On Writing Wrongs

Some stories come out easily; Dignity, Always Dignity was written in a few hours. Others are painfully constructed over several writing sessions, with little corrections each time through and the occasional new sentence. I’ve begun to think “Oh, I should write about that!” whenever I remember something that happened, and my iPad is filling up with tiny text documents that contain a few words to nudge my memory.

“The hubcap incident,” one reads. “The whole everyone’s a salesman bit” is written in another. “Tarantula” is empty, the file name telling me enough to know what I’d wanted to write.

These all mean something to me, and I’ve grown curious about the machineries of memory. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how to jot down the thoughts. In some cases my notes don’t even reference the main association I’ve attached to the story. What these messages to myself do reflect is the association I had at the moment a story occurred to me.

The file for Stasis Meeting, by way of example, included helpful sentence fragments that I didn’t need in order to remember what the essay meant to be about. The title came by way of a freudian slip while trying to say “status meeting”. It perfectly captured my feeling that such meetings put projects on hold in order to discover why they aren’t moving faster. None of the notes were as powerful as that title.

Then there’s the file simply titled “Thanks”. The title meant nothing to me, so I opened it. Inside was the following

6. “Thanks for fucking me!”

Among my finer moments, you will not find this one. Late on a Friday afternoon, the week before release, with my stress levels at maximum, while I was attempting to decipher a colleague’s configuration problem, management descended. I already had two extra people in my small cube, so my fight-or-flight nerve was twitching excitedly. Add two managers with a question about a bug that had just been filed, and — well, I’m not proud.

I cursed and stomped around the office glaring at everyone. Then I looked at the bug and discovered it was a problem of bad test data. Then I found out that they’d only wanted to me to estimate effort. Then I hid under my desk, figuring that I couldn’t be fired if they couldn’t find me.

It seems that this was a rejected section from I Wouldn’t Say That, a collection of unfortunate workplace conversations. I must have pulled it out but decided it might be salvaged for another essay.

Since the incident in the above fragment, I’ve gone over a year without a major blow-up. There have been rough patches, but on the whole I’ve regained the trust of many co-workers and a few managers. I’ve even been promoted and given more responsibilities. The pressure wears at me, but I’ve learned to handle it better.

This isn’t who I want to be, and it’s not what I want to remember. Probably the hardest part about writing autobiographical essays is determining what I’m prepared to admit about myself. As I described in my About page, everything but certain names is true — for a given value of truth. Memory isn’t perfect, so details may be erroneous. Sometimes too many facts get in the way of a good story. On occasion there are details that I’d rather not show. Or see.

Maybe I shared this because I’m depressed and want validation for my self-loathing. Maybe it’s just that I’ve been thinking about the events that don’t even have an empty file to mark them. I think if this blog is going to continue to help me, it’s time to open up just a little more and risk abandonment over what I’ve been hiding.

I’m going to stop thinking now and play some uke.


“Heart of the Warrior” Released in Mad Scientist Journal

My short story “Heart of the Warrior” is now available in the Autumn 2012 edition of Mad Scientist Journal. Edited by Jeremy Zimmerman and Dawn Vogel, Mad Scientist Journal is an e-book anthology of essays, advice, and classifieds that relate to all things madly scientific, and it also contains short fiction that appeals to the mad scientist in all of us.

“Heart of the Warrior” was inspired by wondering how “Star Trek” would have turned out if it had been written by Edgar Rice Burroughs from the viewpoint of Mr. Scott. Mechanic Lucas Beynon and his friend Professor Reginald Jones build a ship capable of travelling between worlds. The story joins the crew of the Afri Celeste as they explore Mars and confront their own humanity.

Mad Scientist Journal is available for only $0.99 from Smashwords and should be on major e-tail vendor sites within a few days.

Semi-Random Thoughts on Writing Pulp

I’m working on stories to submit to two online journals, and while I’m finding it difficult to write at the level I demand of myself it is wonderful to be creating fiction again.

I really haven’t done much prose work since finally abandoning my novel for being overburdened with unrelated ideas.

For inspiration, I’ve looked backward to my early, pulpy influences: H. P. Lovecraft, with his paranoid self-loathing; and E. R. Burroughs, with his heroic adventures. I’m sure it says good things about my mental state that I relate much more to Burroughs these days, but it has the effect of making it much more difficult to write the horror piece.

I still really like the plot, but I haven’t made any progress on it in well over a month. On the other hand I’ve been going gangbusters on the space adventure, and I have only the vaguest of notions where I’m going with it.

I guess the difference is that adventure is more fun. I should just chuck the whole Lovecraft angle and take the plot to a healthier environment — someplace where it can run around and enjoy itself.

I hear the woods are nice this time of year…