Pardon The Dust

Every time I pick a WordPress theme, I tell myself that this time it’s going to be permanent. There’s no way this theme could ever look dated, I think. And then a few years go by and I realize time has moved on and the thing I thought was cool now looks outdated and lame.

So then I have to spend two hours tweaking settings and playing with previews until I find something that feels not lame. And all the while, a little voice whispers in my ear that it’s time to get out of the bush league and buy a professional theme for real money dollars because the lack of professional theme is the only thing that’s keeping me from realizing my dream of being an author. And then I start to think, you know, maybe that’s a good point; 80 or 100 bucks for a theme isn’t an extravagance, it’s an investmentIn my FUTURE CAREER.

And then I see a perfectly good free theme that meets my needs and I go with that, because otherwise I have to justify to my wife (and to myself) why I spent 150 bucks on what basically amounts to a different usage of white space and a different font choice.

Yeah. Better stick to the free themes. When I find a good one, I play around with it until I’m happy and then I tell myself that this is the one, this look is timeless and will never, ever look lame.

So anyway, if you’ve been trying to read anything over the past few hours, that’s probably why things keep shifting. It’s not just you. Unless your graphics card is starting to fail, in which case it might be you.

Beginning Again

One of the the things that always came up during my monthly (or so) phone call with my dad was that he’d mention how I’d stopped updating my blog. He was right, of course; my last post was in May of 2017 and since then, I’ve been silent.

I don’t remember what I said each time he mentioned it.

Maybe something about how writing for my blog had felt weird lately, the fact that I was no longer comfortable writing my thoughts and sending them out into the open void. The internet got a lot more unfriendly after 2016 and given that it was never particularly friendly to begin with, that’s really saying something.

Or maybe it was something like how I just didn’t feel like I had that much to say anymore. That’s always been a common problem for me and in the past, I’d fill it up by looking around for something that made me angry and then I’d write about that. You don’t have to go back very far to find posts like that. I’ve disabled access to a couple of the ones that make me cringe the most, but otherwise I’ve left them alone.

I don’t know why I stopped, really. I could say I was too distracted (probably true, I’m frequently distracted) or I just didn’t feel like it anymore (also probably true, there are so many video games I’d rather be playing at any given moment). But that’s all just probably and maybe. I don’t really know, because I never really decided. I just stopped.

But I do know that my dad never stopped asking me about why I’d stopped and that meant he never stopped checking in.

The relationship between my dad and my writing has always been complicated. He’s never read any of my work, to the best of my knowledge. I wrote my first fantasy novel when I was sixteen and started six or seven other projects since then. I don’t remember if he read it at any point. Maybe I showed him a chapter or something?

Unrepentant was the second one I finished, but I was ready to move on from that world by the time I had a finished second draft, so I posted it up here for the hell of it. And there’s my current project, a fantasy novel with dinosaurs, which I’m pretty excited about even though at this point it’s been a couple of years since I started. No one has seen that yet, not even my wife, although I’m close to having a draft I can share.

The truth is, most of my writing is littered among half-finished projects that I never got around to finishing. So it’s not surprising that my dad never read any of those. It’s not like I was going to share them.

But he always kept coming back to this blog. He never stopped asking about what I was doing here.

I don’t think he realized it, but it kind of annoyed me at times. I don’t really consider this ‘real writing’ in any sense. It’s just something to do, something that leads to real writing the way running on a treadmill on a rainy day leads to going out on a hike when spring rolls around. It’s not writing, but it’s better than what I usually do when I sit down at my desk, which is play video games. That almost never leads to writing, not since I put my fanfiction days far behind me.

But even though I didn’t consider any of this to be my writing, it was interesting to my dad and he never stopped asking about it. I think he might have been my only dedicated reader.

The fact is, I’ve been sensitive about which of my things he showed an interest in ever since I was that teenager working on that first fantasy novel. At the time I was finishing up my first fantasy novel, I’d developed a bad problem with wanting to be good more than I wanted to learn how to be good at writing. I’d already decided I was a good writer at that point and I was hopelessly insecure about it. And the only thing that alleviated that insecurity was praise.

Have you ever had a moment in your life where you heard someone else tell a funny story or a joke or something, and later on, because it’s so funny you want to tell someone else the story you heard, but you realize it won’t be as funny if you say “my friend told me about this time . . .” so you just go ahead and make it a story about you instead? I don’t think I’m the only person who’s ever done this (I hope), but maybe I am.

The point is I wanted praise more than anything and at some point, I remember reading this short story that I thought was so goodso goddamned good that the ending gave me chills and I wanted to share it and talk about it. So I printed it out, but when I went to give it to my parents, I told them it was something I’d written, not something I’d found on the internet.

They loved the story. My mom said it was good enough to publish. My dad said it was the best thing I’d ever written.

I got the praise that I did not earn. They could tell at the time that I was upset by this and asked me what was wrong, but I didn’t want to admit that I’d stolen the story and lied to them about where it came from. I said something about how I was mad that something I’d put “no effort into” got all this attention, while the novel I’d been working on for a year wasn’t as good.

Which, if we’re willing to take the Obi-Wan Kenobi approach, might be true enough “from a certain point a view.” But let’s be honest: it isn’t true, not really.

I don’t think I ever told them the truth about that story. Maybe I told my mom at some point, I don’t know. Maybe they suspected the truth since I never brought up that particular story again after that day.

Regardless, since then I’ve always been a bit sensitive about which of my work gets attention and what doesn’t. And if you’re thinking, yeah, but you never invite people to see most of your work and you don’t really seem keen on finishing most of what you start, so are you really that surprised if the blog is the only thing your father asks about, given that it’s the only thing you ever ‘published’ in a way that was accessible for him?

And I’d say those are all really good points, annoying voice in my head. Well said. But he still could have asked about any of the manuscripts. He only ever asked about the blog, the thing I didn’t even really care about. The thing I stopped liking in 2017. For some reason, that’s what my dad liked.

And so he’d ask me, hey, when are you going to update your blog again?

He’d say, you haven’t updated your blog in a while.

And I’d say maybe someday I’d get back to it.

I’m getting back to it today. It took about a year and a half, but I got back to it. A year and a half is a long time when you’re a kid, less so when you’re an adult. But it’s enough time that a lot can change.

I’m a father myself now. My son is four and a half months old. His birthday is July 21. He’s taking a nap beside me as I write. He’s a good baby. I like him a lot. His mom and I are very happy.

I think my dad would like him, too. And I think he’d be pleased to see I’m finally back to updating my blog.

I say I think that’s how he’d feel, because I’ll never really know for sure. My dad won’t see that I updated my blog again and he won’t see any of my stories, because my dad died on July 24th, three days after my son was born.

I wish I’d started writing again sooner. I wish he’d lived long enough to see one more post. I wish I’d written something for him to read.

I wish he wasn’t gone.

I wish, I wish, I wish.

There’s a lot I wish was true. I wish I could say sorry it took so long for me to get back to this. Sorry for not thinking it mattered, even though it mattered enough to you to ask about it, to keep checking in.

But I’m here now. Picking it back up again. Writing down what I’m thinking, not knowing who it’s for or who (if anyone) will read it. Maybe my son will discover it some day. Maybe I’m just talking to myself at this point. I don’t know. But it feels good to do it again, regardless of the reason.

An Anecdote About How I Review Books

When I was in college, I studied Creative Writing, which had a fair number of literature classes required, as you might imagine (thought perhaps not as many literature classes as a literature degree would require). In fact, it’s only my years of extensive education that allow me to craft such complex sentences as the preceding one; my education in this area also explains my love of the semicolon.

There’s a lot about college that I don’t really remember. Sometimes, for fun(?), I try to remember all the classes I actually took. For the classes that I do remember, I try to remember my professors’ names. And eventually I arrive at the conclusion that my memory sucks, I’m bad at paying attention, and what’s the point of any of this! But there are things that I remember from college, in particular, the following anecdote:

It was a literature class, although fuck me if I can remember what the actual focus was. We studied Moby Dick for a while, which narrows it down marginally (I took an African American literature class once and can confirm Moby Dick was not part of the curriculum.) At one point in the semester, my professor showed us one of those videos you can create, the ones where there are two animated characters that can discuss whatever you like, and all you need to do is fill out the text bubbles so they’ll talk to each other with appropriate animations and camera angles. It’s the kind of thing that’s a novelty for exactly the first video you see, maaaybe the first video you try to create, and then never again. I wonder if I can find it. Hold please.

And we’re back. For you, dear reader, the transition was instantaneous. For me, it was 45 minutes of getting sucked into YouTube videos. I forgot what I was talking about. Oh, right.

I was not able to find the video itself, though I did the original video that created the meme. Take a look if you’d like to see the style; it’s exactly the same as what my professor did, down to the robot voices and two bears.

In the video my professor created, the title was something like “the problem with reading difficult books.” And one of the bears (the one with the vaguely feminine voice) expresses frustration with how hard it is to read certain books and how she often has to read them several times to understand what they are saying.

Then the other bear points out that you don’t really need to do that. “Simply stare at the book for an appropriate length of time. Say ‘hmmmm’ a lot. Then in class, instead of talking about the book, talk about how the book made you feel. Other students will think you are attractive and interesting. You will go on many dates with other students who also did not read the book. And perhaps one day you will have children of your own, who will grow up not reading the book.”

And at the time, I was like daaaaamn, this guy is way too young to have that level of despair regarding the worth ethic of his students. And that video was the one thing I remembered from his class, so, hrm, maybe he was on to something.

The reason I bring up this little trip down memory lane is because when I write reviews for books these days, I basically just talk about exactly that; how the book made me feel. And every time I do, there’s this little voice in the back of my head telling me that I’m letting Professor (sorry, can’t remember your name) down, because I’m just talking about how I feel. The little voice tells me that I should be doing more rigorous analysis, more detailed examination, more critical thinking, instead of something I type up during a fifteen minute break or during lunch.

I tell myself that I don’t actually have to do anything I don’t feel like doing; I’m not a professional reviewer and I don’t think my little reviews are going to earn me any actual career advancement. So I can do them however the hell I want. But there’s always that voice telling me that I should do more, that I owe it to the author and to my own ridiculously over-priced degree to do work at the level I’m capable of doing.

But I don’t. I just talk about how I feel after having read it and take comfort in the fact that in my mind, I’m always just talking to myself and if you’re actually reading this now, it’s entirely an accident of fate and not by my design.

Also, there’s the fact that I originally didn’t even bother writing reviews; I’d just slap a few stars down on Goodreads, grunt, and go on my way. So the fact that I’m actually leaving thoughts at all is a big step forward, if you think about it.

All I’m saying is that I’m aware of what I’m doing. But I also know that I don’t really like reviews as a thing. I don’t trust reviews if I don’t know anything about the reviewer. This is true for reviews of everything other than washing machines (for those, I just need to know if it’s going to wash my clothes). But for everything else, for books, movies, video games, I don’t actually care about the professional reviews. I need the reviews from people that match my particular profile: people who think that (motorcycle + velociraptor) x Chris Prat = awesome is an equation that leads us to the highest echelon of entertainment. I’m aware that Jurassic World was not actually a  good movie. I’m just also saying that I don’t care.

So, that’s why I do what I do.

In Case You’re Wondering What It Feels Like

I reached my NaNoWriMo goal on Monday: 50,000 words in 30 days (well, technically 27 days). What does that feel like? At this point, it’s more a relief than anything else. I did celebrate reaching my goal by opening the 12 year old single malt scotch and drank a glass with my wife, but only because I decided to save the 21 year single malt for when the manuscript is actually done.

Because that’s the weird thing about NaNo projects, at least for me; 50,000 words has never, ever conincided with me reaching “the end.” For the only NaNo that actually went on to become a finished manuscript, 50,000 words was roughly the midway point.

Which means that there isn’t really a feeling of being done. You turn in your word count, get the neat little validation thingy from the website, which I do like quite a bit because I’m a gamer and gamers are conditioned to perform repetitive actions to raise bars. This aspect of my personality is why YNAB worked on my finances and Fitbit was working for my fitness level (at least, it was working until the damn band broke and I stopped wearing it).

So here I am, done with my big goal, my winning streak extended by another year (up to eight wins in a row now) and then, with all that said and done, you get back to work. Because there’s still a lot more story to tell and a hell of a lot of rewriting for this one.

2015 Blog Retrospective

As another year comes to a close, I find that it’s fun to look back and see how things have gone for the blog over the past year. Overall, I’m really pleased; traffic has continued to increase at a steady pace and I’ve received enough comments from people to convince me that not all of the traffic is spam robots.

My post output has been reduced considerably compared to previous years, which sort of fun to puzzle over; more people are reading less content! Is that a thing to be proud of?

The problem is that posts don’t equate for all of my online footprint. If you take a look at my Goodreads page (perhaps through the helpful widget on the right siderbar!) you’ll notice that I’ve been writing reviews for the books I read. Time was I used to read a book, slap a star-rating on it, and go on my merry way with nary a grunt. About two years ago, someone pointed out that they were really curious why I’d rate a book with whatever rating I happened to give it, so I started actually writing my thoughts out.

The reviews tend to be shorter than blog posts, but since I read pretty quickly, there are a lot of them. So while blog post content is down, I think that’s because my output shifted to a source outside of this site. I’ve considered linking WordPress to Goodreads so that reviews would get posted here, but thus far I’ve resisted for the same reason that I don’t tweet my Goodreads links anymore; it feels annoying and spam-y to me. The content is there if you’re interested; no need to plaster it everywhere.

Which is an attitude that I realize makes me doomed in the evolving ecosystem of the Internet (see previous post about online advertising and ad block).

Finally, there were less posts this year because I’ve actually been writing my novel again! Between the experiment with giving my book away for free (and actually getting a bit of money for it, whee!) and the new project that really has my attention, there’s actually been a huge increase in my word ouput. It’s just in a place that no one gets to see right now, except for me and my spreadsheet.

So that’s what I’ve been doing over the past year. I realize it’s made this blog somewhat of a lonely place, but it’s been infinitely better for my head. I haven’t felt the urge to write a post just to write a post about something, which usually meant seeking out a topic that made me angry enough to have thoughts about it. It’s made for a more harmonious life. And really, we don’t need one more blog by a straight white guy on the Internet talking about things that make him angry. There are a lot of those already.

So instead I focus on my book, because my research has shown me that we really do need more books where people ride dinosaurs into battle and kill each other with them. Because dinosaurs are awesome.

NaNoWriMo Denouement

I meant to type this up a few days ago, but after thirty straight days of solid butt-in-chair time for the latest NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for the unfamiliar), it just felt really good to not write for a few days. But now that I’ve let my brain slack off for a bit, it’s time to get back to work, because even though another NaNoWriMo has come and gone, the book is nowhere near finished.

To be honest, I’ve never actually finished a book in the 50,000 words it takes to win a NaNo.

Which is why I have a hard drive filled with half-completed novels, along with one completed novel, which is, incidentally, the novel you can read right here on this very website, if you are so inclined.

So how did NaNo 2015 go for me? Really well! Let’s take a look at the stats (because I love stats).

nano

I love the NaNo stats page. As a gamer, I’m conditioned to see stats, numbers, and bars, and then do the actions necessary to fill them. This is why YNAB got my personal finances in order when no amount of New Year’s Resolution budget-attempts ever managed to stick for more than a week or two. It’s all about dem bars.

NaNo 2015 was easily my steadiest year ever. There were only two days where I didn’t hit the word goal; the first was Friday the 13th and that was due to have a Friday the 13th party with a bunch of friends and the second was Thanksgiving. I’m pleased to note that even on those days, I still managed to get some writing done.

The other thing that I’m really happy about is the quality of the writing this year. I did a lot more outlining, note-taking, and brainstorming when I wasn’t writing, so I never put myself in that “fuck it, now what, I dunno, something explodes” mode. That’s a great NaNo technique and I don’t discount its usefulness, but there’s a cost associated with it that you have to pay later. If your plot goes down the wrong track because of a “shit-now-what” decision, it can create a tremendous amount of work later to try and fix. This is precisely what derailed my 2013 NaNo book The Snake Detective. I was really unhappy with a decision I made to get unstuck. Even though it got me to 50k for that year, I ended up with only about 20,000 words that were usable. Eventually, my interest in the project faded during the attempted rewrite and I moved on to other things.

But let’s go back to this year! 2015’s NaNo is Dinomancer and I feel really good about it. The writing went well, as I mentioned, but more than that, I feel really inspired about this world. It’s my attempt to do something new with the fantasy genre, beyond the usual elves, wizards, dragons, medieval European fare. So instead, we have a world of dinosaur riders locked in a vicious battle for survival and they have a vaguely Roman flair. Also, there are intelligent, talking velociraptors. Well, they’re not really velociraptors, because “real” raptors were about the size of a turkey, but this is the description that creates the right image in your head.

If you’re a dinosaur geek like me and want to know what they actually are, they’re a highly evolved form of Troodon.

And this is why I’m excited; not just for the win, although it feels great to keep that winning streak going. I’m excited because this story feels exciting to me. One of the problems I’ve had for a while is, after writing a book about fallen angels and the Apocalypse, I didn’t really have a lot of enthusiasm for my own subject. I didn’t feel like I was doing or saying anything new about them.

But dinosaurs? This is shit that I read about for fun, because I never really “grew out” of my dinosaur phase when I was a kid. I love reading about new theropods. I love the ongoing scientific discussion about the new depiction of Spinosaurus. My dinosaurs are covered in feathers because that’s what the science is telling us, and it’s my secret goal to make the idea of a feathered Tyrannosaurus rex cool and scary. I want talk about this stuff with people. I want to think about it when I’m not working on it. That’s something I haven’t felt for a while now. It’s a great feeling.

Work on Dinomancer continues. My personal goal is to be finished with the first draft by May 1st. I’ve scaled back my daily writing goal, because 1667 words a day every day does demand a tremendous amount of effort and focus. I’m not sure I could keep up that pace much longer than thirty days. But 500 words a day, as a baseline? That’s easily doable and it’s something I can do well and still generate a strong story.

So that’s where I’m at now. I have 50,000 words of a new novel that I’m really proud of, a story I want to finish, and a story that I want to publish. I feel like I’m doing something new in this space; there are a few books out there about fantasy dinosaur riders, but not many, and I think it’s a ripe area to explore. Even if it isn’t, I’m having so much fun with it that I don’t think I can stop.

And that’s why, even though NaNoWriMo 2015 is my seventh straight win, I feel like this year’s effort might just turn out to be the most important and most rewarding yet.

Oh, Right, I Have A Blog

When last we spoke, I informed you of the exciting news that NASA is planning its first voyage to Mars. That’s still true, which is good. I also saw The Martian at the movie theater and liked it very much, which is also good. In fact, I loved the movie whereas I only enjoyed the book. This has everything to do with the fact that I’m an artist rather than an engineer and I tend to favor soft, squishy subjects like the humanities rather than MATH.

Ahem. Sorry. I may have lapsed into the remnants of a heated discussion about The Martian that evidently I’m not entirely over.

In other news, it’s November and November means NaNoWriMo and NaNoWriMo means “oh my God, I have so much writing to do, how can I waste it blogging, what the hell am I thinking, I have to get back to WORK!” So, you know, there’s that.

The new book I’m working on is pretty cool, though. At least, think it’s cool. My working title is Dinomancer and it’s a book about people who can ride dinosaurs into battle. I’d tell you the elevator pitch about it, but since I haven’t written it all yet, it’d be somewhat insubstantial. I feel good about it, though, and my girlfriend fiancée says that she hasn’t seen me get this excited about a new project in a long time, so who knows. Maybe this will be the book that makes millions of dollars enough dollars to make a small payment on one of my outstanding student loans.

Also, this is my first winter since I moved to Washington state several months ago. My verdict thus far: seasons are beautiful, I really enjoy the cold weather, I look great in my stylish long raincoat, I hate the fact that it gets dark like at 4pm, and related to the previous bullet point, DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME SUCKS. Arizona may not get a lot of things right (politics, 115 degree summer days, the impending fiery apocalypse drought brought on by global climate change), but they’re the only state in the Union that doesn’t have Daylight Savings Time, and that’s pretty damn good in my opinion.

Anyway. Thanks for stopping by. I’m going to get back to writing about dinos.

Unrepentant: The Final Chapters (39-41)

This post contains the final chapters for my novel, Unrepentant. For those that have been reading since I started this experiment a few months ago, thank you for your interest in my work. Most of all, I’d like to thank my supporters on Patreon; more than anything, your support and readership has made this an excellent and enjoyable experience.

Thank you for reading.

Continue reading “Unrepentant: The Final Chapters (39-41)”

Unrepentant: Chapters 35-38

We’re nearing the end! Part 3 begins today and it’s the third and final part of the novel. In this post, you’ll find chapters 35-38. New chapters will be posted every Friday. If you enjoy the book, please consider supporting me via my Patreon account. Thanks!

Continue reading “Unrepentant: Chapters 35-38”

Unrepentant: Chapter 34

Chapters 34 of my novel Unrepentant, freely available for your enjoyment. New chapters will be posted every Friday. If you enjoy the book, please consider supporting me via my Patreon account. Thanks! Continue reading “Unrepentant: Chapter 34”