My Year of Sneezing, Chipotle, and Fake Jon Stewarts

Old calendar

I’m not that big on end-of-year summation or highlight posts. When I read others, I’m reminded of how much I’ve forgotten over the year, or how much I missed. Or worse, who died, and how that makes me feel bad all over again.

If I’d thought of it, I would have kept track of something more arbitrary or offbeat, like “How many times over the year I sneezed more than twice in a row,” or “Which days at lunch I reached for the chipotle pepper and then thought better of it,” or “Day I once again was sure that I saw Jon Stewart at the airport, but it really wasn’t him.” Because sometimes those little forgettables are as much a notable moment as having published something in the NY Times.

Mostly I’m simply grateful for having made it through the year, without major losses. Many people didn’t.

However, in reading some of the advice given by Michael Hyatt on attaining goals, I did decide to put a few in writing for the coming year. He convincingly says that putting an intent down on paper (well, in this case electrons) solidifies it in your consciousness: it clarifies what you want and motivates you to take action, among other things.

In that spirit:

  • I will finish the content of my nonfiction “how to see through a writer’s eyes” book by the end of January [preparing it for epub will take a bit longer]
  • I will publish my second novel by the middle of the year [again, going to be a self-pubbed masterpiece—after I do some master-piecing on it.]
  • I will get an article/essay in a national publication by the end of the year [shooting for NY Times. The travel pieces I’ve had in the LA Times and my work in The American Scholar don’t count.]

And a couple of “soft” goals, which doesn’t mean they aren’t hard:

I’m going to try to be more of service to others this coming year. I can too often get in a crabbed, selfish state, which is fear based. As I recently wrote in a comment on a Jeff Goins post, “I spent too much time working from the poverty mindset last year: too much grasping and the hearing of repeated refrains of the tired song of “me.” This coming year I intend to be of more service to people and to stretch the kinds of writing I do.”

So, yes, giving and stretching—not playing it so safe. But still playing: I’m going to drink more unusual cocktails this coming year, because my sweetheart was given an eclectic collection of bitters—what’s better than adding bitters to make all of life seem a bit more sweet?

Hope you guys had a good year, and that this next is going to be a humdinger. And if you want to write a few of your goals in the comments, who am I to stop you?

Pencil Me In: Writing Prompt for a Rainy Day

Inject your imagination with pencil possibilities

Inject your imagination with pencil possibilities


Remarkably enough, it’s raining today, which I thought was now illegal in California. So, instead of traipsing outside for any Saturday aerobic exercise, what about hunkering down inside with a writing exercise? Writing prompts are a good way to loosen up the creativity muscles, and they’re more fun than a spin class. (Argue with me all you want—the rain is drowning out your protests.)

I think simple is best for a writing prompt: let’s consider describing an everyday object from several angles, whether metaphorical or metaphysical. Enter the pencil.

Pencils in the Real World
It’s notable how plungingly deep you can go when you start to describe an object, particularly one you’d never bothered to focus attention on. With a prompt, you just let your mind and fingers fly, and don’t get out any red pencil to edit.

Thus, a physical pencil is:

  • A slender wooden wand capped with a metal ferrule topped with a rubber eraser
  • A short cylindrical spear with a soft end and a pointy tip
  • A soft, breakable wooden shaft
  • A balanced, effective, reliable writing instrument
  • A cat toy
  • A vehicle for advertising

 
Pencil as Metaphor

  • An insecure pencil won’t write polysyllabic words for fear of misspelling them
  • A heroic pencil has broad, defined shoulders just below the eraser
  • A husband pencil never takes out the shavings

 
Pencil Sensuality

  • The light but friendly heft of a pencil in your hand
  • The agreeable noise a pencil makes when scribbling words on paper
  • The sweet cedar smells when sharpening a pencil

 
Pencils in Irregular Use

  • Staving off boredom by flinging them up to stick in those soft-tile corporate ceilings when the boss isn’t around
  • Pencil as ear cleaner
  • Pencil as stand-in for conductor’s baton

 
Pencil as Pun
That’ll put lead in your pencil (ahh, my adolescence, it will never truly end)

Pencil as Iconic Object
Often seen behind the ears of old-school reporters, circa The Front Page era

Pencil as Ironic Object
Gigantic pencils occasionally seen in sculpture gardens

Pencil as Shakespearean Character
Think of a pencil separated from its twin, cross-dressing (alternating wearing manly tights with bosom-exposing dresses), caught in heart-pounding court intrigue, strumming a lyre whenever possible, and finally getting married amidst much fanfare, resonant huzzahs and beer.

Well, I won’t burden you with leaden prose any longer. But I think writers have an ability to look at the most common of things, and see a story there. So next time you look at your salt shaker, remember that from a different vantage you might think of it as your pet, your boyfriend, your accountant. Even your muse.

Besides, the rain is letting up—I’m going to take my pencil for a walk.

How to See Through a Writer’s Eyes: Listen—?

Glasses_on_book_101

I’ve been working on a short book that has the working title “How to See Through a Writer’s Eyes.” Maybe it’s because I wear glasses and only see so far, but I’m going to suggest you get a taste of that book by listening to me read the introduction.

My intent in writing the book is to help people see that the world is built of stories—and that with a little guidance on where to find and use those sentence-building tools, you can be one of the builders. More on the book’s progress later.

[Not sure why, but it seems you have to click on the play button twice. Moses and the rock, I suppose …]

Trolling the Thesaurus: Timely Tool or Woeful Crutch?

Thesaurus Lopper

Trimming Words Is More Dangerous Than You Might Imagine

Yesterday, I snapped the handle on this lovely old set of loppers by cranking too hard on a branch bigger than what the tool was intended for. That’s not my first inappropriate use of tools—once I tried to boot-bust a board angled on some steps and it snapped up and sliced my face like a cold cut. A colorful reminder that genius doesn’t run in the Bentley handyperson’s gene. But mangling the loppers made me think of twisting tools from their intended use, and being the metaphorical sort, the thesaurus came to mind.

Relying on a thesaurus to write an article or story can be like using a bazooka to clean a bit of dust from your cabinets—instead of blowing away the dust, you’ve blown out the wall. Here’s the trouble: You may have crafted a sentence with perfectly good words, but then writer’s anxiety sets in. Couldn’t this sentence have more kick? Doesn’t it need an alligator belt and lizard-skin shoes to really speak its piece? How can anyone sense the weight of my words if a few of them aren’t blacksmith’s anvils?

When a Crossbow Becomes a Crash of Syllables
Thus, the unwary writer might fall into a quagmire along these lines: She writes a fine sentence for an article on crossbow collecting:

The shrewd crossbow collector will seek multiple opinions before buying a 4th-century Greek crossbow.

But then she fidgets and thinks, Hmm, couldn’t I give that sentence a little more oomph by substituting a few synonyms? After all, I did say “crossbow” twice.

The transmogrified results go like this:

The perspicacious crossbow accumulator will solicit manifold perspectives before procuring an antiquarian armament.

Add Seltzer, Not a Grenade
Beautiful, eh? Now, inject a little embalming fluid in that sentence, and you can consign it to its rightful grave. But that’s just a brute force example of how to kill a sentence with good intentions (and bad language). For me, the occasional, judicious use of the thesaurus is not only useful, but fun. Using one can be like adding some seltzer to a piece, not a grenade. Take this sentence:

When she heard the rustle in the grass, she jumped to the other side of the path.

Now there’s nothing wrong with that sentence, but what if it’s not what you, the writer, is hearing in that grass, the thing that makes you and the character jump? What if “rustle” doesn’t have the sense of threat or menace that you seek, but another word doesn’t surface? Then you can go to the candy store of the thesaurus, because when you want a Kit Kat, and you only have a Snickers, you won’t be satisfied.

Checking out my electronic candy store (the thesaurus that accompanies the Mac OS dictionary), I see swish, whoosh, swoosh, whisper, sigh. Leaning my ear to that secret in the grass, I sense that “whisper” is the winner. Now you might think that’s adding artificial flavors to your writing, but not when you use the flavoring in this way: you are using the promptings of the synonym suggestions to season the sentence how you most accurately sense it. And like I said, this isn’t something you’d do to torture all of your sentences. Just the ones where you know there’s a better word, the word that makes your sentence intention glow. The thesaurus is just a light source—you direct it.

Tickled by Thesauri
So, a few ways that thesauri (gotta love the plural, something that sounds like it frolics in the ancient swamp with the diplodocus) can poke some quiescent writing:

  • Scanning synonyms for a single word change can often stimulate your thinking about a setting, character, conflict. Perhaps a full new paragraph, contributive to the work, might emerge.
  • The new word can refine a sentence, rather than burden it, or refine your thinking about how the sentence works in its larger setting.
  • And if you plain-out like words, it’s good fun to muck about in them. Take a word like “bungle.” Traipse around its synonyms and you play footsie with things like “botch,” “muff,” “fluff,” “flub,” and “make a hash of.” Tasty hash indeed.

Of course, you shouldn’t do much thesaurus trolling when you’re in the flow of your draft—let the words roll, and edit later. And don’t ever go into synonym rapture, where your sentences are so larded with fifty-cent words that they move like soggy dough. That ain’t writing—that’s bad architecture, where a story collapses of its own weak weight.

From my view, you’re no loser if you try to selectively fine-tune your writing by dipping into the thesaurus. Done with care, you’re still writing in your own voice; you’re listening to yourself with both ears pricked.

By the way, I’m going to see if I can get those loppers fixed. Good tools deserve a good long life.

Breathing New Life Into Your Writing

SunriseWalk2
Sunrise, Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia

A while back, I lived on a tiny Micronesian island for a year. I taught various English department classes to students at the junior college, and for several reasons, my stay there was flavored with some sour stints of depression and anxiety. But I like to think about the things there that soothed me: the extraordinary beauty of the waters, the dazzling, resplendent corals and marine life under that water, the tropical breezes that lightened the blazing hammer of the days.

But one of the things I remember so clearly is a sound (maybe because they didn’t have any of Proust’s madeleines there with which to tag my aroma memory). That sound was the bright, high, rattling tinkle of waves breaking and receding over the bits and chunks of coral at the water’s edge. There was a broad coral reef surrounding the island, and there was coral rubble of all shapes and sizes at the shoreline. When the waves brushed over that coral, it was as though a master—and eccentric, maybe like Thelonious Monk—pianist or perhaps a vibrant vibes player finger-danced over coral keys.

It’s challenging to describe a sound, particularly one that because of the variable tempo of the waves and the configuration of the coral was forever changing, but there was something so pleasingly calming about it; the repetitive sweep of the waves and its tinkling chime was an aural massage. After some particularly crappy days at the school, just coming back to our house and sitting by the ocean listening to the jangling chime of the coral was enough to bathe my bile in a sonic balm.

No Coral Concert? Just Breathe Instead

I bring up those island days because I’ve lately had some biting bouts with anxiety and depression again. Just the usual mishmash of feeling unaccomplished, that my writing work—both business and personal—was going poorly, that though it was sunny spring, there was a chill inside. And there aren’t any coral-chipped beaches for a few thousand miles from my Central California home.

I can conjure many reasons not to write: worrying that a button was missing off my shirt, wondering if that girl from high school really didn’t like me or just slashed my tires to get my attention, thinking I would work on my novel if there weren’t a section of the tax code online I should study for an hour or two—the list knows no end. No writers need to add “I feel like a deflated tire” to the long list of inanities that prevent them from applying the magic formula: put the time in, and the words will come.

So, for the past couple of weeks, I’ve started the morning with a simple meditation. I’m not going to get militantly woo-woo on you and tell you you have to do 1,000 Sun Salutes, an hour of chanting and then stare at the sun until God speaks, and that then your writing will flow like the mighty river. What I’m doing is simple: a 15-minute meditation that has been working for me like the sweet sound of waves on coral: a lightly stirred serving of now, and now again. This particular meditation is a guided one, though you certainly don’t need an iPad to sit and breathe. This guidance is served up by a modulated woman’s voice offering some thoughts on focusing on the present moment, then offering silence, then focusing on the ebb and flow of the breath, then silence, and on.

And it’s helping.

Breathing Through the Ping-Pongings of Your Infernal Mind

The meditation suggests that you look with kindness on the ping-pongings of your infernal mind, that mad monkey that goes from, “Are we low on milk” to “if the asteroid hits and destroys the earth in a week, I won’t have to make the payment on the flat screen tv.” Beginning my morning with a simple meditation, and reminding myself that any time throughout the day, I can return to a minute or two of acknowledging the rolling ride of my breath (rather than watch another YouTube video) has been liberating in some ways.

I bookend the meditation with some quick thoughts on things I’m grateful for. And these don’t have to be any complex or grandiose or self-aggrandizing things, like being grateful for the Apple stock split. No, it’s more like the “I’m grateful for the sound of waves on coral.” Ahhhhh …

My feeling about my writing has been better—it’s breathing some new life. And I’m doing a little more of it. I wish I’d found out earlier that writing is actually a breathing exercise.

A Little Bit Extra

I wrote a piece on getting a gun at a young age, and how that troubling time has stayed with me all my days: Taking Flight from the Trigger, published on Medium. Recommend it with that bottom button if you’re of a mind to.

And a Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers out there!

Stealing Grandma’s Word Machine

Remington

Can a typewriter have a Southern accent?

My grandmother was a bit of a Southern belle, having grown up comfortably in Meridian, Mississippi before taking up with a Yankee from New York, and finally settling in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The details of that odyssey aren’t important here; what’s to the point is that I remember the soft roll of her voice, and the smile in that voice as well.

I could hear that voice in person through the years of our family’s many summer visits from Southern California to Colorado, and I could hear it in my imagination when I read the words of her letters, which she wrote to me and my siblings on birthdays, and to my parents, perhaps to impart some neighborhood gossip or suggest a new card game she’d learned in their absence. She did love her cards.

Grandma Bentley is probably dealing a sharp hand in heaven right now, and has been fleecing the angels there for many years, so the letters have long ceased. But the typewriter, the compact, circa 1930 Remington, lives on. And thanks to my oldest sister’s efforts to have it refurbished and shipped to me, it lives in my house. Let me assure you—this isn’t a Macbook Air.

The Underwood as Missile Launcher

Just a couple of years out of college, fancying myself a writer who needed tangible evidence, I bought a massive Underwood typewriter from a Goodwill, or maybe even a pawn shop. It was from the early 1940s, and if dropped from a 10-story building, would have continued through the ground for another story or two. It had a massive frame, with enough steel for a missile launcher. This Remington is much more compact, merely a bazooka.

If you haven’t typed on a manual typewriter for some time (or never), you may have forgotten what a tactile presence the machines have. When depressed, individual keys swing up rapidly and plunge down, a whipping arm with the fisted letter at the end. The Remington’s keys impact the paper with a sharp “thwack!”—if you had to clandestinely write something while someone else is in the house, better head to the basement and work under a mattress. It’s loud, and satisfyingly so.

But my fingers are no longer the Underwood power-plungers they once were. I haven’t been using the Remington enough, so I haven’t developed a good rhythm. I have to compel my digits to drill down, with power, through the full, long carry of the keys. My typing is more, “thwack, thwack, thwww, thwww, thwack!” Mistakes abound. And the Delete key on such a device was known as Wite-Out, a once ubiquitous substance that is probably used now to bleach discolorations in plaster or perhaps to staunch bloody noses. I wouldn’t invest in the company stock if I were you.

Missing the Scream Key

No self-respecting Internet troll would ever use the Remington—it doesn’t have an exclamation point! How could anyone acidly rant on about Gweneth Paltrow or climate change hoaxes or our Muslim Socialist Kenyan (and probably secretly vegan) president without this key key? I tried to cobble together an exclaimer out of lowercase i’s and l’s, with a period below, but to no avail. Surely a machine from a kinder, gentler time. The machine makes music too: there’s a lovely “ding!” when you reach the end of a line, which signals progress. (Though in my case, it mostly signaled that a line full of typing errors was ready to be supplanted by a fresh one.)

I doubt I’ll be using the Remington for much more than writing ransom notes, but I’m very pleased to have it. I’m not nostalgic for many old things, except perhaps for my grandmother. I can’t have her, but I have her word machine. I’m hoping there’s a story submerged in there, perhaps something of a Flannery O’Connor flavor, that I can pull up and out.

Thwack!

How to Successfully Write Like a Turkey

Turkeys

Not the best shot, but they were running around like, well, like turkeys

For the last couple of months, around 20 wild turkeys have been strolling their gobbling paths through the open fields of my neighborhood. It’s amazing when they cruise by the field close to my Airstream office, because they are startlingly big birds, and in their turkeyness, quite odd-looking ones too.

Since spring is just a snapped window-shade opening away, lately the male birds have begun to whip up their tail feather tuxedo, to give the ladies a peek at the splendid side. If you don’t spend a lot of time looking at a turkey’s backside, you might never have seen their flashdance, where they fan those tail feathers in a broad semicircle, displaying the the bright bands of color at feather’s end.

It’s an eye-catching sight, and an impressive one too. One of the reason it impresses is that the birds don’t do it constantly, so that the amazement threshold dims; instead, they putter and poke around, grubbing in the fields in their civilian clothes. It’s only when some kind of unseen “Showtime!” signal occurs that they feel the need to fan out their deck of face cards, and then quickly put them away.

Just a Flash, and No More

The flash of color, of intrigue, of insight—I think that’s what we should do with our writing. No one likes heavy writing, that draws attention to itself by pounding you in the face, then in the gut, then the face again. But what if in what you’re reading, a curtain quickly opens and you see something intriguing, only to have it close again? Wouldn’t you read a bit further to see what’s behind the curtain?

Though there are many ways to insert elements in your writing that might be considered revelations—surprise, your lead character was actually a lovestruck alien from the 25th century!—here I’m just talking about interesting turns of phrase, vivid language used with sparing care. Flashes in writing are momentary: they offer a promise, provoke intrigue, suggest something more. It harkens to the same psychological mechanism of the slot machines: there are small payoffs (and they are loud and colorful) in between stretches of quiet. It’s a mechanism you can use to send a flare of interest, no matter if you are writing business copy or a novel.

Words Take Wing

I’m a word guy first, so I gravitate toward language to put the trot in my turkeys. Be conscious of flat turns of phrase in your work, whether you type for business or for tale. Give flat phrases a face by filling in their features: stronger verbs, interesting syntax, varying sentence rhythms. Let’s look at a standard sentence turkey, followed by one flashing his charms:

He walked unsteadily through the crowd.

He careened, he lurched, he staggered, he chugged—we see his tripping traipsings with more vigor, more clarity, more delight.

Rearranging how your words fall can make them rise:

Dullard: Benjie was besotted, and his head lolled on his sloped shoulders.

Benjie, Better: Shoulders sloped, head lolling, see besotted Benjie.

Even being conscious of the sound of words (and how they sound strung together) can give your writing resonance:

Barely a Sound: He drove the taxi for hours through the dark streets of the suburban neighborhood.

More Music: He drove, the taxi’s sharp lights sniffing out the darkened curbs, the dull patches of suburban lawn grey-green in the bleak light.

Don’t Troll the Thesaurus

I’m not suggesting here that you become a thesaurus troll, someone picking canned words from a list—that will only make your words listless. Many are the sentences that are best served with solid Anglo-Saxon words. I’m also not talking about using unusual words just for the sake of novelty. Look not to pad your sentences, but to spice them, with language that is your own—but perhaps your own language after additional caffeine. This kind of word-by-word, sentence-by-sentence vigilance might seem wearying, but more wearying is reading writing that has no spark.

Putting Some Mustard on the Turkey

If you’ve every watched a turkey fly, you know it can look like someone tossed a large, unbalanced sack of feathers into the air. They are ungainly, awkward flyers, but they get the job done. And as I mentioned above, with their neck-stretching pecking-and-lunging walk, they can look peculiar on the ground too. But with that feather flash, they perform a magic trick: they turn their turkey trot into a show of style.

Yeah, I know—who wants to be identified as a turkey? But learning how to successfully write like a turkey has its benefits. As the old saying goes (with some editing), every turkey has its day.  Show your tail feathers.

Confessions of a Naked, Shoplifting Hitchhiker and Other Posts

'hitchhiker' photo © 2009, Bradley Gordon - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Since I was raised a good Catholic boy, I exercised all the tenets of the faith, including regular confession. Since I’ve skipped a distance from my altar-boy days, I’ve not experienced the pleasures (?) of the confessional in many years. Fear not! These are times of public exposure of the most sordid sorts—entire television networks are built on shows displaying the curdlings of our bestial natures.

In that vein, I’ve put a few posts on the wonderful medium of Medium, one of the more intriguing of the long-form essay sites that have gained solid web readership, even in our time of the sound-bite post. And lucky for you, each one is about salacious events in my past, so that you can use them as a moral lesson for your children or your cats.

First up, though, a different confession: my account of my extended, laborious attempt to promote my collection of short stories using every book-promotion tool at my disposal, until I felt like disposing of them all.

The Book-Promotion Balloon, Where’s the Helium?

Promoting your book without appearing to be a self-obsessed asshat sleazeball, housed at the wonderfully writerly home of WriterUnboxed.

Five-Finger Discounter, Emeritus

I might need two priests to confess this one: my glory-days as a high-school shoplifter, where my first taste of entrepreneurship came to the fore (handcuffs optional).

The Witching Hour

More just-post-high school fun: the imperative lesson here is not to approach your landlords after you’ve been drinking (and happen to be naked).

Playing with Matches

A tale from my hitchhiking days, detailing when your ride goes south—and you’re not even moving. Oh, and the highway was set on fire too.

Anyone interested in a much longer version of hitchhiking madness can read my coming-of-age novel, All Roads Are Circles, where I make the characters undergo even more terrible things than I underwent in these escapades above. Authors, cruel lot all.

PS I have calmed down a bit since high school, and I’m my own landlord, so I can confront myself naked when I please.

When the Writing Mentor Becomes the Mentee

Cupertino 450

Cupertino Hernandez Castillo — Storyteller

To speak well in your own language is difficult. To write well in your own language is considerably harder. But to speak and write well in a language not your own is vastly more challenging—it might be many years of work to become truly fluent. But climb another mountain yet: to write stories, to build the structures of setting and plot, to explore the layers of character, to work on conflict and suspense—to do that in a language not native to you—wow! That’s amazing.

So amazed I’ve been every Tuesday over the last seven months at a local literacy center, where I’ve been working as a writing mentor with Cupertino, the smiling man pictured above. He and I have had many discussions on how stories work, how to begin them with intrigue, drive them forward through a story arc, and how to end them so there’s resonance beyond the page. We’ve talked about how many different ways there are to create characters and settings, how to tease your readers with delayed or partial information—how to tell a tale slant, so the reader leans in further.

Because I am a writer myself, I know what a struggle it can be to make a story succeed, to make the characters come alive through language, to make the reader care about what has happened and what’s going to happen.

I don’t have any language skills outside of English, so I’ve been gratified to see how eagerly Cupertino takes up the work of understanding the complexities of English grammar. Part of what I do for my work is edit other people’s work, so I know what a confusing maze English grammar can be—and that’s for native speakers. I pull my own hair out trying to figure out some grammatical tangles sometimes, so I respect his efforts.

We Are All Teachers, We Are All Students
Perhaps the best aspect of working with Cupertino is when I am the listener and he is the teacher. He’s told me many interesting things about his being a taxi driver in the mad streets of Mexico City, and about his being a bull rider, despite his small size. He related one particularly interesting story about observing another always-gregarious bull rider that he knew well, oddly meditating in silence while sitting in the empty bull ring, only to die later that day from being crushed by the bull.

This is a storyteller’s eye: Cupertino recognized that something profound was happening with the rider, something unsettling. There was a kind of prescience on both their parts: this would be a day unlike others. I suggested that that incident was the basis of a story only he could write.

At one of our last sessions, we were talking about secondary characters in stories, and he was relating about how even if you are a pedestrian stopped at a traffic signal, there might be a telling interaction with the stranger stopped next to you. A brief moment that could push another pedal in a story’s accelerator. But from that, he told me about how those little moments where people’s lives brush up against one another are part of how we are all connected, no matter our stations and paths in life.

Storytellers Make Connections
I can’t quite explain it, but I was struck by his sincerity and feeling. It gave me that sense that that’s what storytellers do: make, point out, and describe the connections between people, even when those connections fall apart. And how stories themselves connect people.

That we’ve had many conversations on all kinds of subjects has been a surprising delight of our association, which I feared at first, because I had never been a one-on-one tutor before. But that’s all changed. From our beginning conversation, I recognized that Cupertino is a thoughtful man, and I’m happy to think that we are friends.

I just took a break from tutoring at the center because my girlfriend and I are trying to set up an overseas house-sit for a period, something we’ve done before and anticipate with eagerness (though indeed it will be work as usual—or unusual). But that eagerness is equal to that I have in hoping to resume working with Cupertino when I return.

There are still many stories to be written!

Honey, Somebody Shrunk the Summer

Sunrise

Yeah, it’s a sunrise and it’s the Bahamas, but I needed something soulful, so…

Did you feel summer slip away, like a door quietly closing? I had an unnerving, visceral sensation yesterday, walking in my driveway when the sun was going down. An arrow of information—summer’s gone!—shot into my head, all because, without consciously thinking of it, I noticed how the angle of light from the waning sun was different, softer, recessive. And it wasn’t as though I actually thought about it—the bent beam just went into the processing center, where time’s sequences are catalogued, and it came out stamped “End of Summer Light.” Only then did the painters from Emotional Central rush out with their brushes dripping with blue.

Blue because seasonal passages are always colored with melancholy for me, even if I’m anticipating good things to come. I too often make the error of measuring by “things I didn’t get done” rather than sifting through the Greats, Goods, Pretty Goods, Neutrals and Wretched Circumstances That Tasted of Bile and Longing. Why some personalities (one being mine) might gravitate to bile and longing has long puzzled me, but that’s one for the psychoanalysts I can’t afford.

Dang, I Can’t Even Get an NSA Agent Interested

My biggest goal that I’d hoped to achieve by summer’s end was to get an agent for my novel. Not for want of trying, but so far, all my fiddling with my query, avid agent seeking, fussing with my opening chapter and sacrificing infants on a candlelit altar has been in vain. I’m going to continue to look into traditional publishing, but after six months of querying, it’s looking more likely that I’ll have to go the self-pub route with this, as I did with my first novel. That’s OK, but I’d hoped to get a pass on all that entails with this one (though part of what that entails—a lot of platform building and marketing outreach—isn’t sidestepped with traditional publishing today anyway).

Longing and bile aside (I keep a bucket handy, filled with both, plus a mixer), I am making some progress on a new short story and a novel, so there’s that. Plus, some fun articles of mine coming out soon on various subjects in magazines and papers.

The light slants, fall beckons, still many sentences to shape.

Writers, does the sliding of the seasons affect your work, goals, or cocktail preparations?