The Slush Pile (A Review)

Photo on 6-4-16 at 7.14 PM

So without really even trying, it feels, I hit 35k on my current work in progress, Nowhere. It’s a dystopian Western set in the flat, wastelands of our Apocalyptic future. So that’s been a ton of fun, but it got me thinking. My slush pile, the stack of first drafts and half attempts every writer accumulates, is starting to look a little crazy, almost like it could just topple and spill all over the carpet. It would probably grow eight hairy legs, eat the asbestos tiles in my downstairs office, and just walk away to some other coffee soaked writer’s den. Oh if I could only be so lucky, anyway, so yeah I got thinking why not do a little review of the slush pile, to determine which of these monsters I should give my attention to and finally finish and distribute.

The Books

Pomegranate Lane-This was the last first draft I wrote, in November of 2015 for National Novel Writing Month (#Nanowrimo). It’s a murder-mystery novel set in the future. The protagonist Dorothy (ignore the hackery) is a detective, working the first real murder case anyone in decades has had, due to the impressive surveillance state which has been achieved. She wakes up the morning of the gruesome murder, alcohol drenched and one foot over the edge of an existential crisis. What was her job? Why did she want to do it? What is this strange world she took for granted? All these questions become compounded when there are failures in the security state itself, which provide ugly glimmers of a reality right next store, that threatens to overwhelm her secured world.

Interludes-I’ve been distributing this on here. I won’t go into too many details since you can just go read it if your interested. It’s a first person story, told by a version of myself, it unfolds in a place I call La-La-Land. There’s weird cults and rituals, a werewolf who sexually assaults me and tries to eat me, tricky mythical-poetical entities, and overall a deep and hopefully humorous study of Art itself. I am about three quarters of the way through the edit on this, and hope in the future to finish serializing it on this blog, so stick around.

Dawning of the Werewolf-This draft sits short of full novel, 45k words. I think I worked on it before Interludes, but I’m not sure. Overall, the slush pile gets a little scattered here in my own chronology. This story is a first person confessional about a guy who discovers he’s a werewolf. All I really remember is a lot of running, and this cool vibe of a man-beast racing up the edge of Lake Michigan. Oh, and I did like the ultimate hack move and had my creature help steal The One Ring, from Lord of the Rings, for some baddies. Again some cool stuff, but with that level of hack I think this one may be a dud.
Mech Suits (Totally working Title)-Science Fiction, first draft right at 50k words. This one may have potential. Basic story, in the future robotic technology is so far advanced that the use of machines suits, think the thing Ripley from Alien wears to kick that alien’s ass, is common place. There is an updated version of football which is played with these suits. The youngest boy gets roped into an international terrorist situation, through his connection to an very rich, corporate executive, who was aware of his skill, and had allow him free reign of his workshop.

 

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Something sort of cool about this one. The story follows three brothers. The youngest is a technical genius with machines (think Hephaestus), and his two older brothers are Mechball (think I just made that name up) all stars on the high school team. An interesting detail for me is when I wrote this book I only had two boys at the time, but now I have my own trio of sons. That personal relevancy definitely bumps this one up on the priority list. I also liked the big, entertaining story that took place. It was sort of like Golden Era 80s-90’s action flicks (think half Karate Kid, half Die Hard), mixed with a heady batch of Orwellian musings.

Sumer, previously Robot Academy Funtimes– I stalled out on the second draft of this work, a little over 66k words. Again there’s a personal component that makes me want to finish-finish. Basic plot came from my brother years ago, in a far distant future, robots rule the Earth, they have decided to begin reproducing humans, because they have lost their sense of humanity. My story follows one of these new-humans, a girl named Echo.

This one presents a number of critical and complicated issues. For one the story takes places in a holodeck/scientific lab of sorts. This sort of reeks of amateur hackery again because you end up in a sort of dream sequence explanation which isn’t very good. If it’s all a dream or a simulation then who really give a damn, the argument goes. Of course, traversing prickly fields of contradictions and ego destroying logical conundrums sort of destroys the pursuit of digestible narration.

More over, what was a stunning philosophical insight from my teenage brother, was a fairly well established Science Fiction trope. In my own reading aI have become more aware of this issue, via Asimov and others. That said, my draft was done with mostly clean hands, and since there really is nothing new under the sun, I don’t automatically discount this story. I feel like this definitely has the feeling of a fruit not yet ripened, so I continue on.

The Siege/Winterset-First draft, Speculative Fiction, right at 47.9k words. This is a weird one for me. What started out with the thought experiment, what would a people’s revolution look like in small town mid-West United States, led by a somewhat quixotic youth protagonist, similar to the idealized concept the Author has of himself. Think farm animals released on Main Street and the bouncy ball pit at high noon on a Saturday.
I didn’t like how it ended up though, in chaos and murder, and low-down outlaws. No one was supposed to get hurt…I thought about this book a lot later when I when I watched things like the Occupy movement, or the recent riots in Baltimore. I realized that the bullshit, Mayberry sense of revolution I depicted in the book was naive, in the meanest and truest sense of the word. This sort of development in my thinking leads to it having a permanent position in the slush pile.

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Tom’s Episode-I believe this is the first book I wrote, and it sits at a monstrous 95,829 words. Wow. It is sort of crazy to go through all these stories. They connect and bring back so many memories of when I wrote them. The basic idea of this story is what happens if someone became an atheist while in heaven. Again, just an awful, typical beginner’s premise, a story set in heaven. I wrote this over five years ago. I’d taken a class at University of Iowa, on Science and Religion around that time, and I remember I was deep into the Atheist, Creationism vs. Evolution, Dawkins, sort of stuff. Of course, Tom is an allusion to the so-called doubting Thomas of the Gospels.

Caravaggio_-_The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas

Strictly speaking I would label myself an Atheist, in the strict I have seen no evidence for the positive claim there is a God, but in all the ways that count I’m still a dirty old apostate Catholic. I pray Our Fathers then Hail Marys, am in dialogue with the Holy Spirit, and ultimately abide a messianic eschatology (and I am the one I have been waiting for). But yes, it’s those sort of Gnostic drenched ramblings that make up this book. I also recognized later that it’s Interludes Part One, but that seems to form some sort of psychological singularity which I don’t really care to deal with (we’re all writing the same shit over and over and over…). I encountered Tom Robbins, and Christopher Moore’s Lamb later, they do masterfully, what I did very shoddily in this one, but again know, I wait for the day I may have the capabilities to birth this monster. Consider yourself warned.

 

Novellas/Shorts Stories

 

Kill The Television-This is a novella right around 17k words. I consider this my Parvus Opus (Small Work). Simple story, thirteen year old, Ronald lives on his Grandma’s couch at her senior living center. One day, he decides to start head hunting flat screens. Cool little story, hero’s quest sort of thing, set in my home city. I love the themes of this one and definitely want it to have some readers someday. Hard to place it exactly, not big enough to hold its own as a book, think I would like it to make it the title work for a collection of other short stories. I got hung up finishing it on a pacing issue, there’s a break away story told during the climax, which interrupts the flow, but I love it too much to cut it. Why not just shorten it the mind pushes.

Story of Roger Meeks-Science Fiction, 14k words, again cool idea, but not enough for own book. Seventy something year old is a nobody, from Nowhere American. He works as a cashier at a local gas station, and lives alone in the same house he grew up in. When a spacefaring race shows up, it is Mr. Meeks they want to talk to.

I like this one a lot. Didn’t quite get over in the version I got now, but definitely potential in this. I love the original Twilight Zone, and this is my attempt at something like that. I would love to see this in a collection of short stories.

Gnomes. Or How Martin Gardner’s LIfe Was Ruined By A Clan of Gnomes with Big Problems-Fantasy, right around 22k word, this has got to be the strangest of all the slush piles specimens. The general idea I had was, sort of like in Toy Story, what if your garden variety gnomes were actually alive, and their owners formed a shadowy underground railroad of magic. Fun idea, silly story, but not really enough for a whole book. But again, it so sort of absurd and simple, something still gets me about this story. Might need to revisit it…then again maybe not, just remembered a bit of hackery taking place in this one too.

So the main character is named Martin Gardner. I’m pretty sure the Martin is ripped right from Stephen King’s man in black, Flagg-type guyand I had some idea of this being like an alternative origins story for that character or a character like him. Normal average person that got suck unknowingly into a magical world, and ended up powerful, ruined and corrupt in the process. I think this is so out there it could be good, but would need extensive rewrites and a commitment to the absurd.

The Last Virgin of Hollywood-Fiction, a little under 10k. The premise of the story is in the title, Norma a twenty something year old make up artist of the stars has somehow retained her virginity. The shorty story follows her as she tries to hold on to it. It was a rushed story, scattered with cliches, the overconfident rich guy, the hobo with a soul, the decadent evil Brad Pitt type. I like the idea, and sort of feel in love with main character. I think this one had potential to be a great story.

Jar of Kisses-Fantasy, 13k words, another story with a good premise and hook, but not enough to warrant a full book. This was a simple story. We have this little jar, with the words “Kisses” on it, that prompted the idea what if there was this magical jar, that if you took an invisible scoop from it with your hand, and took a drink from it, would give you the greatest kiss you could ever imagine. Ended up being a decent story, middle-schooler gets it, bully classmate discovers it, decent portions of horror and sentimentality. Definitely worth edit.

Formation of the White-God awful title, clearly Tolkien hackery. Very strange feeling, sits a little over 10k words and I have absolutely no clue what the story is about. No characters, no scene, no anything. Vaguely, I am prompted by the title, I think this was when I started wanting an intertextual thing with my books, like Stephen King and Terry Pratchett have done, where characters and story lines can pop up in different books.
I read an excerpt from it:

…“Oh come on, I swear you think everyone is a sexual predator these days.”
“He’s a lame.”
“I swear Claire. This is the exact problem we’re up against. Everyone is too worried about how they look, and being cool, and all that shit. A guy like Chris Davis, a good man, is seen as a schmuck. I think that’s just wrong. Now they asked for a light, and we are going to get them a light, all right? And Davis is our light.”
“Fine, lame it is.” She took a drink of her coffee.
Her brother paid the bill; he always paid the bill.
They sat in silence for some time. Connor hated silence and finally broke it. “What is it?”
“Nothing,” she said.

And it all comes back to me. Claire and Conor are angel figures, representing Intuition and Righteousness, the story follows them on a heroes quest of still murky specifications. I imagined some sort of occulted initiation ritual into the Good. The protagonist, not the lame in question, is a bastardly bookish type like the author himself. I think this story was a bit of wishful thinking, hopefully not conjuring, on my part. Anyway, this work gets a big question mark. Could it be an Interludes sequel?

Rock Art Salesman-This was another one in line for weirdest premises. Right around 8k words, story is about the greatest Rock Arts salesman in the world. He’s entrapped in the selling of an exceptional piece, to a odious and shadowy party. I liked this story, but felt it was part of a larger tale. I have another start of a story, which I feel has a connection to this story, but haven’t flushed the either one out yet. Liked the characters and idea though.Also weird synchronicity, but I was later encounter just such a Rock Art Salesman in On a Pale Horse, by Piers Anthony.

Scrubber Boys-This is probably my best and favorite short story. Right under 7k words, the main plot points and characters came to me in a dream. I woke that morning and took notes in my journal and had a draft fast. Definitely needs a rewrite and an edit, but if I ever have a shorty story collection this will be in it.

It follows two scrubber boys John and Pinto, who work as child laborers on a giant battery complex in a strange world. Surreal, challenging, this story runs out of the dream into reality and back. I love this story.

We Troll-Fiction/Horror. Another strong short story premise. 5k words. Set in the future, the story follow high schooler Roger, as he experiences a surreal amount of bullying. Exaggerating the trend of online trolling and abuse, I speculated what would happen when this behavior ingrained itself into a society and festered for a century. I imagined a website were bullies could get together and make a sport of the process. The result is this terrifying glimpse into a possible future.

Escape-Fiction/Fantasy, 997 words, spawned in early parent hood when 2nd child hopped out of his crib one night, about a toddler who sneaks out on his parents, to discover a magical world outside. Dense, exciting, and frightening, probably worth finishing.

Changeling-Fiction/Fantasy, around 3k words. Decent story, again produced in newly acquired parenthood. Tells a modern story of the ancient myth of “the changeling”, which is a surrogate fairy child, the fairy/gnomey people leave while they take your child and train it in their magical ways. This story takes place on the night the human child is returning to the home. Can you guess the ironic twist? Strong enough to be given further consideration

Agent or Standard Operating Procedure-Fiction/Speculative Fiction, 4.6k words, written in a 1st person perspective, confessional, telling the story of how this agent ended up violating protocol. Strong story, but overdone. Energy comes from the first person story, and with things like Interlude, I have gotten that urge out of my system. Strong enough to consider for the short story collection.

Arms in Ankeny-Short Story, Science Fiction, 6th draft, 5k words, this was the first piece I sent to a paid editor. I wrote about that experience here. Definitely has legs, and I need to work a final version. Would definitely be in a collection. This one taught me how hard it is to write a great short story. It was like overworking the dough, the whole thing began to crumble in my hands as I played with it. Still, I have the sneaking suspicion one day I will find myself in the perfect spot to finish it. Again, I am reminded thinking of this one, that my problem is letting of the bad parts in the story, the stuff that doesn’t work.

The Case of Bill Mimic-Fiction, 4k words, interesting story Kafka-like, basic premise what if a person had a condition where they lost their unique personality and merely mimicked whoever they came into contact with. Don’t remember if I pulled this one off, but think I need to go back and reread. Candidate for the collection.

Rich’s Autoland-2,850 word, a brief sojourn into a realist Fiction vibe. Story follows a newspaper writer working on a story about the National Wresting Hall of Fame in Waterloo, Ia, and a champion boy wrestler whose the focus of the story. That is the back drop, it takes a surrealist bent in the end, something I of course really like. It’s like I just couldn’t play it straight and had to let it out in the end…Don’t know the viability of this as a story, but definitely some potential.

3 Ways-7k words, Science Fiction, another one that could be expanded or chopped. Basic premise, in the future sex is highly regulated, you have to get a ticket. There are only three way to get it, everyone is given one to begin with, they can be bought (no one can afford them), or they can be given, and that’s it. Story focuses in on one man as he wrestles with this system. Strong story, definitely worth urther development.

Conclusion-

This was a great time splashing around in the slush pile. Though I have to admit it does leave an unpleasant after taste, and maybe a little gunk between your toes. Writing is an easy task for me, finishing writing is something else all together. I have to admit a sense of confusion when I look at my slush pile. So many half baked schemes, just sitting there, if I let my mind wander I could start feeling it was a waste, a byproduct of a desperate attempt for attention, and self realization. But I don’t do that.

Tomorrow, come heaven, hell, and high water, I will wake up and try to put up a thousand words, and add another layer to my slush pile. And I’ll tell you why, the secret if you will, it’s not because I don’t care whether it is good or not, or whether I will succumb to crippling debt, and my children will starve in the streets or not, no it is none of those earthly concerns, it is for the greater, heavenly concern, the desire to be great, to be great at creation…creation of what you could ask…a story for another time, I’d advise. Thanks for taking a dip with me. I would love to hear what in that mess sparks your interest. And I hope you stay paddling on top of the slush pile.

What Is Going On?!?! (Interludes Prologue)

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I had a very strange experience, and I don’t know why I feel compelled to write about it here, but I do. I anthropomorphized “The Muse” in previous posts. I did that as an intellectual tool, a thought experiment. For me to have written about the concept at all demonstrates how much time I had already given to it. You can imagine my frustration, when after the idea was out there, I did not get the usual relief I do in these situations.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hogarth_painting_the_muse.jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hogarth_painting_the_muse.jpg

Instead, the whole thing of an anthropomorphized muse stuck with me. Anytime I had a free interior minute, like washing the dishes or before bed, I would find myself drifting towards the thought of the Muse, as a full fledged, living person.

Here is how the thoughts sort of went. What is really behind being in that artistic zone? How does the artist just turn over to this other force and have it produce such intelligent, cohesive products? If it is some sort of a power of the subconscious (thinking something like Jungian psychology), then how do we make sense of it being more creatively intelligent and complicated then our regular modes of thinking?

But further my mind would snap, and here is where the fissure starts, because I can almost hear a voice, her voice to be exact. Who says you have anything to do with it? So bold, right there, right smack between my eyes. The language and orientation seemed so strange. Why would I say such things to myself?

She always seems to have an answer, and be tired of my shit. She is also sick of me taking credit for her ideas, and wants her share of recognition and goodies. Now I know this sounds like I am losing my mind, but this is what happened. So I found myself down in the office this morning about to write. Now I have been writing somewhat seriously now for at least four years, and though I have days were it might have take longer to get going, I can always get the job done.

In other words, I had never known writer’s block. It also is important to note that I was in a fairly positive frame of mind, breakfast, coffee, free time, etc., but right as I hit my seat and started the computer a dreadfulness bombarded me. It was so strong and disorienting that I jumped up out of my chair, and in a panicked spastic response I flung my arms wildly around the room.

I was overwhelmed with paranoia. It was in there deep. I wanted to dig it out of myself somehow. I heard my kids playing upstairs. My wife was telling my oldest son that she just needed to finish the dishes and then they would all go outside. The normalcy of the moment snapped me out of it and I sat back down, but my hands were still shaking and I was so scared.

I opened up my work in progress and read the last sentence I wrote. There were a number of grammatical errors, which I tinkered with for a second. Somewhat disinterested, I went to write the new words and again a feeling of death and dread, and magnanimity overwhelmed. I felt stomach sick. I closed my eyes and laid my head on the desk.

An unending stream of existential crisis tore through me. What was I doing writing anyway? What did I have to say? I was a nothing and a nobody and just a loser like everybody else. There was nothing great in me. Compared to those before me, I am an inexperienced moron. All this obsession with art was so much inconsequential madness. It was sickening and shameful. A danger, to myself and others. I was a coward who had hide and ran and taken the path of least resistance and I would continue to be that, forever. It was over for me.

How can I describe the sensation of feeling that your thoughts are not you’re own? It’s like a person entering the room and beginning to talk to you, not quite yelling, but loud enough that you cannot ignore it. It’s an alien voice too, almost like reading words on a page, you have to sort of interpret character, inflection and tone.

It isn’t good at bluffing or bullshitting. It is just like the wind; it blows or it doesn’t.

The wind was blowing hard through my head. It was almost like drowning, but the nonstop stream of ideas filled the deadly world. I probably laid there for twenty minutes in this state before I popped out of my seat again, panicked. I was asthmatic too. I couldn’t get a deep enough breathe. The feeling of sharing the room with someone came back hard now. So hard that I grabbed my wallet and went running out the house, terrified that some physical or even metaphysical brain “popping” was about to occur.

It was a godawful hot humid day, and the heat and bright light just smashed me in the face. It was like I had ran right into a yellowish sweat bubble. The wet sickness pushed through my eyes balls and down into my guts. I could feel my morning breakfast gurgling there.

I should have gone inside and laid down, but I was too scared to go back into my house. I started walking. Everything wa cartoonish, blocky, almost lego-y. I began to hear what sounded like a choir singing, but I couldn’t find the source. I walked for a while until I came to a gas station. I stood outside, pacing, totally out of my mind. I was so worked up, angry and for what appeared to be nothing. I felt stupid about leaving the house like that, and I was sure my wife was wondering where the hell I went.

A woman pulled up in a white Nissan. I saw that it was an older woman, heavy set, and in business attire. We made eye contact for a second and I looked away. But as she walked passed, I looked back and now the woman was young, slim and shiny blond hair ran down seventies style lime green dress, which fit her perfectly. So weirded out, I walked around the building but was stopped by three youths. Two boys were on their bikes, and one little girl was standing on the curb, watching the others riding circles in the parking lot.

As I went passed them the little girl began to talk to me. “Oh professor ass dude, weirdo, lame type predator.” I couldn’t believe what was I was hearing. “Pussy,” she said. I turned around and they were all lined up staring at me. I felt like I should say something, but they were all smiling and what could I say? The oldest couldn’t have been nine, and the girl was no more than five. I couldn’t believe something like that coming from such a young child, but the way they were smiling told me they thought it was real funny.

I stared at them for a second so dumbfounded and weirded out that finally I just turned and walked away. As I got to the edge of the parking lot I looked back for them and they were gone. I kept walking, wading through this lingering dread. I walked until I came to a Dollar General. I had the urge to buy some candles, some candy, maybe even some flowers. I walked through the aisles and every person I went passed had some negative words for me. Vulgar, high school type trash. Pencil Dick. Faggot. Cocksucker. A Grandma in a red hat called me a cunt.

I got my chocolate bars and candles and headed for the checkout line, which was packed with people. I waited for an eternity. The whole time this voice in my head just kept going and going, like standing under a waterfall.

I couldn’t imagine another world existing outside of the pounding, pulsating, internal voice which was just having a freak out, in perfect, controlled, monotoned persistence. You suck you know that, you really suck. You sucks eggs. You suck dicks. You can suck a golf ball through a garden a hose. A carburetor out an engine block. You’re like black hole level suck. Bending matter to your empty black suck. Abortion vacuum suck…

I watched the checkout lady as the line crept. She was an older woman, late forties, early fifties. She had thinning hair and the look of a smoker. She had an air of a look of dignity though too, as she rang everyone’s crap up. Something told me she had some other career experience, like a horse trainer or something. But that was before, when she had something she loved, but that didn’t work out. She took this job out of necessity.

I finally made it to her, but right before, a viscous, emergency type, stomach pain kick in. I leaned against the counter and tried to close my eyes and take some deep breaths. When I opened my eyes, my things were being rang up and a voice broke into my head. “3.33, Sir.” I struggled for my wallet and when I brought it back up and looked the cashier in the face she had changed. It was the beautiful woman who was outside the gas station, but now she was in the Dollar General uniform. For the first time, I got a look at her face.

I love and am ever faithful to my wife, so I feel bad writing this, but she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Normally I am a burnet man, but her ocean waves of shimmering blond hair and lightening green eyes left me floored and overwhelmed with lust. It was her smell too! It was like cool wind on a warm day, through a lavender field, mixed with the earthy scent of woman.

She smiled and said, “3.33, you sick bastard!” As if she read my dirty mind. She said the last words full of both sexuality and insult. I dropped my wallet and banged my head on the counter as I went to grab it. I was full of apologies, even though she had just insulted me. All flustered and blushing, I opened my wallet and there was nothing in there! I was a ramble of sorries and she just kept smiling at me.

“You’re fucking great,” she said. “I can’t wait to get my hands on you Austin. You’re a screamer, aren’t you? I can always sense a screamer. Hemingway never broke; I hated that. You don’t have a fiver on ya? You broke, chubby, son-of-a-bitch. Take the candy asshole, consider it a last meal. Fucking candles.”

You know the phrase deer in the head lights? Now I literally know what that feels like. It was like a decked out, glossy Escalade appeared from the ether and was going to plow right through me. The sick, twisted thing is as I basked in her presence I was still aroused, seduced even by her destructive forces. For some (possibly profound) reason I began to think about the blank page back at home, and how I needed to be doing my words.

The whole word froze and the lights went dim. The store began to shake and drywall began to sift from the ceiling. I looked at the folks behind me, all lined up and waiting to pay for their stuff. They were now statues. Their still shoulders collected the falling dust.

I looked back at the new woman. She was frozen too, smiling like the sun. I had the most awesome realization. This was the Muse!!! Right in front of me. I could hear this indecipherable, yet oddly familiar hum emanating from her. Think it clicked in my head, I had heard this same effect, sometimes deep in the writing zone, when the words were just gushing out beyond my control.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Félix-Nicolas_Frillié_-_Kiss_of_the_Muse,_c._1863.jpg
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Félix-Nicolas_Frillié_-_Kiss_of_the_Muse,_c._1863.jpg

This was the source of that hum and she was standing right before me. I had the strange thought to try to capture her, bottle her up somehow and hide her back in my house. There was a loud boom of thunder in the store and a web of lightening broke out across the ceiling. With another boom, a giant appeared behind her in the next aisle.

The first thought that came to mind was Gandalf, because of his long white hair and robes, but the man was black, like deep of night black, so black that it was hard to even make out any features on his face, and he was a giant. I’m guessing probably twelve or thirteen feet tall, at least; his head almost touched the ceiling.

He stood there arms crossed for an awful minute. A chrome scepter, capped with a flashing diamond, was clinched in his left hand, and poised to obliterate me with one smack. Thankfully, there were no words passed between us. He just stood there, staring. Then I passed out.

I woke up back in my chair, a small Dollar General store bag with the candles and candy in it on the desk. It was like waking up from a nightmare. I felt so disoriented and insane. Worst of all, I looked up at the screen and all that you have been reading was already up there. As I reread it, memories of the whole experience came flooding back.

I think I might have gone insane. I need to talk to my wife about this, but I don’t know what she’ll say. Has anyone had an experience with this? Please share with me if you have. Thanks for reading. She exists!

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Next Chapter

8-19-16

In the writing lab 2:59PM. Just had to apologize, hang my head, do penance, smooth the rough spots. Chay turns six today. Tomorrow is the big party, so today is a preparation day. We run to Costco for a giant bag of chicken wings and other supplies, and then stop at La Tapatia for a pinata on the way home. Commerce and piling the booty into big boulder had us off our A-game. As I and toddler Coen, sat in the parking lot, he started sucking on the silver part of the seat belt, in the frustrating toddler way of doing things, which can be very cute and funny, but also infuriating. It’s like playing chicken with Joker, you flip back and forth between desperation and laughter. The gang shows up, pile back in, motorcycle pinata on birthday-boy’s lap in the middle. Mom tells me she talked him out of the skull. I tell her she should have let him get it. On the way home Coen goes to works on the motorcycle’s yellow tassels, enraging birthday-boy. I try to get control of the situation, while Mom drives, we were too packed in for me to operate the vehicle safely. Little man has the perfect barrier of bulk items blocking my control, so we start a game of automotive Marco-Polo, which involves me trying to stop his hands from ripping the tassels off. I succeed but have only elevated the stakes. Now it a game of hand combat. I, more expert at the martial arts, control him easily, but this only brings the toddler’s ear piercing screams of defeat. The siren causes me to let go of the hand, and the game begins again.

Several rounds into that I lost it. Raise my voice. Yell at little man to stop. He gives me big pouty bottom lip. Saucer eyes lids brim with tears in a cartoonish fashion. In the moment, I feel terrible and angry, let down by my own lack of composure. It all becomes obvious I should have brought a cooler, and bags for the grocery, so I could put them in the bed of the pickup. We should have gone into the grocery with everyone else so we weren’t bored. No matter what, it is your responsibility as a parent to BE COOL. You cannot teach little ones not to throw fits, if you’re throwing a fit.

I deleted a post the other day. I was sort of embarrassed by all that, by what I wrote, deleting it. It was whiny, cliche. Quoted Mel Gibson as William Wallace, so silly and melodramatic. It was all true, horribly true of course, and I should have left it. I did leave it, in here, the electronic second brain of this creature.

I get build up, pressure issues when I’m not writing new stuff. It’s kind of odd to start falling apart cause of the something like that. It’s about exhausting that emotional, psychic build up, I think. Hitting the bag gets it out, exercise or intensive manual labor too. Time, always the issue. That’s just something to say though isn’t it. The truth is much more complicated. You have more energy, do more, brings more challenges, requires more energy more activity, do more, more challenges, more energy, more challenges. Something like that. No real thing as rest. The meditation will be timed. Start now, ten minutes. Space between thoughts. I am Austin. I am Austin. I am Austin….3:36PM

8-7-16 Update #1 (Want to talk shit about my story?)

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11:10AM post, fast paced, out loud read through of draft 7 of Arms in Ankeny. Feeling, surprisingly close to being done with it. Right around 5k words, definitely fits the bill of a short story. Reading it so much you start to lose perspective on the level of entertainment it provides, and general quality of it. This fact tells me I need to get it out to other people, force them read it, give me some feed back. Just told wife, she has to read it and say five mean things. Not mean like I suck, but mean like critical improvements. She has read previous drafts so I am interested if she picks up on any changes, improvements. Anyone want to read my short-story and talk shit?

Stumbled upon this interesting site, brilliant essay on strange use of the word “do”, like in “how do you do?,”  genuine bibliophile. Check it out. Learn what these words mean, where they come from, how they operate, what you can do with them!

Reading this article, from the always worthwhile brainpickings.org, titled “Schopenauer on the Essential Difference Between How Art and Science Reveal the World.” From the Mister himself on how Artists view the world:

We may, therefore, accurately define it as the way of viewing things independent of the principle of sufficient reason, in opposition to the way of viewing them which proceeds in accordance with that principle, and which is the method of experience and of science. This last method of considering things may be compared to a line infinitely extended in a horizontal direction, and the former to a vertical line which cuts it at any point.

And later…

The first is like the innumerable showering drops of the waterfall, which, constantly changing, never rest for an instant; the second is like the rainbow, quietly resting on this raging torrent.

Yessir! Hope you’re finding rainbows amidst the torrents!

8-7-16 (Occult Sun Rising Behind Dirty Clouds)

Morning in the lab. Thoughts are scattered. Time is the motherfucker, yes? Sorry for the cursing. I apologize. Time is cool. I got no problem with it. Just got to learn how to divide and commodify. Divide and commodify. Watching this chess match, watching the clock as it runs down on the people. Watching it as I watch the clock, we’re all playing games. Realities upon realities. Realize there’s a devil trick in chess, in life, these piebald parameters. All this intelligence, skill wasted down the drain for a game.

But that’s just one aspect, one perspective. The game teaches you a lot if you let it, about resources, value, sacrifice. There’s a misconception about chess players that they know dozen of moves in advance and sit there master of the universe style, but that’s not true. There are too many possible permutations from any given move to see that far in advance.

No, each move the board must be reassessed in its total uniqueness. The trick is you learn patterns and templates. Routine teaches you, if these conditions occur this will be the result. Think of it like a story, your story, these are your pieces, assets, what will you do with them? And the clock is ticking, so figure something out, and is there a man over there, approaching this way? He flies another flag. How should you respond? Does he send a scout or a soldier? Is he setting up base? Has he crossed over into your territory? Who is the scarlet woman with the flaming red hair? 10:04AM, in the writing lab.

8-6-16 (Morning Transmission from the Writing Lab)

9AM in writing lab, after pancakes, coffee, walk with family on an Edenic morning. As we were walking, guy pulled up, shiny red buggy jeep type thingy, window down, smiled at me, said, “Great family walk!” I smiled and said thank you, gave him a thumbs up, and he drove off. I assume it was a friendly act. I think my kids put a spell on people. Everyone’s nicer, more vulnerable and open when they’re around. People start revealing things to me about their life, their kids, or about not having any, wanting some. I notice the difference when I’m by myself, people look at me less, smile less.

I think it’s more than that too. It’s the neighborhood I live in. My Dad grew up a block north of us, and during his time it was an idealistic slice of American pie. The eighties and nineties brought all the suburban sprawl, and typical exodus of resources and value from the city. The east-side got a reputation for being rougher, dirtier. I think people in the neighborhood see my family and I and it reminds them of this idyllic past they hold in their minds. Is it really such an exceptional sight, a Mom and Dad, a stroller, three kids, a dog, beautiful late summer Saturday morning, alive? Sort of scary if it is a novelty, but I remain proud my unit can inspire such a reaction.

Truth, it makes me a little suspicious. I can’t help but wonder what the nice man would think about the slush-pile or other subversive tendencies of the author. That I’m an apostate Catholic, anarchist, mystic, that likes to howl at the moon and spin in circles. That those boys he sees frolicking are, in the future, savage renaissance men, being pushed into the world armed with the licks of Hendrix, the words and rhythm of Tupac, the tutelage of Malcolm X and a black Jesus. That I’m a no-voter. That I believe a Dark Lord, Sauron type thing rules the world, and that most people, including the author, suffer under its web of illusion. I wonder what he would say about that?

Maybe he’d dig it, maybe he wouldn’t. The sky was so large, the white morning clouds cut across it, giving space and dimension. Big skies can make you feel like a giant, the world something you roll around on, teetering like a bear on a beach ball.

Got stuck on this debate between Cenk Uygur and Dinesh D’souza, don’t have will to summarize for you, watch yourself for curious and challenging social-political considerations. The world has gone mad, but we are waking up. Be gentle, kind, and Art. 11:18AM, time to edit.

8-5-16 Later

Later-

12:30 AM, five pages into a reread, edit, of Arms in Ankeny, and this ant won’t leave me alone. Keeps crawling on to my keyboard, running up my hand. I try to enjoy it, emphasizing my speculative function, but the second time it interrupts my editing I start to get annoyed. Resistance. Over all though, editing is going better than I’d hoped. Bad words are starting to jump out at me. I’m starting to be able to read the work at a fast pace and not cringe every couple seconds under the force of my stupidity. We may be getting close…

Great words, ZAGGED.

2:15PM Post lunch, turkey sandwich with brie and greens, bowl of turkey/bean soup, oatmeal M&M cookies fresh from oven for treat, chugged with last portion of coffee. Back to the Art. Going to read, journal, focus on a couple details in work in progress. Try to get a big picture perspective.

Later, 8:06PM healthy ache in my muscles, back in the writing lab after evening chores. Turned over the compost, composted pepper plants, hacked back tree I almost cut down last year, with chainsaw, cleaned up mess, mowed, watered everything, had dinner pork-loin, candied baby carrots, greens. Water is delicious.

Reading Lavinia, by Ursula K. Le Guin. Story has captured me. I love the Latin, ancient history aspect to the book. Took Latin as my foreign language requirement at University of Iowa. Enjoyed it because the focus was more on translation then speaking. I have an idea for this blog, “An Idiot Tries to Translate Virgil’s Aeneid,” but as you can imagine that is a very slow haul.

Lesson from writing and gardening today, focus on each individual plant, or quality over quantity. These are things I intellectually know but haven’t actively incorporated. Each year with my garden I tell myself to scale back, focus on each plant, a couple tomatoes, a couple peppers, create a system. I ended up with 12+ of each scattered around, most of them doing all right, none of them doing that great. Writing is the same way, huge slush pile, but nothing exceptional which I can hang on the wall for posterity. The editor self chimes in, why’d you use posterity? Mark Twain said, “Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent one will do.” Alternatives, generations, progeny (mb more expensive), kids (winner, captures theme I am a stay-at-home Dad).

These are the sort of analytical black holes editing seem to create for this author. Words loose their discrete associations, until it’s one undulating wongwongwongwong…goddammit, the editor voice says, with appropriate dejection. Good day Writer Warriors.

 

 

Snippets #66

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Ninja: 1,000 Years of the Shadow Warrior-John Man

A young adventurer named Jing Ke is chosen for the task. He is a man with nerves of steel and high intelligence, who likes “to read books and practice swordsmanship”–in brief, the essence of the true ninja. He refuses to quarrel; if offended, he simply walks away. Jing Ke is too smart to agree at once, but his reluctance is overcome when he is made a minister and given a mansion. (11)

8-5-16 (Slice of the Morning Stream Amidst Editing)

In the lab, 10:58AM. Had an early dentist appointment, taking in info and stimulation now, mind wanders towards editing. This is a day dedicated to writing. I watch this video on Joyce, one of the great ones. Writers are my favorite people. Mainly because they’re like perception and cognitive super heroes. I want to be one. I might be. A quarter sized dangerous looking spider paraded passed on the window pane. It had a worthy ant clutched in its front legs. Earlier, during the Joyce video, an ant ran on to the screen. I let it wander, wondering if it was into the subject like I was.

Mechanics, execution, these are my trouble areas. I write, think, talk in a complicated fashion, and making that work in prose is a challenge. I need to slow down. I feel like I’m in a big ocean and if I stop treading water I’ll sink. That’s generally my attitude towards editing, feels like I’m sinking, drowning.

Stop that shit, greater self urges. Focus you lazy, weak belly, bastard. It’s work, a craft, not supposed to be easy. Don’t waste your time, your life. Do or do not, there is no try. Thanks Yoda.

The ant’s back. It walks on these words as I edit them, then falls off the screen. Not a fan?

7-30-16 (Not for the faint-hearted)

6:00PM Played guitar last night until my fingers were sore. First time I ever played with other people. It was with a couple close friends so it was really comfortable and fun. Got us talking about music, craft, life. Our little ones played around, trying to figure each other out. I delivered guru, sage Dad advice. No, two children would not be easier. It’s not a halving but a doubling. You will be doing a hundred percent more work. Don’t kid yourself.

Woke up like 7:30AM everyone was sleeping in from the late night. I went downstairs tried to wake up. Panic and despair circled the peripheries of my reality. I want to share with you the truth. The “you” of course is myself, but also my wife, my kids, and you random person who has some way found yourself here. I want to be honest with you. Make this a worthwhile exchange, but things are so complex. You try to tell one thing it veers of into a whole history.

Today will honestly go down as one of the worst days in my life. I don’t say that flippantly, or rashly. It was. If I painted the picture for you, which I don’t think I could or would, it would ruin your day too. Still the emotions, and ideas swell, and journaling and writing are my outlets, so I sit in the lab trying to make sense of it. That doesn’t even capture it. Writing is a second self, a second skin, another me. I teetered on that edge as I showered this morning, the edge of disassociation, schizophrenia. Leave yourself behind, the dark side pushed. You aren’t you. You don’t have to care. It made my soul ripple. No, I told it, I will never take that way. I will stare into the abyss. I won’t run or look away.

I think about that a lot, how I wish I could be completely honest on the page, to really capture just how magnificent and terrifying my world is. Probably your world too. I should write, thee world. Why? And how do we endure? Why are we not all screaming at the top of our lungs, why!

Maybe I will tell the true story, one day, when I am braver. Maybe I will tell you about an old woman with shaky hands, that put the glasses on her face crooked, broken like a child, maybe about Jesus’ hands and feet, maybe about the Hittites, maybe about how only the good die young…

I won’t end it like that… I love you. Yes, you. Whoever reads these words. And those that don’t too, I love you as well. I’m sorry too, that I couldn’t be there to help you when you needed it. You know you’re pretty special, and you’ve made me proud with what you’ve done with your life. I know sometimes life can be hard. We all go through it. I just hope next time you’re going through it, you remember that I love you and you’ll make it; we are more than the sum of our parts.

7-28-16 and beyond…

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2:35PM In the writing lab. Trying to focus in on the editing. Going to work on Kill the Television. Complicated flashback thing going on in that work. Begin the story with scene framed by a television anchor. Through the perspective of the screen. Weird entry point led me to overuse flashback, which is confusing when you read it. Keep things simple, ordered. Flash back should be brief, not place of main action, I think.

words to eliminate

-could -immediately
-had

 

3:08PM About half an hour, that’s how long I can edit, in sessions. I get way too anxious when I edit, like it’s open heart surgery or something. I start just jumping pages and paragraphs frantically fiddling around with this bit, then that. Realized I had to cut a whole chunk and also copy/cut/paste a large section to eliminate the unnecessary flashback bullshit. Process and coffee get me gritted teeth, slapping at the keyboard and mouse pad thingy. The urgency and anxiety are wholly out of place and problematic. Need to slow down. No reason editing can’t be fun. Having all these works is like being a sculpture getting truckloads of raw uncut stone. The process has just begun.

It is fun too, to see the result, see it start taking a working shape. I can feel it sometimes too, the ripple of future self, purring as it feels a reality, a possibility being created. I hope the energy and efforts lead to something worthwhile for the reader too.

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Started the day off great. Took a family trip to Ledges State Park. It was cloudy, but cool, perfect in my opinion. Probably my favorite park in my immediate area. There are thick woods, sandstone cliffs, and a picturesque stream you can walk around in. The water is moving so its super clear. My gang loved splashing around in it. Picking up rocks throwing them in. I love being out in nature like that, taking a deep breath, realizing how much is out there if you really go looking, and all you got to do is show up, claim it for your own.

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The dream of country exodus is gaining steam everyday. Realizing we need to do it, challenge ourselves, get debt free and create a sustainable life. Walk around barefoot all day. Let the kids stomp around like little Robin Hoods, bows and arrows, forts, fishing, BB guns, carrots as big as your heads, chickens, goats, rabbits. On the drive back from the park we take back country roads, stop for a couple realty signs advertising acreages. Nothing stops us but time and opportunity. We plan and plot, encourage development of the Executive Function. 3:34PM, back to the editing.

7:43PM Went upstairs to get drink of water. Found sugar cookies with purple frosting and green sprinkles in final stages of completion. Devour several. Make roasted veggies for the fish fry later. Dinner. Water the gardens. Back in the lab.

At the Ledges today people have marked the whole place up with rock graffiti. Most of it is what you would suspect, middle school declarations of pairings. It’s everywhere though. You think about the countless lives, carving into the sandstone. All that energy, potential, needing an outlet. Where does the urge to leave our mark come from? Seems primordial, this need to create, imagine, change and shape things into the way we want them.

 

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9:34AM Gang got haircuts this morning. Handsome little devils for sure! They get them from my childhood friend’s Mom. There something awesome about that, growing up and living in the same place, this sort of full spectrum relationship that develops. Mrs. M who cuts their hair was skeptical of me as child and teenager, rightfully so, but even back in the day I knew she liked me, just skeptical was all. Twenty years later she is my three boys regular barber, and they’re best buddies with her granddaughters. What sort of perspective is developed when you see people like that, from children to adults, to parents and beyond. What is like it seeing the doubling, tripling of a person?

Was going to post last night, got called away by sleepy boys who needed attention, books, pajamas, airplane rides to bed. I serenaded them with my guitar practice until they both declared I was giving them a headache. The rhythm can take you over, get inside your head, not let you think of anything else.

Going to focus on editing, that is the game plan. I have the whole day of ahead of me, mostly free to do as I will. Dinner with friends, and possible jam session scheduled at five. My editing goal is one full read through, rewrite of Kill The Television.

Spent the last hour and half examining world through ethereal portal. Things are getting very strange. I could rant about this, but it only adds to the din. So instead I will leave you with some evidence of the madness to consider, as well as an antidote. Would love to hear your reactions and speculations. Good day Artists-Warriors.

 



Snippets #65

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The Name of the Wind-Patrick Rothfuss

“Well that’s what you get for not listening to a tinker on the road,” she chided, her eyes drowsy. “Clever boy like you has heard enough stories to know better….” She sat up suddenly, pointing over my shoulder. “Look!”

I turned. “What am I looking for?” I asked. The sky was still thick with clouds, so the surrounding countryside was just a sea of black.

“Just keep looking, Maybe it will….There!”

“I saw it. A flicker of blue light off in the distance.” (539)