Writing Process: There’s Gotta Be Another Thing to Look at

I should be done with my break. I gave myself 15 minutes off, only that, and I’ve already clicked on everything I could click on – all the sports, girls and Fishdom levels – but I scroll through it all again.

My brain, if it was working, is thinking that there has to be another site, something that I haven’t checked, something that will make me move forward perfectly with my day and get back into my writing.

Maybe an inspiring Instagram video? A police chase! How did he survive that crash? A boat flipped upside down. How did they do that? Not the scripted ones. They’re contrived and stupid. What’s wrong with these people? Don’t they have anything better to do? But the animals! Wildebeests fighting back against lions? A pug chasing a bear? Extraordinary! And then, of course, all the pretty girls.

I think I might have an idea for writing. It’s there, in the corner of a thought. I can write now. I have it. Or maybe not. No. I am lost. I know that. I need to go for a walk, anything to get away from my stupidity. Yes, a walk. That’s a good idea. Just give me another five minutes. I’m really almost done.

Writing Process: Anything But “Friends”

I had this bizarre idea – which did seem great at the time – of using an extended reference to Friends in my previous draft of Anori. The reasoning for this fails me now. Neither is it compelling nor does it develop character, and I don’t even like the show. Anyway, it’s all out now and here for you.

I’ve figured you out, Dee.” Dennis, his t-shirt sleeve rolled up over his left bicep, revealing his phylogenetic tattoo. “You think you’re a Monica when you’re actually a Phoebe.”

“What are you talking about?” Dee asked.

“You think you’re a Monica, but you’re not. You’re a Phoebe.”

Friends!” Saarva explained. “I love that show.”

“Seriously? That is what I’ve been reduced to?” Dee glowered. “A sitcom archetype?”

“You’re a Phoebe,” Dennis reiterated.

“What does that even mean?”

“Phoebe is a dreamer,” Saarva explained. “She sees the world from a different place. Seemingly not all there, but then surprisingly she is.”

“You watch Friends?” Dee demanded. “Why do you watch Friends?”

“Study the white American ways,” he replied.

“What?”

“I’m joking. I’m a Joey, right?”

“The point is,” Dennis continued, “is that you think you’re a Monica, controlling. You think that, but you’re not. You’re a Phoebe, head in the clouds.”

“I’m not a Phoebe!” She snapped back. “If anything, I’m a fucking Rachel.”

“Rachel,” Em laughed. “No.”

“You’re supposed to be Rachel then?”

“I’m nothing like her. I’m a Ross, the science nerd.”

“You can cross gender?” Dee asked.

“Why can’t you cross genders?” Saarva asked.

“I’ll get some wine,” Dee announced.

“That’s such a Phoebe thing to say,” Pax replied.

“They all drink wine,” Em replied. “They all say that.”

Words to Know: Askance, Askew, Asunder

I am still in recovery mode from reading bad sci-fi and think on ‘as’-prefix words today, ‘as’ meaning ‘with regard to’. Askance (a look of suspicion), Askew (not in a level position) & Asunder (apart).

Looking askance, askew on the heath, the lamb bleated not to be torn asunder.

Andy Weir’s “Artemis”: All That is Wrong With Sci-Fi Writing

Some years ago, I read what I thought must be the worst sci-fi novel of all time (Dan Simmon’s Hyperion). And then I read Andy Weir’s Artemis.

Weir, known for getting the science right in The Martian, set this novel on the moon. Hailed by Esquire for “his attention to detail” and the The New York Times Book Review for depicting “near-future technology”, I thought this book might be an inspiration for details related to lunar life for my novel, Anori. I was wrong.

Weir’s choice of a young woman, Jazz Bashara, as the protagonist is a misogynic train wreck, focusing almost entirely on her sexuality. I was pretty sexy, I have to admit. (203) ‘Did you watch me strip on Dale’s feed?’ ‘Yeah, thanks for the show!’ (236)

He tries to hide his failure behind her smart-aleck quips – God, I was such a dipshit (173) I was pissed. And I don’t mean drunk. (139) – all of which is painfully sophomoric.

The narrative reads like an outline, the descriptions like a first draft. A frumpy Midwestern woman giggled at her window and turned to me. “Isn’t it amazing? We are on the moon!” (78) And the dialogue…my god, the dialogue. “You just…you really need to learn about woman and how to interact with them, all right?” “Oh,”, he said. “That could be really helpful.” (203) And even if Weir does get the science right, much of it come across like a 17-year-old explaining life. Don’t believe me? Put ice water in a saucepan and cook it. The water temperature will stay at 0 degrees until the last ice cube melts. (250)

I’m not sure what this book taught me beyond that terrible writing can not only get published but also praised. And what’s the lesson in that?

Writing Process: Editing “The Cx Trilogy”

Two more scenes have been aborted – still legal in the writing world – from my speculative novel, Anori. My aim for both scenes was to give context, both historical and geographical, for the narrative, but seemed redundant in the end.

Scene One: Dee looked out at the Temple of Poseidon across the bay and thought about how it had been built, the exhaustive excavation of the site, mining the stone and carving of so many columns, dragging them through the brush, and imagined all the people who died to build it.

All of that labor and pain for that, something that was supposed to be permanent. That was the idea, that they just had to level out the ground and pile up stones to prove that their existence mattered. It was odd how important all of this once had been, this civilization with its government, rights and citizenship. And now all of that was gone, the temple now a tourist attraction atop a barren, thorny place.

Scene Two: The ship carried on to Karachi and then Sri Lanka, Dee cataloguing everything all of the shrews, jerboas, sun bears and dholes. The deliveries were at night, trucks waiting, the tailgates toward the edge of the docks, militiamen always there, black SUVs, cranes towering above in a metallic sky.

It was a routine, sleeping much of the day, watching the shore. The Repaks were the hardest, at the end of each month-long segment. What should have been satisfying, an accomplishment, was wrong, the animals taken back to Greenland. The feeling wouldn’t leave her, nor in Aden or Marka, not anywhere on her seven months at sea.

The End of Democracy

“Are you looking for the polling station?” The sweet old woman had come out of nowhere. “It’s right there, across the street. If you could vote for Juanita as your City Councilor, I would appreciate it. She lives in the neighborhood. She really is wonderful.”

“Okay.” I noted a sign which stated No Soliciting Within Two Blocks and went inside where a slightly younger woman checked my identification and handed me a laminated folder. I opened the folder in the booth and discovered two ballots and filled in one, selecting Juanita, and inserted the ballot into the machine.

“Excuse me.” I returned the folder and the extra ballot to another woman. “I think I was given an extra.”

“Extra pen?”

“An extra ballot.”

“Huh.” She stared back at me. “I think I know who that was.”

“I’m sorry. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble here.”

“No one is in trouble, no sir!” She marched across the polling station. “Juanita!”

Terse Prose: Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather”

I’m not sure if Mario Puzo’s acclaimed novel qualifies as stellar prose, but for anyone who has seen the films, the terse prose certainly offers insight to the characters and story.

The wedding day of Connie Corleone ended well for her. Carlo performed his duties as a bridegroom with skill and vigor, spurred on by the contents of the bride’s gift purse which totaled up to over twenty thousand dollars. The bride, however, gave up her virginity with a great deal more willingness than she gave her purse. For the latter, he had to blacken one of her eyes. (42)

“Tom, don’t let anybody kid you. It’s all personal, every bit of business. Every piece of shit every man has to eat every day of his life is personal. They call it business. Okay. But it’s personal as hell. You know where I learned that from? The Don. My old man. The Godfather. If a bolt of lightning hit a friend of his, the old man would take it personal. He took my going into the Marines personal.” (137)

Al Pacino as Michael Corleone

All these Hollywood guys laughed at his fondness for virgins. They called it an old guinea taste, square, and look how long it took to make a virgin give you a blow job with all the aggravation and then they usually turned out to be a lousy piece of ass. But Johnny knew that it was how you handled a young girl. You had to come onto her in the right way and then what could be greater than a girl who was tasting her first dick and loving it? (164)

Hagen understood that the policeman believes in law and order in a curiously innocent way. He believes in it more than does the public he serves. Law and order is, after all, the magic from which he derives his power, individual power which he cherishes as nearly all men cherish individual power. And yet there is always the smoldering resentment against the public he serves. They are at the same time his ward and his prey. As wards they are ungrateful, abusive and demanding. As prey, they are slippery and dangerous, full of guile. (236)

The other Dons in the room applauded and rose to shake hands with everybody in sight and to congratulate Don Corleone and Don Tattaglia on their new friendship. It was perhaps not the warmest friendship in the world. They would not send each other Christ gift greetings, but they would not murder each other. (280)

Id Bits to Something Else: Writing Process

Half thoughts come to me as I waver between sleep and playing word games. I have been left alone. No one is coming to find me. I will stay like this.

These tiny bits percolate from my subconscious – or so I decide – unbaked nonsense. My foot twitches, a muscle in my left shoulder. I am still on the dock, the paint can hot in the sun. I am watching Maude and then a Japanese superhero show. The color goes in and out.

I am asleep for the briefest of moments and trying to remember. You’re jealous. You hate it. Phrases like that by an odd voice in my head. Who is that? It isn’t me. My thumb gets tired. I text badly like this. I am falling asleep again. I almost drop my phone and type that. I should do something. I really should.

What Replacing My Knees Taught Me About Writing

I had both knees replaced two years ago. I walked three steps the day after surgery and down the hall the day after that. I went to physical therapy twice a week for the following year during which my flexion and power was repeatedly pushed.

A few days after surgery

I went on my annual Alzheimer’s Research fundraising hike one full year after surgery and was exhausted within an hour. My knees were not working like I expected. I was disappointed and angry, realizing that my knees were never going to be what I wanted them to be.

I continued with my workouts over the next year – stationary bike and exercise ball – and headed out, a little anxious, for another fundraising hike this past month. It was remarkable how much my knees had improved – flexion, power, stability, the works.

Pyramid Mountain, Adirondacks

Incremental change is impossible to detect from one day to the next. But then, seemingly out of the blue, mountains are climbed. It just took some pain and patience.