Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday Sermonette: Father Bukowski Speaks of Soulless Writers Who Would Move Our Souls

For the record, Bukowski actually admired Camus to a degree. But Bukowski’s dissatisfaction with this aspect of Camus’ writing reminds me of how I feel reading writers like John Updike (once huge, now dead and well on his way to becoming forgotten) and Joyce Carol Oates. Their authorial voices all too often sound like those of extraterrestrial scientists trying to make sense of human civilization, and not quite getting it.

Not to get too Miniver Cheevy about this, but it’s even worse today, as literary writing is entirely the province of an elite caste of upper middle class people, with all their spendy, upper middle class hoops to jump and merit badges to acquire, like attendance at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, MFA programs at Ivy League or (at least) second-tier colleges, internships at Big Corporate Blogs, etc. 

These people who would touch our hearts and move us to tears don’t even see people like you and me as people. How could they? While they chat in the coffee shop in between classes, the rest of us have to go to work. 

At least Albert Camus had an interesting life, having risked it as part of the French Resistance during the German occupation in the ealy 1940s. If he didn’t scream while he burned, it might be because keeping his emotions in check was necessary for his survival. I’m not a Camus scholar, so I wouldn’t know. 

Of course, we’re all painfully aware of how today’s little hothouse flowers scream without burning, going into supernovas of outrage over opinions they disagree with on Twitter. This is the madness of the crowd at this point in the early 21st century, and there is little sense in seething over it. Our part, as always, is to do the best we can with what we have for as long as it lasts. If we do it well enough, we’ll find our audiences. 

And as for the striver-caste ciphers who don’t see people like us, I don’t see them, either. There’s too much else to write about here at Ground Zero where the real people live, suffer, and work. The more I think about it, the prouder I am that I write zombie action novels. Even that milieu has more flavor of reality to it than the latest Sad Rich Kid Is Sad story.

Let them have their exclusive, deluxe ball pit to play in. As one of Bukowski’s favorite poets put it:

Let boys want pleasure, and men
Struggle for power, and women perhaps for fame,
And the servile to serve a Leader and the dupes to be duped.
Yours is not theirs.

And now the lesson is yours.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Autumn’s Farewell to Colorado Springs

...was Tuesday, 10 November in 2015. Halloween is normally the unofficial finish, and we usually have a wet, sloppy drive-by snowstorm weeks before that. Snowstorms and seasons are running a little late this year, but I don’t mind. If all goes according to plan, this was my last autumn here in the Pikes Peak Region. I should be long gone by the time the trees bud again in May.

I force myself out of my basement office every other day or so to walk a two and one-half to three-mile circuit along the greenways closest to my house on the north side of town. As I had gotten out late in Tuesday, with the sun in its final glide path behind the Rockies, I took the abbreviated walk. These Canon Powershot happy-snaps partially describe what I saw before the storm that arrived just before midnight put paid to the last of autumn’s glory in my little corner of the Northern Hemisphere.

This greenway and drainage canal separate the Charleston Place development from the other houses wedged between Meadow Ridge Road (behind me) and Rangewood Drive (three or four blocks over to my right). What caught my eye here was how the top part of this tree had dumped all of its leaves into the drainage canal. In the photos that follow this one at right, you may notice a few trees that are spiky and bare at top, yet fully leafed around the bottom. The wind can be damned perverse in the steppes of the Rocky Mountain Front Range.

While it has been very nice having an extended fall season, with a delightfully moderate Indian Summer that lasted throughout October and then some, the spring’s excess rain and the preternaturally drawn-out period of warm temperatures stunted the color on some of the trees. This line of trees was not only long-delayed in changing colors, it skipped much of its gold phase and went straight to brown.

You don’t see too many grand old trees in Colorado Springs, but when you do, it’s easy to forgive their having a bad fall. They still look good against a bottomless blue Colorado sky.

Below is a fairly decent representation of where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. I can stare at these tree/sky boundaries forever:

That’s not to say it’s all dull browns. Whatever these trees are, they are not going gently to their winter slumber.

The one thing that went according to schedule this season was that the small to mid-size aspens were the first to change, and the first to shed. The first photo is from my right, the second is the view on my left.

Even in their denuded state these are beautiful trees. They will also be the first to bud in May.

On this last day of autumn I crossed the drainage canal at the pre-fab bridge, ran up the 45 steps to the corner of Windy Hill Road and Research Drive, and began the eastbound leg of my journey along busy six-lane Research. Most of my favorite trees along this part of the route had already changed and dropped their foliage. But there were still a few sights to see. 

One notable was this tree at left, in the molten butterscotch Golden Hour light. The light in October is the best, of course, but what we see the rest of the year bestows aesthetic warmth even along a mundane commuter artery like Research Boulevard. The light of the Golden Hour can ennoble a landfill. Of course, it doesn’t have to work so hard here:

Who needs a CIA stooge like Jackson Pollock when I’ve got all the abstract expressionism I need right here? This stands as one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken. And I still didn’t quite capture the majesty of the subject, how those bright splatters of hot colors on a deep azure canvas held my eyes. I had to get something, though:

Eventually, the sun winked out behind the mountains, and I spent the rest of my walk in gathering gloom. Turning south down Rangewood Drive, I passed my usual turn into the park and walked straight down to Meadow Ridge Drive for the return leg of my journey. Along the way, there’s a stretch I call the Dead Zone, which is an unlucky patch where all the road kill on Rangewood seems to end up. There are even dead trees standing blight-black and skeletal along here. With the occasional bit of tossed garbage for flavor, it’s like the area is cursed.

This evening’s bit of morbidity was a beggar’s sign, blown over a mile up the road from the entrance to the shopping center where you normally see these people. It says something that we take beggars for granted in front of our Wal-Marts and other shopping centers. You did not see such while I was growing up because there were jobs out there if you needed them badly enough, enough so that begging in public was shoot-yourself-in-the-head shameful.

These days, it’s just another Sign o’ the Times™. I doubt the person in question was “Truely Hungry”—our beggars, like everyone else, are bullshitters—but I am charmed by the handwritten “font” here. I hope it’s not an omen of things to come. Not that I believe in such things, but this last photo in the gloaming of the last day of autumn has that creepy frisson about it.

Here’s hoping you enjoyed my stroll, and that everything’s gorgeous and nothing’s hurt where you are. What can I tell you? I can’t do zombies here all the time. Sometimes I just need to get outside and look at some stuff.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Sunday Sermonette: Father Bukowski Addresses NaNoWriMo

...and that writer’s group you go to for “feedback” when you should be secure enough in your talent to write and edit yourself. Verily, thou shouldst shun people and their opinions, find a place to sit down and write, then sit down and write. Hearken ye unto the wise counsel of Father Bukowski, even as he rambles a bit, that you might make the core truth your own:

I bought a laptop in 2008 because I was romanced by the notion that I could go anywhere and write. I’ve found it doesn’t work that way. All my writing happens in this small office/bedroom in my finished basement, in the corner between the door and the unfinished storage closet leading under the stairs. I’ve been at it for years in this space, with the laptop sitting over the desk on a brace so the air flows beneath it while allowing me more room on my desk.

It’s a cozy space where other people are not. Ironically, despite going to literal ground here, I’ve made new friends in the UK, Germany, and France from my chair in its fixed location underground, and connected with all kinds of people across the good ol’ USA, thanks to the miracle of Twitter. It’s one big happy fandom with everyone a fan of everyone else, and no one getting hurt.

But the writing is done alone. Always alone. This is how it must be. “WHEN YOU LEAVE YOUR TYPEWRITER YOU LEAVE YOUR MACHINE GUN AND THE RATS COME POURING THROUGH.” The chatter of the keys must never stop. Hit the target with what you know, and don’t stop to learn that which you should already know. 

My machine gun emplacement.
You are not here to research. You are not here to entertain dinner parties or charm professors. You are not here to participate in Write a Novel in One Month contests. You are not writing to impress So-and-so at the writer’s group who hates the sight of you. Your readers don’t need to know what you look like.

You are behind closed doors. You are offline. You are writing. Or you are not. You are writing the kind of book you’d want to read, or you have no idea what you’re doing. In which case you’ll keep writing until you figure it out. Or not.

Is you are or is you ain’t a writer? We shall know thee by thy fruits.

And now the lesson is yours.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Requiem for a Thing I Beat to Death

Writing is a flow state in which information proceeds unimpeded from brain to fingers to keyboard to pixelated page. That’s a lot of moving parts, every one a potential point of failure.

Even with two books on the shelf, it’s still a mighty effort of will to establish flow. When the keyboard refuses to print a letter, then prints 120 of the same after a hard (but not that hard) smack, production is slowed all the more.

The mouse was malfunctioning so that I couldn’t use the drop-down menu in Word 2010 to Save the file. Instead, the mouse somehow got the Paste command under that and would royally screw up my document, depending on what was on the Clipboard. It makes more sense to Ctrl + S from the keyboard and save on the fly, so I did just that for two or three months.

Of course, that would work only for as long as the keyboard wasn’t as screwed up as the mouse. The time was coming when the workarounds would no longer work. I was already replacing the batteries every two weeks, after years of replacing them annually.

By appearances alone, this old rig was on its way out. I had completely worn off the “L” printed on that key, and  M, N, and O weren’t long for the world.

A night’s drunken horseplay resulted in the obliteration of the left strut bracing the keyboard, so I folded in the remaining strut and used the rock at upper left in the photo below to prop up my keyboard. I was getting along fine like this for maybe six months, I don’t know. 

Hell, I can’t remember when I got this thing. I completed my first, albeit unpublishable prototype novel on this rig in May 2012. I’m sure I had it for some years before that. I started this blog with it in March 2011.

I’d hoped to keep it going long enough to finish writing my third published novel. Irrational, I know, but I’m not the most rational spork in the shed. Bleeding Kansas and Grace Among the Dead flowed through this keyboard to my laptop. These were the keys I clicked to send my fever dreams to an IP address in Tasmania, which in turn sent them out to Kindle apps in Canada and the UK.

As it is, I was already (and still am) way the hell behind on delivering The Wrong Kind of Dead, and I was done playing. Time to order a new rig, and send Old Paint to the glue factory. Or, more precisely, and less gruesomely, stuff it into a bag of document shredder confetti, salute it in the blog, and haul it off. I didn’t have the heart to put it with the vegetable peelings and sink trap contents.

The new keyboard is the same basic make and model, with major improvements, namely a softer feel to the keys (which I expect to wear out over time), an on-off switch to prevent editorializing by the cats while I’m away from my desk, and a stub off a USB receiver instead of the easily broken (yeah, I broke it) big-ass USB plug-in for the old rig. Much love and respect to the manufacturer for these improvements, and making the whole mess affordable to poor basement dwellers such as myself.

That point-of-failure in my flow thus repaired, I set about to see how many novels I can squeeze out of this before I send it out of its digital mind for the constant pounding. It’s all on me, now.


Who Are These Cats?

...and will we be seeing them again after this?

The following opens Chapter 25 of my work in progress, The Wrong Kind of Dead:
We follow the gentleman in the gray suit, sunglasses and earpiece to the elevator bank. He mumbles something under his breath we don’t quite hear, a report into his lapel mic, I presume. We enter the elevator behind him and watch as he holds a card over an otherwise nondescript panel, causing a glowing ROOF button to appear on the touchpad. This button fades as he presses it.
We rush upward.
It’s not until our stop that we hear the helicopter. The doors open and we follow the man in the gray suit and sunglasses as he runs to the Blackhawk astride the big circle-H on the pad. The hatch slams behind us, the ground falls away. We barely have time to get our butts in our seats.
The morning sunlight bronzes a high, wooded valley of houses and streets below us, then more woods. The chopper covers the distance to the airport in less than a minute. We touch down beside a Gulfstream jet in an area well away from the concourses.
The hatch bangs open. We jump out and jog away beneath the pounding wash. The hatch slams closed, and the Blackhawk is already banking over the hangar and out of sight. I admire this pilot’s reflexes. I have a feeling he’s done much work in the “wilderness” outside of the Redoubts.
These grafs are all about getting Derek and Agnes Grace to a meeting that will take them jetting over zombie country where they will get an idea for how deeply screwed they’ll be in all those pages I haven’t written yet. But the characters here, the man in the gray suit and sunglasses and the quick-reflex chopper pilot are too good to let go. They may indeed help me solve some problems in the Final Boss.

We’ll see. Meanwhile, the first two books are available for those who enjoy zombie action with gore and wit and intrigue, available in Kindle and paperback, in Canada and the UK:

Thing 1.
Derek Grace leaves his sick wife in Colorado Springs for a job interview in Kansas City. But in a few short days the early summer cold becomes the Final Flu, and as infrastructure breaks down, 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. The long-unemployed Grace soon discovers a new skill set that serves him well in the New Weird Order. He’s a long way from home, and the risen dead aren’t the only ones in his way.

Only the strong will survive BLEEDING KANSAS.

Thing 2.
Returning too late from his Kansas adventure 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 back into a busy post-apocalypse 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.

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