Trees aren’t the only things sappy in the Fall

Autumn makes me introspective. Especially when it gets breezy and there is a chill in the wind. It makes me think about my childhood – specifically the time in Portales when my mom was killing herself working nights at the hospital, often double shifts – and I’d eat breakfast at Grandma and Gramps’s. Usually cereal, mostly Raisin Bran, but sometimes I would be surprised with some of Grandma’s biscuits and gravy. She’d give me a cup of coffee and I would sit at that big old table and eat breakfast and talk with her while she smoked part of a cigarette. I can’t really remember her ever smoking a whole one at once, but she would take a couple of puffs and then put it out. Then a while later she might light it back up and take another puff. I never liked the smell of cigarettes, but I never minded when she did. I can’t remember what we talked about, and I think the point is that it doesn’t really matter. What really does matter is that she talked to me. I do remember that every morning she walked out onto the front lawn with me and while the ever present wind in southeastern New Mexico made the old cottonwood out front chatter she would tell me the same thing. “Give that extra effort.” I’m going to be honest and admit that I didn’t always. But I did always remember that she said it.
 
It is windy like that in LA today. It made me think about me as a child. As happens so often these days when I think about me as a child I can’t help but think of my own girls. I think about the messages that want to give them. And I think about the messages that I actually am giving them and I hope to hell that they are close enough to the same thing. Some Autumn down the road they will catch a scent on the air, or the sunlight will shine in that particular way and they will think of their childhood and remember not necessarily the specifics, but the overall feeling. I hope that, like mine, the tear running down their cheek when they do is one inspired by happiness and not remorse, the distant longing that only nostalgia brings, and a reminder that no matter where they are in the world that they have always been loved.
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Anatomy of a Story, Part 1

I like to read.

I assume that most of you do as well or you wouldn’t be here. I had a great discussion with a friend of mine recently on what I like to read and why and as I was speaking without thinking, as I so often do, I realized that I was surprising myself with some of what I was saying. I spent some time thinking about it later and have come up with a few thoughts, most of which are likely full of crap.
Have you ever stopped and thought about what draws you to a story or an author? I know many of the traditional schoolbook answers, but looking at on a personal level for myself I came up with the thought that all stories have each of the qualities in a sort of continuum in the psychology sense where everything falls somewhere on the line and all of them exist to some extent in virtually every story. None are particularly ground breaking, but I am going to write up more on each of this and wanted to make sure and at least define the terms I will be using as I plan on using them. Your high school or college professor might not agree, and I am okay with that, listen to them regurgitate what you need to in order to get your “A” for the class and then think for yourself later when you are accountable to none save yourself.
In no particular order:
Character(s) – these include protagonists, antagonists, and supporting characters. They might be fleshed out or cardboard stand ins designed only to be used as a backdrop.
Voice – this is how the story is read. Some will argue that voice is a part of style. I will respectfully disagree.
Plot – to put it quite simply, what’s going on?
Setting – where does it happen? In some stories (or genres) the setting itself is virtually its own character. Dune is a fantastic example of this particularly as the titular novel. And yes,  I used titular in a questionably appropriate manner, mostly just because it is fun to write. The setting should matter, as… wait, I am getting ahead of myself.
Theme – is there some kind of underlying “point” that the writer is trying to get across?
Style – I include this here just to round out the traditional big 5, but really it is often just a catchall for the mechanics of the story.
Now all of these elements exist to some level in 99% of all stories. I say 99% since I like to try and avoid absolutes, because someone will come in here with a random experimental novel and shove it in my face. Each of these elements is important to the overall effect the story has on the reader and each reader will prioritize these elements as a matter of preference – and I will contend that this is most often a subconscious choice. How many times have you read a book and thought, “wow, I really liked that” but can’t put your finger on just why? It has happened to me a lot and I tend to reread the book immediately with a more critical eye to try and find out why I liked it.
Remember when I said before listing those that they were in no particular order? Well, I lied. They are in the order that I personally find important when reading something for pleasure. I didn’t set out to do that, I wasn’t trying to make a particular point, I just noticed when I was looking over it that I had put them in that order, and that is roughly the order that they elements are in terms of importance to me.
For the next few blog posts I’ll be going in to a bit more detail on those elements. And I would just like to reiterate that these are not necessarily what your English/Lit teacher would say about them so you probably shouldn’t cite me. I am just setting us up with a common vocabulary for some future discussions.
So, in parting I have a couple of questions for you – first up, how would you rank the above for yourself? Next, what author do you often feel like is writing just to you? Feel free to answer either here, or on twitter to @somnicide or on my Facebook page.
Anyway, thanks for spending some time with me.

What was I thinking?

Today is August 20th. It happens to be HP Lovecraft’s birthday and a mere three days after my own which seems to be a good enough time to bring this blog back to life – or rather wake it up from its long slumber, if you prefer.
 
I recently self published my first novella the Monitor as an eBook on Amazon and since this story actually started as an homage to Lovecraft it seems to me that the stars have aligned and it is a fitting topic for the rebirth of this blog. 
 
 To begin with, I have a confession to make. I used to hate Lovecraft. I couldn’t stand reading him, it was all “blah blah blah, ah! It is terrible but I can’t describe it”. Granted, this was in high school, and I think I first learned about Cthulhu and the other great old ones in the original Dungeons and Dragons Deities and Demigods. Just as a quick aside, it certainly says something that the spell check on the macbook I am writing this post on is informing me that Lovecraft is misspelled but Cthulhu is just fine. It wasn’t that the words were long or bizarre – I have always been quick with a dictionary to look things up and never felt bad not knowing a word (thanks Mom). No, it was that his stories were, well, boring.
 
Anyway, I remember that even though his stories tended to be extremely short, I had difficulty wading through them and the ones I did were always a let down. I moved on from there to lighter reading (probably something of Tolkein’s though it might have been King) and likely wouldn’t have given him a second thought were it not for the Evil Dead. If you are reading this blog, you are likely familiar with that movie so I am not going to go into how awesomely terrible and terribly awesome it is (I am referring to the original 2 here, by the way).
 
I returned to Lovecraft with a vengeance and this time around it was… ok. Still not great, though I was starting to get a greater appreciation for the cosmology underneath it all and, far more importantly, the concept of taking a normal person and putting them face to face with something that was incomprehensible. It wasn’t that he couldn’t describe in (excruciatingly painstaking and verbose) detail these supernatural encounters, it was that the characters themselves were facing things so beyond their ability to relate that there was literally (apparently I can use this word incorrectly now and it is okay) no frame of reference they could draw upon in order to relate this experience.
 
So, let’s flash forward several more years. My life has just entered a new epoch. 1 of 3 has been born now with all of the attendant madness that brings. I recall laying there in bed with the baby monitor on and just staring at the red light. Every now and again the baby would flop around and the eye would blink at me and I could hear a soft rustling. For some reason I started to recall “The Statement of Randolph Carter” and the way Lovecraft told that story from basically the point of view of a guy on the phone when the other guy was getting all the action. My daughter also used to whisper and mutter as she was learning to talk and it was kind of creepy to just hear nonsense syllables coming through the monitor. It seemed to be a good enough time to revisit HP and see if I liked him any better. I did. A bit. 
 
At around this time I was starting to get back into an old hobby of mine that had been long neglected – writing prose. At this time I was living in Los Angeles and doing a bit of screenwriting because, well, it’s LA. Screenwriting is a very tight form and I will probably write more on that another time, but because of that I found I was really missing the free flowing and rambling and exploration that is prose. I decided to get back into it as I could with what little free time a new father has by acting on this inspiration and writing about the thing which inspired me and trying it in a style similar to Lovecraft. Thankfully, I edited quite a bit of the blah blah blah out and kept the kernel of what I liked best about his work. At least I am hopeful that came across. There are still quite a few little nods to Lovecraft – one of which is the protagonist deceased son’s name (Phillip). If you caught any others, either stylistically or content, feel free to share them with me either on twitter @somnicide or here on the blog.
 
Thanks for spending some time with me.

30DoSS 5

“Now you listen to Isabella, okay sweetie?”

“Okay mommy, don’t worry, I’ll be a good boy.”  Tayler nodded his head enthusiastically looking closer to a 4 year old than his actual 7 years.

“Here is the number for the restaurant call if you need anything.  And no snacks for Tayler, he has already had his dinner.”

“It will be fine Ms. March.  I’ve been doing this since I was 12.  You go and have a good time.”

Shawna March chewed her bottom lip nervously and  then nodded her head.  She hadn’t been on a date since her husband disappeared two years earlier.  She thought a bit more before glancing at her watch.

“Okay, I will be home no later than 10:00.”  She grabbed her purse off of the bar and gave Tayler a kiss on the forehead.  She left through the kitchen entrance and paused to lock the door.  A few seconds later and Isabella heard the double beeps of a car alarm being disabled and shortly after that Ms. March’s BMW starting up and pulling out of the drive way.

“So, Tayler, looks like it is just you and me.  What do you want to do?”

“I’m hungry.”

“Your mom said no snacks.  Let’s go watch TV.”

Isabella put her hands on Tayler’s shoulders and led him into the living room.

They sat down on the couch and flicked through the channels before stopping on some sitcom about 4 guys living with a girl in some city.

“My daddy didn’t run away you know?”

Isabella looked at Tayler.  “What do you mean?”

“The monster in our sink got him.  Mom says we have to keep feeding him or he will get us next.  She usually throws some stuff down there when she is making dinner.  She didn’t tonight.  I think the monster is probably hungry like I am.  We should probably give him a snack.  Me too.”  He smiled at her when he said this.

Isabella smiled back at him.  “Very clever.  Well, I guess we could give you a snack if it would help keep this monster at bay.”  She ruffled his hair.  “Just don’t tell your mom and promise me that you will go to bed when it is time without causing any problems.”

“Okay, I promise.  But we need to feed the monster too.”

“You already got your snack, don’t push it.”  She went into the kitchen and found a bag of instant popcorn in the pantry.  She put it the microwave and hit the popcorn button.  She leaned against the kitchen island and waited listened for the popcorn.  She never really put her faith in those automatic timers – you had to listen and stop it at just the right time or else there would be burned kernels.  The popping began and she watched through the window as the bag expanded.

She heard a strange rattle that drew her attention toward the sink.  Her body tensed up and it took her a second to notice.  It was just the pipes juddering, she was sure of it.  Tayler had probably just gone into the bathroom and when he turned on the hot water to wash his hands the pipes shook.  His story of a monster in the sink was ridiculous.  She noticed the popping slowing down and stopped the microwave.

She pulled the bag out of the microwave oven and sort of juggled it between her hands before dropping it on the prep island.  She opened a couple of cabinets before she found a big enough bowl to catch all of the popcorn and then dumped it in.  She shook out some salt over the top and gave it a quick toss before heading back into the living room.

Tayler was sitting on the couch waiting for her.  He smiled when he saw the bowl of popcorn.

“You fed the monster, right?”

“I am about to feed the Tayler monster right now!”  She dropped down on the couch next to him.  They crunched through the popcorn over another mindless sitcom.  Isabella licked her finger and swirled it around the nearly empty bowl knocking aside the unpopped kernels and sticking the salt to her finger.  She popped it into her mouth and savored that last bit of popcorn-flavored salt.

“Alright buddy you head up and brush your teeth and put on your pjs.  I’ll be up in a minute to tuck you in.  I’m just going to wash this bowl right quick.”

“Oh no!  We forgot to save some for the sink monster!”  Tayler’s eyes glistened.  “Please please make sure and take something out of the refrigerator for him!”

“Tayler, that’s enough of that.  I am not giving you anything else to eat.  You just go get ready for bed.”

He looked at her for a second and then ran up the stairs.  She heard him slam the door to his room.  She sighed and picked up a couple of kernels that had fallen on the couch and tossed them into the bowl.  She walked into the kitchen and dumped the bowl out into the trash and walked over to the sink and turned the water to warm it up.

She grabbed the sponge from the edge of the sink and squirted some dish soap on it.  As she was scrubbing she heard the pipes judder again.  It was so loud standing next to the sink that she dropped the sponge.  It landed next to the garbage disposal which had a shiny perforated cover over it.  Isabella smiled when she realized that was probably the monster.  Ms. March would probably peel vegetables and toss the peels in to the “monster” and when she turned it on it would certainly growl like one.  Satisfied she had solved the mystery she reached into the sink to pick up the sponge and finish the bowl.

Just as her fingers touched the sponge a pencil thin slimy black tentacle exploded from the drain, knocking the cover completely out of the sink to clatter across the floor.  It wrapped tightly around her wrist and she tried to pull back but was unable to budge it.   She opened her mouth to scream and a second and then a third tentacle blasted out one filled her mouth with a rancid taste that made her gag instantly.  The other shot into her nose and began working its way down out of her mouth and began to pull her head toward the drain.  She put her foot against the cabinet and pulled as hard as she could but she was unable to slow her decent.  More tentacles came out and wrapped around her head pulling her faster and faster.

She tried to scream but the tentacle worming its way down her throat prevented her vocal chords from working right.  The best she could manage was a small choking gag.  As he head drew closer to the drain she saw a viciously sharp beak snapping with anticipation.  Her head hit the bottom of the stainless steel sink with such force that it broke bones in both her cheek and the orbital cavity.

Mercifully, she lost consciousness before the beak began to rip and tear at her face.

At 9:55 the kitchen door swung open and Shawna March walked in with a small smile on her face.  The first thing she noticed was that the water to the sink was running and though there was an empty bowl in there the room was empty.  She walked over and turned off the water.  She looked around curiously for Isabella before heading upstairs.  Tayler was in his bed with the blanket pulled over his face and the light on.

“Tayler?”  She whispered softly.  He shifted but didn’t wake up.  She turned  the light off and closed the door.  She was unhappy because she had thought that Isabella was more responsible that that.  After a quick search of the house she at least comforted herself with the fact Isabella had locked all the doors before leaving though why she left the sink running was a mystery.

30DoSS 4

Some people are born to fight and some people are born to run.  Mitch was the running kind.  Any time things got difficult, he packed up and moved out.  He always tried to tell himself he wasn’t running from something so much as running toward something else.  Whether it was from or to he found himself in a small village named Tukatuk somewhere on the long western coast of Alaska.

There were only two ways in to Tukatuk – you either had to ride the waves or the wind and Mitch found himself here after a disagreement with the captain of a fishing boat.  Smyth, the captain of “Ketchikan’s Catch” was amicable enough to offer Mitch a ride back to Ketchikan before paying him out but Mitch’s way was to run as quickly as possible and so he found himself in a town of 1200 or so people with 2 main roads and a handful of sidewalks.

Mitch watched as “Ketchikan’s Catch” vanished over the horizon and looked around at his new home.  He tossed his duffle bag over his shoulder and set off walking down the main street as he tried to ignore the stares following him.  It was still June so he wasn’t too worried about finding a place to stay – he could camp if need be and he certainly didn’t expect to be here by the time the days started to shorten.

30 DoSS2

The streaks falling from the sky danced among the falling snow unseen by the people huddling for warmth around the fire.

The lead ship pulled parallel with ground and skimmed the tree tops, flying nap of the earth and the two wings fell into perfect formation behind the lead.  They kept their speed just below the sound barrier to prevent the massive boom which would drawn attention to them.  Sophisticated sound dampening technology baffled the engine noise so the only sound the created was that air being displaced by their speed.  This sound was lost in the howling blizzard.

“Adjust course, 0.37 degrees.”  The wing ships adjusted course with mechanical precision. “300 kilometers to target… 260 kilometers to target…” the ships juddered as they dropped speed.  “3 minutes to target.  Arm weapons.”

The left wing ship exploded without warning.

“EVADE EVADE EVADE!” the lead ship split from the remaining wing.

Marrus watched the two Hunt-Ships peel off above him.  His own Jumper was hidden in a large cave a bit to the North.  It was on low power in case they needed to leave in a hurry.  Sure, this planet was a primitive one barely beyond the fire stage but the Corporations were grooming it.  In another thousand years or so it would be time to begin processing it into the fold.

Danika had thought he was being paranoid but his instincts had kept him alive since he resigned his commission from the Al-Ger Corporation.  He was surprised that they were still after him after all this time.  Honestly, he had expected them to just write off his Jumper as “lost without contact” and collect the insurance and leave him be.  Ah well, no one ever said being a privateer would be easy.

The hunters crossed back and forth above him searching for his location.  Their scanners would pierce his personal baffles now that they were actively searching for him.  He clicked the comm twice.  The static break was enough to let Danika know to prep for dust-off.

He checked the weapon-pack charge.  He had enough for 3 more shots but was unlikely to get as easy a target as that first one.  Marrus knew that the odds of a single person on foot of taking out a single hunter was slim, taking out two was unheard of.  He checked his belt for the transmitter.  It had cost him a lot of money and put him in the debt of Shar Aleksei which was more troubling than his hard earned cash.  But if it saved his life it would be well worth it.

Marrus turned and ran, activating the environmental actuators as he did.  Each of his steps was amplified and in that moment he was the fastest ground creature n the planet.   He blew by a group of native hunters.  They clutched their spears fearfully and a new deity myth was born. Marrus would be long dead but Anutak, Lord of the Night Hunt would live on in stories.

Marrus slowed when he neared the face of the cliff.  He dropped to his knee and canceled the baffle for a second and then raised it again.  He was sure to have been spotted but there was no sense in making it too easy.  As expected, the two ships adjusted their paths immediately and began an attack run.  Marrus closed his eyes and said a quick prayer.  He took the device off his belt and held it up.

“Aleksei, you better not be fucking me.”  He whispered as he activated the scrambler.  The ships both shuddered violently as their nav systems scrambled.  They were approaching the cliff face.  This was the moment of truth.  If the scrambler worked as advertised both should be taking a dive any second as they intended to pull up.  It was a simple programming swap but the question was whether the access codes were current or not.

Apparently, they were.  The pilots were so used to the autoassist that they didn’t even think to deactivate it.  Marrus was impressed to see that the wingman’s reflexes were better than the lead’s – he pulled all the way “up” and slammed into the ground while the lead was unable to clear the cliff.  Marrus smiled and headed back to the cave where Danika was waiting.

“How’d it go, skip?”  She asked him with a smile.

“I think the fact that I made it here before you left me is a pretty good sign.”  He leaned into her and kissed her on the forehead.  “Let’s go somewhere with a bit more nightlife.”

The hatch sealed behind him and they left through the snow, a white streak heading up into the night.

The hunters returned to the fire and told the story of the silver hunter they had seen who killed two demons of the air.

30 days of shitty stories

Finally, getting a bit of sleep and settling into a routine. My writing chops are a bit rusty both in terms of making love to the English language and hooking up with my muse at a regular time. Yep, 2 sex analogies in the same sentence are both appropriate because I am having performance anxiety when it comes to my writing. I don’t know about you, but the less time I spend doing something the more valuable that time becomes. What I write I want to be awesome because I am only writing for such a limited amount of time.

That is utter bullshit, by the way, but the mind is a tricksy little minx. So, to kick start things I am giving myself permission to suck. In fact, I am expecting it.

Be warned that everything here is horribly unpolished first draft stuff. Be warned. Since I don’t know what I will be writing it might even be completely absurd, terrifyingly unoriginal, borderline pornographic or anything in between. The goal is just to write. One new story every day for the next 30 days.

A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end (hopefully) and that is really all I am working on. Words that move forward and end up on this digital paper.

Feel free to read it, or not. Expect it to suck, but there might be something pretty in there purely on accident.

Care to join me?

The truth, no matter how ugly, is the truth.

Fair warning, this is going to be a first draft post because if I edit it I will probably never post it and I need to be honest with myself with some accountability.

So, the ugly truth is that I am lazy. I haven’t been writing as much as I would like to lately because I am tired. Beyond tired. Absolutely freaking exhausted. I am not sure about you other creative people but I have a hell of a time being creative when I am tired.

You know what that is, right? Alan, my dad, used to always say that excuses were like assholes. Everyone has them and they all stink. I am facing that fact now. I will never be tired so my option is to quit writing or not quit writing. I don’t want to quit. I sound like a baby. Yes I know it. So the only way to write is to write. Sans distraction. Sans excuses.

I have used this tired excuse and not being creative to justify doing other things to distract me. Painting models (which I love and helps keep me sane), playing the occasional game and watching a whole lot of television. I watch way more tv than ever before because my wife is working from home and gets in her hours after the babies bedtime. It helps keep her up as she grinds out the necessary work and I have a very likely co-dependent need to spend any time I can with her. Even something as loathsome as a video lobotomy.

I can feel myself becoming stupider. Whether as a result of the exhaustion, the couple of hours of tv a day, or the lack of writing I can’t say but I am.

What can I do to change things? Well, the first and most obvious is just to fucking write. Which brings me back to being tired and not being creative when I am tired. It’s not going to change. Does that mean I should just abandon that hope and take some pressure off of myself? Should I just harden the fuck up and do it even if it is crap?

Oh speaking of crap, what little writing I have been doing lately has been absolute crap. Awful, unreadable, agenda laden garbage that makes me stupider for having read it. Definitely not the kind of writer I want to be.

Which gets me to horror. I used to absolutely love horror and love writing horror. Then I had daughters. It is odd, but I feel like I don’t want to write that crap for them. I want to be better than I am and give them something to be proud of, not have to make excuses later like “yeah, my dad is a writer but most of his stuff is crap.”

That is me just being afraid and questioning my legacy I guess. Okay, I guess that this is the end of a way over due post here.

I have been finding time to write for my nerd gaming blog. So obviously the time is there more than the interest. Or is it just easier because it isn’t original and there is no pressure to be awesomely clever or witty?

Bleh. That is where I am. I am asking you for help because I don’t know what else to do.

It’s like a train wreck but in a good way

Seriously, hear me out on this. Having children is a lot like a train wreck.

You are moving forward on your life which has its own sort of inertia. Sure, you have bumps along the way but really, your life kind of moves along the rails. Every now and again you might find a stop that is interesting and you hop off and take a tour of the area, maybe take some pictures, try some new kind of food, hit the touristy areas and hang out, but eventually, most of us end up back on that train heading in the same direction it was before.

Sometimes the train breaks down and you are left straddling the iron rails for a while but eventually the boiler builds up steam and then you get moving once more.

And then, like that shiny penny on the track of urban legend BAM! You are off the rails, digging a trough 50 feet long and scattering daisies and poppies across the field. It takes a bit longer, but you eventually get the train back up on the rails and after a mile or two you realize that the track is completely gone.

I call this the second child.

So now, finally, the train of my life is starting to move again. It is a bit more battered, sure, and it takes a bit more steam to move but inch by inch it is heading off in a new direction.

I am looking forward to the new horizons and I invite you, if you survived the multiple de-railings, to hop aboard and take this ride with me, let’s see what wonders and terrors await beyond this next bend and through that tunnel.