Jammed

I’m jammed right now.

I’m sitting in front of my computer, trying to work on “Chesterfield Gray,” and Pig Won’t (as Bruce Holland Rogers calls the inertia we have to overcome in order to write) is doing everything he can to get me to stop. He’s distracting me with e-mails, sounds, thirst, games, and a sore butt. Some of these are easy to combat; the e-mails don’t come if Outlook isn’t open, the thirst trick works only once, and the sore butt is less sore after getting up to get the drink.

It pisses me off that I have lots of energy to spend on writing and thinking about writing except when I’m in front of the screen. Just opening Front Page to work on this journal entry was a battle of laziness vs. stubbornness. In this case, Pig Will won out, and I’m at least writing something. Maybe if I write enough of this, it will kick start the desire to move ahead on the story, the first draft of which I want to have done by the end of Wednesday night.

I don’t want to talk about the story itself too much in this blog. The parasitic nature of the ‘Net keeps me from wanting to say too much about the stories I’m writing. That probably comes across as a tease to those of you reading, and I apologize. However, this open journal is still, first and foremost, for my learning purposes. Its entertainment value for you, unfortunately, is a side benefit.

I suppose I can say that I’m at a point in the construction of the story where I need to figure out what the characters are going to do next. I need to figure out how the female character is going to crack the shell of the main male character. Then I need to justify his brusque behavior by getting a bit into his history. A central event will involve all the characters toward the end, and I will need to show their reactions to it, but I will only be able to get inside the head of one of the characters.

It’s interesting how this is coming out, because the overall viewpoint is limited omniscient; we get in the head of only one character — a sideline character, in fact — but we know what the other characters are doing. So far, that seems to be working, but I may need to revise it as the story progresses.

Okay, it feels like the juices are flowing a bit, so I’m going to switch gears and leave the journal entry for now. One quick note; I found out today that I won’t be able to attend Mile Hi Con like I was hoping to this year. I will be in Key West that weekend on business.

Later — I was able to get some work done on the story. I cleared up a few fuzzy areas and wrote three more pages. I’m glad I was able to beat back Pig Won’t this time. I’ll have to remember that directly addressing the issue by writing about it seems to take some of Pig Won’t’s power away. (Believe it or not, that’s a correct construction of a possessive proper noun, in this case!)

Jammin’ With Jim

I got to play music with my good friend Jim for the first time in a couple of years today. I showed him my finished Carvin Bolt Kit and my Fender Cyber-Twin, then we BSed for a while. Eventually, we sat down with our acoustic guitars and played for a couple of hours. It was refreshing to play acoustic with him, and we slipped back into some of our old tunes with no problems. He also taught me the chords to Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue,” which I had always wanted to learn, but never tried. I taught him “Ode to Billy Joe,” since I’ve been working on it for the Tem class on Thursday.

I also got an e-mail from another friend, Bill, who had written a powerful short-short that he wanted me to read. I won’t give away the story, but I was impressed with it. I hope he can find a home for it somewhere.

I had intended to write a review of Word Work tonight and write some more on “Chesterfield Gray,” but somehow a chunk of time vaporized between dinner and bedtime; it’s now after 11:00 PM and I have to get up at 5:30 in the morning. I’m going to listen to my body and sleep.

Right after I read Trey Barker’s Veil of the Soul. Honest.

Oh, the Broncos beat the 49ers to go 2-0 on the season. Good start, gentlemen! (No, that’s not where my chunk of time went. I sacrificed watching the Broncos game to spend time with Jim. I told you he was a good friend.)

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.

Old Anniversaries and New Fiction

Today is the 14th anniversary of my first wedding. It’s one of those dates that I just can’t forget, try as I might. Amy, if you’re reading this, happy former anniversary. I’m sorry things worked out as they did, but I’m glad we get along pretty well now, for Keith’s sake.

Tomorrow is the Tem writing group, in which I am supposed to accompany Melanie on guitar while we sing “Ode to Billie Joe.” I’m ready, I think. It’s a pretty easy song to play, but I have to wonder if the surviving recordings are at a different pitch then they were actually mastered. The TAB and chord files that I have found on the ‘Net indicate that the song should be played in F, but it sure sounds like D to me. I actually like playing it best in E, because I can get a funky little half-step slide in there to imply the song’s bass line.

I’ve mentioned that the homework for that session is to write something out of our comfort zone, but also (if we wish) follow the guidelines of including a tavern or bar. I sat down at the keyboard, knowing only that I was going to attempt either a romance or a horror story, and something calling itself “Chesterfield Gray” came out. By the end of the first 200 words, I had three characters interacting obliquely in a 1940’s era waterfront bar. It was a great start, but then stopped cold after about 550 words. I found I had questions to answer before continuing.

When the female character started directly addressing one of the male characters, he surprised me, because he is pretty much a jerk. Why is he like that? How is she going to react? Could anything develop between them after him being such an ass? Will she take his put-off manner as a challenge, or forget about him? How will the third character fit into all of this?

I don’t often outline exactly where I want a story to go when I start writing it. I usually have some vague idea of how I want it to end and a few events that I want to happen along the way. But sometimes the characters don’t want to go there. This story is a case where the characters themselves are directing the story, much as a well-run role-playing campaign should unfold. The intriguing thing to me is that I am learning about the characters as they are coming out, and I’m wondering what’s going to happen to them, as if I weren’t in control of their destinies. I suspect that this will make the piece strongly character driven, but it may be short on plot. I may have to shoehorn some of my own events in there to make it palatable.

I bought a ticket to go see Johnny A at the Gothic next Tuesday. I’m really looking forward to seeing him perform, and hopefully I will be able to get a fairly close seat.