A quick look at what I’m up to

It seems like I’m constantly apologizing for not updating my blog enough, and that has to be as annoying as me not posting at all. To be honest, I think my frequent (read that: nearly hourly) posting to Facebook sucks out nearly all need and desire to make blog entries here. It’s not like I care for this place less, or the people who do me the honor of reading this blog, just… Facebook is easy, and I feel like I don’t have to stretch things out in order to make them worthy of posting. The blog would be a great place to post longer and perhaps more intimate thoughts, though, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so quick to ignore it. Sorry, all the same.

Anyway, for those who care and who don’t follow me on Facebook, what have I been up to? Mainly I’ve been trying to get control of my life. No one has tried to take that from me, you understand, but over the past year or so I’ve been all too willing to coast through my life and let whatever happens happen. I would later complain that I wasn’t getting enough done, or I wasn’t doing what I knew I should be, but really the fault has all been mine. I was reacting to things instead of taking command. With the coming of the new year I decided to regain control, to become master of myself, once again. So far… kinda good. I’m more proactive than I’ve ever been, and the schedule I made to give shape to my daily life has worked out fairly well, but I still tend to let things slide while I sit back and watch too much TV. At least I’m better able to recognize it now, and I take all the blame for it.

As far as my writing goes, I’m actually pretty jazzed. No word from my agent on how trying to sell DIGITAL DECAY is going, but my work on A MINOR MAGIC is proceeding nicely. One of my other New Year’s Resolutions was to try write 2000 words a day. Up until last week I had yet to find a way to do that consistantly, but this week I’ve hit it every day, and I think the momentum I’ve created will carry me through so that the first draft will be done by the beginning of March. One big reason for this spurt in energy is an idea I recently started working on for my next book. Not to pat myself on the back too much, but it is a DAMN good idea — pure horror novel — and I want to write it badly. I can’t do that, though, until the current project is done. So, let’s get it done! I’m excited.

Anyway, that’s it. Not much, I know, but it is what it is. If you want to hear more from me on a day-to-day or even hour-to-hour basis, I encourage you to friend me on Facebook. So, until next time, adios…

I try not to be a grammar Nazi, but…

Growing up, speaking clearly and properly was drilled into me, especially by my maternal grandmother. Anytime someone in the family used improper grammar, she would stop and correct us. It was never done in a mean-spirited or elitist way, you understand, but out of love. She believed that the way we spoke, the way we communicated, told the world who we were as people, and I took that opinion as my own. That has carried with me to this day, and it drives me up the wall when I see and hear people communicate as though they never received a single second of English education. If you want me to take you seriously, then you need to communicate with me that way. We all make mistakes, but by and large, communicate clearly and properly with me, and I’ll do the same.

Now, yes, I said we all make mistakes. That includes me. As a writer I’m constantly aware of my ignorance regarding some grammar rules, and I’ve spent many an hour searching for the answers. Well, I recently found a book that does just that, but it does it in an entertaining way that never talks down to me or needlessly confuses the issue. It’s titled “Woe Is I,” and it’s written by Patricia O’Conner. I’m only a little way into it, but already I’ve found it to be invaluable. If you’d like to improve the way you speak and write, I encourage you to get it too. I’m all about helping us become better people, and communicating clearly is one way of doing that. The book is cheap, and I’m enjoying every page of it. Hopefully you will too.

It Is What It Is

The following is NSFW and probably not kid safe, it’s also damn true –

Like many people, I spend a lot of time wondering how some things in my life got the way they are. And introspection, when appropriate, can be a good thing. I mean, how do we know where we’re going if we don’t know where we’ve been? But worrying over the past can also be a roadblock over moving into the future, and it’s at those times when you have to say to yourself, “This is it, fuck it, it is what it is.” I never knew that until I watched the Paul Crik video embedded above. A friend of mine posted it on Facebook, and I watched it expecting a cheesy inspirational message. And yep, it was cheesy, but also yep, it was inspirational. He’s absolutely right. This IS it! Fuck it! It IS what it IS! These three sentences are now firmly etched in my brain, and they’ve already helped me get through moments that might have otherwise left me locked up and unable to move on.

Be present in your life, let go of expectation, and leave the past where it is so you can move on into the future.

I hope you find the video and its message as moving and life changing as I did.

Happy Birthday, George

If someone were to ask me who my creative heroes were, who inspired me and made me want to be a storyteller myself, I could rattle off a laundry list of names for them. People like Robert Heinlein, Joss Whedon, Stephen King, Gene Roddenberry, and Bill Willingham would all feature very highly on that list. Each one of them has impacted me creatively, sometimes personally. But, there is one person above all others who shaped me and helped make me who I am today, and that person is George Lucas.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Everybody hates the guy now. Once upon a time he was the god all geeks worshiped, but after the prequels (and really, I think starting with “Return of the Jedi”) his star fell from the cultural firmament, and he became a bit of a joke. Now most people say his name with scorn, if not outright hatred. You won’t get that from me, though. No sir. All you’ll get from me is love and appreciation for the man.

You see, I will never forget that it was George Lucas’ original “Star Wars” that first hit my young brain and woke it up to the possibility of myth and story. I remember watching the movie as a child, marveling at the space battles, the sword fights, the music, the emotion, the drama. I remember the fear I felt at seeing Vader walk into that smokey spaceship corridor, the elation at Luke’s swing over that chasm, the childlike affection for Princess Leia. I was five years old when “Star Wars” came out, and I was never the same afterward.

And then came “The Empire Strikes Back,” which took everything I loved about “Star Wars” and rose them to new heights. I wasn’t as big a fan of “Return of the Jedi,” but I still appreciated the story Lucas was telling, and watching Anakin redeem himself was the perfect end to the trilogy. But the train didn’t stop there. After that came an endless procession of comic books, video games, and novels. The Star Wars universe had no end to it, and I found myself exhilarating in so much of it. Whether it was the “Knights of the Old Republic” games, or the Thrawn trilogy, or the “Dark Empire” comics, there was always something new for my creative spirit to hold close and draw strength from, and none of that would have been possible if it weren’t for what Lucas created. Say whatever you like about how he handled the prequel trilogy, none of that takes away from the fact that the man created an entertainment empire (pardon the pun) that has thrilled and excited hundreds of millions of people for over thirty years. Not many people can make that same claim. He is the wellspring from which all this started. I owe him more than I can ever say. I am who I am — for better or worse — because once upon a time George Lucas wrote the words, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

Happy Birthday, George. I hope you have many more to come.

Goodbye, old friend

When Krista and I got married way back in November of ’99, we lived with her father in the house we currently occupy. Without going into details you won’t care to read about, an intimate moment was interrupted, and the next day we were looking for a new place to live in. Several hunting trips later we settled on a cute apartment near plenty of shopping and main roads. Both of us had lived in apartments before, so we knew what to expect – neighbors that didn’t love loud music as much as we did, limited space, constant parking problems, etc. The apartment was okay for what it was, but after adopting a few pets and expanding our possessions we decided to take the plunge and get a house.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t prepared for the amount of work a house took. In an apartment, if the water heater broke, that wasn’t my problem to fix. Same for the dishwasher. Same for the air conditioning. If it was part of the apartment complex, it wasn’t my problem and fixing it didn’t cost me a dime. In a house, though, EVERYTHING is your problem, your expense. When our water heater went out and flooded our garage, we had to deal with it. When shingles were blown off the roof, we had to hire and pay people to fix it. And then you have yards that need mowing, fences that need replacing, on and on and on. And since this was our first house, everything was new to us. Add to that the fact that I have a black thumb and no handyman skills, and you see how bad I was (and still am) at being a homeowner.

It is now a bit over nine years later, and that first house has been sold to a new family. Barring a zombie apocalypse, we’ll finalize the sale at the end of this month. And you wanna know what’s weird? I’m actually going to miss it. We had to do a lot of work to it over the years, but I knew that house. I understood its creeks, its groans. I knew which faucets had to be babied, which outlets were loose. The small kitchen was a pain, but I’d cooked in it for so long that I knew where to put platters, where to cut meat, where to sit my stirring bowls. I knew exactly how long it would take for the shower water to warm up. The landscaping was also done, with our rose bushes blooming annually like crazy. The house wasn’t perfect, but it was ours, and it was part of me. I’ll miss that.

That isn’t to say I’d go back to it, though. The new house (or, old old house, if you want to look at it that way) is bigger, the yards are much more expansive, we have room to grow, and since we don’t owe a mortgage on it we can actually start saving money. And, after all the work we’ve done, this place is getting pretty swanky. There are too many pluses to let the negatives make me want to go back. That doesn’t mean I can’t go by and visit it every once in awhile, though. Give it a drive-by, make sure the roses are being tended properly.

Anyway, goodbye, first house. I hope they treat you well.

Curb Appeal

This weekend my wife, brother, and I tackled the long-awaited flowerbed work that we’d been planning on since we moved in earlier this year. Both the front yard and the side yard needed some beautification, so over the course of two days we tilled up the area where the beds were going to be put in, covered them with gardening fabric to limit weeds from growing back, planted new bushes and flowers, added edging stones, and then laid out a layer of mulch. My body feels like it was hit by a truck, but when I see how pretty they are it feels worth it. I hope you enjoy the pictures:

The front yard before we did anything:

And here’s the side yard:

And now here is the front yard after we were done:

And the side yard:

Not bad, eh? Hopefully all the new plants will take root and give the house some much needed color and life, especially the roses.

Okay, now what’s next on the ol’ To Do list…

Catching up with J-Rock (as Ryan likes to call me)

I always dread the coming of Summer, because it means I’m going to have to go outside and engage in a horrible activity known as manual labor. I do not like it. I am a lazy person by nature, who appreciates the comfort of air conditioning and the warming rays of a computer monitor and/or an HDTV. These are the things I enjoy. Being outside in the heat, sweating, getting dirty, these are things I’m not to be enjoying so much kthxbye. I’ve never been an outside person, and I honestly don’t think I ever will. But, the seasons don’t stop changing to benefit me. This year is different, though, and I’ll tell you why…

For those who don’t know, my wife’s father passed away last June. It was sudden, and he was her last living parent, so it was hard on her. Trying to be the best husband I could be, I took on as much as I could to help get his affairs in order and his estate handled. He had lived relatively close to us (about thirty minutes away), and his house was paid for, so when he died we talked briefly about selling our house — which has a mortgage on it — and moving into his. But, the thought of moving into the house her father had died in wasn’t something either of us wanted to entertain, so we decided instead to have an estate sale, then sell his house, and then put our house on the market while we moved to live closer to her family in Virginia. A few months later, though, we changed our minds. My wife is back in school, and moving to another state would have made too many things more complicated than they needed to be, so we figured that if we performed an extensive remodel of her father’s house, we’d be okay living in it and selling our house. That began a several month process of getting together with a contractor and organizing a kitchen remodel, new paint throughout most of the interior, getting electrical work done, getting new furniture, and once all that was done, getting moved in. We started the work in October, and we moved in around the first of January. It was more complicated than I thought it would be, and vastly more expensive, but once it was completed we were really pleased. It no longer felt like her father’s house. Not even close. It felt like our home.

But, we knew that when Spring arrived we were going to have work done on the exterior of the house so that it would look as nice as it did on the inside. That work included new paint, new windows, new doors to replace the crappy sliding doors it already had, concrete poured along one side of the backyard to make a nice large patio area, and new flower beds. Later we included a new mail box and extra bushes. And so far, of all those items, the only thing left to be done are the flower beds (well, the new doors still need to go in, but they’re paid for). Today I planted a bush along one of our backyard fences (it filled in a gap when we bought one too few last week), and then my wife pushed me past my lazy threshold and had me string up lights we’d bought to hang from a covered patio area. Once upon a time it had been a car port, but after expanding the concrete we’d turned it into a side patio/entertaining area. The lights ended up looking much nicer than we’d hoped, and along with some decorative hanging items from Pier 1 I think it’s turned into a great place to have people hang out in.

So, as you can see, I’ve been busy. I guess that’s one of the bonuses of me being unemployed. While my wife is at work, I have the time and ability to meet with people doing work for us, I can take care of the pets, and I can do work around the house when my meager abilities allow me. The place is really coming together, and I think once we get the flowerbeds planted next week we’ll have the house looking nicer than it ever has before.

Now if only we could get our old house sold…

But, that’s just one half of my life. What about the writing half? Well, let me tell you. I finished the second draft of my novel, “Digital Decay,” about a month ago, and with the ink barely dry I sent it off to a slew of beta readers to get their impressions and suggestions. While they were doing that, I busied myself with working on an essay to put at the end of my rerelease of the “Pirates of the Crimson Sands” chapbook, and I wrote a new short story entitled “The Dame Wore White.” As you can guess, it’s a noir type story, but (of course) with a sci-fi spin. It took me a few tries to get it where I wanted it (thanks to everyone at the ‘Crypt section of the Dead Robots’ Society forum), but I’m so pleased with the end result, and I’ve sent it off to the Writers of the Future contest and to Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. Here’s hoping it gets a warm reception at both. I’ve also converted the story into a script and enlisted the help of several kind individuals who will help me turn it into an audio adventure, much as I did with “Pirates” and “The Ties That Bind.” I’m hoping to have that project finished in the next few weeks. Starting tomorrow I’m going to get back to work on “Digital Decay.” I’ve gotten enough notes back from my beta readers to at least work on the first few chapters. I’d like to have my third draft done by the end of May at the latest. In the midst of that I’m also going to convert my short story “Dark Running” into a script and start preliminary work of podcasting it by perhaps the end of May as well. We shall see how that pans out.

So, there you have it. If the Devil loves idle hands, then mine must be holy water to him, ’cause I’m busy busy busy. Better that than the alternative though, right?

A new look

Hey, everybody! The design of my blog hadn’t changed since I got it, so I thought I’d try and spruce things up a bit with a new look. Please let me know what you think. There are other themes I have my eye on, but this one sings to me a bit more than the rest. Just know that there’s nothing I can do about the way it displays images in the preview. I wish I could.

Our London Vacation

Over this past Christmas holiday my wife Krista and I went to London. It was a trip we’d been planning for a long time, and originally it was going to be not only London, but also Paris. Then, somewhere down the line, we thought adding Rome to the itinerary would be a good idea. The Rome decision was reversed soon after, and eventually Paris was nixed as well (too many other things needed to be done here at home to take more than a week off). The vacation was almost canceled, though, when the cabin workers’ union for British Airways voted to strike over the Christmas and New Years time frame. Luckily for us and our trip, the British government stepped in and said they couldn’t strike. Now, several weeks later, I’ve finally gotten around to posting up some pictures. This batch represents barely a fraction of the photos I took, but I think they represent the highlights without boring you. So, here we go. I hope you enjoy…

This is my wife standing in front of the hotel we stayed at. I booked the place because I wanted something… authentic, not commercial or big business. After a day of climbing stairs and not having 24/7 access to vending machines and ice, not to mention a broken door to a balcony we would have liked to use, I was ready to head to the nearest Radison.

Here we are at the Tower of London, with Tower Bridge just over Krista’s shoulder. I love taking pictures of her, and getting a nice snap of the bridge was a bonus.

Here’s the Tower of London. I’m not here to give you a history lesson, but I will say that it was fascinating to walk around. Here in America we think we have history, but we’re really just children compared to places like this.

Most of our traveling around London was done via the Underground, also called the Tube. All things considered, we didn’t have any trouble with it. Most areas are clearly marked, and I don’t know if we ever spent more than fifteen or twenty minutes getting from one place to another. We only took cabs when we were either too tired to make it to a tube station, or during Christmas when the subway system was shut down.

Something you constantly hear in the Underground is, “Always remember to…”

Here is the outside of the British Museum. It’s a really nice museum, and completely free. I took loads of pictures inside it, but I’ll only post a couple.

This is something Krista really wanted to see – the Rosetta Stone. Seeing it in person was remarkable.

I just thought this was pretty. It’s Aphrodite taking a bath from water in a vase. It looks so soft, which I guess is the artist’s gift to the stone.

One day we went walking around Hyde Park, and the Memorial Fountain for Princess Diana was there. This is Krista taking a brief rest there. It was a nice place to sit and enjoy the park.

“Look, kids, Big Ben…”

Buckingham Palace was closed, which was a bummer. Looks like a pretty swank pad.

Here is Krista and I standing at the gate for Buckingham Palace.

This is just one of the many outside shots I took of Westminster Abbey, and it does not do the place justice. It is an amazingly beautiful building.

Here’s another shot.

This isn’t the original Globe Theatre (it burned down a long time ago), but it is as close a recreation as is possible. I think Shakespeare is one of the greatest literary minds in the history of mankind, and being able to absorb some of his atmosphere was wonderful.

Here’s the inside of the Globe. Not a bad seat in the place. I’d *LOVE* to see a play performed there.

Not one of my best days…

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Not sure why it is, but today I feel drained. More than usual, anyway. Granted, I’m fat, so being tired kinda goes with the territory. But for the past week or so I’ve been on a bit of a high, getting things accomplished and putting other things in order. I’ve felt good, motivate even. Today, though, I feel like I’m down to the bottom of my tank with a long way still to go. Reminds me of lines from a Robert Frost poem – “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.” Maybe it’s just one of those strange biorhythm days some people talk about. Then again, perhaps there’s no reason for it at all. Maybe I just didn’t eat well. Either way, I feel sad and empty right now. I hope it goes away soon. I have so much left to do.