Saturday, May 19, 2018

More Photos of Mountains, Cows, and Things That Bloom Here in May

It’s been quite pretty here in Colorado’s central San Luis Valley these last couple of weeks. Let’s celebrate.

No thanks to the La Niña weather phenomenon out in the Pacific Ocean, winter wasn’t quite winter this season. Although I’m grateful we didn’t much of the bitter subzero cold this high valley is famous for, we got next to nothing in the way of snow or rain.

My attention has been all over the place since before we moved out here, but I don’t recall seeing this much in bloom at once this time last year. Given how dry it’s been, it’s a miracle anything is blooming at all. It’s been gorgeous, though. Welcome to spring in the Colorado high country.

Somewhere along First Ave., just east of Broadway.

The Robinson crabapple tree in my backyard.

Further along First Ave., west of Broadway.

I can do cherry blossoms all day, which is a good thing, because these trees seem to be everywhere in town.

There is no escape.

Organic, temporal beauty upon the blank, indifferent concrete. Yeah, it’s an old story.

I have no idea what this is, but it has bright white petals, with everything else blood red or black. It’s as Goth as a blooming thing gets.

‘Til the cows come home.

Like what you see? Funds for tasty, wholesome beverages accepted via  PayPal! 

Photos Copyright © 2018 by Lawrence Roy Aiken. All rights reserved.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Slouching Towards Spring, Waiting To Be Born

Another progress report, accompanied by random photos. Blame it on the weather.

It looks more like May in April. Which makes sense, because it’s been more like April in March. I could use the break on the heating fuel bill, so there’s that. Note the tornado icon at top with the temperature. That’s what the widget shows by default when it’s not working. It’s almost as startling as Saturday’s predicted high and low, which are early summer numbers.

My wife and I like to joke (so much as we can joke about it) that this has been the hardest easy winter we’ve ever seen. For all it felt like those post-Christmas, dead-of-winter blues were going to smother us, in terms of general Colorado high country weather, it’s been preternaturally warm.

Even along the Front Range where we used to live, we would have periods of zero degrees Fahrenheit and lower during the winter. Those days can go for weeks at a time here in the San Luis Valley. As for the winter of 2017-18, we may have had a couple of near-zero events, but nothing memorable. The La Niña phenomenon in the North Pacific Ocean tends to affect winters in Colorado this way, though, so don’t expect a screed on “global warming/climate change” here. This is just that kind of year. 

Indeed, I’m grateful for the warmth, if wary of the dry conditions that come with this. I’ve stood at the picture windows at sunset celebrating every extra minute we’re getting with each passing day. It’s great to feel good for a change.
This is like 80°F in north Minnesota in February. Unusual, but that doesn’t mean “never.”

As always, it seems to be two steps forward, one step back, then another step back, then three steps forward, and then something else when it comes to finishing my latest novel. Over the last couple of weeks, it’s been one-half page forward, two pages back.

This is the best development to happen in a long time. 

I’m at a very difficult part of The Wrong Kind of Dead. I’ve transported my main characters from the thick of the flesh-eating undead mobs to a remote sanctuary in the Wyoming mountains, where our heroes learn that even some television sitcoms remain in production for the pleasure of the overclass, for whom the Black Resurrection was merely a matter of inconvenience.

These parts of a zombie story, in which the living protagonists change venue, adjusting to new human antagonists by way of setting up for the final confrontation involving the living dead, are stupid-tricky, for reasons you can see for yourself watching TV’s The Walking Dead. The narrative can bog down in a thick, gray mud of who’s-mad-at-whom, what’s-this-shady-character-up-to? soap opera. The living dead, when they show up, aren’t so much objects of mortal terror, they are a relief.

Thank goodness, you finally made it! They’ve been arguing with each other all season, DO SOMETHING!

Here, I have an separate, alien world to build in the midst of an uncanny valley. I’m already playing with one touchy theme, now I’m playing with some serious metaphorical/ philosophical nerve agents here. The charges must be set just so, and quickly. At the end of the day this is an action-adventure novel set in the zombie post-apocalypse. The audience must never be permitted to forget this.

I had a story bible started for all of my books. I’ve only detailed them so far. It’s time to detail them a little more. All aspects of the three-book narrative arc must harmonize.

Above is the complete guide to Chapter 1. I’m not giving that much away here, but you can see where I set rules regarding portrayals of the zombies, along with initial themes I’m playing with. Each chapter description opens and closes with the opening and closing sections of the chapter. Isolating them thus from the manuscript has enabled many an improvement on these transitions.

This has occasioned yet another reading of the complete manuscript, which has resulted in two pages of it falling away. Striking redundant sentences and punching up the action made for a far more powerful narrative. I’m still combing through the earlier chapters while adding onto the latest. So far, everything is making sense beyond those points where this book and the one before it went off the rails in the past.  

It’s great to feel great about my writing for a change. Everything is up and running at optimum. Best of all, this book, along with the rest of the trilogy, will have legs. For years to come The SAGA OF THE DEAD SILENCER will be the kind of story by which other zombie stories will be judged. I certainly hope to have people working harder at them. A little effort goes a long way towards keeping things fresh and fun, especially in a limited genre like this one.

Speaking of fun....
This might have been the place to put a photo of me sitting at my desk looking thoughtful, but I’m a mess.

Given the controversies surrounding the Internet-ancient institutions of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, I’ve been looking at expanding to the emergent alternatives. I have a account, but I’ve done very little posting to it. Frankly, I’m still not sure what to do with it. No one I know is there. What do I even talk about among these total strangers? It’s the same problem I have starting a podcast.

I’m grateful these backups are there, though. (Just off the top of my head, see also: Spreaker, Hooktube, Gab, Voat, Bitchute.) I don’t see myself giving up on the Big Three until I’m forced to, although I am making changes to how I do business with them. For instance, Facebook has been too handy for keeping up with people I like keeping tabs on. Over the years, I’ve accumulated a few...I don’t know if I could call them “fans,” or what. They’re good people, though, so I’m not ghosting them. 

It was a week or so ago, however, that I noticed birthdays for people on my Friends list coming up—and I had completely forgotten these people even existed. Going through my list, I found half a dozen deactivated accounts. Many of the rest were simply inactive. That was an easy pruning job.

I did come to wonder why I was still Friends with some people, though. I wondered why I bothered with some groups.

This pruning was not done so cavalierly. However, I did welcome the opportunity to reflect upon whom and what I want in my life. I’ve been through more changes in my general outlook and attitude in this sixth decade of my life than any other time in my existence, most of them in the last two years. This is a spring cleaning years overdue. 

This, too, feels good. So much lighter and freer. 

“There’s a feeling I get/When I look to the West/And my spirit is crying for”...breakfast, as I cross an uncharacteristically empty US 160 in downtown Monte Vista. It’s an early Wednesday morning in April, though. It’ll fill with cross-Valley traffic soon enough. In seven weeks, come Memorial Day Weekend, it’ll be wall-to-wall campers and RVs.


I tried writing scripts for these things. It proved to be a fun exercise in stream-of-consciousness, write-like-you-talk composition for all of two pages before I realized it wasn’t going to work. What might be fun to write would be drudgery to read. 

I might read off some short pieces already here on the blog for added content—provide, provide, as the poet advised—but to script an entire half-hour show is just more than I care to do. Moreover, I’ll need to do 45-minute to hour-long shows if I care to hit to hit the big time with this, which I need to do to pay these bills. That’s a lot of pages of script to be writing when I should be writing my novel, or blogposts.

So, based on a couple of other podcasts I’m studying, I’ve got the sections mapped out. I don’t even have to record the pieces in order. Select a topic, put down the bullet points I need to elaborate upon, and go. It’s more than I ever did when I was in Toastmasters. My best speeches for them, as enjoyable for myself as it was my audience, was when I got up with just the vaguest outline in my head. Honestly, it wasn’t even an outline. I had a couple of ideas, and I simply improvised with what I knew. 

The irony here that almost makes me laugh—it’s more pathetic than funny—is that, if there’s one thing I learned in Toastmasters, I don’t enjoy public speaking as much as I’d thought I did.  Moreover, unlike years past, I don’t feel the urge to share my opinions, even with friends.

It’s taken long decades to come to this blessed state. I can only imagine how much more successful I’d be as a working American citizen if I’d come to this peculiar mental state sooner. Now I have to turn that around. That is, if I want to be successful as an author and, by necessary extension, Internet personality. 

Which I must. I’ve got bills to pay. Time to be a song-and-dance man again. It never was enough to be an author, after all.

Any day now. I have a feeling April 2018 is going to be one of those life-changing affairs.

A long road across flat, dusty, grease-grassed high valley floor to...DESTINY.  Or something.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

TMI Tuesday Motivational Something or Other

This photo was taken around 2 p.m. on Good Friday. I’m buzzing on two 16-oz. energy drinks, low blood sugar (all of one banana and a tangelo to eat all day), and the ever-increasing pain and swelling occasioned by me sitting on a 56-year-old oversize prostate awaking from the Lidocaine and realizing there are six bloody chunks taken from it on each side for the biopsy I endured two and a half hours ago at the Fort Carson hospital. 

I’m grinding up the eastern slope about half a mile from the summit of La Veta Pass (9,413 ft; 2,869 m), where I’ll throw down the camera and ride the steep, twisting road down the other side of the Sangre de Cristos with both hands on the wheel, and Led Zep’s “Achilles Last Stand” blasting from the speakers over my head in the Jeep. 

It sounds so heroic now, but at the time I was running a nonstop monologue on myself, “C’mon, Champ, we got this, only __ miles to go and we’re throwing ourselves into bed, maybe we won’t even bother taking off these boots, how ‘bout that, you like that? C’mon, let’s go, this is NOT where it’s gonna end for me....” 

All the same, I find this a very inspirational shot. I have plans for this month.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Notes on the Current Crisis, Eleven Days into March

Marking the seventh anniversary of a blog I’m still trying to figure out what to do with. 

First, I’d like to say hello to all the new readers from Portugal and Ukraine. Between the landscape photos, the cat pictures, the gruesome zombie fiction excepts, the musings on writing, and the occasional book and movie review, I trust someone has found something they were looking for. 

I honestly don’t mean to be such an all-over-the-place generalist. It’s just how things work out. I don’t do that much to begin with, so whatever it is I do, I like to get it up there. 

Way up there.

I’m still working on putting together my first podcast. It isn’t as easy for me as simply turning on the microphone and just running my mouth. Strange, because it used to be just that easy to get up and talk back in the day when I was faking my way through Toastmasters.

That was in a faraway time when I actually believed I enjoyed getting up in front of people. I used to think I fed on the energy of my audience, and that’s what make it happen when I was up front emceeing an awards ceremony or bluegrass show, etc. I cringe to think of it now.

How The Beatles got mixed up in this is anyone’s guess.

The outline is there, though, and the elements are coming together. Soon. Soon....

The Story Bible for my third novel, as it appears taped to the wall. Bringing this back has helped a lot, and proven to be the Big News of the last couple of weeks in regards to getting my series finished.

A couple of notable things that were notable for being not very notable came up. These were very instructive in terms of blogging and podcasting, namely the once-big awards ceremony of a week ago and...I’m not kidding, I forgot the second thing. The point is that making posts and whatnot of current events simply isn’t worth it anymore, even as basic filler.

It’s fascinating to me how so many things that used to be a big deal are barely worth mentioning now. I like to imagine I’m clever enough to realize that it’s just me. The world has moved on.

“Everything, everyone is hungry and scared.” Whatever you’re feeling now, imagine feeling hungry and scared. My timbers got shivered at “hungry.”

What’s it moving towards? What will we ever talk about? It’s good to feel a healthy curiosity again. That is, as opposed to the morbid kind, which was de riguer so long it was de facto default for me.

Warmer days, longer days ahead.

Here’s to what happens next.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Governors and Negans All the Way Down

A genre writer’s gotta know his limitations. SPOILERS OUT THE YING-YANG, including for the comic book source material, because I have some points to make.

I haven’t seen an episode of The Walking Dead since Tyreese carelessly let himself get bitten at that one kid’s house, hallucinated some dead characters from past episodes, and died. I was morbidly curious to see the end of that kid in a following episode, as he was graphically murdered in a scene the fans on Twitter dubbed “Everyone Ate Chris.”

If you’re not already in on the joke, the actor
playing this doomed character here was the star of
a show called Everyone Hates Chris, whereas here
they’re lovin’ every juicy mouthful. Ha!
I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’m reminded why often enough when I check the Twitter hashtag during the course of an episode. The mid-season premiere of 25 February 2018 — the latest episode as of this writing — was no exception. Even knowing a character is going to die, you have to endure much pointless padding in between frequent (very frequent) commercial interruptions.

For my part, if I had to endure another character like Tyreese saying, “We have to talk about this” in relation to the latest fatal calamity, I was going to have a psychotic reaction. For the love of all that’s holy, why can’t people on television shows be more like real life people who understand the need for other people to mourn in silence? If people want to talk, they’ll talk. If they don’t, they shouldn’t have to.

“We have to talk,” of course, is the show writers’ laziness in padding before the big conflict. There are other ways they could build towards the big conflict that takes something and/or someone away from our heroes even as they escape with their lives. One way that would do this, which could make the death of the doomed character all the more poignant due to what we’d learn about said character, is to have everyone working together on a specific project necessary to the group’s survival. 

I’m thinking something along the lines of purifying water—impure water would be a large factor in surviving human fatalities in the post-apocalypse—or organizing a food run, or looking for a defensible place to grow crops. Scouting for a defensible position off the radar of other wandering groups would be a most worthwhile effort.

It’s a tragic waste that, for all the Big Moral Lessons television insists on imparting to us, this show couldn’t show its audience how to survive when the power grid is down. How not just to boil water, but to distill it. How to tell if the canned food is tainted. How safely to deal with waste product. How not to conduct survival activities without attracting the attention of bandits or warlord minions. Useful information that will help people live to be (fashionably) moral another day.

Alas, it is what it is, and, short of making our own media, there is nothing to be done. However, I would like to note a positive development in the series, that may keep the zombie apocalypse genre alive for a little longer on television. 

It’s been a long, long while since I’ve seen this level of enthusiasm for the show.

Everyone knew Carl, the now-grown son of main protagonist Rick, was not long for the world as of the the mid-season finale before Christmas. He’d been bitten, and it was only a matter of time. His imminent death was what kept the audience coming back after the long winter break.

This is a crucial development in the series, for reasons many  critics have yet to grasp. [HERE COME THE SPOILERS. LAST CHANCE TO BAIL.] For one, it diverges in a major way from the comics. In the comics, at least the last I saw from the second volume of The Walking Dead Compendium, (and this was three, maybe four years ago) Carl was still very much alive, and pretty much grown, especially after the year-long time jump following the resolution of the Negan storyline.

There have been many divergences from the comics source material, most of them quite sensible. Perhaps the greatest point of fascination for me about this franchise is how the original comics serve as a brainstorming platform, the ideas of which are reconfigured and refined for the television series. Two of the more extreme divergences are baby Judith’s survival (in the comics, the same bullet that killed her mother tore through her body as well) and the fate of Andrea. In the television show, Andrea is a damaged slut who dies in the Governor’s custody. In the comics, she’s known for her accuracy with a pistol, and as the eventual, and longtime romantic companion with Rick. That we can debate the wisdom of these decisions makes it all the more fun for those who follow the franchise.

Carl’s death is critical because he is Rick’s last link to life before the zombie apocalypse. Aside from satisfying the need for an important death in the series (a curious, if self-limiting feature of this franchise), it had to happen for the simple reason that the show has been on for nearly eight years already. Chandler Riggs, who plays Carl, is too obviously old in a role that should have only aged a couple of years in terms of The Walking Dead’s fictional timeline. We had emotional and rational reasons for this.

This leads me to wonder who has to be next. I’m guessing Daryl Dixon’s time might be up soon, if only because the vast female fan club behind his character and the actor portraying him has ceased all activity on social media. How Norman Reedus went from “Pls follow me back” and “If Daryl dies, I’m out” on Twitter to non-existent over the years is a development I’ve missed out on. My guess it has something to do with the softening of the character that I noticed when it came time to rescue Beth from the work and rape camp run by those former police officers in Atlanta. Daryl’s lame, let’s-not-kill-anyone-if-we-don’t-have-to idea got Beth killed by the merciless psychos they were trying to rescue her from.

Yeah, the psycho woman was “just trying to hold it together” at the Grady Memorial Hospital Slave Labor and Rape Camp. We could have gone with Rick’s idea, but you didn’t have the nerve to hurt slavers and rapists. So Chief Psycho and Rape-Enabler shot Beth.  Shot her good and dead. You should feel bad, son.

Come to think of it, that’s almost exactly when I began to notice the drop-off in Daryl Dixon/Norman Reedus fangirling. That was three seasons ago, during its most highly rated season. If Daryl isn’t the next major character to go, it’s because the network has themselves locked in a term contract with the actor long past his sell-by date.

Used to be the meanest, toughest, fightin’est sumbitch in the group. Then the writers got hold of him. The same ones who think we want to see and hear everyone talk about their feewings after every major zombie attack. Sorry, Daryl, they’ve already long since murdered ya.

For now, Carl is dead, and I expect Rick will be in his Ricktator “These people don’t get to live” mindset, or close enough. Will we see the final defeat of Negan and the Saviors at the end of this season? Or is this conflict going to be dragged out for one more year?

Another major thing that happened was, as Carl was dying, he described what looked to be the communities in the one-year-later time jump after the resolution of the Negan storyline in the comics. Will the series follow the example of the comics, and go with this weak Hail Mary of a narrative pass?

I shouldn’t have to post a spoiler alert to note that the crisis with Negan will eventually be resolved. So who’s the next Worst Living Evil We’ve Encountered Yet?

After a point, about the only way one is going to make this interesting is to provide those warlords with distinctive costumes and gimmicks along the lines of the 1960s Batman TV series. 

“Oh noes, it’s the Sprinkler! He’s got more metal piercings on his body than anyone outside of a traveling circus, and he wants 60 percent of our stuff!”
“Oh noes, it’s Greenface! He has all these tattoos on his face from being the scariest gang warlord ever, and they’ve all turned dark, mossy green with age, making his eyes look really crazy. He wants 70 percent of our stuff!”
“This is the worst ever! It’s Dr. Diarrhea, and he’ll put cholera into our water supply if we don’t give him 80 percent of our stuff!”

Towards the very end, they will have to contend with Satan himself, who not only started the zombie apocalypse, but really, truly, madly, deeply hates these survivors for surviving, and is therefore now sending every undead creature on Earth their way so that he may reap their souls in flesh-rending agonies beyond imagining. Which will be great, because it will be the first time in forever since the living dead stalking the land sleeplessly, relentlessly, ravenously for living flesh will be the central threat. 

For all my exaggeration and general goofing around here, I trust everyone sees the problem. It’s not confined to the characters and setting of The Walking Dead, but an issue baked into the genre itself. The reanimated corpses who brought down civilization—and captured the attention of our audience—become less and less of a threat as our heroes adjust. The largest conflict will be with the Negans and Governors and the worse and even more worse living humans to follow.

My concern with the show now is that, once it’s over, zombie mania passes with it. As someone racing to finish the third and last book in his zombie post-apocalypse series and recoup his investment of time and energy...well.... 

Burnout is inevitable. Don’t be sad it’s almost over. Be glad it’s still happening. And hurry.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Why I Live in Colorado, for February 2018 Reasons

When the light is just so.

My wife sends me out for coffee. I drive up to the westside supermarket on a blustery midday Thursday, find the coffee, and oh-so-heroically don’t buy anything else but the coffee. (I returned the energy drink to its endcap fridge; another bad habit I’m giving up.) I drive back home—run upstairs, grab my camera, and go right back out. There was a curious clarity to the San Juan foothills and its environs on the western frontier of Monte Vista today. The high, thin strata that haunt the skies this time of year seemed slightly higher and more diffuse, and created an interesting ambient light.

So what does it look like where you go to the store to buy coffee?

This shot and the ones that follow are all due south of the Big R/Top Value Supermarket/ San Luis Valley Federal Bank complex, looking west across the pastures.

Most rural Colorado towns, and even Old Colorado City in west Colorado Springs, have their town blocks bisected by narrow dirt and gravel alleys. This is the one between Morris Street and Chico Camino, looking south from where I came.

A calendar shot if there ever was one.

Imagine you’re here in the days before permanent human settlement, wading through miles of this grass to the forbidding mountains beyond.

I lived alongside the Front Range in Colorado Springs for nine years, and as frustrated I would become with the cultural and infrastructural entropy there, I never got tired looking at Pikes Peak. Never. I had a view from the kitchen window, the living room windows, and the master bedroom window. There’s something about a mountain that never grows old.

It’s the same out here. I look around at these peaks on a range whose name I’ve forgotten (and is harder to Google than you’d think; the available topo maps being abbreviated and unhelpful) coming off the San Juans. I marvel once again how the land out here looks so different from the land three miles east on the opposite side of town. As the song goes, there’s a feeling I get when I look to the west. I can feel all the promise of Utah and Nevada and California right behind it all. Deserts and forests and mountains. Mountains all the way to the sea.

No, I can’t honestly say it “calls” me, or anything like that. I’m happy where I am. I’m happy everything is where it is. As for the east coast where I’m from, that belongs to the past. As a wise old Russian observed, the past is another country, and they do things differently there. I’m somewhere else because it’s better for me here. Nothing personal.

Well, okay, so it is, but no hard feelings. We’re all where we want to be.

The one shot I took of the complex, looking at it towards the northwest. Note the green utility box in the middle of the field. Parcels of land on this field are for sale for those who want to build with a view of the back end of a three-tenant complex to the north, and all those wide open spaces everywhere else.

Zoomed in halfway, the perspective is especially wacky here. The lightboard sign over US 160 W is warning motorists that they will need chains for Wolf Creek Pass half an hour down the road, and that oversized vehicles are prohibited. Don’t like the weather here? Take a drive 40 miles in either direction; you’re bound to run into a change.

The perspective works a little better pulled back here.

This shot just about says it all for west of Monte Vista. You see those strange, conical, teepee-shaped hills and mountains stretching off to the Rio Grande National Forest and the San Juan Mountains, and the traffic on US 160 stretching away another mile or so before it turns northwest towards Del Norte, 15 miles away.

Wide open spaces. They’re not for everyone, thank God.

Oh, and I forgot to mention—these shots were taken at the western edge of the parking lot of the bank.

So how’s the view from your bank’s parking lot?

I feel fortunate to have gotten all these shots, as it was so bright, along with chilly and blustery, I couldn’t see what was on the screen. I squinted at the vague shapes, squeezed the lens-clicky thing, and hoped for the best. Faith was rewarded.

Photos I took towards the beginning of this shoot seemed the most appropriate way to conclude this photo essay. I’m down by the edge of the grassy parcels behind the shopping and banking center, where the road ends...for now. One hopes this place doesn’t fill up with lousy little crackerbox modern construction, but give it a few decades.

For now, I love this barricade, and the empty, grassy spaces behind. I love that Jeep-sized trail leading off around the right edge of that barricade even more. It means something to me. Maybe it’ll mean something to you, too.


All photographs Copyright © 2018 by Lawrence Roy Aiken. All rights reserved.