Garage Sales & Source Enlightenment

Today I picked up a bunch of great books at a garage sale, including another copy of Ellison’s Angry Candy, Datlow’s Alien Sex anthology, several issues of Glimmer Train, a Leslie Marmon Silko book, the screenplay and director’s journal for Darren Aronofsky’s p(Pi), and Philip Toshio Sudo’s Zen Sex, the companion volume to Zen Guitar, which I reviewed on this website. My friend Dave also went to that garage sale, and purchased The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick, Volume I. I saw him walking down the sidewalk, and asked if they had anything good at the sale.

“They did. But it’s yours, now. Happy early birthday present.” He handed me the book.

Thanks, Dave. 🙂

In the afternoon, I watched the Broncos-Rams game, glad to see that Brian Griese pulled through for the team. I get sick of the media hounding him, and it was nice to see him prove — again — that he’s a world class quarterback. During the game, I told my wife that I was going to either write or critique stories tonight, and that’s exactly what I did, after losing a close game of Literati to her. I beat her sister, though. (It’s strange to play a game over the Internet with someone who’s in the next room, but by doing so, we were also able to play with her sister in Phoenix. Pretty cool!)

I worked on “Chesterfield Gray,” getting into the swing of it by revising the three pages I had written before. I then continued for another page and a half, fact-checking WWII on the Internet as I went. I still didn’t know where the story was going, or why a WWII story was coming out, but I made a passing reference to Kamikaze attacks, and started exploring the main male character to see what made him tick. I decided that he had seen real death, and it had affected him deeply, and got to wondering which battles would be the most likely for him to have been in. I wanted it to be a battle where ships were known to have been directly hit by Kamikaze pilots, and the only ship that I knew off the top of my head had been hit was the U.S.S. Saratoga. She was badly damaged near Iwo Jima in 1945, with seven direct hits by Japanese aircraft. Three of those direct hits were Kamikaze strikes.

I know this because I dug out the obituary for my Uncle Wayne Johnson, who passed away in July. He was on the Saratoga on February 21, 1945, and was one deck below a direct Kamikaze hit. He spent the next ten days in a Hawaiian hospital, getting a glass eye and reconstructive surgery.

As I was reading the obituary, it hit me why I am writing this story. It’s my way of grieving for and paying tribute to my Uncle Wayne. Of course, the events in the story will only be tangential to his life, but I understand now why the story is coming out of me. I have a direction, now, and I can work on shaping the story into something worthy of his memory.

Wayne (sitting) and Lyle Johnson, brothers.  Cutter, New Mexico, March 2002
Photo © Stace Johnson, all rights reserved.

Stories Everywhere

Story ideas are everywhere. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you his idea service.

Today, as I was leaving the grocery store, I pulled up next to a nice black car at the stoplight. The driver was a young blonde woman, her hair pulled back in a professional-style ponytail. It was about 6:00 PM, and she looked as if she had just gotten off work. She was very pretty, and her face was scrunched in worry. That, in itself, is enough to spark a story. What would make a young, successful businesswoman worry so? What is happening in her life?

As she waited for the light, she got a small box out of one of the grocery bags and opened it. She pulled a sheet of paper out of the box and unfolded it. The sheet had a pink border; it was instructions for a home pregnancy test. She was still waiting at the stoplight when I drove into the intersection.

You can’t tell me there’s not a story there. I guarantee it’s a very important story for the young lady. I couldn’t see if she had a ring on her left hand; depending on whether she did or didn’t, the story could go in vastly different directions.

On another occasion, I was walking with my wife in downtown Denver one frigid night. We were on our way to an Eric Johnson concert at the Ogden Theatre. As we walked, a couple about a block in front of us stopped short, dropped their bags, and faced each other, yelling. We slowed, not sure what was going to happen or if we would have room to get by. They sparred verbally, and then the man suddenly picked up his shopping bag, turned, and walked briskly up the street, away from us. The woman stood still. She called after him a couple of times, but he didn’t turn around or stop. She started crying. Gathering her things, she began to shuffle up the street in the direction he had gone, still sobbing in the cold air.

I have no idea what they were arguing about, or whether it was right for him to strand her on Colfax Avenue on a winter night. Perhaps he had some justification, or perhaps he was just a jerk. But the scene could translate almost directly into a story or even a movie script. I’ve often thought it would be a good exercise to write that scene from different perspectives: one that paints the man’s actions in a positive light, one that paints his actions in a negative light, and one that explains what’s happened in a way that neither person looks like the villain.

Observation is really all it takes to come up with the spark for a story. The writer doesn’t have to record the events perfectly for an idea to start burning; in fact, it might keep the idea from growing if the writer sticks too closely to the details. Stories that are based in reality may sometimes benefit from tension-inducing details that were not in the inspirational scene.

Tonight, I played Morrowind for the first time in weeks. I didn’t get very far; in fact, I stopped playing it in favor of reading Word Work. I should be able to finish the book at lunch tomorrow.

Moving On — For Now

I tried a few configuration and component changes on the server today in an attempt to get it to recognize the new drive. I even manually specified the drive’s configuration in CMOS and reinstalled the operating system with the jumpers in a different position, hoping it would get the clue. Still the same 7.87 Gb limit. I did find one piece of information on the Western Digital website that says, in effect, “If your secondary drive is larger than 8 Gb and Windows 2000 is only recognizing 8 Gb of it, uninstall Windows 2000 Service Pack 1, reformat the drive, and install Service Pack 2.

This is kind of tough to do, since I installed Service Pack 3 from the beginning. I think a new motherboard is the way to go, so I’m going to stop worrying about this project and try to get back to writing.

I have been reading Word Work every chance I get over the last few days. I’m still enjoying the book. The level of personal experience that Rogers brings to the table is refreshing; he writes it as if the reader is his peer, rather than his pupil. It’s remarkably similar to having a conversation with Bruce. He anticipates where the reader’s mind is very well, and addresses many of the questions and concerns that pop up in my head as I’m reading. I should be done with the book in a few days, and I’ll be able to write a review. I’m excited to do so, actually.

Literati

Today I didn’t do much that was creative. I read some more of Word Work, and I played Literati online with my wife and sister-in-law. It’s nice having broadband at home now, but I hope I’ll be able to resist the temptation to waste all my time on it.

Today, I was not successful in that regard.

Wired at Home

I took off work early today to meet the cable installer, also known as The Savior. The Savior arrived on time, and quickly installed the big pipe in my bedroom. (I’ll let you make up your own jokes there.)

Unfortunately, he couldn’t install a cable jack in the office down the hall; he said something about AT&T regulations regarding passageways in the home, and since my town home unit is is the middle of the structure, he couldn’t do much with outside walls. That means I have a CAT5 cable stretched from the bedroom, over the doors and down the hallway to the office. When I get time, I’ll run that up to the ceiling and secure it more properly.

Initial speed tests varied between 1.1 and 2.0 Mbps download, with 256 Kbps upload. I think I can live with that. My buddy Dave asked me when I was going to be hosting an online Unreal Tournament game now that I’ve got all this bandwidth. I might just have to do that.

I did finish Sophie’s World today, but I spent the evening reveling in the divine glow of fiber optics, so I didn’t get the review written. Maybe I can do that tomorrow.