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.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Blurbity Blurb Blurb, Your Logline So Fine

My D.I.Y. so fly. Or something.

Among the many chores requiring my attention in the run up to the release of The Wrong Kind of Dead and the simultaneous re-release of its companions, Bleeding Kansas and Grace Among the Dead, I need to shape up the back cover promo copy and punch up the loglines.

[To clarify: A logline is one sentence, no more than two, that sets the stage for your presentation. The best ones I know come from modern films. “In space, no one can hear you scream.” “Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” “Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water.” If you can come up with something like these for your book—and, like it or not, you must—you’re off to the races.]

I find that I’m a lot more critical of my stuff when it’s posted for public consumption. So here’s the back cover copy for the “digitally remastered” editions of my first two books. To clarify, these will not be released until the third book is released. However, the original editions are still available for your post-apocalyptic reading pleasure—and the digital editions should be updated when the Big Release comes. 

For Bleeding Kansas:

Derek Grace leaves his sick wife in Colorado Springs for a job interview in Kansas City. In a few short days, that nuisance of an early summer cold afflicting one-third of the population becomes the deadly Final Flu. As infrastructure falls to absenteeism, Grace finds himself miles from home, trapped between anxious police and National Guard, and all those Final Flu victims arising from their mass graves to attack the living. As he fights his way out, the long-unemployed Grace discovers a new skill set that serves him well in the New Weird Order. It’s a good thing, too, because the risen dead aren’t the only ones in his way. Only the strong will survive BLEEDING KANSAS.

Here’s the original from the 2013 first edition (the 2018 remaster will be the third):

If you have trouble reading the above, it’s probably for the best. I was thrown when my editor first asked me to write my own jacket copy. Like a lot of newbies, I fumed and fussed that I had to do the job the promotions departments of publishers used to do. This is an...unintelligent...thing to do for two reasons: 
1. It is what it is. If you’re an aspiring author, and you’re not well-connected in that upper middle class Real Artists’ Caste that’s always been with us, but in the last 30 years has been dropping the portcullises and raising the drawbridges against us peasants—you’re not getting published. They won’t even look at you. However, expressing anger and bitterness about it serves nothing but the continued amusement of the Big Publishing gatekeepers, while eliciting annoyed grunts and sighs from the rest, so...
2. Instead of being angry, be of good cheer, and especially grateful for this indie publishing revolution that allows us a platform that didn’t exist so many years ago. If it’s a little D.I.Y.-intensive, rejoice! Do you really trust a bunch of wet-behind-the-ears HR hires to promote you and your work with any understanding (let alone sympathy) of who you are and what your work means? These people are, for the most part, your generic common lazy slobs drawing breath and a paycheck. You’re doing your life’s work. Who can do this better?

I remember reading an interview with Gore Vidal around the turn of the century in which he was asked if he found writing fiction or non-fiction more difficult. “Writing is writing for writers,” he replied. “Others, I’m told, have problems.” 

Put more colloquially, “Is you or is you ain’t a writer?” Promo copy and the like should be no more difficult for you than writing the stuff you want to be rich and famous for.

With that rant put to bed (for now), I present the jacket copy for my 2018 digital remaster of Grace Among the Dead:

Returning from his Kansas adventure too late to save his wife and teenage children, Derek Grace loses himself in booze, books, pills, and the occasional killing spree among the undead. But then a stowaway and her fatal secret flush the Dead Silencer from hiding and into a busy post-apocalypse already in progress, where he must decide whether life is worth living when he’s already lost everything that matters. In the heart of darkest horror, you will find GRACE AMONG THE DEAD.

There’s more to the story than is mentioned in that short paragraph, and I bring the best of all that together with a secondary logline, “A Tale of Love, Redemption, the Living Dead and a Monster Truck,” which informs potential readers that the book isn’t going to be all gloom and misery. And having written that out, I realize I should come up with a logline independent of the titles of the other two books. Those loglines make great title banners over the cover copy, as seen in my primitive attempt here:

As you can see, there’s not much change from the above cover copy. The layout needs improvement, so I’m changing some words around so they will fit. 

The idea that eyes other than mine might be looking at these things is a great motivator. Given where I am on the learning curve here, I’m grateful I don’t have a huge audience for this blog. Yet.

My third and final book in the SAGA OF THE DEAD SILENCER series is coming along, and it helps to have good jacket copy over the desk to maintain focus. But is this good jacket copy? I’ll have to look at this again. And then a few more times...I don’t like that I have it sectioned, but this is a bigger, far more complicated book than I have ever written. Like all the jacket copy before, it doesn’t even cover half of what’s going on, just one big narrative thread running through the novel. 

One year has passed since the dead climbed from their graves to feast on the flesh of the living. Having consumed nearly every living thing that walks, creeps, or crawls in the cities, even the mountain to which Derek Grace and his community have retreated becomes a killing floor as millions of walking corpses fan out into the countryside in search of food.
What if, in the midst of escalating chaos, you could go back to the way things were? When all you needed was a job so you could have a place to stay and accumulate stuff, watch TV, surf the Internet? To go about your business without fear of bandits, wannabe warlords, or hordes of cannibal corpses?
The Redoubts, fortified oases of modern civilization in the remotest rural areas of North America, offer all of this and more. As Derek Grace and his family learn, though, there are no safe spaces. Don’t get caught among THE WRONG KIND OF DEAD.

A secondary logline for this—certainly not the logline—goes, “The Numbers Are Against Us.” It’s an apt refutation of the hubris of the Redoubts rulers, but a little too generic. On the other hand, I have no other logline for Bleeding Kansas, either. Nothing is jumping out at me at the moment.

So, let’s close with a few promo images, post this, and check back from time to time for further inspiration.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Adventures in Beginning Podcasting: The Struggle Gets Realer

Yesterday, I put the first two minutes and five seconds of my first podcast to bed. This involved opening music, with a minute or so talking about that music. Today I will install the bumper I cut out of an MP3 file (note to self: cut some more), and work on filling out the segment in which I’m actually introducing myself to the podcast world. 

Putting together a podcast is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. I wanted to do 30 minutes, but I’ll be lucky to break 15 with this one. I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way I’m going to be able to do this is to do it until I can do it my sleep. 
Looking southwest at sunrise on Groundhog Day.

Same view at mid-morning four days later. This snow is months late and several inches short. We’ll take it.

And it just keeps getting funnier by the minute. Two weeks into recording (it’s taken me that long to come up with the tone I wanted) I came across a podcasting tool called OBS Studio. I wish I’d known about this software a couple of weeks ago, but hey. My first podcast will be produced with Audacity, because I’m invested right now. But we’ll see how the OBS Studio thing works when I do my second podcast, which will also be my first poetry reading special.

If I end up using a third piece of production software for the third episode, so be it. This has to happen.
The view from porch level, sometime around one or two o’clock. Note the line of storm clouds racing along the range southwest of town. These clouds got darker and more ominous as the afternoon progressed, but this was all the snow we were going to get. At least somewhere in the San Luis Valley got precipitation.

I’d hoped to make a full 30 minute ‘cast, but it looks like I’ll be lucky to make it to 15. Now I know why I put this off so long. At least it’s happening. Stay tuned. I’m as curious as anyone to see how this turns out.

All Ginger Puff wants are the scraps from my chicken dinner. She’ll get them, too.