Today, as a writer views it.

The new plant in my office brought a few bugs in with it. I’ve been sitting
here smashing the little dudes for three days. It’s always dark in here, so I’m
hoping the strip of LEDs is enough for the plant, but not enough for the bugs.
Either that or I’ll smash them all at some point.

That’s what I do, come in to do whatever it is I do, taking breaks to smash
bugs. While taking those breaks, my mind tends to wander towards writing, which
is what I’d really like to be doing, day in day out. I’d like some day to be
sitting at home, with a dog and my wife, neither of us working, me writing.
Maybe that day comes when I turn a thousand years old. Maybe it never comes.

Most of my posts are about content. My novels that are in the works, my poetry
collections that I’m throwing together, that stuff makes it in. I want to get
back to writing these about the stuff surrounding that. Every aspect of my life
is rolled into my writing. The cheap watch I’m wearing today that looks nice,
but ticks too loud, that’ll make it in somewhere. I promise you’ll see
something about the bugs I’ve been smashing in a piece other than this.

But, really, I sit back and think about the long haul, the big picture. My
first novel was published at twenty-nine. I’m hoping to have one out a year for
a long time. That’s about twenty. If I keep going into my fifties, who knows
what will happen? Day-dreaming about success sometimes, I imagine that slows
down the whole process. Readings, traveling, talks, that all takes up time. I’m
pretty sure that’s not what I want out of this. I’m pretty sure all I want to
do is create art.

I’m glad that art is writing because it makes more sense to me than other forms
at the moment. My ears are shot, so I haven’t made any type of music in years.
I do still enjoy playing guitar while my wife sings. It sounds like this post
is becoming retrospective, when really it’s supposed to be me looking at the
future. Like the gorillas, though, the future is behind me. I’m walking
backwards. A few months ago, I had everything figured out. The further I get
from that point in time, the more nervous I am about continuing this path.

What I’ve learned about myself this year, is that all I really want is for
Katie and I to have a garden, and to be able to lay down without constant
ringing in my ears. Writing is important to me, and I enjoy it more than a lot
of the things I’ve done in the past. What’s really important to me is creating
art, but that I’ve known for years. I’ll always draw my stupid circles and
write poems. Writing novels is something I’m not sure I’ll always do, since I
think you need a really good idea to write a novel. Those things are running
out. I’m squishing them like I smash these bugs. One day, I hope the ideas run
out, too, because then I know I did everything I possibly could to say
everything my mind could possibly say.

The new plant in my office brought a few bugs in with it. I’ve been sitting
here smashing the little dudes for three days. It’s always dark in here, so I’m
hoping the strip of LEDs is enough for the plant, but not enough for the bugs.
Either that or I’ll smash them all at some point.

That’s what I do, come in to do whatever it is I do, taking breaks to smash
bugs. While taking those breaks, my mind tends to wander towards writing, which
is what I’d really like to be doing, day in day out. I’d like some day to be
sitting at home, with a dog and my wife, neither of us working, me writing.
Maybe that day comes when I turn a thousand years old. Maybe it never comes.

Most of my posts are about content. My novels that are in the works, my poetry
collections that I’m throwing together, that stuff makes it in. I want to get
back to writing these about the stuff surrounding that. Every aspect of my life
is rolled into my writing. The cheap watch I’m wearing today that looks nice,
but ticks too loud, that’ll make it in somewhere. I promise you’ll see
something about the bugs I’ve been smashing in a piece other than this.

But, really, I sit back and think about the long haul, the big picture. My
first novel was published at twenty-nine. I’m hoping to have one out a year for
a long time. That’s about twenty. If I keep going into my fifties, who knows
what will happen? Day-dreaming about success sometimes, I imagine that slows
down the whole process. Readings, traveling, talks, that all takes up time. I’m
pretty sure that’s not what I want out of this. I’m pretty sure all I want to
do is create art.

I’m glad that art is writing because it makes more sense to me than other forms
at the moment. My ears are shot, so I haven’t made any type of music in years.
I do still enjoy playing guitar while my wife sings. It sounds like this post
is becoming retrospective, when really it’s supposed to be me looking at the
future. Like the gorillas, though, the future is behind me. I’m walking
backwards. A few months ago, I had everything figured out. The further I get
from that point in time, the more nervous I am about continuing this path.

What I’ve learned about myself this year, is that all I really want is for
Katie and I to have a garden, and to be able to lay down without constant
ringing in my ears. Writing is important to me, and I enjoy it more than a lot
of the things I’ve done in the past. What’s really important to me is creating
art, but that I’ve known for years. I’ll always draw my stupid circles and
write poems. Writing novels is something I’m not sure I’ll always do, since I
think you need a really good idea to write a novel. Those things are running
out. I’m squishing them like I smash these bugs. One day, I hope the ideas run
out, too, because then I know I did everything I possibly could to say
everything my mind could possibly say.

That’s not where I left it…. is it?

Let’s say you’ve got part of a novel’s first draft done. Four chapters knocked out. Something happens and you decide to stop working that project for a bit. Maybe a glitch in the matrix makes you forget about it for six months, who knows?

So, you finally sit down at your computer, ready to attack that first draft again. This time, though, it seems kind of hokey. Lot’s of cheese wiz going on. There are things in your sentences that shouldn’t have ever been written. Some are too long, some are simply atrocious. Time for a complete rewrite.

You whip out the outline and find just what you expected, 100% detail on every event that will ever happen, cover to cover.

That’s a pretty good scenario. You did a lot of the work ahead of time, so now you just have to tap on the keyboard for a few dozen hours until the whole novel is fleshed out. It shouldn’t really take much thinking, so you get started. All of the sudden, you find yourself at a misty, dark crossroads.

It would be cool if this funny thing happened to Sarah instead of Walter. No big deal, you change it up a bit. Wait… now you want a narrator. Why a narrator? I don’t know, it’s what you’re feeling. You’re the boss.

Alright, so now you’ve got Walter in a different place, a narrator, and things keep feeling off. Not bad, but weird. Shit, now your story ended up in a totally different place than the outline for act three, uh… outlines. Oh, and wait, what happens to Sarah now?

Now we’re in a pickle.

Big projects like novels are kind of difficult in this aspect. My mind changes all the time when I’m working on one. Honestly, I’d say it’s best to scrap the outline at this point, using it more as a reference for what you originally wanted to happen in the book. There’s no need to stick to it exactly. When I dug myself into this situation on the project I’m writing now, I did panic a little bit. It wasn’t as bad as the first go around, but it did look like it would be that bad for a couple minutes.

I don’t know what your work flow looks like, but I think mine looks extremely chaotic at first, though there’s rhyme and reason to it in the end. At this point, I’m comfortable running through my first draft start to finish. I don’t jump around much anymore, but I also don’t have much of an outline, if any. One of the benefits of that is that freedom to roam where I see fit as I hash out the story. Lot’s of people like having an outline, and that’s fine.

So what did I do when I deviated from the paved road? Took everything that I’d previously written, things I’d use and things that should never see the light of day, pasted them into the same file as my outline, and started using that as a reference. I knew my beginning, climax, and ending needed to stay the same. There were other things that I wanted to keep in the book, deaths and other major life changes, but those things didn’t really have to happen in the order I had them in. At one point in the story, a character dies and another decides to leave town for a few days. Originally, it was a different characters death that triggered the desire to leave. The scenes moved from chapter twelve to chapter six. It still worked overall, no reason to panic, and I think the
pacing of the story is actually a bit better now.

That’s the only thing I think really needs to be considered when plot points move. Does the story make sense? That means things still happen in order, and still fit well between other events. Other than that, you’re golden. No one’s going to know you intended Bob’s decapitation to take place in chapter three before you rewrote it into nine. If you read it and it sounds good, bam, you’re done.

This is really just something I’ve been thinking about over the past few days. I’ve never had to approach one of my partially complete works after a considerable break before. It’s going well this time, which is nice, but I have had to question what I thought was the norm about my work flow. Really, I think that’s all this is. It’s me reflecting on how I work on projects of novel size. Hopefully, this introspection will prepare me for larger works, and help me make my work more dense. Either way, I hope reading this is inspiring in some way. If you haven’t thought about if before, then cool. I’m going to go
outside. There’s thunder, and I’ve got to go for a drive.

Happy writing!

 

What I’ve Learned About Writing

As I pass the halfway point in year two of taking writing seriously, I’m able to look back and see all of the wonderful lessons I’ve learned. It’s really something amazing that I can compile a good sized list of these things after such a short time. Since I am able to put together a list, I figure it would be best to share it, too. Maybe in another two years I’ll have even more to add to it. Without further adieu, here’s what you’re looking for:

1. Just write.

I’ve learned more about writing as a whole from just sitting down and doing it than I did from any video, story, or book. Sure, YouTube has great inspiration and a lot of really good interviews, but no one can tell you about your voice. No blog is going to be able to tell you how much time your mind will be able to dedicate to working on your story. Am I good at writing longer, elaborate sentences, or short ones that get to the point? Do I like to make my characters suffer, or do I prefer writing them as witnesses to suffering.

There are so many things that can’t be covered in videos and blogs that you will only learn by writing, it’s not worth it spending a ton of time on “research”. That said, reading as many books as possible has been a huge help in me finding my voice and style.

2. Finish it.

Finish the thought. Finish the page. Finish the chapter. Finish the book. Whatever it is, forget about the unrealistic dialogue and back-and-forth time line. If you think you’re going to edit while you’re writing a project, you’re never going to finish the project. Accept that your first draft will be horrible and write until you get to the end.

While working towards the end goal, I have learned to pay attention to the bigger picture. Who cares what color the curtains are right now? What matters is that all major plot points are covered. You need a beginning, and end, and the parts that put those together to make sense. This broader frame of mind helped me get to the point where I felt comfortable jumping around between parts in a novel sized project.

The reason I say that is jumping around has brought me major suffering in the past. The first project I wanted to work on is actually what I’m finishing up right now. After drafting up a crazy detailed outline, I figured I could write whatever section I felt like working on at the time. Once I finished everything I thought was interesting, I’d put the pieces together.

Well, that resulted in confusion, mass hysteria, and a complete rewrite. At this point, I think I actually used maybe 15 pages of the original material. Why was jumping around such a problem for me? I’d never completed a project of that magnitude before. The concept of what the completed product would look like was totally foreign to me. Sure, I’d read books of all sizes before, but not my own. Not this story.

Now, with two completed first drafts under my belt, returning to this one has been a billion times easier. It’s still work, I still have to make myself sit down and write, but I’m nowhere near as overwhelmed as I was on the first attempt.

3. Let things stew.

One of the first things I read somewhere in a writing tips list was Stephen King saying something like “Good ideas don’t need to be written down because they’ll stick in your head”. That’s definitely not the exact quote, but that’s what I needed to remember. While you’re waiting on the next big idea to come to you, or maybe you can’t decide which way an event should play out, work on a short story of some kind. Keep writing, but let bigger ideas sit in the back of your head. Here’s how my first year and a half have went:

One day while writing poetry, the idea for novel one popped into my head.
Power through fist novel’s outline in a few days.
Start first chapter. Quickly become overwhelmed, which I misperceive as bored.
Have the idea for novel two. Start thinking about that plot, working on one.
Jump around until I’ve become scared and confused. Don’t know where I am.
Set that project aside and write a much leaner outline for novel two.
With room to play, I enjoy writing novel two from start to finish.
Spend mid-March to Oct 31 completing first draft of novel two.
Somewhere in here I had the idea for novel three.
Nov 1 I start novel three with nothing but a single sentence as an outline.
Dec 1 novel three is done. Nanowrimo was horrible, I never wanted to repeat it.

Here I took a few months off to forget the hell that was Nanowrimo.
Mid-March, I’m back in the game. I open up novel one and start reading.
Decide it’s trash, rewrite starting at the first word.
Five chapters in, my editor hands me her edits for novel two.
I decide to finish novel one, but I have the idea for novel four.
One day, I wrote out a few notes and a small outline for four, just in case.

Now it’s August, I’ve got a draft of novel two back from my editor, 41k words into the rewrite of novel one, and I’ve been thinking about nothing other than the plot for novel four for months. That’s alright, because I’m going to finish novel one’s rewrite by the end of the month (hopefully), then edit two. November first, I’m starting Nanowrimo again, for some fucked up reason, and I’ll be shooting to complete 50k minimum of novel four.

This screwed up, mish-mash timeline gave me time to think about so much! The complex plot of novel one sat in my mind for so long that my rewrite is ten times better than the first draft. Novel four, a story that I’m really looking forward to writing, will have been stewing for almost a year by the time November first comes around. That stew has been distracting me from the edits I need to make on novel two, so now I get to read it with fresh eyes when I finally get to it. During all this time, I’ve been writing, but I’ve also had at least three books in my head. If something’s been lost in the mix, it probably wasn’t worth remembering. It especially wouldn’t have been worth writing down. Had I been able to start all of these projects when I thought of them, they wouldn’t be as mature as they’re going to turn out. I can tell that just because time has passed. Time that I’ve spent writing.

4. Ignore feedback.

I’ve been told that I need to stop writing poetry and/or novels. I’ve been told my editing sucks, I should find a different editor, that I need to read everything I write out loud before considering it done. Some of this is from strangers, some of it is from friends. Initially, sure, I’m butt hurt and think maybe those people are right. To be fair, I did try to see things from their point of view and give those people the benefit of the doubt. Then I realized this:

I write for myself, and maybe for you, but not for those people.

It’s been a long time since I started writing. Before that, I was making music. I’ve dabbled in drawing. What I’m trying to say, is that I’ve been an artist my entire life. You learn pretty quickly that not everyone is going to enjoy your art. Maybe it’s the endeavor into the unknown that threw me off this time, but I definitely duped myself. My friends like Vonnegut, and so do I, so they’ll like my stories, I said to myself. I love Bukowski, and it shows in my poetry, so people will love that. WRONG!

You know what, though? Feedback is stupid. There’s an art to giving it, and an art to receiving it, and at this point I’m not going to be bothered with learning either. I’m still learning to write. My work probably does suck. It will suck to some people even when it’s good, though. What’s the big deal if it sucks? I just like to write, pay for a cover to be done, and put a book up for sale. Besides, as they say, you’re writing for one person. That one person may not have found your work, yet.

5. The tools make (almost) no difference.

Every once in a while on r/writing, the question pops up. What program do you
write in?

People love to drop the name of their current favorite software into the comments, like it’s going to blow someone’s mind. Everyone’s got an opinion, etc. etc.

Here’s the skinny. George R. R. Martin writes on an incredibly old computer that can’t even connect to the internet. You think he’s using Word 2016? Maybe have a program to write in and a program to edit. Write as much as you can before you invest money, so you can properly evaluate whatever application it is you think you need. For example, when I was streaming on Twitch, I wrote my short stories in SonicPi. That’s a music coding program, but it’s easily the most aesthetically pleasing program that you can put letters into. I made some really good progress using it. Wouldn’t trade that adventure in writing for anything. SonicPi isn’t going to cut it as a serious text editor, sure, but it’s an example of bending tools to work for you. Writing isn’t a nail and Scrivener isn’t a hammer. If your program does everything you need, awesome. If not, awesome. The process is more about flexing your brain until you get that copy back from your editor and are pushing on publishing on kindle or paper.

I will say that I like having an editor like Hemingway. My sentences (in my novels and stories) tend to be shorter. Editing a chapter at a time in Hemingway really helps me maintain the style I’ve come to enjoy building my stories in. I promise you that your combination of tools will be totally different than 99% of those people on whatever forum. Don’t miss the forest for the trees.

So that’s it. That’s all I can think of right now. Some of this may end up meaning a lot to you, some may blow away on the wind. Like I said before, nothing is going to help you like pure, plain old writing. The rest is more supplemental, and really just what I learned from sitting down to do the work. Whatever this brain dump may turn out to be in the end, to you, or to me, I hope it’s helpful.

Keep an eye out for my next poetry book “In Your Gourd, Off the Dime” coming out this fall. After that, sometime towards the beginning of 2019, will be my second novel, “This Close to Sitting Ducks”. After that, there’s way more to come, so thanks for reading, and stay tuned!

Here’s my first novel:

Like what you read? Leave a comment below!

New Poetry

I’ve got a poetry book that’s just about ready for release. It’ll be out before my second novel, sometime this Fall, probably. This next collection is called “In your Gourd, Off the Dime” and is inspired by the latest works of David Lynch, among other things. It’s meant to be a little more obtuse and experimental than my last collections. Here’s a handful of stuff from it. Enjoy!

escort

sometimes duty calls for you to escort
the bare elephant man through the streets
to tell him he looks like the rest of us
pat him on the back when he makes a wise purchase
despite the draw of rebellion
one must perform things considered to be duties
to hold together the rest of us
elephant men
to keep us thinking we’re healthy and alright
looking in the mirror to see gritty bone
protruding from your lopsided forehead
must not turn your gut
or alter your ability
we must take our turn
know how to recognize what must be done
for fate and fortuna constantly try to trick
all
the elephant folk

lamp

i climbed
out of my lamp
people were
nicer
than I expected
so was
the weather
it could
trick you
into thinking
it’s safe
that it’s safe
to kiss her
even though
there’s a
ruby red
cold sore
get back
in the lamp

smile

i see my hand pulling up scoops
of cold stream water
blessing my dry throat with them
they see my skinless hand
a skeleton rubbing tiny drips of
lava onto my melting, floppy lips
all i can do is smile now
show my charred gums

blindness

there’s not a thing
not a home for it
a light shines from it
making me comfortable
it dips and dims
when it’s a bit <dark>er
i see the nothing
surrounding me
a water i breath in
i can’t turn my head
or leave work early
you can’t go to church
or watch the game
whatever it is
it’s ending us
taking us to heaven
our commander leading the way
flag on spear
high above shoulder
etching into our eyes
the blaring light
it shines

frontier

it’s not the wild west
no one gets to go guns blazing
into the bar
you can hunt elk
skin a buck
but that doesn’t hide you
from our idols
reality tv
or smart phones
go into the bar
poke at the girls taking selfies
the boys drugging their cocktails
bouncers with shiny big buckles
all you are is left behind
there’s no catching up
if that’s what you want
fuckin lucky you

Piece of a WIP

Here’s a bit from what will eventually be novel three. I’m just about 40k into it, and probably about half done, so it’s going extremely well. It’s so different writing this book. My first attempt, though enjoyable, was a lackluster, confusing process when I look back at it. I’m happy with that book, but I have learned so much since I wrote it. The second one, which is still a WIP that needs to be edited, was even more crazy because I wrote that for my first nanowrimo. That is an intense month, if I’ve ever had one.

This work, it’s at my own pace. I still have soft deadlines, but I’m moving along nicely. This is also the book that I wanted to write first. It’s the reason I’m writing novels right now. I’ve rewritten the entire first quarter of it and kept going.

Anyway, here’s the first five pages. Let me know what you think. It’s got a long way to go, but we’re getting there. Enjoy!

 

Chapter One

They last day of high school, Colt and Donovan left class a few minutes into second period. Colt’s parents were out of town. There was a bottle of tequila at his house. They’d already been drinking Southern Comfort in their energy drinks. When the breakfast burritos accompanying the drinks were gone, there was no reason to stay in class.

They pulled out of the parking lot in Colt’s father’s gold pickup. No guard was in the shack to stop them. None of the adults showed the least care the boys were leaving. Two classmates were across the street from the campus smoking. They waved at Colt and Donovan as the truck passed them.

A dusty wind blew at the school from the fields surrounding it on all sides. It was a spring gust that seemed to circle the buildings non-stop. Swept up leaves and grit followed the gold truck back to town. Five buildings stood where the dirt road to the school intersected with the main street. The group of motels and restaurants stood tall enough to block the wind in the area. Donovan thought about the time he almost choked to death at one of the restaurants.

Colt turned the truck left, towards his trailer park. A mile down the road, they stopped to pick up Johnson. The boys had been spending more time with him lately. Arthur was away at the time. Every so often, his father would send him off to another school. It was a punishment for Arthur not being the son Richard wanted.

Johnson climbed into the back of the truck. As they got closer to Colt’s house, he slowed pulled off to the side of the road.

“Don, we should hit one of those junk stores. We should grab a few golf clubs.”

“Golf clubs?” Donovan asked.

“Yeah, dude. My dad’s got a ton of balls. We could hit them all morning.”

“Fuck, sounds alright. Let’s do it.”

“Hey, Johnson,” Colt said, sliding open the window above the truck’s bed. “We’re gonna hit one of those junk stores to grab some golf clubs.”

“Whatever, man. I’m down.”

Colt pulled the truck back onto the road, heading in the opposite direction. He and Donovan lit cigarettes. Donovan turned the radio to the country station.

The worn golf clubs cost them a few dollars each. Colt picked out a replica revolver for himself. Donovan bought a flask. The two exited the store to find Johnson doing jumping-jacks in the truck bed, smoking a cigarette.

“Store’s a fuckin’ junk yard, huh?” Johnson asked.

“Dude, it’s packed to the fuckin’ ceiling with trash. I don’t know who even comes here,” Donovan said.

“Stuck up fuckers. We do,” Colt replied, getting into the truck. “Sit down, fucker!” he shouted back at Johnson, who was still doing jumping jacks.

“That kid is on something,” Colt said quietly to Donovan.

“I can tell.”

The three boys pulled up to Colt’s trailer in a few minutes. They each took a shot of tequila in the kitchen. A few buckets of golf balls sat in the dirt out back. Colt dropped a few on the ground. He began hitting them into a sheet strung up against a chicken wire fence. Donovan and Johnson followed suit. The neighbor’s dog began barking at them for making so much noise.

“Shut up, you dick,” Donovan said.

He started walking towards the bucket to pick up another handful of balls. Colt hit a ball near him, trying to scare him. It his Donovan in his thumb.

“Fuck!” Donovan shouted, dropping his club. He grabbed his hand to make sure his thumb wasn’t broken.

“Shit, dude. I was trying to scare you. Sorry man,” Colt said.

“That hurt,” said Johnson.

“Come inside, Don. We’ll make sure you’re not hurt bad.” said Colt.

“Oh, thanks man,” Donovan said, sarcastically.

The three boys went into the trailer. They each took another shot of tequila. After taking his, Colt poured another for Donovan.

“I think I’m going to throw up,” Donovan said.

“Nah, it’s just the pain. You’ll be ok, fucker,” Colt said, trying to comfort him. “Here, take one of these.”

Colt went into the bathroom. He came out with a small orange bottle of percocet.

“You know what, have two. My bad, man.” Colt said.

Donovan took the two pills. He leaned against the edge of the counter to relax. Colt put a handful of ice cubes into a small rag. Donovan put the ice against his hand. Johnson and Colt went back outside to continue hitting golf balls. A few minutes later, Donovan came outside.

“Hey, dude. Can you take me to the parts store?” he asked.

“What kind of parts?” Colt replied.

“Car parts. I need some stuff for my jeep,” Donovan clarified.

“Sure, buddy. Johnson, let’s head out.”

“Man, I think I’m gonna go back to school,” Johnson said.

“Why?” Colt asked.

“Fuck it, Colt,” Donovan said. “He’s no Arthur, anyway.”

“Oh, fuck off, Donny,” Johnson said, tossing his golf club to the ground.

“Whatevs, dude. Later,” Colt said, shaking Johnson’s hand.

Donovan waved and Johnson walked around the corner of the trailer, then off down the street. Colt and Donovan hopped back into the truck. A few minutes later, Donovan had everything he wanted to get from the auto parts store. He walked up to the cash register with sunglasses and a pack of air fresheners. Colt walked up behind him, slapping Donovan on the back.

“That’s what you needed? Coconut trees?” Colt asked.

“Yeah, dude. There’s nothing wrong with your car smelling good,” Donovan laughed.

Donovan paid and turned around to leave. With his second step towards the exit, he knocked over a display of supplies needed for an oil change. Colt scolded him, laughing, then helped him pick up what had fallen. They got back in the truck and started back towards the high school. Donovan put on his sun glasses. He opened the pack of air fresheners and hung one on the rear view mirror.

“Should be about lunch now. At least the day’s almost over,” Colt said.

“Shit, I don’t fuckin’ care, man,” Donovan said. “These are neat shades. All the glass is color changing.”

“Retard. They’re polarized,” Colt chuckled.

Colt pulled the truck into an empty parking space next to Beatrice’s car. She was sitting in her open trunk with a few friends, smoking pot.

“Hey, guys,” she greeted.

“Howdy, Bea,” Colt said.

Donovan got out of the truck slowly. He stumbled over to Beatrice and her friends. Colt let Donovan lean against him, so he wouldn’t fall over.

“Drunk?” Beatrice asked.

“Percocet. I hit him with a golf ball,” Colt explained.

Donovan held up his hand, then stumbled over to the back seat of Beatrice’s car. He climbed in and laid across the seats. It took him a few seconds to realize he’d laid his head onto the lap of a girl who was sitting on the opposite side of the car.

“Oh, hey,” he said.

“Hey, Don,” she replied. “You excited about graduation?”

“Yeah. Not right now, I mean. I will be later today.”

“Why not right now?”

“Drugs.”

“Oh, nice,” the girl said. “You got a job lined up for summer?”

“Nah, I’m got the lottery scholarship. I’m gonna free-ball it for the summer, since I don’t have to pay for classes.”

“Must be nice,” she said.

“I like it.”

“You like what?”

“Oh, I guess life,” Donovan said.

A bell rang and the group went back into the school building. Donovan’s pain pills and alcohol hadn’t worn off, yet, so he stayed outside in the back seat of Beatrice’s car. Before falling asleep, he opened up another one of the air fresheners. He tossed the yellow palm tree beneath the passenger seat.

“You’re welcome,” he said to himself, closing his eyes.

When school let out, I left with my classmate James to meet our mutual friend, Juan. James was smarter than I was. Juan wasn’t smarter than anyone, but he was good at breaking the law. Our plan was to find liquor. There was going to be a party after the ceremony. The three of us were going to meet at our friend Raina’s house. Her parents were also out of town. Most of our friends, along with their friends, were going to be there.

James and I had been in a car accident a month earlier. We’d left school early and a woman in an over-sized brown pickup truck totaled his little gray sedan. His brakes quit working right before a left turn, so she hit my side of the car. I thought my arm was broke in the accident, but I never found out for sure.

I was driving this time. My car was old, but I was confident it’s brakes were not going to fail. We met Juan outside of James’ house. He was with his friend Charles, whom everyone called Woody.

A week earlier, Juan, Woody, and I stole the flags on the golf course behind my house. Juan and I threw them into the back yard of a Doctor’s house across the street. Woody disappeared for two hours, not answering his phone. He walked up on us as we smoked cheap cigars in my back fence, bordering the course. I could see his teeth in the dark. They shined through a massive grin. The next Monday, Juan and I saw a report of our deed in the local paper. Someone stole the flags from the golf course, and took a crap in four of the holes. We laughed about it, but I knew after that Woody wouldn’t be a good friend to keep around.

The four of us, James, Juan, Woody, and I, hung out at Jame’s house until dark. We stopped by the graduation ceremony to watch. Graduating students parked for free, so we figured it would be a good waste of time. For a small town at the center of nothing but southwestern dirt, our class mate, Bud Lee, did a good job on the commencement speech.

Novel Updates!

It’s been a crazy summer! Weddings, milestone birthdays, family from out of
town staying with my wife and I. Whew! I’m glad my schedule has finally cleared
up enough that I can work on my tech series, and get back to writing my novels.

I got about a quarter into novel three when my editor handed me her copy of
novel two. Meanwhile, I’m super excited about novel four, which I’ll be
starting in November for nanowrimo. In fact, I worked up so much excitement for
novel four that I made major progress on the outline for it this morning. I
figure I can prep as much as possible to try to hit 60k this year instead of
doing the minimum of 50.

My second novel is sitting at just above fifty thousand words while it’s
waiting to be edited. I’m definitely going for seventy or more with that one.
There’s a lot more action that can be added to it, and a ton that could be
added to the plot to make it smoother. That one is my first nanowrimo novel, so
I’ve got my work cut out for me. Luckily, there are really only a handful of
characters that matter at all to the plot in this one. If I can finish novel
three next month, I’m hoping to finish editing this one by November first. I’m
already overlapping my work, and that’s something I don’t find thrilling.

Novel three is about half done at this point. It’s at about 36k words right
now. I’m shooting for doubling that, but the plot in that one is much more
complex than any of the other books I’ve worked on, or plan on writing for that
matter. There are four main characters who aren’t all together in the same
place like the boys of “Falderal”, or the old men of novel two. They’re in the
same town, at least, but even then, not always. There are also several more
minor characters in novel three. Either way, messy plot lines are something
that I can clean up after the beast that is draft one is finished. If I can fit
in about an hour a day of writing, I should be done on schedule.

I’m really excited about the stories being told in all of the books I’m working
on. Obviously, if I weren’t, there’d be no point in writing them. One of the
things I’m most proud about is that these books aren’t sci-fi or fantasy. I’ve
always read those genres, but I really miss the fiction written to mimic real
life experiences. What I’m doing with my books is sort of trying to fill that
hole. Maybe it’s not there, maybe it’s just my imagination, but I think I see
it.

I’ve posted here about novel two before. It’s going to be called “This Close to
Sitting Ducks”. It’s about an old couple that moves out to the New England
country-side, opening a small grocery store, hoping for a quiet life. After a
few years there, a famous artist moves in next door, bringing massive, out of
control parties with him. This pattern continues after the artist’s tragic
death, driving the main character closer to insanity over time.

Novel three is something I’ve kept under wraps, except for discussing with a
few very close friends. It takes place in a southwest town I spent a few years
in while growing up. Most of the events in the story, including the main plot,
are inspired by real events that happened to myself and people I know. It’s an
extremely dark book, because that town was and still is an extremely dark place
for its inhabitants. A lot of people I know who made it out still say it’s a
place that leaves a piece of that darkness in your soul for the rest of your
life.

The reason I’ve kept that novel under wraps, for the most part, is two fold.
First, it was the first novel I started work on. It was a project that turned
out to be too big for me to complete without the experience of writing
something novel sized under my belt. A good chunk of my way into that one on my
first attempt quickly grew to be intimidating and overwhelming. I abandoned it
in favor of writing “Falderal”, then “This Close to Sitting Ducks”. When I
decided it was finally time to tackle it, I rewrote ninety percent of what I
had.

The second reason I’ve been pretty quiet about novel three, which, by the way,
is titled “40 x 491”, is that it takes place in a town made up of folks of a
specific culture. The story kind of revolves around those people, so I’m doing
my best not to exploit or violate them in any way. I want to tell the horrible,
tragic tales that happened around us, but in a way that doesn’t take advantage
of the people who live there, or who were hurt in the events the plot is based
on. Yes, the story could take place anywhere. In my mind, though, it would be
best to tell it where it happened. It’s part of the Truth to me.

A lot of people outside the American southwest don’t know that Native Americans
still exist, that they’re real people, and that they don’t live in tee pees. A
lot of folks aren’t educated on their ongoing plight, or the abuses they
suffer. Here’s the thing, though. I’m not writing a book about a ravished
people. While I believe standing up with people to fight with them is right,
that’s not what I am doing with this story. It’s a story about a few college
kids, who happen to live in a town that bordered the reservation.

Maybe everything I’m doing is ignorant, and I should stop. I don’t know. That
said, I’m compelled to tell a story that represents people I loved with every
bit of my soul. If it is a mistake, I’ll pay for my sins later. That said, it
feels necessary to stress the fact that I’m treading lightly, and doing my best
to leave as few footprints in their house as possible. This book means a lot
more to me than any story I will ever tell.

My next post will probably be about novel four. I don’t have a name for it,
yet. The plot isn’t fully hashed out, either, but writing a post about it
should help me work out the details. Maybe a chapter from Novel two deserves a
post soon, too. We’ll see what happens. Whatever comes next, happy reading!

Top Class

Since I’m doing a tech writing series, I thought I’d do something a little fun.
I know a lot of people prefer htop to top, on Linux, and that’s valid, but I
feel like a lot of folks ignore, or are unaware of, the awesome power of a lot
of the built in tools you get with a distro. I love top because you can create
custom views of resources, and make them portable in your .toprc. The thing
that bugs me the most about this, though, is that it can be hard to find this
kind of information in a single location. If you google ‘top’, you get a bunch
of pictures of the default screen, which is boring, and sometimes not very
useful.

Without getting too deep into my philosophy on that stuff, here’s a way that
you can make top look cool, but also make it a bit more functional.

(tl;dr: Open top and press these keys: z, x, c, V, m, t, y, 1, 0. If you want to get real crazy with the cheese wiz, also press b and i. Switch to alternate mode with ‘A’ and repeat that key sequence in each field. Move between fields with ‘a’ and ‘w’. Save your setup to .toprc with .’W’.)

Before we get started, you can write any changes to your .toprc config file with
‘W’. After you play with what we’re about to do a bit, make sure you save your
setup. It isn’t a huge pain to set it up every time, but it could be, if you
use top a lot.

Let’s get started by opening top. The first thing I do when I open a ootb,
unconfigured session of top is put that sucker in alternate mode with ‘A’. That
will give you four fields to work with instead of one. Each field can be treated
like it’s own separate top window. From what I know, you need to configure them
all independently. Once you’ve saved your setup, though, it’s done for good and
it’s portable, so we’ve got that going for us, which is nice.

You can move between the different fields with ‘w’ and ‘a’. In an almost vi like
way, you can use ‘g’, then 1-4 to move directly to a field. Toggle color in each
with ‘z’, or use ‘Z’ to customize the color for each field. Pressing ‘f’ will
drop you into a Field Management menu, where you can select the resource you’d
like to watch. You will notice that the summary field changes color to match the
field you’re currently in. I don’t change the colors of the four fields once
they’re set, because the summary field doesn’t change to match your settings. I
love having the color, though, because it makes it easier to differentiate
quickly between fields if you’re talking to someone about one of them.

Entering ‘1’ (that’s a one) will break your CPU stats out into the number of
cores you’ve got.

The ‘m’ key will cycle you through three different representations of memory
use. The first being text, the next two visual. Once that bar is open, you can
cycle through the various units of memory, like kibibytes or mebibbytes, using
the ‘E’ key. You can cycle through similar bars for CPU usage using the ‘t’ key.

Now your top is a bit easier to read, and looks a bit better. With color, one
can easily differentiate between the fields he/she needs to pay attention to.

If you want to filter out some of the noise, ‘0’ (that’s a zero) will toggle a
mode that suppresses zeros in most fields. That way you’re only seeing what’s
actually being used. On the other hand, ‘c’ will toggle truncated command mode,
so you can see more information about the commands on screen. If you’re really going for that htop look now, you can also use ‘V’ to enter forest mode, which will show you how processes are related to their parents. Using ‘x’ to highlight columns, then turning off bold in favor of reverse using ‘b’ looks pretty neat, too, and will show you very obviously what each field you’re watching is focused on.

So, now your top has four fields of different colors, you’re not seeing zeros,
and you’ve got sweet visual bars in the summary fields that show your resource
use at a quick glance. Write it with ‘W’, and you’re good to move your .toprc
wherever you want it.

There’s a lot more to top, but I think this is a great start beyond what I used
to do, which was pretty much just open the window and watch. It also means that
you’ll have access to a bit more information where you may not have an internet
connection, or repositories that have htop, etc. in them. It’s for cases like
these that I recommend learning the built in tools, like bash, vi, and top. They
may not always be useful for what you need, but they will always be there. Plus,
I think top looks really cool when you tweak it like this.
Know anything else about top that I didn’t mention? Leave it in a comment!