Tellus, my Cirni Macak

Normally, I don’t post life or pet related items here. But sometimes the need to write overrides the need to remain on theme. And, in a way, this is about my writing.

Meet Tellus:

 

He is a six plus year old black cat. And I named him after one of the characters in my on-hold novel, Ivre. But he’s been having a rough go of things lately. Last week, due to a blockage in his urinary tract, he was hours away from death. He’s spent the last week in and out of hospital care and, on Sunday, had surgery to deal with the blockage and try to prevent it from happening again.

His recovery has been slow. He’s not eating beyond a few bits of canard et pois pill pocket (his favorite) and a few treats. But he has been recovering his demeanor. Tellus was affectionate, demanding attention for the time we get to spend with him, but he tuckered out easily. We are hoping we can take him home tomorrow night and I can telecommute on Thursday to watch over him.

Growing up, all I ever wanted was a cat. A black one in specific. My aunt Ruzica called me cirni macak all the time. Black cat. My first cat, Emma, was a black cat. She was also pretty feral, sporting a birdshot under her skin and a kill count that included two squirrels, dozens of chipmunks, and at least one raven. Small wonder she wandered off and never came back.

Adia and Tellus were rescued from under a friend’s brother’s deck. He was a paranoid, antisocial little ball of fuzz:

 

And I loved him instantly. Now, I’m hoping to get him back the way he was and, when he hides under the coffee table among the blankets stored there, it will be for positive reasons.

Be well soon, cirni macak.

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The End of November

November is, to most folks who write as either a hobby or professionally, NaNoWriMo month. People set themselves up to crank out over fifty-thousand words in one month’s space of time. For those on a certain side of the political spectrum, it’s probably a been a rough month. For others, they’ve probably beaten their numbers, though I’m unsure if policy briefs and manifestos count as ‘novels.’

Me, I set myself up to fail. And I did so in the most spectacular way possible.

My goal wasn’t to write a set number of words. Instead, it was to write at least three short stories by the end of the month. My writer’s group, as part of their NaNoWriMo prep, sectioned off five hours of time at a local library just for writing. During that dedicated time, I was able to crank out about 5k words per session.  Most sessions ended early, so my rate is a little over 1.5k words per hour. Had this been extrapolated across the month, I could have cracked the goal again.

But my goal was reached. Three short stories written, and a fourth almost completed. One has already been submitted to the intended market.  So how do I feel about losing?

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I regret nothing because I learned a lot.

  1. Screenplay outlines are my happy place – I was able to plot out the stories and get everything set because I returned to my home, the good old-fashioned Syd Field screenplay outline.  It helped me know exactly where I had to go, what each scene had to do, and how to ensure I was never lost in the woods of ‘Well, what should I write now?’
  2. Given a clear vision, I can write and research at the same time – some of my stories involved looking up real events, or people. I was digging through and confirming information at the outline stage, but also as i wrote.
  3. Time is my enemy and friend – if I have time and I can focus, I can produce quite a bit.

So what was the hardest part? The usual: “that’s five hours wasted – think of all the chores you could have done” or “Hey, shouldn’t you be working on trying to cross-sell to all of your clients even if they don’t need a product?”

My brain is still wired to never see writing as a ‘useful’ act.  It’s not work. It doesn’t earn money (so far) and won’t get me life insurance, mortgage payments, etc. I have to constantly fight my wiring and says, “I need more than a salary in my life. I want to tell stories. I hope, some day, someone reads those stories.”

At the end of November I know, the biggest enemy I still have (next to time) is this guy named Andy Popovic.

Traveling

Two posts this time around, mostly to cover a long silence. On May 21st I married.

Andrija and Lisa

And about a week later, we went on our honeymoon to Dubrovnik, Croatia; Vienna, Austria; and Prague, Czech Republic. I’m still working on processing the 1.5K photos I took of all three cities. Aside from giving me time with my wife to explore new places (and, in the case of Dubrovnik, introduce her to a city which dominated my psyche since I first saw it thirty years ago) it reminded me of the importance of travel.

Let me illustrate:

 

This is one (one!) of the lounges in the Grand Alchymist hotel in Prague. Created from two residences and a convent, it is absolutely unique. I’m still at a lost to describe the wide variety of Baroque decorations. Even one of the simple rooms (which we had) was a marvel. This place was unique, from the first time we stepped in to the last moments there, we marveled at every little detail.

I never would have experienced it had I not traveled. I never would have had a conversation with Michael, one of our porters, on coming to Roosevelt Island or walking along the George Washington Parkway in DC, were I not there. I never would have seen an old, battered android seated in the Alchymist’s courtyard with a cup of tea in its hand.

We cannot stay static. I’m lucky; I’ve gotten to get well away from my home and see different parts of the world. Not everyone has that chance, but there are other ways to travel, even if it’s just hopping the bus into a different neighborhood.

Talk to people. Look outside your world. Go places where you can hear different languages being spoken. Explore. Experience is the best way to feed the creative part of you.

August and Ever After

August was a long, and yet short, month. Personal items kept me from updating this blog and reviewing some of the thoughts I dredged up at the end of July.  It was one of those months when I said, “Aside from a compulsion, why am I doing this? Why am I trying?”

The answer is this: I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t write, and I didn’t try to get something published.  So, I’m not going to stop.  Now, I know what you’re thinking:

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And you might be right. But I think, despite it all, I’ve gotten a bit accomplished:

  • I have a signed contract for publication in an on-line magazine (No date yet, but it is a paying gig)
  • I actually made it to the second round of review for a very high profile magazine with one of my short stories
  • I’ve completed Michael Stackpole’s 21 Days to a Novel course and generated a rough outline for Metaphysical Graffiti
  • I edited and posted a third of Ivre – and I’ve got at least one person who wants to read it.
  • I’ve been regularly writing and submitting flash fiction and short stories.

But I still have goals for this year:

  • I’m going to complete editing and writing Ivre, or whatever it ends up being called.
  • I’m going to have the outline for Metaphysical Graffiti in final form for November
  • I’m going to actually try to write like a madman in November
  • I’m going to write, revise and submit a story to the open call for Alien Artifacts & Were – two Kickstarter Anthologies – a great project to fund as well
  • I’m going to keep submitting stories until I run out of markets.

Now, to just deal with my crippling social anxiety that turns every attempt at networking into a massive impostor syndrome assault. Or, put it simply:

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2015: The Year They Return

The time is now. After five long years, the Cosmonaut Alexi Leonov will return from its voyage to Jupiter. This harrowing journey across a vastly altered solar system marks the half-way point in a decade which changed us all.

Er, no, wait. Wrong world. Sorry.

But I can think about the future, even if it lacks interplanetary spacecraft for human use. And to do so, I need to look at the past.

Last year, I set down a few goals. They could be summarized this way: “Complete novel, Ivre. I have about 32,000 remaining. This year, I’m going to focus on the short story market and try to submit several stories. My goals will be commensurate with those efforts.”

Well, I have completed Ivre. After giving it a bit of rest, in November I broke down the long “scroll” of a manuscript into individual scenes, chapters and parts. I’ve begun reading through and making general notes on what to trim & change. Keep forgetting how dialog heavy I can become – dangers of learning writing via screenplays.

And I have completed 4 short stories which are almost ready for submission. That’s one a quarter. I just need to get them in manuscript format and start shopping them when everyone returns from the holiday. Time to see if my stories have any legs.

And I (still) have a massive number of photographs from the UK trip. Many are posted on Flickr. And they’ve gotten me some compliments from a professional photographer, so I think I did a good job capturing the sense of place. Still have to dig around and finish things.

You’ll note, I’m not going on about the things I failed to do. I focus on failure far too much, usually as an excuse to pummel myself. But contrary to years of programming, this is not an effective means of negative re-enforcement. It just drives me to be less ambitious, to try for less and hope for little more than crumbs off life’s table.

So what of next year? What will 2015 hold for me?

  • Focus on Photography: My creative joy this year, my highlight so far, was creating this photo for ChuckWendig’s Awkward Author photo contest. Spending the time with Lisa creating thescene & the photo was a wonder. Seeing the finished product go out into the world was a thrill. But, alas, I did not get as many photos taken as I’d like this year,dispite the travel. And certainly didn’t get as many photos of people as I’d like.So, I shall come up with one, maybe two, themes for photos and see if I can get folks to participate after I make a proof of concept image.
  • Ivre– The Revision!: Basically, in the first quarter of the year I want to completely revise my novel, chop it down, and get it to a readable place. I’m hoping an early year focus on this will help me get my revision skills up to snuff.
  • Short stories, flash fiction & revision: right now, I think learning to revise my work in a timely way needs to be my a core focus. I won’t stop creating new things – no one wants me that crazy – but the more I revise, the better my initial drafts will become.

So what is the final hope for 2015? For my creative projects, I’m going to try and follow the commandments in my 2nd place prize in the Awkward Author Photo contest.

Art Harder Motherfucker.

The End is Nigh

Everyone take shelter! The end is here!

Well, the end of the year, at least. I’ll be writing a summary after I get back from Chicago. For the first time in ages, I’ll be visiting another city for Christmas. This is my first holiday with my fiancee’s family. They say it’ll be a quiet affair, so I hope to get a little personal writing done. Then, I’m coming back to put two stories into standard manuscript format and submit them around.

So I’ll see everyone on the other side.

Long Climb to the New Year

Long Climb to the New Year

It comes time for reflection on the past year, and looking forward to the new one. It also comes time to review my goals and see where I stand.

For those who do not remember, my original goals from 2013. Reviewing all I had planned, and all I did, just brings to mind one of my favorite exchanges from Doctor Who

“I have failed.”
“Yes.” [Sees D84 lower his head] “Oh, come on! Don’t be upset. Yes, you’ve failed, you’ve failed. But failure is one of the basic freedoms.” ~The Fourth Doctor & D84. “Robots of Death”

I can say without equivocation I’ve failed in all my goals. My discipline is lax, my typing skills are not what they once were (I sometimes feel my hands stiffening, as if resin crawled along my tendons), and I am so distracted it is not funny. This entire year, I’ve focused on Ivre, aside from a failed attempt at camp NaNoWriMo. Though focused is a kind thought.

Were there any successes? Yes, but not on my writing goals. In life, the successes came with love, more trips to a variety of cons, and a new home. The day job is still a monster which devours all things, but I must learn to live with it and plan around it. I need to find the small hours, the tiny spaces when I can steal time away and write.

What about this year? What goals should I set? One goal will always remain: Finish Ivre. I’m so close. The last few pages of the outline tick away. All the scenes are planned and plotted. I simply need to keep writing, keep digging, and block the rest of the world from my view.

And short stories. My big regret is producing nothing in the way of short fiction. This year, I need to produce a story a quarter, and submit them. Even if a skinner box is needed, with Leo McKern in a circular chair laughing at my attempts, I will produce and submit short stories.

Admitting to failure is difficult. No, sorry, it’s painful. Imagine swallowing caltrops, then having a boxer punch your stomach until nothing remained but bloody, shredded meat. “You do it perfect the first time!” was my father’s refrain as I grew up. Living in my loud, furious replica of a war-torn Balkan state, there was no right of failure for me. Failure heralded an “Aye, you stupid…!” yell from my father, or motherly helecoptering resembling the “Ride of the Valkyries” scene from Apocalypse Now.

But I have to admit I failed. Now, I do what scientists and engineers and dreamers always do. I pick up the pieces, look at how I can improve, and try it again. Do better next time.

Maybe that should be my goal for next year: Do better than the last.