Monsoon Season

I was not prepared for monsoon season in Arizona. I’m not built to withstand hot weather, especially when it is also damp and muggy and windy. In Sacramento, where the heat is appropriately dry, you sweat and your sweat evaporates and cools you, doing what sweat is supposed to do. But during a monsoon, nothing wicks away the sweat. It sticks to you and makes you feel even hotter.

I was in Arizona for my cousin B’s memorial. B had passed away the previous week after a decades-long bout with a mitochondrial disorder called Leigh’s Syndrome. I hadn’t seen her over fifteen years, though I’d talked with her on the phone sometimes, and always sent her a gift for her birthday (a stuffed animal, usually, or a shirt with a Disney character or boy band depicted on it). But it was a hassle to get out to Arizona where she lived with my aunt and uncle, so I never got around to it.

Even though she was a week gone, I hadn’t really experienced my own moment of grief until the ride from my family’s hotel to my aunt’s and uncle’s house. I had thought to myself that I was looking forward to seeing family I hadn’t seen in over a decade. I thought to myself, I was really looking forward to seeing B, who I knew would have a big smile and hug for me. And that’s when I really had my “Oh shit, she’s gone” moment, and I really knew that I would never see her again.

The music director of the Presbyterian church where the memorial service was held chose “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” as the prelude, which brought a smile to everyone’s face. As the remembrances went on, I got a picture of my cousin as a person who, despite her challenges, was loving and kind and outspoken and occasionally grumpy, but who gave wonderful hugs and usually had a smile on her face. She loved the Care Bears, she loved boy bands, she loved her menagerie of stuffed animals (who each had their own name and their own unique personality, and who all sometimes got into trouble). She loved her parents. She loved her cat, Maggie, who loved her in return.

I could have spoken during the memorial, could have added my own remembrance, but I didn’t. I didn’t trust my voice to stay steady. A lump was forming in my throat. I wanted to weep; I wasn’t sad for B, but for those who loved her. I was sad for her mother, who wouldn’t have her company anymore. I was especially sad for Maggie, who would never again get to cuddle with B, and who wouldn’t understand why (cats, I am convinced, feel grief and miss the people they choose to give their love to).

I Googled Leigh Syndrome when I got back to my hotel room. I learned that it’s also called “subacute necrotizing encephalomyelopathy”, which sounds unpleasant. And it is. The symptoms listed in the Wikipedia article aren’t exactly like the ones that B seemed to experience, but, then, disease descriptions are often like that. Every individual experiences a disease in their own unique way.

Just like grief.

It was in the hotel room that monsoon season really hit, and I sat on the bed and cried.

The Writing Life

This is just a brief post. Its purpose is to let you know what I’m working on, writing-wise, right now, so that you can help keep me accountable. It’s also meant to help me clarify exactly what I’m working on and my self-imposed deadlines. So here goes.

NovelsPadma. I plan on finishing up the first draft by September so that I can throw it at some beta and sensitivity readers.

Stories:

  • “The B.I.M.” This is the story I promised Jennifer for her birthday. I was planning on having it finished by her birthday, which was May 30, but I missed that deadline. So now I’m planning on finishing it by the 15th of June.
  • “A Pine Romance”. I need to make some fundamental changes to this one to clarify the main character’s emotional journey. No problem, right? Deadline is the end of July, so I can toss it around to various markets.

And that’s it!


A wee administrative note: This is the very last post that I will be cross-posting to LiveJournal. The Russian owners of that site are well within their rights to set the Terms and Conditions to whatever they want, but their homophobic stance convinces me that I just can’t anymore. I’m planning on setting up a DreamWidth account, so you’ll be able to follow me there.

 

I Wrote a Mission Statement!

I wrote a mission statement for my fiction writing. And here it is:

Richard writes fiction in which ordinary people are thrown into extraordinary circumstances in order to witness the results. From horror to comedy, his stories and novels seek to entertain, inspire, enlighten, and amuse.

Of course,  as a creative person, I’m supposed to eschew mission statements at every possible opportunity. Too corporate. Too business. Too stifling. Meaningless. Etc.

And yes, it’s true that a poorly-written mission statement can be restrictive and stifling, let alone meaningless and pointless. But I think this is a pretty good one. It sits in front of me and makes me think about the kind of writing I want to do, and reflects the writing I have done so far. I also think it will help me write better fiction.

And I’m not the only writer who’s created a wee mission statement for themselves. Some writers come up with a mission statement for every short story and novel that they write. That seems a bit excessive to me, but if it works for them, then I endorse it.

Thoughts? Feedback? All are welcome.


My idea to write a fiction writing mission statement came about primarily because I’ve been trying to delve into writing non-fiction, particularly science writing, and not having much luck doing so. I’ve been wanting to write articles and stories (and even books!) that are interesting, informative, culturally-relevant, and so on, without being pretentious or  insulting. I want them to be engaging and entertaining and accessible and so on. It seems to me that science is under attack under the current administration, and effective science communication can be a form of resistance.

I figured a mission statement would help me focus, but writing one has been difficult. This is all I what I have so far. It’s inelegant and uninspiring:

I write science stories and articles which are accessible, engaging, and entertaining, which incorporate cultural relevance and history and art and philosophy, as well as respect for the readers’ intelligence. The point is not to disparage or insult misstatements and mistaken ideas, but to engage and enlighten.

I have a phone call this weekend with someone who might be able to help me focus and get me started on this route.


I know that neither of these are “true” mission statements, because they weren’t hashed out by a committee with no connection to the people it affects the most, and I didn’t fight with myself over the font and presentation for most of the long meeting I held writing them.

But… I think they just might help. If not, I’ll just toss ’em.

Things I’m Putting Into My Head

I miss college. For the few who don’t know, I went to UC Davis, where I studied Philosophy. Now, to get your degree in Philosophy, you need to get — at least at the time that I graduated — 80 units total of Philosophy courses. You needed a minimum of 124 units to graduate from the University. And the University sort of forced you to graduate if you accumulated more than 225 units.

I graduated with 96 units in Philosophy, and 224.5 units altogether. This means that the majority of the classes I took in college were all over the board: religious studies, sociology, psychology, oceanography, botany, chemistry, and so on. Really, I had no idea what I was doing. I would just go through the catalog each quarter and sign up for any course that looked interesting with no rhyme or reason, just curiosity. I had no plan, just overall curiosity. Was that a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know, but I think that curiosity, in general, is a good quality to have.

But I do miss learning in some sort of structured environment. So I’ve signed up for some online courses. The courses I’m taking now are:

  1. Getting and Cleaning Data, course three of the Data Science Specialization at Coursera. Why am I taking a Data Science specialization at Coursera? I’m not entirely sure. I’m enjoying it, but I’m finding it a bit overwhelming. The last course focused on the R programming language, which is used to analyze data and statistical information. Statistics was a hard course for me in college.
  2. Question Reality! Science, Philosophy and the Search for Meaning. This is a fascinating class. A lot of the material is stuff that I already know, having taken classes in it in college or just through reading widely in a bunch of different areas, but I’m still learning. I’m enjoying this class. I’m a week behind, so this week I’m trying to catch up, but other than that I’m having fun. I will say, though, that the interface at EdX is clunky and not very easy to use.
  3. Finally, I’m brushing up my Spanish skills using Duolingo. I took Spanish for three years during high school with a great teacher, but since I didn’t use it very much, I got rusty. I would try to use my Spanish from time to time, but never with much luck (one Spanish speaker I was trying to talk to asked me, in English, “What are you trying to say?”). But Duolingo is making me feel a bit more confident in my skill.

That’s a lot to deal with, especially considering that I’m working full-time and also writing regularly. I’m keeping track of it all and also what I’m doing with a combination of Remember the Milk and Habitica. The former keeps me organized, the latter keeps me on track. I am by no means a power user of either tool, but I’m getting the hang of them. Slowly but surely.

Slowly. But. Surely.

On another note, I’ve set myself a schedule of posting to this blog at least once a week. I know I’ve said that before, but this time I really mean it. I’ve even put it down on my Remember the Milk task manager.

I Suppose I Ought to Blog

I have a blog, theoretically, and once in awhile I post to it. I’m going to make a goal of posting at least once a week, but who knows how long that will last. Who knows indeed. I have Thoughts and Things to share, some of which might be of interest to both of my regular readers.

So here we go.

Politics.

  1. The election of Donald Trump as President was unfortunate at best. I don’t think it will end up being apocalyptic for the world at large, by which I mean I doubt we’ll see nuclear war. But for many marginalized groups, things are already getting bad. As as middle-aged, middle class, white, Christian, cis-hetero male, I probably have the least to lose, but I firmly believe that what harms one population in the US harms us all.

Writing.

  1. For NaNoWriMo, I wrote Padma, which I’d had in the planning stages for several years, ever since I wrote a strange little story called “The Flower” back in 2005. This story was called “very sexist” by one editor, but “charmingly engaging” by another. I hope that the novel works out well. We’ll see what happens to the novel version.
  2. My novella The Winds of Patwin County is still for sale, in both Kindle and paperback editions. See the link to the left.
  3. I have a silly little short story called “Tumbleweeds”, which has been called the definitive entry in the carnivorous plant genre by at least one friend of mine, and which at least one professional writer suggested ought to be submitted to the Writers of the Future contest. I’m not thoroughly satisfied with this story. It needs a new ending. But once I have that ending written, I have some markets in mind that I want to send it to.
  4. My next novel-length project will be something called And the Devil will Drag You Under, which I’ve mentioned before. The outline requires a good rewrite, since I’ve decided to switch the point of view character and make some other serious changes to it.

Health.

  1. Asthma. I underwent all three Bronchial Thermoplasty treatments, and my breathing has significantly improved. Now if only the insurance people would get their act together and decide how much I owe for that.
  2. Weight Loss. I went back up over 300 pounds at one point, but then I joined Weight Watchers (since the weight loss plan I tried to make up for myself wasn’t working), so I’ve lost about ten of those pounds. You want them? I’m not taking them back.

Kobolds.

  1. My mental state has been good of late. The Kobolds of Depression haven’t been bothering me much, though every now and then they send out a scout party.

And that’s all I got for now. Enjoy your day. And if you get a chance, listen to some Tom Waits.

A Wee Update, and A Question For You

Since I posted on the 29th, where I weighed in at over 300 pounds, I’ve lost six. I’ve also undergone the first of three Bronchial Thermoplasty procedures. Five days on, I’m still wheezing and short of breath, although the physician who performed the procedure tells me I’m actually doing quite well. It’s still a chore to walk around the block, but each day I’m getting better at it. Saturday, I was wheezing and gasping for breath and desperately reaching for my nebulizer after my walk; today I was pretty good afterwards, and while I still used my nebulizer, I was not gasping. Keep this up, I tell myself.

I’ll talk more about the procedure in my next blog post. It was pretty interesting, I think.


On Twitter tonight, I asked the following question:

It’s only fair that I start, I suppose. So here are some of my answers:

Things I Know:

  • How to write compelling fiction;
  • Writing craft and method;
  • How to program in PHP;
  • Linux; and
  • How to create and maintain a website.

Things I Wish I Knew Better:

  • The natural world around us;
  • How to write compelling narrative non-fiction;
  • How to brew beer;
  • How to program in other languages besides PHP; and
  • Hiking, backpacking, and engaging with the natural world.

Pretty decent, though short, lists, I think. What about you?

It’s a-comin’

It’s getting close to that time of year. Not Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any of those other holidays (though you should definitely remember my birthday on December 31). No, I’m talking about National Novel Writing Month! It happens in November, when people who are insane enough sign up to write a complete novel of at least 50,000 words in a single month. I’m participating for the fifteenth time (good Lord!); I did it for the first time in 2001, skipped 2002 because I was traveling a lot for work, and have done it every year since. And every year I’ve hit that 50,000 word goal. And, as I have done every year since 2007, I’ll be one of two Municipal Liaisons in the Sacramento area. This means that it’s up to me and my friend Katster to coordinate participants, arrange meetups and parties, and what-not.

nanowrimo_2016_webbadge_municipalliaison

Usually this is the part where I beg for money to send me to the Night of Writing Dangerously, but I’ve decided not to go this year. It’s fun, but I’ve done it for five years now, and now someone else can have the fun.

Anyway. This year I plan on writing a total of 60,000 words instead of just 50,000. That means a minimum of 2,000 words per day of November. It’ll be tricky, what with visiting family over Thanksgiving and all, but I’m sure I’ll make it work.

The novel I’ll be writing is called And the Devil Will Drag You Under. I got the title from the song “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” from the musical Guys & Dolls. My novel has nothing to do with the musical, or the song, really. I just liked the title. It also has nothing to do with the Jack L. Chalker novel of the same name. And you can’t copyright a novel title, so I’m golden.

Usually I put my novel online as I’m writing it, but I won’t be doing that this time around. I’m too excited about the novel and will hopefully one day clean it up and send it out into the world to be published, and putting it online counts as a form of publication, which might get in the way of my chances to sell first publication rights to anyone. So I won’t be doing that this year.

Here, enjoy the song from Guys & Dolls. It’s a fun song, even if, thematically, it has nothing (or at least, very little) to do with my novel.