How Winter Got His Groove Back

This is not so much a writing wonk.  It’s definitely not a process wonk.  It’s a writer feeling good piece.

Since leaving standup, my output didn’t pick up much.  I expected it would, but frankly, I got sick of hitting walls with long work and trying to come up with short stories.

Part of the problem came from spreading myself too thin.  I’m new to this family thing, and we had a bit of residential whiplash after getting married last year.  I was doing standup, which requires writing muscles I never really developed.  And somewhere in there is my day job.

Eventually, I said, “Enough!” and dove back into writing.  I had to remind myself I’m not just doing it for me; I’m doing it for this new family I have.

Then I went back to school (because I’m also doing that for the family.)  With one class last term, things didn’t really pick up.  With three classes this term…

Wow.  Ever hear that old saying that busy people get more done?  At least I’m not spreading myself as thin these days.  If anything, having a history class requiring five essays and two term papers has made me be more creative.  And writing has become what it once was in the old days before I had any pretense of doing this “for real”:  a way to blow off steam.

Now I can sit here and make all the excuses:  Divorce made me depressed (It did); I needed to focus on putting a life together with Nita (who insisted I put my office in the basement when we moved to Chateau Nita, so that excuse is lame); standup (kinda).

In reality, I got the blahs.  I think the blahs had been building for a long, long time, back to about 2006 when I had no clue what I wanted to do next.

The blahs are inevitable.  Stephen King has had them.  Philip Roth has had them.  Pretty much every writer I know has, at some point or another, wanted to simply format their hard drive and wipe it all out.  They may hit people in different degrees, from “Ah, screw it.  I’m taking the day off” to Billy Crystals infamous struggle to get past “The night was humid…” in Throw Mama from the Train.

Even when things picked up again, I was struggling to get books read by deadlines so I could, yanno, get paid?  But then I sat down and forced myself to write a short story about a character from Road Rules. (No, you haven’t read him yet.)  Then I sent out a rather sick story about a serial killer who thinks he’s a vampire meeting a woman obsessed with vampires.  And then I wrote one about California.  And another about a landlord.  And I started reading sci-fi mags because I’m sick of explaining to people from high school why I don’t write science fiction.

Um…  Let me just say thank you to James Patrick Kelly.  I’m reading his latest novelette in Asimov’s, and yes, I’d like to be James Patrick Kelly when I grow up, all while being Lee Child and Laura Lippman.  And maybe John Scalzi as soon as we get a cat.  And some bacon.  (I am a truly schizophrenic individual.)

Tonight, I sat down and worked on the notes for a story about a show very much like Cheaters, only sleazier.  I think my wife wanted me to shut up when I kept going on about it.

The fact is writing’s become fun again.  I don’t care about awards or writers organizations or (Don’t tell my agent) making money.  That said, I am chasing those paying gigs.

I just want to have fun doing it.

Activist Judges

Dear Right-wingers,

In addition to “lies of the liberal media,” you are hereby forbidden to use the phrase “activist judge” in perpetuity.  “Activist judge” is a buzzword for “won’t give us our way by being a blind ideological douchebag.”  If activist judges exist, then Alito, Scalia, and Thomas need to resign from the Supreme Court.

Failure to comply with this ban will result in cutting off Rush Limbaugh’s oxycontin supply, an on-air wedgie for Sean Hannity, the feeding of Ann Coulter into a chipper shredder, and explicit photos of James Dobson fellating Fred Phelps released on the Internet.

Also, I will be very, very unpleasant.

You’ve been warned.

(In the interest of equal time, I’m also going to give Michael Moore a Victor Gischler cream stick.  What is a Victor Gischler cream stick?  Go read Gun Monkeys.)

(And no, I don’t know what Vic’s politics are.  I just think putting blasting caps inside a cream stick to whack someone is both literary genius and comedy gold.)

(Now go read Gun Monkeys.)

Attention, Conspiracy Theorists…

There is no All-Powerful They (TM) laughing maniacally in marble halls as they plan elaborate and questionable possible schemes to make sure you have a bad hair day.

And even if there is an All-Powerful They (TM), what makes you think they (TM) care about you?

Also, shit really does happen.  Sometimes, it’s really bad, catastrophic shit.

Get over it.

Old School

At the tender age of 42, I became something most of my high school classmates were at 18.

A freshman.

I tried this once before when I was 29, at the height of the tech boom.  However, it was The Tech Boom.  I didn’t need no steenkeeng degree.  All I needed was a computer and a lot of caffeine and baby, I was going to be rich.

Go ahead.  Ask me.  How’s that working out for me?

Anyway, several contract jobs and years of pizza delivery later, I wound up at BigHugeCo.  I do all right for a community college dropout.  I went from being horrendously in debt to being a landlord who is horrendously in debt (but this time manageably so).

Still, things have changed.  You can only handle so many hard drive crashes, printer failures, and spyware removals before you really decide to sell all your worldly goods, pay off all your debts, and go sell flowers in airport concourses with a shaved head and Gandhi robes.

So I decided to get a new skillset.  I already build web pages from time to time, so putting some paper behind that to give me cred on my resume seemed like a good idea.

Besides, I’ve changed addresses twice in the last three years, and wives once.  (And let us never do the divorce thing again.  Even amicably, it sucks.)  I also have a stepson now.  It seems if I’m going to tell him how important a college education is to his future, I need to back those words up with deeds.

So I am now a middle-aged freshman.  A lot’s changed since last I went.  I’m taking three classes this term.  Only one of them do I drive to school for.  During summer, I will never have to set foot on campus.  Is it because I’m going to a trade school on a par with one of those colleges that advertise excessively?

Well, no.  It is a two-year college, but from there I go to either University of Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky University or (should I win the lottery) Xavier.  And looking at their curriculum, a good chunk of their classes are online.

Online works great for history or some technical classes.  But I’d never take a math class online, not when you need an instructor to show you why two-plus-two-equals-four when you keep coming up with seven.

It’s odd going to nightschool.  Most of my fellow students are adults.  And I’m not even the oldest person in some of my classes.  Both my Basic and Intermediate Algebra teachers seem immensely relieved that the youngest person in their class is 23.  Well, last term, there was one girl from Russia who was 18.  One.  Remember when the older guy was the odd one in the class?

My current teacher is also a high school teacher.  All day long, he likely has to argue with 15- and 16-year-olds as to why they have to factor polynomials.  Instead, we say, “Can you do problem 17 for us?”  And so he does it.  He goes from a roomful of kids with raging hormones to about 25 people who treat algebra like really tough sudoku.

I know I’ll be nearly 50 when I get my bachelors.  I may even get a humanities masters after that.  Forget the doctorate.  I’d be nearly 70, and I’m not spending the rest of my life as a student.

For now, though, it’s just what I needed.

Geek Not Geek

Geek:  I probably know more about Windows than the average person to the point where it’s faster if I never call tech support.

Not geek:  I don’t own a Linux box.

Geek:  I know the most minute details of the Star Trek back story to where the continuity from the last movie to the current one was glaringly obvious to me.

Not geek:  I went to see the new Star Trek in the afternoon to avoid the costumed fans.

Geek:  I religiously watched both versions of Battlestar Galactica when they were out.

Not geek:  I still think the original is crap and prefer the female Starbuck to the original.

Geek:  During the original Mission: Impossible movie, I bellowed at the screen “Those are not even the same thing!!!” when Ving Rhames got all giddy over “the 686 RISC processor with artificial intelligence” on the CIA’s mainframe.

Not geek:  I regularly make fun of myself for that.

Geek:   I used to dress as a Klingon.

Not geek:  Now I just watch NASCAR when I want to drink stupid amounts of beer.

Geek:  I was on the Internet in 1994.

Not geek:  Via AOL on a Packard Bell.

Geek:  I used to MySpace. I Facebook.  I build web sites.  (Can I build one for you?)

Not geek:  Twitter is useless and annoying.

Geek:  I cut my teeth as a writer reading Stephen King, Tom Clancy, and watching science fiction.

Not geek:  I never really read much print SF.

Geek:  I once wanted to write the next Star Trek.

Not geek:  I write crime fiction.

Geek: My stepson informs me that, in German, I am his stepvader, which gives me a kinda cool personal Star Wars reference.

Not geek:  I do not dress like Darth Vader.  (Though sometimes I talk like Darth Sidious.)

Benz Gets A Clue

Daimler has just taken a 10% stake in electric car builder Tesla.  Tesla is that little car company that could, and possibly also a partner for struggling GM if they ever want to make the Volt or the cars that come after it succeed.  However, Tesla has struggled.  It took an extra year to find the right transmission for their roadster, something normally not an issue with electric cars.  Then again, most electric cars aren’t driven 150 mph.  (Unless you’re Al Gore’s son.)  On the other hand, them that build Mercedes have been trying to build an electric car since the 1970’s.  But who wants a $50,000 golf cart dressed up like an E Series that has to spend 12 out of every 24 hours plugged in.  (Pop quiz:  Why did GM really abandon the EV1?  Answer:  How many golf carts do you see in downtown Chicago during rush hour?)  Daimler Benz had an opportunity to make it big in this market.

But when they bought out Chrysler, they ran off the Dream Team that put the Detroit automaker back in the game, killed their hybrid program, and ran the company into the ground.  Then they sold what was left to a company that’s never built anything to do with cars before.  Result?

Benz cars are the laughingstock of German engineering.  Chrysler’s hybrids will be designed by Toyota and built by Fiat, and my guess is only the Jeep nameplate will survive the next five years.

Dear Daimler:  Try not to screw it up this time.