Returning to Bridgetown…?

Everything is still up in the air right now and plans have not yet been fully made…but there is a chance that I may return to the Mendaihu Universe in 2023. I think it’s time.

I’ve been thinking about what I’ve done wrong with MU4 over the last couple of years, why it’s always stalled at almost the same exact place every single time. But I’ve also been thinking about what I’ve done right with it, especially the storylines of the two or three characters that I’ve resonated with and are demanding more attention. I know what the main story arc is for this novel (and its possible sequels, if things go the way I’m expecting), and it’s worth telling.

And I’ve also been thinking about how there’s no rule that I can’t revisit the Bridgetown Trilogy and, well, give it a remix and remaster, to use musical parlance. Creators do this all the time, right? I’ve heard of many musicians and writers who’ve revisited their older work and made it better. I’m still incredibly proud of the trilogy but I will admit that it also has a few issues that I wouldn’t mind finally fixing. Especially now that I have a few more years under my belt and a better idea of what it needs.

But what about all those other projects, you ask? What about your infamous Best Laid Plans that never work out? Well…harsh question, but fair. I’ve been known to talk about things here only to have them duly crash and burn soon after. So it may happen this time too, but I won’t know until I try, right? And about those other projects: I can’t say for certain if I’m going to trunk them or hold onto them for a later time, but they are not what I should be focusing on right now.

This does mean that I’ll need to do another deep-dive revisit into the Mendaihu Universe before I go too far, but believe me, I’m not complaining about that. They say that writers often write stories they themselves want to read, and I love returning to this universe each and every time. I may even try my hand at a few related short stories and standalones that I have hidden away.

Again…none of this is set in stone, but I’m perfectly willing to give it a go.

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!

How can someone so young sing words so sad?

So the original idea came to me after reading multiple romcoms in a row: what about an older woman who, after a successful career in the late 80s and early 90s as a young pop singer and an adulthood stuck in terrible relationships and bad business decisions, has a meet-cute with an equally jaded John Cusack type of guy who runs a record store in the small town she escapes to?

I bring this up as I’m feeling incredibly burned out from my work on Theadia and Queen Ophelia, both of which probably need complete rewrites. As I said to a friend this morning, there comes a time when it feels more like I’m shoveling mud than actually making a sculpture, y’know? It’s obvious that my writing sessions for both are becoming infrequent enough and hardly any work is being done (cat-sitting aside) that it’s obvious that I’m not happy with the stories at all. Added to that, I do nightly rereads of passages as part of my revision process, and lately it’s felt like I’d rather be reading something else. I don’t hate these projects, they’re just not where I need them to be right now, and I’m not ready to devote even more time and brainspace for it. I need to take a break.

That said…the possibility of me writing a meet-cute romcom filled with 80s and 90s easter eggs, music references and other goofy things is something I think might work. And here I thought Meet the Lidwells was my nerdiest story idea…

(Image courtesy of K-On!, by the way. I really need to start watching that series.)

Changing Things Around

Cat Update: Jules has been here for one week and thinks she’s got seniority, but new cat (and sister) Cali has proven otherwise by refusing to give in so easily. It’s been a few days together and they’re not playfighting nearly as much, though they’ll have bouts of chasing each other down our long hallway in full noisy gallop. I think we’ve cured them of waking us up for 2am playtime, but they’ve exchanged that with the 9pm tussling under our bed and the 5am Why Aren’t You Awake Yet. It’s a learning curve for everyone, I guess.

Anyway! As you can well imagine, my writing schedule is falling short due to Watching the Cats (to make sure they settle in well in their new home) and waking up early for the Day Job. It is what it is, and given that it’s also Q4, I will not be surprised if I eventually feel burnout in the next couple of weeks.

BUT! I refuse to let the writing fall by the wayside. I just have to keep focusing on it with the time that I do have. Twitter is currently having its New Owner Dumpster Fire Event which is keeping me from doomscrolling over there. I’ve got my close friends on Discord (we now have a dedicated channel just for our cat pictures, by the way) to keep me company. And of course I still have KEXP to listen to while working in Spare Oom.

It is what it is. I’m used to my writing schedule going all kinds of wonky during Q4. And considering I’m now working retail, the exhausting chaos will be ramping up very soon. I’m only thankful my job frowns on forced overtime (thank you, UFCW Local 648!) and our store is small compared to other outlets. It’ll be busy but not always overwhelmingly so. I’ll always have time to get at least something done each day if I put my mind to it.

And thankfully, the cats are currently sleeping in the cat tree so I can have some me time!