Tuesday, January 16, 2018

State of the Apocalypse, Mid-January 2018: What’s Happening with THE SAGA OF THE DEAD SILENCER

Number 8 will cause severe gastrointestinal distress! Or something.

This story is good for two, maybe three podcast episodes, so I can’t give the whole thing away. Suffice it to say that, over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season, I passed a major narrative milepost with my third book. With this major change in setting/venue comes a bit of world-building I need to square away as quickly and unobtrusively as possible on my way to the narrative’s Darkest Hour.

Longtime readers of this blog will note I’ve made this announcement before, three, nearly four years ago. I’m unclear how I got slowed down so hard in 2015, except that the pressures to get our house in Colorado Springs ready for sale were making themselves known. I was coming back from my three-mile daily walks more and more depressed for the accelerating deterioration of the neighborhoods and parks, the crumbling and increasingly garbage-filled and graffiti’d aqueduct. 

If I were to look it up, I could pinpoint the exact date all writing on THE SAGA OF THE DEAD SILENCER stopped in early March 2016. That was the night after my Jeep got broken into at the once-upscale supermarket where my son worked. The thieves had pulled fuses from the fuse box with the apparent idea of disabling the vehicle. We’d leave it overnight in the parking lot; the thieves would come, reinstall the fuses, and collect a sweet, well-cared-for Jeep. 

Fortunately, the vehicle started and we managed to get it home. While my son and I fretted over getting replacement fuses and what appeared to be damage to the electricals in the steering column, my wife fell into severe pain that necessitated her being checked into the hospital.

In April, the busted up futon that pulled the room together from that right wall was taken apart and taken out by my wife. There were good reasons for doing this in regards to selling the house, but my office at Deep Haven Drive in Colorado Springs no longer felt like home.

I’ll never forget that moment I plopped down in my desk chair after visiting my wife at the hospital. I looked at the screen and I knew. An iron curtain had dropped inside my head. I no longer had access to that part of my brain that figured out how to write novels. 

I could spend another 3,000 words describing all that piled on throughout this depressed period, which included us moving 200 miles away from our grown children. As it turned out—and it pains me to confess this—I was lost in the psychic horse latitudes, dead in the water on finishing THE SAGA OF THE DEAD SILENCER for eleven straight months. 

That’s right. From near the beginning of March 2016 through the beginning of February 2017. Despite forcing out a few blogposts here and there, I had several panicky periods in which I wondered if I remembered how to write at all.

The names on the covers were familiar, but for the longest time I didn’t know these guys at all. Note the three different editions of Bleeding Kansas, from left to right: original July 2013 release, German translation of the same (thanks, Torsten Scheib!), and the 2014 second edition with the questionable death in Chapter 9 removed. There will be a fourth edition coming out simultaneously with The Wrong Kind of Dead that restores the death, and removes only the rookie writing errors that plagued me up through the early 2014 release. Grace Among the Dead, released summer 2014, is also digitally remastered for 2018, and good to go for its second edition.

It would take more than 3,000 words to describe how I broke the spell, undertaking one chapter per day rewrites of Bleeding Kansas and Grace Among the Dead, and rewriting, re-plotting, re-everything redux though The Wrong Kind of Dead to the point I’m at now. 

It’s mid-January already, though, and there are few more things to be done. That is, aside from getting to this Darkest Hour, and resolving a three novel series that’s been growing and kicking around two different hard drives since 4 November 2011.

Never mind that. Let’s get to the good stuff. What’s the new book about?

Directly beneath the Great Wall of Bukowski lies the 2017 yet-to-be-released digital remasters of my first two books, and what there is of the galleys for Book 3.

A year has passed since the fall of civilization in The Wrong Kind of Dead, and through a series of fortunate/unfortunate events, Derek Grace and his people learn where the elites disappeared to when the dead rose to eat the living.

In an effort at post-nationalism, the surviving elites call their confederation of remote rural redoubts the Network. The outside world where the dead roam is the Wilderness. The people in the Network entertain themselves with narrated drone-cam footage of survivors struggling and fighting in the Wilderness, which is how Derek Grace and his people come to Jackson Redoubt in Wyoming.

As aficionados of the genre know, there is no such thing as safety in the zombie post-apocalypse. Reunited with Dr. Clyde Hearn from Bleeding Kansas, Grace learns that the colonies of flesh-eating bacteria animating the dead are evolving. They’ve developed hierarchy, with the smart ones at top learning not only how to find living meat, but how to husband it. It turns out there are living people who work with the upper level dead to manage other living captives for food as at least one millions-strong horde they know of travels.

How did such a system come to be? Moreover, how can this horde know how to head for the Redoubt? How is Derek Grace going to save his family, when movement outside the Redoubts is restricted by armed perimeter drones? They’re caught between the pincers of a capricious totalitarian society and sheer numbers of increasingly clever, evolving dead which threaten to overwhelm all.

Well, that was a lot more fun than talking about my stupid personal problems. I haven’t even gotten to the rogue colonel, what we learn of the fate of the rest of the planet, etc.

I’ll have to save it for the podcasts. When I get the  nerve to do them, that is. Which has to be soon, because it’s Patreon or bust for the old man here. Gotta get that ancillary content going.

Personal problems, again. Feel free to hit my PayPal while I work through this.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

The Nigh-Insuperable Challenges of an Ordinary Season

The last of the lights come down today.

That was it. It’s gone. The last holiday of the Holiday Season that everyone says “Happy Holidays” for. With no entertaining nor entertainment required, New Year’s Day is a slightly less awkward holiday than Christmas. Indeed, I think the holiday exists primarily as a day of recovery from the night’s revels before. One might say it’s for recovering from the entire season, but I imagine Christmas feels like last year for many long before this point.

Once New Year’s Day is done, that’s it. That festive final third of the year that began with Labor Day/Back to School is over. Nothing to look forward to from here but for the warm weather to return.
At least the days are getting longer, 43 seconds to one minute at a time. Oh, yeah, I’m keeping track.

January and February are a long stretch of gray, frigid nothing, with only the much-resented Valentine’s Day to mark the calendar. After that it’s, what, St. Patrick’s Day? Easter at least announces the warm weather. Still, it doesn’t seem like U.S. popular culture is feeling its oats until Memorial Day Weekend, when summer unofficially begins.

It’s easy to make those proclamations and resolutions when the season and the days feel bigger than they do now. And it’s easy to see how they fall away in the charmless, colorless days of the long winter that follows.

This is exactly the point of it all. If character is what you are in the dark, or when you think no one is looking, then...well, there’s a similar theme I’m reaching for. Again, there is nothing special about this part of the year. It’s just you and the general pointlessness of existence that was eclipsed by four months of football, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Until yesterday.

This is the season in which we separate the doers from the talkers. The serious operators from the validation seekers.

No lights, no decorations, no songs. No excuses, either. Darn it.

I have to choose a side, too. Every day. Some days will be  easier than others, which is funny, because they’ll all look the same from here until the end of February. 

It’s the lights inside of us that color these days. If we could only get those Christmas lights back up where and when they really count....

Monday, January 01, 2018

A Toast to What’s Next

Two months ago already.

The season started for us two days after Halloween when I learned my good friend and brother of another mother Steven was in the hospital, his organs failing. It’s just as well I didn’t make it to the memorial service because we all fell sick with an intestinal flu that knocked us out for most of Thanksgiving week.

I was going to write at length about this. If you’re a fan of my zombie novels, Steven was the one who forced me to lay a solid narrative foundation in terms of the pseudo-science and humanizing Derek Grace in the very first chapter by having him talk to the cab driver. (Grace still came off as prickly, but at least you knew who you were dealing with, and what motivated him.) 

The tagline to the release of the remastered Bleeding Kansas and Grace Among the Dead (“rewrites” seems too quaint for that project) along with the release to the final chapter, The Wrong Kind of Dead is “Robert Heinlein and Harlan Ellison walk into a bar with their portable typewriters to bang out the Ultimate Zombie Post-Apocalypse Adventure.” It’s a great tagline that reflects the approach I’ve set from the beginning, but it doesn’t precisely describe Steven and me. Steven was a huge fan of Heinlein, but wasn’t all that rational all the time. As for me, and just for starters, I wouldn’t be ordering club sodas in that bar like the famously tee-totaling Ellison. It’s close enough for a decent thumbnail image, though, and all anyone outside our rarefied circle needs to know.

My Ellison shelf. Not all I own, but the essentials are here.

The Long November of 2017 seems like 20 years ago already. The lessons have been long since taken. Christmas was enriched by the reminder that any time is plenty old enough to die, and if others aren’t here, you still are, so it behooves you to make something of it. It was a great time with all the family under our roof. So the time will come when there’s an empty chair at the table. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

I think of that line from Ecclesiastes, It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart. There’s no arguing this except to say I’ve done my mourning. I’ve taken all I can stand to heart. Let’s get something to eat.

So what’s ahead? What am I toasting?

Silent evening, shortly before sundown on Christmas Eve in Monte Vista, Colorado. “All anguish, pain, and sadness/Leave your heart, and may your road be clear.”

I toast the month I hope to make my first podcasts. I’ve been talking about this for years. Now it’s time to begin singing for my supper, as I’m too old and weird to work a regular job. I’m also too close to finishing The Wrong Kind of Dead. As always, I can’t predict when I’ll finish it, but at this point I’m confident I can say, “Before summer.” Well before, if I stay on track. Steven will get his dedication page, and I will be done with a series I started writing in 2011, and should have finished two and a half years ago already.

I’ll be taking things a week at a time, and I pledge to be careful not to let the days get away from me. I wish myself, and by extension, you, Dear Reader, not so much a Happy New Year, but a positive and focused one. If I can just get these few things done, the happiness will follow.

Thanks to each and every one of you who has read and enjoyed this blog. Oh, and that person you’re close to, but haven’t spoken with in so long because, well, everyone’s busy? This is the time to check in. This week. Do it.

That kid on the lower right looks like he’s rockin’ the right attitude. Happy 2018.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Putting Away Christmas

Breaking up is hard to do.

I’d cherished a faint hope that my wife might leave the decorations up a little while longer, if not entirely into the New Year. Our second Christmas at Big Pink was the first with both adult children present, and it all had gone so beautifully. 

Not a chance. At 10 a.m. my wife returned from her early morning after-Christmas sales expedition in Alamosa, and the tree, the lights, and all of the decorations were boxed and put away by mid-afternoon. 

The decorations were put up on Thanksgiving, over a month ago already. With the anticipated Big Day having come and gone, I realize they start to look out of place. For my wife’s part, I know that she, like I, still grieves that our daughter had to go back to her home 200 miles away. The Christmas swag has to be put away sometime, and sooner beats later, so she removes all that which reminds us of the joy of our daughter’s presence less than 24 hours before. 

Honestly, it wouldn’t be any less of a melancholy experience if we left things up until New Year’s Day, or even Epiphany, so she might as well.

I’ve always had trouble letting things go. To my mind, the worst thing about the Christmas season—like so many other things about modern U.S. culture—there is no proper closure to it. So much anticipation is built for the event, and then the day comes, and that’s it. For most people, Christmas is over with the unwrapping of the last present under the tree. Assuming, of course, those people are fortunate enough to have that experience.

(I note quickly that I have already mentioned Epiphany, the Twelfth Day of Christmas. Hold that thought. I’ll get to that in a minute.)

Happy monkey is happy. There’s a story behind this little guy. Stick around; I’ll tell you about it.

I keep telling myself I have no right to my melancholy, because I don’t. Despite the numerous other ways the Choose Your Own Adventure book of my life could have gone, I’ve been blessed beyond belief. The loser who couldn’t keep a girlfriend for so long as a year ended up married to the same woman for 27 years. The same fool who said he’d never have children ended up raising two of the best, and wishing he’d raised two more. If my wife and I wish we saw our children more often, it’s because they do well enough for themselves that we’re not tripping over them sitting around the house, wasting their lives.

It’s just so hard to let go.

Into the box, Santa. At least you ended up better than these guys.

So it’s just as well we rip the Band-Aid. Besides, if we love Christmas so much, why aren’t we keeping it in our hearts like we’re supposed to in the first place?

These are just decorations. The lights can stay turned on in your heart, if you want them. Granted, it will take some work. I’ve got quite the slog ahead of me, myself. 

Note how my son got the dark amber “iceblink” color of the sky on a snowy night just so. Then there’s the gust of wind to the right of the snowman. My children know their art. They knew it best when they were youngest.

Besides, that’s not right. Not all of them are “just” decorations. The eerie and atmospheric winter drawing my son made in elementary school that we’re having framed is a case in point. Then there’s Happy Monkey, whom my wife tasked me with removing from the living area. I had him smiling and waving at the tree from the love seat.

I said I’d tell his story. All right, here it is: my wife brought this home from her latest trip to see her mother in Alabama. This was a toy her eldest brother bought for her with his first paycheck. My wife was in first grade, and in the hospital for some illness. So he bought her this.

“Let’s read some stuff together!”

Happy Monkey apparently wasn’t a hit, but he was preserved. Her oldest brother, of course, has since grown and aged and died of something. When I want to really tear myself out of the frame, I think of this child’s toy bought half a century ago by a teenage boy with his first earnings for his youngest sister. I think of this toy moldering in a landfill after I’m gone. It’s just a weird-looking toy even the recipient wasn’t that crazy about. Even if the story wasn’t lost to history, it would be meaningless to any who heard it after I was gone. 

And why not? Should we erect a museum to things with stories behind them? A museum of long-dead love among long-dead people? 

I’m a sentimental old fool who has trouble letting go. So he’ll join me in my office. I can’t bring myself to set him in the attic.

The best I can do to honor these stories is to take the best care of myself I can and tell those stories when I can. Keep the multi-colored lights twinkling, if only in my heart. Try to be the best-hearted old child Santa would have no trouble bringing gifts to.

It’s a tall order, but I might as well rise to the challenge. Not everyone is so privileged to see this New Year. For all I know, this one special Christmas I enjoyed this year was my last. Yes, I should hang on to this, even as the boxes of mementos and doo-dads and tinsel and beads and lights freeze in the garage tonight. We’ll take this feeling clear past Epiphany.
The road goes ever on and on. If you’re still here, Happy New Year.

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Special Message from December's Cats to Concerned Readers

All two or three dozen of you, wherever you are.

A nice halo effect in the late, late afternoon light before the sun winks out behind the ridge.

It’s been a long slog since I last posted. There was a surprise hospitalization and death in the extended family. Right after that, a grueling intestinal flu bug hit my nuclear family, and nearly canceled Thanksgiving. 

On the bright side, I’ve made splendid progress with the last novel in my zombie apocalypse series, if only as a shelter against the emotional impact that eventually all but paralyzed me these last couple of weeks. 

Ginger Puff lost her sibling, Smudge, towards the end of September after a particularly relentless rainstorm, leaving her the sole survivor of a small litter of runts. In the last few months she’s grown, her eyes are clear, and her fur looks good. Ginger Puff is the great success story of our taking over the feeding of the neighborhood ferals. There are so many cats we knew and named that simply stopped coming around. If I had the money I’d trap them all and get them fixed and full of shots. As it is, all we can do is leave kibble and water out for them, and hope for the best.

Ain’t nothin’ but a thing, as they used to say in U.S. Navy basic training. We’re getting through it, and I expect Christmas to be a very fine thing this year. As Charles Dickens noted in my favorite essay on the subject, “What Christmas Is Like as We Grow Older,” we exclude nothing on this day. Christmas is a celebration of light and life amid the dark and hopeless cold. We raise our glass of cheer, but keep an eye on the wood stove. The dark and hopeless cold are as much of a part of our season as that fire. The point is to accept that—and, like the dark and cold, don’t let it take over.

We mourn our dead. We celebrate our living. We exclude nothing.

At left, the Great White Galoot, whom I used to call “the Yeti.” She’s actually been around since we moved in last year. My wife and I suspect she was once someone’s cat, but was later abandoned. At right, another Original Feline who came with the house, Clarence the Cross-Eyed Siamese.

Our ordeal of November reinforced the urgency of finishing my various projects while also throwing sand into my gears. The paralysis is wearing off. I’m moving again.

Here’s hoping you have a bright and happy Christmas amid the stresses of your life, routine and otherwise. As I’ve observed so many times before, you only get so many of them. Two people close to me observed their last Christmases in 2016. They had no idea.

She gives us these heartbreaking looks like she wants to be let inside. Given that we already have five cats indoors, this would not go well. Galoot doesn’t get along all that well with the other ferals to begin with. I have to put her kibble on the other side of the porch from the others.

Frankly, I’m happier not knowing for myself. You grasp the concept, though.

Have a Merry Christmas, and a blessed New Year.