It's been a strange week…

…and to be honest, I’m kind of glad it’s nearly over. I’ve had to remain brave and determined the entire time, standing up for principles and common sense while putting myself through an extremely stressful and life-changing situation, all while my city goes from state of emergency to shelter-in-place because of COVID-19, and everyone starts panic buying all the TP.

I’m doing just fine, by the way. Tired and strangely calm, but otherwise I’m fine.

Mayor Breed put out the shelter-in-place announcement on Monday morning, effective at midnight that evening. My company, on the other hand, had demanded that I — working from home full time for the last seven years — had to come into the office as an ‘essential worker’. I argued with upper management about it. I stated my case clearly and calmly. I followed their suggestion of going to HR — who bounced the decision back down to my management. Long and stupid story short, we were at an impasse. I refused to go into the office when there was a possibility I could catch this virus, or worse, be a carrier and give it to someone else in the building. They refused to let me stay at home.

On Tuesday, I gave my two weeks’ notice.

I think I scared them by my actions. By Wednesday they changed their tune and started letting people stay home. I took a hit for the team, but I’m glad that I won that particular fight for them.

SO.

I’m looking at it this way: this break from this Day Job was bound to come sooner or later…I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t care much for it either. It was a steady (if small) paycheck, and I got along just fine with my coworkers, that’s all. But I wasn’t exactly happy, especially after they got rid of working remotely. I needed to break free of it. I’m seeing this as a perfect opportunity to focus more on a career that’s more my style and liking. It’s the break I’ve long wanted. It’s also the perfect time for me to make some long overdue changes in my life as well, now that I can do so.

And I’m still writing just as I always have, so there’s that.

Now if we can just get past this virus pandemic and the social fallout caused by it, then we’ll be groovy.

Until the End of the World

Source: Until the End of the World, directed by Wim Wenders

I remember going to see this movie back when it came out in 1991, when it played briefly at Coolidge Corner theater in Brookline, just a short-ish trip on the T from Charlesgate dorm near Kenmore Square. I remember it being a long-ish movie — the US version was apparently two and a half hours — but for some reason I also seem to remember somehow seeing the European cut, which is closer to three hours. It’s visually gorgeous, filmed in eleven different countries.

The director’s cut, however, is closer to five hours, and I sat through it all this past weekend during our flight back from New England. And I enjoyed every single minute.

It’s one of my all-time favorite movies, but I can totally understand why others might question my sanity, as it’s not a movie for everyone’s tastes. From the beginning it has a slow and deliberate pace — not a glacial one, which quite a few European art films tend to suffer from, but a novel one. I say ‘novel’ because that’s what it feels like: reading a novel, playing it out on the screen. It takes place in the final days of 1999 when a nuclear-powered satellite is spinning out of control and threatening to crash somewhere on the planet’s surface. But the story is not about the satellite; that’s just the framework of the more personal stories that unfold. There’s Clare, a young and emotionally lost French woman trying to find meaning and stability in her own life; there’s Sam, an American on the run from the government after stealing top secret hardware; there’s Eugene, Clare’s ex and a writer who still loves her; there’s Henry, Sam’s scientist father who focuses more on his projects than his son. And there are even more secondary and tertiary characters who also have their own storylines. It’s about dreams, love, loss, and hope.

It’s kind of hard to explain everything that goes on with this story, though not because it’s confusing or convoluted; it’s more that what we think is the story is only the surface of a much deeper and more important one that involves every single person on the screen. It goes in quite a few unexpected directions but does so deliberately and always for a reason.

I was first drawn to the movie due to its fantastic soundtrack featuring numerous well-known bands of the early 90s performing songs that, on the request of director Wim Wenders, were to evoke what each band would sound like at the other end of the decade. It features songs by Depeche Mode, U2, Can, Lou Reed, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, REM, Elvis Costello, and more. The soundtrack alone is worth picking up, even if you’re not interested in the film!

I mention the movie here on my writing blog, not just because I’d sat through the marathon five-hour director’s cut (which, to Wenders’ credit, manages not to drag at all), but because one of the reasons it’s my favorite movies is because it was an extremely important influence on my writing. From this movie I learned pacing; I learned that not every story needs to be going at a tangible constant speed, nor does it even have to hit high and low points at specific times within the story. This is a slow-burner that starts off calm and introduces new plot points at a leisurely pace, until we get to a point where we suddenly realize we’ve been going at a pretty damn good clip for the last hour or so. It’s a perfect example of how pacing can help tell the story by way of playing with our emotions and expectations.

Until the End of the World has just been released as a remastered Criterion dvd, and I highly suggest watching it if you have a full weekend afternoon.

Looking for fresh inspiration

Source: Read Or Die

I’ve been having this itch to do a major book purge. I mean, I’ve done quite a few of these over the years, so this is nothing new. I’ll get rid of books I haven’t read in ages, ones I’m no longer interested in, ones I’ve had for years but never cracked open. Do I need to have these in my life? As I’ve said before, the books are donated to the library and it opens up spaces for new books. Win-win!

I’ve also been having this itch to find new inspiration for my writing. This happens now and again, especially if I spend far too long reading my own stuff for revision purposes — which I’ve been doing the last few months with Diwa & Kaffi. I’ve finished that part of the project, however, so now it’s time for me to read new things again.

But what? My tastes have definitely changed over the years, to the point where I’m not entirely sure what I’m interested in reading at the moment. There’s the manga: the intriguing and unique storytelling such as Nagabe’s Siúil, a Rún: The Girl from the Other Side or Paru Itagaki’s Beastars. There’s the countless music biographies and histories I can catch up on, such as Ed Ward’s The History of Rock and Roll Vol II (the first volume was much more enjoyable than I’d expected it to be), or Prince’s The Beautiful Ones.

But I’m also at a loss when it comes to new titles. I used to find them via Publisher’s Weekly, but I let that subscription lapse some time ago. Sometimes it’s word of mouth, sometimes it’s just a book store browse. But I haven’t really looked for anything completely new in a while now. I’m not sure if I’m just dithering or if I’m just lacking inspiration. Not much is really jumping out at me lately.

I know it’s not the titles themselves or the current trends. I’m just out of the loop and not being very active about my search. I’ve been busy with a lot of things. But now I’m not as busy, and I’m looking for something new.

And I feel like I’m no longer resonating with a lot of my old collection, either. I gave up a lot of titles some time ago, but I think it’s time for another go-round. A KonMari level purging this time: if I’m not going to read it within the next six months, chances are good I won’t be reading it at all. Time for it to go.

It’s time to open up more space on these shelves again. Time to find new inspiration. Time to find new books that will refresh and reinvigorate my creativity.

Time for something new.

New Year, New Plans

When I made my unceremonious return to the office for the Day Job, I gave myself a month. I’ve done this in the past; life throws me a curve ball that I can’t avoid no matter how hard I try. I’ll be angry and frustrated and be stuck in that feedback loop. But I’ll give myself a month to Just Get Over It.

Mind you, it’s not the same as giving up. I’m still angry about the situation and I’m still making alternate plans. But I’m not giving in. I am not making do. In fact, I’m making the best of a frustrating situation. To wit:

–I’d forgotten what it felt like to have a car commute. When was the last time I had to drive to my job? That would be the temp jobs back in 2005. (I had office jobs in 2006-2014 or so, but I could get to those via public transit.) This reminded me of a few things: how to head out early so I had a cushion of time before logging in; how to find alternate routes; how to utilize the drive time creatively. I spent most of December relearning a lot of that.

–I might be getting home anywhere between 5pm and 6pm (and believe you me, I hate the latter), but I can still work on the laptop while hanging out with A in the living room after dinner. And I still have the weekends to do things.

–I found ways to best use my time for creative endeavors, even on company time. I can write longhand (journal and poetry), my daily words (as of this moment, I can access 750 Words on my work laptop and this makes me so blissfully happy right now), and considering that I’m stuck in a cubicle without all the distractions of Spare Oom, I’m actually forced to not goof off.

–I have multiple mp3 players to keep me entertained when need be, and a lunch and two breaks if I feel the need to surf social media.

So what does this all mean? This means that I’ve realized that my situation is nowhere as dire as I was making it out to be. I spent that month getting that frustration and flailing out of my system, and spent the entirety of December thinking okay, how can I make the best out of all this?

This means that I’m going to continue with the writing schedule that worked so well for me over the last few years. Walk in Silence will be posting Tuesdays and Thursdays again, and Welcome to Bridgetown will be posting Mondays and Fridays again. I’ll be doing my daily words Monday through Friday.

Do I have any specific projects I’ll be working on? I’ve a few, but I’m holding them close right now. I’ll reveal them when the time is right. I can say that I’ll be submitting Diwa & Kaffi to publishers in the next few weeks, however, and I’m really looking forward to that particular project. It’s been too long and I think it’s time. I’m ready for it.

It’s 2020, and I know what I need to do.

Sort of Fly-By: Working On Stuff

Source: Makoto Shinkai’s ‘5 Centimetres Per Second’

OH HAI THERE. I’ve been busy most of November, getting used to the new schedule and Day Job situation. I mean, I’d rather not get used to it, if you know what I mean, but I’ve managed to find workarounds for various things I need and want to do. I chose to take most of November off to recalibrate myself and my situation, see what I can work with, and make it happen.

And make it happen I did! I have managed to set aside time to work on Daily Words! This is going to be pretty much the same as when I was writing In My Blue World and Diwa & Kaffi in tandem — whenever there’s a slow moment during the day, or when I’m on my breaks, I’ll do a lightning round of a few hundred words. As long as I’m working on something, that’s all that matters.

And I’m glad to say that I’ve made some real progress this past week, much to my complete surprise! Right now I’m working on a few Mendaihu Universe ideas — one that’s sort of a fun diversion of a short story, and the other is a Possible Book Four thing. It’s still all in the planning stages, but I’m willing to see where it takes me.

As for the blogs, they’ll probably be a bit erratic over the next few weeks until the end of the year, but I’m hoping I might be able to post at least one entry for each blog a week, time permitting. Like I said, I’m still recalibrating, so it may take a while for me to get back on track.

Thanks for waiting, hope to see you here soon again!

Where I’ve Been and What I’ve Been Up To…

excuse me pardon me comin’ through

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I’ve been doing a lot of juggling of personal events and situations as of late. I still can’t go into too much detail, but right now I’m hoping that I’m coming close to the end of it all. And with that, I’m hoping I’ll be able to get back into my writing and blogging!

One major change – one that wasn’t my own decision and I’ll be honest, one that I’m not entirely happy with – is that as of yesterday, I am no longer working from home for the time being. After… (does math in head) … five or six years?… of full-time remote work, the Day Job has decided to end that particular setup and starting Monday my commute will go from one room to another to thirty-three miles across the Bay. That’s an hour in a car both ways. I’ll just say I’ve made my peace with it for now.

What will this mean for my writing? Good question indeed. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately…certainly I won’t be doing any writing during slow times or during breaks, and I may not even be able to do it every single night once I get home. I’ve thought about going back to longhand, but I’m not about to start that just yet. Too many things are still up in the air. I’ll just say I’ve made my peace with that as well for now.

As for Diwa & Kaffi…? That has been going well, actually! I’m about to start working with a reader to help me nail down a few specific points that need nailing down, and once that’s done, I’ll start shopping it around. I’m doing this at my own speed because I want to do this right. Sorry it’s taking so long, but I promise I’ll get it out there one way or another!

I’m not entirely sure when I’ll be posting next, but I’ll do my best. Thanks for waiting!

Expectations

I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations lately. Personal, professional, emotional, and so on. For years I always felt that I’d had high expectations put on my shoulders, but it’s only in the last decade or so that I’ve realized that most of them have been of my own doing.

When I sent out my first submissions — the short story in 1995 and The Phoenix Effect in 2000 — I wasn’t so much sending them out thinking I was hot shit and The Next Great SF Novelist (though I’ll admit that I let myself half-jokingly hope I had a chance), but thinking ‘OK…you’ve gotten this far in your writing career. That’s a pretty damn good goal to hit, considering.’ My expectations weren’t high, but they weren’t in the gutter either. As long as I did a decent job or at least learned from my mistakes, all was well.

The same thing goes for my Day Job: I certainly don’t expect to ever rise up to CEO level in any job I’ve held, as that’s not a position I want. I like being part of the team rather than its leader. That way my expectations are more realistic: I expect (and hope) that my teammates and I know what we’re doing and that we’re doing it the best we can under a normal deadline. I work so much better behind-the-scenes than I do as a performer, so to speak. The main reason being that it gives me the space to observe the processes, understand them, and maybe even upgrade them if need be.

But what about my own life? That’s a good question. Sometimes I expect too much of myself — that I need to be perfect every single moment, and become frustrated when I fail to hit that bar. Why do I set it so high? Who knows…it has to do with observing others’ actions, whatever they may be, and hoping to reach those same heights. Yes, I know, that way lies madness.

And pretty rich, coming from someone who spent most of his teenage years shouting that nonconformity was the way to go. Heh.

In the last year or so, I’ve been rethinking my expectations. Readjusting them when and where necessary. Part of this came out of my foray into self-publishing: I knew my novels weren’t going to be brilliant and popular and wildly successful, so I let my guard down a bit. I still tried to write the best book I could, I just stopped trying to reach Stephen King or Ray Bradbury heights of quantity and/or quality. The same goes with my personal life: I accepted that I’d fuck up every now and again. I let myself take some blind chances instead of building up Detailed Best Laid Plans.

And instead of trying to be Everything to Everyone, I realized, maybe it’s time for me to be happy on my own terms again. Sure, that sounds like I’ve hit my Midlife Crisis stage, but I really haven’t. This is the least stressed out I’ve ever felt in decades. I’m more proactive than reactive now. I feel no need to recapture my youth (my music collection does that for me). All in all, this is the most content I’ve been in a long time.

All I’m doing now is making needed changes, many of them overdue, to make things even better for myself.

Forgotten outtakes

The downside to using 750Words for my daily* writing exercise platform is that I don’t always get around to making offline copies of them. And I’ve been using the site for quite a few years, so I’m not entirely sure what I have out there right now.

[* It hasn’t actually been daily for a while now due to other projects and responsibilities that I’ve been working on. But hopefully I can get back into the habit soon enough.]

Last night I read a temporary project I did save was something I’d called The Hurleys. It was an idea in the Mendaihu Universe that took place in the current day instead of far into the future; its central characters were three adult siblings living in midwestern Massachusetts (go with what you know) who are some of the very few who are awakened to the fact that they’re connected to the Mendaihu. I didn’t get too far with it other than maybe five or six entries, but I gave it enough life and detail that it’s something I could possibly expand on.

I know I’ve written quite a few of these over the years I’ve used 750Words. My last three novels all grew out of these. And now I’m curious as to how many others are out there on my account, just waiting to be picked up and expanded upon. Thankfully it’s an easy enough thing to do, as the site keeps everything no matter how old, and I’m the only one who can access it.

Perhaps within the next month or so I’ll take a bit of time and do a deep dive. Maybe I’ll find my next novel idea!

On Evolution of Influences

Hey, Trashcan, where you goin’, boy?

As I’d mentioned earlier, I’d done a recent reread of the Bridgetown Trilogy for possible future Book 4 ideas. One of the unexpected things I’d noticed was a distinct difference in influences. These three books are definitely different from Meet the Lidwells and In My Blue World, and not just in mood and length. I knew that going in of course, given its long and rambling history.

One of its early influences was of course Stephen King. This was my ex’s doing, having suggested I read him to understand how to write a large ensemble piece. I read The Stand (the unedited version, which I actually find more enjoyable than the shorter original release) right about the same time the 1994 tv miniseries had been released. It made sense to read this particular story and study it a bit, because I already knew that my idea was going to be about an event that affects scores of people and not just the main characters. [I was big on the Big Idea plot at the time.]

While the trilogy changed and evolved in numerous ways over the two decades I worked on it, so did the influences. I’d started reading more fantasy and science fiction, starting with Holly Lisle and CJ Cherryh and moving then to Kate Elliott. [This was about the time I’d started making my frequent road trips to Toadstool Bookshop in Keene and Barnes & Noble in Leominster, with my book buying habits growing exponentially.] The rewrites in turn became less action-oriented and more character driven. The end result, so many years later, is a mishmash of all those years of influences.

Reading Meet the Lidwells so soon after, on the other hand, was quite the whiplash. That particular novel has one influence only: rock history books, many of which I’d been reading either for pleasure or for Walk in Silence reference and research. I’d also written it to prove to myself that I could write a book less than 100k words! I haven’t reread In My Blue World yet, but I already know that novel’s influences was the YA fantasy I’d been reading. And as I’ve mentioned many times before, Diwa & Kaffi‘s influence is Studio Ghibli. I knew I’d had to severely change my thought processes once I finished the Bridgetown Trilogy project…but seeing the change now, a few years later, it surprised me at how much it had changed.

I suppose in a way this is why I’ve left future possible projects up in the air this year…I’ve caught up with all the ideas I’d been wanting to work on, so once D&K is out and away, it will truly be a clean slate. Which means one thing:

What will influence me next?

Watching 90s Action Films

So A finally made me sit down and watch the original 1998 Blade film, and HOO BOY yeah that was certainly something. Definitely one of those “this is terrible” but in a fun popcorn flick kind of way if you’re into that sort of thing.

It reminded me of something that I’ve been thinking about over the last few weeks or so: man, the 90s were fucked up. I’m not just talking about world events here, which goes without saying. I’m talking about some of the films, books, music, art, pretty much any medium. It’s almost as if us Gen-Xers, realizing that we were essentially the Generation Nobody Paid Attention To, decided to see how far we could push our creativity. And then push it just that little bit more. See what we could get away with. And it usually paid off, because the Gen-X audience loved it when the boundaries were pushed like that. It’s part of our DNA.

Blade in particular is a ridiculous vampire action film with all the bingo spots that makes up 90s action films: badass martial arts battles, quote-worthy dialogue, insane weaponry, a secret rave in a bizarre location, a ridiculous car chase, a few insane how-the-hell-did-they-shoot-that sequences, and all of it edited to fast-bpm techno dialed up to 11. It also features quite a few ‘let’s see how far we can push this’ moments, one especially squicky scene within the first five minutes of the film.

I watched a hell of a lot of these in the 90s and 00s, from the Matrix films to the Underworld films and yes, even the Mortal Kombat films. They were all good fun on a stupidly hot Saturday afternoon during the summer.

They also feature some great whoa! moments, and I’m not talking the Keanu Reeves kind or the car-jumping-a-moving-train kind. I’m talking about the kind that a writer like me would love: the little seemingly inconsequential shots that make me perk up. There’s a shot in Blade that did it for me, when our heroes are being chased down a subway tunnel with way-too-fast trains zipping by every couple of seconds. Dr Karen Jenson somehow loses her balance and lands on the tracks, but at the last second reaches her arm over at an odd angle, thus keeping her face from landing on the electrified third rail by mere inches. It’s a three second shot that didn’t need to be in there, but for me it was definitely an ooh, nice detail! moment. A lot of 90s films are filled with those kinds of shots, and they add charm and reality to the moment.

These often inspired my writing at the time. The original version of the Bridgetown Trilogy (The Phoenix Effect, written 1997-98) features the same level of detail alongside some of the classic tropes. Some of them even show up in the final books. I had a rule for writing them: if I wanted to add a ‘this would look really cool’ moment, I had to give it a reason for being there. I realized the best way to do this was similar to that Blade moment I mentioned above: it had to tie in with the character’s personality. Dr Jenson’s purposely avoiding the third rail underlines a major point of her character: she’s smart and always thinks ahead, especially on the fly. Whenever the Mendaihu gang had one of those similar Hollywood moments, I made sure it had consequences.

While a number of more recent action films have dialed back the over-the-top ridiculousness somewhat, that’s not to say they’ve completely disappeared. See the still-going Fast and Furious series for a prime example of that. It’s even there with more recent stories: the John Wick series is just one over the top fight scene after another. Even there we have a nice attention to character detail: Wick hardly ever speaks in any of the movies. And when he does, he does so for a reason, and his words are important.

My point here? Well, let’s just say that watching 90s action films might be a fun and enjoyable way to waste an afternoon…but even these films have moments that inspire a writer like me.