That Moment When Inspiration Strikes

I was at the Elks Lodge the other night, which is another way of saying that I was drinking. That’s basically what you do there.

Well, okay–that, and hurry to the bathroom before your incontinence makes a right mess, cough the dust out of your lungs, lecture young folk about how much better the world was before lighting fire and motorcars, and contemplate your own impending mortality as it unspools before you.

They’re old, you see–that’s the joke. But seriously, super crusty.

Anyhoo, I’m shambling toward the bathroom, as one does after they’ve consumed copious amounts of cheap bourbon, and out of nowhere–wham! Even now, couldn’t tell you how it happened or why, but a major plot point I’d been struggling against as I’m revising Sophistication just smacks me over the head. A pure epiphany. I actually stop in my tracks, pull up my iPhone, and start into a note.

Just then, my phone rings and it’s from a friend who left the club minutes ago. He wouldn’t be calling me unless it was important. I know that. Of course I do. Even so, I stare at my mobile for several seconds as I consider whether or not to risk it. Despite my drunken, stupid state, I still know that any diversion, however brief, might allow this major plot revision to slip away unharnessed.

Begrudgingly, I answer the call, anyway. It’s a good thing I did, too, because it turns out the poor fool can’t find his car keys. I scurry back to help him and several minutes pass as we scour the nearby library room, overturning couch cushions and upending stacks of papers and magazines, for anything that might allow him to hit the road.

Eventually, he finds them–in his backpack all along, naturally.

Meanwhile, that perfect tweak, that unfathomable fix–the very thing that was sure to draw every narrative arc of my novel together…

That shit’s gone.

Disappeared. Vanished from my head.

For thirty terrifying minutes, I stumble around the Elks Lodge in a panic as I try to retrieve the epiphany. This is a fairly involved process that sees me retracing steps, mental and physical, in order to jar the memory back into existence. Most of this time–not gonna lie–I’m cursing my friend.

Eventually, thank all the gods, it came back. I think I was in the bathroom when it happened, and that still didn’t stop me from taking a note with shaky hands.

Point of this short story? I dunno. Maybe it’s never put your friends before your novel.  Or perhaps it’s don’t drink shitty bourbon. Could also be don’t be an alcoholic.

Happy New Year!

Can you really wish anybody a happy New Year without shouting it? Hey–so, I guess, um, happy New Year, bruh.

Well, it seems you can. #mysterysolved

Every week for a long time, I’ve been meeting up with a couple friends and going to a local dive to do some writing. Usually, I can knock out around 1,000 words during these sessions before the alcohol kicks in and I transform into a barely-functioning zombie. Problem is, my two buddies may as well be twiddling their thumbs while I write. One pretends to advance his own story, but works instead. The other–gods only know what nightmares wait on the opposite side of his laptop.

I finally gave up on these sad souls and decided to start a Meetup group dedicated to sci-fi writers. Every Tuesday, a growing bunch of us meet at the local Elks Lodge, which is a dusty men’s club run by ancient vampires, and chat about our would-be novels. It’s nerdy. I’ll own that. But it’s also great. I get to interact with like-minded folks, which is both inspiring and educational. Really. Even if you’re writing a pile of dog shit–and that might aptly describe my latest book–you get great feedback from people who actually care. That’s–you know–more than my closest family and friends can provide.

So that’s happening.

Sophistication, round two, is nearly good to go. The revision has been plagued by procrastination largely driven by fear. I’m afraid to fuck with the original work because I like it, so instead I watch TV, play video games, and drink. All my talk about writing every night–pretty words, but bullshit. I’ve made terrible choices, which I realize every morning. But then every night I choose the wrong path again. All of this to say that it’s taken longer than I anticipated to advance the revision. But, even with lots of fuckery, I’m just about ready to submit the second draft.

I think my slowness is just going to be a thing. Apologies.

Degenerate, meanwhile, has a new hook that segues into the main character’s narrative. Feeling pretty good about it. More to come, of course, but I won’t allow myself to write another word until Sophistication is wrapped. Soon.

Enjoy a little sample of the opening chapter:

### 1

### Fly

“Miss, you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb.”

The air stewardess, a slim brunette with ivory skin and a pageboy haircut—her name is Flo, he thinks—cocks her head and stares at him like a dog struck senseless by a high whistle. Finally, she opens her mouth to say something and then doesn’t.

“Please,” he adds and nods to her purse, where she deposited his unread letter moments ago. Probably, she thought it was a desperate proposition. Maybe his telephone number, home address, and a doodled heart. No such luck, lady.

The plane shakes as it climbs a thermal and Flo reads the note, her eyes widening with each word. Finished, she folds and palms the paper as though the threat itself might be smashed into oblivion along with it. When she meets his eyes again, though, she rises and takes a seat beside him. She’s young, beautiful, and not prepared for this event. He can see so in her rigid posture and the way her hands tremble in her lap now. And can he blame her? Not really. Not when there’s a new Cuban skyjacking earning newspaper headlines every other week. Tomorrow, he thinks, the stories will be about me.

He lights a cigarette and offers her one.

“No—no thank you.”

“Bourbon then?”

She shakes her head. “Can you… you know… show it to me?”

Butt dangling from his lips, he reaches between his legs and pulls forth a black attache case. When he unlatches and cracks it open just wide enough to reveal eight red cylinders connected to a battery by just as many wires, she cups her mouth with one hand.

“Please believe me, Flo, when I tell you that nobody’s going to get hurt today,” he says with nonchalance reserved for small talk. “As long as everybody—and I do mean everybody—follows my directions. You understand?”

“Yeah.”

“Wonderful,” he says as he redeposits the briefcase between his legs. “In a minute you’re going to mosey up the aisle to the cockpit and inform the captain to get on the radio. My demands are these.”

He turns to face her.

“First, two-hundred thousand dollars in negotiable American currency. Repeat it to me.”

She does.

“Second, four parachutes. Four. No more, no less. And if they try any funny business with them, I’ll know. There’ll be consequences, Flo. Explosive ones, if you catch my drift. Tell them that. Now go on—say it back.”

She does.

“And third, a fuel truck waiting to gas us up when we land in Seattle.”

He drags the cigarette, holds onto the smoke a moment and then pushes it out through his nostrils. “That’s it. Now skip along, and don’t make a scene. We’re all going to stay just as cool as the air outside these windows—that’s how we’ll walk away today with our tails intact. You follow me?”

As she hurries toward the cockpit, he dons a dark pair of sunglasses and knocks back the remainder of his bourbon and cola. This, he knows, is going to get interesting. He should be terrified—he’s just crossed a line that few men come back from, after all—but he’s not. And he knows why his heart isn’t already jackhammering. Why he isn’t even now on the verge of hyperventilation. It’s because he’s not alone.

“Forty-two rotten skinners. This fire-breathing iron bird isn’t even half full.”

The Blurry Man shakes his head in the seat beside him—the same one that cradled Flo’s apple-shaped ass seconds ago. Well, maybe he shakes his head, anyway. Truth be told, it’s more of a guess. His companion is… unfocused, shifting and dancing like sunspots on the edge of Frank’s periphery. He can’t really see the figure—not even when he has him dead center. He discerns shapes, motion, simultaneously present and fleeting.

“A shameful, paltry selection. Why did you choose this sky carriage over bigger, more bloated birds?”

“What does it matter?” the man whispers back. “There’re more than enough people.”

“Bah. You know little. No general in command of his wits would pay a ransom for so few. This is a mission of martyrdom now. Expect neither glory nor riches.”

“Just be quiet. What was Flo thinking?”

“That she should’ve feigned sickness today.”

“And what about the other passengers? You sense any cowboys?”

“Gunslingers in this age? You must be a fool.”

“Jesus,” Frank says and rolls his eyes. “Is anybody suspicious? Is anybody up for a fight?”

The Blurry Man moves, or shimmers—maybe.

“I can’t see it.” His voice, a raspy baritone, sounds over modulated and unnatural. Almost animalistic, like a wolf if it could shape its guttural growls into language. “Fourteen of these men are capable of pitiful battle—no match for any true warrior, but easily your equal if not superior. For now, they seem content with their giggle water and letters.”

Frank is about to respond when he sees the stewardess scurrying down the aisle again. And she’s not alone. A man in uniform—a white, collared shirt and a navy blue hat—follows close behind. They both slow as they draw closer to him.

“Mr. Cooper. We’re in contact with…” She looks around to make sure none of the other passengers are paying attention. “With the authorities. And everything you asked for is being worked on. Just like you wanted.”

He nods to the empty seats across the walkway and the two flight personnel fill them. She called him Cooper, which means they’ve done a little homework. Somewhere on the ground, they’ve probably already assembled a task force comprised of airport security and local police and even now they’re crowded in flight control. A room full of sweat, and smoke, and fear. Soon, the FBI will join them. Right now they know that someone named Dan Cooper bought a ticket, and that person has a bomb. Not a real name, of course—he picked it for the acronym DC, the publisher of his favorite comic book, Batman. But let them chase it for a while.

“The bald skinner questions your fortitude,” the Blurry Man whispers. “He weighs murder—believes he could snap your neck like a twig before your threats come to pass.”

Frank extinguishes his cigarette, sighs, and locks eyes with the man in uniform. Short and fit, no sign of stubble, the man stares back.

“Flo, who is this gentlemen and what’s he doing here?”

The woman begins a frantic response, but the bald man raises an index that cuts her words in half.

“Martin,” he says. “I’m the copilot.”

“Martin, I didn’t ask for your presence here. Flo and I have a rapport. We’re quite friendly. And besides, I should think you’ll be needed in the cockpit more than ever now.”

“I’m happy to help here in any way I can,” the man lies.

“If that’s so, you’d be wise to rise from your seat and hurry along,” Frank says and leans forward. “Don’t be guided by misplaced confidence. I will pull these wires before you ever reach me, sir, and we will all ride a fiery express to hell. Is that what you want?”

Martin’s cold eyes falter as the Blurry Man confirms his revolve has done the same. He stands, places one hand on Flo’s shoulder, and tells her that she can handle the situation.

“Thanks for your words of encouragement, Martin. I’m sure they made all the difference. Now kindly get the fuck back to your well-worn seat and finish that crossword puzzle while you nurse what I can only imagine to be a record-book case of hemorrhoids.”

Martin mad-dogs him—oh, how he’d like to take a swing, or maybe wrap his hands around Frank’s neck—it’s all over the man’s face. But he acts on neither. Instead, he nods to Flo and walks back toward the cockpit. As he does, a message from the captain plays over the loudspeaker.

“Folks, Tacoma has given us a green light to accelerate our decline this afternoon. We’re gonna get you in early and then we’ll likely be sitting for just a bit while we dot our I’s and cross our T’s on a few things. Sit back and enjoy the rest of the flight.”

What an absurd misrepresentation, Frank thinks and wonders how many times he has suffered lies like this one is his own life.

“These plump swine gulp down lies like water,” the Blurry Man says. “Look at them. Contented by their paper distractions while their fat, greasy babies wail and shit in their undergarments. This is evolution?”

“I could do without the commentary.”

Reviews

So I finally saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and found it to be neither as revolutionary nor as offensive as fans and critics suggest. I enjoyed it overall, but if you must know, I felt that some of the plot points stood on wobbly legs.

Spoilers incoming.

Still incoming.

Last chance.

  • Snoke was a flimsy, thin character, wasn’t he? A villain so powerful that he can do things no Jedi or Sith ever has, and yet the filmmakers didn’t feel the need to share how he became this near-omnipotent figure. Then they offed him in an anticlimactic scene. What a waste.
  • Luke. The single most defining, iconic character of my childhood. He didn’t go out with a bang or a whimper. Either would’ve been more memorable.
  • Some of the comedy felt tonally wrong.

A clear message delivered throughout the movie is that we need to release our grip on the old and welcome the new. I’m cool with that. I also believe that the director embarked on a quest to create a movie that defied expectations, oftentimes at the expense of what might’ve worked better.

And yet, for all of these thoughts, I still liked it. So go figure.

Besides, as legendary author Kurt Vonnegut notes, there’s no sense in getting all worked up over this stuff. If you enjoyed something someone made, wonderful. If not, okay. But if you’re creating petitions for or against, you’ve probably missed the point.

“As for literary criticism in general: I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel or a play or a poem is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or a banana split.”

Thanks, Kurt. Oh, and full credit goes to the great Peter Clines for bringing this comment to my attention.

Sale for the Holidays

Hey hey, whoa now, settle down! Yeah, it’s true–the first-ever sale of Dead Weight. Now just $2.99 through the end of the year because I’m totally all about the giving and stuff. But also just because I want you to read it. And it’s super cheap.

And no, it doesn’t bother me at all that something I procrastinated into several years of bloated development can be yours for the price of a freakin’ Sausage McMuffin. #bitter

But seriously, it doesn’t.

Titles and Updates

Little past midnight on an early Friday morning, which situates itself nicely with my routine post schedule. Hence, here we go.

Been thinking about authors, and what makes an author. Are you a writer if you wrote one book? Or does is take two? Or five? And so on. I expect you’ll get different answers from various writers. I’ve been drinking—shocker—so you’ll have to forgive inaccuracies. And spoiler: there may be dozens. But if memories hold true, Stephen King once questioned how an author like J.D. Salinger could have penned such an influential novel only to disappear into obscurity afterward. It’s only natural that King, the embodiment of prolific, who wrote two books and eight short stories in the time it’s taken me to expand this paragraph, would throw a little shade Salinger’s way. But I tend to agree. Are you a painter if you created the Mona Lisa and never picked up a brush again? Technically, sure. Realistically, I don’t think so. Not actively, anyway. If you scored a touchdown in the 1985 Super Bowl, well, then you used to play professional football. But you can’t truly call yourself a football player if you haven’t picked up a pigskin in three decades. You’re retired. Point is, you gotta keep at it, or you’re just a literary interloper regardless of your untapped, ignored ability.

Degenerate. My third book. As I mentioned, I wrote the first few pages, but this story’s got a bit of a slower burn to it. That’s okay. In fact, I’m savoring it. But I wanted to make sure I grabbed readers before I set up the main narrative. Figured it out tonight, and boy was it satisfying. I’ll be starting in with a zealot’s fever in November and doing my best to knock out at least half of the book.

(Half of the book, he says. That’ll be the day.)

Shut up, inner monologue—nobody asked you!

Sophistication. It’s in better shape, but not where it needs to be. I have 10 days to bring everything together before I re-submit and call upon Zeus himself for a little help. Good news here is that the changes I’m making feel good. I didn’t feel at all that way about the revisions that chopped Dead Weight from 130,000-plus words to 90,000, I’ll tell you that. Really excited for folks to read it. Nothing else, it’s going to be ultra-relevant in today’s goofy world.

Promise, more updates to come, and soon.

Third Book: Degenerate

Every November, aspiring authors around the world try to knock out a novel in the span of a month. It’s really 50,000 words, which in my estimation isn’t a novel, but who’s counting? Opinion is, 50,000 words is still a lot for 30 days.

Anyway, as I’ve stated before on this blog thingie I’m maintaining, I don’t want to spend a trillion years writing my third book. Therefore, I might unofficially take part in this little contest. The reward is the work–don’t need any other motivator.

The third book has a tentative title, which is Degenerate. There’s a not-so-clever double meaning for you. A bit more:

Lucas Thimbleton, a twenty-four year-old copywriter for a San Mateo startup, is on the verge of a nervous breakdown when he inexplicably suffers widespread vision loss in one eye. The doctors say it’s macular degeneration triggered by excessive stress, but he begins to wonder if it’s something more, especially when the shadows in his periphery begin to take shape and whisper wonderful and horrible things to him.  Is it madness or destiny? He isn’t sure he wants to find out.

Guilty as Charged

New review of Dead Weight on Amazon by a dissatisfied customer. Actually, it’s rather kind given the overall critique and the fact that he stopped reading.

fucked

Pretty much. Pretty much. I don’t know shit about guns, bro. I did my best to fake it. I researched. I chatted with friends who know much more. But you caught me.

Also, lolz.

Random Thoughts at Midnight

Just video-conferenced some dumb friends and polished off a few rounds of Noah’s Mill. Yep—a Zoom conference at 11:30 on a Friday. Because, super cool. Right, guys? Even better—Zoom cuts non-paying customers off every 40 minutes. So a bunch of dudes get kicked from a video chat, and then log back in 27 seconds later. I counted.

Anyway, some shit.

I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of Earthcore on Audible. It’s written by Scott Sigler and read by Ray Porter, who is, I’m convinced, the Beyonder from Secret Wars, but as an audiobook narrator. Really interesting, unexpected work so far. Sigler strikes me as a bit of a perv, but unabashedly so, which is respectable. His writing feels genuine and, more, unapologetic. I dig that. Not sure if the work will keep up, but a couple chapters in and the characters are interesting, the story intriguing. Plus, as expected, Porter’s reading comes as close to holiness as mortals can withstand.

The Orville. I don’t understand. Seth MacFarlane is a talented dude, but I’m struggling with this one. From what I can gather, he intended to make a Star Trek spoof similar to Galaxy Quest. But instead, he made a Star Trek drama peppered with potty humor. Somebody mis-marketed this show because that’s not what I signed up for, gods blast all. The weirdest, most confusing part is that the last episode proved more dramatic than at least 80 percent of Star Trek. It posed some genuinely interesting, thought-provoking questions. It just wasn’t—you know—funny. And when the real Star Trek Discovery is about to debut, I don’t know why I need to see The Orville’s similar take on a utopian sci-fi far future.

Fiber Floodgates

No–I’m not referencing a powerful laxative, although I’d definitely endorse that brand. This refers to the fiber floodgates that will soon allow 1000mbps (that’s 125 megabytes per second, if you’re counting) of hot, delicious data to drown my home.

I cut the cord two years ago, but I’ve been stuck with a measly 200mbps connection down–and it’s inconsistent because #cablemodem. That means my connection slows to something like 2400 baud whenever my neighbors download too much HD porn. So, AT&T Fiber became available in my neighborhood and, without any research or even a fleeting thought of potential repercussions, I ordered the shit out of it.

Observe the differences between your grandpa’s boring internet connection and my soon-to-be coolest-kid-on-the-block mega bandwidth.

They come to install it this Thursday. Except, this is AT&T, which means they’re just going to promise me they’ll be here, but they won’t show, and they won’t call to tell me they won’t show. Jesus, what have I done? Look forward to a follow-up post in which I bitch out AT&T for at least 3,000 words.

This Heat

I just looked, and the thermostat in my house says ‘GTFO,’ which is definitely scientifically accurate. I didn’t just ponder the idea of it, but actually called several hotels to see if I could transplant my family to the cool embrace of some suite for the next two days so that we might ride out this unnatural heat wave. Some would call that a big, fat waste of money, and they’d be right, but that won’t stop me from offering up my middle finger as a pacifier.

I think it’s at least two or three jabrillion degrees in here, which is not a measurement of heat. Nothing I can do about it, though. Nobody in the Bay Area has an air conditioner, myself included, because the sun is not supposed to take a holiday in these parts. Except, it has, and we’re all scrambling. Home Depot and Orchard and every other hardware store within a 100-mile radius sold out of portable cooling units as though they were the last bottles of water on the planet. Now, there’s a surreal, dystopian feeling around the city as people sit outside and pray for a wind, terrified of returning to their homes. Makes sense. The coolest room in my house is the garage, and that shit ain’t right. My poor, miserable dog–a Siberian husky mix–looks like he’s on the verge of irreversible psychosis.

#thanksobama?

I’m sitting on the floor now, trying not to stick to it and failing, as I type up this post in an effort to distract myself from all the symptoms of a monumental heat stroke. It’s not looking good, people.