D is for Doubt

Let’s face it, at the time of this writing, I’m an unsuccessful writer. If you are reading this blog, chances are good it’s because we know each other in some way. Maybe tangibly – you’re a friend, a coworker, or someone who’s been stuck talking to me. Maybe we just know each other online (I’m intermittently extroverted when I’m not busy clamming up and shutting down). I’ve written a few books, even self-published a few of them, but I can tell you straight up, I have had no secret success as a writer.

And yet, I continue to write. I write for the simplest reason of all – I enjoy trying to tell a story. Now sometimes, I tell a story and others enjoy it. Sometimes, I tell a story and everyone looks at me with a vague, glazed over stare that tells me that the story missed its mark somewhere.

I used to think that when I finished writing a novel, that was it, send it out. Why hold onto it at that point? I think it was that mentality that led me to self-publishing my books, and it was waking up from that mentality that put a pause on publishing.

Take my most recent novel (you’ll need to take my word on it). Titled A King’s Lament, it’s the story of a king who is haunted by the ghost of his lost love. So much so that he forsakes crown and kingdom to track down where she fled to 20 years ago, even though his country is just recovering from a war with the republic that invaded and subjugated the neighboring kingdom. Oh, and his brother is out to get him too, but he doesn’t know that at the start of the story.

Sounds great, right? Wait till you get to the midpoint climax and learn X and Y and realize Z. Then there’s the mad dash to try and avert more war and disaster with the dawning realization that he was set up to fail. And some of the things we thought we understood about the world? Just a misdirection we should have caught on to before.

Don’t worry about that being spoilerly. Even if I were to buckle and publish/submit it someday, that’s the back cover blurb material and doesn’t tell you much about the story.

When I finished the first draft a few months ago, I set it aside. Its something I’m struggling with but accept the value of. Set the story aside for a while, let it fester and ripen, then look at it again. And when I did that, what I found was a bland story. I’d tried to write it in the first person, but what came across was just a boring, haughty king traipsing around. I spent some time lamenting that myself, then decided I’d rewrite it in the third person.

But yeah, that’s when the first doubt started to creep in.

Undeterred, I set off and wrote the first 30k of the revised novel, a third of it new material. Things were going great, or at least, progressing, until the day I needed to take a break. When I came back after a day off, I look at what I had written and despaired. Doubt with a capital and bold D was settling in.

The problem is that the story is still….bland. Luthor isn’t particularly engaging, and what I’ve written feels more like a spicy travelogue than a novel. I find myself doubting this work altogether. This is my second attempt (well….something like my fifth, really, but who’s actually keeping track of all those draft versions besides me and dropbox…) and it still feels…meh.

A past me might have transitioned from Doubt to Despair at this point, but this is a new me. I see where the story is failing. I acknowledge that for whatever reason, now is not my time for telling this story. I have a few other stories incubating at the moment, departures from the kind of story I’ve been telling which in a lot of ways makes them all the more appealing. It’s supposed to be in the 100’s F this weekend- sounds like a great time to catch up on some Harrow County, read some books, and tinker with some ideas while avoiding the inferno outside.

C is for Contemplation

It all began before the apocalypse.

For the first time in a decade, my little family was going to go on a vacation. And unlike anything we had done before, this was going to be an epic holiday. Our oldest was slated to go to Paris (France, if you must ask) as part of a senior French class trip. The rest of us had booked a week in Hawaii at a resort, a first for us. We were going to be pampered and enjoy a break for the first time in a really long time. For some, that was the going to be the first time ever.

Then the world ended and we had to cancel our flights and hotels and stay home. I’m not bitter about that – we’re how many months in and still pandemic free, and that has a lot to do with limiting exposures.

The other side of that coin is that we had money budgeted and set aside for the vacation. Now, a prudent person might have simply socked it away again. And for a lot of it, we did, but we also let us ourselves have a little something. We ordered backyard furniture.

And so a new routine was born for me. I get up in the mornings (earlier these last few weeks, but that’s fodder for another post), make a cup of tea (because at some point in the last six months, morning coffee gives me heartburn but tea doesn’t – the graphic still stands, Chief), and I head out to the backyard. While the dog noses around until she settles in the shade, I journal. Or at least what I call journaling – it’s more like a diary than a journal, but the word diary conjures images of heart festooned covers and padlocked latches, and this is more me recording my thoughts and random recounts.

This routine has quickly become writ in stone, albeit soapstone. In true Pavlovian nature, as soon as the dog hears me stirring that cup of tea she comes running down to go outside. Unfortunately, she does it every time I stir a cup now, even if I’m not headed out, but we’re working on it.

I don’t spend a lot of time outside with that first cup of tea. Ten, maybe twenty minutes of being surrounded by the early morning sounds is all I need to start my day. Lately I’ve added reading the Washington Post to my routine, but that’s a bonus. The real joy is in being able to sit outside in the morning, sip my tea, pen in hand, and start my day.

This week, though, I learned what a fragile lie that is.

For the last month or more, we’ve had no rain. Every morning has been fairly similar – partly cloudy skies, bright blue patches, sun rising, birds singing and frolicking on the fence. But one day this week, it rained in the morning. My entire fragile schedule was devastated, and to be honest I never quite recovered that day. It made me realize just how amazing being able to go outside in the mornings and journal with a cup of tea is – and how short lived it is. This week it was a rainy day. But soon, the temperatures will also start dropping, and while Portland doesn’t get too cold, it can be uncomfortable to try and write outside first thing in the morning. I also know (because I am inane and track this sort of thing in my daily planner) that sunrise is being pushed a minute forward every day. I’ve been getting up by 6/6:30 and outside by no later than 7. But today sunrise wasn’t until 06:03. My mornings outside are running short whether I want them to or not.

And so I am now planning on how to adapt to the changing seasons. There truly has been something liberating about sitting outside in the morning that I don’t want to let go of. I have limited workspace inside, but what space I have is truly all mine (within reason). Now is the time to get it setup, I think, while I still have the luxury of working outside.

So how do you all start your mornings? Surely everyone else isn’t just rushing straight to the work desk. Let me know in the comments. And happy Saturday!

B is for Blog

I know, it’s been a while. First and foremost: we are healthy, and Portland is not on fire.

When I started my long silence, it was because I had started work on a book. In the past, I’ve been too quick to blog about my projects, leaving a sense of failure and disappointment in me when they fail to meet completion. So this time, I kept it close to my vest and just wrote. And wrote. When I was done, it felt great for almost a week. And then I looked at what I had written, an unmitigated mess in the first person, and felt no small sense of despair.

The book sucked.

For a while, I let that realization rule me. But in the last few weeks, I’ve taken the manuscript back up and begun to look at it, not so much as a first draft as a really detailed outline. And I’ve begun rewriting it, from scratch, and frankly, I like what I’m writing these days. I can see where I dropped the ball in the first draft (besides writing it in the first person), and I think I’m correcting for that in this pass.

H is for Hawk

But even that doesn’t explain the long silence, or my breaking it. For that, I think I owe a nod to H is for Hawk. I’m only a few chapters in, and although the writing is great (really, I see why it was so acclaimed), I’m struggling because it’s bringing up memories and feelings I thought I had control of. After a brief discussion of goshawks vs sparrowhawks, the author’s mother called to tell her her father died. And just like that, the pain of last year fell on me again this week.

Which strangely brings me back to here. After my parents passed away, blogging became less important to me. I had a few times where I tried to bring it back – NaNoWriMo, and again earlier this year. But there has been so much going on, from soft apocalyptic pandemics to George Floyd and all that came from that. Blogging just wasn’t on my billet.

But I found myself crying the other day at what is happening in my own backyard. While I don’t live in the two to four square blocks where everything is happening (despite rumors, Portland is not burning), the idea that our own Government was using troops against its citizens is repugnant. What a dark day for the Republic. Last night, DHS finally started pulling out of Portland. If the media is to be trusted, it was also a peaceful night. What a sad statement.

And yet it somehow got me out of a rut, because here I am. Blogging. And remembering I do have a voice, and thoughts to share. Feel free to leave a comment below, its really the only way I know you’re out there. (Assuming I haven’t forgotten to re-enable comments).