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Creative Writing Final Reflection

After a quarter and a half of business school and the work that went into the application and GMAT, I was starting to feel a little bit like I was losing myself. I hadn’t made anything for myself in ages which was making me seriously anxious. But between graduate school and work demands, I knew I would never make time to correct the imbalance.

My solution? Enroll in another class on Tuesday nights between my Monday/Wednesday blocks of MBA classes. Reasonable!

Ultimately it proved to be a great decision. Tuesday night creative writing class at Cabrillo quickly became the highlight of my week. For me, immersing myself—even in such a small dose—in something creative was critical for my mental health. It really helped rekindle my love for fiction writing.

No, that’s not right. My love was kindled, but I had a big block in my head. What the class did was provide enough structure to get through that block. The class gave me the reason to push through the block and actually get words down on paper and then provided me with a method to actively discuss the work with other real-live humans in meatspace, instead of just putting it up here to languish. That was pretty special for me and felt rewarding in a way I didn’t anticipate when I signed up for the class.

The class also provided a venue for me to interact with other creative people in a way now missing from my life. I love the people I work with and the people I go to business school with, but I missed having weirdos (like me) to talk to about artsy nerd stuff.

I could write a whole post about it (and I probably will), but for now I will share with you the final reflection I wrote for the class. It provides some insight into where my head is these days and maybe you’ll get something out of it. I got something out of writing it.


1. In which of the following elements of fiction do you feel you grew the most? In which do you still wish to grow more? -Character, Setting, Dialog, Plot, Imagery, Point of view, Other…

I focused most on the structure of my work, and thinking of each as a coherent structural unit. I was digging through my blog recently (so 00’s) and found tons of fiction I have little memory of writing. Some of it was good, but some of it was not so good. All of it was fully improvised in the moment. Pantsed. That’s where my practice lies. And for that reason, thinking about writing a longer piece always seemed pretty overwhelming, insurmountable.

When I enrolled in this class, I knew I had a block in my head about longer works, that I lacked the tools to engage a longer piece. Getting some practice considering the writing as a standalone unit rather than a scene proceeding from and leading to another scene was important and something I was deliberate about. I knew that thinking about each story this way would translate to thinking about longer pieces the same way. All I needed was to get into the habit.

Truthfully, I didn’t nail it on all my stories. The first one was a single unit. One and done. The second one was unfinished when submitted. I’ve since finished it and sent it out to the journals. The third was really just a sketch of a bigger idea. If I had to grade myself on nailing the idea of keeping each one of these as an independent unit, then I didn’t do so well. But if the idea was to figure out how to make these freestanding units within a larger project, then I think I did all right.

Past that, the aspect I struggle with the most is plot. I’ve always thought of plot as doing, not happening. It needs to feel like the choices characters make are the choices they would make if it was a real situation, if they were real people with real drives. I get stuck in a pattern of thinking, “well, I guess they could just sort of do anything, right?” and that leads nowhere. Creating a plot that feels motivated and purposeful is a little bit like playing the role of your characters as if you were an actor. But, in this case, it’s like you are one actor playing every single role all at once and that is pretty hard to focus on. One or two sets of motivations and desires and obstacles, sure, but dozens? Tough. That will require much practice. It’s a one-man show with an ensemble cast that is forty hours long.

2. What is your long term goal as a writer? (Both as what you want to achieve artistically, and how you hope the world will receive it.)

I’d like to see if I can make a living writing. I’ve always wanted to make a living in a creative field, and, for a long time, I did. The older I get and the more experienced I get, the more I recognize that I am not so good at working with other people. Over the years I’ve learned to do it, but I am impatient and often prickly when I feel like I don’t have the autonomy to execute as I think is best. It’s a bad tendency that I try to temper, but still comes up now and then.

What I am really good at is executing to a deadline when I need to. Want me to go sit an office all day? NOPE. Grumpy Joe all the time. But, give me a list of things to finish and a deadline and the autonomy to do them in the order and method I choose? You’re going to get everything as requested to the best of my ability. Writing professionally is, from what I know, a lot like that. I just need to get myself to a place where someone wants to give me some deadlines. I can, of course, give them to myself, but that is less effective.

I understand that it’s not some magical free-for-all, do-what-thou-wilt arrangement, that there is pressure from publishers and editors and agents and booksellers and the realities of the market. The auteur is always tempered by the situation. I’ve learned that lesson a thousand times already. I am prepared for it and not at all worried about it. I long ago rid myself of the delusion that my art is ineffable, too great to be sullied by the crassness of commerce. Anyone who wants to make a living has to learn that.

Beyond the lifestyle aspect, I really enjoy writing and telling stories. It’s what drew me to the film world in the first place. Humans are storytellers. It is an important part of how we interact with each other and an important part of what we leave for those who follow us. And I really think I have stories to tell that will resonate with people. What else could someone ask for? If I can reach out through my words and make someone’s day or week or month better, then I am happy.

3. What has been your journey with your inner critic? What is the critic saying to you these days? How do you handle it?

He’s a real son of a bitch. My greatest enemy, even with things I know I am good at. It’s been a lifetime struggle that is sometimes ok, sometimes terrible. I am getting better at working through the terrible and giving myself permission not to generate perfection at all times. That was a difficult lesson to learn.

He’s better these days, less quick to reject any thought I have. I’ve found the best way to deal with him is to just talk to someone about my ideas. That’s something I’ve never had before. Voicing them gives them life and allows a different part of my brain to process them, which I think is helpful. I’ve discovered that talking about the ideas with other people is a helpful way to create what my wife calls “commitment devices”; if someone knows I should be working on something it keeps me accountable. And accountability always wins out over the voice. It’s a factor that always worked for me with my film editing (since you never just edit for only yourself), but not something I incorporated into my writing life until this class. Pretty wild to think about, but I’ve always been too shy about the work to talk about it. I’d post it all over the internet with my name on it and to the social medias and whatever, but speaking about it aloud was hard. Weird how these things are sometimes, right? Part of what I looked for with this course was enough confidence to talk about these things aloud and that has been a great success. I am very thankful for it.

4. Do you plan to keep writing after the class? What will this look like? (How often, where, etc.) Do you want to form a workshop with buddies from the class?

Yes. I am planning a novel version of The Boneman (title subject to change) in the weeks until my business school quarter ends. I dropped all my summer MBA classes when I learned that school would only be online. It doesn’t work for me at all. Too old, I guess, but I really require the in-person engagement for classroom learning.

I am giving myself a little break from writing until the end of the quarter, but will be using my free time to do some pre-writing and outlining of the novel. I’d like to be ready to execute as soon as finals are done. From there I have a weekly word count to hit—which may or may not be totally reasonable—and a deadline for the first draft of the project. It’s all subject to change as things evolve, but this will be a good way to start.

I would love to form a workshop with buddies. Ann, JJ, Lily, and I spoke about it during our final workshop session. I’ve already sent them work to read since then. And even if it’s not as formal as the You Are A Mirror set-up, having someone to chat with about the work is super helpful. Obviously. That’s why people have writing groups, right? I’d love to have something more formal, but it’s pretty hard with the plague quarantine. I’m sure that the group will evolve as time goes on too. All groups do.

5. How did the move to online learning impact your experience of the class?

Real talk. It was terrible. I thought you did a great job of the sudden shift from real-life to online, especially considering how quickly you had to make the change. But the online format, as I mentioned earlier, does not work for me. And for a class like this one that relies so much on discussion and open communication, the format just doesn’t work. It also didn’t help that like 60% of the class just disappeared when we went online. And it’s really tough to have a conversation with other students who elect not to use their camera. Talking to a name whose face you cannot see is pretty unhelpful. You did your best and I recognize it and appreciate it.

6. Do you plan to take another creative writing class?

Maybe. I believe my only option at Cabrillo is to retake this class as 12A. Santa Clara isn’t an option. And Hunter didn’t take me for their MFA program either time. If something comes up, I’d like to take another class. I really enjoyed this one. Tuesday night was a bright spot in my week. Just not totally sure what my options are.

I intend to keep learning, though. I have a number of writing books queued up to keep my brain churning along on the best way to tell stories. I’m going to finish the Anne Lamott book. That one is best a chapter at a time. I’m going to give King’s On Writing a run. I purchased and read the beginning of Wayne Booth’s Rhetoric of Fiction which you mentioned in class. That one is a touch dense and will have to wait until my non-fiction reading doesn’t also include Data Analytics and Ethics for Managers. But I am excited to read the genesis of the unreliable narrator. Dipping in and out of books like these is a great way to give my brain something to process while I do other stuff.

7. What activities did you most enjoy?

-specific group interactive writing games (We didn’t do a lot of these because of the move to online learning. Address them if you remember them, and if not, don’t worry about it.)

-specific individual writing prompts

Hands-down the thing I most enjoyed was the workshop. The prompts were good and helpful for getting into the mood. I even generated a handful of ideas there I’m going to develop. The music playlist game was fun too and I enjoyed the one where we created a backstory for a character as a group while discussing specificity. But, for my money, the workshop was the most valuable exercise we did.

8. A year from now, what will you remember from this class?

The value of having a writing group. Too-hot coffees from the stand outside the building. Wondering each night if I was going to get away with not having a parking pass. Dark walks to the bathroom around the corner. Curiosity about what the sign language class was talking about when I passed. That kid asking you about his Star Fox fan-fiction on the first night of class. Attendance dropping as the weeks went on. Recognizing that I probably needed to learn how to type with more than just my left index finger, right index finger, right middle finger, and right thumb. Getting back into the swing with Scrivener. Coming home totally jazzed about what we’d been doing in class and talking my poor wife’s ear off.

9. How was your experience of workshop? What did you learn from critiquing the work of your peers? What did you learn from getting the feedback of your peers?

Workshop was an incredibly valuable exercise for me. Getting feedback is great, even if the feedback itself isn’t what you want to hear. I mean, we all just want to be told how smart and how funny and how good looking we are, right?

It’s so easy to get stuck in your own head about parts of the work, and from there you have nowhere else to go. Just deeper into your own damn head. The workshop digs us out of that mire and keeps the wheels turning in a way that you just can’t do on your own. I also found that thinking about the other work helped me think about my work more critically. Maybe there’s something about getting into that mindset or maybe when we read other’s work, we are subconsciously looking for things that bug us about our own. Probably a little bit of both.

Regardless, I often had good breakthroughs on my work after dissecting the work of my group members. That is testament to the importance of having a writing group and not grinding things out in isolation. Perspective is key.

10. What are you most proud of? What were your personal writing “wins” this semester?

I am proud of the work I produced. It has been a long time since I’ve written and finished anything. Part of the point of enrollment was to shake off the cobwebs and I did that. No matter what comes of any of it, this has been valuable time spent honing my craft.

The Attic

The ceiling collapse was the first thing that put a damper in Dave’s day. Michael and Greg’s master bedroom was a disaster. Crumbled drywall and fiberglass insulation covered the room in a damp-smelling blanket. Maybe a leak in the roof? What he knew was that this was going to be an expensive repair.

The second thing that put a damper in Dave’s day was the human bones spilling from a trunk that had fallen through the ceiling when it collapsed. The impact had forced the box open, revealing its ghastly contents. If it had been stored just a few feet over, it might have landed on the mattress and not opened, maintaining its diabolical secret. But, it had fallen through, hit a dresser, busted open, and spread bones all over the floor.

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A Night At The Bar

Sylvia nursed her double-gin and single-tonic at the hotel bar and checked out the handsome, dark-haired man across the room. Just looking at him as she had been doing the last three or four drinks, she could tell she was definitely his type. She wanted to show him and his dark curls and darker eyes a thing or two.

He was her son’s age, but reminded her of her second husband, Ali, the car salesman with more body hair than any man had any right to. She remembered how he would smell after a day working in those cheap suits he preferred. “Buy a nice one!” she’d tell him. “Those dime-a-dozen suits don’t breathe right.” By the end of a hot summer day, his rank body odor would be vile.

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The Theme for 2020: Wonder

Cynicism is a shackle.

Cynicism is a shackle and being jaded is uncool and dumping on people who are putting themselves out there is a drag.

For too long I have indulged this sort of needless negativity and I feel pretty done with it. It’s a habit I (and many others) developed as a teenager and so thoroughly internalized that it’s become a dominant personality trait. But that sucks! When you have a bad habit, you try to undo it, right? Drinking too much? Cut it out. Get soft around the tum-tum? Go to the gym. Being a cynical jerk about stuff? Embrace wonder. I limit myself and the potential richness of my life by immediately writing things off that maybe aren’t the best. Or things that I perceive might not be the best. How might my life now, as a 37 year old man, be fuller if I hadn’t spent so many years thinking things were stupid because it made me feel cool? It’s terrible, and if that makes me cynical about cynicism, then so be it.

I want to get to a place where I can just be excited about things without tempering that excitement with a bad attitude. I want to go to an open mic night and genuinely think to myself, You know, that was pretty good. I want to see a dad-rock band at a local festival and not roll my eyes. I want to read the clumsy poetry of the world and not dismiss it out of hand. I want to like things because I like things and not justify my tastes. I want to take pleasure in the weird experiences that I find myself in all the time. I want to find the magic in creating things that are not masterpieces. I want to welcome the broken and wonky into my heart. I want to silence that damned voice that says so many terrible things to me. I want to embrace the joy of small, imperfect things because life is full of small, imperfect things and dismissing them robs you of so many chances for happiness.

The theme for 2020 will be:

The Year of Wonder

Maybe I mean something closer to “the year of positive attitude” or “the year of not being a judgy dickhead” or “the year of just giving it a damn rest already with the negativity”, but none of those are as punchy as The Year of Wonder so that is what we are going with.

It seems to me that embracing wonder comes in two distinct flavors: inward and outward. That is, am I directing my bad attitude at myself or am I directing it at others. I think this differentiation is pretty easy to follow.

My struggles with being creative are legendary and well-documented. I have written about it extensively before here on The Black Laser. I am sure all this results from this persistent negative voice inside me. I am sure that the same sense that makes me think someone else’s work is worthless is the same sense that makes me think my work is worthless. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, right?

Why beat myself up for the imagined failures of work I am not producing? It is better to produce and release 85% perfect work, than it is to beat myself up forever because the work isn’t 100% perfect and then never release anything at all. Get over it, Joe, and just be happy that the 85% work is out there. If I consider every single thing I’ve ever created professionally, there might be a handful of works that were in the 85% to 90% range. The rest were lower than that for whatever external reality causing issues. And I made a living that way! The world isn’t looking for works that are 100% perfect. That is impossible. Just do your best and people will respond.

And this attitude is never limited to just myself, either. Why can’t I just accept that someone has worked hard on something and is doing their best to share something of themselves? Perhaps they don’t sing with Bing Crosby’s syrupy voice, or perhaps they don’t shred like St Vincent, or perhaps they don’t craft the taught, lurid prose of Shirley Jackson, but so what? The creative drive is within all of us. For the most part, I really believe, people are just doing their best to express their own truths. Why poo-poo that? Encourage people to live their lives. That starts with not being yet another negative voice in a sea of negative voices. Negativity is easy, but negativity is lazy.

It’s a bad behavior it and it needs to stop.

This year is the year I work to stop it. I imagine it will be a difficult path, one from which I will stray regularly. You don’t change 37 years of bad behavior in a single blog post. But, it is something I want to work on. Just getting over the mental hump that kept me away from The Black Laser for so long is the first step. Christ, it’s not like I haven’t had anything stewing in my head the last few years. It’s just that the voice was so loud, so persistent, that I felt stuck.

Well, I’m back. Hi. Missed you too. Let’s be positive this year.

In search of good Horror Fiction

I’ve read Stephen King.

I’ve read Shirley Jackson.

I’ve read Clive Barker.

I’ve read Lovecraft and Poe and Shelley and Stoker and Matheson and Staub and Rice.

I’ve read a mountain of horror fiction and seen hundreds of horror films, but I feel like I am still missing out.

Stephen King is great, but his books aren’t scary. Clive Barker is inventive and gory, but I feel like sometimes he is better in films where he can drive his ideas with visuals. Joe Hill is writing some incredibly smart, fast-paced horror fiction, but I’ve read all his books. Shirley Jackson wore the Victorian-Horror-In-The-1950s crown, but she’s not producing new work. Lovecraft set the tone for thousands of writers to follow, even if he has some real problematic race ideas in his writing.

So. Who is out there writing our era’s great horror fiction? Who is creating terrifying new worlds and driving people insane? Who is haunting the manor halls with the unjustly dead? Who is condemning the souls of the greedy to eternal torment? Who am I missing? Someone must be doing all this, right?

Give me some ideas in the comments.

Photo by W A T A R I on Unsplash

Activation Energy

I’ve had a post about Activation Energy mulling in my head for a couple weeks. Then I thought, I wonder if I’ve written about Activation Energy before? And guess what?

I have.

In 2008. Six and a half years ago. It’s something like the 20th post on the site—of more than 1200 at this point. I suppose that means the topic bears revisiting?

Activation Energy is a concept I coopted from Chemistry. Coined by Swiss scientist Svante Arrhenius in 1889, it refers to “the minimum energy that must be input to a chemical system with potential reactants to cause a chemical reaction.” In my usage, it refers to the amount of mental energy required to enter the creative state.

For example, how much must I procrastinate before I am filled with fear that I will not be able to meet my deadline? Or, how long does this idea need to gestate before I can execute it properly? Or, what do I need to clear off my plate before I can adequately focus on the task at hand? Creativity is the reactant. Creative work is the chemical reaction. And these efforts are the energy input.

To extend this metaphor further (and forgive me if botch the chemistry a little—I failed that class), chemical reactions produce either an endothermic reaction or an exothermic reaction. That is, reactions that absorb energy (endothermic) or reactions that release energy (exothermic). In Chemistry this is usually expressed as heat. An endothermic reaction is typically a cold reaction, whereas an exothermic reaction is hot.

Sometimes your activation energy is just right and you explode in a wild torrent of output and things are great and everything is amazing. That’s exothermic. Like an explosion.

Other times, it’s not so great. Anyone who has ever struggled on a creative project knows that you can find yourself in the perfect motivated place to do whatever you need to do, but very little comes out of it. It often feels like a failure. That’s endothermic.

Luckily, more times than not, the energy was not wasted. You just gave yourself a little more time to think about what you need to do. It’s all still there, ready to come out the next time in a different way. Sunlight is absorbed by plants allowing them to grow large, which is an endothermic process. Then, the larger plants catch fire and release all that stored up sunlight in a tremendous wildfire. The same is true of our creativity. The only thing that actually gets in its way is not overcoming the activation energy hump.

In my previous post I wrote about myself as a high activation energy sort of person. I don’t think that is totally true. Sometimes getting myself into that perfect state is like pulling teeth and sometimes my activation energy is so high that I will just never get there. But other days, it comes quick and easy. Im the type of person who keeps trying to be a better one each day and to compromise and explore every new thing, with the korean ginseng I manage to maintain my mind in the perfect state to begin any type of adventure and to overcome this energy activation each time.

One thing I’ve noticed is that the better my mood, the higher my activation energy. If I’m feeling super good and in the black on the anger spectrum (more on this in a later post), you’d have to nuke my brain to give me enough activation energy no matter how much I wanted to work. But if I am fuming pissed and stewing and far into the red, well, then all you have to do is get out of my way and I’m cranking through whatever I need to. Go too far, though, and it’s all lost. It’s a delicate balance.

If I’m well rested, nope. If I am too tired, nope. Somewhere in the balance there is a sweet spot where my brain isn’t bouncing around, fresh and rested, or dull and lethargic with exhaustion. Just tired enough not to be a spazz, but not so tired I can’t think.

If I’ve not been working at all, nope. If I’ve been working too much, nope. Again, balance. If I am not working at all, I fall into an inertia hole and I am dull and uncreative, but if I am working too much, all my creative juju is used up by projects at work with little-to-none left for other things.

The real question is, what is the proper life-work-emotional balance to lower your activation energy to a place where getting the reaction going is relatively easy? That balance is, of course, different for each person and for different types of projects.

With work, I need to procrastinate until that moment when not starting means not finishing in time. Up until that point, I’ll dawdle and distract myself, while feeling progressively more guilty and by extension progressively angrier until the equation tips and I blow through whatever work I have to do.

On personal projects, it helps me to be beholden to a partner. Someone expecting something on a deadline will put me into the creativity cycle I referenced in the previous paragraph. If no one is waiting for anything, then I fall into a procrastination spiral that resembles the cycle above but over a much, much longer period of time.

Take this post for example: I started it on the 21st of May. Today is the 10th of June, nearly 3 weeks later. What have I been doing with all that time? Working, mostly, and a bunch of work social stuff, all of which affect the balance. But today I finally reached the place where my activation energy equation worked to my advantage and I’ve written ~750 additional words so far. Not too bad. I can finally stop thinking about this post lingering my drafts, unfinished, and move on to another post I will start and then finish weeks later.

I’ve always been impressed with people who have seemingly low activation energy, the types who can just sit down, get their focus on, and crank through the work. I am definitely not one of those people, but by knowing what affects me and my creative process I can, and to a lesser extent have, learned to manipulate myself into that low activation energy state. In the end, if to lower the barrier to reaction I must do all this additional work and put myself into the perfect life-work-emotional balance, then maybe I am a high activation energy creative person after all. Maybe I was right back in 2008. Funny.

A belated theme for 2015 – Reset

Every year for something like 10 years (with the exception of 2014), I’ve picked a theme to describe my goals for the coming year. It has been a way to approach what I wanted to improve with broad-ish concepts and goals, rather than a set of limited, narrowly focused resolutions. I’ve written about it extensively. Feel free to go back and read some of the old posts for greater clarification on the idea. It’s all there.

With the revamp of the site, I’ve been thinking about what a good theme would be for 2015. Though I’ve missed my usual December announcement by 4 months at this point, it’s my life and I’ll make whatever choices I like. If I think it’s time to declare a theme for 2015 in April of 2015, I will. And you’ll just be fine with that.

A few days ago, a friend of mine wrote something on his Facebook that really clicked with me.

I firmly believe that some of the best writing and creative ideas I’ve ever had have come to me in the late hours of the night, when I’m the closest that I can actually get to being relaxed. Having said that, it’s equally amazing how much simpler the editorial process is in the light of day. Build up at night, rearrange during the day.

He’s totally right. Those wee hours of the night before bed, but after all the day’s chores are done, have always been my most focused, productive hours. The buzz of the day is gone and I am finally tired enough to focus, but not yet so sleepy I can’t think. The world is quiet, even here in New York City, and I can usually get something out in the little bit of time when my brain can actually produce.

In the last few years I haven’t been using those hours the way I used to, mostly, I think, because I got out of the habit of using them. Life changed. Schedules changed. Those nighttime hours became unavailable or filled with other activity. Then when I did have them, I squandered them. I have no regrets, but in retrospect I wonder why when I had a lot of hours to use, I didn’t use them. Of course, it’s very likely I needed to get to the point where it bothered me to see that I could have been using them more productively, instead of barreling forward, mindless of time’s passing, letting them slip away.

I realize that I miss using that time for my personal projects because those hours were the only way I got anything done that kept me feeling sane. And sane is important. Sane makes all the other stress and bullshit of life more easily digestible. For the moments I am pissed off about work, at least I can feel satisfied that I am making things for myself when I can. For all the time I am laden with personal and familial obligations, getting just that little bit of something done for myself is critical. And, even if nothing ever comes of all of this extra I do (and feel I should be doing), keeping me feeling balanced is a very important, very valuable, very real outcome.

I’ve been struggling a lot recently to find a mental/emotional place where I can feel some sort of magical equilibrium, where all the things are more or less balanced and I don’t feel like I am going to explode. The more off-balance I feel, the more I get angry, the more I get resentful, the more I shut off from those around me, and that takes its toll on the rest of my life and relationships. I don’t like harboring those feelings. They make everything a lot worse. I don’t enjoy anything. I don’t sleep. My fuse becomes dangerously short at all times. They make me god damned unpleasant to be around. Yet, those feelings come out in full force when I am out of whack and the only way I’ve ever found to address them is to try and reassert some semblance of order in my life.

That said, 2015 will be…

The Year of Reset.

What’s best is that I’ve already begun. Fantastic.

I intend to get back into the habit of making my personal creative goals a priority. I want to get back to creating things for myself regularly. It doesn’t matter what I make. What matters is that the work I do is for me. I can cut all the extra short films and friends’ projects in the world, but those aren’t mine. I can do all the creative work at my job, but that really isn’t mine. My ideas, my projects, my execution. Simple. Bringing back The Black Laser as both a forum for my work and a work in itself (double dipping, yeah) is a big first step. It’s also a bit of what Sarah would call a commitment device. I feel guilty when the activity here dies down. Avoiding that guilt is often plentiful motivation for me. I won’t always post the things I do, but when I want to post, I’ve got a place that is all my own.

I am not going to make any concrete creative goals for this year, though. In years past, I’ve stated an intended quota of production. 2015 is not for quotas. 2015 is for habit rebuilding. We can discuss quotas for 2016.

I’ve been collecting ideas and scribbles and half-finished thoughts for ages, and I want to see what I can turn them into. There are seeds for a wealth of projects and larger works buried here over the six and a half years of The Black Laser, I just have to nurture them. That means sticking to it. That means sitting down even when I am tired or don’t want to. That means doing the god damned work and not letting anything get in the way, even if my output is minimal. There will be nights when I can’t and many more nights where I feel like I can’t. The former cannot be changed, but the latter can. No excuses. No bullshit.

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Join me and this sleepy little butthead for many more nights of cranking out words and thoughts, and, hopefully, we’ll make something beautiful. Or awesome. Or beautifully awesome.

City of Golden Shadow… or, Why Am I Still Reading This Book?

After reading the second and third Expanse books back to back, I turned my attention to Tad Williams’ Otherland: City of Golden Shadow. The book had been in my mental queue for a long time, but for this reason or that I never actually read it. As much as I just wanted to read the next Expanse book, I felt like it was probably prudent to give the series a rest for a moment. Enter City of Golden Shadow.

Now, I am about three quarters of the way through it and I have no idea why I am still reading.

The book isn’t bad, exactly, but something about it isn’t grabbing me. Weighing in at about 800 pages, the commitment to reading is no little thing. But there’s something off and I can’t put my finger on it.

I feel like I’m just continuing on with it out of some sense of stubbornness. Like, maybe at some point the book will pick up and start being interesting? I’ve gotten this far, so I should probably just keep going? It has everything is should have to grab my attention: international intrigue! Nefarious plots! Parallel worlds! Science fictiony stuff! Egyptian gods! Murders! Explosions! Little girls who have weird friendships with elderly burn victims! Everything!

But, when it comes time to pull it out of my pocket on the train or get in bed and read, I’m overwhelmed with a feeling “meh”ness, you know? It’s weird.

Life is too short to read bad books. I know that much. There have been plenty of books I’ve gotten into and put down forever after a hundred pages. I’ve tried to read Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow like three times, and just put it down each time because it’s so full of itself trying to impress readers with its cleverness that it fills me with rage. Screw that book. Seriously.

City of Golden Shadow just isn’t bad enough to put down, though. I don’t actively hate it. It’s just not exciting enough, either, that I am ripping through it. It’s stuck in this mental/emotional neutral place for me where I can’t build up the required spite to put it down, but I also don’t give enough of a damn to want to see how it ends up. It’s the kind of book that I could get stuck “reading” for years because I just never spent any time with it. Or, at least, it could be that kind of book if I was the kind of person who could do that sort of thing.

I am also totally willing to posit that my feelings about the book might have absolutely nothing to do with the book itself, but possibly have everything to do with my mental state these days which we’ll diplomatically describe as “rough”. City of Golden Shadow, it might not be you; it might be me. It might still be you, though. I don’t know. Probably not.

At this point, I’m just going to finish the damn thing since I am getting pretty close to the end now, but the chances I read the following three books are pretty low. And that quickly, I’m in the market for something to read after this. Any suggestions?