Hmm.

I’m feeling a bit bored with my blogs as of late. Don’t get me wrong, I love talking about writing here…but I’ve been repeating myself for a while now. I feel like I’ve been using the same subjects, hitting Random Shuffle and posting something not-quite-the-same-but-similar.

I need to shake things up a bit.

So.

I’ve decided I’m going to spend all of next month (and maybe July as well) going a bit off schedule. I’d like to share some of my outtakes, poetry, and other bits and bobs that I’ve written over the last several years. You’ve read more than enough about my thoughts on the process, why not finally share some of the end results?

Hope you enjoy.

Experienced

Jimi Hendrix with Are you Experienced from Rock Without Rules on Vimeo.

So one of my latest assignments for the Current Day Job is bookkeeping duties. Basically being trained on prepping the registers, balancing the safe, and other money-related things. I definitely have experience in this from my last years at HMV, being left in charge of opening/closing, balancing, depositing and all that fun stuff, so I’d let them know this when I was interviewed. I figured it would give me an extra in when they hired me.

I’ve been at the new place for a bit over two months, and I’ve already retained all my old retail and warehouse job experience into this new one, making everything easy and fun. I’ve already got multiple compliments on my bagging skills, and it’s not just because I do my own when I’m doing the shopping — my style is very much like how I used to build my pallets back at Yankee Candle, getting as many items into a finite space as I can yet still being safe about it. [It really is a bit like Tetris, and it’s kind of fun to look ahead at the shapes/items and put them together in my head.] And thanks to watching Gardener’s World and all those cooking shows during the pandemic, I’m even having some fun conversations about herbs, plants and ingredients as well.

Reason I bring this up is that in these same last couple of months, it dawned on me that perhaps I don’t nearly use that sort of thing with the characters in my stories as much as I really should. I’d like to think my characters are no longer the one-note self-inserts of yore, but after so many years being in an enclosed office setting with the same couple dozen people, I’d kind of lost touch with what other people were like. [Mind you, I don’t use social media for this sort of thing too often, for many and obvious reasons.]

What kind of experience do I have with people? I mean, in real life? I have a lot, it’s just that I’ve kind of lost touch with it for the last decade and a half. The Current Day Job has definitely changed that. I meet regulars, but I also meet the tourists, the late-nighters, the teens, the business people, the homeless, the well-off, and everyone else. And I’m really enjoying that sort of thing. Like I said recently, it’s reminding me that there’s a world outside. A world that’s not on Facebook or Twitter, a world that’s not crunching numbers, a world that’s not trying to save or ruin things. Just…people out there.

And it feels really great to experience that again.

About (still) writing poetry

Out of all the creative outlets I talk about here, my poetry and lyric writing get the next to least amount of commentary. [I talk about writing songs the least, alas, but that’s another post.] For a good number of years I just put it aside and rarely wrote any at all. And since the mid-10’s I’d been trying to force myself to write more of it, only to fail utterly. Part of it was that it had lost its enjoyment and no amount of forcing it was going to help at all. Another part of it was that I felt I was essentially writing the same personal themes over and over.

I’m noticing, however, that this latest Mead composition notebook of mine is getting rather full. I’m about two-thirds of the way through it, which is a lot more than the last several aborted tries at personal poetry chapbooks. This one was started a couple of months after I’d left the Former Day Job, and I’d done so on purpose: this was going to be a chapbook of endings and beginnings. Words about letting go of things I’d held for far too long, of coming to terms with things long left behind, and making the first unsure steps at something wanted yet untried.

That was the thing holding me back with the poetry and lyrics, really: lack of emotional movement. In a way it was the same with my music playing — once I gave it that emotional spark it had been lacking, I got better at it. Or more to the point, I’d finally come back around to the creative levels I’d been at in the past that I hadn’t been able to reach again. I had to do some purging of old ghosts before I could move on.

I might post some of these poems and lyrics here — or maybe even self-publish them on Smashwords — at some future point, but it’s not high on my list of projects. This kind of writing has always been personal: written for myself. Sometimes it’s to figure things out, other times it’s just to get something off my chest. Sometimes it’s serious and straightforward, sometimes it’s oblique and metaphorical, sometimes it’s just having a bit of fun.

I’ve gotten a lot better at it over the years, though I wouldn’t know if it’s anything good and worth publishing. But that’s the least of my worries there: if it means something to me, then it’s good enough.

Life taking unexpected turns

To be honest, I’d always thought that if I ever was going to join a union, that it would be writing-related. Instead, I’ve recently signed papers to join the one at my Current Day Job.

How do I feel about that? Well, I’ll admit I’m a bit of a socialist anyway so having a group dedicated to looking out for my wellbeing at work is pretty neat, considering I’d never had that before. Not that any of my previous blue-collar jobs ever had them, at any rate. And there certainly hadn’t been any that I knew about at the Former Day Job…sure, they’d have a lot of feel-good platitudes and attaboys, but they’d always rung empty to me. My current coworkers talk about union stuff now and again, such as a recent pay raise agreement, and the rep immediately handing me a card upon signing saying ‘call me if you have questions or need help’. I don’t think I’ve ever had a Day Job with a representative like that who really meant it.

What kind of union member would I be, anyway? Good question. Probably not a performative one, at any rate, because that’s not the kind of person I am. Maybe one who’d be willing to make a noise if warranted (not that I see that happening in the immediate future), but other than that I’ll just pay the dues, keep up with the news, vote when asked, and get all the perks being offered. I kind of feel like I’ve finally been hired somewhere that doesn’t try to bleed me dry mentally and physically, and a union is known to be good at making sure it stays that way.

Part of why I’m thinking about this is that I think I’ve finally made peace with being a Writer With a Day Job, just like most other writers out there. This is a low-stress, easy-on-the-brain job that pays reasonably well (only a dollar or two less than what I’d been making at the FDJ), has an awesome commute, and offers me all the time I need for writing work when I get home without guilting me into ridiculous amounts of overtime or overwork (which I would make a noise about, natch). I’ve realized that yeah, I no longer feel like I’m chained to any Day Job I have. I’m glad to work there, the people are fine (and unlike the FDJ, so are the customers, many of whom are quite lovely), and I definitely feel more connected to my coworkers and the outside world than I had elsewhere.

So yeah, it’s probably time for me to dust off my Billy Bragg albums and give them a relisten. Heh.

Almost there…

Image courtesy of Polar Bear Café

It’s been…a long work week. Six straight days of working noonish-to-midevening shifts at the shop, including both weekend days. Today’s the sixth day and hopefully I will not be walking home feeling like a zombie. I have tomorrow off, and I’d really like to use that day to get caught up on things. Thankfully I’m only there until 7:45 this time, so I won’t be too wiped out. It’s not that they’re overly long shifts — they’re roughly all eight hours long — it’s just that they’re during multiple busy times and that is what’s exhausting me.

Anyhoo. I have now worked out how I need to approach this next scene in Theadia. You could see it as the culmination of Act I, in which our heroes have taken stock in what’s going on in their universe and have chosen to take action. The original version reads a lot like a detailed “STUFF GOES HERE” moment and we can’t have that, can we?

Unfortunately these last few days haven’t given me much time or energy to focus too much on it, so hopefully my day off and the following morning shifts (the ones I love that leave my afternoons and evenings wide open) for the rest of the week will give me a lot more ability to catch up.

Here’s to hoping, anyway…!

Influences: Strangers in Paradise

The badass women of Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise

Back at the start of my post-college days when I was slumming it in Boston, someone suggested I check out this new comic series called Strangers in Paradise. The first cover was a simple but lovely shot of two women in an art gallery: a moody blonde artist and her seemingly innocent dark-haired bestie. Inside was a story of that second woman having the worst luck with men, specifically a lawyer named Freddie Femur. You’d think this is a classic Bechdel-Test-failing love triangle, yes? Well, maybe not. Because there’s a lot more going on than you think with these characters. A lot more.

Katina “Katchoo” Choovanski, the ‘angry blonde’, is the girl literally from the wrong side of the tracks with a past she’d rather keep quiet. Francine Peters is actually not so pure and innocent and just wants a bit of stability. Freddie, of course, wants to be the slimy alpha male but fails badly at it. And somewhere along the line, Katchoo gets a visit from a fourth character: a kind, quiet and nerdy guy named David Qin, who just wants to take her out for coffee and get to know her.

And that’s only the first three issues. What happens in the next hundred-plus issues that were released between 1993 and 2007 is what truly pulls the reader into this wild universe of criminal underworlds, black ops action, political intrigue, hidden pasts, frustrations in creativity, unrequited love, marriage instability, emotional violence, and spiritual redemption. For some of them, life eventually brings them peace. For the others, not so much, but their downfall is always of their own doing.

What I love about this series is that Moore has chosen to make each female character in this universe as badass as possible in their own unique way. Whether they’re trying to escape their violent past or helping someone battle anorexia or coming to terms with their sexuality or merely just learning how to love and trust someone without any strings attached, these women’s stories very rarely fall into trope or stereotype. These are characters with a vibrant back story and an individuality that sets them apart from each other.

Reading Strangers in Paradise helped me learn how to write and understand my own characters, and how to make them interact. Moore will occasionally throw in silly humor, timely pop culture references, and perfect comedic timing, but when things are serious, he doesn’t hold back. From SiP I learned about pacing, about when to utilize a perfect show-don’t-tell plot device, and how different characters should and could interact. I also learned when to subvert a trope to make the story that much better. And most of all, I learned how a simple back-and-forth dialogue can tell the reader a lot more than just what they’re saying, whether by what’s not being said, or by how it’s being said.

I highly recommend giving the series a try! Moore is a wonderful writer, and he’s also a self-publisher!

**NOTE: If you’ve got $30 to spare, head over to Humble Bundle today or tomorrow, as his complete Abstract Studios bibliography is available in pdf form! If you miss out, check out his work at his Abstract Studios website!**

There’s a World Outside

Image courtesy of Your Name

I’ve been spending a lot of time at work noticing there’s a world outside Spare Oom’s one window.

I mean, I know there’s a world out there, and I’m not talking about the unseen lands past the Golden Gate Bridge and the Marin Headlands. I’m talking about people in my neighborhood. The teens attending the nearby schools. The families in the neighboring houses and apartments in the Richmond District. The dog walkers, the late-shifters stopping in the store at 10pm to buy tomorrow’s lunch, the retirees stocking up for the week or buying that one ingredient they’re out of.

I’ve known they’re out there, but I’d kept them at a very long distance over the years. Part of it was the need to figure myself out without all the outside distraction and influence. And with the Former Day Job, my connection with others was mostly Other Businesses where there’s always that bit of enforced professional distance. I got along with my coworkers there but was never a close friend. But somewhere along the line that became the norm: I just didn’t people all that much.

When I started this retail job, I went in thinking one thing: If I’m going to deal with people, I’m not going to think of them as faceless Clients or Customers. That was a Former Day Job thing. I’m going to think of them as my neighbors and people I could get to know. Same with my coworkers; I may be old enough to be some of my coworkers’ parent (and young enough to be a whippersnapper to the older coworkers), but that shouldn’t keep me from getting to know them, learning a bit about who they are.

This, interestingly enough, has made me rethink how I approach creating new characters for my stories. I think that’s partly why I feel like Theadia is a bit more like the Bridgetown Trilogy than the last couple of novels I’ve written, because I’m giving these characters lives that are inspired or influenced by real life people I’m meeting. And in the process, learning a bit more about myself at a deeper level. Catching myself being who I am in a public setting without defaulting to a malleable People Pleaser every time. And it’s not just eye-opening but incredibly freeing.

Maybe the world outside isn’t as frustrating or stressful as I’d remembered it being.

Getting there

The downside to rewriting and revising is that after working easily through multiple passages and making minor corrections and fixes, I’ll hit a scene that’ll take forever to get through. I’m at one of them right now as I work on Theadia.

The scene is an important point in Act I where several of the main characters finally meet in the same room and choices are made that send the main plot off in its intended direction. This is a scene that I’d purposely skipped because the scenes leading up to it were driving me crazy and I really wanted to move on. [At first I felt the buildup was taking too long, but upon rereading it, it was totally fine and I was just being impatient. So it goes.]

There’s a lot of interweaving of characters-and-plot-so-far going on here, and in trying to do it right without causing more problems, I’m taking my own time with it. I’ve been working on it for at least a week now (and of course I’m getting impatient again), but I know I’m getting close to finishing it. I just need to keep it up.

The good thing is that once this particular trial is done, then I can get back to working on a few more light-and-easy passages again!

Work and Play

So today I find myself facing a three-day weekend for the first time since I started the Current Day Job, and I’ve already planned that today will be my run to Amoeba Records for dvds and perhaps some used cds and whatnot! We’re going to see a play on Saturday and if the weather is nice, we’ll take a walk in the part on Sunday.

Even at this point in my life, I still feel guilty when I decide to spend my non-work time not writing. Even if it’s watching TV — including things we enjoy watching — I still feel that nudge that I really should have the laptop on and work on my projects. Back in my Belfry years I’d allow a few PC games before getting started, and these days it’s other things like reading webcomics or futzing around with my music library for a bit.

How do I get rid of that guilt? Well, I don’t think I’ve ever quite gotten rid of it, per se…more like I’ve chosen to just ignore it instead. I’ll say to myself that I’ll let myself play until a specific time and have a hard start time, and I’ll stick to it.

And what about all this time away from the PC at my Current Day Job? Good question, actually! If I’ve realized anything over the last couple of weeks, it’s that I’d somewhat forgotten what it’s like to work somewhere surrounded by other people. I mean, more than just an office setting with the same twenty or so people…this is working in a place where I meet all sorts of locals and visitors. It’s been so much longer than I realized, and to tell the truth, I kind of enjoy it! Weird, yes, but I’m seeing it as a sort of writing research, to be honest. Letting myself have a huge rethink about my own created characters. Something I can do for fun instead of trying to squeeze in something while manning the register.

Still, I’m happy that I’ve got these days off so I can rest, too.