Eclectic Ramblings From a Bike Riding, Sports Loving, Novel Writing Nerd.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Traveler

His shoulders screamed out in protest, energy stores long since depleted.  Lactic acid had built up in his muscle tissue, the result of hours spent hacking away at the dense foliage.  He knew the jungle should thin out sooner or later, but then again, he’d been thinking that for the last hour.  He had to remind himself, rather begrudgingly, that this jungle was completely alien to him.  He knew next to nothing about it, aside from the fact the brush was dense and it made his muscles cry out in protest.
His pack was loaded with freshly hunted meat so, as far as he was concerned, this little hike was a success.  The animals in this new jungle were strange yet familiar.  It always amazed him how evolution revealed its similarities, no matter the location.  Certain traits always seemed to their way to the forefront, traits that produced survivors no matter the location.  Insects, lizards, warm blooded hunters, flighted animals; they were found everywhere he had been in one form or another.  More importantly, they always proved to be quite tasty when cooked over open flame.  Protein for musculature, calcium and other nutrients for skeletal structure, fat for warmth, all evolutionary traits that showed up everywhere and provided him the sustenance he needed to keep going.
He pushed on, arms and shoulders burning, knowing he would emerge from the jungle soon enough. He’d set out from camp three days prior, intent on finding food and clearing trails for future excursions.  The first day was spent traversing the rocky terrain between base camp and the jungle, the last two clearing brush and stalking prey.  Now he was headed back to camp, to shelter, a bed and a change of clothes.
The machete sliced through the tangle of vines in front of him and he stumbled into a modest clearing.  A small stream gurgled up from a wellspring in the rocks.  The silver snaking stream was set against a small field of grey speckled rocks.  The rocks in turn stood out against the dense green of the jungle.  He immediately felt at peace amidst the accidental oasis; easily the most picturesque scene he’d yet come across.
He took out the test kit and collected a small sample from the spring.  He knew there was little danger of problems in the water here but just as certainly understood that one sip from the wrong stream could mean a painful death, alone in the jungle. Two drops of solvent, a quick shake and yes, as expected the liquid glowed green. He shrugged the pack from his shoulders, removed the bladder, plunged it beneath the surface.  The water felt cool and refreshing across his hands, a welcome respite from the oppressive humidity of the jungle.  
Once the bladder was filled he plunged forearm deep into the stream, brought his cupped hands to his lips and drank thirstily of the cold, crisp liquid.  He splashed his face and soaked his hair.  The cool water dripped down his neck and onto his shoulders providing him just the slightest sense of relief from the heat.
His aching body relaxed ever so slightly as he sat back against one of the rocks that lined the stream.  He reached into his pack and pulled out a small bag of jerky along with his map.  This was the first stream he had come across so he made note of its location.  He ate a few pieces of the jerky; glad for the slight energy boost he knew would accompany it.  What he really needed was a day of rest to let his arms and shoulders recover.  He was no stranger to the kind of labor this jungle required, but the atrophy associated with the lengthy transit had rendered some muscles weaker than others.  After all, swinging a machete was not something one did often on a ship.
He returned the meat and map to his pack, took one last drink of the cool spring water, stood up and re-shouldered his pack.  His shoulders groaned at the renewed burden. He rolled his head and shoulders a bit to work out a couple of kinks then resumed his trek.  Machete in hand he headed east, across the stream’s clearing.  He wiped the sweat from his brow, too late to prevent the salty sting in his eyes.  The jungle beckoned for him to return.  
      The the three foot blade rose above his head then fell again against the thick foliage.  He turned his head for one last, longing look at the silver stream, his temporary oasis, before disappearing into the jungle yet again.
“Congratulations Lieutenant, and welcome aboard”.  The director’s smile was genuine, his handshake firm.
“Thank you sir, I’m honored to be part of the team.  I will give you my best”.
“We expect nothing less Lieutenant.  Captain Jackson is waiting for you in the next room with the rest of the crew.  You’ll be brought up to speed on the rest of the mission details and then you have five days leave.  Get your affairs in order and report back here for training on Monday”.
“Yes Sir”!  He snapped a quick salute and turned for the door.  His mind was racing.  Sure he was confident in his performance these past weeks.  He’d never been subjected to the number or range of tests but he knew his performance had been top not.  Yet he was easily the most junior applicant.  No one was ever selected their first time out; until now.
His mind was swimming throughout the two hour briefing.  He found it increasingly hard to focus as the minutes ticked by.  Luckily everything was recorded so he could review everything after he calmed down, whenever that was.
He was twenty five years old; an honor graduate from Annapolis at twenty one, a decorated fighter pilot with combat commendations by twenty four. He was a rising star and he knew it.  Even so, he was also grounded enough to know nothing came without hard work.   Everyone had to put their time in.  So his selection over several well-seasoned veterans was a shock.  He could imagine those same veterans, their shock at being passed over by a mere rookie.  The thought continued to rattle around his thoughts, never settling enough for him to grasp it.
“Any questions Lieutenant?”
Captain Jackson was at the front of the briefing room and his gaze had clearly fallen directly on his newest team member.
“No sir, all set for today.  I’ll be sure to study everything in depth while on leave.  I’ll be ship shape and raring to go by Monday.”
The corners of Captain Jackson’s face turned up into a knowing smile.  He knew the kid was lying, wondered how much information had actually been retained.  Jackson had been in similar shoes himself twenty or so years ago: excited, head too full of possibilities to really process anything.  He also knew the kid would do as he said, and likely more; one of several reasons the kid was part of the team.
“Good to know Lieutenant.  Now get outta here.  Go spend some time with that lady of yours.  It’s going to be quite some time before you see her again.  We’ll see you Monday.”
One more salute, a quick spin on his heels and the lieutenant was on his way through the door.  He was headed home, the home he would be leaving for a very long time, the home where Sarah waited for him.
     “Sarah” the Lieutenant thought to himself.  “How am I going to tell Sarah?”
The jungle slowly began to thin. His shoulders were beginning to give out so he welcomed the opportunity to holster his blade.  He wasn’t clear of the tree line yet but the foliage no longer required clearing.  He could see a rocky plane just at the edge of his vision.  The edge of the jungle meant the overbearing humidity was almost at an end.
His thoughts returned to camp, some distance to the east, just across the rocky plane.  Camp was small and accomodations were spartan  at best, but it was home. 
Captain Jackson and Commander Lewis awaited is return, as did a hot shower, shelter and a bed.  Sure it was only a small bunk, designed to just barely lift him off the ground, but barely was better than not at all.  After three nights sleeping on the jungle floor he was ready for any relief he could find.  He also needed to get to work preserving the meat in his pack.  The animal flesh would start to spoil soon and he didn’t want to waste even an ounce.  He’d taken the first necessary steps in field prepping the meat but that would only last so long.
He finally stepped through tree line onto the rocky plane.  He stopped long enough to get a bearing with his compass and then set out in as direct a line to camp as he could figure.  The jungle was behind him now but the terrain was no less treacherous.  Dense foliage was replaced with boulders and loose rocks.  In another mile or so he would arrive at the canyon and his trek to camp would continue downhill. 
Captain Jackson would be happy with his haul.  There had to be close to forty pounds of useable meat, bone and hide in his pack, quite a take considering the last three days had been as much about scouting and trailblazing as about hunting.  The meat would last many weeks.  It would fill the small cooler and provide several pounds of jerky once cured and dried.  He also had several miles of trail marked along with one very important water source and two caves that would need to be explored at a later date.
The sun was slowly lowering towards the horizon in front of him, marking the end of yet another day.  If his navigation was accurate he would arrive back at camp shortly before the sun set, just in time to enjoy the slight cooling of temperatures that accompanied it.  The thought brought a slight smile to the edge of his mouth and his pace quickened ever so slightly.
Were Commander Lewis with him he would have made a sarcastic quip about the young lieutenant’s vigor.  The two senior members of the team love to drone on and on with the salty dog stories that came from many years of service.  They also never tired of poking fun at his exuberance and drive.  He would have been surprised to learn it stemmed from both pride and jealousy.  Pride in the reflections of themselves the lieutenant provided, jealousy in the knowledge they no longer had the energy, strength and stamina of their junior crew member.
His pace had quickened as he dwelled fondly on the conversations, jokes and storied the trio had shared during the ship’s voyage.  He made a conscious decision to stop for a moment, forcing himself out of the carelessly fast pace for fear of losing his footing on the rocks.   The canyon’s edge was now visible, the last thing he needed was to cause an injury this close to camp.
The sun stared him in his face, beckoning him toward the camp that lay ahead, somewhere on the canyon floor.  He wiped the sweat from his brow, took a long swig from his water tube and resumed his slow trek, answering the sun’s call onward.

The look on her face was tearing at the flesh around his heart.   She hadn’t stopped crying in the forty-five minutes since he’d broken the news.  It seemed every time she started to calm down, reality came roaring back.  The sorrow in her face would deepen and the wail would begin again.
     “Three years!”  She cried.  “What am I going to without you for three years?”
     “The time hasn’t changed.  Three years was always the mission length”.  He knew the words were of little comfort. 
     “But you weren’t supposed to get selected!  It was your first time through.  Even dad said there was no chance.”  Her father had been through the program thirty years ago and was one of the legendary first wave of explorers.
     “I don’t know what to say.  We knew I had to apply when they asked and I can’t say no now.  If I do it’ll be the end of my career.”
     “But the wedding!  We just got engaged!”
     “Sweetheart, I know.  I didn’t plan for this.  I don’t know why they picked me, but they did.  We always knew it was a possibility.”
     “You know damn well why they picked you.” Her voice was a shattered whisper now.  “It’s the same reason I fell for your all those years ago. There’s something special about you.  There always has been.  It’s why I don’t know how I’m going to live without you.”
     His words left him.  He did the only thing he could, pulled her close, wrapped her sobbing body in his arms.  The last shard of control dissolved and grief overcame her.   The warmth of her tears soaked through his shirt and ran down his shoulder.  He pulled her closer and they cried together.
     “We’ll work it out.  Three years and I’ll be home.  Then we’ll have all the time in the world.”
He still wasn't used to the heat.  The unrelenting sun stared him straight in the face. Sweat poured into his eyes and soaked his shirt.  This place always seemed to feel hottest to him right before the large yellow sun set in the east.
Just ahead of him was a rise that would be the last before camp.  Just a thousand meters or so and he would crest the last hill, finally able to lay eyes on his destination.  His return couldn't come soon enough.  The pack weighed heavily on his shoulders and the straps has worn his skin raw.  He looked forward to some rest and recovery.
The closer he got to this home the more he thought of the real one; the home where Sarah waited patiently.  He could see her face whenever he closed his eyes; her soft brown hair cascading against the alabaster skin of her shoulders.  He could smell the strawberries from the lotion she used every day.  He could hear her rhythmic breathing as she slept next to him.
They had been friends since grade school.  They'd never dated during their youth but had remained friends throughout his years at the Academy.  He was a junior lieutenant when he'd run into her while visiting his parents.  He knew the minute he saw her he couldn't let her get away again.  They'd started writing each other every day.  He started taking all of his leave back home.  She used her vacation to visit wherever he was stationed.
He'd always been honest about his ambitions and she'd always shared them.  Whenever they were together they would stay awake to all hours of the night, staring and the stars and charting his career.  She had more faith in him than anyone, including himself.  
Leaving her almost destroyed him.  It was all a part of the plan, but like most plans it didn't follow their carefully plotted course.  His selection for the program during his first application had shocked them both.  He hadn't been prepared for her reaction and it weighed on him heavily even now.
She was everything to him, more important to him even than his career.  He'd realized this fact almost as soon as the ship had set off.  Within the first month he’d decided to do everything he could to never leave her again.  Just three years and he'd be back home, ready to make it all up to her and then some.
The rocks under foot started to shift again, his reverie broken when he had to put a hand out to keep from tumbling down the slope.  The sun continued its relentless fall toward the horizon.  He continued to creep ever closer to the summit, ever closer to the home that beckoned for his return.

"Latest estimates have us at just over three weeks out sir. Just under 22 days."
     "Thanks Commander." The Captain, along with the rest of the small crew was getting antsy after so many months in the small ship.
     "So what do you think of your first trip kid?"  This was about the fourth time the commander had asked him the same question in the last week.
     "I feel like a damned sardine Commander. Same as yesterday." He couldn't hide the smartass smile while he answered.
     "Good, then everything is moving according to plan."
"Don't worry" the Captain chimed in. "Three more weeks in this can then we've got 18 months on land, plenty of times to stretch the legs."
     "Yeah, just enough time to get used to it before we're cooped up again" Commander Jackson retorted.
     "Hey, the sooner we're on our way home the happier I'll be."
     "Damn kid" the captain sneered "This is your first trip, you're supposed to start thinking about home for at least another year."
     He smiled weakly at the commander's jibe. He knew he should tell them both of his decision to leave the program when he got home but he didn't want them questioning his commitment so early in the mission.
     "Ah, you know me Captain, just the whiny punk kid right?"  The Captain smiled then turned back to his work.
     He had come to respect both of the commanding officers on this trip, more than any he'd worked with before. He would do anything they asked, anything to make them proud. Anything that is, except continuing with the program after they returned. Sarah was the only thing in his life worth pursuing anymore. He was resolved to give up a promising career for a desk job.  He would never leave her again, career be damned.
     18 months on land then 9 more to get home 27 months of his very best for these two men, then everything he had would be hers.
     He finally crested the ridge leading to camp. The sun was just beginning to fall behind the two story structure. It cast a long shadow in his direction, calling out for his return. As he arrived at the bottom of the hill the loose rocks gave way to firm ground. His pace quickened as he no longer had to worry about unsure footing.
     As he got closer to the aluminum and titanium housing structure his thoughts returned to Sarah. He knew he would dream of her tonight. He looked forward to the restful night in an actual bed, alone with his memories of her. He entered the structure and removed the pack from his shoulders. He carefully placed the hunted meat in the cooler, glad to have it in storage before it began to spoil. He would spend a good portion of tomorrow preserving the meat and hide in order to stretch its usefulness as far as possible.
     After finishing with the meat he turned to head back outside. He turned immediately north, directly towards Captain Jackson and Commander Lewis. His heart turned heavy as he approached. The earth was still loose around them, the rocks still neatly stacked, the mounds spaced about four feet apart. He'd done the job properly; none of the local animals had disturbed the sites while he was gone. He knelt next to Captain Jackson.
     "Well Cap, I've got enough meat for at least the next two or three weeks plus enough for several weeks of jerky. The agricultural units seem to be working so hopefully I'll have some veggies before too long."  
     The sun had almost set now. He turned towards the commander’s mound. "You would have liked this place Commander, great hunting and the place if friggin gorgeous too".
     He patted the commander’s rock pile, stood up and turned to head inside. As he neared the door he couldn't help but look to his left. The shattered engines lay in pieces next to the command module. The ship listed heavily towards the east, just as it had since the crash.
     He entered the command module and passed through to the living quarters. The ship's computer did not greet him as programmed; the lights did not adjust to his arrival. The spacecraft was dead, its power cells destroyed, its computers lifeless. The crashed had destroyed everything on board.
The ship was dead. The Captain was dead. The Commander was dead. Everything was dead, everything except him.
     He entered the living quarters just as the large sunset in the east. At almost the same instant another smaller, cold sun began its rise in the west, preventing night from ever falling on this alien world. Yet inside the living quarters, nestled between the titanium walls and without windows, the world was dark. He lit a candle next to his bunk and lay down. The soft light flickered against the wall, illuminating her face. He stared at it for several long minutes. She was his entire world. He had never loved anything so completely. Now all he had of her were the two small pictures that hung on the wall of a stranded spacecraft.
"Good night Sarah."
     He turned away, blew out the candle, let the darkness embrace him, and slept.

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Taste of NaNoWriMo

So NaNoWriMo is over.  This was my first go 'round and I nailed it.  I could not be happier.  What a great time!

If you are a writer and haven't tried it yet I highly recommend it.  The support is amazing and the process really helps develop some great habits.  I think I wrote for 28 of the 30 days and the only two misses were due to long workdays.  Plus, I got a decent first draft out of it.  I was really surprised to see where Fatman decided to go but I'm excited with the results.

This project will sit on the shelf until early January when I start revisions.  Partly because I just launched another project this week (please check it out) and partly to let the story rest before editing.   The plan is to break the draft up into three parts and publish each separately.  I hope to have the first part out on e-book by May with the other two coming later in the year.

With that said, I would like to share a little bit of the story.  I'm putting up the first few scenes here.  Be warned, I have done ZERO editing.  This is a NaNoWriMo first draft at its finest.  Take a look, let me know what you think, don't beat me up too much.  The final product will likely look much different.

Anyway, here you go.

Clark's heart was racing, a thin line of sweat beaded just above his eyebrows. His nemesis before him, Clark was ready for the confrontation.  It was one he'd faced many times out before, proving victorious more often than not.  Many feared being pitted against Clark in such a situation.
"Unfortunately Mr. Veenstra your policy does not cover rot damage such a this.  The damage has clearly been ongoing for some time.  Your contractor thinks it's been leaking for up to a year. Your policy specifically excludes this type of damage."
Nailed it! Clark thought to himself.  Empathetic, check.  Clearly explained, check.  Policy quoted? Check.
"But Mr. Parker, I'm on a fixed income. How am I supposed to afford this?"
It was a response Clark heard all too often.  For fourteen years he had been adjusting claims for Mecha Insurance International Corporation.  For fourteen years he had heard every excuse, explanation, sob story and threat.  He understood why, people don't take bad news very well and his job oftentimes required him to hand out bad news. 
This one though, the "fixed" income was the hardest to stomach.  It usually came up when dealing with elderly, low income families who either were poor financial planners or just didn't have enough finances to plan with.  They were, almost always, good people.  Clark could hear his grandparents in the voices, in their stories.  It tore at his heart to tell them no but it was his job.
"I understand Mr. Veenstra. Unfortunately the policy has specific types of damage that are covered and lists others that are specifically excluded.  We are only able to pay for damages covered under the policy."
Jerry Veenstra started to sob on the other end of the phone.  Clark could hear Jerry gasp for air as he wailed.  It crushed Clark every time something like this happened.  He knew he had done the right thing, he wasn't being a jerk or trying to screw over his customer.  The policy just didn't cover this type of damage.  Yet none of that helped.  Jerry was 75 years old and lived alone.  No family, no friends, no one to help him get through this.  Clark wished he could just write a check and move on.
It took Clark another seven or eight minutes to get Jerry calmed down.  Jerry explained that he understood the situation and thanked Clark for his time, for being so kind and helpful.  This just made Clark feel worse.
There were so many similar, heart wrenching stories on the other end of the line that Clark had for years joked one needed to check their soul at the door to do this job.  Lately Clark had keenly felt the hole where his checked soul used to be.  The job was starting to get to him.
Clark locked his computer and headed to the coffee station for a quick break.  As he walked through the monotony of the half-walled cubicle city he glanced across his co-workers, entrenched in so many calls similar to his own.  As he watched head after head pop up above the half-walls he couldn't help but think of prairie dogs.  Depressed, soulless prairie dogs.
Yeah, the job was definitely starting to get to him.
He savored the coffee's aroma, slightly nutty with a hint of chocolate,  as he filled his mug with the rejuvenating black liquid.  As he slid the decanter back in place he spotted something at the end of the counter: Fund raising chocolate.
Without consciously deciding to do so Clark slipped a five dollar bill into the box and grabbed and handful of bars.  His brain registered the taste and accompanying pleasure of impending snack.  Clark knew he didn't need the candy bars.  He was easily eight pounds overweight.  Food was his crutch and his nemesis.  He didn't care today.
He slid back into his chair and unwrapped the first bar.  His mouth exploded with excitement as the smooth, milky heaven touched his tongue.  He devoured the bar in three quick bites, chewing quickly and swallowing the tasty morsels as his mind drifted through the euphoria.  As he tossed the wrapper in the trash he glanced around, making sure no one was watching him. 
Assured no eyes followed him, Clark quickly wolfed down the remaining two bars. The chemical rush brought on by the chocolate completely removed the frustration brought on by the last call.  In its place sate the guilt only a fat man could understand.
That afternoon Clark had to sit through yet another mind numbing staff meeting.  After fourteen years there was very little new information for Clark to glean from these get togethers so Clark tended to glaze over and get lost in his thoughts.
The only thing Clark had to remotely look forward to was the comic book convention in River City.  As the department manager droned on about office results and other inane nothingness, Clark was walking through his geek weekend, imagining what he would be doing three weekends hence.
He was sifting through back issue comic boxes when he felt a tap on his arm.  It took a couple of seconds to register that the tap was real, had actually happened.  He turned to his side and felt his heart skip as he gazed into the most beautiful blue eyes he'd ever seen. 
Lost in his convention reverie he'd completely forgotten that Kathryn Grey was seated next to him.  Co-workers for the last six years they were comfortable "office" friends.  They would joke occasionally, reminisce about the old day, regale the new hires with horror stories of the way it used to be.  She had no idea he was madly in love with her.
How could he not be?  Long brown hair, creamy white skin, legs that he couldn't keep his eyes off.  And those eyes!  He could never quite find the word to describe the color, a blue that twinkled under the artificial glow of the office lights.  He could get lost inside them even  if he only got a fleeting glance. 
She was out of his league and he knew it.  She was a major leaguer and he was toiling away in Single A Winter Ball. 
As their eyes met she leaned slightly towards Clarks right ear. "Twice a year for six years we have this meeting. The numbers never change" she whispered.
"Fourteen for me" Clark said. "The only thing that changes is the manager standing up front."
Kathryn smiled and leaned back to her seat. 
Clark returned his gaze to the front of the room as his mind drifted back to the convention.  Only this time, he had a date.

Two hours and and several monotonous phone conversations later Clark found himself trudging to his car at the end of another long day.  He looked up at the grey Autumn sky and thought of the long midwestern winter ahead.  The sun hid behind the grey and would only show itself sparingly over the next few months.
As he reached his car Clark noted he had received a text.  It was from his longtime best friend Remy.
"We still on for tonight?" Remy inquired.
They had a longstanding appointment.  Every Thursday night was beer and games at Clark's apartment.  It had been years since either had cancelled when both were in town yet Remy's verification text could be counted on at 4:00 every Thursday.
"Yep, 7:00" Clark shot back before sliding into the driver's seat.
Clark was lost in thought as he inched through the line out of the parking lot.  The gray skies reflected his mood.  These days he found himself increasingly unfulfilled with life.  He felt trapped in his job.  He was well paid but completely unchallenged.  Yet his lack of a four year degree left him unable to advance.  He was fine with taking a pay cut for the right job, he just didn't know what that job was. 
He looked own at the belly that lapped over his seatbelt and nestled against the steering wheel.  He'd been an athlete in high school and college and earned a black belt in Aikido as a teenager.  As life trudge on beyond the golden glow of his early twenties his activity dropped, replaced by the comfort of food.  Yet he still saw himself as the young, fit man he'd been. It was only recently, as his blood pressure and pant size had reached unacceptable numbers, that he was beginning to realize just how far he had let himself fall. 
He looked in the mirror and forced himself to focus on the double chin.  The loose skin under his neck made his stomach turn but he forced himself to focus on the pain, the disgust that it elicited. He felt the tears welling up in his throat as the feelings of worthlessness bubbled up.  The confidence of his first thirty plus years melted away under the weight of the harsh truth.
He fought off the lump in his throat as he pulled onto the expressway.  He flipped his satellite radio to the rock station, maxed out the volume and began to lose himself in the aggression of loud drums and searing guitars.  His anger began to rise, directed at his self pity.  What good would come from feeling sorry for himself?  It was time to stop wallowing and start acting. 
He pounded his palms against the steering wheel in time with the pulsing rythm from the radio.  His anger pushed out the doubts, the self hatred.  He would do something.  He would fix this.  He was sure of it. 
As he lost himself in the anger and music his speed increased.  His mood began to life.
His heart skipped a beat when the tire shredded.  His mind completely refocussed on controlling the car as it fishtailed with the loss of his right front tire.  Luckily there were few cars around him and he was able to safely pull to the side of the road.
He turned the radio down and took a minute to compose himself.  He could feel his hear racing, knew his blood pressure had skyrocketed.  As he sat in silence fat drops of rain splattered the windshield.  They picked up speed and density until he could hardly see past the car's hood.
"Of course" Clark muttered. 
The anger, aggression and self determination disappeared, replaced by defeat and resignation.  Sixty seconds ago he had resolved to turn his life around.  Now he just wanted to drown this shit day in a bucket of fried chicken and wash it down with a pint of Ben and Jerry's.
Clark popped the trunk and emerged into the downpour, pulled out the spare,knelt in the mud and got to work. 
"You sure you don't want to play something, get your mind off things?"
"Yeah Remy, I just want to sit here and enjoy a couple of drinks, not use my brain for a while" Clark answered.
Remy had been at the apartment when Clark arrived, an hour late, soaking wet, clothes caked in mud.  As expected Remy had let out a joyous belly laugh at the pathetic sight of his friend.  Remy had a way of laughing at everything, it helped Clark stay level headed in shitty situations like this.
"Man that's one hell of an end to your day huh?" Remy asked.
"Yeah, I'm getting used to it.  Seems to be a recurring theme with me lately.  Shit seems to start rolling downhill right about the time I start walking up it."
Clark finished off that last of his beer and got up from his chair.
"You want another?" Clark asked.
"Nah, I think I'm good.  Still got to drive home you know."
Clark tossed the bottle in the recycling bin and opened the fridge.  As he reached for another bottle he glanced over the contents of the Frigidaire: Chinese Takeout leftovers, leftover pizza, potato salad.  Not a damn vegetable or piece of fruit.  It was pretty spare which stood in sharp contrast to his freezer, stocked to the gills with microwavable boxes devoid of any real nutrition. 
No wonder he was so damn fat.  Everything he ate was full of fat and sodium and garbage. He knew what he was and was not supposed to eat.  He'd been on every fad diet imaginable, none lasting longer than a few months before he returned to the comfort of donuts and fried foods with gravy.
The malaise he'd been nurturing all afternoon was getting worse as the day wore on. He was starting to actively hate large portions of himself.  His waistline, his eating habits, his lack of a sex life, his total lack of direction. 
As yet another wave of self hatred swam over him he decided against the last beer and shut the refrigerator door.
"I've got to do something man" He said as he returned to the living room.  "I can't keep wallowing around like this."
"Um, what the hell are you talking about dude?" Remy asked.
"C'mon Remy, I'm thirty three years old, I'm fat, I have a dead end job that I really don't care about, no girlfriend.  Did I mention I'm fat?"
"You're not that fat." Remy countered with a smile.
"I'm literally twice the man I should be Remy!"  Clark shouted.  "I'm 300 pounds easy.  How the hell did I let that happen?"
"OK, OK. I thought you were just shitting with me.  You're really serious about this huh?"
"Yeah Remy, It's been eating away at me a while now."
"Well it apparently hasn't eaten too much..." Remy said.
Clark stared blankly at his friend.
"You know, since you..haven't...lost any wei...nevermind."
Clark cracked a smile, shook his head. 
"You son of a bitch." Clark said.
Remy laughed, a look of relief on his face. 
"You know Clark, if you want something to do you could always take up crime fighting."
"What?  What the hell are you talking about?"
Remy pointed at the TV where the local news was running yet another story on River City's current crime scourge The Boemen.
"Those jackasses are getting out of hand.  Somebody's got to do something, why not you?"
River City had been founded by Dutch settlers in the 1700's and it was still heavily steeped in Dutch-American culture.  Consequently the power local street gang had taken to calling themselves The Boemen after the mythical Dutch Bogeyman.  They had risen to prominence over the last decade and were now powerful enough that the local police had a hard time controlling their activities. 
"I mean their just a bunch of thugs Clark.  You're a fucking black belt!" Remy laughed.
Clark knew Remy was just joking but he'd hit a major sore spot.  It was true, Clark had become an Aikdo black belt in high school, practicing the martial art into his early twenties.  But with everythign else good in his life it slowly fell down the priority list.  As his weight ballooned he attended lessons more and more infrequently until he completely stopped last year.  He was even still paying the thirty dollar monthly fee because he was too embarrassed to face Master Kesuke to cancel his membership.  Yet another thing he failed at miserably.
Clark stared at the wall across the room, lost in thoughts of self doubt and unaware of uncomfortable fidgeting of his friend.  After a couple of minutes Remy got up from the couch.
"Yeah, think it's time for me to head home."
Clark stirred from his trance. 
"Oh shit, sorry Remy.  I got kind of lost inside my head there."
"It's cool Clark.  Tough day right?  No worries bud, I gotta go anyway."
"Thanks for stopping by man." Clark said.  "Sorry I was such a drag tonight."
"Like I said bud, no worries.  Besides, we've got River City Comic-Con in a couple weeks.  We'll drown our sorrows in back issues and cos-players." Remy's ear to ear smile was back and as always it lifted Clark's spirits.
"You're on brother!" Clark said.
Remy opened began humming the them to last summers Space Opera blockbuster as he opened the door.  Clark smiled as Remy's volume increased in league with his distance from Clark's door.

Clark sat back down in his chair to watch the rest of the news.  He began to feel the day's stress catch up to him as his eyes got heavy and his muscles began to ache.  He laid his head back and closed his eyes.  Within seconds he was asleep, the day's worries replaced with dreams of comic books and blue eyed co-workers.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

NaNoWriMo Update

Wow what a week!

Well technically it's been nine days  but the whole "week ends on a Sunday" thing kind of sticks with you after a while.

This is my first NaNoWriMo and I have had an amazing time plugging away at this book.

I've tried writing a novel several times in the past but I always seem to get distracted or frustrated with where the story is going or overwhelmed by the need to write 100,000 words.

This time, with the combination of pressure and support from NaNoWriMo and some wise words from one of my favorite authors, I have been able to get further along in the process than ever before.  Even more important, I can now see where the story is going how its going to end.  I just need to let the words hit the page - something that has been happening in alarming quantity for the last few days.

I think the main factor this time around is that I've turned my focus away from any kind of publishing goal for the final product.  I'm not bound a high word count required by publishers (they usually don't even look at manuscripts under 70 or 80 thousand words, too hard to make money on them).  I can just write the story for what it is and if the end product is worthy of sharing I can find the best way to do just that.

It's funny to me how we as writers get hung up on word count sometimes.  So many of our stories will never see the light of day with a traditional publisher yet we try to shoehorn stories into those constraints.  Allowing a story to be whatever it actually is has been amazingly liberating.

Maybe this is a lesson other writers have long since learned.  Maybe I'm just late to the party but I've had enough conversations and read enough articles on the subject to think that's not really the case.  Either way, it has helped me tremendously this first week plus.

In nine days I have written over 21,000 words.  I've never come close to reaching that kind of production before.  I'm over 40% of the way through my goal for the month and I still have 3 full weeks to go.

The best part is, I really think this will wind up being something to share when I'm finished.  I was willing to treat this project as a learning exercise if the quality wasn't there but I really think it is.  The story will of course need a large amount of revision and polish, after all I'm not stopping to correct as I go, but that's what December is for (and January, and a large part of 2014 most likely).  Yet when it's all said and done I really think I'll have something to share with the anyone willing to give it a try.

Thanks again for all the support.  And if you haven't already, don't forget to sign up for my newsletter!  It will go out quarterly and anyone on the list will get first looks at some content.  Subscribers will also be automatically entered into any drawings I hold for published works.



Friday, November 1, 2013

And So It Begins

Got up at 5:00 am for a kickstart to NaNoWriMo.  It is kind of exciting to be setting off on this challenge.

I've put Dogwood on the back burner until after NaNoWriMo.  During the outline process I realized this was going to be a much bigger novel than I first thought and I don't want to rush the first draft for the November challenge.  So, with 10,000 words behind me on the first draft Dogwood will take a break until December.

For NaNoWriMo I will be taking on another project, one that hits a little closer to home. They say write what you know and I think I've found a really fun, exciting way to do that.  The book is titled "Fatman" and it's something of a memoir in that I'm using a lot of personal knowledge to build this protagonist.  That's all I'm going to say for now but you can track the progress with the meter to the right.  I'll also have daily word count and progress updates on my Facebook and Twitter pages as well as weekly updates here.

Thanks again to all of you for the support lately.  I hope to have at least one finished product on the e-market next year so stick around.


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Monday, October 14, 2013

The Indie Inquisition

If you follow self publishing news you may have seen several stories recently about authors paying for reviews. This has of course created great consternation within the community. Bloggers haven taken to their web pages to lash out these authors, claiming these paid reviews tarnish the system and make it harder for consumers to find quality material. This position is understandable as many of these authors decided on self publishing in order to avoid the somewhat messy traditional publishing scene.  I have no problem with authors getting upset about paid reviews.

The part that really bothers me though is the witch hunt atmosphere that has emerged. Unfounded accusations are being tossed about. Even worse, unsupported blanket statements are issued, making successful authors look guilty by association. Authors are forced to try and prove a negative, leaving them in an untenable situation. They’ll never be able to prove a negative, at least not to the Inquisition’s satisfaction.

Accompanying the paid review witch hunt is something I find even more perplexing. Many in the industry feel that peer to peer, family/friend and trade reviews are just as bad. To clarify with some examples:

Peer to Peer - Writers from a co-op review each other’s work
Traded Reviews - Authors trade review for review with other authors
Family/Friend - If I have to explain this, well just stop reading now

There are other similar, unpaid reviews out there as well and the problem seems to be that these are not unbiased. Unbiased reviews can’t be trusted so we must do away with all of them.

I say: So effing what.

Seriously, how the heck are we supposed to make it as independents if we take away every avenue we have to get the word out? The few indie books that become successful do so by word of mouth. Where the heck do you think that starts? Mom, dad, drinking buddies, the guy you serve a grande nonfat mocha caramel to every morning at 6:45 who found out you were an author and couldn’t wait to see your book. They’re the ones that support us. Why can’t they have a voice?

If we want to support independent authors why are we tearing them down for being independent? Did Deathcab for Cutie tell their fiends to not talk about their first few albums (you younger kids can substitute Haim or MGMT for Deathcab if you want)? No, indie art gets out however the hell it can. Why in the world would we stifle that?

Some make the argument that you can’t trust these biased reviews. Well, tough. You can’t trust a lot of reviews. Some people rate all books a 5, they just love everything so much! Some people hate puppies and babies so they sure aren’t going to give your book more than a 1.

If you’re looking for something to read outside of your normal referral channels, the trick is to read a bunch of review. Pay attention to what is actually being said. Isn’t that why they publish the actual reviews on Amazon, so you can read them?

If you buy a book, site unseen, solely because it got a crap ton of 5 star reviews, well then don’t come cryin to me when it sucks. Read the reviews. See what people are saying. Take the “It’s the best book ever” and “This was pure crap” reviews with a grain of salt and pay attention to the ones that specify what was good and what was bad. You know, use your brain. It’s why we read in the first place right?

We can have the argument over whether paid reviews are OK if you want (although my argument will start with the fact that the traditional industry pays for them too). Let’s lay off the witch hunts and the snobbery though, OK? Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and go create something. Yes, a multi-book deal with a massive advance would be great but that’s not why we do this. We do this because we love to tell our tales, to get those epic yarns out of our head and onto the page.

Let’s stop throwing stones and get back to telling stories. That’s what it’s all about anyway.



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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Breaking Bad and The Art of Storytelling

Jenny and I recently jumped on the Breaking Bad bandwagon.  I know we’re late to the party but it’s not without good reason.  We’ve always had a hard time finding shows we both enjoy.  I watched the first episode when it came out on Netflix a couple of years ago and realized right away Jenny would love it.  It only took me 18 months or so to convince her.  Actually, I didn’t even do that.  I just got sick of trying so I started watching it on my own.  She wound up in the room one night, playing Words With Friends on her phone, while I was watching and it just drew her right in.

It’s been a blast watching her get sucked into the show.  I have a long history of addiction to quality small screen programming. Lost, Doctor Who, Fringe, they’re just a small sampling of the shows that hooked me with the free sample then had me begging for more.  Jenny, not so much. In fact she actively avoided such shows after seeing how they tortured me with cliffhangers.

Breaking Bad finally got her.  After she admitted to an interest in the show we went back to episode one and started fresh.  I forced her to stop after three episodes and she just about shot me.  She’s had basically the same reaction each night.  We sit down to gorge on Walt and Company. She gets hooked.  She throws things when I make her turn it off. It didn’t matter that she had forty more episodes left.  She didn’t care that was no way to watch them all at once.  She couldn't quit.  She HAD to know what happened next.

Watching her get caught up in this show has gotten me thinking about the art of storytelling.  Well, that plus the fact that I’m reading Stephen King’s memoir “On Writing” right now.  Storytelling dates back to beginnings of language.  We’ve captivated each other with re-tellings of our conquests, our dreams and our inspirations.  Yet some of us do it far better than others.  

What is it that makes a great story?  Are there tricks?  Is there formula?  Is it just something certain people are gifted with?

I am very wary of anyone who says they have a sure fire formula for storytelling.  Sure, it can be done but it winds up being, well, formulaic.  You wind up with stories that all sound the same. The names and places change but the stories are all alike.  It may work once or twice but, for me at least, it doesn’t last.

The best stories are written by the characters themselves.  Stephen King likens it to excavating a fossil.  The writer has little control over what is there, only how much of it is uncovered.

 Stories aren’t souvenir tee-shirts or GameBoys. Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing     world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”  [1]

This is also evident in Breaking Bad.  Vince Gilligan has admitted that Jesse Pinkman was originally supposed to die at the end of the first season.  Yet as the character developed, and the actor’s portrayal played out, Gilligan realized Jesse was actually central to the story.  Gilligan listened to what the character and the story were saying and let them develop on their own.

At it’s core, good storytelling gives us a reason to care.  Whether it’s the lovable nun turned governess (my kids are in the other room watching The Sound of Music so it's top of mind), or a bumbling school teacher turned psychopathic drug manufacturer, great stories wrap you up in the characters first.  Once you care about what happens to them they drive the story.  They can take you pretty much anywhere.

It’s been fascinating watching the characters and story evolve on Breaking Bad.  I think the combination of our binge watching schedule and my focus on story creating has helped me see things from this perspective but it truly is a phenomenal story.  I only hope someday I can create something a fraction as good.

Until Next Time!



[1] King, Stephen (2000-10-03). On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft (pp. 163-164).      Scribner. Kindle Edition.