Creating and Cats

Writing — well, pretty much doing anything around the house — with two young cats prowling around and constantly getting under foot and demanding attention can be a bit tricky. Cali and Jules have been with us for a good couple of months now and they’ve been a lovely addition to our home and the biggest distraction ever. (Sometimes enforced distraction when one of us needs to get work done and the other needs to take over catsitting duties.) It’s a matter of taking it as it comes and squeezing whatever time we can to do it all.

During my evening writing sessions I’ll use one of the stick toys to get one of them away from A’s knitting and yarn stash, and eventually they’ll forget that A has all that enticing and chewable yarn in the other room. Jules is a little easier to sway, as she’s more chill about everything and will end up napping on the cat bed I have here in Spare Oom. Cali is a bit harder to deal with, but eventually I’ll get her to calm down as well. Giving them the nightly bowl of kibble also helps. We’re hoping they’ll become a bit less chaotic as they grow older, but for now we’ll need to keep them occupied when and how we can.

In the meantime, as I write this Jules is in the Spare Oom cat bed and Cali is most likely in the cat tree in the living room. That gives us a bit of personal time to get work done. It might not always be a lot of time, but it’s time enough for now.

Day One

Yesterday was Day One of the new year, and even though I didn’t have to, I did everything I set out to do: take our New Year’s Day neighborhood walk (including coffee and lunch), clean the apartment as well as both the PC and the laptop, and even hit all my creative marks. I even got a few errands done!

I plan to be positive. Not in a blissful live laugh love sort of way, but to move in the right and needed directions. Do what I need and want to do instead of talking myself out of it. No more self-deprecation or self-doubt. Accept the low points when they do come, and find ways to turn it around. Get rid of the distractions and the Don’t Wannas. Follow through with the life path I’m choosing.

Look ahead with hope and eyes opened. Make the changes that are needed.

I have a lot I want and need to do this year, and I can’t wait to start!

Future View

Here we are at the last Welcome to Bridgetown entry of 2022. It’s been a busy year of change here: getting a new Day Job, being in-person social again, putting multiple novel projects on indefinite hiatus, and allowing myself to focus on personal needs. I’ve already gone over most of what’s gone on this year in previous entries here so I’ll spare you the details, but I will say that all told, 2022 has been a rather positive one.

So what will 2023 bring?

For starters I will be focusing most of my creative time on the MU4 project and the Bridgetown Trilogy Remaster. It’s been a long time in coming, and I’ve put it off for long enough. The Mendaihu Universe was always supposed to span several books and different generations and settings and not just stick around as a trilogy. Mind you, I’m vaguely thinking of this new project as another set of three books, but I’m not holding myself to it. If it’s a duology, or a single, or even a tetralogy, I’ll let it be what it needs to be. And I think I’m going to be sticking around in the MU for a while, filling in the blanks in its history.

I’d also like to get back to using the 750Words site on a consistent basis again. I haven’t made any decisions in to what I’ll be writing there, though I have a few possibilities. I’d also like to finally make something out of all those Drunken Owl demo outtakes I’ve recorded over the last several years. Some of them are just thirty second riffs and some are full-on three-minute tunes. I haven’t written any songs for years now and I kind of miss it, to be honest. I don’t know if these will have lyrics or if they’ll remain instrumental, but the plan is to make them more than just soundbites.

What about the personal side of things…? Well, some of that is going to stay personal for the time being of course. But what I can share is that I see the new year as one of exploration and expansion. Having spent the last two years cleaning out the mental and emotional detritus, it’s time for the next step: discovering what should go in its place. I’ve had self-built barriers up for the longest time, and after spending the last two years tearing them down and creating a much stronger foundation, it’s time to start rebuilding. What will that entail? Well, we’ll find out in the future, won’t we?

In the meantime, thanks to everyone who’s been following me here or just stopping buy, downloading my ebooks, and talking with me on social media. You’ve all been wonderful these last few years despite everything that’s gone on in the world, and I appreciate it all.

See you on the flip side.

Juvenilia

I still have pretty much all of my juvenilia here in Spare Oom. Poems I wrote in fifth grade for an extracurricular project, the origins of the Infamous War Novel (my first completed project) and its several versions, the numerous maps I’d draw in the margins of school notes and on book covers, the various story ideas that lasted a few pages and the novel ideas that lasted just a little longer, the several unused Murph comic drawings, the silly exquisite corpse stories between me and my high school friends. I’m only missing a few things, really…some of my early art, a few stories I may have thrown away in embarrassment, things like that.

I don’t read it all that much, but I do think about it now and again. I do so because it reminds me of where and how I started. My dad was a local news reporter and I grew up with a lot of adults assuming I’d do the same considering I too wanted to write, but even then I knew that style wasn’t for me. I loved the idea of making up stories. I tended to have a vivid imagination and weird dreams and I wanted to use them. I must have come up with a few dozen decent ideas — again, most of them lasting only a few pages — before I sat down and started writing the IWN. [And even that one took multiple tries over a few years before I clicked with the first complete version. That was just the one that stuck with me the longest.]

This is partly why I’m okay with having several trunked story ideas over the years. Some of them I truly enjoyed working on, others not so much. Some were written as an emotional outlet, something that needed purging. Some written with the best of intentions but ultimately with little personal connection. Some written in desperation because I needed to do something to balance out personal real-life issues.

I consider my juvenilia reaching into my early 20s. Everything just before I started The Phoenix Effect was written with the idea that I would learn this craft one way or another, on my own terms. It was certainly frustrating to see a number of my college classmates zip by me with relative ease and see print, but I had to remind myself that I wasn’t writing the same thing. I had my own reasons to do this. The Phoenix Effect (and to some extent the unfinished novel before it, True Faith) was different. It was the dividing line between sunny-eyed ‘I wanna be a writer!’ dreaming and ‘I am a writer’ determination.

I’ve used a few ideas from this trunked work elsewhere. Meet the Lidwells! has a few ideas nicked from my abandoned coming-of-age idea Two Thousand, for instance. That novel also uses a few song lyrics I’d written years ago. The universe of Diwa & Kaffi originated from a horror story I’d come up with in high school that I retooled into something completely different. This sort of thing is normal for most writers, actually. There’s no rule against borrowing some of your favorite unpublished scenes elsewhere! But for the most part, I’ve kept them stored away in notebooks and folders in a few bookshelves here. They’re well sorted (I did a major sorting project a few years back) and well-kept so I have no worries about them ever being lost, damaged or misplaced.

Will I ever use any of it in the future, though? Who knows. Probably not, but I’m okay with that too. Maybe I’ll post bits of them in the future, or maybe I won’t. Some writers have donated them to their local library. I doubt I’ll ever get that popular to warrant that, but it’s certainly fun to dream that.

It doesn’t matter that they may or may not be worth to anyone else, but they’re worth something to me, and that’s what matters.

Walking Through

I’ve been thinking about the Bridgetown Trilogy lately, and also of one of my top five favorite scenes I wrote for it. This one in particular is the very last ‘shot’ of Book 2, The Persistence of Memories, in which our heroes are about to change their fates in the most quiet and peaceful of ways:

*

It was closing in on nine o’clock when Christine’s car pulled up to the front of Moulding Warehouse.  They climbed out and stood in front of the main entrance, its door open and waiting.  They looked within and saw bustling movement, last-minute preparations being made.  There were many people here that he knew, if not by name or face then by spirit signature, all with a singular mission: to prevent a war from taking place.

Had it really come to this?  A spiritual war to gain control of an artificial intelligence?  Shirai wasn’t just the Tower AI but a technical construct that housed an actual Gharné soul.  She was one of a kind, created by a Mendaihu and protected by a small band of jacker punks.  And the Shenaihu wanted her badly.

Inside the warehouse, the floor was brightly lit and the air was warm, a stark contrast to the cold air and the darkness outside.  About a hundred feet in he saw seven people standing patiently, waiting for them.  He could sense them better than he could see them, but he knew who they were.  Denni stood in the center, a big smile on her face and her spirit brimming with joy.  She held Caren’s hand tightly.

“No turning back now,” Poe said, and turned to his left.  Sheila stared at the doorway with the same steel intensity she’d always shown during investigations.  She noticed his glance and turned to face him.

“I’m ready,” she said.

He nodded, and turned to his right.  Nick still looked skeptical, but he’d already made his choice.  He understood his role and its importance of what was to come, even if he had no idea what was going to happen.  He felt an immense pride in helping the Mendaihu, the people who had saved him a number of times during his tenure as a BMPD officer.  He felt at peace with his surroundings, despite its chaos.  For him, the most important thing was that he felt at home.

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends,” he said. “Once more.”

Poe snorted out a laugh.  The last thing he’d expected from Nick was for him to quote Shakespeare.  It was a much needed dose of levity.

Christine, standing a few feet behind Poe, felt more nervous than scared.  She’d faced many demons before, and had simply chosen to view this as yet another.  She trusted Poe as her brother and her spiritual sibling, and was willing to go forth and witness it all, both good and bad, if that was to be her own fate.  She did not need to say anything; Poe had sensed everything she was thinking and feeling at this moment.  He felt that warmth in his heart, knowing she would be with him throughout it all.

Sheila and Nick looked at each other, nodded, and walked forward.  Just as they approached the door, Nick stepped aside and let her walk through the door first, theatrically waving her through.  She laughed at his ridiculousness and slapped him on the arm as she passed by.  When he walked through, she took his arm, and together they continued towards the waiting crew.

Poe stood there for a few moments, waiting.  Christine came up from behind him and stood to his left, still looking at the open door.

“Are you ready for this?” she asked.

“Was I ever?” he said.  “I’ll have to be.”

“At least you’re honest,” she grinned.  “Should I…?”

He offered his arm.  “I’ll walk you to the door.  I have to be the last one in.”

She offered him a weak smile.

“Don’t worry, it’s not like you and I are getting married.”

Christine let out a nervous laugh.  “You ass!  This is serious!”

“I know,” he said.  “That’s why I said it.  Shall we?”

She nodded.  “Here we go.”

They walked slowly.  All the movement within the warehouse had slowed to a stop, at least temporarily.  He took a single nervous breath, trying to ignore the fact that five thousand or so Mendaihu, Shenaihu and cho-nyhndah were in that warehouse right now, had their eyes or their senses trained on that one door frame.

They came to the door, and he stopped.  Wordlessly, Christine let go of his arm, leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, and nodded twice.  Pride, he thought, as he sensed her emotions.  She was proud of him, proud to have known him, proud to have been able to work with him for so many years.  She walked through, and kept walking until she’d joined the others.  She stood just apart from them, not officially part of this circle, but an observer and a participant.  They were all waiting for this moment.

He felt a small prick of cold touch him on the back of the neck, just as he was about to walk through.  He felt it again almost immediately, and he looked up.  A light snow shower had just arrived, creating a ghostly cone underneath the spotlight.  One flake hit him on his eyelash and he lifted his hand to brush it away. 

Snow, he thought with a smile.  The Rain of Light blesses me tonight.

“Here lies fate,” he said, took a deep breath, and walked through the door.

*

I use the door metaphor at the end of all three books, each one with Alec Poe being the one to walk through. Why him, and not Denni or Caren? At the time I wrote A Division of Souls I chose him because it felt right. He’s the character of true balance, both emotionally and spiritually. He’s not perfect by a long shot — the scene just before his exit in ADoS is a bitter argument with Caren where he meant well but said exactly the wrong thing — but that’s the whole point of his character. He’s good and bad, perfect and imperfect, strong and vulnerable, intelligent and deeply confused. Many people’s fate rests on his shoulders, whether he likes it or not.

In The Persistence of Memories, he’s the last to enter the warehouse. Technically he didn’t have to be, but it was his own choice: he knew everyone depended on his protection and safety, and it felt right to have everyone in the same place where they had his full attention. I felt the snowfall was a nice touch as well, as it was another metaphor that threads through the trilogy: the flow of ‘rain’ that signifies changes they cannot avoid. Besides, that was one of my favorite things as a kid: looking up at the snow falling at night, illuminated as it entered the light of street lamps. Snowfall mutes all sorts of extraneous noise, giving the area a startlingly peaceful moment in time, and that was Poe’s moment of peace in that story, right at the very end.

I suppose this is one of the reasons I enjoy the winter season, even though I am extremely glad I don’t have to shovel or drive in the white stuff anymore, now that I live in San Francisco. It’s that moment of quiet Zen in an otherwise chaotic world, where I can allow myself some time in contemplation, whether of the day’s events or the year’s. Or of my life to date.

Utilizing that time structure of year’s end to take stock before moving forward once more, with a clearer mind and a stronger heart.

End-of-Year Changes

My annual end-of-year contemplation almost always includes Getting Rid Of Things. Whether it’s physical, mental or emotional, it’s something worth returning to and reviewing what’s gone on over the past several months and deciding if I really need to keep such things in my life. I know, I could do this at any point in time, but this works just fine for me so I’m sticking with it.

I’ve been thinking a little more about why I put Theadia and Queen Ophelia on hiatus, and it occurs to me that unlike the Bridgetown Trilogy, it’s not about having writer’s block due to life changes. I merely felt that while I like these story ideas, emotionally they’re not who I am right now and I don’t feel right in continuing the work. They’re good stories but they’re not the direction I need to go in.

I’ve also been thinking about what that particular direction should be. I don’t want to write another story out of frustration or desperation, nor do I want to passively write an I have no plan but let’s see where this goes story either. I’ve done enough of those over the years.

I need to find out what it is that will resonate with me. Something that excites my creativity. Mind you, I don’t want to fall back into the trap of trying to recreate the same writing mood that I had with the Trilogy, because I’ve done enough of that as well. What will that be, though? Who knows?

Still, I’ve been taking this time to figure it all out. I’ve also been taking the time to adjust how I do that, being well aware of the obstacles and trip-ups I’ve had or made over the years. Don’t be a perfectionist, but do attempt your best. Don’t build up so many barriers, but allow yourself a bit of comfort. Don’t overexplain everything but feel free to deep-dive when necessary. Be aware of the situation but don’t be so self-conscious about it. Find a new voice and figure out how it sounds.

Changes are always a good thing when they make life and creativity even better.

Coming Up on Year’s End

Today’s Black Friday and I’ll be at work by the time this posts — I open the store on Fridays and Saturdays bright and early at 6am — but from what the store manager says, he doubts it’s going to be a mad rush considering we’re not that kind of store. Still, the day after Thanksgiving does tend to be seen as Q4’s final stretch. Just a few more weeks of frantic buying before things go back to normal.

I’ve been thinking about my writing this year and I’ve made peace with the fact that I didn’t release anything this year. And that’s because I’ve actually made a lot of progress with a lot of other things! I finished off an almost-complete composition book of poetry and lyrics, which is great considering that particular well had been dry for years pre-pandemic. Although I didn’t finish Queen Ophelia or Theadia, I did get within a few chapters of finishing both before putting them on hiatus. I started making notes for my romcom idea. I’m relatively consistent with my blogging. And I’ve even revived writing new words on the 750Words site! So it all works out: I’ve been a busy bee, even after starting a new Day Job!

I’ve got a few ideas for what I’d like to do in 2023, and I’m tasking myself to come up with some plans and schedules by the end of December. As always, these plans are more like guidelines than concrete assignments as I am always prone to coming up with new ideas and unexpected detours when it comes to my writing. If anything, my goal is to maintain this consistency I’ve held over the last several months. I’m at a level I’m comfortable with, one I can handle with minimal stress or worry.

And to top it off, I’ve already decided that I’ll be spending most of December not stressing out about productivity. If I have a super productive day followed by a few days of laziness, I’m fine with that. I’ve earned it. It’s healthier to just let those days go by than try to force it when it’s not going to come.

What does come in 2023 is probably going to surprise me as much as it’ll surprise you!

Nothing’s Gonna Change My (Social) World

[Posted this last week at Walk in Silence and am reposting here to cover bases.]

Meanwhile here in San Francisco, the social media birdsite may either be transforming into something altogether different or it may be going down in flames, and either way it’s going in real time as its New Owner experiences…er…growing pains?

ANYWAY. If said birdsite crashes and burns epically, you can always find me at the following fine internet establishments:

BLOGS:
Welcome to Bridgetown (this here blog about writing and personal things): https://welcometobridgetown.com/
Walk in Silence (my music blog): https://jonchaisson.com
Drunken Owls and Other Delights (Dreamwidth, where I post personal stuff): https://jon-chaisson.dreamwidth.org/

SOCIAL:
Discord: joncwriter#3974
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jon.chaisson.7
Instagram (where I post all sorts of pictures of local scenery as well as our cats): https://www.instagram.com/joncwriter/
Twitter (until it implodes or all my friends leave): https://twitter.com/joncwriter
Hive (I’ve just signed up and I haven’t quite played around with it yet): JChaisson
[I have not yet tinkered with Mastodon although I think I have an account there? It’s just too fiddly for me to bother dealing with right now.]

I shall update this as necessary over the next few days or until I remember I have other sites that I’d forgotten I had!

More on putting my novels on hiatus

Okay, so maybe I’m not torching my work. That’s not my style! No, this is just a follow-up from last week’s mention that I’m putting Theadia and Queen Ophelia on hiatus.

To put it bluntly, these were both Pandemic Novels.

Theadia was my novel about my frustrations with the Former Day Job. I’d started it in the final months of that particular position, when I’d been forced to head back into the office four days a week. The novel, on the whole, was about Terrible Managerial Decisions versus Doing the Right Thing, set as an unconventional space opera. There’s a lot of that job in this novel…trying to squeeze actual answers out of an ineffectual manager (in this case, a colonel), questioning bad decisions and getting a shrug and a what can you do? as an answer, and of course choosing to do the right thing because no one else will, and the list goes on. I also wrote it because I’d become worried that I no longer had any further stories in me to write because the Former Day Job had become that overbearing over time, and I knew I had to write something before I started to believe that. This was my ‘this is now fucking aggravating this job has become’ outlet.

Queen Ophelia, on the other hand, was my novel about going on a personal journey of discovery. I’d started that one in the first couple of months into the pandemic, when I’d left the Former Day Job and chosen to do some long overdue cleaning out of my anxieties, bad habits and personal issues. This novel, on the whole, was about Giving Yourself a Blank Canvas. The main character, literally an artist with nothing important and no projects weighing down his life at the moment, is offered the chance to learn about his mother who’d left him and his father when he was a baby. Come to find out, she is not just a beast from another world but royalty as well. This was my ‘you’re free, you can be and do anything you want now’ outlet.

Thing is, I no longer need these novels as personal outlets. They were my therapy for those two strange years and they served me well, but now I’ve moved past that need for them. That was the problem with The Balance of Light as well, the third Bridgetown Trilogy book; I no longer needed that trilogy as an outlet or as therapy by 2004 and I felt a bit creatively lost because of it. But also like that novel, I plan on returning to them after some time and distance. I still believe in them, I just have to see them as the entities and creations they are.

In the meantime, I and my creations are both a blank canvas once more, ready to discover new things.

Back to Q4 Retail

After a decade and a half of banking, I am once again back in the retail sector during fourth quarter. Our store has had its Christmas decorations up for a good couple of weeks now (having set them up a few weeks before Halloween) and our aisles are now crammed with cardboard standees selling wares such as chocolate Santas, boutique candies, various toys, and everything else in between. Apparently our company doesn’t do the holiday season half-assed.

Am I dreading the craziness of fourth quarter shenanigans, high volume and constantly running out of paper bags up front? Not really! As exhausting as the last couple months of the year can be, there’s also a special warmth that comes along with it. I do enjoy talking with our regulars (and they are definitely such — some stopping by twice a day on the daily) end even more with new customers who are pleasantly surprised by how unique and accessible our store is. Sure, we’ll have the days with unending lines and short staff, but we survive it. And I’m old enough to remind myself not to let those particular days eat at me.

Sure, it affects my writing time sometimes, but not in the ways the bank used to. The mental and emotional exhaustion just isn’t as prevalent. Banking is very exhausting for the brain, whereas working retail, not so much. At least not for me anymore, anyway. Sometimes dealing with the front end is a bit like herding cats — coworkers and customers alike, when I’m assigned the Front End Manager position for the day — but I try not to bring it home. As long as I dedicate time to the writing, that’s all that matters.

Besides, working in retail means I get some sweet deals for the home!