September 11

Today is my birthday. I share it with a national tragedy. I like to acknowledge both. For the birthday, I share it with my friends and family. For the other, I share it here.

On the day I turned thirty-one, terrorists killed 3,000 people in the United States. It was a horrific moment of awakening for this country, a moment that those of us who had grown up overseas thought we understood. I grew up with car bombs on the news and in my city. It had only been a matter of time, I thought, before the United States would have had to face it. American headlines screamed that “The World has Changed!” and I remember thinking that was a lot of hubris.

I did not account for what the United States would do in response. This was a moment that could have touched off a world-shaking drive for peace, compassion, and a better future. Instead, we launched a world-shearing assault on “terrorists,” which has, in most reasonable estimates, been responsible for the deaths of almost 5,000 US service members in Iraq alone, and between 100,000 and 1 million Iraqis. The issue is not as stark as these numbers make it out to be, the world is a muddy mess, even at its best. But that is a lot of blood spilled in vengeance. The world did change after all. And our country was the agent of that change.

I’m not asking to compare the three thousand victims of 9/11 to the hundreds of thousands of victims of the Iraq War. That is a scale that will never balance. Instead, I am asking us to put ALL the deaths on one side. What goes on the other side then?

For my birthday wish, I would like us to reflect on these scales, and do what we can to see them balance.

SXSW 2014 Cover Art is Posted

I have just posted this year’s album art for SXSW, the Music festival in Austin in eleven days.

But all is not well. SXSW has offered one track from each artist as a download (as a .torrent) since at least 2005. According to the Unofficial SXSW Torrents site, while there are a small number of tracks available so far, SXSW has decided to put the files up on Soundcloud, instead. Soundcloud works hard to prevent capture of the music they play, which makes downloading the tracks… difficult.

Go to the cover art page to get this year’s art, and find out how to let SXSW know that you don’t like this.

SXSW Showcasing Artist Cover Art

Where is this horse you speak of?

It has been a little over a month since I have written any fiction. Not a word. But I am getting back on that proverbial horse.

A little over a month ago, I was offered a half time job by a friend, and I took it. Thus a third, part-time career was born. I am writing words for a small, local, moderate political organization. It fits me politically pretty well (I’m an unabashed Liberal, but a registered Republican), and there is a desperate need here in Kansas for anyone with a modicum of sense to speak out. I am encouraging people to be getting on that. I write for our social media properties (see, jargon!) and also “craft” our marketing message. And I’ll be blogging once we get our new website up.

So, you know, getting paid to write!

And even if it isn’t getting paid to write my fiction, I do get to put words together, and that part has been fun.

But.

I’m here to do this. I quit my modest but better-than-this paying job to write fiction. And this past month, I have not done that. It’s been the usual cocktail of work I want to do, work I’m not sure I want to do, personal motivation issues, Life Stuff To Do, and now Job that Must Be Done.

But.

I am up, and I am at ’em. And it is five in the freakin’ morning.

And I am writing.

Ow

I am forty three years old. I have been blessedly healthy all those years, with nary a serious illness, a broken bone, nor a hospital stay. But yesterday, I had the pleasure of my first CT scan.

Let me back up.

Three mornings ago, I had a little back pain. Then the pain shifted around to the front, and became abdominal pain. Then it became very strong gas/bloating pain. And then I was writhing around on the guest bed, trying not to wake anyone up with my mewling. I was retching, and twisting, and cursing and in about as much pain as I have ever been. I finally woke my wife up, and not being in a hazy fog of agony, she suggested medicine. I took a gas thing, and the pain went away.

The rest of the day was fine. I had some plentiful but innocuous gas later on, and I thought all was well. Yay, flatulence!

Two mornings ago, I woke up fine, but my stomach muscles were a little sore. From all the retching, surely. After all, I’d given the muscles a real workout when I was busy dying the previous morning. Then the gas came back, slowly, but surely, and soon I was grimacing and stamping about. At this point we decided I was clearly in labor. Walking felt better, breathing made it tolerable, squatting relieved the pressure. Yay! A new baby! We laughed about that, I took more gas stuff and painkiller, and it went away.

Yesterday morning, it was back. The Internets had been consulted back on day one, and while abject muscle surrender and gas were still the number one choice, appendicitis started to rise in the ranks of probability. I practiced my New Year’s resolution to curse more violently, and even the dog slunk away to hide.

And finally I decided to see my doctor.

Turns out, I have a kidney stone.

Which is a great relief. Because, you know, people die from appendicitis.

But I have to tell you, I anticipate that there will be moments in the near future when I will beg for a nice hospital stay and some surgery.

Plus, there’s a certain cachet to appendicitis. After all, there’s infection, fever, surgery, maybe even an ambulance. It lends a very serious aura to your suffering. That is a mystique that kidney stones just don’t have, because, you know, “Ha ha! It hurts when you pee! Har!”

For the record, the CT scan showed this wee little rock to be six millimeters in diameter. Please find yourself a ruler and check that out. I have pain drugs, and I intend to use them.

The unintended red herring

File under, “Lessons learned while writing.” I have a tendency to throw details into a story that explain a problem in my head, but are not meant to go further than that. But a reader, who is not in my head, reads that detail as crucial, and chases it down the rabbit hole until they realize it is just a dead end. Frustrating. And no tiny doors to climb through at the bottom.

For example. A new character shows up out of the blue, and announces that he is here to investigate an old death that he believes is murder most foul. Murder? How unexpected! How juicy! Who died, and why? Who is this murder investigator? Tell me more!

But the investigator is really here for some other reason. He made up the murder investigation as a cover. I move on with his real motivation, and ignore the murder, because, what murder? Boring!

But the reader is intrigued, then confused, then lost, then maybe disappointed and angry. And when they emerge from the other end of the stages of grief, they have missed all the good stuff I was doing in the meantime.

Must avoid the unintended red herring.

Blistering barnacles!

I’m not much one for New Year’s resolutions. After all, I am resolving to do things differently better all the time, not just once a year. Last month I resolved to write more, and a few days before that, I resolved to stop beating myself up about not writing more.

But I know it’s a significant arbitrary date, and a lot of people use the first of the year to set new goals. To lose weight, to work better, to be happier. Apparently a significant number of people pick a word to define their hopes for a new year. “Focus,” or “Publish,” or “Beardify.” That seems like a lot of pressure for one word, on one date.

Some time ago, I hit upon a New Year’s resolution that seemed cheeky enough to be fun, but had a kernel of actual self-improvement within, and I have gone with that one every year since.

I resolve (once again) to curse more.

Until this year, I just meant that I should use colorful language more, in conversation mostly, but also in my writing. I should cuss and curse and use the full breadth that English allows, to make my points. After all, if you don’t overuse it, cursing can be a very effective accent to what you’re trying to say. Even cursing a blue streak has its uses.

But this year it occurred to me that really, I could change it up by resolving to curse more something. After all, as it turns out, I’ve been resolving to curse more frequently, right?

I could also resolve to curse more eloquently. Or creatively. I could repurpose the non-cursing lexicon for creative cursing, like Captain Haddock (“Blistering barnacles!”) or Sylvester (“Suffering succotash!”). Or I could make up words that sound like bad words, like the writers of Battlestar Galactica did with the not-so-popular-anymore “Frack!”

And then of course, there’s the actual cursing. Hexing. Spiting. Eye of newt. I could do some of that. There are a lot of very creative and fun ways to actually curse people, though I’d recommend sticking to wordy curses, and keeping the hair gathering to a minimum. The trick to wordy cursing (and bad-word cursing, too) is to do it in the flow of circumstance, not five minutes later, when nobody but your momma cares. Years ago I conceptualized a context-aware device I called the Portable Noel Coward that would spit out timely rejoinders right when you needed them. Cursing might need a similar thing.

Or I might just need practice. Like a crossword puzzle regimen for my wit.

So. I resolve to exercise my mind, to leave my comfort zone, to push myself. I resolve to curse more, and may your warts grow warts if you don’t like it.

No rose garden delivered today

Another month gone by. It went fast, but mostly because I didn’t do a lot of productive writing. I hit what you might call a bad patch. I have never been the best at being relentlessly focused, and when you combine that with two creative blocks, well. Nothing gets done.

Huh. So, are you ready to throw in the towel?

Wow, straight to that, eh? Yes I was, briefly, yesterday. I was invited to participate in something I very much wanted to do, but I can’t because of money issues. This is the first time I’ve really come up against the fact that I’m not making any money. Sure, we’ve been cutting back and paying close attention to what we spend, I’m cleaning the house now, instead of hiring it out, and I have a financial deadline looming in the middle distance, but this was the first time I couldn’t do something I really wanted to do.

I thought about giving up and really looking for a job.

But I did some thinking last night, and I decided against it. Writing, heck creating anything, is like exercise. I know it’s good for me, and when I do it, it feels fantastic. It’s fun, I feel good, and afterwards there’s a glow (endorphins!) about the rest of my life that can’t be beat. I’ve written about this before. Writing is fun. Making stuff up, putting it down, being creative… it’s a rush.

Getting started is hard. Each day. Each moment, sometimes.

So, what’re you gonna do about that?

I thought about getting a tattoo, like “FOCUS!” or something, but they cost money and I already have a tattoo-reward-plan for weight loss. I thought about getting an ADD diagnosis (I expect I am in that crowd), but well, damn, I’m an adult. I’ve come up with a mantra, and some words to live by, to try to inspire/reason myself into working. I’ve thought about asking people I love to hold me accountable (that seems like a dick move, though). I’ve tried to post word counts each day I write (did you notice how not-often I did that? Exactly). I make lists and cross things off. I’ve even changed to-do programs recently, because surely the last one was my problem.

And then there’s the possibility that all of these things are themselves a problem.

So you need to keep it simple?

Why yes, thanks. That is what I was getting at. I need to simplify. I have a few ideas, and I’ll let you in on them next time.

Sure, kick the can down the road. Fine.

I will, thanks.

You said something about a mantra?

I did. For a while now, since last Spring, I’ve had some focus words I try to keep in mind. Goals for whatever I am doing. They’ve evolved a bit, but I think I’ve settled on them now, and I look at them every day. They are not meant to inspire, so much as make me yearn to reach them. Words to live by, as it were.

Last night, I also came up with a phrase, a mantra of sorts. Something to repeat to myself in a moment of sloth. I’m trying it out today, and it has mostly worked. We’ll see.

But you’re not going to tell us what they are, are you?

No, I’m not. I’m over trying to force myself to do stuff by being public about it. Public-shaming myself doesn’t work. This is something I need to figure out with myself, by myself.

So, did you do anything this month?

Well, yes, I did. I hit a block on the short story I was writing, so I took a few days and wrote a children’s book. It was an awful lot of fun, and it wasn’t too complicated. i got to play with language a bit differently than in a longer form. I’m sure it is not terribly good, but I like the idea very much. Right now I am fleshing out the descriptions of the illustrations, pretty integral to enjoying the book. While i was writing it, I was thinking of Jane Yolen and Mark Teague’s How Would a Dinosaur… books, and Brian Floca’s books (Locomotive and Moonshot especially) for inspiration.

Once I have the illustration descriptions done, I’ll send it out to my friends for some feedback. Then I intend to work on it, and finally I’ll need an illustrator. An illustrator who doesn’t want to get paid any time soon/ever. Perhaps a starving illustrator.

Can you tell me what this kids’ book is about?

Nope.

Seriously?

Seriously.

You jerk

Yes, well. I’m afraid the elevator pitch will make it sound like something it isn’t. Plus, the working title is crap.

What ever

See you next month.

I’m unfriending you, Internet

My darling wife alerted me to a post on Facebook, by a Friend of a Friend (so I can’t comment there, since I’m not Friends with the Friend… ugh), a post that began with, “This just in: ADHD also diagnosed as ‘childhood'” and linked to a blog post at the Psychology Today website about how the French (of all people) don’t have any ADHD cases, because they (are enlightened?) diagnose the root causes: malnutrition, poor parenting, dumbness, etc.

The comments on this post (to which I cannot comment) cover the range, but are mostly following the lead of the original poster, funny quips presented as insight, opinion masquerading as fact, and assumptions presented as research.

I have a child with ADHD (inattentive, not hyperactive). He is bright, funny, creative and distracted. He is on medication, and it has done wonders for him. At one point before he was diagnosed, my brilliant little boy came to us, after watching a commercial on TV, and told us that he thought he needed to go to the Sylvan Learning Center. The look on his face, that defeated, but pathetically hopeful look, stomped on my heart.

If you know us, you know we do nothing without research. Our child was tested, diagnosed, seen by doctors, second opinioned, and finally medicated. He has gone from being a remedial concern to excelling in every aspect of his life, because he can pay attention to the things that are important to him.

But the ADHD diagnosis issue is just the trigger that got me going this morning. I now know a lot about ADHD, about the process of diagnosing, about how it affects my kid, about the ins and outs of medicating my child, about the “cocktail” needed to help him concentrate then help him sleep. I see how he feels when he lets himself down because his brain doesn’t work, and how he feels when he tops a test or a contest or finishes a project or a book. I know what ADHD looks like, to me. This Friend of a Friend does not know what it looks like to me, but that did not prevent him from lumping everyone in together, damn the shades of grey, in the service of his clever commentary.

Here’s what I wanted to add to this guy’s Facebook post, but couldn’t:

“Hi. This post is so insensitive, thoughtless, and knee-jerk that I am inclined to answer in kind. Without knowing you, your children, how you parent, or what you are like, I’d like to take this opportunity to be an asshole to a perfect stranger, because online, there are no repercussions. Ready? Here goes. ‘I bet, since you’re so into responsible parenting, you beat the fuck out of your children if they misbehave. You cretin.’ What’s that? I’m sorry, did I overstep? Did I say something without knowing shit about what I was saying? Why, yes, I did. You’re welcome.”

There’s been some discussion online about comments on articles, how they rarely add to a discussion, being either trolled or facetious or downright harmful. I agree, and would like to add to that the suggestion that all of Facebook (et al.) is one big comment thread full of meaningless pandering and hateful, irresponsible, selfish commentary.

This is what is wrong with Internet commenting.

There is no space for compassion, for empathy, for understanding.

I know I am also guilty here of oversimplifying the issue. The Internet is a tool, after all. There are places set aside for thoughtful discussion and grateful healing. There are nice people online, even on Facebook, and I like being connected to them in a way I never could in Real Life. I appreciate and love them.

But the rest of the Internet can seriously fuck off. I don’t have time for you anymore.

One more month of writing

Hey all. So, it was about a month ago that I posted that last update on my writing career. You may be wondering how the writing career is going.

Yeah, how is the writing career going?

Okay. I spent this last month doing a lot of worldbuilding, which was fun.

An aside for non-SF/F fans: if you’re writing fantasy in a world that is not our own, or science fiction in worlds significantly different than our own, you need to spend time working out how it is different, and what that means. Worldbuilding can be brief or complicated. Mine was both, I spent most of my time trying to reconcile two suns and no moon, but I’m “building” the rest as I write.

In that time I’ve also started and scrapped four short stories. The one I am working on now is really more of a prologue to the books I’d like to write. What happens in it is important but would have happened off-screen in the books. It is fun.

So, I am writing. But career? Not yet, I am afraid.

What else is up with the not-working thing?

Not-working? I see what you’re doing there.

Well, I got canned from my social media writing gig, which was sad, but okay. As a result, we decided to dump our housecleaning service ($$$!), and I have taken those duties on. But we also decided we can’t live without college basketball ($$!), so we’re going to add that back in this month. Still a net savings. And I am pursuing a website design job (just a one-off, not a career!) to help make ends meet.

Today, I dusted. The whole house. Blinds, fans, pictures, surfaces, etc. Took about an hour.

But you still like what you’re doing, right?

Oh, yeah. I love it. I dream about it. I think about it all the time. I write myself notes in church about things I want to put in my writing. I would rather write than do just about anything else. I have fun doing it. I even have fun doing it when it is hard.

I had a moment a few weeks ago, when I broke for lunch. I was looking for something to read, and I realized that what I really wanted to do was read my story. My book. I wanted to write it more so I could find out where it is going.

Whaaaat? You don’t know where your book is going?

Yeah, so it turns out that I am not a detail plotter. Or rather, I do plot things out ahead, but as I write I come up with new, better, more detailed ideas. I started writing the story I’m writing now from one character’s perspective. But it was taking too long, he was describing all the things, and they were all new to him (and to the reader). And then I figured out a major plot point that is cool, but he was only tangentially related to it. I mean, he’s in the middle of it, but doesn’t know anything about what is going on. There was no meat for the reader. So I scrapped that, and now I’m writing the same story, but from five (hopefully six) characters, each with their own scene. I think it’s working out really well. But I fully believe I may have to go back and change something again when I figure out how that sixth character fits in.

It is a bit messy, as process goes.

But you know what? It’s fun.

So, you’re having fun?

Darn tootin’.

What’s next, then, guy who doesn’t plot ahead

Well, I hope to finish this story soon. Then I’ll have to do a second draft. I’ll write about that later. Then I hope to get it out to a few trusted friends and/or family for them to comment. Then I’ll draft it again, and then I’ll send it out and see if anyone thinks it’s worth publishing.

One story? That’s a lot of eggs in one basket, no?

It is. And I should probably have a couple other stories going, too, but I don’t have the time, really. 8am to 3 pm goes by really fast. And during that time I’m cleaning, eating, and walking the dog, in addition to writing. After three, the kids are home and we’re managing homework and chores and dishes and dinner and activities (swimming, soccer, Lego League, scouting, etc.) and then we have other stuff (like college basketball, did I mention that?) and groceries and laundry and all that stuff.

It would appear that I may get about two to three hours of writing in a day.

Seven weeks in, I am not sure that is enough time.

Don’t be a downer, dude

No, no. I have to say, even with all that, I really do love my life. Absolutely love it. And the absence of my previous job is still a wonder, I go to sleep on Sunday not dreading the next morning. But more than that, I love building these stories, even the ones I have tossed on the waste bin. I lurve it, even.

So, yeah. I want to be writing more, and I want to write for the rest of my life, and those are my goals. And I am the one that can get me there.

Just shut that down

Today we heard that President Obama called up the Speaker of the House John Boehner and told him, and I quote from Brendan Buck, Boehner’s spokesman, “The president called the speaker again today to reiterate that he won’t negotiate on a government funding bill or debt limit increase.” Source: Roll Call

Hellz to the yes.

The pure unadulterated gall of the thirty or so Tea Party crazies who a) think their minority is in the majority, b) are directed and funded by a conservative oligarchy, and c) do not understand the most basic functions of government is only surpassed by the spineless wheeling contrivances of the moderate Republicans who refuse to stand up for their constituencies, their personal beliefs, and their intellectual understanding of what is actually happening in government today.

Afraid of the Koch Brothers money? Worried you’re going to get Tea Party Primaried? Well, it’ll happen anyway, so you’d best just grow a spine and stand up.

It appears that the Democratic leadership has found theirs.

Time to shut down the Tea Party. Time to shut down the narrative that whatever you believe is true because you believe it. Time to stand up to the bullies.

I am glad my President appears to be doing so.