Investment Work

Every once in a while, I like to take a few minutes to tabulate how will I am doing towards my writing pursuits…am I performing deeds that lead to new ideas and finished works, or am I moving towards nothing for the sake of moving?


As it just so happens, my biggest distraction to date is over with: the Washington Capitals have won the Stanley Cup championship! No more hockey to take me away from writing.

But, was I inspired at any point during the playoffs and the finals to write a hockey-related story?

No.

0-1.

But, I did come up with ideas for a sports-related story.

1-1.

Also…during the hockey playoff stretch, I finished a landscape map for an alien planet.

2-1.

And I composed a few pages worth of notes about that species.

3-1.

And I also composed notes for an entirely different species, too.

4-1.

Cool. So, the world building exploits have been going fairly well. What about my latest time travel short story?

Uh—

4-2.

And, what about converting my 2017 NaNoWriMo efforts into an actual full story manuscript?

Well, I—

4-3.

And, what about assembling my Beta Reading group?

Nobody responded.

Did you even bother to ask anyone?

Uh—

4-4.

Oh…but I did work on my golf story!

The one you say you came up with during the hockey playoffs?

No, that’s a different story.

Sounds good to me.

Final score: 5-4.

Yeah, the scoreboard says I won, but I’m not overly impressed with the margin of victory. I’d prefer a more decisive result. Obviously, the above verbiage is just my humorous way of saying I spun my wheels way too much; however, since I am a big believer in the infrastructure / R&D approach, I’m willing to curb my dissatisfaction and see how my ‘investment work’ benefits me in the coming months.

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Stuff That Just Happens To Be Happening

I finally got a rejection email from an online publisher for a flash fiction story I submitted to them over two years ago. It’s a good thing I was working on other stories during that time.

I always make time every spring to watch as many of the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoff games as I can. And, as it’s been every season since I first started following hockey, following those games distracts from anything creative or ambitious I had on my agenda. This time around will be even more challenging to stay focused, because the team I’ve been cheering for since the day they entered the league, the Washington Capitals, have made it to the finals for the first time in 20 years. In other words, my hockey-based distractions will continue for a little while longer.

My latest Chinese restaurant visit gave me this claim via my Fortune Cookie: “You will attract cultured and artistic people to your home.” That sounds cool and beneficial, but it means I have a bit of house cleaning work ahead of me.

At any other point in time, I would say that the search for which school I want to enroll in is hampered by the fact that I still am not sure what illusive subject I want to study and/or what unfamiliar skill I want to learn. Recently, however, the complication I’m running into the most has been fitting the new learning schedule in with my already existing work and life schedule. Of course, awaiting me after that complication has been solved will undoubtedly change to: “How am I paying for all this?”…but I’ll worry about that later.

In preparation for a science fiction series I want to write, I’ve been working on a planetscape for well over a month now (probably two), and I’m still not finished. And I’m also not the least bit bummed about it, either. Here’s why: I just recently informed myself that world building can—and should!—be as much fun as writing the story itself. With that in mind, such world building projects like creating continents and island chains for an alien planet, or laying out street level details for a neighborhood that does not yet appear on anyone else’s map, no longer hold my creative spirit hostage (which is a condition that will risk hindering the story’s quality), but instead invite that creative spirit of mine to be as passionate and as ambitious towards these initial steps as I would with creating the story itself (but with the advantage of a much better infrastructure, just like the benefit of a well designed database schema and an intelligent logic flow will lead to a great software application).

Hmmmm…curious analogy I just used. Perhaps, my subconscious is telling me to get back into a computer science curriculum. Stay tuned for that decision.

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Writing Myself Into Writing

I never believed the Universe / God / (insert your primary belief system’s main entity’s name here) did not want me to participate in writing as the way I live (entirely different existence from ‘writing to make a living’), but some of the obstacles to my time and attention these past years have made even me question what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.

Of course, the art of expressing my thoughts and feelings via words is how I’ve always made it through those obstacles. I wrote to talk myself into approaching the prettiest girl in the youth group. I wrote to visualize my moves towards a job I would enjoy and could be proud of. I wrote to console myself when I lost all my worldly possessions, reminding myself I was not necessarily starting over, but that I was now in alignment for new opportunities I could not have experienced otherwise. I wrote when the one person I dedicated my life to decided she no longer wanted me to fill that role in her life. Mostly, I wrote to keep myself craving life at a time when I didn’t believe it mattered any longer. In a sense, I wrote myself back into writing.

Which is where I find myself now.

Perhaps, these alleged obstacles to my time and attention were placed there by the Universe / God / (insert your primary belief system’s main entity’s name here), by my invitation, as required fuel and inspiration for my craft in a way I didn’t quite recognize at that time. They’re becoming clearer now, though.

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Steve’s Sonic 12-Pack – Rush

One thing I noticed was that Rush had a curious influence on those who listen to and like their music. I know people who praise Rush as the greatest band in the world, regardless of how their style changed. Sonic12Pack There was always one person in every band I ever played in who wanted to cover at least one Rush song. One of my former roommates started playing guitar because of Rush. Reading through some of my verbiage about my 12 favorite Rush songs, you might notice they had somewhat of an influence on me, as well.

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Headlong Flight
I’ll admit to a bit of an adrenaline surge when I first heard Neil Peart was collaborating with author Kevin J. Anderson on some sort of steampunk project. The end result was called Clockwork Angels. Kevin handled the print version. Neil and his bandmates handled the audio version. And I got what is fast becoming one of my favorite Rush songs of all time. Not surprising. While most everyone else would wish to go back to a specific point in their history so they could correct some sort of misstep or mistake that would (or so they believe) reset their lives to the incredible journey believe they should be living, this song’s main character is wishing for a redo of a life already worth singing about. Kinda like riding the most wicked roller coaster ever, then running to get back in line for another go at it.

What You’re Doing
Before Rush became prog rock / prog metal pioneers, they played basic rock songs. This one, as I have found out through much research and development, is best played loud. My neighbors will confirm my research efforts…although I’m thinking their opinions might be different than mine…and not exactly about the song.

Subdivisions
I seem to remember driving home from somewhere one afternoon, perhaps speeding just a little bit because I needed enough time to get ready for work. The second I approached the intersection across from the mall, I remembered hearing that the new Rush album, “Signals,” was now in stores. I turned my wrist and looked at my watch. Yeah, I had enough time to stop in and buy a copy. The second I hopped out of the shower and dried myself, I decided I wanted to hear a few songs while I was getting dressed. The first song: “Subdivisions.” Using a polyphonic synthesizer for the song’s main riff got my attention immediately. It sounded pretty simple. Sure, I told myself, I’ve got time to learn this one simple riff. So, only halfway dressed, I switched on my polyphonic synthesizer and moved it closer to the turntable. After fiddling around with the knobs until I got a sound close to what Geddy Lee was using, I listened to the song’s intro again, then attempted to recreate it. After only two tries, I had it. This was so cool! I would definitely insist my band learn this song! Then, I heard the synthesizer solo. I remember smiling at the LP and saying something along the lines of: “I accept your challenge!” That one took a few extra attempts, but I did eventually master it. With a victorious smile on my face, I switched everything off, finished getting dressed, and headed to work. PS…I discovered that afternoon there was some sort of time dilation bubble between my apartment and my place of work, because I somehow arrived late.

Red Barchetta
This is a cool story, accompanied by music that adds to the sensation—and urgency—of the main character’s driving exploits. I might argue that this is one of Rush’s best constructed songs in regards to the connective relationship between the music and the lyrics. Perhaps, had I listened to this song immediately after I attempted to learn “Subdivisions,” I would have made it to work on time that day. Or…I could have been given a personal invitation by the Maryland State police to join them in court to discuss why I was driving like I was being chased.

Freewill
I’m not 100% sure, but this might have been the first Rush song I was ever exposed to. Being a fan of progressive rock during that time, I was introduced to all kinds of lyrics and subject content that I never heard on traditional radio airwaves, so this discussion (from my interpretation) that encouraged us to make choices for ourselves was a nice change of pace, definitely not anything I ever heard from my church youth group.

The Trees
Who cares about the sociological message of this song? The instrumental break is a classic in my book. I astounded some of my friends when I was not only able to play the break’s bass line, but the woodblock part as well. Yep, the benefits of playing in rock bands and a drum corp.

Malignant Narcissism
In the event you want to liven things up, just add a catchy, fast-paced instrumental with some tripped out bass riffs. Kinda like what Rush did in this song.

Losing It
I didn’t really like this song when I first heard it. A tale about people who lost their grip on the artistic talents that defined their very existence? Too depressing. As someone who very much wanted to reside within the artistic realm for the entirety of his life, I didn’t want to believe such a catastrophic decline of my talents was a possible future for me. After thinking about it for a while, though, I decided the topic didn’t relate to me at that time; I was still making my way towards the type of artistic soul I desired to be, both in talent and in temperament. Now, 36 years later, the song’s ‘losing it’ implication has an entirely different meaning for me: I’m losing was my once 20/17 eyesight, the 100% brownness of my hair and mustache…yeah, that sort of thing. To this day, I still consider myself ascending and learning…becoming a full time resident in the artistic realm. Surely, if I’m still getting better, how can I be losing my talents? Actually…I can think of a couple things about how I practice my craft that I’ve lost with age: my paralyzing uncertainty about how my Vision will be accepted, and the inexplicable disbelief and lack of confidence I used to have in myself. We’ll just say that’s what Neil Peart meant. With that in mind, I have a new appreciation for this song.

Passage to Bangkok
Not sure what drew me to this song. I don’t even smoke. Anything. Except the competition. But, that’s not what this song is about. Regardless…I like the rhythm of this song, and the chronicles-esque style of lyrics are kinda cool, too.

Fountain of Lamneth
Shortly after I started my Rush experience, my eyes and ears became more attuned to anything pertaining the band. I remember seeing the Rush “2112” pentagram spray painted on a wall at a nearby shopping mall, and not knowing what it meant until this ‘awakening.’ I also remember listening to a radio special one night, where the host was talking about the early days of Rush, and playing select excerpts from their first four albums. At one point, he spun a fast and somewhat heavy excerpt of a song I’d never heard before; then, in a blink, the heavy part fell into a more melodic and somehow troubling acoustic passage, and I heard the lyrics say: “…(something) (something) fountain of Lamneth / thought I would be singing, but I’m tired, out of breath…”…and, during another excerpt, something about “liquid grace.” Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite make out all the lyrics because my mom was yelling something about our neighbors not wanting to hear what I was playing, but I was fascinated with what I did hear, as well as with the entire song when I finally got to hear it. Looks like that fascination stuck with me all those years.

Cygnus X-1
For some strange reason, I’ve always found it a challenge to describe how and why I like this song. It’s got unorthodox sounds. It’s got an ominous spoken passage. It’s got changes in pace and in tone that jerk the listener’s mind and mood all over the place. And, best of all, it tells a science fiction story! Perhaps, my challenge comes from there being so many elements to this song to include in a concise description. So, allow me to simply say that all these elements make “Cygnus X-1” the most fascinating song (to my ears) Rush has ever recorded. All those who disagree have my invitation to board the Rocinante the next time it leaves port.

Between the Wheels
Listening to the “Grace Under Pressure” album from start to finish for the first time, I was impressed with this song the most. That impression multiplied exponentially when I heard Rush play it live.

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I say this every time…I left some very good songs off this list. What say you about the songs I did include? Agree with me? Disagree with me? Understand me? Recommend I undergo drug testing? Have at it.

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Charactericticism

Not wanting all my characters to ‘sound’ like each other is always a challenge worth accepting. And, because I also do not want the entire cast of my stories coming across as behavioral clones of me, I make the effort to steer my eyes away from all the things I’ve seen a million times and angle my ears away from sounds and words I hear every day, and actually join the world that’s around me. To see what my co-inhabitants on this planet are doing. To hear what they are saying. To experience their celebrations and their remorse. To feel their adrenaline and their apprehension. To witness them tightly guard their emotions, or to see them let those emotions run loose without a leash. To discover and (maybe) understand not just how they tick, but why they tick the way they do.

Yes, I am opening up myself to a lot of horrible actions and attitudes. Not surprising, my first conclusion when I do this is that people suck. No wonder I like dogs.

But, of course, I’m not writing animal stories.

So, back to observing my fellow Humans I go. Horrible actions and attitudes included.

When the shock and disgust finally subside, I come to realize why certain stories are such incredible experiences, and, ultimately, perfect entertainment escapes: the people performing within those stories are as varied as what I see before my eyes, opening themselves up to scenarios I’ve never experienced in my life, including some of the same horrible actions and attitudes I just saw before my eyes. Yes, some people should never be allowed to cross paths because the combinations—the mixtures—are dangerous. And sometimes deadly. We see proof of that on our news feeds and even during our daily lives all the time. Yet, within the confines of a fictional story, we want as many incompatible and combustible combinations as we can get our hands on. This is why I do what I do.

After depicting some of these combinations on the pages of my stories, I find myself wanting to take a step back so I can rebalance myself. Understandable. And probably the reason I’ve never gotten irreparably disturbed by what I write. In fact, I’m proud to say I’ve never committed any of the horrid acts my characters perpetrate. All I ask is that you don’t judge or assume if you ever come across my browser history.

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Somewhat Related

Although not everything I do in my life involves and/or revolves around writing, many of my activities could still be considered somewhat related to my storytelling pursuits.

  • Periodically, I check out articles discussing quantum computing. As a former software developer, I find quantum computing a fascinating concept. I’m not saying I comprehend absolutely everything the authors discuss, but my knowledge and understanding is growing. Sometimes, while contemplating these topics, I find my mind challenged with ways I can add some of these concepts to my science fiction stories. I’d say that makes this bullet point more than just somewhat related to writing.
  • In addition to quantum computing articles, I’ve been reading a lot in general lately. I tend to go in spurts: one month, I won’t even read my own manuscripts, then the next month I read everything that crosses my path. Currently, I’ve resumed reading a non-fiction memoir-esque book that’s been waiting in the middle drawer of my nightstand since sometime last month for me to come back. I’m making a concerted effort to read more blogs, even those dealing with topics I’m not necessarily interested in. And, if that’s not enough, I’m even reading some of my old journals. It’s been a trip to see where my perspective and my mind once was, even as recently as a month ago, but I’m sorry to say my handwriting has never gotten any better…but that’s a different topic. Stephen King shared this with us: “If you do not have time to read, you do not have the time (or the tools) to write.” Since I agree with him—and since this quote, on a subconscious level, is probably what sparks my bouts of reading in the first place), we can count this bullet point as being related to my writing exploits.
  • The National Hockey League playoffs have started! OK, this one has nothing to do with writing. Still…since this past Thursday night, my attention span has been riveted to the Washington Capitals vs Columbus Blue Jackets series. This season, my fellow Capitals fans and I are looking forward to our team finally getting past the second round and ultimately playing for a Stanley Cup. Other hockey fans would consider that fictional thinking. No…that doesn’t make this bullet point ‘somewhat related’ to writing. However, I will admit that, as this post goes to press, the Capitals are already one game down in the series. So, from my perspective, that would make this a horror story.
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NaNoNextPhase

I’ve been enjoying the blog posts of those currently participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, sharing their tales of accomplishment vs falling short, their battles with distraction vs their moments of clarity, their bouts with writer’s block vs waves of creativity and inventiveness from seemingly out of nowhere.

It makes me kinda wish I was participating this time around.

But, I chose not to. Instead, I’m doing the next best thing. I’m working on the next phase of last November’s NaNoWriMo exploits.

In short, this story is about the levels of viciousness, selfishness, betrayal, and outright stupidity family members can sink to when cash and material items are involved.

Side note: this might come as a surprise to some that I’ve written something besides a science fiction story.

This is a sensitive and unsettling subject for those who have gone through any variation of this unnecessary ordeal. Being that I’m one of those people, I decided to have my main characters approach the situation they were thrust into from the mindset of an opportunist as opposed to that of a victim. Because of that, some of the scenes I wrote last November came across with a lot more humor than one would expect from this kind of experience, but I think it works (keep in mind…laughter often camouflages anger and announces insanity), and I’ve been feeling psyched every time I sit down to transcribe more.

The goal, as of right now, is to have the story completely written by the time the next November NaNoWriMo rolls around, so I can perhaps start this process all over again.

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