It’s been quite a week. My first full week of the New Day Job left me physically exhausted enough where one night I could not keep my eyes open and passed out at 8:30pm. There were a few days where I thought, what the hell was I thinking, I’m too damn old for this! But at the end of each shift, just as I was leaving, I noticed it:
No mental stress. None whatsoever. No you’ve got to finish this by a tight deadline, no who knows if tomorrow will bring yet another wave of system failures and an avalanche of client complaints, no oh shit I have to drive thirty miles in ridiculous traffic each waywhich can take either a half our or two and a half. Just…punch out, walk home. Workday done. Minimal time wasted.
It still blows my mind that there are jobs like that. Or more to the point, that my Former Day Job wasn’t like that by design. I’m still getting used to that.
Regardless, I’m doing what I can to squeeze my writing in. My schedule is still a bit wonky (though not as terrible as last week’s) but not so much that I’m unable to get any work done. I just take it day by day. I wrote this entry Sunday before my midday shift. Today (Monday) I’m doing an opening shift, so I’ll work on my writing after dinner. Later in the week I’m doing a midday-to-evening shift, so I’ll wake up at my usual early morning time and get some writing done then. I have two days off midweek so I’ll use that time to relax and take my time working on a few things.
It’s all about the balance. What is my schedule, and what hours can I utilize? And if I don’t have the time or energy to work on new words, I can certainly spend some time reading what I have so far and taking notes. Whatever works.
As you may have heard, I am back in the workforce. I’m back in the retail world again, this time at a local supermarket up the street, and I am totally fine with it for multiple and varying reasons: my commute is a ten-minute, eight-block walk (five minutes if I take the bus); this store is definitely not short-staffed; the company is inclusive and I’ve already seen evidence of it; and the most important, ZERO STRESS. Yeah, my first eight-hour shift, five of them at the register, was super exhausting, but the fact that I headed back home at the end of it feeling just as mentally and emotionally relaxed as I did when I got there was the BEST thing ever.
So what does this mean writingwise? Well, given that my schedule is going to be ridiculously wonky for a while (a close, an open, and a few mid-days next week, for starters), this means that I’ll have to adjust my creativity output again. The whiteboard’s going to need updating. I’ll be writing in the morning some days, in the evening others. I knew this would happen one way or another, but I’m willing to shuffle things around to make it happen.
I’ve done this before. It’ll be just like the Belfry days — as long as I dedicate an hour or two a day working on my novels, that’s what truly matters. The aim here is to make it happen on a daily basis somehow, some way. (This might also mean my blog update schedule will be a bit wonky as well, but again — not a pressing issue.)
As long as I’m writing. As long as I’m able to write without the additional stress of Day Job issues. That’s all I ask for.
Yesterday on KEXP, morning DJ John Richards’ playlist was heavily war-themed and it got me thinking of my very first finished project — the Infamous War Novel. Most of the songs he’d chosen were the same songs I listened to in the mid to late 80s when I wrote that bulky thing. There was a lot of bleed-over between his playlist and the ‘soundtrack’ mixtapes I created then.
The IWN was borne of being a young Gen-Xer living on the back end of the Cold War. I mean, sure, I always say it was kind of inspired by those Red Dawn movies of enemy infiltration with an extremely heavy dose of Miami Vice music-as-storytelling-aid to boot. It’s me writing as a teenager, well before I even knew how to write, so grammatically and stylistically it’s thin on the ground and all over the place. I don’t hate it, but in its original form it’s rather embarrassing. Yet it still finds a warm place in my heart as my first completed work and proof that I enjoyed the hell out of writing fiction, and that maybe this gig might be worth working on long-term.
I’ve long referred to it as the IWN because I was obsessed with making it work one way or another. After I finished it in spring of 1987 and started writing other unrelated stories, I would always come back to it at some point. I tried reviving it countless times over several years. It was the project that refused to die. And I would talk about it with others at times, much to their amusement and sometimes irritation. Thus the Infamous part of its nickname. I finally gave up trying to revive it sometime in 1996 when I briefly visited it one last time after True Faith dried up but before I started The Phoenix Effect.
I still have all the paperwork and its various versions here in Spare Oom, decades later. It’s held together in multiple binders in the small bookshelf behind me. The original longhand work started in 1984 and the 1987-8 typed revision, the aborted 1987-88 sequel, the 1990-92 reimagining, the 1995 PC transcription of the original, and the 1995-6 last gasp written on the PC. And all the original mixtapes have been recreated in mp3 form.
So why think about it now? Well, I think it’s because, as that same Gen-Xer, I remember that feeling of there’s a MUCH bigger world out there than what you can even imagine, and not all of it is sunshine and roses that many of us felt back in the 80s, when we weren’t exactly at war with Russia, but we saw them as the bogeyman hiding behind a literal iron curtain, devious and scary and mysterious. They might not have always threatened us, but we never quite knew. The status could change in the blink of an eye.
And that’s why we felt that relief when the Berlin Wall came down, why that Jesus Jones song resonated with us. Why we got nervous when the first Gulf War started, and when any other war in the world kicked off. And that’s why we’re twitchy about the war in Ukraine right now — we remember what happened in our youth, and while we’re hoping that we won’t have the threat of nuclear missiles hanging over our heads this time, we certainly remember that feeling of you just don’t know. All the social media and news sites and podcasts won’t help you when they don’t have the entire story. They rarely do. [Not saying that in a cynical way, just saying it as a hopeful realist. I never depend on one specific site alone for my news and information and I’d like to think I’m well-versed in knowing which ones are honest and which are propagandist. I learned that in college, after all.]
I think, back in those days, that’s what I’d tried to infuse in the IWN. The main character — a self-insert, of course — was put in charge of his own local group of ragtag soldiers and rebels, and his story is the gradual breakdown of his emotional and mental strength as that Constant Unknown kept wearing at him. This wasn’t a story about shirtless beefcake heroes saving the world but about normal people relentlessly and continuously being put through the wringer. Would I write this kind of book now? Well, not an exact kind, but I’d maybe take parts of it that still resonate and use them in new stories. The IWN kind of reverse-glorified the Cold War, in a way; it took the 80s patriotic action film trope and subverted it into something dark and sinister. There’s a price to pay for war, and it’s never glorious.
Back in my Belfry days I got pretty obsessive about getting my writing done every single day, without fail. I’d done that on purpose, really — after years of distraction, lack of focus and I’ll get to it one of these days, I realized the only way I was going to get any actual work done was to do the exact opposite of that until I got used to it. It worked pretty well for years! My parents would worry sometimes and remind me that it was okay to take a day off, but at the time I didn’t think I needed to worry about that. My Day Job schedule was such that I could spend a few hours doing relaxing things (going for a comic book run, watching afternoon Toonami anime, and so on) and still write for an hour or two at the end of the day. Taking a day off felt like I was being lazy.
I took this past weekend off. Just…enjoyed the days, going for walks, doing a few minor errands, visiting with a friend we haven’t seen in ages, and having a super tasty brunch. I admit that I did not do any writing or revision work, and while I still felt a little lazy, that doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it used to. I don’t see this as part of my getting older, really…it’s more that I’ve learned to better balance out my life. I’ve finally learned over the years that when left to my own devices for extended periods of time, any worries or anxieties milling in my head will decide they want obsessive attention. [I mean, it’s healthy to give them attention when needed. I’m talking about the ‘okay, now I’m just worrying over minor quibbles and have WAY too much time on my hands’ kind of stuff.] And when that happens, the best thing to do is detoxify.
That of course means avoiding social media for however long I need to. It means stepping away from the PC and going for a walk to the nearby shops for some minor needs. It means distracting myself by playing my guitar, doing some office stretches, whatever I need. And this past weekend was a lovely way to do it. The weather was nice, our friend loved our city and neighborhood (and especially one of our local eateries we like to frequent), and my brain quieted right down. I had nothing to worry about, hyperfocus on or obsess over other than hoping the traffic downtown was behaving when we went to pick her up and drop her off.
That kind of balance took me far too long to figure out. For years I’ve always felt that I was either racing to keep up with everyone or slowing down to let everyone else catch up, and it’s only been over the last couple of years that I have allowed myself to go at my own speed instead of trying to adjust to everyone else’s. The worries and anxiety goes down, the focus gets clearer. Those anxieties will still pop up every now and again, and I’m still learning to deal with them as they come.
And now that the weekend is over and I’m back on the PC, I’m ready and eager to get revising again, with a clear mind.
As you might have no doubt guessed, I’m a bit distressed by the multiple punches of recent news both national and international. I’m busy writing a new insert chapter for Theadia. I’m also a bit distracted as I have a new part-time Day Job lined up and I’m having one of those waves of overthinking worry because they haven’t yet given me a solid start date and schedule and my brain is telling me they did and I just misunderstood or I never received it. So yeah, I don’t have anything planned here today.
On a lighter note, here’s a picture of some recent daffodils we picked up at the grocery store. The light is natural (kitchen window yesterday afternoon) and I’m using a fun and super cheap macro lens that I can clip onto my phone. [You can find it on Amazon here. Thanks to BBC’s Winterwatch for bringing it to my attention!]
Here’s to hoping my brain is on a bit tighter next week.
I suppose I’ve been lucky over the last couple of years since the pandemic put the kibosh on a lot of social situations for me. I’m not really someone that needs to be surrounded by people or needs to insert myself in the middle of things…in fact I’m quite the opposite. I’ve always been used to balancing my social life with a lot of alone time, mainly because I spent most of the latter working on my creative endeavors. I’d rather be an observer than the center of attention.
That said, I have realized that I probably do need to reestablish some of that social connection now and again, especially as a writer trying to put my name out there. I do find it it kind of hard sometimes to get started on that, however…as a self-published writer I’m the only person to proactively say hey, read my stuff! but the idea of prodding some stranger’s arm and getting their attention feels so weird to me. I can definitely do it when it’s needed, but it’s the initial contact that shakes my nerves.
I’m pretty sure part of it is due to the fact that I’m just another person in a see of many that are trying to attract your attention and that I have just a few seconds to reel you in or else I’ve already lost you. I’ve always hated the idea behind that, the prove yourself to me in ten seconds or I’m moving on theory of salesmanship. And I hate it because when I rush, my work is shitty and you don’t see the best of me. I sound like an idiot. Give me more like a minute, and then I have a better chance. My style is more about nuance than surface attraction. My brain just doesn’t fathom trying to sell you my book in one sentence. It’s like trying to explain Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique by only mentioning the first four notes.
I’m thinking about all this while going through another wave of sending applications in for a new day job. I’ve realized I don’t have to have a fully remote job, I just want a more local one that doesn’t steal commute hours from me. And I actually wouldn’t mind working with a team again. I get along with pretty much anyone at work in one way or another, and if we don’t get along, I’m not bothered much by that. (There’s also the fact that once I do get to know you well, your name will most likely be Tuckerized somewhere in one of my novels at some point.)
At present I’m still at the interview level of things, but once one of these goes all the way through, then I’m sure everything will work out just fine. I’ll remember how to make personal and professional connections with people. And I’ll return to being a bit more social in my life again.
On this day in 2020, I had my 750Words page up on my work laptop (the one way I could get any writing done now that I’d been dragged kicking and screaming back to the office) and I was listening to Fuzzbox’s Big Bang for the second time that day. I was frustrated because I’d hit a serious slump: I needed to come up with a new project, but I’d dried up creatively for a while by then. Most of my 750Words entries at the time were ending up as repetitive personal journal entries and I was really getting sick of writing them.
Listening to that boppy, bubblegummy guilty pleasure of an album and deciding once and for all to stop limiting myself, I free-associated for a bit. And that was much harder to do than I’d remembered because I hadn’t done it properly in ages. But eventually, I came up with this partial later that morning.
I really should come up with an anime-inspired story. I mean, like along the lines of Carole & Tuesday or Dragon Pilots, maybe even with a bit of Tenchi Muyo thrown in. Light and fun and goofy with a darker subtext and long-game arc going on. I’ve been going on about how much I love that style, so why not? Various thoughts: — The high school manga: a group of boys and girls and the various shenanigans and dramas they go through. SFF spin..? Perhaps it’s set on a generation ship (another one of my favorite ideas I haven’t used yet), or perhaps a space waystation. Darker subtext/long-game plot? I’m thinking maybe it’s a twist on the ‘we’re all going our separate ways when we graduate’ theme in which some of them will become pilots, either for transports or for space force, which might make connections that much harder. Darker subtext? Hmm. Will have to think about it more.
So, Theadia was originally going to be a coming of age story between five or six young adults as they figure out their future plans. It would start out as a light-hearted story that grew progressively darker as the long-game arc became clearer. I didn’t even have a name for it yet…that came a short time later when I’d come up with the names Althea and Claudia. [Althea, as well as her relationship with Claudia, is after a character in Hannah Blumenriech’s Full Court Crush. Claudia is named after someone I knew in college who was highly intelligent yet very reserved. Theadia — Thea and Dia — came to me when I realized the story was really about these two goofballs.]
The first few grains of Theadia were sown a month or so later when I pared down the original group to the titular duo when I realized there was a story about them somewhere in there that I was subconsciously avoiding. But what was it?
I was going through a tough time and not getting anywhere creatively. It was a perfect storm of frustration towards the Day Job, fury and disgust at the then-current US President* (a term I use very loosely here, and only for clarity), and a feeling of desperation on several levels. This was the worst block I’d had in years. The last time I’d used that inner turmoil in my writing had to have been the trilogy, and I’d been actively avoiding using it since then. Okay, that’s not entirely true…that turmoil spilled into my personal journal entries and 750Words sessions and that was frustrating me as well, because I’d repeated myself so much I’d gotten sick of hearing myself complain. I was avoiding something. A lot of somethings.
After I’d left the Day Job and given myself some time to heal a bit, I knew I was ready to start Theadia again. And this time I wouldn’t avoid what was bothering me. I’d let it spill out onto the page. I based characters and settings and situations on certain aggravating things going on in my life up to that point. It was therapeutic writing that I didn’t realize I’d long needed.
Theadia, on the whole, is about doing the right thing when no one else steps up. More to the point, it’s about taking action when everyone else is saying it can’t be done Because Reasons. And those reasons would be rigid protocol, hateful bigotry, lack of imagination, fear of responsibility, whatever it is that keeps people from doing what needs doing, or else we’re all going to be sitting here for years, stuck in this same damn cycle of inactivity.
All that Althea and Claudia want to do is make things work. Not just for themselves or their jobs, but for anyone else in their lives. The twist here, however, is that they’re not activists. They’re not mavericks, spies, loose cannons or even encyclopedic tech nerds and social justice heroes of the Cory Doctorow variety. They’re just blue-collar workers with a sense of community and a drive to make things possible. This is the kind of outlaw they are: the ones you least expect, because they don’t attract attention to themselves while they’re undoing all the bullshit they’re wading through.
The trick, then, was to figure out who — or what — the enemy was. That took a bit longer to work out, but once I had a rough outline, it became clearer to me: it wasn’t just one conflict, but many. It was the former galactic owners of the waystation and its planet reneging on their promise to leave them alone. It was the waystation’s political and military leaders in constant disagreement with each other and hindering progress. It was upper management refusing to make important choices Because Reasons. It was constant disagreement between those in charge and those they represented.
In other words, a lot like real life over the last couple of years.
And yes, there would be a bit of humor and lightheartedness, to balance it out. The appearance of one comically large and chatty Maine coon cat named Grizelda. The distraction of having large extended families. The deep trust between best friends and the smooth workings of a well-oiled and well-trained team. The silliness of Althea’s shenanigans and the wiliness of Claudia’s not-entirely-legal tech kludges, and their incredibly strong and loving relationship.
Funny, then, that it took me almost a year and a half to realize that this was going to be a Big Story, just like the Bridgetown trilogy! But that realization only helped me refocus on Theadia so I could make it even better. It’s been a super fun story to write and I love working on it. And I hope you enjoy it once I release it out into the world!
So. With all that talk about the past year, I suppose it’s only fitting that I finish out the year (and this series of posts) looking ahead, yes?
I’m writing this just as yet another wave of COVID is making its way across the world, and this time out A and I know a few people who have been struck by it. They’re all okay from what I’ve been told, but this time it’s definitely cutting a bit close to home, and I do sometimes wonder how long this pandemic will continue to go on. Still…A and I are also taking the best steps we can to avoid it, masks and all. And I’m refusing to feel cynical or afraid or angry about it. [If anything, I am angry to the extent that there are those going out of their way to refuse to take any responsibility in helping stop this pandemic.] Whatever else is going on out there in the world that crashes into us — the strange weather patterns and destructive wildfires, the hateful words of bigots and the Ponzi schemes of cryptobros, and everything else — I continue to be well aware of it, but I choose not to let it bury me. I survive how I can.
I’m also writing this on the cusp of wondering what the next year will be like.
What will happen in my writing career? It’ll be what I make of it, of course. Whether I continue with my small band of readers or if by some chance one of my novels is a success I won’t know unless I try, anyway. And then there’s new projects to think about: I’m always fascinated at how they pop up unbidden. At this point last year, I hadn’t even come up with Queen Ophelia — I’d come up with that in March. My writing career has never been about reaching a certain point and surfing from there on in. One, it’s not productive, and Two, I’d get bored easily. Writing taught me to look at life and realize that I can stay safe, or I can say sure, why the hell not?
And what of my personal life? Well, as they say, it’s a work in progress. Making peace with issues I’d long ignored. Learning more about what makes me tick. Embracing new phases of my life. Finding and starting a new day job. It’s been a while since I left that last place, and the me of late 2019 and the me of New Year’s Eve 2021 are very different people indeed. I think I was getting to this point, but I had to clear a hell of a lot of detritus that was in my way first. Most of that is now gone and I am surely glad of that. Whatever I do next, I can do so with a lot more determination and self-trust.
I don’t have many particular resolutions other than to make my life better in certain ways. Whether it’s health-related, mind-related or otherwise, as long as I’m going in the right direction. There will always be some form of obstacle that’ll present itself in one way or another, but with a bit of patience and knowledge and a lot more self-confidence that I’ve had in the past, I should be able to overcome them.
I can do this, one way or another.
I’m hoping all of you have a safe New Year’s Eve, and a safe and healthier 2022. We still have a ways to go, but we can do it together.
(PS – I’ll be taking the first week of the new year off just to relax, and maybe kick off a few new things in my life. See ya on the flip side!)
I’ve been thinking, along with everything else, about where I want my writing career to go in 2022. I haven’t self-published anything new since In My Blue World in 2019, and I need to catch up on my plan of (at least) one self-pubbed project a year. I’ll give myself a break, though, considering what the pandemic has done to the publishing arena over the last couple of years. My initial plan of submitting Diwa & Kaffi to agents and publishers was put on the sidelines because of it, so I chose to use the ensuing wait time wisely by writing Queen Ophelia and Theadia. One (or both? or all three?) may be released in e-book form sometime next year, depending on where we are in revision and cover art.
Meanwhile, back in November I joked to A that maybe for next year’s NaNoWriMo I should write a Christmas romcom. (A did kind of give me an ‘oookay, where did this come from?’ look, but come on, romances are often a guaranteed seller no matter how much nonbelievers want to make fun of them.) I’ve actually been meaning to read more romances anyway to expand my reading and writing horizons. This in turn kicked off an immersive reading binge of romances and romance/mysteries, and I’m thinking this is indeed a viable avenue for me, not to mention another genre for me to read so I’m not stuck in the same reading groove. We both found Sarah Morganthaler’s Moose Springs, Alaska series really good fun, and it also has excellent doggo content. This kind of setup seems to resonate with my style of humor and plot, so I’m thinking this might be a good start.
This, of course, led to another semi-related conversation about pen names. I tend to think my given name is pretty plain and easy to pronounce (though I’ve heard my last name mangled many times over the years), but I’ve often thought about toying with a pen name anyway. I know of a few writers who’ve used them for one reason or another, whether it’s to revive a flagging career, kickstart a new one, or to keep different styles and genres separate. I do have a few thoughts about this that I may toy with in the new year. In a way I kind of like the idea, considering that I’ve put said career on pause over the last couple years. Starting off fresh across the board does have a certain appeal.
There’s something to be said about creating a new self-image, especially when you’ve been thinking about it over a long period of time and it’s something that’s long overdue. This is another one of the paradoxes in my life: while I might be a creature of comforting habits, there’s also this consistent undercurrent that I need to change things up now and again, especially when it’s desperately needed.
And in my writing career, while I’m happy that I’ve been coming up with these new stories, many that I’m proud of, I still get the feeling that I’m limiting myself somehow. Whether it’s by self-censoring or avoidance, I know when it happens because that’s when I get irritated with my work. Why am I writing all these non-action scenes? Why am I avoiding writing conflict? Why am I finding it so hard to face those scenes? It’s that paradox: I feel comfortable avoiding the conflict, but I know that does not make a good story.
I kind of blame writing Diwa & Kaffi for this, really. That project, while near and dear to my heart, was partly an exercise in writing conflict that specifically wasn’t based on protagonists and antagonists. The conflict in that story is within: learning to trust oneself and others, and learning how to believe in oneself. This in turn kind of skittered my own life into an unexpected direction: I realized these were conflicts I was avoiding in my own life. Writing that kind of story is one thing, but dealing it in reality is quite another. And it took me a while to realize just how badly I was limiting myself, not just as a writer but as a person.
While writing Theadia and Queen Ophelia this year, I chose to face that. I prepped myself by having a relatively strong outline I could work from, but I had to learn to trust myself with these stories. Let them go where they needed to go, even if they went in unexpected directions. This wasn’t just the “steadily increasing the volume” action style I used for the Bridgetown Trilogy…this was about immersing myself in these stories. Putting myself into them, but also letting the characters shine as much as possible. While they’re still a bit of a pre-revision mess, they’re probably the strongest stories and the most realistic characters I’ve written. I trust these stories implicitly enough that revision will only make them shine even brighter.
Which brings me back to the theme of this whole series of posts: I’ve been running in rough draft mode for far too long. Sure, there are moments in my life, professional and personal, where I’ll shine when my strengths are at their peak, but everything else definitely needed a fuckton of work. And that work is what I’d done over the last year and a half during this weird pandemic season. And I think, finally, I’m ready to emerge in a much better edition of myself.
I’ve been thinking about new year’s resolutions lately. I mean, I always think of them this time of year, as one usually does, and wonder about which ones I’ve reached with confidence, ones that fell by the wayside for one reason or another, ones I’d completely forgotten about before the year was up, and ones I’m still working on. Some years it’s on a personal and soulful level: getting out of an emotional, mental or professional rut I’d found myself in, training myself not to fall so easily into bitter moods, things like that. And some years it’s goal-oriented: finishing and self-publishing that novel, submitting that story, uploading those pictures, expanding my musical or writing knowledge.
One resolution I thought of recently was about facing personal fears and breaking myself out of the habit of the reactions they cause. Whether it’s about job searching or submitting my novels, or hell, even outwardly showing more emotions than I have in the past, I know a lot of these are what I call stupid fears. Things I could easily face and conquer, if only I break out of the lifelong habit of automatically sliding into them. Sure, some of it is due to patriarchal training (the ‘boys aren’t supposed to show weakness’ of yore) and self-destructive listlessness (the ‘why even bother’ response, in other words), but come on: these are things I could break myself out of if I tried. And kept at it.
I’d like to think that I’ve done a lot of that over the years and I’m not nearly as bad as I used to be, but yeah, those reactions are still there, partly out of passivity and partly because I’m so used to it that I slide into it before I can even stop myself. And yes, this is why one of my personal mantras has been just shut the fuck up and DO it already. It’s amazing what I can accomplish if I just tell that passive, negative, stoic and fearful side of me to zip it and take the plunge in the next breath.
I suppose I could say that will be one of my resolutions for 2022. I don’t really have an exact wording for it, but I don’t think it’s something that I need to give a name to. It’s something I know is there and it’s something I’m tired of leaning on, and it’s time for it to be gone. And there’s a secondary part to that equation as well: what takes its place? Confidence? Sure, but what kind? I think the kind I’m looking for is the one where I don’t need it to prove anything to anyone, or to get away with something, or any other kind like that. Just a simple and positive ‘yeah, let’s make this happen’ kind.