Hey There Spring and News

It has been a wet, wet, moisty wet first season so far, but today the sun is out, and there is a seasonably light breeze blowing over the island. I’ve spent so much time focusing on my house, my yard, and my head that my writing has necessarily taken a back burner.

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For a health status updates, you should know that I now, after years of searching, have a diagnosis that isn’t one of exclusion. Functional Neurological Disorder which is, in equal parts, both a blessing to know and an epic gut-punch to know about. I guess my dreams of becoming an internationally renowned opera singer are on pause, unless or until stuttering with a growl and facial tics ever comes back in vogue.

For somewhat obvious reasons I’ve yet again missed an opportunity to submit to Clarion West, but I will remain sanguine about it and hold onto all the work I did for submission until next year. C’est la vie n’est pas? At least I didn’t have a stroke.

What I’m working on:

Currently, I’m two chapters into a short-ish story about engineered genetic specialization as a sort of currency set in the caldera of Mount Olympus. The title eludes me at the moment, but I’m having lots of fun with it. I’ve also forged on with a couple of novel-length outlines which include “Friend of Bees,” “Winter City Above the Clouds,” and re-writes to “Distance.”  I’ll pick all of these up when I’ve got the short done or when I’m stuck on the short story.

What I’m reading:

It’s been a while since I’ve done anything review-y, but I should probably pick that back up again.

I’ve just finished the complete audio set of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Series. Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate a copy of Sharpe’s Skirmish, but I have and have listened to all the other stories in that extensive series. Add to this, I’ve been entertained. It’s always a bit of a soap opera, but I guess I like that and Cornwell‘s action scenes are a study in the best way to write those sequences.

Also, I received a recommendation for “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell as a colonization space opera that’s going to make me think. I’m about 2/3rds of the way through the audible version of the story, and there have been a handful of reflective moments, but I’m not giving this work the whole can of beans.

Finally, after reading Tobias Buckell’s multi-nominated work “Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance” I decided to dust off my cover of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig. Both of these are worthy reads, but for different reasons. Although, it is my opinion that they’re improved in juxtaposition.

What’s next:

Bees, garage door, more painting and work on the van to name a few big projects. I’ll be headed over to Puget Sound Overland and Coffee at Mule Expedition Outfitters on the 28th of this month with my van to talk about overlanding and maybe find a full-length gear shelf for my roof. Also, I’m going to try to get to the coffee shop at least once a week for some writing time. Likely Wednesdays, but it will vary.

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Refactor

This morning has been productive. I did some work with the bees (corrected an issue with the installation I created … sorry girls), took Aral to school, spent some time at the coffee shop talking with friends, even made a decision regarding the usefulness of yet-another-EEG.

I think the most important takeaway from this morning are some rules I wrote for myself for my writing. Since last year’s river of rejection left me feeling all my attempts to write were worthless I’ve had a very hard time doing the necessary. Still, I’ve got ideas, whole worlds that are banging on the inside of my skull demanding to get out. But I haven’t done what I need to write any of this down and that’s a problem. I need to start writing again as a practice, but the rules I follow regarding this craft also necessarily must change. I can’t write and write only to feel like what I’ve written is a piss poor result for all that time.

New rules are written. They’re simple and the mean that my practice becomes a much more self-contained experience.

Rules to Live By:

  1. Stop seeking criticism from people with no skin IN YOUR GAME. The rule is to write what you want, what you know, and what you’ve planned as fast or slow as you can.
  2. Build the world for “Distance,” “Winter City,” and “Friend of Bees” and other stories methodically and from scratch. Share and talk about ideas only with people you trust.
  3. Begin each story by outlining its plot and understand how it fits into the timeline.
  4. Take your time, spend as much time reading/editing what you’ve written as you spend writing.
  5. Get good at editing your own work.
  6. Remember that publication is only a milestone along any story’s trajectory. It’s not a goal, nor is making money. Keep this in mind when it feels like you’re wasting your time. You’ve written books, and not a lot of people can say that.
  7. Love your stories.
  8. Stop caring so much about a world that doesn’t give two shits about you.

“When the situation is hopeless”

“When the situation is hopeless, there’s nothing to worry about.” Perhaps, no finer more farseeing words exited the pen of Edward Abbey. Were he clairvoyant, I’d like to imagine that he was looking into his crystal and seeing the entirety of 2017. Four nuclear powers pointing missiles at the US, a cartoonishly ignorant power monger at the top, and who could forget his herd of self-serving oligarchs eagerly sniffing each and every pile he drops in the hopes of coprophagic satisfaction.

For me personally, things haven’t been much better. This year I struggled with universal rejection, hardware failure, and a double helping of pneumonia. In fact, we’re ending the old year pretty much as we began it, mild secondary infection threatening to take over.

But, I ran across this bit of wisdom this morning. Chuck Wendig’s twitter thread is worthy of eye time, but the gist of it is contained neatly in this bit below.

So, without further adieu, let us proceed into the new year without self-doubt.

A Summary

Writing

Not a great year for me, not even a good year, but let’s examine the better bits. First, all of the rights for short stories save LUMP that I’ve written for Samuel Peralta’s Chronicles series have now reverted. LUMP will never revert, as it’s part of a Kindle Worlds series, so don’t hold your breath if you think I’ll release this one as a sci-fi snack. Just belly up to the bar and plonk down your hard earned cash ($3.99 USD). The rest are mine and given the opportunity and some retooling may become part of an anthology. So yeah, right!

Word count wise 2017 was a box of rocks. Not including this gem, I’m standing tall on 40k and change. I know I’m not counting a bunch of things I have written this year, namely all that stuff I banged out on my phone during my summer long laptop free period, but honestly, there’s not an easy way to count those so they’re lost. Let’s move along.

I have spent some quality time retooling. I hired Crystal Watanabe to look at “Ser Pan Comido” from Galaxy Chronicles. I’ve got her notes and have been thinking about what to do with this story.

Finally, I’ve let my writing discipline become soft. This is my own damn fault and furthermore, I’m the only one who can fix it. Instead of writing every morning, I’ve gone weeks at a time without sitting down for some wordsmithing. The longer you don’t exercise that part of your brain, the harder it becomes to exercise that part of your brain. I can attempt to solve this with equal parts better sleep hygiene and consistent scheduling.

Reading

This year I have actually read a metric crap-tonne, although you wouldn’t know it if you followed my statistics on Goodreads. Lots of magazines (High Country Times, Mother Jones, and of course plenty of running and trail nosh), plus a fair amount of books from the library. Right now I’m creeping through the complete works of Colin Fletcher and earlier this year I focused on Jack London. Add to that stack new releases by a bunch of SFF authors who I follow and that pile of paper is starting to look substantial. I guess I’ve needed an outlet.

Health

Ouch! This year has been a struggle. Admittedly, I haven’t made it much better for myself. The big reveal happened this autumn when we determined, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I am now allergic to wheat. While this has all but eliminated cookies from my diet, I am learning to live with it. My weight has stayed steady at about 190 lbs (86.5 kg to be exact), but relative to my goals going into the year that’s an unacceptable outcome. Okay, I can cut myself some slack here. Two pneumonia infections and a summer of smoke made breathing a challenge and that’s one of those necessary components of any exercise program. My diet isn’t … bad. It could be better, but there are plans.

Finances

Yep, I’m still making buttkiss for income. This year my expenditures will far exceed my income. I could take this as a reason to feel self-doubt, and in fact, I have felt this way, but today? I’m feeling like fuck that shit. On the positive side of things, I am rid of the Prius. The great soulless elephant of this modern age, an icon of my liberal guilt, has moved on to a new owner, someone I can hope commutes to and fro on a daily basis. I’m running bio-diesel and while the Delica isn’t nearly as fuel friendly it also won’t tie me to a tremendous debt. Next year I’ll be able to knock out much of what I owe to The Man while simultaneously going on trips into the Cascades and beyond. While I am still a grateful dependent, the bar to self-sufficiency had been lowered.

Family

My chief concern this year has been my ever-suffering wife Tess. Aral and Justin seem to be doing well, growing and exploring, seeking adventure, looking to the future, acting on civility and that means I’ve been a successful parent. But I worry that I’m not nearly as socko when it comes to supporting her. I need to sit down and think about what I can do to become a more effective partner. I know, I need to become healthier so that I can complete projects and general maintenance, but beyond that, I’m going to need to acknowledge my shortcomings.

What to Expect

Writing

  • I’m going to rewrite Fire Weather from scratch. Yep, the concept is sound, but the first draft is rough. Its edges are so sharp that every time I review the manuscript thinking I’m going to rework what’s there I come away bleeding. So, 70k words for the waste bin and do again
  • I’m going to apply to Clarion West. I’ve already assembled my application packet and the only thing preventing me from sending it away is that tiny bit of lingering self-doubt that it’s not good enough to get in. You throw the dice, you hope for the best
  • I’m going to write three new short stories in 2018. All three of these will be extensions of my GOAT character Murray Biyaal
  • I will investigate going back to school and potentially apply to University
  • I will hire an editor and develop a long-term relationship with the same
  • Write and publish five ultralight backpacking articles

Reading

  • Finish re-reading the Colin Fletcher bibliography
  • Re-read the Edward Abbey bibliography including the semi-autobiographical stuff
  • Re-read METAtropolis series of anthologies
  • Read Terry Tempts Williams’ longer works
  • Read the complete works of Wallace Stegner
  • Renew my commitment to the discipline of writing

Health

  • Two significant bicycle tours
  • Walk every day!
  • Backpack the Wonderland Trail
  • As much backpacking elsewhere as I can reasonably cram into my life, including overnighters.
  • Walk some more, much more!
  • Lose some weight
  • Continue not eating wheat despite feeling like an annoying cur each and every time I look at a menu

Family

  • Finish the projects which obscure my house
  • Figure out a way to take a vacation WITH JUST MY WIFE!
  • Find new and interesting ways to be involved in Aral and Justin’s educations
  • Play significantly less HOTS, use that surplus time to focus in on my family
  • Restart reading aloud at night ritual with my family
  • Disengage from social media that neither informs or improves me

Travel

  • Use my van for the reason I brought it to North American from Japan. Use it!
  • Rebuild my backpacking kit a skill set so that I can get out on the trail
  • Get permitted for Wonderland
  • Look at some PCT section hikes and both Lost and First Coast hikes
  • Fill up my Instagram account with lots of new images from all my travels

Okay, so I’ve raised the annual cairn. I’ve looked back down that path as it crossed a clearcut of a year as honestly as I dare. While not perfect, it’s a distance that’s been traversed. My head is clear and I’ve laid out where I intend to go next year. Whatever your plans for the new year, I wish you the best of luck.

Hallelujah

I can’t let this slide anymore, nope, not going to do it. Seriously, is the pantry of Xmas songs so picked over that we have no other choice? Since the season rolled over me like an elephant in bed and commercial establishments began playing themed music I’ve heard plenty of annoying stuff. Everything from that sparkly, jazz-hands rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite that gets more airtime from its grave than an extra crawling across a set on The Walking Dead to the creepier version of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” featuring Michael Buble, I’ve grudgingly endured them all. But if I know anything, the one place Leonard Cohen’s classic existential crisis “Hallelujah” does not belong, it’s in anyone’s festive Xmas mix.

Apparently, the A cappella band Pentatonix coopted the song sometime last year, and some flunky of an audio engineer saw fit to slap lyrics “All I’ve ever learned from love/ Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you” rendered large and in a major key across everyone’s generic, seasonably mandated musical consciousness. What’s next? Black Flag sings “Jingle Bells” or maybe the holiday remix of Drowning Pool’s “Bodies?”

Sony AUX-AX100 Installation

I should preface this by saying that it’s not completed yet, but I’ve mostly installed the new stereo head unit in my 1991 Mitsubishi Delica Chamonix. This whole thing turned into a bit of a wiring nightmare which is why it took me so darn long to finish up. Well, that and the fact that I decided to wait for installation of several elements until I get an intact windshield back in the van.

What Was I Dealing With?

So the van came from Japan with a karaoke machine and a TV installed. All of these electronics were vintage 1990’s junk that could only work in Japan (Japanese radio and TV stations transmit within a sperate frequency set) and I’m pretty certain that most of it was in questionable condition regardless. Consequently, my first task was to rip all that junk out of the dash. And, well pretty much the rest of the van too (the TV was wired to the back as well the microphone for the karaoke machine and a bunch of tuner equipment).

I pulled most of this wiring in about a day of diligently unscrewing headliner and lifting carpets. There are still a couple of things I’m going to need to return to once all this is complete. Primarily, the diesel-timer (a common device used for slowly cooling diesel engine after you cut the ignition) and a bunch of early 90’s lighting, but the entertainment harness, all the way to the fuse box, has been cleaned and uninsulated wire (of which there was much) has been replaced.

next came manual mapping of the harness. This took me a good long time and then was complicated by the fact that I reverse the order of the wiring on the stereo side. Oops! Eventually, I ended up double checking my map and then writing the pinouts on both sides of the harness with a permanent marker. My flawed wiring was immediately obvious then so when I rewired the stereo side everything began working.

What’s Left to Do?

The backup camera and the dash cam, on hard-wired power, need to be installed. Also, I’ve purchased a USB harness that will fit flush in the dash. That’s going to take some cutting to get it in there right, but shouldn’t be that difficult.

As soon as I get the van back I’m going to replace all the interior lighting with LED equivalents. I’ll need to completely take apart the dash this time to make this happen, but since most of the existing bulb died back in 1997, it’s a project long overdue.

I *may* spin up a second project from this to reprint the speedo template with KPH and MPH (right now it’s all metric). Given that I’ve gotten pretty good and doing the conversion math in my head it’s not necessary, but I also think I’d prefer a white background on the dash instead of the stock black.

Right now the van is with the auto body shop. Once they’re finished fixing the paint, roof, and windshield I’ll complete the electronics package installation.

Invigorating

I just spent an hour wandering around one of the many island beaches we have here on Vashon taking pictures and wallowing in the autumn weather. Thick gray clouds, chilly air and the umami scent of big leaf maple detritus decomposing. Consequently, I’ve got sand in my shoes and a song in my heart.

 

My New Old Van

If you follow me on Instagram you may have noticed a number of strange vehicle pictures creeping into my feed. If you know me at all you know that my superpowers have a weakness. My dumb ass just can’t stay away from old vans. Vanagans, microbuses, pretty much anything that looks like it was designed to roll over Martian sands. Well, I’ve gone and bought another one. This time the king-daddy of vans (IMHO) a 1991 Mitsubishi Delica L300 Chamonix Space Gear.

Mine began its life in Kyoto, Japan where, apparently, it spent most of its early years sitting in someone’s garage. It’s 26 years old and has appreciably very few miles on the odometer (81,000 when it arrived). Most systems in the vehicle resemble their state when new, although since I received it I’ve uncovered some minor issues.

Right now the biggest outstanding problem comes from it transportation. After months making its way to the Pacific North West, on the last day it was inbound, the driver of the truck it was loaded on drove it into a low-ish overhanging tree in Bellevue.

The good-ish news is that I’ll have it in the body shop next week to see how much we can unfunk.

Last Sunny Days for a While

Aral and Nathan make it to the border of Wilderness

Last Friday, because there wasn’t any school, I loaded up Aral and his good friend Nathan and meandered my way up into the Cascades. The goal was to get the boys and me out on a trail to enjoy some of the last dregs of sunshine before its gone. We ended up climbing up to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness border via the Pacific Crest Trail northbound from Snoqualmie Pass.

To be sure, this section of trail is a favorite of mine, so it’s no wonder when given an opportunity I gravitate toward it. In particular, I love the ascent up to the Kendall Katwalk because it traverses a narrow face of the mountain and goes through all the different biological regions. I should add that once you’re high enough you get out of the noise pollution of the I-90 corridor. Back in the day, I never had any trouble climbing up and out of civilization. It’s an escape route.

Friday both boys drug their feet from time to time. I’d mistakenly let them pack whatever they wanted along on the trail and so in addition to all the spare clothing and water they had in their bags they were both toating a hefty load of toys. They did this even after I warned them that the extra weight would bother them while we hiked.

Oh well. C’est la vie, non? I was able to coax them both along until we reached the Alpine Lakes Wilderness border sign. I ceremonially stepped into the wilderness and let the sunshine beat down on me for a moment. Ah, momentarily cleaner somehow. Then we traveled back down to the van in good spirits with a healthy load of vitamin-D coursing through our veins.

As I get my van together I’ll also work on building out my go-bag and kit so these trips will become much easier. For the first time, in a long time, I’m excited to get off-island and up into thin air.

Fire Weather

This is the view from the upper deck of my house, across the East Passage looking toward Mount Rainier right now. It’s cleared up considerably, can’t you tell?

In good weather, we’re usually able to look out over the rail and see the volcano some 40-ish miles away. Often, we can even see the Cascade Crest, situated well beyond the volcano, in the blue distance. So, when the air quality is this bad you know something is up.

What is up is a complex of fires burning in British Columbia. The whole area has been socked in since Monday varying amounts of smoke and ash. I’ve had a headache since about then, and my only relief is when that pain becomes punctuated with periodic lung sensitivity and shortness of breath. Who knew a 45-year-old man could develop asthma?

Well, apparently I did. Starting about two years ago I wrote the bones of a story called Fire Weather. It’s a spec-fic piece about an Air Quality Refugee who flees summer fire weather in Chi-town only to become entwined in a pirate fire-fighting effort working off the coast of … wait for it … British Columbia.

It’s got everything too — semi-autonomous wild fire-fighting robots, boats, heroes, anti-heroes, swine, disaster, and rescue — and there’s no reason (other than a keyboard failure) that I can’t find an editor and get this thing out there.

Look for it on Patreon first.