introspection

All posts tagged introspection

Today is one of those days when it hits hard for some reason. The pain. The heartache. That desire to go through and delete everything you’ve ever scribbled down, rip up the papers, and set up a bonfire. With any luck that fire will burn high and hot enough to roast all your future desire to write. Maybe it will free you of that literary albatross around your neck and you can continue your life as a normal human, without being consumed by the urge to set down words and pass them along to be read and (hopefully) enjoyed.

I got a little too close to that fire once before. It’s hard as Hell to come back from it. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be completely returned. I mean, if I really was, wouldn’t this be one of those 2500-word days? When I sit down and thunder away on the keys, spewing content and building yet another chapter in some monumental epic series of books that would make all the other monumental epic series on the market look like a bound sequence of Mad Libs filled in by drunken giraffes. That kind of day?

But it isn’t. This is the day when my heart and my head can’t communicate well with one another. All I can do is look at everything I’ve written and think to myself what a steaming pile of orcshit it is. Even my stuff for Camp NaNoWriMo looks like shit to me today. So I sit here at the comp, and I flit from one WIP to the next, glaring at them as if they were unwanted religious seekers knocking at my door. Each one is trying to hand me some piece of tripe I don’t want to read, and yet I have to if I’m going to continue the tale.

So I pick one and I drop ten or fifteen words in it. Just a couple of sentences. Hit ‘SAVE’ and move on to another. A couple more sentences there. Nothing of substance anywhere, just a few words here and a few there. Those words might well disappear when I edit the work, but for now, they represent one step on the journey away from the bonfire.

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I may never fully recover from the self-loathing and the pain that cut me off from my muse, but I’m going to keep trying. She would want that. (Yes. I am referencing mythical creatures, and gladly claiming that one of them thought I was important enough that she would devote herself to letting me write her words. Why not? Dumber shit happens on this planet every day and no one thinks twice.)

This blog post, you’ll notice if you take the time to look through the rest of my site, is one of very few that isn’t some form of fiction or interview. I don’t write from the heart (cue sappy music here) very often. Most of what I do is purely for fun, and with the devout hope that someone somewhere will read it and say, “Dude, that was cool. Thanks for sharing it with us.” I have no illusions about being the next Burroughs, or King, or Lovecraft, or Tolkien, or a host of other names. I’m just a mook who likes telling stories. If you like reading them, then hey! Welcome! Look at some of the other stuff on here. Maybe something will make you smile.

So there you have it. A rambling, probably nonsensical, look at how I felt today, and the fact that I still fought through it. Tomorrow is another day, and it could go either way. I hope, though, that I will take the time to set pen to paper/fingers to keys/ etc., and tell at least some part of a story…or nine.

So shortly before Yule this year, a link popped up in a fiction group I belong to. The Secret Life of Pandas invited us to play along with the Writer’s Q&A she had done. I thought perhaps I’d accept that gracious invitation, and yet I’ve spent several days forgetting it (which is typical, of course). Today I said to myself that I would get it done, so here it is, in all its unvarnished glory.
When did you first start writing? When I was a mere babe, I ripped a canine tooth from the gaping maw of a hungry tyrannosaur and used it to scratch obscenities on the nearest bathroom wall, followed by my drinks order for the day. After that, I stayed pretty chill for a while, until I was a middle school student (probably fifth grade or so) and the desire to stain pristine pages with ink caught up to me once more.
Was being a writer something you always aspired to? Not at all. It just happened. I actually aspired to be a space pirate. That hasn’t happened…which is a damned shame. I’d look cool as hell with a mutant parrot on my shoulder, and I could get a cybernetic eye and then put a patch over it for effect. That, and I’m pretty good at saying, “Arrrr” a lot.
I have all these stories that bubble up in my head and scream at me to put them on paper (even if it’s only digital paper). Giving them voice and a chance for others to dig on the weird shit that rolls about in my head is fun.
What genre do you write? What day is it again? I’m not really specialized. I’ve done superhero stuff, science fiction, fantasy, supernatural, steampunk, paranormal western, and a few others here and there. Sometimes I classify it as one genre or another, and sometimes I just say it’s a story. One of the few things that ties my stuff together is action.
Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress? Again, I fall back to a “which one” kind of thing. Let’s keep it simple:
 1: The fourth Firedrake novel, Inquisition. Continuing the stories from my earlier books, with lots of fun new folks and weird situations. I’ve missed Drake since I’ve been on some other projects.
 2: A new short for Z262, my anthropomorphic space colony stuff. Holidays with Zeke is a little slice-of-life tale about what happens when one of the most effective killers ever to eviscerate soldiers of the rodent army meets his girlfriend’s parents for the first time — as they celebrate the birth of their pacifistic deity.
When did you start working on this project? Well, #1 is about a year old, if not a little more. It’s coming along slowly, as do most of my projects.
#2 is about two weeks out.
What was your first piece that you can remember writing? I have vague memories of some creative writing assignments back in 1980, but I can’t put the details together. I remember that I loved those assignments, though. The one part of my school years where I can say I actively over-achieved.
I wrote a lot of RPG fanfic in my early high school years, about the people I gamed with and the characters we used. Bits and pieces of that are more likely to be what I actually remember.
What was it about? The RPG stuff? Usually detailed sections from one scenario or another, telling of how our characters triumphed over some obstacle or another. Lots of blood and gore. Cursing and alcohol was probably a major part, as well.
What’s the best part about writing? Seeing different situations through the eyes of my characters. I describe what’s going on, but I actually see the images play in my head.
What’s the worst part about writing? The urge to drive a shrimp fork into my brain and twist-start that big gray bitch when the words suddenly seem to stop coming (or just sucking when they do).
What’s the name of your favourite character and why? I still love to play around with Firedrake. That would be Special Agent Francis Drake, United States Department of Justice, Metahuman Response Division. He does and says a lot of the things that people wish they could get away with when dealing with bosses (and frequently everyone else).
How much time a day/week do you get to write? When I grab some instead of wasting time, then I get whatever that amount is. I’m notorious for my laziness.
When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)? Night, definitely. Morning is that special time when humans should be asleep. Sleep during the day, boys and girls, and you’ll be awake when the vampires come.
Did you go to college for writing? Nope. I went to college for classes that I can’t really remember. After I stopped doing that, I went to work in the real world for a while (deeply weird, definitely not recommended for all). I’ve attended a few classes since then, but they’re all in subjects I want to learn about.
What bothers you more: speeling errors; punctuation, errors, or errors for grammar? Well, I would like to go on record as saying I love this question — for the format if nothing else. Most of the time I pick up on spelling as soon as it pops up. It makes speeding through a first draft interesting, as I keep pausing to back up and correct.
What is the best writing advice that anyone has given you? “Dude, drink this!”
No, seriously, it would probably be the people who tell you to keep reading. By seeing how different authors write, you help expand and refine your own voice.
What advice would you give to another writer? Don’t use the word “bae”. I mean, really. Like ever.
Stop comparing yourself to other writers. I don’t read your writing and think, “This is no Stephen King” or some such, and pretty much no one else does (unless you put it out there with, “This is just like Stephen King” on it somewhere). It’s not fair to yourself or your art to put yourself through that. I’m not saying you should never strive to better yourself, or to be a writer in the league of your favorite author, but don’t look at your work and think that it’s not good just because it isn’t what someone else has done.
What are your favourite writing sites or blogs that you turn to for help, tips or encouragement? I snap up articles here and there, read them, and then move on. I have no specific sites that I visit for that. I do belong to a weekly fiction group, and the folks there have shown me several new blogs that I enjoy reading.
Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing? I dig shooting and maintaining firearms. I can spend an entire afternoon cleaning them and not be bored. I drink coffee a lot, and I like eating tacos (although I’m not sure how that fits in here — but in my defense, the question was pretty open).
What are your hobbies? I love pen-and-paper roleplaying games. I suck at the computer ones (they’re usually too scripted or require interaction on an MMO level, which I avoid like the plague topped with a generous helping of tuberculosis), but old-school gaming got me through some pretty shitty moments in my past. Revisiting them now and again is like coming home again.
What’s the best book you’ve read this year? Well, I re-read Rolling Hot by David Drake. I’ll go to my grave thinking that is one of the best pieces of military science fiction ever created. It’s in my top five books ever. As to new books? It’s a toss-up. This past year I fell onto the Caverns & Creatures series by Robert Bevan, and the Cape High series by R.J. Ross. The former is guaranteed to be a rollicking ride of laughs and crude humor. The latter is a world-spanning series about super-powered youth learning about their world, and R.J. writes it in a way that has me spinning pages like a lazy susan on crack.
What’s the best movie you’ve seen this year? I’ll stick with new releases, rather than fawning over my personal favorites this time (Army of Darkness FTW!). I just saw the new Star Wars flick the other day (Episode VII: The Force Awakens). I enjoyed it quite a bit. Lots of action, fun characters, and the usual array of beautiful scenery and props.
What is your favourite book or series of all time? Man, I hate trying to come up with just one. I grew up on The Lord of the Rings and The Hitchhikers Guide, but I also cut my teeth on The Executioner, Able Team, Phoenix Force, Deathlands, and similar. Lately I know I’m guaranteed a good read with David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers series.
Who is your favourite author? Dan Abnett probably hits a high note. The man has written dozens of books in the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 universe for Black Library, and — as if that weren’t cool enough on its own — he used to write Judge Dredd.
What are your plans for the rest of the year in terms of your writing? Well, since the year has practically ended, I’ll go with next year. I have several short pieces in various stages of editing that will soon be released, and I’m always scribbling down something for my Z262 stories. There is a fourth Firedrake novel in the works as well, as discussed above.
Where else can we find you online? Here and there. I’m a member of the Pen and Cape Society, a group of authors who write superhero prose (among other projects). I have a profile over at Goodreads that I almost never remember to update. Stories of mine have appeared in several places, and you never know where one might turn up. I’ve got a (neglected) Twitter presence, and an author page on Facebook. See? I’m trying to adapt to the whole “technology is your friend” thing.
All right, writer friends. Join in if you want. It’s actually more fun than you think it might be. Trust me. I did it. See? Right up there. Dude, seriously, if you’re reading this and you ignored everything above it… That’s just weird.

I hear the alarm clock click over a full second before the radio inside it warms up. The discordant sound of the AM band resolves itself into recognizable words and music just in time for the ‘off’ switch to be flicked. I can hear my father getting up, the springs creaking as he levers his feet over the edge of the bed. I have a few minutes now, while he puts in his contact lenses.

I go ahead and get out of bed, sliding my feet into warm thick socks and layering my shirts. Warmest pair of pants I own. Feet into the worn boots that have been my constant companions for years.

By the time he has his contacts in, I’ve already slipped into the kitchen to start the morning’s coffee.

It’s not quite four-thirty in the morning. In my opinion, not a time that humans should be awake and aware, but today is an exception.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and there are plates, bowls, and containers full of leftovers in the refrigerator. I help myself to a half-inch thick slab of ham the size of my palm, gnawing on it cold, and offer some to him as well as we wait for the coffee to brew. As with every year, we promise that next time, we’ll just start it the night before and leave it on.

Multitasking, old-school style: Food in one hand, a cigarette and a cup of coffee in the other. Never missing a beat as all the parts come together. Quiet conversation rules the morning. Not only does it feel somehow right to speak in hushed tones at this hour and in the low light, but we don’t want to make Mom up. She worked herself to the bone yesterday making sure that everything went as planned. Today she gets to sleep in. We discuss where we’re going and who will be sitting in which location, the fields of fire each of us will have, and extraction plans should fortune smile upon us.

We gather the rest of our gear and throw it on: belts with canteens, knives and a pouch or two filled with various bits that experience has shown to be handy. Coats first and then over them the vests of fluorescent orange color. Matching stocking caps that keep the ears warmer than I’d like to admit. Pop fills a Thermos of coffee to take along before prepping a fresh pot for when Mom wakes up.

The rifles rest behind the door, where they have been since one of us checked them last night. Clean and in good working condition. We pick them up and slip out the door, closing and locking it with more of the hush that has been our forte this morning. Down the walk to the vehicle. Rifles in first, on the backseat or behind the bench of the truck, and then we are in. It’s a short drive down gravel roads to the back gate of the neighbor’s property, and I’m quick to open the gate for him and close it behind the vehicle. Another half-mile of twisting pasture road and we hit gate number two. From here it’s afoot.

Outside the vehicle, we load the rifles before we begin the walk. Clicking sounds from each of them as rounds are inserted, and then the sharper ratcheting sound of a lever or a bolt being manipulated. Safeties click, hammers are lowered. We open the gate only as far as needed to slip through – there are cattle in this pasture.

Our walk is slow and measured, with moonlight our primary guide. Each of us carries a light, but rarely will it come on during our approach. We are familiar with the land we are on. Frost on the grass lends a shining, shimmering appearance to the ground, and where it changes its look, we know the terrain features follow suit. We walk on, each of us silently anticipating the morning to come. We pass beyond a trio of round hay bales, each as tall as we are. This is the halfway point between gate number two and the final fence.

In the distance, a truck horn. Cold, crisp air carries the sound to our ears from the highway a half mile distant.

Slow and steady now, still marching on, we come to the final fence. It is inches below chest height, a barrier of triple strand barbed wire nailed to split rail posts. The tension it once held is gone now, and we approach the same place we always do, where we know how much we can stretch it. Pop hands me his rifle. I lift a boot and plant it on top of the second strand of wire, pressing down hard and opening a gap for him to slip through. A moment later and I am passing the rifles over to him as we trade places and jobs. I hear the hiss as the barbs pass along the nylon of my vest.

We walk on, frozen grass crunching beneath our feet. Ahead and to our left is the area I called ‘the mountain’ when I was much younger. A raised mound that climbed a good fifty feet or more, it formed the back wall of a small pond.

It is here that we separate. I’m going to the top of that mound, with a panoramic view downward onto a pond and an open field. Pop will be moving ahead and right of me, into a copse of trees that provide him concealment and a break from the frigid wind while he observes a second field, one even wider than that I am watching.

At this point it is a matter of getting into place and waiting. At any time, either of us can turn and see the other. Even separated, there is a closeness. Apart yet together, we wait and watch. We may see a deer within our range, or we may not. Looking back now, I know how unimportant that facet of the hunt truly was.

I took my first deer from up on that hill, looking down into that field, on a year so bitterly cold that Pop had already come to my position and we had decided to go back. As we readied ourselves to leave, there was movement below us in the field. Within a minute I had put him on the ground. The thing is, I don’t remember that day specifically for being the time I shot my first deer, but as the time I shot my first deer while sitting next to Pop. He was right there on that mound beside me, shivering and cold, watching the spike through those beat-to-hell binoculars of his.

For this particular trip, I thought back to a time when I was sixteen (or maybe seventeen – there is a little temporal blur after all this time). The first hunt I actively remember was many years before that, and the last one we shared was in ’14. Through the years I’ve hunted beside him in rain, ice, snow, wind, and the occasional fair weather. Mountains to plains, hills and valleys, thick brush and wide-open fields. With rifle and pistol, classic designs to modern. We’ve brought home numerous kills to fill freezers with delicious venison (still a favorite meat today), and we’ve come home empty-handed as well. We’ve hunted with my grandfather, my brothers, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, and friends. Tips and tricks learned one year make it to the next. Each family member who learns something new passes it to the rest, and our knowledge is freely shared. When possible, we hunt as a family, and pool our numbers to speed the field-dressing and skinning. We’ve driven hundreds of miles to camp near our hunting sites, and we’ve walked from houses directly to stands no more than a hundred yards from the home we had slept in the night before.

Times have changed through the years, but this is the one tradition I still hold dear in my heart: the hunt with my father. Sure, some years we can’t make it for one reason or another, but the next year is there, and we can hold out hope that luck will hold and we’ll be together again in the field.

<<<END>>>

This came about from a prompt set out in a writing group: “Write about a holiday tradition unique to your family – any holiday works.”

The problem I ran into is that finding a standing tradition within my families is… I think the word ‘problematic’ covers it well. Religions run the gamut from Heathenry to Southern Baptist, Judaism to Wicca. Work schedules and distance rarely allow more than a few family members to gather in any place at the same time, and even then it is for short periods  of time (and sadly, most often for funerals).

I began the challenge with a new Z262 short, convinced that I could come up with no tradition within my own group. It was during the course of thinking and planning for that short (which will come soon enough) that I realized there was something I considered “traditional”. I harvested a particular set of memories to give the sense of what it was like. What I cannot adequately convey is the bond that grew between a father and son with repeated forays into the woods. 

To this day, I enjoy going into the woods — be it to hunt or hike, fish or camp. I am far more at home there than in any cocoon of steel and stone. It’s part of a heritage he handed down to me, and to others. Thanks, Pop. I love you.

TMM

So I’ve been asked to take a look at things that are blessings in my life and take note of them. This is an interesting thing for me, as I’m not one who generally sees the bright spots. I’m more the, “Hey, look. This is broken,” kind of person.

But y’all know me: I’ll do anything to be liked (Thanks to Richard Harding for that one – if you haven’t read ‘The Outrider’ series, shame on you, and NO you can’t borrow my copies). To that end, I’ll take a look at a few things, and see what I can make of them. I might even make bullet points and stuff to make it more visually pleasing! Whee!

 

  • I’ll start with the one that should be the most obvious, and yet is frequently not mentioned — certainly not to the extent she deserves. Back in September of 2012, I made contact with a lady for the first time. We began to talk back and forth and things progressed from there. Last October, she married me. I joke and tell her all the time that this is a point against her overall sanity, but she’s brought out a lot of me that I thought was dead. It’s entirely because of her that I am writing again. It’s because of her that I bother to even get out of bed some days (or staying in on others, but hey, that’s between us). Thanks for everything, Kae. I love you.
  • An extension of the above, but a blessing in her own right: my daughter. Yes, by definition, she’s my stepdaughter, but I don’t see her that way, so semantics can go suck it. She teaches me new lessons in life on a frequent basis. I’ve learned from her as much as she has from me. Oh, and, she’s a million times cooler than anybody else’s kid. So there. Hi, D! Look! You got your own bullet point! Yay!
  • Mentioned above, but here ya go: Writing. I know, right? Seems weird to mention, but a few years ago my desire to put words on paper had vanished. Lost in a mix of grief and anger, and expected never to return. Still today, it’s kind of a bitch to find the right words to drop on track, but at least now I want to do it again. Even when I’m sitting here at the screen, struggling to assemble the ideas that flash through my brain into some semblance of coherence, and there’s that part of me that is telling me to just walk away, I have another part reminding me how much fun it can be to tell that story.
  • Support structure: I’ve got friends and family that have been there for me, even when I know they’re thinking, “Damn, he’s being a dick today.” There are so many of them that listing them individually would make this look like a phonebook more than anything readable. Y’all know who you are.
  • Materially, I’m blessed to have a home and food and all the things that make life easier and smoother on a daily basis. It can be so easy to take these things for granted and forget that there are people the world over who would consider the simplest of them to be Manna from Heaven. Seriously! Obviously there are people in poverty stricken areas (even here, in our ‘enlightened’ nation) who would consider themselves fortunate to have them, but… Imagine some dude in the 1400’s digging on electric lighting, central heat and air, purified water, refrigerators and microwave ovens! “Check this shit out, homes! It’s called Velcro. You’re gonna love it!”
  • I am blessed to have family. A series of close calls over the past few years have threatened some of that, and the fact that we’re still running and gunning is a wonderful thing. In that vein, I would like to thank modern medicine, and those who practice it.
  • I’m sitting here with a device on my lap that when I was a kid was the topic of science fiction. A computer that ‘back in the day’ would have taken up a warehouse fits on my lap. Take a minute to think about that one. This laptop, back then, would have made NASA cream. Look down at that cell phone you carry and realize that tech has advanced so fast and so far in the past fifty years or so (it’s because of the reverse engineering of alien technology, of course). I was present for the emergence of the personal computer, the cell phone, the video game (PONG still kicks ass, by the way). I’ve seen cars go from gasoline to unleaded to gasohol to ethanol-infused, and watched as items once the stuff of dreams became so commonplace people don’t even think twice about losing them.
  • Health is one of those things that we sometimes don’t really think about or just take for granted, right? Well, mine’s pretty decent. I’ve got a few issues here and there (who doesn’t?), but nothing debilitating.
  • I am, of course, blessed to have great taste in music. Y’all should know that by now, right? Cool.
  • I dig coffee and it’s a good companion most days. Some days his friend Scotch comes along and wants to play, too, and that’s cool as well. Seriously, though, I started drinking coffee way back when beside my grandfather. I still have memories of him, sitting at the table in their kitchen, sipping his coffee from an olive-green Melamine saucer while his wife made dinner in a big cast-iron pan (Spanish rice was always a favorite treat, and man, did she ever know how to make it!). Throughout the years, I’ve tried coffee with many a weird additive (yes, cream and sugar both count), but I always come back to just pouring it into a container and drinking.
  • On a note mentioned above, I’m blessed to have memories. Primarily memories of people that were important to me, but memory in general. I spent a good ten minutes just remembering time spent with my grandparents while writing that last point. Memories are all any of us have left of them.
  • I’m blessed to be American. Knock it if you want (we all do), but it’s a great country. Yep, it has flaws. Nope, I still don’t wanna trade it for a life in Myanmar.
  • I’m blessed to have spent time doing sec work ‘back in the day’ because I got to see a whole slew of bands before anyone ever really knew who they were…and I saw them from the stage. I also worked a lot of greats either working their way back up, coming down from the heights of their career, or simply playing in smaller venues. I stood on stage with the Ramones, folks. You think pharmaceuticals will give you a four-hour erection? Try being up there beside a band you loved since before high school.
  • I have come to know an ‘extra family’, for want of a better word. Men, women, and persons with no distinct gender identity. United in a love of community and magical expression. Drummers, dancers, singers. Artists, creators, and innovators. We may only spend a few days together now and then, but I love you all. “Holy shit! He expressed an emotion other than anger!” Yeah, yeah, I know…
  • I’m blessed to have rolled about and played with the creations of such visionaries as Samuel Colt, Gaston Glock, Mikhail Kalashnikov, and Eugene Stoner. You gents, and those like you, taught me that jigsaw puzzles could be assembled into something more than just a picture. I have enjoyed getting to know them all. Few topics these days draw more ire than firearms, and I suppose I will hear from someone not happy that I have referred to them in glowing terms. I don’t give a fuck. I like them.
  • I see a blessing in the acquisition of knowledge. I believe it is important to learn something new as often as possible. It may be something as simple as the mass of a standard paper clip, or as complex as the connection between string theory and vibrational healing, but learn something, damn it. You weren’t put on this mudball to be stupid. For the Heathens among us, does not the AllFather want you to learn? Look to his sacrifice and know that an extra few minutes to read about a topic, or watch a YouTube vid on how-to, isn’t that much of a hardship!
  • I am blessed by having received the knowledge I have. Some of it came at greater cost than I wanted to pay, but that’s life, right? I learned skills that will stay with me for a lifetime. Some of those I have passed on to others so the knowledge stays alive, and I urge everyone to teach at least one thing to another person. Share that love. I can build fires, skin animals, butcher sufficiently to supply my family with meat, grow food, repair a couple of things here and there (though I’m better served breaking them), drive, type, spell, and nail things together in a way that makes them stay attached for a while. There’s a laundry list (yes, including laundry) of things I’ve learned to do. Some things I am better at than others, but that applies to everyone.

 

There are other things I could put on this list, folks, but for someone who is just trying to recognize things that are blessings in a life he often views through a very dark lens, this is a pretty impressive start.

I walked into this list with some trepidation. It was a prompt for the fiction group I’m in, and I went back and forth for a while about whether I should write about the blessings of an alien-hunting cyborg, but in the end I decided I’d just play the hand I was dealt. I suppose if it ain’t Aces and Eights, I’m doing pretty well.

With that I will sign off. May your Thanksgiving (should you celebrate/commemorate it) be wonderful, and thanks for reading this far down. It’s cool that you stuck with me!

 

TMM