures of Eric John Stark on the dying planet of Mars.

So, I riffed on that for a while. Here's the result.

Redacted. :-)

I am very, very, very grateful to my dice for not landing me on stereo instructions, an encyclopedia volume, a sexy vampire novel or Dragonlance. Also, a quick Google tells me that Blaine Gray is a country singer, a fact of which I was unaware. If it amuses you, you can picture my Blaine as the real Blaine, kicking ass in space.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Right Word

Status Update:  My coffee is once again strong and dark. In fact, this morning I brewed a little more heavily than usual, to the point that a less inured human might have considered adding a splash of water. It's that kind of morning. Torrential rain, nights are long, days are short and my downstairs neighbors have had a marathon screaming match now in their third day. Good kids, both of them, but not when they're together.

As I cruise into the last bits of the resolution year, I think I'm going to concentrate more on writer-muscle strengthening exercises. I'll still write stories, yes, but there's more of an ulterior motive here. It's less about shaking loose ideas, of which I have a nigh-endless supply, but rather more about practicing new things, getting myself ready for whatever heinous resolution I set for myself next year. This week, I think I'm going to concentrate on voice and characterization. I'm going to randomly select one book off my shelves and write in that style, make a character study of some sort. I really hope I don't randomly select a Dragonlance novel or one of my drier bits of nonfiction.

Onwards and downwards.

I think everyone has a favorite word, one that sums up their approach to life. Mine is Swedish, "lagom." It's one of those wonderful words which has no direct equivalent in English, like the Spanish "desahogarse" ("to disemburden oneself frankly with someone").

It means "sufficient" or "just the right amount." I prefer to use "sufficient" as the English equivalent, because it highlights a few things about American culture which I think are revealing.

In America, describing something as "sufficient" has a strong implication of being half-assed. If you put a sufficient amount of effort into doing your job, for example, it means you showed up and didn't fall asleep halfway through the day. A solid C-grade effort. Something a slacker might do or be happy with.

Lagom doesn't really mean that. It's sufficient in the sense of "just right". You buy lagom wood to build your house and your house is built correctly, in high quality, in a reasonable amount of time. You finish your house and there's a bit of wood left over, but not a lot. Lagom implies a job well done within reasonable limits. You finish your effort and you go to bed satisfied.

It implies a cultural mindset where you have your priorities in balance, where more is simply more and not the moral imperative it is over here in the States, where bigger houses, fancier gadgets are the norm, where people feel "ripped off" if their plates aren't covered in heaping piles of food as a default proportion in a restaurant.

Lagom is realizing precisely what your needs are, pursuing them with a healthy amount of effort, getting them just right and then moving on. There's a beautiful kind of zen to the word. It's about prioritizing and realizing you can free your efforts for other parts of your life or simply call it good and relax.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Post Pier

This was an odd duck of a story. Not one of those things where you finish writing and you high-five your imaginary friend while shouting something rambunctious, like "booyah!"

But it does have a lot going for it, I think. There's a beginning, a middle and a palpable ending. Events go somewhere and a revelation is to be had. That's a step up from most of my shorter pieces.

I like the setting and there's a ton of elements in it that seem to work well. Especially the albino girls, the backstory and the story's themes. I like the parallel I tried to make between the station and a squalid swamp. I could probably play that up a bit more.

I think it could benefit from a longer treatment so I can get more of a building tension going, perhaps have the story echo some more traditional southern gothic fiction. The main problem is that I'd probably have to write dialogue in dialect and I'm not terribly confident in my ability to successfully ape cajun without pissing people off.

Speaking of pissing people off, I nearly had one of those moments here where letter soup can go horribly, terribly wrong. I needed a name for the alien race. I decided to take the time-honored route of taking a word that means something ("nagere", in this case, which means "to swim") and add apostrophes and weird punctuation until it looks alien. Everybody does it. Otherwise you wind up with alien names that all sound the same after a while.

Did I read it out loud right away? Nope. Did I get nearly to the end and have an "oh no!" moment when I did read it out loud? Yep. "N'gre" is a cool-sounding name. If you pronounce the second syllable as "gray". If you read it straight out...um. Yeah. Happens to us all, I guess. It sounded particularly heinous in light of the story's subtext. I mean, maliciously so.

In any case, this is one of those stories that I like more and more the more I think about it, but doesn't immediately fire me up. I think if I did it longer, I'd give Njena more to do, give her more action and a bit more of a background and personality. Basically, more of everything.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think the story might make a workable setting for longer fiction. There's something about ye old hoary tales of space-smugglers that screams for subtext about class struggle...

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Story The Forty-third: Landry's Pier

Originally intended for this week's Wendig flash thingy, but wound up being dang near 2000 words which is way too long. The story was too involved for me to feel like stripping it down to within spitting distance of the 1k word limit, so I decided to finish it and call it good, without cross-posting.

1.7k words. The challenge was to roll twice on a twenty-entry list of subgenres. This is a mash-up of space opera and southern gothic horror. We've got racism, landed gentry, cyberware, space stations and smugglers. With a story as short as this one, not many buckles were swashed, but I could probably see it happening at some point were it to grow up into something longer.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Unfuck Your Life

Status Update:  I think I just ruined a pot of coffee in the name of convenience and efficiency. I've been reading the Unfuck Your Habitat tumblr and one of the ideas it had was doing basic preparation the night before to make your morning more efficient. Oh ho, said I. Efficiency? I CAN DO EFFICIENCY. So, I pre-ground my coffee beans, loaded up the filter, did everything but water up my coffee machine because my coffee machine leaks like a god-damned sieve. Then I went to bed.

Beans once ground, dry out. I knew that, which is why I tend to grind my beans fresh every morning. If you don't, even the good stuff tastes like Maxwell House eventually. The question to be answered this morning was, "do they dry out overnight?" The answer, unequivocally, is "yes, Virginia, they fucking do."

Now I just have to ask myself if the bad coffee is worth the extra two or three minutes I saved by doing this the night before? I'm guessing not, considering what I just typed. It wasn't awful, just much weaker than I'm used to.

Unfuck Your Habitat is a pretty cool site, though. It's one of those Lifehacker-circle blogs with the premise that spending just a few minutes every day on something that improves your life is way better than going full-hog-crazy on it for an afternoon (or evening or morning) once every few months when you just can't take it anymore.

You spend ten minutes dusting or putting some stuff away or cleaning up clutter or making sure something that isn't squared away is squared away every day, instead of going crazy on everything at once once or twice a month. Ten or twenty minutes isn't much time. Most people spend more time puttering around on their computers before bed than that.

This philosophy appeals to me because it's a central philosophy my life, not just cleaning. I'm a big fan of boring and consistent approaches. Fitness, money, cleaning, it's all largely the same. Progress is progress, after all. Life goals tend to be processes instead of destinations. You don't just wake up "in shape" or "not in the poorhouse". Anything worth doing is going to be a series of tiny steps and it's better if those tiny steps are broken up over the course of days instead of in big irregular clumps that you wind up dreading.

Society discourages the small-amount-of-work-every-day method of achieving goals. I think people are trained to see problem-solving as a series of training montages, like you see in movies. Pat Morita kicks your ass into shape after the bullies pick on you, the Peter Cetera kicks in while you're running on the beach, waxing-on and waxing-off and suddenly you know fucking karate, man.

Doing a small amount of work regularly doesn't fit that mentality at all. It's not particularly glamorous, doing a very small amount of work every day, but it builds up over time. For example: I'm in fairly decent shape. I'm not going to run marathons, but I can pick myself up and run three miles if I have to. I'm not a powerlifter, but I'm fairly strong. I can do chin-ups until I and everybody else watching me gets bored. Did I have a training montage? Nope. I go to the gym three times per week, max (sometimes only one or two if my training schedule determines I need a flipping break). Sessions are typically anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes, depending on what my goals for the day are. On any given day, I usually feel like I'm slacking off, but it works.

Kicking your ass for a goal is not something you should be doing regularly. It's something you should do every once in a while as a change when your motivation begins to flag. Boring but consistent is not glamorous, but it works. Case in point, this year's resolution. Holy hell, have I gotten a lot of writing practice in this year.

I should probably write some horror this week. It's probably going to be relatively brief. Not quite flash, not quite long. I'm tempted to make more coffee, too. I feel a little cheated this morning.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Hard-boiled

As I mentioned in the last post, this was a fun story. It's set in the same universe as the two Down And Out Stories ("Down And Out In The Jungle Of Death" and "The Multiplicity Of Xen"), but things, uh, happen in it. It's not all people hanging out in bars and telling lies to each other.

My original thought was to write a straight-up fantasy story, except with a hard-boiled slant to it. It was going to be a world-weary shop-owner who lives in a frontier town which is experiencing a boom of adventurers inflating the local economy. Some of that stuck around. Then my vast and deep antipathy for mainstream fantasy overtook me and it got sci-fi'ed, even though I was trying to deconstruct the fantasy a little and see if I could make it more interesting (to me, primarily, not just any putative readers who might stumble across it).

Problem is, I guess, that just about everybody who writes fantasy already does that, including a bunch of writers who are much better than yours truly.

Anyhow.

This is, more or less, a mystery story. Given that it's only six thousand words long, there ain't much mystery to be had, so I just tried to hit the high notes and called it good. It's also a first draft, so there's probably some howlers in there that I'm going to face-palm myself over when I get around to revisiting it (whenever).

Mysteries are odd to write. You have to come at them backwards. It's not like an action story or anything like that, where you can just tell yourself (and by extension, your readers) "and this happened, then this happened, then this happened..."

You have to start out with the end in mind and then work backwards.

I started out with the corpse. Imagined a gruesome and weird death. Then I asked myself what happened, worked my way backwards. With only six thousand words to play with, I could only have one other reasonable suspect, so made the other suspect the red herring. With only two suspects, I decided to make sure their motives were more-or-less similar, but contrasting. I think it worked out okay.

It's been a while since I had a dialogue heavy story, so I tried to build interaction into the characters more. I think Llerg and Neah have a good dynamic. The chameleon with Tourette's was a bit of surprise. Some of his curse-words aren't necessarily in English, because he's a cosmopolitan type of lizard.

I generally like writing mystery more than I like reading it (which I do like). The thing I like about writing mysteries is that the plot drives itself forward very easily. Lot of hooks in the genre and you usually never have any problems figuring out where to go next with the story.

Not sure yet what I'm going to write this week. Weekend doesn't look particularly busy (yet), so I'll probably have slightly more free time than usual. Maybe I'll write something longer. My word count is ca 220k just from the stories alone for this year; 285k including blog updates. Think I'll push for at least 250k for stories and 300k+ for stories + blog updates. Nice round number, I think. I also need to come up with a doable but challenging novel-related resolution for next year, still.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Story The Forty-second: Spirals And Triangles

6,000 words. Every bit as fun to write as I was hoping it would be.

We've got sexy robots, murder, a rather grumpy sentient coral reef, telepaths and baseball cards.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Monkey Brain

Status Update: FINALLY got through the last bag of coffee, the one with the vanilla notes. It wasn't bad coffee, mind you, just not dark enough for my mood. The new bag has pictures of angry bees on the cover, which fits my mood more perfectly. If they were stinging someone, it would be even better. As for this week's story, I've got it outlined and I'm currently in the fermentation stage. Hopefully I will have time to write it, because I'm shooting for five to seven thousand words this time around. Which means it will either be flash or one of those fifteen thousand word monstrosities where I finish and am so brain-fried all I can do is stare at the wall.

I say "fermentation stage" because sometimes you can't just jump into something right away. When I'm banging away at a program at work, for example, I recognize the fact that there are usually five ways to do something right, but inefficiently. There are fifty ways to do it wrong in such a way it will half-ass work. And there are an infinity ways to fuck things up so badly that they don't work at all, just collapse into a sad puddle of broken parts on the floor until you sweep them into the bin and pretend it all didn't happen. And there's only one or two ways to do something right and efficiently.

A lot of times I find myself defining the problem, sketching it out on actual paper and then...I go and surf the internet for a few hours. I might go home at the end of the day only having done very little specific work on a project and it's not because I'm lazy (well, I am, actually, but that's besides the...SHUT UP). I'm actually letting ideas bounce around in my skull. When somebody wanders by and sees me staring at the ceiling with my fingers linked behind my head, I'm usually doing the hardest work: letting experience and instinct narrow down improper approaches, or coming up with lateral solutions. Or I'm taking a nap. Hard to tell sometimes.

The thing is, you can't hurry creativity. Well, you can. Sometimes a project comes on like a bad case of indigestion and things happen fast. Sometimes it all comes together at once and you feel like you're channeling the universe, some cosmic background radiation guiding your fingers and producing something that snaps together like it was from God's own blueprints.

Usually, though, I have to sit on it for a while. I'll go take a shower. Halfway through the shower, I get an idea that sounds good, so I run across my apartment, dripping water and scaring the cats (note: I don't actually have a cat), and jot it down. Then I come back to it and think it through more carefully, take what works and what doesn't and that's how babies are made.

Because your first instincts are usually wrong, that's why. Your gut instinct is the one you've been trained to give, the most obvious solution. Sometimes the counterpoint is too obvious, too. It's the third and the fourth thoughts, those are the ones you should listen to, the ones that unpack your assumptions. I have this crazy voice inside me sometimes that occasionally demands I burn shit and blow things up,  makes stupid suggestions like eating the ENTIRE bag of chips. That's the one I listen to the most because it defies common sense. Common sense murders creativity like nothing else.

I think it's a good idea to listen to this voice when you're writing, because your first ideas are the ones everybody has. The second ideas are the ones everybody has, too. Let's write a story about zombies! It's going to be about a guy who wakes up in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. It'll be great. Wait. That's a first idea. What if...he wakes up a zombie and everybody else is human? Better. Wait. What if everybody's a zombie, he used to be a zombie and he's human now and he can infect zombies with the human virus by biting them? Gross! He has to...that's actually workable. Why is everybody a zombie? Are they smart zombies? Does he still have zombie abilities? Where would he get food? Would he know how to human-eat?

And that's how sausage is made. You have to let things bang around in your subconscious for a while so you can come at them sideways. Your first reaction to any problem is always just that--a reaction. It's nothing but your monkey-brain, evolved to respond to lions on the African savanna, responding to emergencies. You want to avoid that, because it's usually an averaged response to whatever media you've been consuming for the last ten years. Anything you produce from that first reaction will be derivative by nature, unless you just had one of those lightning bolt from the sky moments.

Man, I need more coffee. Anyhow. I've been reading a lot of hard-boiled fiction again. This story I've got planned looks like it'll be a lot of fun. Hopefully I'll have enough time this weekend to write it.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Flown

The search engine bots don't seem to have liked this one as much as my previous entries. I assume it's because I used this random generator to create the title and the resulting output resembled their own spam a little too much. They looked at the page title and thought "one of us, one of us" and then moved on to traffic-up some other, more human-touched web page, perhaps.

This week was probably about as close to missing a week as I've gotten so far. The weekend, while mostly empty of obligations, just didn't lend itself much to writing. I did replant a snake plant, though, so the weekend wasn't a complete loss. And, at the very last minute, before my Sunday social obligations kicked in, I pulled this story out of thin air.

I decided to do another flash story because they don't take up much time overhead and are, in general, pretty fun to do. Of all the Wendig-inspired flash stories, I think I enjoyed that random generator the most, and mostly, I think, because of the sheer WTF-factor of the titles it produces. And most of all, it gives you five of these weird-ass titles at a time, giving you just enough choice to get you started.

Because I was fairly well-limited on time, I definitely approached this as a feel-your-way-forward type of thing. You can probably tell that I was kinda winging it as I went. I knew, from the title, where I was going with it, in the sense of a couple sitting on their porch at the edge of a weird chaos discontinuity, and they were going to be watching birds flying out of it, but I wasn't quite sure how it was going to end until I was a couple pages in.

A lot of times when I write one of these things, I outline ahead. There are broad sections where I summarize them in my notes like this:

Cameron goes to the park, meets a demon.
Patter
Demon eats his car
Chase scene

For example. "Patter" is shorthand in my notes for points where it's fine to go on a tangent, pad in details, whether in internal monologue or in the sort of random details that Birds of the Variable Poisoned South packed in. In most of my first person stories, it's where the narrator talks directly to the audience about what's going on, or something similar that's happened to them. The story basically turns into an essay for a while before they get to the point and then go back to what's happening now. I like essays and essay writing so I deliberately give myself space to write them in my stories.

In stories like Birds, it's where I blue-sky setting detail by just banging out paragraphs of random description. I write them with little preconceived notion of what they're going to be about. I just let details erupt from my brain and see what happens. Basically, it's a little space where I can blue-sky ideas for the rest of the story or indulge in informal poetry.

It's fun to do, but a little dangerous. There's a fine line between "colorful" and "pointless blathering" in my experience. If you don't have an exit strategy it edges narrowly towards "wasting your reader's time" territory, which is the biggest sin a piece of writing can have. You always have to keep in mind that someone who is reading what you're writing could always be doing something else with their time--they are reading your story in favor of, say, eating a really good donut, or watching television. You have to treat them well, as a common courtesy.

So, you have to keep a balance point in writing patter. On one hand, it's a sort of safe place where you can go off the rails a bit and indulge in weirdness, filling out the background detail as you go, making the world your characters live in a bigger and more interesting place. It's a place where I can have Cameron talk about what he did on his last summer vacation and why he's not a real big fan of going to proms. It's also a place where I can talk a bit about the random messed-up things the characters in Birds have seen off their porch, how the townsfolk really got in the collective neck.

But there's always a thought at the back of my head when I'm writing this stuff about patience-levels and where I'm going with it. Every sentence takes the needle a little closer to "E" and I ask myself whether it's time to bang enter and tab and get on with it already.

On a different note, they always say never go with your first idea on something. In this case, I went with my first idea. I'm pretty happy with it. I think it might merit revisiting at some point, blowing up into a longer piece of some sort, perhaps a classic type of science fiction story. My initial idea was that it would be half-Moorcock/half-post-nuclear-apocalypse.

In any case, I need to get back in habit of not...doing everything all in one sitting. I need to make an effort to write more, a little at a time, rather than just banging everything out all in one block. That's one of the dangers of these flash fiction pieces. It's too easy to avoid spreading the work out over several days and that's a bad habit to get into if you're interested in writing novels. Also, it's causing me to outline less before hand and my organizational skills are beginning to suffer for it. Boo.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Story The Forty-First: The Birds of the Variable Poisoned South

A short one this time. A bit longer than the usual flash, standing at around 1700 or so.

This is a revisit of the random title generator (here!) which inspired "Angelo For Corrupt Time". Of all the random idea generators, that was my favorite one, so I decided to have another go, because it seemed pretty good at creating really weird shit. And it didn't disappoint this time either.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Comfort Zones And The Power Of Yes

Status Update:  drinking a new (to me) variety of coffee which tastes a little too sweet and vanilla for my blood, even though I'm drinking it black and without sweeteners. My tastes in brew tend towards the pitch-black and crazy strong: coffee which could charitably be described as "Satan's Blood". This is a bit light. Not bad, though. Otherwise, no story yet. More free time than usual over the next few days, so odds of a longer story looking good.

Looking back on my life, from the lofty position of thirty-mumble-mumble-SHUT UP I'M NOT FORTY YET, one of the things I notice is that I have a tendency to stay within my comfort zones far too much. I don't really stand out in this respect from the average joe/jane. Most people do this. And it's a shame.

I think one of the best things you can do for yourself is to knock yourself out of whatever rut you're in. Even if it's a good rut, it's occasionally nice to escape. Hang out with different people, see different walls around you, if only to see what's good in your own life. Sometimes you wander off the path and find things to improve your own lot. Sometimes you don't.

I'm being a little hypocritical here. Hell, my comfort zones have a fifty mile high fortified wall with armed and pissed-off giant robots guarding the top. I think they have lasers. If I were to be damned to a layer of Hell, just one, it would probably be the fifth circle, where the slothful bubble fitfully at the bottom of some fetid swamp. Satan's henchmen (band name!) probably already have a section taped off for me with buoys, right beneath a particularly depressing tree. Really, I'm awful. I'll mentally bookmark something to do, then life happens and two weeks later I'll wonder what the hell happened.

I try to be proactive when I can. One of the better habits I've gotten into is saying "yes" by default on things or jotting down crazy ideas as they hit me. A few years back, I had a small windfall of money and turned that into a scuba certification. Do I still scuba dive? Hell, no, it's expensive and eats up a disturbingly large amount of time on your weekends. But I'm glad I did it, because it was an interesting experience I'll never forget.

Likewise, if friends are going off to do something bizarre (as the right kinds of friends are wont to do), I'll tag along if it's within my budget and it doesn't crash into my work too much. You never know whether an adventure is worth it until you try. And even a lame adventure is better than sitting on the couch, wondering if something fun happened while you were engaged in a state of intense vegetation.

Sometime's it's worth it to make a habit of saying "yes" a lot or doing crazy shit just so you can later say you did crazy shit, like that time we took out my friend's grandfather's Styrofoam Kool cigarette boat for a sail. You can't buy that in any travel agency and if any travel agency offered that experience they'd probably go broke.


None of these people are me. I was manning the chase-photographer position in a canoe, just in case the crazy idjits sank we'd have some documentation to give to the survivors' families. It actually worked really well for a thirty year old boat bought with traded-in Kool cigarette points.

Breaking out of your comfort zones is a good habit to get into, in more areas of your life than one. I occasionally get into these moods where I like to blow things up, figuratively speaking. Break habits, whether or not I'm entirely sure they're habits I want to break. Throw stuff out, see if I can get by without it. Take a different way in to whatever the hell I'm doing. Heck, sometimes I don't even brush my teeth the same way from day to day.

This carries over into writing as well. I have a tendency, if I let myself, to write and to read the same stuff, over and over. I suspect it gets even worse once people start giving you money for your brain-junk. There's a very real natural tendency to only write what you perceive as your strengths, in much the same way that people who exercise avoid things they suck at. Runners don't lift weights, dudes who work on arms a lot don't work on their legs. It makes sense, after all, even more so if it's your living. Nobody likes to be bad at anything.

You really have to avoid that. The only way to really grow is to transgress against yourself, give those walls around your rut the occasional righteous shit-kicking. So, this is why I occasionally write weird stuff, experiment with things that anybody with a lick of common sense knows will only turn out poorly. But who knows, even if something is an abject failure, there's usually a takeaway there ("don't do that again" or "flee the scene before the cops get called").

Monday, October 7, 2013

Hell's Post-Game Wrap-up

Another week, another bit of flash fiction. Only twelve more of these bad boys to go, folks, and then it's on to the next writing resolution.

For a bit of a shaggy dog story, I tried to put a little more thought into the character arc than usual. As hell's librarian speaks, I tried to reflect his/her* growing control over their situation. They started out relatively passive and as time goes on they rise to the top. Limited as I was by word count, I also tried to embed a lot of implied details into the setting, like the elevators which occasionally eat people or an oblique reference to one of the worst jobs in Hell, which would be Hell's IT department.

* I never did settle on a gender, I think.

The inspiration, as I mentioned briefly before, is one of Chuck Wendig's contests. Roll a ten-sided die twice. Pick two words from two separate tables--that's your title. "Labyrinthine Library." Huh. "Labyrinth" made me think of netherworld mythology. It's a place you go into to rebuild yourself, a liminal experience involving the underworld, like Persephone or Theseus or some such. Then I got to thinking about the afterlife and what it must be like to work in the worst library imaginable.

The minotaur stayed from the Greek mythology train of thought. The ragebadgers are a call out to Chuck's blog, where they tend to live these days. I think they're on loan from Hell whenever he needs to call them out.

Onwards and downwards. I might do another Down & Out story this week.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Story The Fortieth: The Labyrinthine Library, Or...(File Under Ragebadgers And Damnation)

When you're a little burned out on writing, there's only one thing to do: another Wendig flash fiction challenge. This one's one of those things where you roll a couple of dice, consult a table or two and, Bob's-Your-Uncle, you've got a title you'd probably never choose on your own. Figure out what to do with your story from there, bub.

I came up with "Labyrinth" and "Library", added a bunch of words, shook it up a little and baked at 400 for an hour or so. Voila.

Right around 1100 words. A sad tale of libraries, damnation, poorly-indexed databases and ragebadgers.

Download EpubThe Labyrinthine Library, Or...(File Under Ragebadgers And Damnation) (full text)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Resolutions

Status Update: Coffee supplies holding steady, but only just. I need a panic button for coffee emergencies, something big and red that sounds with a large "ahoogah" noise. It would scramble the more easily-bored branches of the military like the Merchant Marines and the National Guard. I would then buy more coffee myself, because to do otherwise would be silly. The only difference would be that I would have a tank escort to the store. Haven't started writing or even brainstorming a story for this week yet. I suspect, given what I know of my schedule, that flash fiction may be in my future.

I just realized (and by "just", it was a few weeks ago) that there's less than a hundred days left in the year. This means that my story-a-week resolution is going to be over soon. I've been putting some thought into what to replace it with. I like having a stick to drive me forward. Left to my own devices, I will do the writerly equivalent of sitting on the couch with a bag of Doritos watching Big Bang Theory reruns until the small hours of the night. My fiction-muscles will atrophy and I will turn into the writing equivalent of a 98-pound weakling. This is a thing to be avoided.

I've done just about all the short fiction I want to do for a while. I really want to get back into novel writing, except this time prepared, practiced, a mean, green, word-grinding machine. I want to set some kind of weekly milestones, something with a big damn stick built right into it, like this year's resolution.

It's always tricky setting reasonable resolutions of any variety. They have to be challenging, but not punishing. There's a truism in the fitness industry that anybody can do anything for two weeks. That grindingly difficult P90X-ish routine? Diet consisting of nothing but vegetables and fish? Crank out 100 pushups a day? It's all fun for about a week, if even that. Most people can push themselves for another week beyond that, after the novelty and fun wear off. After that, though, you've got to have more. Willpower will only carry you for so long, because willpower's a finite quantity.

Resolutions are lifestyle changes. When you set a new resolution, something that you want to use to make yourself a better person, you have to think not in the two week time frame, but in the two year time frame. You have to build in pressure-release valves. If you're giving up something, especially something you enjoy--eating unhealthy foods, or beer, or spending too much time on the couch, you have to build in the option to go back to that bad habit every once in a while in a controlled way, or you'll just revert when your willpower runs out. You have to expect to cheat every once in a while and plan for that...otherwise you will do it anyway and it'll turn into a wipeout which might kill your resolve.*

* Hence, all the flash fiction. I don't know if I'd be able to keep cranking out 5-15k words per week, week after week.

You also have to build in milestones, set points during the journey when you can stop and pat yourself on the back. Little scenic spots where you can pause your progress, look at how far you've gone and feel good about the sacrifices. In my story-a-week, it's all about word count and numbers. I'd also like to think I've cranked out a few good stories in and amongst all the crap. That's a good feeling.

Most of all, a resolution has to be something you really want. I think a lot of people fail at their New Year's resolutions because it's not something they really want, deep down inside. You want to be able to fit into the clothes you wore back in college, or at least you say you do, but deep down inside, you're actually pretty comfortable at your slightly doughy middle-aged weight. You can't really make a longstanding change until you've come to a mental place where you realize, on the surface and deep down inside, that the destination and journey are worth it.

Because the best resolutions, the ones most worth doing and the ones you're most likely to stick with are ones that you wanted to do anyway. The resolution is only a polite fiction. Saying that you have a resolution is a bit of a shield, a social excuse for doing ridiculous things. If you just ran out and bought a hell of a lot of random mountaineering equipment, your friends might wonder what the hell is up. If you just blurt out "something something New Year's resolution", they will nod sagely and then just accept it's going to be an interesting story in a few months.