How You Know You’ve Ended a Story Well

My sweetie and I binged our way through Breaking Bad. The series was over before we even started, and we chewed through that mother in record time. During intermissions for work and sleep we talked about what was going on, and looked forward to more time with the series.

And then it ended. A you-saw-it-coming-from-a-mile-away-but-were-still-blown-away ending. An ending so complete and poetic that I have to sit back and admire it. I don’t hope for more tack-on seasons or spinoffs (though the prequel Better Call Saul, which we started watching before we dove into Breaking Bad, is mighty fine).

But Breaking Bad is over. It finished when it was right to finish, and if maybe some characters found redemption is was not the sort of redemption that carries them forward.

I miss the show. But I don’t want more.

Fun with names

My ride each morning and evening takes me through a sprawling cemetery. The other day I spotted a name on a headstone: Hai Du.

If I ever write a comedy with a wedding, Hai Du will be the pastor.

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Summer Camp!

Today will be a day of Automobiles, Coaches, and Trains, in that order. Stopping off in New Mexico to hang with (a whole lot of) family, then heading on to Kansas to be a writer for a while. Man do I need that.

The good news is that I may have the time to reinvigorate this blog, and post some more creative stuff, at least for a little while. I’m going to miss my sweetie something fierce, though.

More from the road (electricity permitting)!

Dodge City (and don’t you forget it!)

This morning I awoke feeling surprisingly fresh, considering “3 a.m.” and “Scotch Whiskey” were the two most notable factors when I went to bed last night. This morning was the last event in the Campbell conference — a get-together between the writers who won awards and (primarily) the writers from the workshops. It was very interesting hearing what the awardees had to say about how they got noticed, how they approached their work, and a variety of other topics. One thing I learned: It is very difficult to get a story into F&SF.

Interestingly, I have had a story in F&SF. Furthermore, it was revealed that Gordon van Gelder, the editor, almost never says that if a story is fixed he might reconsider publishing it. I made a note to self: Make the changes he suggested and resubmit “The Importance of Being Paranoid.” So, that made me feel good, to have cracked a market that other, better-known writers had yet to break into. I managed to keep my yap shut during the discussion; it would have come off as boasting to mention my success.

Another thing I learned: Even successful writers rarely make enough money to support themselves. I’m going to have to get more serious about turing Jer’s Software Hut into a business, I’m afraid. So it goes.

There were a few other tidbits, some good humor, and an overall friendly atmosphere. There were references to many names I didn’t recognize. Then it was over, and lunch ensued. Remember how I modestly did not bring up my good fortune with F&SF during the meeting? As we gathered for one last lunch together, I managed to drop my previous success into every conversation, even as a little voice in my head gently suggested that I shut the hell up. So much for modesty. And now I’ve told you. I’d probably tell the waiter at the family restaurant I’m in right now, but he’d only pretend to care.

Finally it was time for me to beat feet. I lingered long enough to not be actually rude about taking off without appropriate goodbye-gestures, then I slathered on the sunscreen, turned up the tunes, and pointed the car west and south, back the way I had come.

After artfully dodging the toll road between Lawrence and Topeka, I found myself on a stretch of I-70, notable for having quite a lot less truck traffic than my old friend Interstate 40. I let the radio spin in search of electric guitars, and a song came on that took me back, the way a special song will, to another time. I relived the time I first heard the song while carving the sun-dappled curves of a tiny road in the Santa Cruz mountains. Those were the days.

I prefer small roads, and I regretted missing the chance to get the hell out of Dodge on the way out to the workshops. Who knows how long until such an opportunity arises again? I left the freeway behind. Dodgeward ho!

The drive was unremarkable, the rolling topography of eastern Kansas gradually losing amplitude. Just outside of Dodge City there was a point just high enough to allow for an overlook at the side of the road, providing a sweeping vista of a vast feed lot filled with filthy cows. You really know which way the wind is blowing around here.

Now I am in Dodge, cheap lodging secured for the night (free WiFi but the people in charge don’t know the password — they’re working on it). Dodge city is proudly living in the past; everywhere you look are reminders of the wild and wooly cowboy days. The brick streets of the old downtown are nice, but the place is pretty quiet on a Sunday evening. Much of the town is quite shameless in its catering to tourists.

After a fruitless search for a local place to get a burger and a beer (there was one tourist-trap looking place with a packed parking lot that I chose to drive past), I am in the climate over-controlled splendor of Applebee’s (rhymes with saltees). Maybe it’s regional, but every meal I’ve had in this corner of Kansas (both of them) have been so loaded with salt that the meal was almost ruined. Hey! Kansas! If I want to bury the meal in salt, I’ll add it myself! There’s a shaker right on the table! Although maybe all Applebee’s are this way. Bleah.

It’s not really fair to say after such a short exposure, but overall I’d say Dodge city is well worth getting the hell out of. Tomorrow will be a success after only a few miles.

Mars! Hell Yeah!

The following is a script for a video I plan to enter in the Virgle contest to become a crew member on a Mars expedition.

Yeah, I know, the announcement came out in an April first-ish timeframe, and if the boosters were really under construction already I think I would have heard of it, and I don’t think robotics are up to the tasks expected of them in the plan, but you know what? I don’t care about any of that. Why not? Because I’m going to Mars, buddy.

Anyway, here’s the first draft of the script for my application, which will be posted on YouTube:

Mars! Hell yeah! Gas up the boosters and fasten your seatbelts, because we’ve been stuck on this rock way too long already. However, the mission to Mars is doomed without me.

Sure, I know a Higgs boson from a flux capacitor, and I know my way around computers, and I’ve succeeded in leadership positions in the past, but that’s not why Mars needs me. Virgle needs a writer, and I am the man for the job.

Whether on the back roads of America or the twisting cobbled alleys of Prague, I have spent the last several years wandering, exploring the mysteries of our planet and reporting them back to an eager public. It is more than journalism; the words must carry with them the mystery and wonder of forgotten places and the people who inhabit them. Facts are abundant these days, information ubiquitous; what is required of the writer on the Virgle mission is to convey understanding, following the progress of the first pioneers, watching as the true Martian culture develops. That is what I do.

I haven’t timed the above yet; the video is supposed to be 30 seconds. I think mine is a bit too long, and I never even got to my value as a defender of the arts in a culture that will by necessity be run by engineers at first. I never even got to say “I was born to live in lava tubes.” Oh, well; some cutting will be required, and other parts are probably awkward (hard to tell seconds after writing it). Any suggestions are welcome. Meanwhile, wish me luck!

Half a Million Words

I ran my little “just how much of his life has Jerry wasted” script this morning and got back the result: this blog has passed the half-million words line. 503,909, to be precisely inexact. The total includes a few words written by other people (as in the Bacon Haiku episode), but does not include episode titles or the little blurb at the beginning of most episodes.

For a very rough comparison, at 250 words per page in a typical paperback, printing the contents of this blog would cover roughly 2000 pages. (It might be less because there is relatively little dialog here, but you get the idea.) That’s a lot of muddled ramblings. I’m sitting here sipping my congratulatory tea, trying to imagine someone reading this thing from start to finish. Ouch. Maybe it would be like Las Vegas – success just often enough to keep a reader going. Somehow I doubt that.

Still, I suspect that out there are folks who have read just about all of those half-million words. This milestone is for you guys, the stalwarts, the ones who have stuck around through the lean times. It’s also dedicated to the newcomers, those who have become regulars recently, the ones stepping up to carry Muddled Ramblings into the future! (Both of you.)

So, where should we celebrate MuddleCon 1,000,006 in 2012?

Programming Note: JersNW featured on a Podcast

I got a very nice message today from Allison, who runs a podcast over at PodFeet. Tomorrow Jer’s Novel Writer will be mentioned on her show. She wrote me to say that she loved the Read Me file so much she wanted to post links to help people find my novels.

(Note to all the literary agents lurking on the blog — and I know you’re out there. Three words: Pent-up demand.)

Gah! No novels to which she can link. I did send back links to a couple of my favorites in the Piker Archives, and talked a little bit about my Read Me philosophy. It’s a good read me. It has style, passion, and useful information. It is a writer’s read me, and it is perhaps Jer’s Novel Writer’s primary asset. It says a lot of stuff, but what you hear is that “this is going to be fun!”

Really, JersNW will not make writing fun for you if it wasn’t fun already. And if you’re not having fun writing, then there is no reason to continue. You can sweat blood and curse and invent new ways to torture yourself when it’s not coming out right, but at the end of the day, when the words happen and you sit back and smile and wonder how some dork like you could make something so cool, when the crazy string of symbols you built actually means something, and it’s interesting, you gotta smile.

The words returned tonight, once I gave them the chance. Tonight’s effort was more problem-solving than rambling, but when you add a short scene that ties some of the loose bits together and establishes a core moment in the evolution of your character, then it’s time for an internal high-five. You have to celebrate that stuff, ’cause it’s all you have. Luckily, it’s all you want. You’re a writer.

This love, it feels so easy to me, that I assume it is the natural human condition. I have to wonder what we do to people to make writing a chore. Somewhere around the point we teach our kids that they can’t draw we also turn writing into a universe of artists, technicians, and other, swiftly relegate most folks (artists among them) into ‘other’, and spend the rest of their education trying to turn them into technicians. I’ve got nothing against technique (in fact, I’m probably tighter-assed than most) but I will forgive any technical transgression in the name of style. Personal style. “This is me” on the page. There is no grammatical rule that takes precedence over that.

You write to write. You publish so you can let go (doesn’t always work). You make a word processor because there’s an idea burning in your head. You publish the word processor to make money. Still trying to figure out that last bit.

De Brug

I would have left some time ago, but the music is too good. The beers here cost damn near a buck fifty, and the gulash I had, which was excellent, was also on the spendy side. But the tunes are good. Johnny Cash, Lou Reed. The woman next to me here at the bar, who is probably from Jamaica or environs, requested Beatles, and right now “Something” is playing.

There’s a good vibe here. The language in this bar is English, which means I can talk to people, and they can distract me while I write. Jamaica woman is a terrible singer, but that’s not what matters. She’s singing. I’m singing along as well. Other patrons are singing. It’s the vibe.

Danielle just arrived. The bartender asked, “do you want a coffee or a beer?”

“Beer.”

“So you’re having a good day.”

“You bet.” Danielle is American. She rolls her own. Squeeze is playing now, at the request of the Brit sitting next to me. Lots of people are following along. and that’s all right.

So there’s this World cup thing going on. It’s only football (soccer to those where football means Sunday), but people still get pretty worked up about it. The Czechs lost a game they really should have won a few days ago, and now they’re pretty much out. I had a discussion with the dutch bartender that went –

J: The czechs look good on paper but they lost the critical games.

DBT: They’re still the best team in the world.

J: If you can’t win the games that matter, you’re not the best team.

DBT: That’s not the way to think about it.

There were a couple more rounds of that. Apparently I’m awfully damn American to think that the measure of a team is whether it wins the big games, but I’ve met a couple of Atlanta Braves fans who think the “European way”.

But that’s not important. What is important is that the woman who was next to me is not Jamaican. Even that’s not important. What is really is important is that I know she’s not Jamaican. I know this because I talked to her. Yes, you read that right. I talked to a woman in a bar. I didn’t mention this before, but she has long, straight hair that hangs to her waist, enormous walnut eyes, and rich, full lips. The process that led to conversation was a gradual one, stretched over an hour, and was based mostly on both of us knowing the lyrics to certain songs.

She’s not from Jamaica. Man, was I off with that guess. There’s a musicality to her speech that I attributed to the islands, but I was plain and completely wrong. She’s your typical Korean-French-American-Swiss-andsoforth kind of girl. If she is the physical representation of globalization then all I can say is bring it on. I didn’t mention it before, but she is beautiful.

I told her I was a writer. Her vision of me instantly became misty and irrational. There’s something she wants to write. She asked me to read the first paragraph, but I stopped at the second sentence. The first was golden, Five words. A question. A damn good question. The second sentence was a train wreck. I skimmed the rest of the brief text and found muddled ramblings punctuated with really good questions. She looked at me hopefully. “You have a story to tell,” I said, “You have the questions. You don’t have to have the answers, but when you speak of cruelty, you have to be specific. You have to show the cruelty. If it’s your life, you have to show your life.”

More conversation ensued, and I promised to edit her work. That will be a major undertaking, certainly frustrating, possibly embarrassing, if she follows through. But she has a story, and I will do what I must to see a good story told. So we talked for a bit, and just before Skippy arrived she said, “If you read this I will never be able to talk to you again. We can only talk through email.”

And then, as foreshadowed, Skippy showed up. In fact, Skippy is sitting next to me now. Cleopatra is long gone, but Skippy is pounding away on her laptop.

His name is not really Skippy, but it should be. As I post this, he is wondering why I’m smiling at him.

Tired, so very tired.

Got some programming done this morning, then met fuego for breakfast. After a damn fine meal we considered where to go to work on the screenplay. It was a nice, nice, day, so we decided to find a place to have a pivo or two outdoors. After a walking a couple of miles we landed at a beer garden overlooking the city. In that beautiful but pricey setting we did not pull out the computers and get to work. We relaxed and after a beer we trundled on down the hill to the Bar annex of the bagel shop, where I now sit.

We pulled out our computers and did not set to work. I went so far as to open up my original draft of Pirates of the White Sand, and I even spotted a place that needed work and typed a few stray words here an there, just nudging things around really, and having no effect on the work. I’m just too damn tired to edit. Maybe I could write something new. I opened up a new page and stared at it for a bit. I was too damn tired for that, too. My mind, normally a babbling brook (and I have the babble to prove it), has become a turbid swamp, a fetid place where ideas go to die.

I have dozens of little bits that I’ve kept around as starting points to stories. I read over some of them but there was no spark, no inspiration, even on ones I rather liked.

It is not to be a day for words, it seems. I am sitting here, unable to squeeze out anything remotely… uh, your know. Even the Eels, more an exercise in typing than writing, left me blank and dumb.

So, um….

On My Own

Marianna left for the airport early this morning – she knocked on my door and said goodbye briefly. I bid her bon voyage and went back to sleep, finally dragging myself out of bed around noon. One cure for jetlag: sleep late and stay up late. It’s like you never left home. I spent most of the day reading rather than writing, not even motivated to eat or drink anything, just expanding into this space that will me mine for the next few weeks, enjoying the lonliness.

I just put on a CD from my host’s collection, a band whose name I don’t understand singing songs I don’t understand the lyrics to, but the music itself carries a sadness that augments my mood well. This is going to work. I’ll be writing late into the night, I can tell, but I suspect it will be The Fish rather than my NaNoWriMo effort, already so far behind. You have to write with the vibe (or at least I do), and a thriller isn’t were my head is right now. Although a novel needs to shift geard now and then. Maybe I can write a couple chapters for November as well. Whatever the case, I should be writing one of those things rather than this.

I hope all is well over on the other side, where the sun is still shining and you are all looking for diversions from your work. I’m only too pleased to be of service.

Joe’s Last Stand

Muddled Ramblings…

I’ve been here for quite a while today, doing some serious deleting. Six chapters: adios. Big chunks of other chapters: ciao. Two characters: beat it, punk. It’s all about purity of essence, so I’ve taken to drinking only rain water and grain alcohol. This is how it’s supposed to be, baby. The synapses are firing with alarming randomness, making pink elephants de rigeur. There is a node in my brain, undocumented, undefined, but up there in my head without a doubt. Its sole purpose is to fuck up the other nodes. It strikes with lightning swiftness and randomness, shutting down the speech center for a few critical seconds when I’m talking to a girl, blasting away my motor control when I try to dance. It is an evil node, or at least a capricious one, bent on making an ass of me.

Like I need its help.

Flashback: months (years?) ago I was here, at this very table, plugged in, writing away. Joe and his band set up on the other side of the bar, and started playing not long after eight o’clock. I listened from my remote spot, pounding with salt and pepper shakers when appropriate. Finally, during a break, I decided it was time for me to go. On my way out I waved to the band, and Dave, the Garfunkel of the group, saw me and said, “Jerry! When did you get here?” The whole bar turned to look at me.

“Uh… two?” I said.

As I was writing the above, Dave came by my spot here, patted me on the shoulder and said, “All is right with the world.” They’re playing on this end of the bar tonight, which probably represents a time limit on my writing tonight. Some geek typing away does not really add to the party atmosphere. Dave’s family is at the table next to mine. Put the condoms on the shakers, we’ll be having some kind of fun tonight. [Note – rather than putting napkins over the salt and pepper shakers so I can use them as musical instruments, this time Leah brought me a pair of mustard bottles.]

Joe is moving to Tennessee, which pretty much puts an end to these parties. Just as well I’m out of here.

I owe these guys a ballad, but it seems kind of late for that now. I’ve got it in my head, a good sad song, an Irish song, but I never got it out on paper. Now they’re all going their ways, and I’ll have to take my ballad somewhere else.

Night in Bozeman

It is late here, ridiculously late almost to the point of being early. It is raining outside.

In the distance is a siren, slowly fading in the distance, but taking a long time to go. They can’t be trying too hard to go fast or they would be long gone by now. There is thunder. Rumbly distant thunder and the sharper intermediate distance sort. The thunder takes a long time to build and just as long to fade away. Cool air is rushing through the window – maybe I should close it before John’s electronics get wet.

But the smell, the smell. John just passed through, so I’m off the hook for the safety of his toys.

Went to do some bar writing tonight, and that went well. I was at a look-at-the-cieling point when a guy at the next table asked, “You writing the great american novel over there?” I was working on The Fish, so I said, “I can’t say whether it’s going to be great or not.” One of the girls at that table was very excited – she’s studying history and literature so she can write historical fiction. I ended up turned around and talking to her about the process of keeping your brain out of the way while you write. Finally I joined their table. There were three women and two men. As soon as I sat down, the two men left. Cowabunga.

It turns out I was in the midst of a low-key bachelorette party. The one studying to be a writer had had a quickie marriage with her boyfriend who was in the Air Force a couple years back, but they finally had the chance to do it right. (“Do it” is a euphemism for getting married.) I was sharing the table with the bride, the mother-in-law, and the sister-in-law. After the menfolk left I kind of felt like I was crashing the party, but they were all drunk enough to welcome me. For the most part they talked books, specifically chick-porn, and I listened and learned. I managed to participate when the conversation took a wild swing to Homer via that movie Troy. Apparently the wrong people survive in the movie. LitBride was quite in agreement when I said “The story’s been working for people for thousands of years; there’s not much point in changing it now.” LitBride and I found a great deal of common ground over the thesis that most of the best stories do not have happy endings.

Had I worked at it, I might have gotten somewhere with Mother-in-Law of LitBride. She made a point of mentioning that she was single, and she seemed fun and happy. (*BAM!* a nice sharp thunderclap.) Let’s face it. I’m not interested in working at anything like that right now. Better to walk away “the most interesting guy they met that night”, walk away clean, walk away before anything got complicated. Just Walk away. When closing time was called, MiLoLB was extra-friendly, but they were all together and nothing was going to change that. I’m just a shadow here anyway.

A Brief Explanation of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas

It’s not such a big deal, really – I woke up one morning and realized that what I was doing was’t what I wanted to do. Five years later I did something about it. This is me clearing my throat, trying to find my voice. Some days I get close.

Other days, well…

It’s a strange conceit to think that people I don’t even know will give a rat’s ass what I think. I’m OK with that. There aren’t too many ‘dear diary’ entries here. I’m just looking for things I can write about. When I find them, I try to write about them well. My goal is to be interesting, or at least amusing. I almost had thought-provoking once. Maybe with practice I’ll get there. I know you don’t care what I had for breakfast. I don’t even care about that and it was my breakfast, unless there was something at breakfast that inspired me to write.

Like eggs. Mmmm… eggs.

Still, we do have fun here. If you know a great way to get poor quick, or if you happen to be a Belgian Buddhist Kung-Fu/Brew Master Monk, this is the place for you. Don’t forget to read the comments; there are people who hang out here who are much smarter and more articulate than I am. Chances are, you are, too. We cover a huge range of topics, so don’t form your conclusions based on one or two entries.

Things we have discussed here lately:

  • Space Launch Systems and Lunar Vacations
  • People in bars
  • What a government is and what it should do (and the best beer to use to buy votes)
  • Suicidal Squirrels
  • Bars
  • The Road
  • Rutabagas

There is also a running story, Feeding the Eels, which is in the style of an old detective radio series. I mostly do it for simile practice when I don’t feel inspired to do so-called real writing. Still, it’s fun—at least for me.

Also, please be sure to leave a guest haiku! Just leave it in a comment somewhere; I’ll find it.

two times out of five
haiku writ by someone else
a breath of fresh air

Finally, it’s worth noting that the look and feel of the site is definitely – and perhaps permanently – in flux. So far I’ve been mucking primarily with the main page, so the other pages seem fairly ho-hum in comparison. I have decided not to go too far out of my way to deal with all the quirks of Internet Explorer – IE is the biggest impediment to progress on the Web, and I’m not going to let Microsoft hold me back. You shouldn’t either.

Leave your mark in the sand before you move on.

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