Thursday, June 11, 2015

Changes

Closing down new posts on this blog for a month or two.

I just got a new job on the other side of the state, so things will be up in the air for a bit.

Once I get settled in...NEW. EXCITING. PROBABLY VERY SIMILAR...blog posts will be made. Except from about 4.5 degrees of latitude farther north, in the sunny tropical town of Marquette, MI.

Perhaps this is a sign that my next novel project should be dusting off the Great White North detective agency, revisiting the trap town of Argyle and delving deep into the cryptozoology of the Upper Peninsula.

Or perhaps I should go in some unexpected new direction, which appears to be the theme of my life lately. Who knows, who knows.

See you in a few months, you magnificent bastards.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

On Nostalgia

I've been thinking about the past a lot recently. Well, more than usual. Which is to say quite a bit, I guess. I'm always at least 75% buried in a previous decade, mentally.

I read an article last week on one of the bazillion lifehacker-type sites. The article was firmly embedded in the genre of life-advice articles, no doubt inspired by it working once, somewhere, for someone and sounding truthy enough to be worth committing to the internet for posterity.

It was about using nostalgia to boost you through creative slumps. Thinking about better times brings you into your comfort zone, reminds you of ideas and things which worked for you in the past. It's actually not bad advice at all.

So I've been digging through my archives, things I've worked on over the years. It's funny how each thing you write is tied firmly to a period. I go through phases--there's a definite archaeology to my creativity.

It's interesting to watch yourself grow over time. When you step back, look at the collection of stuff you've written, take a ten mile view, you see trends.

I can watch my focus grow as I age. When I was young, I used to pick up and abandon projects recklessly. As I've aged, I think I've begun to realize just how valuable time is. It's one of those resources which everybody takes for granted. You can spend it, but you can never get it back. As I've grown, I don't abandon projects as lightly.

I can also see my growing disenchantment with technology and my retreat from needless complexity.

The growing mild technophobia is one of those things which confuses people. There are basically two types of people in IT. There are people who love tech and can't get enough of it. They go home and do what they do at work, except even more so and they love it. They have houses filled with cutting edge tech. Their places are museums to modern computing.

I'm the other kind. When I get home, I don't even want to look at a computer. If I have a choice between getting another gadget or using something powered by a crank, I go with the crank. At the rate I'm going, I'll be using abacuses and living in a cave in the mountains by the time I'm 50.

This is obviously an exaggeration, but there's something about making a living taking care of the stuff behind the scenes which removes the magic from the process. I'm a worker at a sausage factory. The hot dog stand is not a place I want to be in my free time, so to speak.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

More Fury

I've been reading the trickle of views and reactions to Mad Max lately, the usually flood of post first-take reactions. It's interesting. Favorite one: http://io9.com/do-you-realize-mad-max-fury-road-is-a-miracle-1707000166

There've been a number of them, though, that interest me from a writing standpoint. Chuck Wendig's recent post about how it breaks any number of writing rules was interesting. His tongue, I suspect, was planted firmly in cheek.

The movie's interesting from a pacing standpoint. You would think a two hour movie which is roughly 90% action (and that's including the credits roll at the end, really this movie is relentless), would be dull, but the pacing is pretty incredible.

A story should have a sort of flow to it, the experts say. Action, break, action, break, action, break. Etc.

Mad Max is action, action, action, action.

Thing is, it isn't. Not really.

Pacing is a lot like skinning the cat. There's many...wait, I've always hated the metaphor. Who the hell skins cats, anyway? Gross.

Any way, there's many ways to pace a scene, particularly in a movie when you have a number of tools available which aren't available in fiction.

In this case, there's many different types of action and the movie deftly switches between them constantly, with a keen eye towards the typical audience member's attention span. Fist fights, differently staged set pieces. Action scenes transitioning towards new shooting locations. You've got visually different parts of the vehicle. Musical changes. Changes in day/night. It keeps things moving.

It's somewhat awe-inspiring, much like watching an expert comedian play the crowd during a longer set. You're there for one reason, but the person pulling the strings has a deep enough appreciation of the genre they can vary the pacing easily.

Mad Max is a song written by someone with a deep enough knowledge of the visual action genre that they can distinguish between notes on the minor and major scale. It's worth studying on that level alone.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Found Memories

While walking across the neighborhood yesterday, I found a small flash drive on the sidewalk. Without thinking much about it, I stooped and picked it up, stuffed it into one corner of my pocket and promptly forgot about it until I got back home, hours later. I suppose I could've left it, but there's no guarantee the owner lived close enough to be able to find it and it was one of those small PNY jobbies, about the size of  a fingernail. If I'd put it back where I'd found it, it probably would have stayed lost.

Always a weird thing finding USB drives. You never know what's going to happen when you plug it in. Infected with a virus? Plans for the Death Star? You just don't know.

In my case, I usually plug them into my computer and take a look on the off chance it's something someone will miss.

The owner of this one was Vietnamese, judging by the name. Had a bunch of important-looking insurance documents in the root of the drive. I opened one, noted down his address and I'm going to mail it back to him next time I'm near a mailbox.

I've lost my own share of drives in the past. Have to wonder what the discoverers thought when they looked at them, if they bothered at all.

For instance...

I usually keep a dozen bad movies in reserve in the off chance I'm at a friend's place and they want to see something mind-blisteringly awful, a la Mystery Science Theater 3000.

There's also other stuff--the usual useful utilities IT people tend to tote around with them. File recovery tools, antivirus installers, diagnostic tools and the like. Sometimes I have a spare copy of my financials, encrypted out the wazoo. Not so much these days because even with the military-grade encryption I use on Things That Matter, it's still unsafe.

It's funny how flash drives have become the equivalent of a purse or satchel. Everybody uses them slightly differently.

It's great reading old science fiction and seeing the overly pessimistic view writers had about the ubiquity of data storage.

There's an old science fiction role-playing game called Cyberpunk 2020. Came out in the late 80's with all the hallmarks of 80's cyberpunk: interior art showcasing glam metal and punk rock influences. Dystopian visions of the future, all William Gibson virtual reality and Max Headroom-esque media/political commentary. People warming themselves around trash can fires in the shadows of glittering high corporate arcologies.

Great stuff, in other words.

Reading through the equipment section is always good for a laugh: there's an upgrade you can get for cybernetic eye implants. Turns your eye into a camera, but due to space limitations, you can only take six pictures with it.

Six pictures.

That 8 gb PNY I found on the sidewalk has enough storage for roughly five thousand pictures and that's with decidedly low compression and largish resolution. And that's not even including such factors you'd expect from a modern piece of equipment. I mean, really, if you're gouging out your eye and replacing it with a bit of machinery, you'd expect at least a mobile data plan, Bluetooth, wi-fi support and a robust app store.

Another game (Shadowrun, I believe) had a chip you could implant in your jaw which would act as your own personal Walkman. I think it had a three album capacity.

The future is never what you expect it to be: it's always simultaneously better and more disappointing than you expect.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Meditations On Fury...

...Road, that is.

I saw the new Mad Max movie over the weekend. I recommend it. It's great fun if you catch a matinee and it's the sort of film you're better off seeing big and loud than on, say, your tablet while on the bus.

There's a tendency, at least in writing circles, amongst a generation who grew up watching big budget films such as this one, to conflate writing and cinema. I do it all the time.

I talk in scenes and beats (technically, that one's from play-writing). I mention staging and tend to describe things with an eye like a camera. The angle swoops in, tight closeup, etc.

Hell, I've even used "noir" to describe something that's actually "hardboiled" on occasion. Can't help it. I'm weak.

Anyway. Mad Max really drives home the difference between the two forms of art. You couldn't do a film like this in novel format. The heart of it's just the glorious spectacle of it. It's a seriously beautiful film, a 70's sci-fi novel painted cover come to life for two hours.

It's just one hundred and twenty minutes of solid WTF weird. I believe Quentin Tarantino said it best about exploitation films that the key attraction is that moment where you sit down in the theater with a bag of popcorn and you're like "wait, did that just happen? Did they just film that? What am I looking at?"

Mad Max has that in spades.

It would be very hard to do as a book. You'd either get something grindingly macho, or worse yet, one of those insufferable genre novels which Try Too Hard. You know the type, Mieville gone wrong sort of thing. The film relies on a heavy integration between the style of the cinematography and gut-level characterization, punchy little beats of visual characterization which do more to bring a world to life than a dozen wordy pages. Shiny.

Enough of that.

It's safe to say my experiment in half hour meditation before work is well and truly dead. Did that for two months and it was interesting and enlightening but...it was exhausting. There is a world of difference, apparently, between waking up at 5:30 in the morning and 5:45. It's almost like a three mile cliff arrayed at the 5:40 mark, painted with mile high red letters saying "DON'T DO THIS."

Meditating a half hour every morning required me to get up at 5:30, because my bed time is as early as it can get without completely divorcing me from a social life and...my job is my job.

I did that for a couple of months...and I was exhausted all the time. I dropped it back down to 15 and, yes, I noticed the difference in lack of meditative practice, but...that extra fifteen minutes sleeping in made a world of difference in my fatigue levels. Very weird, right? You'd think a quarter hour wouldn't make a dent, but it does. I usually wake up at 5:40, even.

Perhaps if I ever get a job with more flexible hours, I'll go back for longer spells of meditation. Not so much now, though.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

On Obligations

A few weeks back at work during one of our meetings, the subject of disciplining your children came up.

A surprising number of people there believed in the traditional punishments: a good swat on the behind. Grounding. The taking away of privileges: the right to have a television with a PS4 hooked up to it, cellphones, whatever. A few leaned towards the Biblical end of the spectrum, which is probably a topic for another day.

It occurred to me that my parents rarely ever bothered to punish me.

I suppose there were a few reasons. I'm a stubborn bastard. Always was. If you apply thumbscrews to me, my natural reaction is to dig my heels in and fortify. I once spent an entire evening sitting at the kitchen table, alone, because my parents told me they wouldn't let me do anything else until I ate my bowl of lentil soup. I was that kind of kid: if I tell you I'm not going to do something, then by Jove, I'm not going to do it.

Another reason might have been my brother. He's a much more feisty bastard than me and my parents had simply grown tired of the usual punishments by the time I rolled around. Their arms, so to speak, had grown weary from him over the years.

But the real reason is probably that I'm not terribly rambunctious. I'm not the sort of person who goes out and starts drama. I'd much rather work within the system. Or at the very least, not go out and throw rocks through neighbors' windows or soak the cat in baby oil (true story). Occasions where my parents would get angry at me were fairly rare.

In any case, in the rare occasions they needed to they quickly realized that there were better ways to motivate me.

Guilt's the big one. I was raised fairly Dutch. The feeling that I'm not living up to obligations is something which keeps me up at night. It's a kind of on-edge feeling, on par with that sensation you get when you head off on a two week road trip and realize four hours in that you can't remember whether or not you locked the front door.

The annoying thing is that it's obligations of all kind, including the imaginary ones I set for myself. Hell, I feel guilty about not cleaning out my car often enough, even though I'm the only one who really uses it. It's awful how my brain works sometimes. It's a constant process of telling myself "wait, no one cares about that, focus on bigger things."

So, missing out on writing kind of chews holes in my brain. On the other hand, the previous posts still stand--I've got bigger fish to fry and when I'm not frying fish I should probably be resting up, recharging and preparing for the next big thing.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Life And Unexpected Mental Places

Life ate my Thursday post. I can't even say I had an attack of being lazy or that I overslept or whether or not my deep-seated love of huffing paint climbed up on me.

Instead I spent the time doing homework, since I'm fairly serious about this rental property investment thing. If you're going to turn something on the side into a job, albeit a small one, you might as well treat it like one. So I've been doing homework. Lots of it.

Weird how life takes these strange twists and turns. I'd never have thought in any of my previous decades that I'd be heading down this path. But that's the thing about life. If you always do the things you can picture yourself doing ahead of time, you'll never take any chances or make any changes. You'll just keep doing the same thing over and over until you find yourself wondering why every day feels exactly the same and why every mistake and success in your life is just an echo of the ones before.

I mean, really. When I was sixteen, I couldn't picture myself driving. I had no idea what to expect from living on my own, and that turned out just fine. College, I could picture...but earning a living of any sort I couldn't, which is just as well because most of what I've done for a living in IT didn't even exist as a profession in high school, save for some vague notions in random science fiction novels.

I had no framework ahead of time about learning to swim or to scuba dive. I couldn't imagine being able to travel alone to Asia. So looking back over things...it's no surprise there's a large part of my head that's drawing a blank about owning rental properties. But it's compelling enough, on a mathematical and conceptual level, that it's worth pursuing. And it's similar enough to things I've already done, both as a hobby and for a living, that I'm fairly comfortable with the idea that the 25% of it I can't outsource I can handle. And the 75% that I do outsource I could probably handle without outsourcing if need be.

So, that.

Writing's been slim lately as a consequence of this. Which is just as well, because I probably needed a bit of a break.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Value Of Being In A Good Place

Once upon a time, long, long ago, I had a coworker who was in a bad place in life.

She was a handsome woman in her low fifties, constantly stressed out and getting grayer by the week. I get the feeling her career had dead-ended a few years back, or at least this was the narrative she was telling herself at the time.

She was the sort of person who was constantly putting out one fire or another. She juggled dozens of important projects at once. She could go from being in good cheer to being in the blackest of moods in a breath. All it took was one unplanned event and anything good which had happened to her that day would crumble, like a pile of sugar cubes under the onslaught of an ice tea spill. She was the sort of person who would curse at her computer monitor and thought that multitasking was a viable method of time management.

You'd come in to work and she'd be there already, with a nest of paperwork around her which told you she'd been there since the low single digits of the morning. You'd leave and she'd still be in her office, banging away at her keyboard, writing project outlines on a whiteboard, taking calls with a grim facial expression, completely settled in for the duration. She didn't take lunches and only took breaks when exhaustion forced her to.

Even on days when she had cleared out all her workload, you could tell she was on edge. There were things going on in her life which were eating her mind. You'd ask and it would be a litany of nits: new tires, mortgage payment, unexpected medical bills, sometimes her spouse was in a bad place at his job. You get the idea. Small-to-moderate emergencies. Nothing to point to which would indicate that any one thing in her life was making her life awful. More of a cumulative zeitgeist thing.

And yet.

All the bad times at work, according to her, were balanced by the good, which were very good. She made a decent salary. She ate out at nice restaurants. Her car was high quality and fairly new. She went on vacations regularly. Her good times were good. Not extravagantly so, but pretty nice.

If you mapped her days out, they would be like a pendulum. Good. Bad. Good. Bad. Over time, though, the bad times outweighed the good, because even when things were going right, she was still stressed out and tired and that would pile up after awhile. Her bar for a day-destroying Bad Thing crept lower over time. After a while, it wouldn't take much to tip her off balance.

This is probably the point in a usual entry where I'd launch into a tirade about personal finance, emergency savings, budgeting or whatever, but really, this is more about moderation.

There's a culture in America centered around the work-hard/play-hard ethic. Put in fifty or sixty hour weeks for decades. Then you can spend all your free time (which you won't have much of) going on expensive cruises. Buy the biggest car, the nicest house, enjoy yourself so hard your fucking face hurts. Be better at your job than anybody else so you can play harder than anyone else.

I suppose that's great if you're Don Draper or something, but most people burn out--hard--living like that. My ex-coworker, for example, flamed out a few years after I first met her. Just got to a point where she stopped working altogether and was let go shortly after. I lost track of her after that. I think she started her own business out east, is semi-retired and much happier than she was in that last job. But I digress: this is supposed to be a cautionary tale, not a road map.

It happens more than you might think. Some people in some lines of work refer to it as golden handcuffs. Others call it the treadmill. I just call it stupid.

A better idea is to step back. Make your good times less awesome so your bad times don't have to be so bad.

Instead of a big expensive car, buy a less expensive one, keep the money you just saved in savings so when you blow a tire, you don't have to run up a credit card. Instead of eating out two or three times a week, eat out once a week, savor it more. Restaurants are only a treat if they're an occasional thing, anyway. Eat out too much and you're just eating.

If you spend less on the good days, it means you will have more money lying around to head off minor emergencies, which helps you sleep better. After awhile, you'll have enough money lying around to head off the big stuff, too, which is a great relief.

Yes, there's the urge when you have a pile of money lying around to spend it on amazing things. Nothing wrong with that, but fight that urge. The piece of mind involved in having options is priceless.

When you have options, such as a side gig, or enough money laying around you're not handcuffed to your current job, you'll find yourself with a strange new thing called "perspective." The emergencies your coworkers are freaking out about begin to seem slightly silly and trivial.

You might realize that working endless long hours is kind of a chump's game, anyway. If anybody takes issue with you turning down extra work, you can say no, with a level of confidence which can only be derived from knowing that you can afford to not work for a few months while you look for a better job. And ultimately, that confidence will make you better at your current job. Why?

Without that overtime eating into your free time, you'll have more time to sleep, see your friends and family. You'll be able to pursue hobbies in a satisfying manner instead of sneaking time out between stressful moments like a guilty schoolkid cadging a smoke behind the high school gym.

When you're better rested, you make better decisions. You prioritize better. Instead of band-aiding emergencies, you'll be focused enough to see root causes and address them, leading to fewer emergencies from that source in the future.

You get the idea. It's a cycle. Get better at moderation and the bad times get less bad. Sure, the good times will be less awesome, but you'll have more of them and more evenly spaced, which is in my mind, far superior.

People are convinced that running harder on the treadmill will get them somewhere when the reality is that there is no finish line. There's no game, either. There's no race. You're ultimately beating yourself to death over nothing.

All those years my coworker spent working herself out of her own job? She could have been saving a bit, a little at a time. Running under less debt. Sleeping more and formulating an exit strategy or options. Or simply enjoying life instead of slumping her way from one minor bullshit emergency to another.

Getting back to the title, the value of being in a good place is realizing that you're in a good place and preparing so the next bad place isn't so bad.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

On Learning New Skills Like A Boss

I've been reading a lot about real estate lately. Exciting! Action-packed! Adventure!

Ahem.

Anyway.

Occasionally, I get these random obsessions, often enough that I've developed a specific procedure I go through.

Sometimes you just need or want to learn about something and it's so large a topic you have no idea where to start. I suppose you could just find someone who looks like they know what they're doing and then follow them around. You could turn on your expensive cable package, find a channel dedicated to what you're interested in and follow that.

Problem is, if you don't know what you're talking about, people will ignore you, blow you off, or try to sell you on something--sometimes literally, sometimes not. Sometimes the person you ask won't know that much either. Sometimes they're obsessed with some esoteric angle which won't be what you need. Sometimes they're just complete fucking idiots, but you don't know enough to call them on it. You get the idea.

And TV? Don't even get me started. If you took, say, all your investing advice from television, you'd get yourself poor very quickly. Ditto on real estate, I'm finding.

The obvious and loudest places are usually the worst.

So, I start with a book. I Google around, read reviews, find blogs filled with people who don't seem to be assholes and find the most interesting-looking book they recommend.

This is the honeymoon phase.

Read the book. Read the hell out of it. Daydream a lot. Get enough of the basics you don't seem like a complete idiot if you ask questions. Get drunk at the end of the book and dream big about all the awesome shit you're going to do.

Then find another book. This time, a more boring but dense and informative one. While you're doing this, find a community of people to join online. Lurk there. Read the posts. Get a broad smattering of the going concerns. Listen to their thoughts and tribulations. Find out what kind of person you'd have to be do the things you want to do.

After you finish the boring book and lurked a bit, you'll have a better idea if this is something you want to be doing. Maybe weight-lifting is too intense for you. Maybe real estate is too risky. Cooking freshwater fish requires you to make sacrifices to dark gods.

This is the end of the honeymoon phase, in other words. If you're still interested, continue.

The most important part is next: wallowing in the culture like the filthy info-pig that you are.

Participate in the community. Wallow in the media. Read blog posts. Specialize in your topic. Don't be a generalist--specializing lets you develop filters so you can sift out shit you don't need to worry about. This is especially important if you're getting into a very broad topic, like finance. Find some aspect of your new shit which interests you and use that as a launching point for the next step which is...

Do it. After the initial wallowing-in-culture phase, you have to get your hands dirty.

You can read about dirt-biking or adventure travel or whatever, but you're going to get to a point where you'll stop learning things from books and have to apply your knowledge for any of it to make any sense.

After the honeymoon phase is over, and you've made up your mind about doing said new hobby, any more reading is just going to be a form of elaborate daydreaming.

I'm currently in the community-wallowing phase on real estate. I suspect this is why my writing is kind of stalled--my job takes such a huge amount of mental space currently that I don't really have much capacity left over at the end of the week to learn a bunch of new stuff or push my boundaries.

I suspect this will normalize. Either I'll run the numbers, do the research and realize that real estate investing isn't my bag or I'll jump into it, learn the ropes and then hopefully it'll become automatic enough that I can go back to writing regularly.

This is the same pattern as any of my other hobbies. Lifting weights. Investing. Coffee. I learned them all the same way I did above (full disclosure: I have not read any books on coffee). I've also picked up and set down any number of other interests through the same procedure. Swimming, scuba, bear-fighting. Okay, maybe not bear-fighting.

On a smaller scale this is also the same pattern I follow when I need to research something I'm writing. Just dive in and swim around in the discourse. At the very least, doing this will turn you into a trivia god if you go through it enough times.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

On Making Things Hard For Yourself

I have decided what I am going to do this weekend: absolutely nothing.

Much like Peter Gibbons, in fact, from Office Space. I am doing absolutely nothing, but in a studied way. Sometimes when you feel a little undecided and bottle-necked, it pays to just step back, take a breath and then do something else for a while.

Tentative plan is to dive into redrafting Llerg this coming weekend. Maybe I'll even come up with an actual title at some point.

It's funny how you often overthink things and make life far worse than it actually has to be. I had a pretty amusing training moment with my boss a few weeks back to that effect, that I was just making things way too complicated at some tasks, in a way which was making life fairly miserable for me.

So, this is the theme for now. Stepping back and letting life happen at its own pace. Let my subconscious sort shit out, decompress, and hopefully things will fall together and make more sense eventually.

In lieu of actual story-writing progress this week, I'll tell a story instead: the best fiction class I ever took.

This is one of those pivotal moments in life, and, like a lot of pivotal moments, it was one which doesn't precisely make me look like a great person if cast in a certain light. It's one of those stories you throw out there with a slight wince, knowing that a simple Google search by an employer will lead to one of those earnest one-on-one chats where certain probing questions will be asked about capitalized words such as Integrity or Honesty, or what have you.

Let's clear the air before I dive into this: I am excruciatingly honest as a general policy. Probably more than any sane person needs to be. It's easy to say something slightly painful up front than constantly live your life trying to remember all the stories and lies you've made up. Not having to hide things or navigate through a web of lies is worth the discomfort of coming clean. This is true 100% of the time, especially when doing business or establishing long term relationships. If you never lie, then you never have to worry about getting tripped up by a lie.

Got that? Got it.

Back to my story: the best fiction class I ever had.

I had a class in grad school about nonfiction writing. I believe it was more journalism-focused than anything else, because one of the usually-undergrad journalism professors taught it.

He was from the old school. Had a truly impressive mustache back in a time when mustaches were out of style. He was professional and to the point, a ruthless and terrifying dictator of an editor who would call you out on the length of your paragraphs or on your lack of punctuation or for your habit of not using simple and to the point grammatical constructions. He had a hyphenated last name and, in my memory at least, wore bow ties more than your average doctor.

He had that look of someone who was raised in the bull pen, a man who was suckled on newspaper ink, who's written any beat you care to name, whose resume was measured in inches and bylines. He was pretty street.

He would call you out on your bullshit regularly. He assigned long papers with punishing frequency. As the semester wore on, he'd show up for class less and less often. Classes would be short and you got the impression he didn't read your paper so much as threw a dart at a wall full of letters and let the gods decide your grade. But you would always get feedback if you asked for it, and sometimes it would make your ears ring.

One time in class he was served divorce papers. A burly kid with a mohawk knocked at the door with a manila envelope and my professor took off down the hall with the same mien as someone practicing trailer park parkour on Cops. When he came back, he slammed the door behind him, gave us all a hunted look and we didn't see him for two weeks.

I hated him at the time and I hated the class. He was one of the only professors I ever gifted with a one star review during the end of semester evaluation.

But I suspect--after two decades of reflection and growing-the-fuck-up--that he was a damn good teacher, one of the best in the department. He was just Going Through Some Shit. I wish I could go back and bump him up a few stars in my evaluation, or at least take another class with him during a time in which he was in a better place.

The class load, even with an oft-absentee professor was brutal.

He would demand a new article, every week, researched and with interviews. Full length articles, with several interviews with actual people. Anywhere from 8-20 pages.

I was a dirt poor grad student living in a cheap rented box in a bad neighborhood. Two blocks away from a strip club with neighbors who dabbled in drug-dealing and arson. I didn't have many friends and no relatives within easy driving distance. My phone service was abysmal, my energy levels low.

I had a class load so heavy it was measured in megatons. I was teaching two sections of Freshman Comp at the time. If I'm not mistaken, that was the semester I set my office hours at six in the morning because I needed that time to get work done. (Yes, I know. Terrible, right?)

Needless to say, my free time was limited and my social network nearly nonexistent. Asking me to do interviews was a punishing thing to ask: who would I interview? I didn't know anybody. I barely had enough money for gas, and no free time to speak of, so it's not exactly like I could pound the pavement looking for leads. The internet was barely a thing, so it's not like I could just randomly Google leads.

So I would make up interviews. I would invent fictional people for my articles, sometimes at the very last instant. I would write life stories for them, cook up character traits and hobbies and little points of conflict. I would find about the towns in which they lived, gather information to the point I could fool even people I knew who lived there.

And I would write the articles I was assigned. 99% bullshit, yes, but usually pretty entertaining and informative.

Before I started pulling these things out of my ass, I would average a B at best. Once I got comfortable making shit up at the last minute? A's.

It was the best class on fiction-writing I ever took.

Forcing me to write in a journalistic style shook up my technique. Paragraph lengths went down. Sentences got simpler. My writing became more organized. It read better out loud.

And I realized that research improves everything, even fiction-writing.

The need to make a plausible human being up on the spot made me study characterization more closely. As a result my characters became more believable, the dialogue more naturalistic.

Yes, I was cheating, but I was cheating in a way which made me grow.

I suspect my professor knew right away what I was doing. If he were in a better emotional space, he might have sat me down and talked me through things. As it were, everybody in class wound up banding together a bit to help each other out on assignments, as sometimes happens when a professor is absent a lot.

It was good practice. I don't recommend going through a similar situation, but it was definitely a growing moment. Probably the most amount of lying I've ever had to do in a four month period, though.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Missed Deadlines

Well, damn. Life happened and I missed yesterday's post. Early day at work, had a choice between this and waking up twenty minutes earlier and, well, that's the how the flaky bit of confection reduces itself to crumb-shaped chunks. Or something like that.

Funny how quickly and seamlessly arbitrary restrictions creep into your life. Very few people read this blog, because there's, face it, very little reason to do so. It's more something I put out there for my own benefit, that little Doogie Howser-esque moment at the beginning of the day where I write what's on my mind, get a little practice in. Get a load off, so to speak.

Absolutely no consequences to skipping it, other than having less to do in my life.

But it's nice to have these little checkpoints in my week. Little bumps along the rosary of life to remind me that, yes, there is more out there. That I do have other skills than what I put bread on the table with.

So I feel bad when I space out on a deadline that nobody but me knows about. Not because I was raised so incredibly Dutch that even when I have no obligations I invent obligations to feel bad about, but more because it's a bit of routine that I find pleasant which I look forward to, in much the same way that I feel bad when I miss my morning pot of coffee (which I also gave up yesterday for work...and that sucked beyond all possible belief...) or hitting the gym regularly.

So, back on the pony.

I'm a little conflicted about what to do, writing-wise, this weekend. Flash fiction is played out--I think I'm done with that. It's still a little soon to revisit Llerg. I might get started on my next novel or see if there's any short-form fiction that I might try, maybe something out of my comfort zone. I might start another ambitious resolution, because those are great for driving you through the week with purpose. Although at the end of said resolution, you tend to wander around with a PTSD-esque thousand yard stare that you can't quite explain to coworkers and friends without twigging them on to your writing habit.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Short

One of those weekends where I'm short on motivation and energy.

I cranked out a piece of flash fiction, about genetically-engineered dung beetles who'd been abandoned by their human masters as they evolved new and more efficient waste-processing technology. It was mediocre so I'm probably not posting it. One of those things where I wrote it more as a bit of moral victory than out of any particular level of craftmanship.

If anything, the theme of this weekend is pure and utter slack. And I mean that in a J. R. "Bob" Dobbs kind of way.

I watched "Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas" on Friday night and then went camping with my attorney. We completely failed to reenact anything from either the film or the book, a fact I am greatly relieved about. Particularly the bit with the ether.

One topic of discussion, as we were strolling by Deep Lake during a spell of unseasonably warm heat, was that modern culture has completely and utterly lost any sort of concept of the value of doing nothing.

People work too long, work way too hard, they go home exhausted and then pursue their leisure with a level of dedication which turns their leisure into something far too much like work.

What's the point?

You need non-time to relax, let your brain decompress, gain perspective. If you don't give yourself a chance to uncoil, you wind up, get tight. After years, like a rusty spring, you lose the ability to unwind or worse, you crack or crumble into bits.

Ridiculous.

There's value in getting bored the old-fashioned way. Just sitting on a hill and watching traffic go by or seeing things in clouds. There's value in not reading a book with any sort of attention, letting the TV play while you completely fail to wash to dishes for an hour too long. Putter more. It makes you looser.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Next Steps

Okay, one more week of fiddling around and then I think I'm going to get back into the brawl.

Still unsure what book I'm going to do next or if I actually want to start another book right now. It might make more sense to go back and redraft the one I just finished on the general theory of striking while the iron's hot.

For one thing, the last book doesn't even have a freaking title yet. I've just been calling it "Llerg's Book."

That's monumentally lazy. I mean, my previous book (and the half book before it) both had titles by the time I finished the rough draft. Or in the case of the book before that, before I spun out halfway through the first draft.

I kind of stink at titles. I'm sure there's some sort of formula that the professionals use. Like, you have your first book actually published by a real publisher and they hand you a little gizmo, a bleeping black box with a crank on one end that you feed your manuscript into. You pull the crank and a little slip of paper comes out the back with the title of your book on it.

I haven't gotten that box yet. Maybe I should check Ebay or something. Of course, being Ebay, you'd get the counterfeit version which only outputs in Engrish, which I'd be fine with.

Anyway. That's what it comes down to. Go back, redraft Llerg's Book, find something to call it, make it better, as much as possible. Rip apart the Cameron story and redo it as an actual story that has protagonists, antagonists and forward plot movement, instead of the seven digits worth of random bloviation.

Or do something else, either from the slush pile or something else completely new. Maybe something that's not even mystery-oriented (gasp!).


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Flash Fiction: The Hammer's Fan Club

Another piece of flash fiction this week. 1000 words or so.

This one wasn't part of any challenge. Instead, I used Wikipedia's random article feature to pull up a story idea. I got this one.

The internet's a pretty strange place, that just about everybody can have their own encyclopedia entry. The discovery led me down a strange train of thought, and this piece came out of that.

It's about the discovery of the galactic internet and what having an exponentially larger contribution size might do to internet flame wars...

Read: The Hammer's Fan Club.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Invisible Walls And The Story Of The Treasure Hunter

A long time ago, I had a friend, Heather. Still do, as a matter of fact. We just haven't stayed in touch that well over the last few years.

She was a complicated sort of person. Imagine me saying "complicated" with a pause and pursing my lips a little.

Very cool, but complained all the time. Made a career out of being artfully unhappy, so we used to refer to her as "The Goth," even though her wardrobe didn't have a whole lot of black in it. If she was the sort of person who got noticed in high school, she'd probably have won the "Most Likely To Kill Herself Tragically By The Age Of Thirty To Make A Point" nomination.

She believed odd things and would get angry with you if you respectfully disagreed. She stopped talking to me for six months because I disagreed with her notion that the Statue of Liberty was black. She may have been right on that point. I was probably messing with her. Who knows?

Anyway.

Anybody who's known The Goth for more than a few years has a million awesome stories about her--she's one of those people who's collected her own personal mythology, much like Batman if Batman was a pretty girl and messed with your head when she was drunk.

My favorite one was the time she hooked up with a treasure hunter and moved to the other side of the country.

The Goth had gone to college. Picked up some advanced degrees in social work. She had the job she went to school for: awesome benefits, job stability like whoa. Worked with troubled youth. This was a salaried career path government job with decades of advancement and possibilities ahead of her. It paid really well, too.

She complained about it all the time. In much the same language she complained about boyfriends, weather, bad music, her fingernails, that guy who did that one thing with that stuff she bought while shopping the other day.

You get the idea. Several years of this.

Suddenly she goes to Florida with a coworker. Comes back, announces she'd met a guy. The guy was a treasure hunter. Seriously, an actual honest to God treasure hunter who dives for pirate gold. He eventually got on a short-lived reality show about people who dive for sunken treasure. It flopped after two episodes.

Heather left her dream job, announced she was moving to the Florida Keys to hook up with this guy.

We laughed. Good lord, we laughed. Ultimate flakiness. More Heather than anything Heather had done previously. We knew it was useless talking her out of it, so we mostly just mocked her mercifully behind her back.

I come in to work the following week, as the carnage was shaking out, and I told the story to one of my friends. My friend cocked her head and said "Aw, that's romantic. More power to her."

I was immediately like, "Nooooo, it's a bad idea. It's terrible because...uh...because..."

And then I thought about it, objectively, from her framework.

A career doing things she hates, in an endless state of being comfortably miserable. The winters in Michigan are dreadful, particularly in those parts--cold, gray, slushy and miserable much of the year. She'd been through a string of dead-end relationships. Her coworkers were everything you're afraid government job coworkers might be (for the most part). Her job was depressing, dealing with horribly broken families. It was grinding her down.

Rebooting her life wasn't the worst idea.

I dropped my finger, told my friend I'd think it over.

Seven years or so later, she's still with the pirate hunter, except they're now in a rather pretty part of California. Sure, she spent some time in the Florida Keys, working terrible low-paying jobs, but she's back on her career track and spends much of her free time (of which she seems to have a lot) hiking around in achingly-beautiful scenery.

It was an absolutely daft idea which made no sense at all to anybody who didn't know her.

Thing is, sometimes those are exactly the sorts of things you have to do. We build up these barriers in our heads, get used to the arbitrary barriers in our lives.

We make up stories about what would happen if we change the most minor things, expect everybody to be mortified if we do something different. Maybe they'll judge us. I get that new haircut, or whatever, and they'll point and laugh at me all day long.

Thing is, it doesn't matter. Sometimes you just have to do the thing your gut is telling you to do, for bizarre and hard-to-express reasons which feel right.

Last year, I found myself suddenly between jobs. So I just picked up and went to Asia for two weeks, to visit a friend I hadn't seen in twenty years. No warning. Most people who knew me found out because my Facebook updates just got really weird all of a sudden.

It was random, looked like it was horribly expensive (it actually wasn't) and made no damn sense. I wasn't even employed then.

Thing is, I save like a mofo during the best of times and I had several months of severance owed me from my previous job. I needed the trip, emotionally, to clear the waters of being laid off. I wanted to remember that year decades from now as "the year I got a better job and traveled a lot" instead of "the year I lost my job and played a lot of Skyrim." So, I just did it.

It was fucking terrifying. First time out of the country, particularly in parts of the world where English isn't necessarily a thing? Good lord. Even when I was there, I was on my own a lot. I had to figure out what to do, where to go, how to do it. Explore new places. Holy shit. I still get stressed out thinking about it.

But it was worth it. Pushed me out my comfort zone in many ways. When I went back to work on my current job, I think my experiences travelling overseas prepared me for many challenges.

I've been thinking about investing in real estate lately, which is what made me think of this post. It's unprecedented. I've told many people, many times, that I think home ownership is a lousy idea (for me, it still is), but rental property? The math is compelling.

It's a new thing. I'm going to have to learn a lot--I'm still in the "reading a hell of a lot about it" phase, but I think that's the next step. Maybe I should go find myself a treasure hunter to fall for while I'm at it.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Flash Fiction: Captain Reptile Takes A Break

Decided to write a piece of flash fiction this week. As usual, I headed over to Chuck Wendig's backyard to see what he had to offer.

Today's challenge:

1000 words, based on an image chosen randomly from the comments section. A bit of superhero fiction about bureaucracy and being stuck in a rut.

Read: Captain Reptile Takes A Break.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Wot I Learned Going From 15 Minutes Of Meditation A Day To 30

I've written before on this blog that I practice daily meditation. Nothing fancy. Not doing it to gain mystical powers or turn into Buddha or something. I just find it makes it easier to approach and deal with life. Sometimes I let it go for a few months, but usually I practice daily. It's a centering point in my routine, much like that first pot of coffee or your morning commute.

Up until the beginning of the year, I did fifteen minutes at a time. I'd always finish up with a vague feeling it wasn't quite enough. My brain could be more settled. I could be more relaxed, that kind of thing.

So I decided to ramp up to a full half hour. This is what I learned.

0. Meditation? What's that?


1. Positioning is key.

I tend to meditate in a kneeling position because the various lotus positions make me feel silly. Kneeling is how I learned it and it's the one I'm most comfortable with.

For the most part, you should just go with what feels right. So long as your spine is straight, you don't feel completely ridiculous while doing it and you're not in danger of falling over or asleep, it really doesn't matter. Some people meditate while walking or sitting in a chair, for example.

In my case, kneeling was fine for fifteen minute stretches. I'd take a couch pillow and put it behind my knees to raise my butt up a bit so my ankles didn't go numb, but that was all I needed.

Not so much in half hour stretches--I wound up upgrading to a buckwheat-filled meditation pillow, which has more vertical lift and support. Much better.

It's not quite enough, though, so I've been mulling over getting a cushion to sit on. I find myself shifting around during the halfway point because my feet still get numb. It's a process. I most likely will simply have to gut it out and get used to it.

2. Meditation Is Not Exercise

There's a temptation to treat meditation like, say, running for distance. You'd think that going ten minutes is twice as good as going for five. It's not quite that simple.

When I began to ramp up my meditation length, I decided to add five minutes to each session, taking a week to get used to each length.

I probably shouldn't have bothered. If you can sit and clear your thoughts for fifteen minutes, then a half hour really isn't that much more. It doesn't feel noticeably longer while you're doing it.

I was approaching this as if meditation were an activity with a directly-correlated result, like lifting weights or walking. It isn't. Time spent meditating is either sufficient for your needs and emotional space or it isn't. It really is that simple. Take however much or as little fits into your schedule and needs.

3. Your Brain Will Hate You And That's Okay

When I was doing fifteen minutes, I'd notice my thoughts would usually be pretty squirrely for about ten minutes and then would settle down for the last five and be tranquil. I'd walk out of the session feeling like if only I could sit five more minutes, I'd spend five more minutes in that tranquil, centered state.

Boy, was I wrong.

Instead I find it goes in waves. Squirrely. Calm. Squirrely. Calm. I thought there was something wrong with what I was doing, that I was approaching it the wrong way. Maybe I needed to learn a new breathing technique.

After some time, though, I realized that's exactly what it's all about. The main takeaway from meditation is that it's the ultimate non-activity. You don't have a goal other than it's a good habit to get into. You don't have milestones. You can't meter it.

You simply sit and practice transitioning into a state of mindfulness. And if your brain is making noise? That's part of it, too. Just observe, be grateful you noticed your brain is being a little hyper and then clear the thoughts away. Ad infinitum.

There's a certain Western tendency to overthink activities and occasionally I have to stop bringing that mindset into my meditation practices. There's no progress in meditation, per se. No ultimate goals or milestones. Just that simple act of clearing time out of your day and being in the moment.

Meditation, at least for me, is the ultimate non-metered, unstructured place. All that stuff, all that noise and clutter and hurly-burly of practical adulthood? It has no business within the time I've set aside for sitting in mindfulness. There really is nothing more to it than what I bring with me.

4. The Benefits Are Still Hard To Quantify

Regular meditation doesn't really give you any specific benefits you can point your finger at. At least not in specific terms.

What I mean is, I can't say anything like "Well, I now have a five hundred pound deadlift." Or "I wrote an entire book of haiku."

But I can say that I definitely feel more centered and resistant to stress. My skin is thicker and I don't really procrastinate as much anymore. How much? Hard to say. Better than when I was going for fifteen minute chunks? Yes.

But I do know that I'm highly resistant to giving it up, so I'll stick with it for now. It's hard to chisel that time out in the morning, but definitely worthwhile.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

And Done

Twelve chapters, and a bit over 40,000 words, ending in a cliffhanger.

As I predicted, the climax was fast and mostly wrote itself. My notes for the chapter were very short. Maybe an inch or two high.

I'm already looking forward to going back and editing this pile of chaos into something someone might actually want to read. It's quite a bit more focused than my previous book. No real rambling, just a direct line from point A to point B. I can't think of anything over the length of a paragraph that I feel the need to trim. Maybe some stretches which need to be flat-out rewritten, but everything here on out is going to be a matter of expansion rather than reduction, which is the easier way to do editing.

Good times. I have no idea what I'm going to do next. Maybe some stories, maybe another book. Take what I learned about writing this book and put it into practice. Maybe revisit my last book but with my current writing strategy.

Whatever I do, I'm going to need a bit of time to recharge my mental batteries. My writing style was getting somewhat strained at the end, and I feel Llerg had lost his voice a bit as the book ground on. Part of my focus for the next round of edits will be to restore the Llergness of the narrative, add more fun digressions and science fiction color to the setting, start layering in imagery and subtext, weave connections through the piece. Make the dialogue snappier, the descriptions more surprising, that kind of thing.

But first, some time off from writing.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

First And Second

It just hit me, really hit me, that I'm wrapping up my second book this weekend.

Very weird. When this happened on my first book, I felt like throwing a ticker tape parade, cornering every single person I encountered on the street, letting them know the news. Maybe standing on top of the highest building in town, naked, covered in blue paint like something from Braveheart while wailing out a sweet bagpipe solo. Or something.

I was pretty stoked.

This time around? About the same charge I get when I finish a longer short story. I guess it's fair enough. After all, a novel's really nothing but a bunch of stories stitched together into a longer narrative. Words, followed by more words, connected by likely punctuation. That's it.

Now that I know I can do it, that it's simply a matter of organization and sitting your ass down regularly, maybe the initial charge has worn off. I have ridden the bicycle down to the end of the block and back and now I have farther neighborhoods in mind to explore.

Something like that. Don't get me wrong, it feels great, sort of like that feeling you got back in school when spring break would hit, but I've cut that notch in my belt. I have bigger milestones in mind. I wonder if more experienced authors ever stop and think about this?

I think my enthusiasm's cut a little by knowing that I'm going to have to put a lot more work into this draft before it enters a state of publishability. Screw you Chrome autocorrect, "publishability" is totally a word. I even used it in a sentence.

Anyway, there's that feeling of "good job, but you're only halfway through the race, bub," tempered by an additional feeling of "what's next?"

It'll feel good to stick a fork in this bad boy, at least for a bit, though. Everybody's got at least one book in them. Hitting numero dos is still pretty significant, it takes me out of the one-book club at least.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Going To Eleven

...and finishing up the obligatory Spinal Tap reference.

Chapter eleven is down and only one more left to go.

...leaving the question of what, exactly, I'm going to do next: definitely going to do one or two short stories before I dive into another book. Maybe even ones worth shopping around. I'm thinking I might want to get back into horror--I've been getting that itch lately. Revisit the sort of tense and charged end of the spectrum, like that story I wrote about the killer tree.

This chapter went quickly, as chapters with a ton of action tend to do.

Twelve will probably go fast, as well--climaxes tend to write themselves, particularly ones which end on cliffhangers.

I'm already itching a little about getting into the editing process. There's a hell of a lot of tightening up and rewriting I want to do. Get everybody's dialogue squared away. Start layering in setting detail. There's added scenes which will definitely need to be integrated to make the story more logical. There's also a lot of subplot that needs to be added in, since it all feels a little arbitrary at the moment.

In other words, good times.

My next book may actually be another revisit of the Cam book. I had one of those "oh ho!" moments where I literally jumped out of bed to take notes. The revision I came up with completely solves at least two, maybe even three of the problems I had with the first draft's plot. Namely, that of extraneous characters and a villain who's more of a placemarker on a map than anything that the protagonists need to worry about.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ghosts

I've been stalling out on my writing rate lately. I still hit my chapter a week mark, but sometimes it's a little close.

There's a temptation to compare yourself to others. Chuck Wendig writes two or three thousand words per day. Stephen King brain-dumps two thousand fully-formed novels per day. My fictional friend Bob (who totally owns a unicorn) writes fifteen hundred every morning before running a marathon.

You get the idea. Whenever you do anything, especially something you pride yourself as being good at--or at least want to be good at--you tend to compare yourself to others. A lot.

Nothing wrong with that. It never hurts to see where you are in relation to other people. It's just that it's the ultimate cosmic apples to oranges comparison. You have a full-time job. Professional writers write for their full-time work. They have way more time to devote to output. And Bob? Sure, he doesn't write full-time, but maybe his output is mostly garbage and he has to edit out 80% post-production. Your writing conditions are not their writing conditions.

I see this sort of thing all the time in physical fitness. People trying to impress other people in the gym. They show up, they look around and they immediately begin to compete in some imaginary fucked-up arena which exists solely in their head. They cardio harder than everybody else, lift more than the guy next to them. They make more noise. Then they get hurt.

Thing is, nobody at the gym really gives a shit about you--they're wrapped up in their own routines and daily concerns. A lot of them are there just to blow off steam from their own work day. You're just someone else in the background to them. If you're fat, out of shape, really buff, really intense...they really don't care.

So you compete with some imaginary figure in your head which you've constructed out of jealousy, vanity and pixie dust. You take risks you wouldn't normally take, possibly leading to injury. And more importantly, you make yourself miserable for no real reason. You're making a thing out of nothing. You're responding to ghosts.

The really important thing is that you're in there regularly, doing SOMETHING. And that something you're doing is better than the something you did last time you tried. And that you go back and do that something again at some point in the near future. That's it. You mess up, have a good cry, dust yourself up and get back on the horse. You do good, pat yourself on the back and then get back on the horse. Just get on the damn horse.

I've got two chapters left and a fuck-pile* of editing to do. I have a bit of angst I have to deal with occasionally about how my chapter lengths are a bit short. Or maybe how I didn't write anything at all this week and now I have two days on the weekend to write a chapter, along with doing all the other bullshit I normally do on weekends (hookers and blow, man) in order to please some arbitrary goal I've set myself.

And it's not like anybody else in the world really knows or care. I have no deadlines to hit or readers to pester me with email. I picture a future version of me who's watching my progress and is either mildly disappointed, regretful, happy or pleased. The fact that I'm cranking out a chapter a week in my free time is awesome and I'm glad I'm doing it but there's no real impact to spacing out on a deadline except to my self-esteem.

It's too easy to make comparisons, though. I think back on the week and total up all the free time I had which I could've been "making progress" and it eats my brain a little. Or I think about all the more productive weeks during my short-story-a-year challenge and shake my head at how I cranked out 14,000 words in one week when now I'm impressed if I hit 4,000.

But it's definitely apples-to-oranges. I've got a lot going on right now en la vida Mike, most of which is non-writing-related.

On top of that, there's a world of difference between writing a long short story and wrapping up a novel--I might only write 3,000 words, but those are 3,000 words which tie into a previous 40,000 words and have to make sense within the context of the next 6,000.

Besides that, I never intended to publish any of those really long-ass short stories I cranked out. This book, I intend to eventually shop around once it's been through the meat grinder a few times. So they're a lot less sloppy because I know I'm going to have to revisit them at some point and make them suck less.

It's going to feel good to have that book done, though. One of my primary goals for this one was simply to get to a point where I can reasonably crank out multiple books per year in my spare time and it looks like it's happening.

* ...which should totally be a real scientific unit of measurement.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Ten Down, Two To Go

Chapter ten is finished. I have a good feeling about the next two chapters. I think the book is coming to a strong finale--plenty of energy, things still make sense, not boring.

The editing process is going to be amusing, though. I'm writing this fast and loose, so there's some really brain-dead moments in it, character names that change from paragraph to paragraph, monologues which are nothing more than placeholders. Bits of setting and design that aren't what most people would traditionally call "consistent." When I'm in the thick of laying down words, I don't always have the inclination to take time out to look things up.

So, yeah, I'm definitely going to have to go back and nitpick the hell out of all of this. But the bones of the story feel right and that's more important to a rough draft, I think.

I'm also mulling over what to do next. I might concentrate on short stories for a few weeks to recharge my batteries. I might also do a completely new book, something that's not in any of my notes and is unrelated to any of the stories I've written. Or I might go with one of the novels I have in the skunk works right now. Who knows.

In other news, I am using the ceramic burr hand grinder now for my coffee grinding.

It's very satisfying. The coffee grind is consistent and the feel of the process is great--when you crank it, you get a sort of visceral purr. You can feel the beans crunching under the burrs and as you roll you can feel the vibration in your hands, a sort of rough crunching tickle as the crank turns.

I've mentioned it before here, but as I get older I'm leaning away from gadgets and electronics wherever possible. There's just something I like about doing mindless chores. There's a bit of zen to the process if you do them the hard, slow way. You tune out and lose yourself a little, your mind drifts as you do something that's not quite important, but not quite frivolous.

You can load the dish-washing machine and your dishes will get washed, yes. Sometimes work is just work, after all. You have better things to do with that time. But you miss out on all the sensations of washing dishes--the warm water, the soap, the feel of the dishes. Washing, rinsing and drying each plate, one after another. It's work, yes, but it's also a good time to slow down and reflect. There's a certain ritual element to manually washing dishes which feels nice to indulge in.

My coffee-making is already a small ritual. It's a nice way to kick off a morning, because there's a level of skill required when you use the Chemex and grinding your beans the hard way. It's just fiddly enough you can't space out while doing it, but not enough that you can go on autopilot. Like any good chore, it's an island of stability in the day, a moment of flow which sets the tone for the morning.

I think of it as round two after my morning meditation, except it culminates in really f'ing great coffee.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Morning Grind

It kills me that my new burr grinder is here and I don't have time to use it to make coffee until the weekend. Instead, I can only stare sadly at it while using my inferior old Mr. Coffee blade grinder.

Not that burr grinders are particularly complicated--operating this one's a matter of loading it up, dialing it in, and then cranking until magic happens. Nothing more complex than that.

It's more a matter of process. One of the downsides of having to work is that time is a commodity in the morning. You spend a minute and that's a minute you can't get back. You have to budget it like you would your paycheck. Use your time in the morning senselessly and without heed and you'll find yourself rushing through things, which sets a bad tone for the day.

So that's why I spend more than a little time thinking about routine. I like to have my mornings have a bit of a ritualistic nature, for a few reasons.

One, it's just nice to start out to some sort of routine, particularly a pleasant one. Two, it's calming. Three, you get more done. And four...(you can tell this is the important one, because I used an ellipsis there)...starting out the day with a solid routine you enjoy gives you a sense of balance which carries with you through the rest of the day. Poise, I guess, would be a good word to use here.

I used to wake up at the last possible minute before work--just hop in the shower, throw on random clothes and head out. It's really a lousy way to start a day off. I mean, yes, theoretically it means you sleep more, get to stay up later, but it's at the cost of your morning. You seem to spend the first two hours of the day just playing mental catch-up. Screw that noise.

I'm going to spend some quality time with the grinder this weekend. It's somewhat lower capacity than the Mr. Coffee so I'll have to load it in smaller batches. I'm not sure how much of a pain this will be. I'm guessing it'll be fine. The grind process has a bit of a pleasant tactile feel to it, so I think it'll work out well. Also, consistency. That's pretty key.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Prettiness

Just wrapped up chapter 10.

It's one of those pieces where the plot just came together, like a snowflake forming out of moisture, temperature differential and air. There's a lot going on here, metaphorically. I didn't plan any of this at all, but it's one of those "oh, of course this had to happen this way" moments, when a lot of decisions I made earlier about what the main character is, how he acts and lives, suddenly make a lot of sense, and on several levels.

And of course once it all wraps up, there's going to be a lot of ass-kicking and carnage coming around the bend, and justifiably so.

In other words, I'm coming to the end of the novel and I'm hitting it with a full head of steam, albeit with fewer final words than I was expecting. Looks like the rough draft is going to come in at around 40k words, which is about 10k-20k fewer than I was expecting.

That's okay, though. Much easier to add missing stuff than to take out excess fat. There's a ton of things I want to add or revise before this book sees the light of day. I think the broad structure of the novel works, though, and that's the important thing.

Beautiful weather today. Spring is coming on hard. Even though it's still not quite forty out, it's hard to resist the urge to change into shorts and sandals. I've got about three months of cabin fever built up.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Towards A Consistent Grind

Oh no, I'm probably working myself towards a metaphor. It's a sensation not unlike feeling a particularly satisfying dump building up. Everybody else in the room ranges from indifferent to horrified, but it's still something which must be announced.

Onwards and downwards.

I've decided to retire my cheap and cheery $10 Mr. Coffee electric coffee grinder. It's one of those blade-powered dealies which you fill with beans, push down upon and eventually you wind up with a pile of coffee-themed dirt.

It works and does the job, but I think it's time to move on.

The main problem I've had over the last couple years is consistency. Sometimes you grind for 3 seconds and that's enough. Sometimes you grind for 3 and you wind up with dust, which is too fine for proper brewing. Sometimes it comes out too coarse, which causes the steeping to happen too quickly. And sometimes, you just get a hot mess. Some coarse grounds, some grounds which are too fine.

On top of that, you have to go by feel and that's never a good thing at six in the morning. I get distracted, suddenly I'm drinking a pot of dirt-themed vinegar.

So I've decided to upgrade to a manual ceramic burr grinder, a Porlex to be exact, because that's what the hipsters currently recommend and if there's anything that's a little anachronistic and not mainstream, there's sure to be a hipster with an opinion about it and, it's also a truism that hipsters, as a general rule, should be listened to on certain topics. Coffee is one of them.

I'm told there's two benefits to a burr grinder:

One. The beans grind with less friction-induced heat, which has a tendency to smoke some of the aromatics.

Two. Consistent grind. Dial it in and your beans come out the same every time. Over the course of a few days of tweaking the settings, I'll have a more predictable brew, although the brew I wind up with usually tends to be pretty decent ever since I gave up precision and just went with my gut.

There's also a certain appeal to getting rid of another one of my electrical devices. I've mentioned it before, but working in IT has turned me into something of a technophobe in my private life. Yes, I have gadgets: a laptop, a television, stereo, etc, but if one of them dies these days, I just sort of shake my head and ask myself if I need it or if it can be replaced by a simpler alternative.

At this rate, I'll be living in a cave on top of a mountain by the end of the decade.

And I'm mostly to the end of the blog entry without having a metaphor to squeeze out. I suppose I could throw something arbitrary in here about "refining your process", but sometimes a damn good cup of coffee is just a damn good cup of coffee.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Skeletons

...and Google's rescinding its ban on sexiness. Suddenly I hear a sound, like a million nearly-outraged voices being silenced. Sexy has been brought back, it seems.

Enough of that, though.

Finished up chapter eight, a fairly momentous and interesting chapter. There's a creepy alien ship, a sudden bit of rug-pulling. The movers behind the plot are revealed, somewhat.

This time around I'm definitely bringing the idea of "rough" to my rough drafts.

My main concern this go-through is to just get the skeleton of everything down. My chapters are all short and bare-bones--just 2500 words or so, on average.*

Don't get me wrong. Everything's readable. It's going to be recognizably close to the novel's final form. But there are definitely parts I will go back and flesh out later. Replace the placeholder conversations with better, more interesting versions. Description will be rethought. Clues and red herrings will be placed. The Llerg will have more commentary. There might be more chapters. There will definitely be more scenes.

More importantly, I'm just admitting the fact that since I'm writing something that's sort of in the same ballpark as a mystery, I'll have to go back and readjust a lot of what I'm writing to take into account the ending (when I get there). It's a different way to write. In many ways much more relaxed than the pantsing I normally do. I know that I'm going to have to iterate through it a few more times, so there's no hurry to make complete sense in the rough draft, not as much pressure to describe things in as punchy a style as I normally like. Definitely looking forward to going back and tightening things up. It'll be fun to see what this turns into eventually, after some dusting off.

I'm close enough to the end (four chapters left!) that I'm already mulling over what my next book will be. I'm kind of itching to do the Cam book again, tear it apart, stitch it back together in a more focused form. It might be too soon for that. I might do the UP book instead. I'll probably write a few short stories before I begin, just to recharge my batteries a little.

* Median, actually. Shut up.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Missed Opportunities

It seems Google is phasing out sexiness on blog posts. Or at least that's what the banner at the top of the Blogspot welcome screen says:  "On March 23rd, Blogger will no longer allow certain sexually explicit content."

This makes me sad. Not because it lowers the places I can acquire pictures of quivering unclad pulchritude. Although that is a concern.

It's mostly because I've totally dropped the ball on this blog's sexy quotient. I really need to step up the game over the next few weeks. Maybe revamp my writing for extra steaminess. Revamp my writing in general to make it better clickbait:

36 Ways Doing That Rough Draft Makes You Better. In Bed.
10 Ways To Grind Through The Mid-point Of Your Novel. In Bed.
12 Sexy Ways To Brew Coffee. In Bed.

Of course, my notion of "sexiness" is just adding "in bed" to everything. Every once in a while, I'll read an article about someone who makes a tidy side income writing erotica under a pseudonym. Andrew Offutt, I believe, did that. A lot of people do now. Apparently, erotica is a significant portion of the Kindle self-publishing market.

I'll stop and think about it, seriously think about it, because at first blush (see what I did there?) it seems like an easy market. Bang out a short story, publish, watch the cashola pour in. I'm already a decent writer, right? I'm also very fast and the genre standards are demonstrably low. No-brainer.

Thing is, I suck at it. And I think it's kinda boring. I'm not being a conservative, black suit, black tie, mayo on white bread, listening to Amy Grant, type of guy. I'm just not very good at it and part of the reason I write is that there's a section of my brain I just don't get to use much in my day-to-day, that gives me a charge when I fire it up.

It would be just another job, like being a tech writer or something. And I already have a job. So, that.

On the other hand, I think of the entertainment factor, that sense of "what if I tried and hit it really big" and imagine what it would be like to get 50 Shades Of Gray huge under a pseudonym and then have to explain to all my friends and relatives why I quit my real job and how I could afford to sit on a beach all the time being a drunken lout somewhere tropical. I'd have to come up with some kind of story about insurance payouts or anonymous lottery wins or something. Or just fess up and take the lumps.

I recall one erotica writer talking about how she does sex scenes--she has to get liquored up before she can get herself to write them. She comes in the next morning with a pair of tongs, a bucket of water and a dry towel and edits the hell out of her drunken ramblings the night before.

Me, not so much. About all the sexy I can muster in my writing amounts to a lump of cold oatmeal. Drunk writing is more likely to make me just go off on weird tangents about personal finance, zen philosophy and fictional civilizations. Also, badgers.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Shit Gets Real

Just finished chapter 7, which was way more amusing to write than I was counting on, partly because of inter-character tension, partly because of some random details which manifested out of the gray froth of my subconscious. Namely, the appearance of a drunken hobo flower plant and some cleaning squids. It's a weird setting.

Chapter 8 is when shit officially Gets Real. It's the last chapter before the final act. It looks like the rough draft is going to wind up right around forty-some thousand words, which is close to where I was shooting. This time around I'm going for tight-but-short, instead of loose-but-way-too-long, on the general theory that it's easier to add awesome stuff than to remove awesome stuff.

It's also mostly a piece of detective fiction and, frankly, I have to go back and layer in details to make the plot hang together. I've got the bones of the important stuff in there, but there's definitely some parts where the chain needs more links for it to become an actual mystery and not, say, completely stupid.

That's the main difference between detective stories, as opposed to just about everything else. You have to write everything backwards. When you're chunking out a rough draft, you're still surprising yourself, discovering what the story's going to be about. Mysteries require a bit of deliberation and at least some sort of appearance of fore-thought, which is not my forte and something I always have to add in later.

There's also a great deal of detail in the setting I want to layer in. As it stands now, it doesn't quite feel like science fiction. Not yet. There's not as much of a sense of place as I want there to be, and I think that's just something I'll have to smooth in during post-production.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Stars

It always amuses to watch the spread of news. The first story drops into the dirty pond that we like to the internet. Ripples spread out, bounce off of the banks and become more ripples.

Case in point:
http://science.slashdot.org/story/15/02/17/1922227/another-star-passed-through-our-oort-cloud-70000-years-ago?utm_source=rss1.0mainlinkanon&utm_medium=feed

It's fairly well agreed that stars pass by all the time, sometimes pretty closely. Scholz' star was discovered fairly recently, and the study that determined its path only came out within the last few months, true.

But this is not really news. At least not in the sense of "Tokyo Is On Fire; Giant Reptile Suspected."

It's news-ish. Fascinating stuff and it's new information to add to the dust-bin of interesting information in the back of your head. Astronomy is full of stuff like that--stuff that's fun to know but not terribly important on a day-to-day basis...but the articles tend to attract all sorts of fun attention, since it collides with pop culture.

This one's great in that sense.

Relatively sober article hits Astronomy magazine. Check.

Slashdot picks it up because their contributors are colossal nerds. Check.

The other sites pick it up, start the not-so-slow process of sensationalizing the headlines. Each round of releases makes the headline and lead more ridiculous.

I fully expect the headlines next week to say that the star in question is going to loop back and fry Moscow. Or maybe unnamed experts will come out, saying that it's just hanging at the edge of the solar system, lobbing comets at us until we're all doomed.

Or more likely, the supports of Sitchin will collectively wet themselves and claim that it's Marduk, assuming they're not already.

Which reminds me, it's been nearly a year since I've read my annual dose of awesome whoo.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Coasting

You know it's a cold day out when it's afternoon by the time you can finally stop using the minus symbol. And the entire time it's traversing the full range of negative temperatures, the sun is out, it's shining. With the windows closed and the furnace on full, it's deceptively cheerful-looking. The light has the same sort of glittering quality you remember from a day at the beach in July. And then you step outside, your nose hairs flash-freeze and the cold hits you in the face, like a towel snap at a high school gym locker room.

In other words, Michigan in February, film at eleven. Carry on, folks.

Wrapped up chapter six of twelve. Had one of those moments where I wrote and wrote, got to a point in the chapter where I saw there was another scene to go, but where I was was a good cliffhanger, so I decided to cut and move the new scene to the next chapter, where it will fit into the plot better. The current stopping point is more logical, I think, and the next chapter is just a tad bit too uneventful as it stood.

I have sort of mixed feelings about outline changes like this. On one hand, you have to play it loose while you're writing. When you lay out the bones of a novel, you just have no idea how it'll play, so you have to have some give in the structure. Otherwise, it'll come out forced or, worse yet, you'll get bored writing it. You need enough room for surprises. It gives the book a bit of organic feel to it.

But on the other hand, if you find yourself tweaking TOO much, then you begin to suspect the outline, that it might be flawed and need a rethink.

So far, I'm happy with my prep work on this novel. Things are going well. Any of the things that aren't going well are fixable in post-production, I think, things that I can patch out in extended monologues, or tweak later on. But you never know.

And now I have to go outside because I am out of food and need to mail in the last of my taxes. And besides, I deliberately did not go outside yesterday, when it was even worse out and there are some things you just can't put off. Like food supplies. One more day and I'd be subsisting entirely on rice, condiments, coffee and whatever molds, spores and fungi I'd managed to scrape off the backs of the cabinets.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Doldrums

The mid-chapter is definitely the hump day of the chapter list.

I'm smack dab in chapter six of twelve. Too far into the book to remember any of that newfangled enthusiasm I started out with. Not close enough to the end to have any sort of momentum built up yet.

In my last book, the book about the magic-using dimension-hopping teen detective, this is right about where Act II degenerated into a muddy meandering mess. And possibly a few other alliterative words. I didn't know what to watch out for and, effectively, I wrote a second--mostly-unrelated--book right in the middle of my real book. That sucked. Slogged through, got out of the whole mess and looked at it, realized that it was deadly boring and almost entirely unlike what I loved about Act I. If I go back to it, I'll probably just blow the whole thing up, start from scratch, with a few scenes and ideas lifted as appropriate. I still love the characters and setting, just not what I did with it.

This one's too short and tightly-plotted to fall into that trap, really. There's no room to meander. I think I did a fine job of preventative maintenance with the outline this time around. The only thing I'm a little worried about is having everything, you know, make sense at the end.

At this point, it's mostly a matter of keeping up energy and my sense of humor.

It is a bit of a grim determined slog right now, like getting through a Wednesday at work, when the weather isn't that nice and when your workload isn't particularly interesting, when you look out the window and the weather's settled down into the sort of determined uniformed gray that tells you "hey, spring is very, very far away, would you like more ice instead?"

You just sort of have to grit your teeth and bang out work with as much humor as you can muster, knowing that after all this, there's a weekend, followed by slightly better weather and maybe a resolution of some sort. And then the next book, whatever it winds up being.

Haven't been writing as much before work this week. I've been lengthening my meditation periods and that's been cutting somewhat into my morning routine. I've also been sleeping longer, when I can, so as I mentioned before, something has to give and that something was the five hundred words or so per day on the novel, which kinda sucks. But thems the breaks.

On the other hand, longer meditation = happier, more centered Mike, so there's that.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Towards The Downward Slope

And I just wrapped up chapter five. This means the next chapter will be six out of twelve and I'm on the downward slope. I've got something like twenty or twenty-five thousand words written. This means the book will most likely wrap with around forty-five or fifty. When I stroll through it for the second draft, start adding in more asides, spiffing up the dialogue, rethink descriptions, I wouldn't be surprised if it closes out at sixty thousand words or so, which I'm just fine with in a book of this type. Adding more later on is way easier than slashing thousands of words in a later editing round.

This chapter was one I've been looking forward to for awhile, a visit to a non-Euclidean casino, filled with customers from higher dimensions. Lots of strangeness to write about, plus there's stuff going on behind the scenes which made for an interesting flow of events while I was churning out verbiage.

One thing I've been struggling with a little is where to settle the line between the fantastic stuff and the mundane. I've already established that the setting is near-future enough that most people know what, say, a giraffe is. And there's real-world stuff like tooth brushes and Rubik's Cubes and so on.

On the other hand, they are in space and it's a pretty over the top setting. I made a throwaway reference to an entire civilization which disappeared into a black hole because they let the wrong casino set up shop in town. There are holograms and a receptionist who's a sentient cloud of gas. What I'm shooting for is a comfortable balance between the two extremes, using the balance to play off of for humor, but you never really know how that sort of thing works out until you try it.

It might be an action point in a later draft, but who knows. The only thing I can do is chug along, writing from the gut and hope it all makes sense in the end.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Milestones

I noticed this week as I started the new chapter that I've inadvertently crossed into Act II on the outline.

Weird how milestones sail past so quickly and without notice. And it's not like important end of Act stuff wasn't happening or anything, it's just that I was so wrapped up in the minutia of the book and life in general that I didn't think about it much as I pushed on through.

A huge number of personal milestones seem to happen that way, come to think of it.

When I turned 21, I completely failed to do the big awesome "hey guys, let's get black-out drunk now that I'm legal" thing. I wasn't really a drinker back then. That would come much later.

Instead I sparred with a friend, broke one of my toes on his shin, and then spent the rest of the evening watching anime because that was the sort of thing I would do on a Friday evening back then. As I recall, it was "Legend of the Over-fiend", which was edgy and slightly revolting back then, but I suppose after nineteen  and a half years of cultural drift is now something toddlers watch on Sunday mornings when the babysitter can't be bothered to come over. As I recall, it had a Nazi rape machine in it, which you can probably buy in Toys 'R Us now.

Financial milestones are somewhat similar--I didn't celebrate the first time my net worth lost the minus in front of it, mostly because I didn't track such things then. I did celebrate getting out of debt. That was pretty cool. In typical fashion, I did everything backwards: I got out of debt and THEN started reading up on personal finance. Not exactly optimal. I didn't celebrate my net worth crossing into six figures, though, even though I was tracking my finances pretty closely by the time I hit that marker.

Milestones can be pretty arbitrary. Once you reach them, you find they're not as important or impressive as you might expect. Twenty-one was just another day. Getting out of debt was big, but the actual numbers behind it all, once you started digging, were not. Crossing into six figures of net worth felt just like crossing over from 94,000 to 94,0001. Small changes which go unnoticed on a personal time scale but only become important when viewed from a distance.

I've lost track of the number of times I've gone for a run and hit a bigger number than usual. You realize pretty quickly that the mile marker is just another patch of grass and the only reason a sound dings in the back of your head is because you make it so.

But milestones are important, I think. Find good ones and then celebrate them no matter how big or unimportant they are. On a day-to-day basis, I'm a little meh about them. But on the ten year view of your life, they work nicely into the narrative we all build out of our memories. It's important to have that little celebration, that ticker tape shower at the end of the marathon or what have you, to show you that you were there, that you did it. Even if you don't really feel like it's that important at the time.

I tend to build tiny little celebrations into things. Nothing huge, but little bits of mental calculus: if I do THAT, I get to do THIS. That kind of thing. First paycheck of new job? New painting for apartment. Pay off debt? Buy a gadget. Not only does it give you something to remember other than the slog, it also helps you pace the fun stuff in life.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Process

As the snow comes down sideways outside my window with the same sort of inevitability as an impending ice age, I wrap another chapter in the book.

This was one of those chapters I was dreading a little because on the outline it basically boiled down to "wrap up the action cliffhanger from the previous chapter and then have the main character talk to some guy for a bit." I had a few more things I wanted to cover, but the plan was disturbingly sparse.

It turned out quite a bit better than that, for various reasons. It let me fill in some back story of the setting, describe some interesting new locations and people. I fleshed out Steve, the mayor of the Rock, who showed up briefly in Spirals and Triangles. It also gave me a chance to push and prod Neah a bit, who's the focus of the book's subplot.

It was also just a lot of fun to write. There's at least three or four agendas at play in that chapter and writing around them was fairly entertaining.

One of the recurring phenomena I've noticed about my writing is that I always feel like I'm laying down complete and utterly aimless meandering bullshit, even on the days when I'm "on," so to speak. On off days, it's even worse. Let's not talk about those days. In fact, I'm avoiding eye contact with those days right now. I'll probably block them on Facebook in a bit.

I occasionally lose sight of the fact that I always feel like this, that I always have that sense I'm winging everything and filling out words just to fill the empty white space up with squiggly black marks.

And every morning, I come back to what I wrote the day before and I'm like "hey, that's not half bad."

You see, when I lay down a new chapter, I'm sketching out the flow of the story. There might be rough spots, yes, but I'm also layering in seeds. Sometimes just placeholders, sometimes stuff that, in retrospect, is pretty awesome.

Sometimes I do write something that's pretty rough and I'll have to smoke an entire paragraph or two and start from scratch, but usually I'm in the right ballpark.

I go back at some later point and flesh it out, tighten up, correct or see something I think is crap and I'm like, okay, that was all right, but I can make this better.

That's the beauty of writing, that godlike feeling of being able to dig your fingers into the weave and delete, adjust, shift, warp or create things until they mean something that's almost entirely new and unexpected, even to you, the author. That sense of dancing with your story before it's born and watching it grow into something surprising and strange and knowing it came from somewhere in your head.

At the rate of one chapter per week, this book's going pretty fast. I scheduled in fewer chapters in the outline than the last book--only twelve, in the theory that with my general tendency to rattle on too long, it would swell up to book length without much effort. So far, so good.

And damn, it's snowing hard. It's making me regret my decision, born of cosmic laziness, to not do this week's grocery shopping yesterday, even though I knew full well a blizzard was going to roll right over my lazy ass.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Moving In Weird Circles

I got a drunk text last night from someone whose phone number is not recorded somewhere in the bowels of my space phone. It wasn't too hard to figure out who sent it.

Now, usually when someone gets a drunk text, it winds up falling into one two general groups:

Incoherent rambling or too-coherent over-sharing. For example, that one time you sent your boss a text reading "FFFUWJKFDS vodka is wargarbl." Or perhaps you sent him a drunken but sadly-far-too-intelligible demand for pictures of his man parts. Maybe you did that last night. You dirty bitch, you.

Anyway. It happens. The text messages in question may simply be photos. On one end of the spectrum, blurry pictures of a bottle of whatever gut-rot the sender was swilling down, or an even blurrier picture of someone's elbow. You get the idea. Or worse, they sent out really incriminating pictures of things that probably shouldn't be leaving their phone. Fleshy bits. Pasty photos of fleshy bits which spend most of their time hidden from the purifying rays of the sun. Or maybe the photo was somebody doing something illegal and/or dangerous. But hilarious at the time.

Then whoever blurted out the drunk text wakes up the next morning and has to do forensics on their message log to find out who they should apologize to. Or at least who they owe a rundown to of last night's shenanigans. This can either be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how hung over they are and who the recipient of their message was ("I'm sorry, Father Marcus!").

I don't get those.

Not because I don't have any friends, which is a legitimate concern given that I am nerdy as fuck, but more because I have strange friends.

I'd say about 50% of the people I know who are likely to text me are dog people. Not just "people who own and like dogs" but actual dog professionals. The sorts of people who put on suits and fly across the country to compete in dog-related events. Frisbee tournaments, dog shows, you name it. Some of them breed dogs, others have written the actual book on their dog breeds.

It's a strange crowd. The first thing people bring up when I mention this is "Best In Show" and that's not a bad reference point. It's a fairly accurate portrayal of the scene. Any character you care to name from the movie, I can give you at least three examples of people I know like that. Sometimes more.

I know all these people because my life has gone down the occasional strange path and it's such an insular crowd that once you know one or two, you know twenty or thirty along with them.

But I digress.

I know a hell of a lot of dog people.

So when I get a drunken picture of a dog at three in the morning from a number I don't immediately recognize, I know instantly who it is, because I am an idiot savant at remembering dogs.

Haven't had much of an opportunity to get writing done this week, which is a damn shame because it means I'm going to have to nail myself to the desk this weekend to get through the next chapter. It's always easier heading into the weekend with a bunch of writing done.