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.

Mid-Life, New Career

I’m only a couple of days away from my 43rd birthday. At this point, I plan on marking the affair with a key lime pie. That’s if I can find the actual limes and still have enough energy to make the confection post search. I have very fond memories of a key lime tree that grew behind a trailer I lived in near Vilano Beach. A slice of this stuff is like a very pleasant recollection of balmy mangroves and days wasted riding the outside break.

Facebook and every other app on my phone are reminding me of this impending date. Sometimes they’ll encourage me to look back on some of the memories I’ve made (and shared), more often they’re inviting me go buy some stuff.

It’s not that I’m opposed to buying stuff, stuff is made and needs to be bought. That’s how the Great Circle of Stuff works. And who doesn’t look forward to individualized birthday discounts on stuff? But this year the frenzy of stuff has me feeling pretty low. The reason is that, despite my rational mind, I’ve lived 43 years in a society that inculcates its members in the notion that the path to happiness is via a road paved with stuff.

And right now, as I attempt to reinvent myself as a writer, all that stuff is out of reach.

Today I will write a bunch more. I have edits in for Fire Weather too, so I need to dive back into that story line. I will call the tree guy again and hope to get his crew out to our place before the wind blows down that madrona. And as always, I have my little guy to keep me very, very busy. This morning, before school, we were walking around the house acting like villagers from Minecraft. “Hum.” The point is, I’ve got things to do. Plenty of ways to spend my time.

If I were a superstitious man I’d take this time to say that this birthday, above all others, feels something of an anticlimax. I peaked at 42 and have spent the last year slowly working my way down from the summit. This is a superstitious thought because it feels like I’m more than halfway through with it all, and we all know that I’m not in possession of a crystal ball. There’s no way to know the future, no way to figure out when my last day on Earth might be.

The thing is that, underneath all this age and the layers of key lime pie, I’m still that kid living in a single-wide trailer on Vilano beach. Which has me thinking about what it is I’m trying to do here. Why did I check out of a well-paying career job? Why did I burden my family with my aspirations? How come I gave up an ever growing pile of stuff? Why do I want to be a writer?

At conventions variations of this line of questioning get tossed around a lot. “What made you want to be a writer?” The answers that get tossed back are permutations on a theme; “I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Ever since I was a kid.” But this answer fails to tell the whole story.

I’ve spent decades of my life working for a living, doing the job before me, and not being a writer. As a kid I loved telling stories, I enjoyed reading them, and per the box of stuff my Mom just dropped off, apparently I loved writing them too. (Wow! I really could not spell. Not to save my life.)

Wanting has never been the problem. I’ve wanted to be a lot of things in my life and writer just ranked high among them. This question falls short because it doesn’t delve into the notion of what motived anyone, especially me, to pursue writing as métier. The truth that no one talks about is that there is a vast gap between I want and I am doing. Becoming a writer is a bowel-clenching jump from solid ground, over an endless void, to a balanced rock standing precariously in a sea of nothing.

I suspect that I made this leap because I didn’t know any better. Because I’m still that kid who loved to surf his kayak with sharks and jellyfish in rip tides. And despite the face I see looking back at me in the mirror, the image I cling to is that kid who picked limes from the tree out behind the trailer.


Incidentally, if you’d like to help me increase the size of my pile of stuff you should click on through to one of my books or short stories. I’m still an independent author so views are important to me. Buy something I’ve written and you’ve bought me part of a cup of coffee, important because I’ve mostly replaced my blood with bean juice. Leave me a review and you’ve given me a gift more precious than gold.

Off to the Editor

Oh, that’s a good feeling. No, strike that, it’s a great feeling! I just submitted a 7,500-word short story for an upcoming Future Chronicles anthology. Doomsday Chronicles isn’t due out until February 2016, but my story is very done. I’m very satisfied with the work as well.

This piece should cement my SFWA membership, if not this year, then early next year. Added to this In Goat I’ve managed to turn out an entertaining, compelling, topical tale I’m certain will make readers think. So, yeah, I’m congratulating myself just a little bit. I think this may be an overlooked part of writing for a living that more authors need to take in hand. Celebrate your accomplishments people.

“What’s next?” you ask. I’m contributing to another anthology — this time steampunk’s Drifting Isles — and I’ve already begun this one. It’s due in November so I’ve got time and since this tale is outlined and just needs words I’m going to have more time to work on other things concurrently. So I’m left wondering where I should focus.

The top contenders are two novel-length projects and a novella length speculative fiction piece. Counterfeit Horizon is something like 70,000 words (currently) of very rough work. Part of my reluctance in finishing this story — that I began back in 2013 — is the sheer volume of editing that it’s going to take. Counterfeit was my first attempt at a novel length anything, and consequently it’s just riddled with mistakes and plot holes. One strategy I’ve been contemplating is to junk the old manuscript and just re-write the story using the characters, settings and plot I’ve already developed. I wrote the bulk of Counterfeit Horizon during NaNoWriMo, so I know I could knock this out comfortably in a short space of time.

Second is the novella project. Fire Weather is almost there now; a short sprint could have this piece ready for publication by late winter. With the incredible fire season, we’ve seen this summer the story is topical. Right now my big problem is that the tension in the tale tends to fall off. There are interpersonal battles, health issues, and of course, the fireline fight, but when I read my work I’m left wanting more. This story needs some Spike, and my feeling is that I don’t know how much to add. I suppose I can add spice in small amounts, reworking by chapter and scene, until I think it’s got the right flavor. Now that I write this out, this begins to appeal to me.

The final candidate is Winter City Above the Clouds. The first two chapters have been written, and I’ve spent some time this summer working on the outline for this science fiction epic. This project is daunting. And what I mean by that is that right now, I’m looking at what I want to do with it, and I’m not entirely sure I have the skills necessary to reach that lofty goal. I’ll be making everything up, and this tale requires a rich, expansive cultural backdrop just to make the stage believable.

Of these projects, Winter City is where I’d like to be spending my time, it’s where I go to get lost in my own imagination right now. I based my first Future Chronicles contribution Ser Pan Comido in the universe I’ve been developing for Winter City. So it has that element of guilty pleasure about it. I just don’t want that to interfere with the final quality of the piece. Better, I don’t want to find myself back in the same situation I’m in with Counterfeit Horizon.

Conclusion, it’s sometimes very easy to be your own boss and other times it approaches impossible to be at the helm. Option paralysis is real.