Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Never Go Back

When typing up a chapter this morning to turn in for my advanced fiction class I was forced to reread it. And upon a second reading it dawned on me how little scene there is in this "scene." That was what we were supposed to turn in. A scene. I'm afraid it's stunted my continued writing.

The first month of writing saw a blast of about 50 pages, and now into my second month that page count has dwindled to about five.

Right now I'm trying to work my way through a conversation with Al Keeder, a man in the woods. I think I know the next step, I'm just unsure of how much magicalness to reveal, how much boy Jack can take on before it becomes too bizarre and unreal even for a lad of 8. Hopefully by Thursday he can be free of this old man and well on his way to facing his first giant and meeting Cole, King of the Gypsies.

Alright. Now I have to pretend to do homework....

Monday, February 25, 2008

We're Centenarians!

Chapter 3 is done. Chapter 4 version two is already underway. I feel like I've managed to reposition the story onto the track and now I'm gonna let it take off again and see where it goes.

I didn't do any homework. Yeah... I'm that guy. I have senioritis bad.

Oh, by the way, happy hundredth post!

Haaaaaave you met Ted?

I started rewriting chapter 4 yesterday. It cost me about ten pages and a week of work, but now 4 pages in to the new draft I'm feeling like I've got a better handle on getting Jack away from home, introducing his first friend, Al Keeder, and entertaining the existence of giants. The first draft was problematic because it did it in an order that's a little ballsy in that it throws all this metaphysical stuff at you too quickly. The first 2 chapters are more or less down to earth mundane life in middle america, and then chapter 3 goes careening into the realm of fantasy. I'll finish chapter 3 tonight and start my way into the rewrite of chapter 4.

I didn't watch the Oscars last night. Instead I marathoned How I Met Your Mother. It takes a good storytelling technique and makes it fresh and interesting. By the way, Haaaaaave you met Ted?

The first draft of my first of two short stories for Fantasy Writing was due last week, with a promise of comments and suggestions from the teacher. The nice thing was that she wasn't planning on giving us the typical Columbia-College Story-Workshop sugar-coated "I like this," or "can we see this more?" She was planning a more direct and editorial approach, to help us prepare a manuscript that can and will be submitted.

I sent her a draft of a story I wrote in science fiction writing first called "The Eternal," but now called "I Am Prometheus." I think it fits better with this genre. A little more mystical and far less quantifiable. Her comments started with:

This is one of the best-written stories I received! You have a marvelous way with words. It was a real joy to read. That’s the good news.

The bad news is, because your writing is so much more advanced, I’m going to challenge you at a higher level than most of your classmates with this round of critique.

So, if you find yourself feeling beat up and worked over by my comments, remember it’s because I truly liked your story so much!

I thought that was a pretty successful response for a first draft. The big thing she railed on was the need for a sense of urgency. So it's back to the drawing board for draft two.

Alrighty, I'm on the desk at work, so I need to go make like a good worker bee and put books in dewey order back on shelves.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Where I'm At And Where I've Been

I'm still here!


I've been doing a bit of blogging elsewhere or journaling in private. You get the shtick. But I'm back and I'm still here. And so, early this morning I'm coming around to give you an update to the quirky places I've been going as a writer in truly the past two months that I've not been blogging.

If you go back to the beginning. All the way back to the start of everything (well, everything in this blog) you'll notice that I said that this blog would be a starting point for me working on my Jack tale. That I would use this as sort of a dumping point while writing it. Then, as the months passed, my interests dwindled and it began to slide to other projects, short stories, the Rider, Hero of the Second City, and The Long Goodnight. Now, in my last few months as a student at Columbia College Chicago, almost one year after starting this blog, everything has come full circle (and full of unfinished and untapped story potential) back to the Jack tale. And the funny thing is is that of all the stories I'm working on and thinking about and kicking around, this one feels like it's got the most potential to actually finish itself.

So, for those just sidling into the bar now, and have no idea what the hell's going on, a quick recap. The Jack tale, in a nutshell, is the story of boy Jack, a kid from rural Virginia who, in his 8th year, his father dies. The men from the bank/child protective services deem his mother unfit (for reasons unbeknownst to Jack) and decide to take him away. Their car crashes, and through a series of adventures and misadventures Jack begins to make his way across the country, meeting a bevy of characters such as Cole, king of the Gypsies, Al Keeder (the green man), the immortal, and eventually making his way to California, where his two brothers are living and running a surf shop. Along the way he kills a few giants, grows up for a few years (maybe falls in love (not entirely sure yet)), and learns of this thing called the Treasure of America. And with that, I'll let you simmer over the juicy details and wonder how it will end.

I staggered back to this story in the wake of the brick wall that "The Long Goodnight" hit. It was really depressing. I was about 25,000 words in, and then BAM. Just stops. I lost the story, lost interest in the character, the narrative. It was just a big freakin' mess. And for the last few months I've been stumbling about over other stories, writing a couple short stories here and there that I'm really not all that proud of, and eventually one day while standing in the shower (which seems to be where I do most of my best thinking) The way to open the Jack story so poetically hit me.

"Jack's father died on the coldest day in December, half way between Christmas and New Years. The men in finely-pressed suits came in early July."

I've always had issues with trying to introduce a character by name. If I don't I'll refer to him by a feature or some other moniker. EG: Stranger, the Rider, the boy, Briefcase, The Driver. If you don't learn his name through what's happening, then you don't learn his name in the story. It's an odd fixation of mine.

Anywhoo I'm writing the novel completely long hand. I'm about 55 pages in, but there's been a hiccup and I think the last 10 pages or so are a complete misstep, and I need to rearrange the story inside the notebook. Part of me want's to barrel on through the end of this chapter and keep on truckin', but a better part of me knows I should go back. I just have to remember my idea. Well, off to the shower...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

This is good

i laughed at this blonde joke

This is How I Love Love

Finally somebody got it right!

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Rider: A Bried Genesis

I first met Edmund back in 1991.

I was five years old. My parents bought their first computer, by which I mean their first computer with DOS and Windows (3.1). Their first first computer was a Commodore 64 they bought in the mid-80s. Our first computer was an IBM. It came with Windows 3.1 and a half gig of memory, which at the time the salesman claimed would be more space than they would ever need (I run about a terabyte of space between my Macbook, Desktop, and two external hard drives). The computer came with a software sampler CD that included, amongst more useful programs, an adventure game put out by Lucasarts called “The Secret of Monkey Island.” I found it and was hooked. My mom followed shortly thereafter.

We plowed through the game in a matter of months, and soon were left wondering what now to do. With a little bit of research, made harder by the lack of internet, we stumbled across a Lucasarts bundle pack which included such gems as the ever profane Sam and Max: Hit The Road, the witty return to an adventure classic The Day of the Tentacle, and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.

The real gem was this little game by the name of “Full Throttle.” What I had wasn’t even a game really. It was a demo. Mostly cut scenes and a few minutes of game play to give you the flavor, and entice you to spend more money. It gave you a quick introduction to a man named Ben. He was a giant of a man. Easily 6’5”. Black hair. Black Boots. A five o’clock shadow. Black leather jacket. Black sunglasses. And a big ass motorcycle. He was riding west on a barren highway.

I never bought the game. That’s the problem with being a kid. A complete lack of income. But now, in retrospect, I wonder if actually playing the game would diminish the almost mythic affect that it would have on the image this biker left in my mind.

Through middle school and high school I went through the typical phases of video games, and mythology, and science fiction, and fantasy. I read the classics, Tolkien and Bullfinch’s mythology, Clarke’s Rama series, the Book of Revelations. I played the staples, Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Elder Scrolls. I attempted story after story, and dreamed of becoming the next Jordan or Bradbury or Eddings. And everything I wrote at the time was utter crap. But it was that utter crap that helped to awaken me to imagination and to the possibility of creating other worlds, or (if the dream was extra vivid) revealing other worlds. And always was the image of the rider in the back of my mind.

Sometime in 2004, I think, Edmund returned to me, like some prodigal son. I had my mind buried in the outline for a fantasy novel, replete with empires and a dark lord, and a mythology stretching thousands of years. Then Edmund stormed in. Kicked in the bar door with his shotgun drawn. Sauntered up to the bar. And ordered a double of Jack.

He was early, though.

The story involved a highway cutting across an arid landscape. A rider with amnesia, a motorcycle, lots of guns, and a list in his pocket. There were rumors of this thing called “the center,” and of “a war going on.” The list was full of names, many foreign sounding, all of whom he was planning on finding and killing.

I showed the start to a few friends, and the response was universal. Edmund did to them what he did for me. Piqued their interest. Who was he? Why the violence? And of course, the “stubble that gripped his face like the hand of death.” But after several failed attempts to make the hulking beast fly, I deemed it premature, and forgot about it again.

In the fall of 2005 I took an intro to art and design course while at Lansing Community College. We were given a project that involved designing a book cover for either our favorite story, or a novel that we had always dreamed of writing. And the rider reared his ugly head, and once again I was swept into the world of The Center. The cover I designed finally put a face to this road warrior of my dreams. The project got me an A. And I promptly forgot about it again.

I’d talk from time to time about this fabled “Center.” About this demon man who rides on thunder. My friends would tell me it was interesting, and they’d smile that “Nathan’s got another one of his crazy ideas” smiles, and I would ramble on, not oblivious, but just not caring.

Then in the spring of 2007, as I approached the end to a grueling year of classes I’d taken a brief trip from Chicago back to my home town of Haslett. It was one of those mad dash three day trips where I’d come home late Friday night, and have to leave again early on Sunday. I was sitting on the train and was struck with a serious need to write, not so much out of personal need, but scholastically. I closed the episode of Battlestar Galactica or Lost or Heroes, or whatever science fiction show I was watching, opened a blank word document and then sat. That was when the first line of the story came:

“The rider made a deal with the devil.”

When I was in tutoring over the summer I was asked what I had the most trouble with, and I responded (among other things) that finishing things was the most complicated task for me. I’m constantly producing story starts and ideas as efficiently as a fast food restaurant. But when it comes to closing things (at least well enough to sell) I find the broken cog in the machine.

It dawned on me the other day, as I was sitting in a Corner Bakery sipping my Dr. Pepper and bowl of chicken noodle soup, that what I have in the rider’s story is a big ending. The grand conclusion to everything.

Edmund, the rider, is meant to be a literal manifestation of the red horseman of the apocalypse. Students of that ever confusing book of Revelations will recognize the famous icons of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. The White horseman is often referred to as the conqueror (either Jesus or the Antichrist). The Red horseman of war. The Black horseman of pestilence/famine. And bringing up the rear is the Pale Horseman of death.

Following the “one who came before” is Edmund, a man of considerable strength and unfathomable anger who, after his family is killed, is hired by Lucifer to “head west” and carry a small wooden box whose contents are unknown.

While never coming out and declaring Edmund’s identity, the concept of him being the horseman of war is explored through his actions and inactions. Wherever he goes, Edmund sows chaos. There are rumors of “a war going on,” and at one point Edmund realizes that “yeah, it’s me.”

The book charts his ride west, and that of a cast players surrounding him. Many attempt to use him, aiming him like a fire hose in the direction of their desire. Many attempt to follow him, including a cult of chaos worshippers who become his de facto army only to realize that Edmund is just far too intense. Many attempt to befriend him or save him. All of it circles around this grand idea of a final end game.

The story begins with Edmund kissing his family goodbye and going east on a business venture. While there he gets news of his families death at the hands of his previous “Family.” In his rage he leaves the conference he is at only to find his room staked out by a member of this previous “Family.” Edmund kills him in self defense and then flees to a nearby park. There he is entreated by the Devil to go West. Edmund doesn’t accept, and the devil disappears, leaving Edmund to deal with two more henchmen of the “Family.” He is wounded and manages to make it out of the forest, finding a motorcycle with the Devil’s note on it saying “Go West.” Recognizing that he needs to flee the scene he takes the motorcycle and becomes the almost de facto servant of the devil. He stays the night in a hotel. The next day he wings south to Richmond, where the brother of the man he believes is responsible is staying. He takes a bittersweet revenge on the family, but is more shocked by the violence he has committed, and flees the scene. That night he crashes at a park just over the border in West Virginia, which brings us to the current state of the story.

And West the rider went.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A long overdue retrospective of California

I'm stuck at home because I live too far away to do anything. And I'm dreaming of California. I'm dreaming of last spring break. I'm dreaming of my own little manifest destiny. Of when I finally came to the Pacific and could proclaim "I have been coast to coast." I'm dreaming of the friends I met out there who mean more to me than most any of the friends I've met in this gray Midwestern city.

"When I get to California gonna write my name in the sand. Gonna lay this body down and watch the waves roll in."
- Beulah - "Gene Autry"

I went out to Los Angeles for two weeks during last Spring Break. I'd had, up till that point, a fairly long and exhausting, and hermit-like school year. I was facing a lot of the emotional shit of having broken up with my last girlfriend (of 2.5 years) and the culture shock of being in a brand new city, and not under my parents roof. It was stunning. And then, after a long Christmas Break spent watching a gross amount of movies with my buddy's now wife (they were still engaged at the time, and she had come back home from LA, while he couldn't afford to), she planted the seed of me visiting of Spring Break. I, desperate for any excuse whatsoever to get away from my roommates, jumped on it. Arranging my schedule, and taking a week off of school I managed to make a one week spring break into a 3 week excursion, two of which were spent in sunny SoCal.

The experience itself was something that I so desperately needed. It finally got me back out and loving living, and not being such a hermit again. For most of the two weeks I was there I spent it sleeping on the floor of my buddy's messy room surrounded by mounds of dirty clothes and a couch cushion as my only pillow. It was wonderful. I ran a few times a week. I played discgolf. I reveled in the sheer awesomeness of the west. Of the far shore. Of being in America, but being in a country so different than what I was used to. I visited Hollywood on multiple occasions (did the touristy thing one day, and wandered the far reaches of elsewhere the other times). I went to a church service, which was the first time I'd ever really felt truly moved by what the speaker was saying and the christian truths he was preaching (of love and the importance of sacrificing ourselves to others in all we do (being truly christ-like)). We went to the Getty museum where I spilled coffee on myself, to Santa Monica. We partied hard over St. Patty's day, and went to an opening night showing of 300 upon which we all stormed out wanting to fight the Persians and "dine in hell!!"

I returned recharged and tan. Feeling emotionally awakened once again. I've not been the same since. And now, with a night to myself because I'm a hermit in this city, and the friends that I did have plans with canceled, I'm dreaming of going West. Of reawakening that love and that joy again. Of being on the far side of the US in a land that is just as much a foreign country as London is to this icy Midwestern city.