Category Archives: Autobiographical

A Boy and his Mac

I’ve been a very busy beaver the last few weeks, though it has had nothing to do with editing Automaton. For your reading pleasure, an Old Yeller style tale of the events that lead me to finally getting that Macbook Air I’ve been eyeing for over a year…

It happened the day before I was to go out of town for a cousin-in-law’s wedding, and a smidge more than a month before NaNoWriMo. I was on my lunch break adding items to my list-of-things-not-to-forget-to-pack-this-time on my trusty old 2006 model Macbook Pro. Just a few minutes before, I had marveled at its longevity and its ability to deliver LOLCATS to me at near the speed of light; lovingly, I had admired the dents and scratches that marked near-catastrophes; we’d been through so much together, Mac and I.

I glanced at the battery icon. “Sixty-one percent? Odd, I charged the damned computer all night… I mean amazing marvel of modern technology,” I corrected myself and stroked the edge of the screen. It was then that I recalled the amber light on the end of the charging cord, a baleful point of light telling me that despite almost eight hours of charging, the battery still wasn’t full. Something must be wrong. But what? I had been in too much of a rush to investigate that morning, but now…

A minute later, I glanced back up, and the battery icon said, “fifty-nine percent… jerk.”

“I’m sorry, Mac. I didn’t mean it. You’ve been my faithful companion, through 2 marriages, 3 hard drives, 4 OS upgrades, and 2 used-up batteries. You know I think you’re the best.”

It just stat there sullenly, while another percentage of battery power ticked off. Thirty seconds later, the “jerk” bit was removed, along with yet another percent of charge. At that rate, the battery would be dead in half an hour. It was time to take more drastic measures.

I looked up how to reset some arcane power management hardware settings, contorted my fingers in the appropriate magical gesture, and rebooted.

“Apology accepted! Just don’t shut me off. I’m the only one who will ever compute you…”

I maintained the key presses for 10 seconds as instructed, and then released it. Once my hand stopped cramping, I hit the power button.

A jet engine made a low pass over my head and then hovered there. Actually it was just that the computer cooling fan had ramped up to a ba-jillion RPM for no good reason. I hit the power button, and the jet engine went quiet, then powered it back on… Jet. Off… quiet. On… Jet.

My lunch break over, I decided to deal with my ailing computer when we had more time to be alone together. Once home, I plugged the power adapter in and waited for the little light to glow orange. And waited. I checked that the outlet was working, I jiggled the adapter’s various connection points. Nothing.

Desperate to find any signs of life in the silent machine, I powered it on. A choir of Jet engines screamed to me that my trusty Mac had electrons flowing through it’s circuits, and the familiar gong sounded, barely heard above the din. The screen came on, I logged in and everything was as normal. Except for the jet engines, and the lack of the amber light. Also an unfamiliar, arcane symbol had appeared in the menu bar: an ‘X’ was drawn over the otherwise familiar battery icon. Hovering the mouse cursor over it told me that there was no battery. Just like the spoon in The Matrix.

Whoa.

I lifted it up and checked; the battery was indeed still there.

Despair overtook me, and then a single thought floated to the surface of my mind: When was the last time I ran a backup? I scrambled for the right cables, hooked the drive up, and plugged it in. I was
sure it was a race between the invisible opponents of an unknown battery level and the backup software. Would the electricity run out first, destroying the half-finished backup and possibly corrupting the
entire backup drive? Was the power adapter even doing anything? I checked it for heat, but it was barely above room temperature.

A weak voice, barely heard over the din of the fans croaked, “I’m done for, Dale. I may not last through the hour, but these 6 years have been the best years any Mac could ask for. Just promise me this: you’ll move on when I’m, gone.”

I looked up from my phone, where I had loaded apple.com/store. “Oh. I don’t know if I can, Mac,” I said, slipping the phone into my pocket.

“You’ll finally be free to take up with that Air-hussy…”

I wanted to defend her, but my I hadn’t exactly been discreet about the newer, sleeker machine. Mac had earned better treatment by me, so I stayed silent.

“Don’t worry. With my last megahertz, I will copy your latest bookmarks, the last few words you tapped out for your novel that you won’t let anyone read, and the most recent spankeme.com videos your
downloa…”

“WELL! Mac,” I said, “that’s very generous of you. I’ve… um… always been able to trust you with so much of my life. We’ve had a good run, but I’ll miss you none-the-less.

Just then, the external drive spun down; the backup was complete. I sat there staring at the familiar screen, the little dents and the speaker grill with some of it’s holes clogged with schmutz, and I said my silent goodbye. Silent except for the scream of Mac’s fans.

“Dale?” Mac said as I reached for the off button.

“Yeah?”

“Don’t forget… your dentist appointment next Tuesday at 8:30 am.”

I pressed the power button, and it’s screen when dark. I patted the now silent lump of metal, plastic, and memories.

“I won’t Mac… I won’t.”

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The Mechanical Duck Keeps Him From Writing

I’m about 100 pages away from finishing the first lesson, wherein I mark passages in my manuscript for later attention. What’s taking me so long? Over the last several months, E & I have been planning, and then finally executing our 1-year anniversary party. We had about 80 guests for an informal get-together, where we were the center of attention, playing host and hopping from group to group to welcome people and all that jazz.

Not my favorite thing, but I survived, and despite the AC in the facility intermittently failing, I think the party was a success. We’re finishing up the Thank-You cards soon (I hope), and that will be the end of that epic time and money sink.

Through it all, I’ve marked up a few pages a week, making slow progress. And have actually started daydreaming and note-taking on my next book. More on that in the months to come.

There are other personal things standing in the way of me paying full attention to my writing, but I won’t get into that for fear of turning the post maudlin. Instead, I’ll sign off with an image that inspired some of my writing on Automaton.

People make the wierdest things.

I, for one, welcome our robotic duck overlords.

Yes, it’s a mechanical duck. That poops.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digesting_Duck


A Cart with no Horse in Sight

For as long as I can remember wanting to be an author, I’ve struggled to focus on my journey, rather than my destination. I forget the feel-good aphorisms about the journey being the worthier part, or it just doesn’t seem to resonate with me. Maybe that’s because I don’t feel “worthy” of any part of authorship. But there is a way of putting it that makes more sense to me. It’s a statement of fact shared by every published author whose blog covers the topic, rather than a piece of advice you can follow. In one form or another, they all say, “you have to enjoy writing to be a writer.”

Well, if you’re like me, then this bit of wisdom will elude you from time to time. Just like every kid who was ever in a garage band, most people who try their hand at novel writing (or hope to get to it some day) have this image in their head of a successful author sitting on piles of money with adoring fans lined up around the block at book signings. I’m no exception. Day-dreaming about my as-yet un-earned mega-success is a favorite form of procrastination from writing.

Of course I know better than to write to become rich and famous. Not only will I probably never be a professional writer, but fame and fortune are supposed to be a by-product of chasing your own shooting star. Focus too much on what you’ll do when you find it, and you probably never will.

My dream is to have a book published by a real publishing house, complete with an editor who argues with me about cutting chapter five. But that’s just one carrot to reach for. Scratch that, I hate carrots. That’s just one cookie that I’m reaching for; there are so many reasons to write.

I want to hear enthusiastic things from my friends, like “When are you finishing the next one?” or “May I become your wealthy patron?” But even that won’t get me through months of first drafts, and many more of revision. Every published author tells me that I need to forget about what is trendy now, or what seems to be a profitable genre, or how much money the movie deal might make, and just write the books that I’d like to read. And while that advice has it’s own pitfalls, I see what they mean.

I’m going to be pouring my heart out ainto a story for upwards of one hundred thousand words, and then cutting them and writing more for a ungodly number of hours sitting behind the keyboard. If I don’t get something out of that experience, then I might as well stow my metaphorical typewriter on the top shelf and get on with another hobby.

Luckily, I do enjoy the actual-writing bit. It’s kind of a thrill to think up the next chain of events, and the struggle to keep my self pointed toward that next touchstone. There’s a certain quixotic joy in typing some really awful dialogue, knowing that later I’ll cut it with a feral, some might even say “crazy” grin on my face.

This isn’t to say that I’ll have a grin on my face the whole time. The fun can fade as you keep trudging along through what feels like necessary drudgery to set up the good bits. But I’m learning a little more about the craft every time I put hand to keyboard, and overall it is fun. If I’m not lining up words, one after the other, I feel like something vital is missing from my week.

Which brings me to Automaton. I’m eager to start on the editing phase of my book, though I feel there needs to be a little more distance between me any my scribblings. But there are two more partly-finished books that need my attention, and likely a fourth come November (I have yet to fit an entire story in anything close to 50,000 words). I’m looking forward to giving those two a proper ending, and a big part of their middles too.

Yes, writing is fun. And it’s hard. It’s revelatory and it’s monotonous. Kind of like a very long journey. Or perhaps there’s another word for it. Maybe novel writing is like and adventure. A little bit. Except for the peril. I’m glad to do without the peril.


Secret Origins

Some authors have always known that they wanted to write for a living. The rest of us may have grown up knowing that ‘author’ was just as valid a career as nurse, pilot, lawyer, or teacher, but either the dream died along with the other choices like dancer, astronaut, and superhero, or the sacrifices seemed too drastic. For others, the option to write for a living may never even have occurred to them, not even as a quickly rejected passing thought.

For me, the idea came later in life than it does for some., I was about twenty years old, taking night courses in hopes of returning to higher education after an alarmingly expanding “break”. They were remedial or core classes that I had neglected during my one directionless year at a private school I could not afford.

One of these night courses was Composition One, taught by a high school teacher named Mrs. Green. Mrs. Green was the first teacher to show me how to “find” inspiration through free-writing, and it was through her class, and the threat of her grading “chainsaw”, that I really took to heart the authorial trope: writing is re-writing.

In her class, I discovered that I loved the entire creative process. I loved the sheer volume of writing the class inspired in me. From my first illegible stream-of-conscious scribblings, through marking up computer print-outs of my 10th draft, to my final read-through for over-used commas – it felt amazing and satisfying. Like real work.

At the end of the class, Mrs. Green awarded each student a mock certificate of accomplishment. Mine was for the most prolific use of metaphor, which simultaneously made me proud and warned me against being overly eager to use that device. It read “Metaphor King” in 40-point font with an author’s quote, long since faded from memory, and it gave me far more joy than any A+ ever did.

I was inspired by the whole experience, faux-awards included. I knew what I wanted to do: take a year off of my anemic two-classes-per-week go-back-to-college schedule and start writing and submitting short stories. Mrs. Green had awakened in me a burning desire to challenge the literary world with my brilliant insights and engaging character-driven prose and prove that I had it in me to be a real writer.

Unfortunately, my enthusiasm was more like a flickering candle than a conflagration, and so it was easily snuffed by someone whose opinion mattered to me. The exit of this person from my daily life helped me eventually grow into an independent man, capable of dogged self-determination.

I wish I could describe an 80’s movie-style montage of me in a writing furious essays on independence, epic chronicles of solo adventures, and even my debut New York Times best-selling novel. It did not. Instead, I played it safe and went back to school, but not to become a journalist or librarian. No, my choice lead to a very comfortable existence, though not one of great inspiration or creativity.

For the better part of a decade, I played with technology, or pursued hobbies too esoteric to go into now. It was only recently that I began to dabble at writing. I wrote in fits and starts for a while, completely alone in my pursuit, just as I thought it had to be. Then I made a discovery that is changing my life–even now, as I write this inaugural blog entry.

I found National Novel Writing Month also known as “NaNoWriMo.”

Through the challenge of writing fifty thousand words in thirty days, I have learned that I can, when I apply myself, get a lot of writing done in a pretty short period of time. I’ve also proven that I have the wherewithal to keep going, even without the challenge, albeit at a much slower pace..

As of this writing, I have 3 unfinished rough drafts, all started during NaNoWriMo. The latest of these I finished a short while ago, and it is now resting in a virtual drawer, not to be looked at or fiddled with until much of the detail has faded from my mind.

This blog will be my explorer’s journal into the world of novel revision, proofing, finding a critique group, writing techniques, writing tools, new NaNoWriMo struggles and any other ephemera that I can link to the craft of writing. I am here to share what I do and what I learn along the way. There very likely will be false starts, embarrassing faux pas, bad grammar, and garden-variety rookie mistakes. I hope it proves edifying, or at the very least, entertaining.