Unrepentant: Chapters 5-6

Chapters Five and Six 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: Chapters 5-6”

Unrepentant: Chapters 3-4

The next two chapters 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: Chapters 3-4”

Unrepentant: Chapters 1-2

The first two chapters 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: Chapters 1-2”

Taking Creative Risks, Or, Matt Considers Giving Away His Book

I started writing when I was about fourteen. I decided I wanted to write a novel and made two of the half-hearted attempts a young teenager makes when attempting a lofty goal. First, there was a horror novel about a serial killer who skins people alive that I called The Fur Trapper. I hadn’t yet seen Silence of the Lambs, so the comments about how it sounds just like that movie mystified me at the time. I think I wrote about two chapters, with each chapter being under five pages. Then there was a fantasy novel titled The Dragon’s Amulet that I never actually got beyond the conceptual stage, but I assure you, had it been written it would have included all the clichés and tropes of the high fantasy genre since that’s exactly what I would later do when I did write a book.

In the summer of 2002, I was deeply addicted to the video game Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. The game had such a deep and complex lore that I couldn’t help but be inspired; I wanted to tell my own stories in that universe. I started writing about the backstory of my character, the dark elf assassin Ardryn (although, in the interest of honesty, the name Ardryn came later; originally he was Jango, having just seen Star Wars Episode II. What can I say, I was a teenage boy at the time). I worked on my story until it hit about fifty or sixty pages, which was far longer than anything I’d ever created. I wanted to do something more with it. I wanted it to be more than just fan fiction. I wanted it to be my own novel.

So I went back and took out all the details from the world of Morrowind and replaced them with a fantasy world of my own devising. It still ended up looking exactly like every other fantasy world, as it was a world of magic and wilderness with a snowy, inhospitable northern realm ruled by the evil frost elves who were constantly at war with the forest elves of the south. There was also an evil artifact and a good artifact that were in constant opposition to one another. And a prophecy. And a love interest. And so on.

That story became my first novel, Of Dawn and Dusk, (which, yes, sounds more like a romance novel than a fantasy book). I actually completed a roughly 90,000 word manuscript and sent it to exactly one publisher. It was rejected, of course. I wrote about 70,000 words of a sequel and had some notes and rough chapters for a prequel, but the years wore on and the story that I wrote when I was fifteen no longer enamored me as it once did. So I decided to abandon it.

Eventually, I would pick up NaNoWriMo as a thing and on my second attempt, I completed a 50,000 word draft that I would then spend another six months working on until I had a 125,000 word completed story. This novel is my story of fallen angels and the Apocalypse and the title is Unrepentant. Because it began life as a NaNoWriMo, however, large parts of it were completely terrible and I spent the next few years revising that draft while working on other NaNo projects and basically continuing a tradition of starting projects but never seeing them through to completion.

Why am I telling you all of this? There are a few reasons.

First, it occurred to me that, outside of the critiques I did during my Creative Writing degree, I can count the number of people who’ve read any of my novels on less than two hands, and that sounds impressive until I mention that the total number is about six, so I’m really not even using that second-hand. I’d like to say that my reason for showing so few people my work is because I don’t like showing work before it’s done; certainly, my many drafts and projects are in rough shape and need proper editing before they deserve to be shown.

Except that’s not entirely true, either.

I finished Unrepentant last summer. I completely rewrote the novel and stripped out tons of stuff that was messy, wandering, or just plain bad. I streamlined the text, trimmed up the story, honed it as best I could and sliced down my 125,000 word first draft into a trim, sleek 90,000 word second draft. I finally considered it worthy of trying to publish and so I’ve been sending it off to agents ever since. My last submission before I lost momentum was in January or February and it was the tenth time it’s been sent out. Since I’m not currently plugging a book deal here, you can surmise that it was never picked up.

Here’s the thing. I don’t know if I have it in me to publish Unrepentant. Publishing a book is hard. It’s really, really hard. You need to know a lot about who you’re writing to, who the market is, how to sell it, who might like to read it, and so on. And that’s the thing; I don’t really know who Unrepentant is for. It’s a book about angels and demons and fallen angels and the Apocalypse, but it’s not a Christian Fiction book, because I don’t talk about Jesus. But I also started it during a time when I was fascinated by Paradise Lost and John Milton, so it has those vibes far more than it does an urban fantasy or paranormal romance. I don’t know who’d want to buy it, even though I think it’s pretty good.

Originally, I’d decided to just shelve it and make it yet another trunk novel. Trunk novels are those works that writers complete but then abandon, locking them in the bottom of the trunk because we can’t bear to delete or throw away something that we worked so hard on, but also can’t or won’t try to release. Sometimes, trunk novels are better than their author’s give them credit for and end up getting published later on; Stephen King penned a trunk novel under his pseudonym Richard Bachman that was eventually published as Blaze, which was really good.

So Unrepentant is a trunk novel. And I’m off to new things; I’m really focused on my cyberpunk novel because I feel like I have a lot to say and I have a lot of knowledge about what I’m talking about in a way I don’t with fallen angels and such.

But I keep thinking about the fact that no one ever reads what I write, because I don’t give them the opportunity. Because I don’t give anyone the chance to read what I write. And my reason for doing so is based on fear; if you don’t ever get a chance to read my work, you can’t hurt my feelings by hating it. I’m immune from criticism. I’m safe.

I think that safety is one of the enemies of creativity. When people talk about creativity as a scary thing, this is what they mean. It’s putting yourself out there, stripping away all the armor, lowering all the defenses, and allowing people to shit all over something that means a lot to you. And not fighting back. And asking for this to happen over and over again.

Or at least . . . that’s what the Dark Voice tells me. I’ve mentioned the Dark Voice before; he’s the guy that started talking to me around the beginning of middle school and never went away. He’s the person on my shoulder reminding me of every possible insecurity, every possible mistake, every single failure. He’s not my Inner Editor, because the Inner Editor is at least trying to be helpful by making my work better, even if he’s killing it in the process by preventing it from being born.

No, the Dark Voice is mean and hateful and nasty and wants very much to make sure that I fail and that I’m miserable and that I don’t ever listen to anything other than him. He’s all the anxiety and depression I’ve ever felt in my life. It’s the entity that takes root inside your head when you grow up a little strange and you realize you’re not cool or popular and you’ve never going to fit in, not really.

The Dark Voice is the reason that I can be funny around other people; it’s the reason why sarcasm and dry humor are my default responses, because if I make people laugh at something I do, then they can’t laugh at me. Laughing at me only proves that the Dark Voice is right.

I really don’t like the Dark Voice.

And I think that putting Unrepentant in the trunk is listening to the Dark Voice. I think it’s a good book. I learned a lot writing and rewriting it and I put a lot of effort into it. But I also don’t want to focus on the same project forever. I want to move on to new things so that I can keep growing. And right now, that means setting my old work aside.

But here’s the thing: I also have this blog here. And even though I tend to disappear for weeks at a time, my blog is never out of my thoughts. I’m always wishing that I had more to post, more to say, more to do here. And I have a novel that I’d like to allow people to read, if they wish. And slowly, I begin to imagine a solution.

So, here’s what I’m thinking right now: I’m going to start posting chapters of my novel here on my blog every Friday. Since the book is already done, once the updates are scheduled to roll out, I can move on to the next project while these pieces are released. I don’t have to worry about schedule slip (the bane of so many serials and webcomics) because the entire story is already finished.

Originally, I thought about just posting the entire book as one big file and inviting anyone who wants to have at it. But I also know that I wouldn’t read that if someone else did so, because in the past when blogs I do read have released books for free, I didn’t read them. There’s something about seeing the entire work posted all at once and getting intimidated by it, thinking about how much time it will take to get involved. It’s why I’ll never start watching a show on Netflix these days if it has more than two seasons, because the time investment is just too much.

But a chapter a week, released as a blog post? That doesn’t take much effort to dip a toe in. And maybe that will be enough to spark your interest. And if not, that’s okay too. Honestly, I don’t really know why people keep reading this blog, even though WordPress assures me that you’re all out there. It’s not going to hurt my feelings if this doesn’t catch on. It’s just something I’d like to try.

The Patreon account is the second part of this idea. Patreon is a little different from Kickstarter, which you’re probably more familiar with. In Kickstarter, you back a project and pledge some money to help fund it, and you get charged if the project reaches its funding goal. This, then, gives the creator the funds needed to get a project created, the idea being that it couldn’t exist without those funds.

But for me, the blog is already online and the book is already written. So I don’t need funding to make anything. Instead, it’s a way for me to find out if it’s worthwhile to release fiction in this manner. For so many years, I’ve had my eye on the traditional publishing route as the only way to release my stories. And don’t get me wrong, I still desperately want to secure a traditional publishing deal, at least once in my life. But I also want to focus more on creating and sharing work, even if only five people ever read any of it.

The Patreon model is, as its name suggests, a patronage system. A patron who wants to support a creator pledges a small amount of money each month (I’m imagining something like a dollar a month, with the book’s run taking about two or three months to be released fully). At the end of the run, if there’s been any interest in this model, I’m thinking about doing some more stuff, such as recording the book as an audiobook or releasing it as an e-book on my own. A lot of this is me thinking out loud right now, coming up with ideas as I type. But here’s the bottom line: think of it as a tip jar. I’m going to release my novel here on my blog for free, for everyone. If you read it, if you like it, if you think it’s worth it, consider pitching me a dollar.

This won’t create the kind of money that will allow me to skip having a day job. But if I make a dollar off this, I’ll consider it a success. If I make fifty dollars, my story will have paid for my website costs for an entire year (domain registration and keeping my blog ad free, which is something very important to me as a personal and philosophical point). That’s enough of an enticement for me to try.

And if it doesn’t work? I’ll have the knowledge of knowing that I took a risk, tried something new, and didn’t let the Dark Voice win for a while. And that’s a win for me no matter what the Dark Voice says.

So look for details for the Patreon account in a day or two, once everything is all set up. And get ready for the first chapter (or chapters) of my novel to go up on Friday.

Taking creative risks. That’s what it’s all about.

Thanks for reading.

Police Ride Along

It was the spring of my senior year of high school when the editor-in-chief of my journalism class came to me and said, “Matt, I have a great idea for a feature piece and I want you to do it.” I said, “yeah, okay, sure,” because I liked doing features and because I tend to agree to things before asking what they are, which is just a really terrible way to go through life. Also, I was an eighteen-year-old boy and she was a cute girl and you can imagine why I was eager to impress her with my aggressively agreeable nature and my fearlessness and such.

The feature piece that I wrote was based on a police ride along. It’s exactly what it sounds like: you ride along with a police officer for an entire shift. As far as I know, most police departments will do this as a sort of outreach program for citizens who want to see what the policing process looks like. Or maybe they just want to get their fix by hanging out with the real cops for a while. There are as many stories online of good ride alongs as there are terrible ones.

After signing all sorts of liability waivers and such, I did my ride along. What surprised me the most was how extensive my participation was. My instructions were to stay in the car only during traffic stops; otherwise, every where my officer went, I also went. That meant going into a house during a domestic violence call and into the hospital to interview someone who’d been shot. It’s a front row seat and yes, it really did feel like I was living out my own episode of Cops.

I did my ride along, wrote my feature piece for the school newsmagazine, received some attention and accolades, and then went on to not have a career in journalism. But I always kept that experience in the back of my mind as something that I’d like to repeat one day in the future.

My brother Chris joined the Tucson Police Department about a year ago. When I was in Tucson last month for his wedding, he suggested that I do a ride along with him. He’d taken his then-fiance Haley on one a few weeks before. He’d heard me talk about my previous experiences doing a ride along and was interested to see what my take would be; also, I think he was secretly hopeful that I’d write the post I’m writing now so that he could read about himself. Hi Chris!

Anyway. Here is my report of my day as an official groupie for an officer of the Tucson Police Department, recreated from my notes that I took. All times will be expressed in standard time rather than military time, because I’m a civilian and I don’t want to do the mental math about what 1500 actually refers to (okay, it’s 3:00 PM, but still).

6:00 AM: We arrived at the substation. I felt sick from something (maybe last night’s dinner?) and spent about half an hour in the bathroom, which meant I missed the mission briefing. I was worried I’d be too nauseated to do the ride along but I decided to tough it out as long as I could. Fortunately, after some quality time worshipping the porcelain throne, as they say, I felt better and decided to roll with it. I’m only including this detail because if I don’t, I’m sure Chris will point it out in the comments.

7:00 AM: Chris started his patrol. TPD is phasing out the venerable Crown Victoria interceptor and moving to the larger, fancier, more luxurious Tahoe, but since Officer Chris is still a rookie, he’s stuck with one of the Crown Vics. I tried not to think about the fact that when I did my previous ride along, the black-and-white Crown Victorias were brand new models that were just starting their service because thinking about such things would only encourage maudlin reflections on the fleeting nature of my temporal existence and the brevity of mortality. Oh, shit, there I go.

Anyway, Chris’s patrol car has working air conditioning. His megaphone does not work. Only some of the emergency lights work. The trunk is filled with all the things you’d expect: rubber gloves, traffic cones, vest, shotgun. It’s not as organized as movies and television would suggest.

Yeah, it didn’t look like this. Sadly.

For privacy reasons, I won’t specify where exactly Chris patrols, but I’ll specify this much: it’s not a very good part of Tucson. We started off the day by checking a few abandoned houses that were popular among the “crack house aficionado and illegal squatter” crowd. When we rolled up to the first house, I was relieved to see another officer, Bri, had joined us. But I was still nervous, not because I’d never done a ride along before, but because this was my little brother and even though I’d seen him put on the uniform and he was wearing the gun and the badge and we were riding in an actual goddamn patrol car, even with all of that . . . it still didn’t feel real to me that this was my little brother. My kid bro.

We went to the side door. Chris told me to stay outside while they cleared the building. As the only person not carrying a gun or wearing body armor, that sounded fine with me.

Chris and his partner went to the door, drew their guns, held them at their sides. Goddamn, I thought. It really does look like the movies.

“Tucson Police!” Chris barked with the kind of authority I would not have associated with my little brother. He and his partner swept through the building and cleared it. Fortunately (or unfortunately, I guess, depending on your perspective), nobody was home, although there was plenty of evidence that yes, this is a bona fide crack house.

“Be careful where you step,” Chris said. “Also, I wouldn’t touch anything if I were you.”

I looked over at the pile of used hypodermic needles, double checked where I was standing, and decided that I would burn my shoes once we were done. With no customers at house, it was on to the next establishment, though not before Chris and Bri moved a few pieces of detritus around in front of the door, just to see if they’d get moved to verify that there were indeed fish in this illicit little fishing hole.

We rolled up to another house and repeated the process, but once again, despite all the evidence of recent activity, nobody was home.

As I stood outside and looked around, I reflected on the fact that these neighborhoods really weren’t all that far from where I’d been living at various points in my life. They looked . . . normal. Tucson is weird like that. Although people will say, “well, the south side is the bad side of town,” it’s actually more complicated than that. There are little pockets of urban blight and decay all over the place, and often, the same road can get better or worse depending on how far you travel down it. Sadly, at least in my opinion, it seems like the rotten spots are getting worse and they’re getting bigger. But that’s a thought for another post.

7:30 AM: I knew that at some point, we’d have to do traffic. But what’s interesting is that traffic isn’t assigned to any particular time or location; the officer uses his or her discretion to decide when to set up a traffic stop. At first, I thought this was somewhat petty, just a bit of that quota-filling ticket writing that everyone complains about. That was until I noticed where we’d set up shop to watch for traffic: we parked near an intersection that has no less than five signs and five sets of red arrows, all of which are telling the driver that right turns on red are illegal. Why, you might ask? Because the cross walk leads directly to the School for the Deaf and Blind. Huh. I wonder why they don’t allow people to turn on a red there.

Waiting for somewhat to break the law is pretty boring, but it also gave me some insight into the cop mind. After we’d been there for a while, in frustration, Chris exclaimed “someone break the law already!” At first, I thought this was counter-intuitive; a lack of violators means that people are following the law which means society is better as a result. However, after you’ve sat still for a long period of time, watching the same traffic signal with the intensity of a circling hawk, eventually you need a rabbit or you start to go crazy. I think I cracked from the boredom after about thirty minutes. I reflected on the fact that Chris comes to this intersection or others like it at least four times a week. Pretty soon I was desperate for someone to run the light just so there was something to do.

Eventually, a guy did turn and we did pull him over. I waited in the car while Chris did the usual license and registration thing. The guy didn’t speak a whole lot of English but Chris was able to get him to understand why you really don’t want to make an illegal turn around deaf and/or blind children. You know. Chris asked me what I thought we should do; I voted for a warning, because I’m a liberal and liberals are soft on crime.

8:05 AM: We received a call about a wounded cat, possibly dead already, on the side of the road.

8:07 AM: We listened to gangsta rap on the way over.

Cuz in the city of angels, it’s all about survival, 

Fuck the 5-0, they wanna see you DOA,

Welcome to L. A.

I guess even cops like to sing about cops killing people. Ironic, that.

8:16 AM: Here are my notes from this call. “Found two dead cats, one was actually a rabbit.” Really, what else can you say? The police officer’s lot is a glamorous one.

8:34 AM: It was turning out to be a slow morning. We checked behind a few grocery stores, just fishing for people doing things they aren’t supposed to be doing. Behind a Safeway, we found a dumpster diver. Chris asked the nearby Safeway staff members who were unloading boxes if they wanted the guy removed from their property, but the manager said the guy wasn’t bothering them, so they didn’t care. Chris spoke with the guy anyway and let him know why it’s not a good idea to be climbing into dumpsters if you can avoid it.

What impressed me the most is how Chris handled the discussion. Earlier, I’d watched him go into a house with a gun drawn and an aura of authority. Now he’s talking to this homeless dude like they’re best friends, just having a chat, even asking him if he’ll turn over his knife to Chris while they talk, just for everyone’s safety. It was an impressive display of diplomacy.

Since the Safeway staff didn’t have an issue with the guy being there and he wasn’t bothering anyone else, Chris let him go on his way. We talked about that after we pulled out of the parking lot, of the importance of trying to establish a good presence with people on the street. Chris told me about his hopes. “These homeless guys, they have a lot of interaction with us,” he said. “We see the same guys a lot. I just hope that if a guy like this has some good experiences with cops, not getting busted for minor stuff, maybe that’ll make a difference and help the guy trust us more when something more serious happens.”

We also talked about the importance of diplomacy. “I still get nervous when I’m driving and I see a cop behind me,” Chris said. “I’m like, fuck, it’s cops.” I pointed out that he’s also the cops. He laughed.

9:06 AM: We received a call about a possible trespasser at a different Safeway. This was the most promising call all morning; Chris said he was really hoping he’d get at least one arrest today so he could show me jail. Being something of a square, I’ve never had an opportunity to see jail before. I’ll touch more on that point in a bit.

9:10 AM: We rolled up to the Safeway and found a homeless guy staggering outside the grocery story with a half-empty bottle of Tequila in his hand. In my expert opinion, he was heavily intoxicated. When Chris attempted to talk to him, he attempted to hide the bottle of Tequila in his pants. This did not prove to be a sound strategy.

Two other officers arrived (like I said, it was a slow morning and cops get bored too) to assess the situation. Based on interviews with the staff, the suspect was actually in the nearby Subway restaurant and it was they who’d called the police, evidently because they take it seriously over there about the whole “you’re not allowed to drink in a Subway” and “you shouldn’t drunkenly threaten the staff of a Subway when they tell you to get the fuck out.”

The Subway manager decided to press charges, which meant that our suspect was getting arrested. Hooray! We have a reason to visit jail. Wait.

Here’s the really fun part. After you arrest someone, you have to search them. That means checking all their pockets, searching through all their clothes. This homeless dude was ripe, and I do mean ripe, in the worst possible sense. I stood several feet away and moved whenever the wind shifted. Chris wasn’t so lucky. As the rookie on the call and as the arresting officer, he got to do the honors. Including checking the man’s shoes.

I will give my brother credit. He did not vomit, although I could tell from my safe distance that he sorely wanted to.

The suspect also developed a conversation loop which consisted of asking “where are we going?”, “why am I arrested?”, “what the charges?” and “where am I going?” It ended up being a long ride to the jail.

10:00 AM: As we were pulling out of the Safeway parking lot, a call came in about possible gang activity at a nearby apartment complex. We weren’t able to respond since we had a human being cuffed in the backseat of our car. The report was that several people had been brandishing weapons and threatening some guy. Chris said that the call was probably bullshit, but several more reports came in and his expression changed. “Maybe it’s not bullshit,” he said. “Damn! That would be an interesting one.” Fortunately (or unfortunately, again), the call turned out to be bullshit; there was no gun battle in an apartment complex and the guy who called was a known factor with a history of mental illness and paranoia. Fun times. Regardless, it was off to jail for us!

10:05 AM: We arrived at the jail and began processing the suspect. It was pretty empty that morning, so we mostly had the place to ourselves as Chris led his arrestee into the processing room and I followed behind. A sense of dread began to build up in me as we went through the security doors and they locked behind us. I couldn’t help but imagine what it would feel like if the circumstances were different and I was here for a different reason, not as an observer alongside my brother, but as a prisoner. Needless to say, the claustrophobia was sudden and strong, although I didn’t make a big deal about it.

Booking took a while, although when Chris saw my notes later, he pointed out that it actually went pretty quickly for jail since we were the only ones there aside from a few guys who were also getting booked Our suspect asked several times if he could sleep; Chris said sure. The suspect asked for a bed. I guess they don’t bring you a bed when you’re in the intake area.

I know now that, God forbid, if I’m ever arrested, I will not go into such a place with dignity and with my head held high. I will likely be sobbing and crying for my mother and apologizing profusely. Jail is really scary.

10:55 AM: Chris had some paperwork that he needed to get caught up on and since it was slow, we drove out to “Chris’s Special Hidden Paperwork Writing Spot.” What makes for a special paperwork writing spot? Well, it needs to be somewhere that’s out-of-the-way so people won’t easily approach you while you’re parked and focusing on your laptop screen. It needs to be close enough to your patrol area so you can respond to calls quickly. And it needs to be quiet so you can focus on your work. I will not reveal the location of Chris’s paperwork spot. He did say that he has several such spots and that he particularly likes cemeteries and churches because they’re quiet most of the time.

11:10 AM: Chris writes a report while I play with my smart phone.

11:20 AM: The report has been written! Paperwork is part of every officer’s life but by getting it out-of-the-way now, he won’t have to take care of it later when his shift is over, which means he can go home more quickly. This makes sense to me.

11:44 AM: We got a call about a fight breaking out a Home Depot. Since there was an immediate personal risk, this call was severe enough to warrant going “code 3,” which means flipping on the lights and sirens. This is exactly as terrifying and exhilarating as you imagine it is. There’s something about those sounds that just make one’s jaws torque and one’s soul to say, “fuck yes, let’s go help some people.”

After searching several neighborhoods with several other officers, Chris and a sergeant learned of the suspect’s location from a witness. Unfortunately, Home Depot informed TPD that they did not want to press charges against the suspect, since it was learned that basically he’d tried to steal twenty dollars worth of paint and then gotten into a fight with a security guard about it. The sergeant made the decision that since Home Depot didn’t want to press charges, the police shouldn’t approach the suspect, since it would cause a huge public backlash if, say, the suspect started throwing rocks at them and ended up shot. Better just to avoid the potential shitstorm, since without charges, there was no reason to approach the guy.

12:00 PM: Lunch! We went to Chipotle, as one does. Interesting note: cops love Chipotle. I saw several other officers there, including a few detectives. We also met our dad there for lunch and talked about our day thus far.

12:30 PM: Back on patrol. Chris was energized again after a good lunch. “It’s going to be a good afternoon,” he said as we pulled back into his patrol sector. “We’re going to have a good call. I just know it.”

12:43 PM: We approached a particularly busy intersection. Right away, I noticed something was wrong; traffic was moving in a stilted, uncertain manner, like no one was sure whose turn it was. I looked up and saw that the traffic light had gone out. I turned my head and noticed it was out on the other road as well.

Beside me, Chris had gone very silent and very still.

“Chris,” I said, “I don’t think the traffic light is working.”

There was an expectant pause.

“Fuuuuuuuuuck,” Chris said finally.

He called it in. It was immediately assigned to him, because, surprise, he was already on the scene!

We pulled over to the side of the road. He grabbed a bright orange safety vest. I looked at him, wondering what I was going to do.

He looked at me. “Fuuuuuuuuck,” he said. And then he left.

Traffic lights are annoying, especially when they stop working. Suddenly, your travel is inconvenienced, perhaps even delayed. You might even have to wait for several minutes while shit sorts itself out. But then you’re through it and you’re on your way and you don’t think about it any more.

It is infinitely worse when you’re the poor bastard who has to walk out into the middle of one of the busiest intersections in the city in the broiling heat of a summer afternoon and you have to keep that shit moving until it gets fixed.

I waited him work for a while and I was impressed by the level of energy it takes to direct traffic. In my nerdy way, it actually reminded me of healing a raid in World of WarCraft; you have to establish a rhythm, a flow, and you have to keep an eye on each lane lest one buildup too much. After thirty minutes, however, I was tired of watching, so I sat in the air conditioning of the car and waited. And waited.

Another officer showed up to help.

Sometime later, a work crew showed up to fix the light.

We learned that it was a power failure and a Tucson Electric Power crew would have to fix the outage first.

I waited some more. Chris came over on a quick break and I gave him some of the cold water I had with me.

Finally, at 2:30, a relief crew of a few more officers showed up so Chris and his partner could take a proper break. They hadn’t even made it into the intersection before the lights came back on.

2:45 PM: We were on the move again. Chris told me that was the longest traffic direction he’d ever had to do. I decided not to complain as I was the one who’d had copious cold water and a somewhat functioning AC going during the whole thing.

2:55 PM: Irritated that the entire afternoon had been completely blown directing traffic, Chris was hopeful that we’d get at least one more call before his shift ended at 4:00pm. He noticed a panhandler and realized that it was a guy he’d already warned several times about not panhandling there. He’d even let the guy know that panhandling is only illegal in Tucson city limits (read: if you go outside of the city, it’s Pima County’s problem and they don’t give a shit).

Chris decided to have a little chat with the guy. But when he ran the guy’s info, he saw that there was a warrant out for the dude’s arrest. Fortunately, it allowed for a stop and arrest, so there wasn’t a need to take the guy to jail. Chris explained the situation, let him know that he’d have to appear in court in a few weeks, and told him to stop panhandling on his streets.

3:30 PM: We returned to the station. Chris unpacked his patrol car and tidied it up so that another officer could use it during his vacation (he was taking two weeks off for the wedding and the honeymoon). After that, I sat in on the debriefing, which is a fancy word for “sitting around talking about the day and shooting the breeze with your co-workers for a few minutes.” You know, like you do.

4:00 PM: We were off the clock and on our way home.

Epilogue: My brother started his career as a police officer with unfortunate timing; just as he was beginning, the scandals of police misconduct and brutality were erupting all over the country. It’s made an already difficult discussion about the nature of his work that much more difficult. It’s an unavoidable topic, but I have nothing more to say on that front.

What I will say is that I have a newfound understanding for certain aspects of the job. I get why “cop humor” is so far removed from the norm and so filled with the darkest of dark jokes. You have to be able to joke about what you see; if you don’t, it’ll swallow you whole.

I also understand how even a relatively benign day is still exhausting, mentally and physically. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen at any given moment. Your body is always primed for action, even if nothing happens. That shit takes its toll on you. It’s a hard job.

I reflected on whether or not it would be harder to be a cop or to be a soldier. Surely, it would be tougher to be a soldier, I thought. You’re far from home and you’re in a goddamned war. But I also think there’s something mentally and emotionally draining about doing a job like this in your own community, in your city, in your neighborhood. You get to see the ugly side of life and it’s shocking how close that side is to the surface. It’s always around us. We just have the fortune of not having to notice it most of the time. If something goes wrong, there’s always the chance that it could hit far too close to home. It could be his family or his friends that end up a victim of one the calls he answers. At least in the military, one knows that one’s loved ones are safe and sound at home. I imagine that has to be worth something.

He has a hard job. I’m glad I was able to see it, so that I could understand it as much as possible without actually taking up a badge myself. But no matter what we were doing throughout the day, I kept thinking about how much easier I had it than he did. If something went wrong, it was his responsibility, not mine. My safety was his responsibility. Everything was on his shoulders. I had only to observe and to stay out of his way.

That’s my little brother. That’s what he does now. I’m proud of him. And I’m worried for him. But most of all, I’m impressed by him. Because it’s tough as hell to do what he does and I don’t believe that I, a mere writer and all around dilettante, could do the same. That’s a sobering thing to realize.

How I Write (These Days)

Let me take a moment to say what this post is not. It’s not a discussion of style or process. It’s not going to be a long navel-gazing about “where I get my ideas.” There are a lot of posts and books and things already out there for people interested in those topics and I guarantee they’re written better than what I could come up with here. Also, I think the topic is somewhat boring. Most writers love to talk about writing. Just pick your particular favorite writer and you’ll be able to answer those particular questions.

Instead, I’d like to talk about the actual physical mechanics, such as they are. Let’s talk about what I write with in terms of programs.

There are writers out there who write longhand. Some still work on typewriters. I actually do own a typewriter, although I’ve never used it for anything serious. I typed a story up on it once and then looked at the pages in my hand and wondered, shit, now what? Do I scan these into a PDF or something?

There are a lot of writing programs out there. Scrivener seems to have the most vocal disciples, although I’ve never used it and generally, the more vigorously someone evangelizes something, the less I want to try it. I’m a Microsoft Word user these days, although I didn’t get my start on Word.

My first computer was purchased in the halcyon days of 1998. Instead of getting the current version of Word, we ended up with something called “Student Writing Center.” It was an absolutely bare-bones program with very little in the way of frills or features, but I liked it ’cause it was all that I knew. I wrote my first manuscript on it, as well as the incomplete sequel I abandoned somewhere around 70,000 words. I’ve copied and uploaded those files from machine to machine over the years; even though they’re both “trunk novels,” I can’t let them go. And it’s not like they take up much storage space.

My first laptop was a Dell purchased in 2004 and somehow, I purchased WordPerfect instead of Word when I bought it. It took me years to realize that WordPerfect was created by a different company (Corel). I thought it was a Microsoft product and probably figured it was the “better” version of Word. It had “perfect” right there in the name, after all! Despite this, it wasn’t perfect. I wrote a lot of papers and short stories on WordPerfect and kept working on my novels, but I never finished anything big.

My next computer in 2009 was an HP desktop and I finally had my own version of Word. (2010, I believe). In fact, I still have this version of Word and it’s still my main writing platform the majority of the time. I’ve done the vast majority of six NaNoWriMo successes on this version of Word and this computer and I finished the manuscript that I’m currently trying to publish.

Finally, there’s my current laptop, also an HP, purchased last year along with Word 2013. Originally, I was really hesitant about buying Word (shit’s expensive, yo) and tried to use Google Docs or OpenOffice as my main writing platform for that machine. It never took, though. After so many years, I’m basically acclimatized and anything different distracts me too much for comfort. I’ll probably continue buying versions of Word until I’m in my grave and even my corpse will insist that my tombstone and funeral programs be typed up in Word (and probably using Calibri as the font).

The only major change in how I go about handling my work is where I save my master files of my manuscripts, which is what I call the version of the document that I actually work on. I’ve been perpetually terrified of having a hard drive failure or house fire destroy all of my work, so I’ve tried various things over the years. Originally I burned copies to CD, but this was such a slow process that I never kept them as up-to-date as they should have been. Eventually I switched to using USB thumb drives but this was also unsatisfying as I was afraid of losing the sticks or having them get destroyed in a fire.

My current system for backing up my work is one that I’m really happy with and it happened pretty much by accident. Early on, I started using Google Drive to make digital copies of my manuscript files. The problem was that I didn’t like writing in Google Docs but at that point, the only way to go from one machine to another and use Word was to download the file from Google Drive, work on it in Word, and then upload it back to the Drive.

This wasn’t too bad, except for the fact that I very quickly had dozens of copies of my files and had a very hard time remembering which ones were the “master” and which were back-ups or transfers. What I wanted was a single file that I could open with Word and access regardless of which machine I was using and still exists in the cloud to prevent data lose if my house burns down.

OneDrive ended up meeting all of these needs, so these days it’s my main platform, which is especially convenient since Word Online is actually pretty good. So now I have my main file in my OneDrive, which I can work on with both my desktop and my laptop (or even a borrowed computer if need be) and I don’t need to keep transferring or downloading files. Since I ride a motorcycle or a bicycle everywhere, carrying a laptop isn’t overwhelmingly convenient, so instead I can log onto a library computer on my lunch break and still have access to my master files. It’s improved my personal productivity tremendously by having those files so conveniently accessible, which I suppose is the whole idea of cloud storage in the first and which Google already did and would have worked for me anyway if I wasn’t so picky about the whole Google Docs thing. Anyway.

I keep backups of my files on both my desktop and my laptop in case Microsoft crashes, although I suspect if that ever happened, I’d probably have more to worry about than just my data. But I still like to be redundant.

So that’s my current approach to my precious writing files. For those nerds out there who are interested in this stuff that you read all the way to the end, what’s your approach to managing your files across multiple computers?

Google Glass And What It Means For The Story I’m Writing

It’s making the headlines once again after a long radio silence and like all things related to Google Glass and the headlines, the news isn’t good. Google is ending its Explorer program for Google Glass and going back to the drawing board. This program, for those who don’t obsessively follow all things tech, was where a person such as you or me could write an application (including written essay!) to be allowed to buy your own Google Glass and test it out. It sounds pretty cool, except for the part where Glass itself costs $1,500. That price tag caused my attention to wander, but I also don’t want to pay more than $200 for a smartphone, so I might not be the best person to ask.

The reason why I’m concerned, however, isn’t because I was a Google Glass aficionado but because I’m concerned about what the Glass setback will mean for the trajectory of electronics that we carry with us daily. I first became interested in just how far our cultural obsession would go when I noticed that I literally haven’t been more than ten feet away from my smartphone since I bought it in 2011. I also read a study that claimed that a third of Americans would sooner give up sex than their smartphone device.

All of those things started swirling around in my brain and pretty soon I had the framework for the two novels that I’ve been working on since 2012: a not-too-distant future where instead of a smartphone that you need to charge and can drop and could lose, you get a nice little microchip implanted in your brain through a quick and painless process that can be done right there at the store. Of course, being a science fiction novel, things have to go horribly wrong with that idea, but at the time, I still felt that the trajectory was such that we were on track from going from devices we carry with us every day to devices that we wear on our bodies to devices that are actually inside us.

Does the lukewarm embrace (or even outright rejection) of Glass indicate that this path might not hold? Maybe. It’s also true that the first device in a completely new category doesn’t often win the race; the iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone by a longshot, but it’s the one that convinced everyone that smartphones were must-have gadgets. There are a lot of things that could be responsible for Glass faltering; I personally blame the price tag and the admittedly interesting but also convoluted Explorer program. Will Google keep going with Glass and try something else? Or will wearable computers seem like a dead end?

I really hope we haven’t reached a dead end, not because I’m a huge fan of the whole idea, but because I really want my story to still be relevant by the time I’m done writing it. Science fiction is littered with examples of stories outdated by the forward march of time but it would well and truly suck to be outdated before I’ve even finished the book.

Welcome To December

Another NaNoWriMo has come and gone. My winning streak is safe for another year. This year it seemed particularly difficult to keep my momentum going on the story, even though I ended up finishing two days early due to a nice sprint on the 28th. It’s possible that I say this every year; I haven’t looked back at any of my previous blog posts or Twitter updates to see how 2014 compared to 2013 or 2012. Regardless, the month is over and I have another 50,000 words of novel that I’ll now need to do something with. I have the next 11 months to sort it all out. Perhaps I’ll write another follow-up post about the experience, but right now, the idea of writing much of anything is just tiring. It’s time for a break.

It seems that quite a bit happened in November and perhaps you’ve been stopping by expecting my commentary. I apologize for letting you down. There’s certainly a lot of negative things in the world deserving of scorn and well-honed verbal barrages, but you know, I spent a lot of time thinking this past month, when I wasn’t writing and I’ve felt the urge to shy away from posting about the shitty stuff in the world. This blog started out as a way for me to vent my anger, which is really obvious if you look back at the first few months of posts. Well, actually, if I’m being honest, first this blog was just my squatting on my domain name, then I decided to write a blog to vent my anger.

It’s easier to be angry and pissed off and writing about it doesn’t it any better, at least for me. I stopped seeking out things that intentionally pissed me off just so I have fuel to write about. It probably doesn’t make the world any better but I also can’t imagine that it doesn’t make it any worse. And it certainly makes me feel better to not be as angry. So there’s that.

Movie trailers! The Jurassic World trailer and the Star Wars: Episode VII trailer were both released in the same month! 2015 looks like it will be a very good year for movies for my personal demographic (that demographic being “people who are me.” It’s an admittedly small niche) in a way that 2014 was very much a lackluster year. Did I actually go to the movies this year? I can’t recall. But 2015 has me excited. I don’t care what anyone else in the world says; a scene involving motorcycles and velociraptors fulfills one of my dreams. And yes, I do often daydream about riding my motorcycle alongside a pack of velociraptors, usually on my way to work. It’s just a thing that I want to do, because it’s awesome. The Episode VII trailer has me excited for Star Wars once again, although it’s still a cautious excitement; I remember how exciting the trailer was for Episode I. Trailers cannot always be trusted.

I’ve been learning to cook over the past few months and I’m getting pretty good at it. One of those little things about being a vegetarian means that most of your cooking efforts also involve chopping. And slicing. And dicing. And cutting. And whatever other words exist for cutting things in the culinary world. I bought a new knife a few months ago to begin this new journey into adulthood and it was getting really, really dull, so dull that I had trouble with a tomato. I’d learned how to sharpen knives on a whetstone when I was a kid and I was curious to see if I’d still remember how to do it, so I went out today and bought a whetstone and used my dull kitchen knife for practice.

There is nothing more pleasing than taking a practice cut with a newly sharpened knife. It’s liking taking a lightsaber to your vegetables. I promptly went crazy and sharpened all of our knives. I can’t wait to use them back into dullness so I can sharpen them again. I don’t know what this new feeling is; it’s either self-reliance, adulthood, or some combination thereof. I don’t have a word for it, but I think I like it.

Why NaNoWriMo? Some Thoughts On Stories

I gave a presentation on NaNoWriMo at my library this past weekend and one of the questions I was asked by one of the attendees who hadn’t done NaNo before was why I thought it was worth doing. It’s a reasonable question, after all. Why undertake the mentally exhausting challenge of writing furiously for thirty days, especially when it’s very likely that much or perhaps even all of the words that you write will end up being complete junk?

There are a lot of possible answers I could have given; because it’s fun even though it’s hard. Because it’s the one time during the year that writing is a group activity and you can tell people about your novel without being the pretentious ‘oh-let-me-tell-you-about-my-novel guy.’ Because it’s good to allow yourself to be creative.

But here’s the answer I settled on and the one that I truly believe (although when I gave this answer during my presentation, I used considerably less profanity).

It’s a common saying within writing circles that everyone has at least one novel in them. Consequently, it’s popular to retort and say, no, everyone does not have a novel in them in a rather curmudgeonly, get-off-my-lawn-you-damn-kids sort of cane shaking. For the record, that post just happened to be the first one that I pulled up on Google; I don’t actually know if Tim Clare shakes a cane at kids on his lawn. I’m sure he’s actually a great guy and probably really nice.

Regardless, it’s trendy to be cynical and one of the best way to be cynical is to crush the idealism of others by telling them “no, the world doesn’t really need to hear your story. Your story probably sucks.” Even if Tim Clare isn’t saying that, many, many other people are. They want you to know that your story sucks. It’s bad and you should feel bad.

So here’s why I think NaNo is worth doing, no matter what you do with your story after it’s over.

NaNoWriMo is worth doing because it’s a month-long exercise in saying “fuck you” to the cynics.

A lot of people call it the “inner editor” or the “inner critic” or the “inner perfectionist.” You know what I’m talking about if you’re ever tried to create something, ever: it’s that little voice that tells you what you’re doing isn’t good enough or that you’re doing it wrong or that you really don’t have anything worth saying.”

I have a different name for that little guy. It’s my “dark voice.” It’s the voice that arrived in my brain sometime around middle school or early high school, right around the time that I left childhood behind and entered a world that was very eager to tell me how much I sucked, how much of a dork I was, how awkward I looked, and just how bad I was at life in general. The dark voice is always there and it’s always happy to remind me about all the things I fucking suck at in life. Writing. My job. Being a friend. Keeping my house clean. Doing yard work. Budgeting. Calling my parents. Exercising every day. Updating my blog. Blogging in general, actually.

Sometimes, people who sound a lot like my dark voice write posts about how there are too many novels in the world and really, your story sucks and you should just keep it to your own damn self.

Well, fuck those people. Fuck the dark voice.

Telling stories is what makes us human. Every single human who has ever lived or will ever live has at least one story to tell. It doesn’t matter if that story will ever be published. Being published is not the quality-meter that says “your story is worthwhile and has justified its existence.” Don’t get me wrong, being published is great, especially if you want to tell stories and get paid for it (which I really, really do).

But that has nothing to do with telling or creating stories. Creating stories is something we do and have always done as a species because it helps us figure things out. It helps us understand ourselves and the world around us. It helps us grow. Telling stories helps us be better humans.

So write your story. Write it because it’s helping you be a better you. And whether that story is 500 words long or 50,000 or 500,000, whether it takes you 30 days or 30 years, write it because every story has value. Every story deserves to exist.

Stories make us better. All stories do. The world needs more of them. The world needs every story it can possibly get.

And that includes yours. So go fucking write it.

NaNoWriMo 2014 Begins!

Since it’s now November, that means another National Novel Writing Month is upon us. Not to brag (okay, I’m bragging a little bit here) but since I have a five year winning streak going, I think that means I’m now officially required to keep participating in perpetuity lest I break my streak. Each success only makes it harder to consider quitting.

I did a presentation at my library today about NaNoWriMo, which was a decidedly fun experience. I have no idea if the seven adults who attended my little workshop will stick with it or not but getting to talk about writing in a professional setting like that was wonderful. Likewise, I felt great talking about writing and getting to be the voice of encouragement to a group of people who don’t have to listen to me. That’s always empowering.

Perhaps you’d like to join me in doing some writing? If so, head over to the NaNoWriMo site and sign up. We can even be writing buddies if you’d like. Writing with other people knowing that you’re writing is always more fun, which is why we blog and go to coffee shops.

It’s very likely that there will be a halo effect here and the time I’m spending writing will actually encourage me to blog more than I did in October. I needed to take October off, I think. After that Gamergate post, retreating from the Internet for a while felt like the intellectually healthy thing to do. Also, there was this fun two-day thing trying to unscramble a mess involving a hacker, my Xbox Live account, and EA Origins.

All I know right now is that I wrote 3,000 words today on a new story, which is great, and it smells like dinner is ready, which is honestly even greater!