The Best Beloved Seal of Approval

When Sue read the near-final draft of Rafe Keyn and the Temporal Lisle I only wanted one piece of feedback: does it work?

No writerly feedback. No plot ideas. No character suggestions. None of the stuff people always want to say to writers.

Did it suck you in and keep you in?

This late in the game, that’s all I need to know.

And her answer was “Yes.”

It’s being proofread right now, and I have one or two sentences that need polishing after my current read-through. The cover is done. (See? Right there above.)

I can see the checkered flag. I’ll keep you posted.

Unheroic

When I found out he had two weeks to live, I didn’t go see him. Not that I don’t know what to say; I’ve had training in dealing with bereavement and grief and death.

I should have gone. But one time I thought about it, I felt like I didn’t know him well enough to matter. Another time, I let the unorthodox family situation stop me; wasn’t sure who’d be there and how they’d be feeling or acting. Another time, I felt overwhelmed because though we weren’t close, I’d thought we would be; he was a good guy, smart, good conversationalist, sense of humor.

Talked myself into it. Excused myself out of it. Talked myself into it. Waited too long.

In the end I just waited too long to do the right thing.

They say heroes dash into burning buildings or flaming cars to rescue people without thinking. They act before they have a chance to get scared. My first impulse when I heard was, I have to go see him.

But I gave myself time to think, and I kept thinking until it was too late.

900 Days

Tomorrow it will be 900 days since The Temporal Lisle came to me in a flash.

I suspect I’ve spent 800 of those days doing nothing but suffering over the struggle.

Though the battle with Resistance is never won, I have been writing steadily for weeks. There are 16 chapters left to write. That’s not much. Yesterday I realized I’d left a major character hanging in limbo; they walk offstage and simply disappear. It took four short chapters to resolve their story in a way that organically served the larger story, and I wrote it all in a single sitting.

Come November 3, 2018, the 3rd anniversary of the burst of creativity, this book will already be published and selling well.

And the next one ain’t gonna take three years.

Three Applauses

I’ve noticed something about an audience’s reaction to live music: how the applause happens.

Obviously, there’s applause at the end.

And at the beginning, there’s applause—twice.

Some people recognize the opening notes on the guitar, the first piano chord, the drum riff leading it off, and instantly cheer for what they know is coming. There’s a medium sized round of applause in the opening seconds.

Then, the singer starts the song, and people recognize the words. That applause is a roar. People recognize words more than they recognize music.

Some bands play around with this. Bob Dylan is famous for rearranging his music so much that, until he starts singing, even fans aren’t sure where he’s going—and sometimes, not even then. Okay, we always eventually get it. He’s an extreme example. Sometimes a new intro delays the applause until the singer makes the song clear.

Comedians and storytellers play on this. Telegraph where you’re going with a joke, a humorous story, and people will slowly start to get it. A rising chuckle, a few laughs, and before the punchline everyone gets it—and then, you leave it there. They’ve figured it out and told themselves the joke. Don’t kill it by nailing it down.

Listeners, readers, those people who take stories in, whether they’re jokes, morality plays, songs, are smart. They love story, they understand it. They don’t need to be led by the hand, they just need a compass and a map.

As long as you’ve marked the trail clearly, letting readers find their own path makes a more satisfying experience.

Loss

Found out this morning that a dear friend and spiritual mentor died yesterday.

We were supposed to get together for lunch soon. I keep thinking about what we would have chatted about, how much we laughed when we visited.

Death is not, as many claim, a natural part of life. Death is unnatural, an enemy.

This space is too small to hold everything I believe about life and death and love and loss. I’ll just say I’ll miss him, and hope all the rest of you are happy and well.

Embarrassment and Death

Patrick, the little kid up the street who ate 3/4 of a stick of Imperial margarine trying to get the crown to magically appear in his head like in the commercials, had a swimming pool. Just once, all the kids in the neighborhood were invited over to swim while his father played lifeguard. Patrick, tiny as he was, jumped into the deep end like a fish. My older brother and Rose the neighbor girl both swim around in the deep end. And there I was, in the shallow end, with the babies. Except Patrick. He was a baby, but perhaps margarine made him buoyant.

I said I wanted to swim in the deep end, too, and Patrick’s father said, “Why don’t you swim over to the ladder on the side and let’s see how you do.”

I confidently ducked under, knowing I could swim farther underwater, and in about 3.4 seconds, ran out of breath and popped to the surface, yelling, “Help! Help! Help!”

There was a huge splash and someone lifted me out of the pool and set me on the side. Patrick’s father, from in the pool, said, “Perhaps you should stay in the shallow end for now.”

It is astonishing to me that 50 years later, I still find it embarrassing. I’m not saying I would have preferred a tragic death in front of my friends to being rescued. I’m not saying that.

We are strange creatures indeed.

A Winter of Sorts

You can tell when the conversation is running dry because the talk is all about the weather.

Turned the heater on this morning for the first time since a 4-day stretch in December. It was 63º inside the house. Upstairs. It’s normally about 76º up there.

Fiona sleeps with her window open and her face near the window. I used to sleep like that as a kid in San Diego. Winter nights there get down in the 40s, so I always had cold air to breathe. I like heavy blankets and cold air when I’m sleeping. Trying to sleep when it’s warm is hard.

Took a drive today and listened to all 19 songs I’ve written so far this month. I’ve done well. Two more I need to finish, a travel song for with Fiona, and a third song to go with Not Just Believe and Laminated Map of the World.

Thus far, every song has been entirely voice and tenor guitar (except a collaboration, which really needed bass and screeching electric guitar; if someone shares their lyrics I play what they need, not what I want.)

More Songs, Including My Daughters

I’ve written another handful:

but the real treat is that my two girls collaborated on one, and we can actually hear the Little One singing: Sister.

Choosing Wealth

In Vagabonding traveler and author Rolf Potts talks about choosing how we define wealth. Rather than assuming that “wealth” and “money” are the same thing, he suggests measuring wealth in what we value. Wild concept, I know.

I would love to have more money for things like a trip to Ireland or new tires on the car or a new instrument (still deciding between octave mandolin and mandocello, but it looks like I’ll have plenty of time to ponder it.)

It’s not what I value most. Every time discontent creeps in I remind myself that I have plenty of the stuff live is made of: time.

I rarely wake to an alarm.

Nearly every day, I play some kind of game with my daughter, the last of our 7 children still at home.

Every day, I cook three interesting meals for my wife while she runs the business.

Every day in February, I’ve written a song. Every single day. And recorded a demo thereof.

Deadlines are almost unknown around here. A day off only requires balancing personal needs or desires with what’ll have to be done tomorrow.

Want to spend August in northern Wisconsin (highs in the low 70s) instead of southern Arizona (highs in triple digits and humid as an old sock)? Arrange our work schedule to allow it, plan for gas, the primary expense, and go. (Our travel requires two other factors, a location-independent business [check] and oodles of friends to stay with to avoid expensive hotel bills [check] but those didn’t happen by accident either.)

Today I’m worried about money. Ausoma has lost two big clients (they love us, but need to get other things done before they come back and work with us again) and for the first time, rent for the 1st of the month isn’t a slam dunk. It always works out. Always. We both have faith, Best Beloved and I, and it always works out.

So today, I’m going to enjoy the time I have and not worry about what I don’t.

Songwriting Finish Line and Missing My Kids

Unrelated, just the two things most on my mind today.

there is nothing here

Tough part: my 4 adult kids haven’t spoken to me since their mother and I split 15 years ago. The youngest was 13 at the time which means I’ve missed more than half his life. They’re adults, they make their own decisions, and I have to accept the consequences of breaking up the marriage. Doesn’t stop me missing them achingly and wishing things were different.

But good news: since FAWM‘s slogan is 14 songs in 28 days, I’m a winner (that just means I’ve written 14 songs, not that I beat anyone or anything except maybe Resistance.) I am happy with the songs I’ve written. Most are performable, at least once, and I’m especially proud of #14, called Here Before.

My plan was to write 28 songs, so I’m still going to plug along, writing the happy and sad as they occur to me, and most days, writing a chapter of that time-travel fantasy y’all are dreaming of.

The Temporal Lisle: Chapter 42

Thought I’d share one of the most recently written chapters of Rafe Keyn‘s time travel fantasy.

Long before the Traveler had crashed around packing up his camp and moved out, the old warrior was awake, watching. Knowing he would hear the inexperienced man’s noise and smell his artificial scent a long while after he disappeared into the trees, the old warrior dropped to the ground and tidied up the mess left behind, covering the ashes with dirt, pushing rocks back where they were better suited, burying a dirty bit of something the Traveler’s food must have been wrapped in.

It took less than five minutes to clean up the site, during which he listened to the other’s noisy passage. Slipping through the shadows, the old warrior was within sight again in less than ten minutes, and spent the morning following what rapidly became a familiar path. Had he known this Traveler’s destination he could have arrived in an hour and had two more to rest before that one emerged from the woods—if that had been his intent.

Instead, after circling around at what seemed to the old warrior an excessive distance, he settled in to make another oversized fire and camp on the far side of the village where the old warrior had first believed he would find his stone. Finding the Traveler was a surprise, then it felt obvious. That the man led him here made the old warrior suspect he should stop being surprised at the twists and vagaries of this quest, and simply forge ahead, eyes and mind open.

This time, rather than sleeping rough and going without food, he circled the village and came upon a farm on the outskirts where he was invited to share a meal and offered a bed for the night. The Traveler’s ignorance of the prospects of hospitality were another mark against his intentions. An honest man didn’t hesitate to sit table with others and accept the warmth of their fire.

After eating, he slept a short time, asking his host to be sure he awoke again before the sun had fully set. Though he offered to help with the farmer’s evening chores before leaving, that one laughed and wished him a safe journey and more excitement than feeding a few chickens and goats.

Moving quietly back around to the Traveler’s camp, he smelled the sickly sweet scent of the man on the breeze, and minutes later, heard him making a fire. With a full belly and two hours’ rest, he once again climbed a tree to await the Traveler’s next actions.

Dozing in the tree, noises from below woke him. The moon had set, and in the pure darkness the coals below glowed. The Traveler pushed dirt over them, gathered his few things, and moved toward the village.

Moving more quietly than usual, the old warrior followed closely. If this one was considering something untoward, he wanted to be in a position to act if necessary.

Their path was straight to the village, along a narrow alley behind a row of houses and shops. At one, the Traveler looked through a window, then squatted under it. In the darkness, the warrior couldn’t make out what he did as he hunched facing the wall, but a sharp ugly smell came through the dark. Rising, the Traveler moved around the building. By the time the warrior followed, the man had disappeared. He stayed behind the corner of the house, not sure if this was a time to act or wait. He had seen the Traveler’s dagger, true, but he had also smelled a medicinal smell which made him believe the man’s plans, though troubling, were not violent. Still, he listened as only a woodsman of his caliber could listen.

From inside came the sounds of the Traveler’s clumsy shuffling attempts at stealth. Whatever he was doing was taking ages. His sounds came now from farther back in the home, then stopped, replaced by other sounds, still quiet, but troubling to the old warrior. A woman’s voice, stifled; not words, only a harsh breathy gasp.

Then, silence.

Less than a minute later, more shuffling noises, and then suddenly the Traveler burst through the front door with something slumped over his shoulders. He stumbled and struggled with the weight, but once out of the building he straightened up, adjusted his burden, and walked between the buildings and back into the forest.

Rhymes with Gloom

Rumor has it Phoenix sees 360 days of sunshine a year. Anecdotal evidence suggests we could skip some of those during, say, June, but no, the few gloomy overcast days come in winter, no surprise.

Best Beloved and I both suffer from mild versions of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Grey days bog us down and make us cranky. Awareness is 51% of the battle, eh?

First time in months, we took a bike ride together this morning. Once around the block. It’s a small start, because we believe in the power of small wins. Persistent consistent effort, not grand gestures. She’s been sick, I’ve been sick, we’ve been pummeled no end the past 6 months, but it’s all working out, as it always does.

I’ve reached the point with this month’s songwriting that I’m filling gaps with experimental stuff, goofy lyrics, and songs I’ll never bother performing. Writing 28 songs in 28 days, I give myself a lot of slack. A lot.

Imposter Syndrome

The group of mad songwriters I’m hanging with this month have a thread with 100+ posts about imposter syndrome.

Every artist who’s ever created something they feel strongly about has also felt like a fraud. Who am I to pretend to be an author? Who am I to pretend my songs are worth your trouble to spend 3 minutes listening?

John Lennon anguished about his lyrics. Stephen King is, to this day, ashamed of his subject matter, still smarting from a teacher’s disdain for the junk he wrote.

I have reached a point where I’m confident about my song lyrics, and getting there about my books. Every smart writer I trust has said they learn to ignore feedback except from very specific people in very specific ways. Not the 1-star haters on Amazon. Not their Best Beloved (though mine is my first audience, but her one and only job is to smile and pat me on the head; we both know her job doesn’t involve anything like honest criticism, that comes later.)

I don’t believe in the anguished lamenting artist who must bleed and die to create. We choose to do this. On some level we’re driven to it; I don’t think I’d be happy if I stopped writing novels. But no one makes me do it, and a lot of folks never feel the joy of publishing a book or performing a song they wrote. I get to make art, and I’m happy about it. It takes work, though, to focus on the positives when Imposter Syndrome and Resistance strike.

Next time you see someone doing something creative, whether it’s performing in public or just sketching a doodle in the park, thank them for daring. They can always use the boost.

Coffee, 2 Weathers, Please

People make funny assumptions.

Because I (usually) drink decaf, apparently people think I like weak coffee. One place I worked, my morning ritual was to dump out the watery half-strength muck someone had just made and make a pot of strong-and-a-half decaf. At home, my coffee is the strongest you’ll ever taste. Not kidding. It will punch you in the tongue. I love the taste of coffee. What I don’t like is the caffeinated shakes.

When we were traveling, everyone we stayed with or even drove with assumed that because we were from California, our preferred temperature was somewhere around 80ºF. It’s closer to 65º, thank you very much. We’d sweltered our way through two experiences as guests when we realized what was going on.

Having moved from far northern Wisconsin to southern Arizona, it is only natural that every single person we meet comments on how nice it must be to finally see some decent weather. I’ve learned to respond that it sure is sunny here, oh ho oh ho.

We hate the heat. We love the snow. Since we work from home and don’t have to go out if we don’t want, two feet of snow overnight is fun for us. We all prefer sweaters to short sleeves, and a roaring blaze in the fireplace to living cooped up with a/c for six months.

Also, apparently from the way I talk, everyone assumes I love bacon.

Got that right.

Not a Professional Patient

The last round of blood tests trying to locate the cause of my extreme fatigue over the slightest exertion returned nothing of any meaning. My triglycerides are still slightly elevated despite taking a medication for exactly that result from the last blood test. My potassium is slightly low despite taking one medication and a daily supplement for exactly that result from tests over the past decade. Everything else, everything blood can be tested for (include Valley Fever, the local version of Lyme’s Disease) are exactly as you’d expect for a healthy person.

It was suggested I follow up with another doctor who might have more insight.

Rather than becoming a professional patient, since there’s no indication anything life-threatening is going on, no evidence of a ticking clock, and no suggestion that a solution is on the horizon, I’m going to treat myself, starting with the daily bike ride I’ve neglected since the fatigue set in, a return to daily mindfulness meditation, and a continued drive toward emotional and spiritual balance and security.

If you find me beside my bicycle in the ditch with my heart or head exploded, remind me I’m in good health for someone my age. I’m sure I’ll feel much better.

Frustrating Dreams

My dreams follow a pattern: someone is waiting for me, I have somewhere to be or a task to get done; essentially, a clock is ticking and it’s my job to beat it. Never happens. Every dream is a cosmic conspiracy to mire me in failure. Now, lest you get the impression I’m having some groovy James Bond Mission Impossible action adventure in my head, here’s what was going on just before I woke up this morning:

We were rushing to get ready to go somewhere important, “we” being, perhaps, my family when I was a kid. People in my dreams tend to morph between past, present, and imaginary. I could not find my one and only good dress shirt. I found a pile of shirts and knew I had to take each one off the hanger before I could see the next one. The first shirt, red rayon or thin cotton, Hawaiian print, had frayed buttonholes. The buttons caught in the threads and it was torture getting each one undone. Every button was buttoned.

Trivial, eh?

At this point in the dream, I’m having trouble breathing, my chest is pounding, I’m in full blown panic, beyond reason, flailing and raging internally like an animal, but carefully stifling any expression of emotion lest others, already tense and frustrated and blaming me, become offended.

I never finished the shirt because I had to put the fish in the freezer. I’d told everyone else to go ahead and I’d come on my own because I knew I’d never be ready on time. They chose to wait for me, but still expected me to be ready on time.

Walking from the kitchen to the bedroom, something was wrong. I went back and walked it again, some giant package which was apparently frozen fish (though it wasn’t cold) in my arms.

The freezer was gone. I’d been walking back and forth through the space where it had been.

At this point the panic reached the point of madness. If it wouldn’t have disturbed the people around me I would have cackled maniacally, knowing my mind had entirely lost its grip on reality. Vague thoughts of doing grievous bodily harm to myself or others hover in the back of my mind; I can no longer bear the madness of confusion, frustration, obligation. I would surrender if I could, but the thought of all those people waiting on me drives me on in my useless, fruitless, hopeless quest.

I could picture my shirt. I kept seeing flashes of the pattern but it always turns out to be that blasted red shirt with the frayed buttonholes.

No one knew where the freezer was. We were all late.

I woke up.

Why can’t I have flying dreams?

Oh, the fish? No idea where it went. Before the dream ended it was just gone.

Too Much Salt

If I’m going to make a cooking mistake, it’ll be the seriously rookie mistake of adding too much salt.

We use kosher or sea salt for everything. I don’t like the taste of table salt; it’s too sharp. We have a shaker by the stove, and bamboo salt boxes on the counter and table.

Here’s what I do, time after time: pick up the salt box, swivel the magnetic lid, and shake right from the box into the dish. (This morning it was some tea biscuits, which you might call graham crackers or some such.) Here’s what happens: our brains see a lot of something, and misjudge portions accordingly. This is why using smaller plates is a very effective dieting tool. Honest.

So instead of a few shakes of salt, just to kill the raw taste of the flour when it bakes, I got salty cardamom crackers. If it was green cardamom they could be chai crackers if I’d used pepper.

But not. Cardamom and honey and too much salt.

Maybe I’ll use that empty cardamom shaker for salt.