Fiction is Taking a Back Seat. Dammit.

I’m still working on things, but not as a primary activity.  I just have too much going on right now:

  1. Just sold my house, so I have to pack it up.
  2. We’re putting an offer on a new house. And also looking for other leads in case that one doesn’t work out.
  3. I’m taking an online course on curriculum development to not only improve my curriculum, but also to move over on the salary schedule, which will raise my income quite a bit.
  4. Still a husband and father.
  5. Still a high school teacher.

So something had to give, and on balance, it’s leisure activities.  Because I’m still writing SFF reviews of F&SF Magazine for SFF Reviews, reading and writing reviews comes first.  Since writing is still not my day job, it has to get lumped in with leisure.  I’m still working on it, but it’s the last thing I can do in a day, pretty much–I have to spend time first on the packing and raising a kid and prepping for classes.

That said, I’m making headway on the next WIP, and noodling with the prewrite on Seeking Home. I’ve taken a short break from that project so I can figure out how to drastically restructure it.  I know what I need to do, but not really how to make it work.

Life goes on.

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Stressed Out and Hating It

I’m stressed out.  Others notice it, too.  Some think it’s because of my job.  They’re not entirely wrong, but they’re also not entirely correct.

The truth is, I’m like the stress version of the Hulk–I’m always stressed.  Everything stresses me out.  I feel like I’m always on the verge of a breakdown, always ready to rage at whomever is nearby over everything that has irritated me that day.

It’s not healthy.  I know it’s not.  But I can’t help it.  And then I start freaking out that my stress is going to set off my arrhythmia and I’m going to feel even worse if I go into afib. You might guess that doesn’t help the stress levels.

The truth is, I wasn’t made for the real world.  I should be spending my days at home, writing, taking care of the house.  But instead I not only work (as is necessary), but I chose a career where I’m constantly dealing with teenagers who think they know everything, and who expect me to treat them like adults when they won’t behave like adults.  A career that is nearly universally hated in this country, where I’m constantly judged by people who don’t know the first thing about what I do but feel they have the right and the knowledge to critique me.

Okay, maybe it’s a little bit my job.

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The Rewriting, it BURNS! But oh so good!

So, Seeking Home has met with a lot of agents who liked the premise, but rejected it.  The few who gave Personal rejections almost all said the writing was good but they struggled to connect to the manuscript.

Several Beta readers liked the book, but this recurring problem was troubling.  I thought about just trunking it, but… as one of my friends put it, this book is of my heart.  It’s important to me on several levels, and I can’t just let it go.  Not yet.

So I asked a friend who is VERY good at emotional connection and character motivation to give the first 50 pages a look.  Her comments were, as she put it, “not nice.”

Don’t get me wrong–she wasn’t mean.  She was “kind, but not nice.” Which is what I need.  I need the problems identified.  She did a great job with that, and I think I get why agents aren’t connecting with this story.  She also did it with the perfect mix of humor and “Dude, you know better,” which I appreciate.

So now I’m beginning a rewrite that will drastically restructure the first three chapters, and probably will alter a lot after them.  It’s not going to be easy, but I’ll be in a better position when it’s done and I send it out again.

I’m also still working on The Year of Rage, and also beginning to noodle with another idea.  I like to imagine that all three projects are in a race with each other to see which one will be publishable first.  Meanwhile, several short story ideas I haven’t had time for are seething at their seeming abandonment in the dark recesses of my writer-brain.

The downside to all this is that I am doing that thing where I’d rather be writing/revising than doing my day job.  Teenagers can teach themselves, right?

Excuse me while I laugh all the way to the whiteboard.  Class is starting in thirty seconds.

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Still Working; Still Hanging On to The Dream

The new school year has begun, and with it, a concomitant uptick in my stress levels. That said, I am continuing, in both my day job teaching and in my dream job writing, to continue the drafting of The Year of Rage.

When I was a college student, I referred to a lot of my posts on school and the goal of teaching as Secher Nbiw, the Golden Path of the Dune novels.  Now I apply that label to posts about writing.  I may have demoted “being a working writer” from “Definitely Going to Happen” to “I’m working towards it, but it’s still a pipe dream,” but I’m still working on it.

This story is stubborn, though.  Seeking Home took about two years, post Viable Paradise, to complete–I attended VP in 2013, and the novel was completed in August of 2015.  This book is going much slower.  I’ve barely begun, and it’s not working.  I know what needs to happen, I just have a hard time making it work.  I think it’s because a ton of my energy this year has gone to mental and physical health, and not much has remained for creativity.

On the health front, I’m getting used to the new reality in which I have to take four pills every morning.  It’s not that bad, just a tiny bit demoralizing when I realize that this is the reality I live in now.  But since it comes with it a reduced risk of a heart attack, frankly, I’ll take it.

Still, there’s fallout from the scare of a few weeks back.  If I stub my toe and yell out, my family has a momentary panic and wants to make sure I’m okay.  I try to remember it’s just concern and deal with the annoyance, but I’m not always able to let it roll off.

Onward and upward!


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ER Visit and Attendant Life Changes

Or, How Doctors Like to Scare the Shit Out of You.

So last Saturday, I had a pleasant enough day.  I drove to Napa, had lunch, drove the 1.5 hours up to Clearlake, CA, where my mother is buried, and left flowers on her grave, and then came home.  All in all I drove about 200 miles.

When I got home, I sat and tried to write for a time, then gave up on that and started to play some games.  At about 11:30 I decided I was tired, and stood up–and nearly doubled over in pain.

The pain was centered in my chest.  It wasn’t radiating, but it hurt.  Now, I’ve had a couple of scares with my heart.  In 2004 I suffered pericarditis for several days before going to the campus med center, then to the ER at their insistence.  In 2014 I discovered I have a recurring arrhythmia that causes atrial fibrillation, which is now controlled with medication.  But this didn’t feel like either of those things.  My wife was in Alaska, so I let her know what was going on and then called 911.  The ambulance that responded found my blood pressure was 190/130, which… yeah, that’s bad.  They took me to the ER, where I laid all night, awake.

In the morning they admitted me to a room.  The doctor who came in said he wanted to make sure I didn’t have an aortic tear, so they did a CT scan.  It came up clean.  He scheduled a stress test for the next day, because the CT contrast in my system made it impossible to do it safely that day.  But he assured me that the CT scan, and my EKG, meant I had not had a heart attack, but that they had to check some more things.

Two hours later, a cardiologist came in with the blood test results, and said it was possible I’d had a minor heart attack.  “You’re okay,” he assured me, “but we need to do an angiogram to make sure.”  They canceled the stress test and scheduled an angiogram for the next day.

Then the on-duty cardiac surgeon said “Fuck that, we’ll do it today,” and called his team in.  They whisked me away to do the angiogram.

Now, they’d done an angiogram in 2004, too, and it found my heart to be perfect, with no plaque and no blockages.  This time was slightly–but only slightly–different: there were still no blockages, but there was some plaque buildup–not enough to have caused my pain, though, and not needing any kind of intervention, but something to keep an eye on and address with some dietary changes.

So now they were left with another bout of pericarditis seeming to be the cause, so they got an echo-cardiogram.  And that clinched it: Pericarditis.  So they gave me medication for it and told me I would probably go home in the morning, if the pain went away.

Keep in mind that at this point, I’d been in fairly excruciating pain for 21 hours. This was partly my own fault for saying no to morphine.  The doctor pointed out that was stupid, so I took it.  It didn’t make the pain go away, but it made me float in my head.  But once they started the anti-inflammation meds, the pain faded away.

By Monday morning I was pain free.  I had barely slept, so I was cranky and irritable, but pain free.  They cut me loose at 10am and I went home.  My aunt came to stay with me until Elli and Tegan got back from Alaska (they’d tried to come home early but couldn’t).

And now I’m left sitting here pain free, but aware that I need to be kinder to my heart.  I’ve already been working on losing weight, but I’d begun to backslide on my diet.  Well, no more.  More fruits and vegetables, less fried food, less processed stuff.  My family is working on getting back to cooking more and eating together more.  I still need to lose about four inches on my waste, as well as my belly, and lose/exchange for muscle about 90 pounds.  It’s going to take hard work, and determination, but I’m going to do it.

Because yes, I was scared.  When the first cardiologist told me I’d had a heart attack, it shattered me.  I was sitting there alone, with my neighbour and his entire loud family laughing on the other side of the curtain while I was trying not to fall to pieces on mine.

My beloved grandmother, whom I called “Mimi” because I used to hold my hands up to her and say “Me! Me!” to get her to pick me up, died of a heart attack when I was four years old. She was only 50, but she smoked and she ignored advice from her doctor.  It has affected my entire life.  Two years later, my mother died of a combination heart attack and pneumonia at 25 years old.  So it’s not something that I’ve been unaware of, but my heart has always checked out as healthy even though I’ve gained a lot over the last decade.

But now it’s not enough to be okay.  I have a child, a ten year old, and while I can’t guarantee I’ll be here her whole life, I can’t check out because of something I could have prevented.  I’m not going to leave her talking to her memories of me because I was too proud to struggle at the gym, or because I’m too in love with bad food to give up Carl’s Jr. And I don’t want any possible grandchildren growing up now knowing me, either.  I want that lovely relationship Tegan had with my grandpa, and the one she has with her grandparents on Elli’s side and with her Nana and Papa, my aunt and uncle.   The loss of my grandmother and mother so young has been a shadow over my entire life.  I still sometimes break down in tears over it.  I refuse to do that to my child if I can help it.

I’m not stupid–I’m not going to give up all bad food, forever.  That’s not realistic.  But I’m going to be giving up most bad food forever, and the remaining stuff I’ll partake in only rarely.  But Carl’s?  Never again.  That shit’s just awful for you, and even I know it.  No more fast food lunches when the school year is going.  I’ll either make something in advance from home, or if I have to eat out, keep it healthy–and actual healthy, not “foot long sandwich that only pretends to be healthy.”

And I’m getting back to daily gym visits as soon as I’m cleared to do so, which is next week.

I can do it.  I must do it.

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The Dark Tower Movie: Not as Bad as I Feared

So I saw The Dark Tower, and… I guess I’m not sure why so many people seem to hate it. Caveat: I haven’t read the books, which I’m working on rectifying now, but I’m familiar with the basic plot and some of the events of the series.

It wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t amazing, but the story wasn’t the worst I’ve ever seen, and the acting wasn’t terrible for the most part.  About the only thing I didn’t really buy was the ease with which Jake puts aside a certain incident that would tear most young boys apart.

Idris Elba was fantastic as always.  Matthew McConaughey did a decent job as the Man in Black, though the script doesn’t give him a lot to do other than be menacing and throw a few offhanded evil bits as he passes people on the street–one of which, making a young girl having a happy moment with her mom in the park hate her mom, bothered me more than even the people he killed.

But a lot of the complaints I’m seeing in reviews just don’t make sense to me.  People claim the plot doesn’t make sense–but it made sense to me.  Others complain about specific story choices, as if the fact a writer/director did it differently than they did makes it bad.  Well, if I had a nickel for every time a movie I liked went in a direction I wouldn’t have gone, I’d have a nice stack of money and wouldn’t need a day job.  But “I wouldn’t have done it that way” doesn’t mean “This is bad.”

The movie was clearly being set up to lead to more films as well as a TV series.  Sadly, the response of most fans means that’s unlikely to happen.

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Re-outlinining: The Bane of My Existence

Holy crap, I last wrote here on June 19th.  That whooshing noise was July.  It said hi.

So, in my last post, I talked about re-outlining The Year of Rage.  And I was happy with it.

Then I put it all down in writing, set it aside, and came back to it.

And it still sucked.

So this past week, I sat down with the story beats, rearranged a few, dropped a few others, added some new stuff that suddenly popped into place, and now I’ve got a new outline.

We’ll see if this one sticks.

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