Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Writing Wednesday: Where's the Shadow Government When You Need It?

It's once again Writing Wednesday, the day where everything's made up and the points don't matter.

What I'm Reading

I'm currently working on The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration.

Whether you live in the US or not, you may not realize that between 1915 and the 1970's, millions of black Americans fled the Southern United States and moved to the midwest, northeast, and west coast.

What's the most impressive (in a horrible way) to me is how dedicated white America seemed to be to keeping black people as lower class citizens. This book and The New Jim Crow both demonstrate how after slavery, white people in the Southern United States came up with angle after angle of screwing black people over and depriving them of as many opportunities as possible. This is very relevant given the things going on in Baltimore, Ferguson, and elsewhere in this country.

It's a hell of a book. If you're interested, you should give it a read (plus, the paperback and the Audible audiobook are, like, stupid cheap right now).

What I'm Writing

I'm working on revising a short story.

A weird thing I notice about myself, at least so far, is that I tend to write short stories in three drafts.

My first draft is just me vomiting everything onto the page in a chaotic and awful mess. I go through and pick through the slurry to find the gold in the slurry.

Draft two is where I try to make those bits work. This is usually the draft where I figure out what the story is "about."

Draft three is often the draft where I understand how the characters, plot, and themes fit together (at least...somewhat better), and approach the story with such thoughts in mind.

Then there's sometimes a draft 3.5 where I go through fix whatever stupid shit I might have done or broken in trying to make my story better. My last draft featured an entire nonsensical scene where forgot not just a key detail to the scene, but a key detail to literally the whole fucking story.

I'm not very good at this. But I'm trying to get better.

What Works for Me

Finding someplace quiet.

My wife is very respectful of my writing time and for the most part, when I go into the office to write at home, she's very good about giving me time to write undisturbed. However, with only so many hours between getting off work and going to bed--and still needing to find the time to eat, clean the house, and spend at least some time with my wife--I've been looking for ways to add more writing to my day.

I refuse to get up any earlier as I already get up at 5:30, and I'm still usually running late in the mornings--and that usually is only involving me getting ready for work. I used to write in the mornings, but once my wife and I consolidated vehicles, it took away the majority of the time I could write if I wanted to. Plus, I just can't really function well in the mornings. I'm too sluggish, and coffee doesn't help. My brain has to warm up.

I think I might have found a place that I can write during my lunch breaks that's isolated, quiet, and has access to wi-fi. It's also a great place to read, so if I take a week off here and there to read, I can get through more without people badgering me about reading. By the way, I totally need to write a post sometime about the weird reactions I get reading in public.

What Else I've Been Up To

The garbage disposal in my sink was broken for more than two months. We ignored it as long as we could, but keeping a plunger on standby because your sink frequently stops up is no good. got stinky.

So this weekend we went to Lowes and purchased ourselves a new garbage disposal that I put in over the weekend. I have learned it is stupid easy to replace garbage disposals, and not at all the clusterfuck it was when, say, I replaced the passenger mirror on my car.

Although, because that's the way things always go when I fix things, the door has fallen off of my kitchen cabinets now. Of course. So I'll be dealing with that this weekend.

All in all, things have been going well. I feel like I'm staying on top of things. Nothing appears to be falling by the wayside.

One thing I'm trying very hard to do is become more serious about my writing. I worry that I'll just play writer on the internet and never actually have anything to show for it--it feels like that's what I've been doing for a while. I'm taking steps to not be that person anymore.

How are things with you?

Friday, April 24, 2015

Anxiety, Depression, and Running on a Bum Knee
The internet is ridiculous. Case in point: what you are about to read is a blog response to a blog response to a blog responding to a Twitter rant. We're in dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream territory, people.

Quite a while back, Chuck Wendig went on a Twitter rant about how sometimes you just have to put on your big-kid pants and get the fuck to work. This is, obviously, advice that applies to more than just writing--although that is obviously the angle he was taking. He even noted at the time that it takes a certain amount of privilege to make that claim.

Someone named Pipsqueak the Ferocious from Tumblr responded. They made the comparison that being able to take Chuck's tweets as the appropriate kick in the pants necessary to get out and write is like running with two good knees. If you've got good knees, running is no issue. But if you've got an injured knee, trying to run on it is awful. In the same vein, if your brain isn't functioning like it's supposed to, it can be difficult to write. If you've got depression or anxiety or whatever, writing can be like running on a bad knee.

Chuck wrote his own ruminations on that, and there was a moment where he landed so firmly on what life is like for me that I broke out in goosebumps.
"But the feeling of a support group can go the other way, too — you can see other folks who have suffered as you have, or have suffered somehow worse, and yet, they're managing. Maybe they're doing better. Maybe they're doing fucking awesome, which once more only makes you feel like they're running the race and you can't even find the starting line."
I am not one of those people that, when told you won't make it, burns with the determined fires of "I'll show you!" Watching people overcome adversity doesn't inspire me to buckle down and get better. It can often make me feel even shittier. I'll wallow in my own ridiculous sad-sack feelings. "Well Jesus, they don't have hands and they're actually not even a person but just a lamp with a wig on it, and they're succeeding at writing, I might as well just fucking quit."

That's not to say I don't feel very excited and proud for people who succeed. Only that the pride I feel for people I care about succeeding exists simultaneously with an impish creature that's muttering, "Well, they're doing it. What the fuck is wrong with you?"

Chuck goes on to say:
"No matter who you are, or what you have to deal with, the truth remains: if you want to be a writer, you have to write. The trick is having realistic expectations. Not ones given over to excuses, no, but also ones that are kind. Expectations that push you enough to do the work, but not so hard that you break. If you don't write for a couple days, let that be okay. But if you don't write for a couple years, then it’s worth looking back and asking why. It’s like dieting and exercise — a cheat day here and there is fine. You take Sunday to lounge around in a pile of Doritos bags while watching a marathon of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (*ooooh damnit), fuck yeah. Take that time. Be good. R&R is key. But if you take all of January and February and March to do that — then you have to find a way forward. Not backward. Not a shame-based motivational plan. But you have to take a step as soon as that bum knee lets you."
This right here has been one of the most difficult things for me to do. It always starts innocently: missing a day because of random life bullshit. It happens to everyone. Then the next day, I'm tired because I worked all day and hell, I'll just do it tomorrow. And then that becomes, "Well, I'll just make up for it on the weekends." And then that becomes, "Well, the weekends were busier than I thought, I'll just have to buckle down Monday to and get back to it." And then I start feeling guilty for putting it off for so long, so I put it off even longer. Which makes me feel guiltier. Which makes me put it off more. And then when I do sit down to write, it's been so long that things feel unnatural, clunky. Any rhythm I developed has dissipated and I can't recapture it. It's hard getting words. Like pulling teeth. And they read awkward and shitty. So I say, "I just need to let this story stew a little more. I'll try again tomorrow." But tomorrow, it's the same, and I continue the spiral of shame and avoidance.

Sometimes, what I want is for someone to read my stuff and just say, "Hey, you're doing a good job. You're not as bad at this as you think." And then I feel completely fucking stupid because who the fuck am I to need such a narcissistic thing as positive reinforcement? After all, if I get something published, the world is not going to be a child-proofed playground with all the sharp edges sanded down and cushion-covered. I'll be rejected, get bad reviews, hate mail. I need to toughen the fuck up. And then I feel guilty about that as well.

This tornado of anxiety, guilt, doubt, and depression can become so loud that I can't hear anything over the sound of my own negativity. This is often when I disappear from the internet entirely. I sit down, even just to blog, and find I'm so utterly lacking in any interest in anything that I'm in danger of imploding and becoming a person-shaped black hole.

And it's not just writing. Everything gets sucked into that twister. The house isn't clean enough. I can't stay on top of the laundry and/or the dishes. We waste too much money going out to eat. I can't stick to an exercise regiment. I can't stick to my diet.

And then, I'll sit down, and read something, and say, "you know, this isn't half bad. I might actually be an okay writer."

Or I'll put my foot down and insist that we cook something, and I'll remember how much I enjoy cooking.

Or I'll realize I'm up early and I might as well load the dishwasher and clean off the kitchen counters while I'm ahead.

Or, or, or.

And it's like the fever breaks, the storm passes, the earth stops shaking. Suddenly, I can see my bad writing's flaws and shrug it off. I can accept that not every work will be my best. I can say, "well, we haven't done that great staying in to eat, but there's no reason we can't just pick that back up starting now." I'll see the laundry and say, "you know, I can probably divide this into small jobs over the next few days and get it knocked out in no time."

And it's so fucking reasonable, so fucking rational that I wonder what the fuck I've been thinking all this time. Jesus, how hard is it to load the dishwasher? How hard is it to sit down and just write a few words on something and not think too much about them? And I'll have a good laugh at how silly I've been lately, and I'll move on with my life.

Unfortunately, the spiral will come back around eventually. It always does.

I'm trying to be less hard on myself. I'm trying to find that balance where if I fall down for a few days, it's not such a Herculean task to get back up and get back in the race. Maybe when I get like that, I should just pick one thing that's bumming me out and focus on fixing it. Maybe it means talking my feelings out to someone rather than bottling them up. Maybe it just means getting out of the house and having some fun with my wife and other people I care about.

I'm trying to figure out when my knee hurts because I've injured it, and when it hurts because I haven't used it enough. I haven't figured that out yet, but I'm trying. And that's all I can do.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Writing Wednesday: My Mind Naturally Turns to Taxidermy

It's that time of week again: when I strip down, coat myself in olive oil and perform an elaborate nude umbrella dance dance on the tables of the local brewery. It's also Writing Wednesday, where I place words in a certain order under previously defined headings to facilitate an approximation of communication.

What I'm Reading

Nothing new to place here. I'm still working on Half-Resurrection Blues and Dark Corner. I'm about halfway through HRB, and I'm about 3/4 done with DC. One or both will be finished very soon. Then I'll start contemplating the impossible decision of what to read next. (So...many...choices...)

What I'm Writing

I've decided to put "Father's Day" on the back burner for a while and let it jostle around in my mind fields for a while, gathering whatever mossy bits and sludge it might be able to collect. In the mean time, I just completed a story that is now going around on submission, which is exciting and scary, as per usual.

As it stands, I have two options in front of me: I can either revise/edit a story and get it ready for submissions as well, or I can work on something new. I've been trying to alternate between revising and new creations, but I'm leaning toward revision at this time.

What Works for Me

Beta readers. Specifically, the awesome Emma Maree agreed to beta read a story of mine (the very same one that is out on submission right now if you were wondering).

I have a tendency to rewrite things over and over and over again until I get them exactly write, which makes my output very slow. It's something I'm trying to work on so I can increase my output, but I have it on good authority that it at least results in very clean drafts! Eventually, though, I can no longer tell if I'm changing things and making them better, or if they're just changing.

I was very grateful that Emma offered to read my stuff. Having another set of eyes on my work helped twofold: it clarified places where I wasn't clear, and it pointed it bad habits that I have. Oh, and a third thing: it let me know the story wasn't the steaming pile of cow shit I thought it was.

What Else I've Been Up To

Over the weekend I got to see one of my best friends, Brooke Johnson. You can catch her on Twitter, but you're way more likely to find her on her Tumblr, and she's one of the seven people still using Google+.

It was great catching up with her. We got stupid drunk! wife, her husband, and I got stupid drunk while she remained slightly buzzed but mostly sober, which is how we managed to convince her to make us waffles at 11:30 at night.

They were delicious.

We talked about all manner of things and played our newly expanded Smash Up sets and generally had a great time.




That's all I have for now. What's new with you?

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Writing Wednesday: I'm the Cap'm, But I Don't Drive a Boat

It's Writing Wednesday, the one day where I can actually get myself to get off my lazy ass and blog something so this place doesn't become a cobweb choked tomb to all my hopes and dreams.

What I'm Reading

You may have noticed a reading challenge that has been floating around on the internet that caused a big stink. The idea was to avoid reading straight white dudes for a year so that you can expand your palate and read more broadly. People (mostly meaning straight white dudes, go figure) pissed and moaned about the idea because if there's one thing straight white dudes can do well it's piss and moan about their fee-fees getting hurt.

While I'm not partaking in that particular challenge, I have been looking to read more broadly in general. This year I've been making an especially concerted effort thanks in part to my discovery of audiobooks, which have opened a whole new gateway for me to consume literature.

As of late, I've been really jonesing for horror, and since I've been working to try out new authors, I took a chance on an author named Brandon Massey. I'd never read anything by him before, and Dark Corner sounded right up my alley.

I'm really digging it so far, and from what little I've looked into him, he seems to work with or know Tananarive Due, which is awesome.

In addition I'm reading Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older, which is a lot of fun so far as well. People buzzed about it so much on Twitter, I had to go pick it up when I got the chance. If you dig urban fantasy, you should check it out.

What I'm Writing

This week has been a bit awkward writing-wise. It's not that I don't have stuff I could be working on, it's that I can't figure out how to make it work the way I want it to. I'm working on a short story called "Father's Day," but it's changed and shifted about a thousand different ways, and I can't figure out how best to approach it. I'm about to retire it (again) and move on to something else while I let that jiggle around in my brain some more.

I've been getting a surprising number of ideas that feel like novel ideas lately, but I've just been letting these disparate parts tumble for now. Part of me doesn't feel ready to work on a novel just yet. These short stories are good practice, and it's not like I'm in writing for the money.

What Works for Me

You know what works for me? MOTHERFUCKING DITCH DIGGERS! I love this podcast. Mur Lafferty's I Should be Writing is really good for a pick me up. When I doubt myself, or I'm wanting to chew on crafty thoughts, I listen to that. But there's something about listening to these two talk about the work--the getting your hands dirty, in-the-shit, ups and downs of a writing career that actually inspires me to write. I don't know what it is.

I guess it's because they don't make writing sound like some sort of precious mystical process that will blow up in your face if you place the chalk outlines on the floor slightly out of place. Their frank discussions help me go, "Writing is just doing a job, so go make some words." It helps kick me out of my Precious Writer Headspace, which I am ashamed to admit I flutter off into more often than I should.

What Else I've Been Up To

Taxes. Ah ha. Ah ha ha ha ha. Ah HA HA HA HA HA. AHHAHAHAHAHAHAHA--*weeps* *eats tax papers* *chokes* *dies*

Seriously. Fucking taxes, dude.

On more positive news, my wife and I cleaned up the house like fucking champions over the weekend. The kitchen, the living room, AND the office got cleaned up, organized, and the shit we didn't want to deal with got shoved into the guest room, also known as the, "eh, we'll deal with this later" room. And then my wife cleaned the bathroom while I did the taxes--


--sorry. I'm cool. I'm back.

My dog was so excited to see the floor in the living room and he started tossing his rawhide back and forth across the room, chasing it to and fro like an excited little kid. It totally seemed like he was saying, "Look at all the room we have for activities now!"

And I'm going to my first baseball game soon. I've never been to a baseball game, and don't particularly like sports, but what the hey. First time for everything.

And that's it from me for now. What's new with you all?

Friday, April 10, 2015

5 Years Into Our Best Decision Ever

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the day my wife took pity on a poor fool that just wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.

It's funny that my wife still left the proposal up to me. She is not someone that takes a backseat in things. She is very much the take-charge person in the relationship. And this became especially apparent when she would constantly ask me, "So...when are you planning on proposing?" I would always answer "Not today." In truth, it could have been any of those days, but I could never surprise her. Any big grand gestures, big romantic dinners, rose petals leading up the steps to her dorm...all of that would have been a dead give away.

I went sneaky.

Well, actually, sneaky was my backup. I wanted to drive her out to the lake, park on the side of the road and propose to her under the streetlight with the moon hanging out over the lake, reflecting in the water's calm surface. Turned out, there were no streetlights along the entire stretch of road.

So, back to my sneaky back up plan.

I picked her up after film class. She had a headache. She was tired and cranky and had just watched a very...artsy movie that had royally pissed her off. She wouldn't let me get off the phone to drive because she was so angry she had to rant to SOMEBODY and dammit, I hadn't suffered like she had! When I picked her up, I asked if she wanted to go get a brownie abomination of some kind or another at McDonald's.

I remember very distinctly that when I suggested going to get one from McDonald's my wife's response was, "Okay, but you can't bitch about how you feel fat for a week after this okay?" Which...fair enough. I was very concerned with my weight at the time. I hadn't gained the "Freshman 15" until I was a junior.

We went to the McDonald's, ordered our brownie dealy-whoppers, and just chatted. I don't remember over what because I was convinced if I moved wrong, the box with the ring in it would fall out of my jacket pocket and the jig would be up.

After our brownie-things were gone, we were headed back to the car. I dropped my keys and stooped to get them, fumbling the box out.

She asked what I was doing.

"I dropped my keys," I said. "So anyway, I was wondering if you'd--" I popped my head up on my side of the car and looked at her across the roof, holding out the open box, "--marry me?"

She got frown on her face. She looked almost angry, like this was not a funny joke and I was an ass for making it. "Are you serious?" she scoffed.


Then, when she realized this was for real, she threw her hands to her face, looked shocked, surprised, embarrassed, excited--basically all the feelings you want associated with a wedding proposal, I assume.

This is a big anniversary in so much that our society likes to measure things in 5's and 10's. In a literal sense, the number five doesn't deserve to be celebrated any more or any differently than last year's number 4. And yet, this feels special, and because it feels that way, it is.

It feels that way partially because our marriage was come by hard. We were in a catastrophic car accident that severely hurt me and nearly killed her. She spent months in the hospital, and in rehab. She busted her ass in recovery so that we could get married 1 year to the day from when we started dating. 

I don't plan to dig all of that back up. Even 5 years on, the memories are too painful to dwell on too much. That said, each time this date comes around, I feel the need to pause and reflect. Our marriage was forged in pain and determination, and it made us examine what we meant to each other beyond just "I like it when you press your face to my face." 

We appreciate what we have very, very much because we almost didn't have it.

I love you sweetheart. Happy anniversary.

(By the way, can you load the dishwasher, I just don't feel like it.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Writing Wednesday (Shut Up, It's Still Technically Wednesday)

I need to blog more. Okay, "need" is probably the wrong phrasing. Needing more bloggers is like needing more crime procedural dramas on TV, there's too many already, and most of them are pretty boring. But I am a special snowflake and everything I do is completely original and has never been done before, 100% unique, no rip offs, no copycats, no way.

So anyway I'm copying the awesome Emma Maree's idea for posts called "Writing Wednesday." I like blogging, but 1) I'm busy, 2) I'm lazy, 3) a lot of the stuff I think to write about is too short for a proper full post dedicated to it, 4) the stuff is also too long for me to just rant on about it on Twitter (although I do that a lot, too). The structure of Writing Wednesday is perfect for that.

Without further ado:

What I'm Reading

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen me go on occasionally about how audiobooks are pretty awesome. My reading habits were slowing to a crawl. I try to read about 25 books a year--although I'm usually happy to hit about 20. Last year between laziness, apathy, lack of time, and a bit of depression (which aided the apathy) I read 12, which is just disappointing. 

But then I discovered audiobooks, which is reading for the lazy. I mean this in the best way possible. There might be times where I go, "ugh, I just can't read anymore!" But if someone is reading TO me? Oh, shit, man. I have to be pretty fucking lazy if I can't listen, y'know?

So, anyway, I just finished up two really good books that I'd like to do more of a write-up for sometime. For fiction, I just finished The Good House by Tananarive Due. For non-fiction I finished up The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. 

The Good House is a fantastic horror story that is exactly the kind of horror novel I love to read the most: normal people confronting the dark unknown in their own setting. I took a chance on Tananarive Due last year after seeing her on a "best contemporary horror writers" list, and I'm glad I did. She's quickly become one of my go-to authors.

The New Jim Crow could be considered horror, too, but only because of the horrifying implications mass incarceration has on our society. This book not only compares mass incarceration to the old Jim Crow laws of the south, but also traces the history of the Jim Crow predecessors and how the attitudes reflected in Jim Crow persisted by just slapping on a new coat of paint.

What I'm Writing

I just finished a short story that I'm calling "Face Time" at the moment. It has been sent off to be beta read. By the way, if you'd like to become a beta reader and don't mind horror and swearing, email me. Betas--I NEEDS THEM. I also went through and lightly revised another story that has been making the rounds and sent it back out. We'll see on that one.

I have a few ideas for stories kicking around, including the urge to try out some flash fiction again, and I've got another story that I could edit, but I'm sort of between projects currently. I've been taking the week off to read, watch TV with the wife, and do whatever other creative things I want. Unfortunately, none of those have included cleaning the house.

What Works For Me

Reading (or listening) to a good story. Sometimes, I get into a depressed, apathetic state and I just do not give a shiiiiiiiit about my writing. One thing that's helped me occasionally is to go find a good story or book and read. If it's something I really like, it'll fire me up and remind me of the reasons I love writing. The Good House did this. Listening to episodes of Pseudopod does as well. (I recommend this one.)

What Else I've Been Up To

If you've been to my site before, you probably notice the new theme. I'm pretty proud of it myself. The old computery looking stuff was a little too techy to fit me. I'm much more Addams Family/The Munsters than I am Tech Nerd.

It was also my birthday recently. My wife got me some cool gifts--including a FREAKING CAPTAIN MARVEL FIGURINE! She stands proudly next to my Gamora, ready to kick any and all asses that get in their way. 

My wife also got me the coolest cake since the one I got her for her birthday.

Then, that weekend, we met up with my brother and went bowling where I bowled a 112, which may be the highest score I've ever gotten in bowling. I also had beer. It was a good weekend.

What have y'all been up to? Fire off below if you're so inclined.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is my 26th birthday. Of course, I still have to go to work, where I'll be most of the day, and then I'll be spending the evening with my wife while she engages part I of whatever maniacal birthday scheme she has cooked up.

Anyway, enjoy these gifs and memes.