When to quit.

A long time ago, I played around with the idea for a story. The basic plot was that when a writer died every story that was not capped with the blessed words The End formed a link in the chain that kept them trapped in this world. The writer was cursed to become the Muse of another creator and with each new work finished by their charges, a link was undone. Once the chain was completely dismantled, the writer could then ascend to the Great Wherever.

I never finished it.

To be quite frank, it never got any further than a few pages in a notebook. Hell, I think I fleshed the idea out better in that paragraph than I ever did while working on it.

Which brings us to now.

The links in my chain

See those journals? Every one of them contains a story. It’s part of my process. Every story gets a journal to act like it’s pseudo womb. And none of them have ever made it past the journaling process.

And those are just the ones I keep nearby. In the attic, I have boxes….BOXES….of newspaper clippings for source material, research, outlines, first drafts and other abortive ideas for the Travis Dare stories.

The same goes for Crown of Feathers, two different Sherlock Holmes stories, the Ulysses K. Todd and Mrs Dowell series, the Untitled UFO story and another novel idea currently titled, Dark Horses.

My friends, my chain is long.

Which brings me to today’s lesson: When to Quit.

I’ve been working on a story with the working title of Meat Prison. I’ve racked up 1350 words and filled a few dozen pages in its journal trying to figure out the story. It’s a curious concept that came to me during a Pilates class.

Wouldn’t this be an excellent way to teach aliens how to use human bodies?

So, I started up my meat machine and got the Boys in the Back Room* to run wild with ideas.

I came up with the idea that Human Bodies are used as prisons by Cosmic Entities for dangerous convicts. Planets on D-level universes such as ours are used exclusively. Any sentient being is up for grabs. The prisoner is injected into the flesh prison. It is a very painful process and sometimes…very rarely….the corpus rejects the prisoner and explodes in a fiery disaster. This is where the idea of Spontaneous Human Combustion comes from.

Prisoners inhabit the bodies until the end of their natural physical lives. If the Prisoner does anything to damage or hasten the end of the lifespan, they are given demerits. Enough demerits warrants Oblivion.

Nobody wants Oblivion. Death….maybe. Oblivion….not so much.

At the end of the lifespan, the Prisoner goes up for Parole. If they are granted parole, they are released back to their bodies held in stasis. If they are rejected, it’s back to another meat prison.

Our Prisoner is an inter-dimensional creature outside of our ability to even conceive. Like Lovecraft shit on acid. Its name is unpronounceable with our tongue and the name is a curse to write. It is a megalomaniacal, planet erasing, all around Bad Guy. Think Psycho Goreman without the charm.

HUNKY BOYS!

This is not its first corpus rodeo. It’s name has been laced into nightmares across a dozen galaxies. There is no hope for parole.

And its tired. Oblivion is starting to look pretty good.

Normally, during a reset, the consciousness of original tenant will either pop like soap bubbles or go screaming into the void. In the end, they ALL eventually dissolve until all that remains to puppet the corpus is the Prisoner.

But something has gone wrong with this meat prison.

Her name is Sheila. And she’s pissed.

I’ve decided to make Sheila a middle aged woman, covered in tattoos, scars and a very active schizo-affective disorder. Because of her mental illness, she has innately “sublimated and compartmentalized the trauma”. Terms she has memorized from therapy.

She is a conspiracy nut. Believes that what happened to her is a direct assault by the CIA that activated the nanobots in her bloodstream that were inserted during her root canal surgery. The U.S. Government has been trying to assassinate her ever since she received the divine calling to become Empress of the North American Continent before it breaks off from the other land masses and takes its rightful place as the Midgard of Earth.

And……that’s it.

That’s as far as I’ve gotten.

Two great characters but….no fucking story.

I’ve been beating my head in trying to figure out where to take them. I started with the idea of a cosmic horror story but….is this becoming a buddy movie? I don’t know!. My Muse has abandoned me.

Fuck off….I’m on break.

So what do I do?

Sometimes, you gotta know when to quit. Put the story aside and let the Boys in the Back Room do their business.

Who are the Boys in the Backroom**? I’m glad you asked.

When I’m working on a story and get stuck, I toss it to the Boys in the Back Room. They live in a small windowless room with a naked light bulb, hanging from the ceiling. Under the bulb is a square table with four chairs. One each side is a man, sitting in front of a typewriter. They are all wearing white collared shirts, the sleeves rolled up to the elbows. They all have cigarettes dangling from their lips as their fingers pound on the keys of their old school typewriters. And, of course, fedoras pulled down low.

My subconscious is noir AF!

And now I wait.

Maybe they’ll cough up a storyline and I’ll finish Meat Prison.

Maybe this story will end up as another link in my chain.

But sometimes, you have to know when to quit. And start something new.

…..The End…..

*Keep reading. I explain later.

**And there you have it!

Behind the Scenes

Brian caught me cutting up some strips of paper.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m letting Fate decide,” I said.

“Exactly what now?”

“See, I’ve been driving myself crazy trying to decide what year to set my new story in. I know I want it set in the early 1900’s but I need to pinpoint what year.”

“So, just pick a year.”

“That’s what I’m doing! I have listed a year on each piece of paper. Now I’m going to ball each slip up and then draw one. Whichever ball I pick, that’s the year of my story.”

“Ooooh no‚Ķdon’t ruin the magic for me.”

*I toss the tiny paper balls in a bowl, swirl them around like hot potatoes and, finally, pull one out*

“1908! That’s the winner!”

“Wheeeee.”

“Shut up.”

Measuring up

This will be a quick one. It’s something I want to say but I don’t have any other forum to say it so…here it is.

Today, someone commented that they had not had the success that I have had in regards to writing.

I was a bit thrown by this because….success? I’m successful? When did this happen? Why didn’t anyone tell me?

And then I heard a little voice in my head whisper, “Darling, what do you think success is?”

“I think success is a little bit more than $4 royalties from Amazon, for starters.”

I could almost hear my Muse take a long sip of ambrosia to calm their nerves so as to not slap me out of existence.

“Darling, the fact you have written stories and actually pushed them out of the nest IS a success.”

*long drink*

“Idiot.”

So, the moral here is that no matter how much of a third tier loser you think you are, someone out there might actually think you’re pretty cool.

Well, that’s a thing.

Man, the Universe can really kick you in the ass, can’t It?

Many moons ago, when I was a much younger Nik, I was having a very bad day.

My life was not going in any direction.

I had just graduated high school, gotten a job which paid $4.20 an hour, lived with my parents (which I did until I got married), had no social life outside the fantasy worlds inside my head, and was absolutely miserable.

I remember it was a Saturday*. I didn’t have any plans other than sitting around in my favorite chair and thinking about how I’d had already lost the race before I’d even gotten my sneakers laced up.

To be honest, I was contemplating suicide. Not my first time. Actually, back then, it was more of a past time.

There was a knock at my door.

It was a friend from high school. Nancy Phillips. She was a red headed firecracker. She was going to college and getting her life rolling. I hadn’t seen her in months.

“Hey, so I had the weirdest thing just happen. So, I was at this bookstore and this wooden plaque fell at my feet,” she said, handing me a bag. “I knew it was meant for you. I gotta go. Bye!”

And she was gone. I went back to my chair and opened the bag. It was a wooden plaque with a sailboat on the ocean at sunset. It had a quote from my favorite book at the time, Illusions, The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach.

It read: YOUR ONLY OBLIGATION IN ANY LIFETIME IS TO BE TRUE TO YOURSELF.**

The little gift really perked me up.

Now, Fast-Forward to NOW.

I’ve been having a lot of Big Thinks lately. I’m on the verge of my 55th year on this planet and, frankly, I think I’m due for some Big Thinks.

I’ve been reconsidering a lot of things. Trimming away some dead branches and finding new tribes.

But the biggest thing that’s been haunting me is whether or not to continue with this crazy dream of being a Writer.

You have to stop and think about whether or not this is really worth it? Why am I doing this? Why am I spending so much time and energy on fluffs of wordy farts?

I’ve got maybe 20 more years in this meatsack.

Do I want to spend it making up shit?

Do I want to leave behind boxes and boxes of manuscripts, notes, newspaper clippings, books, books and MORE books for whatever poor bastard is left to clean out whatever hovel I finally crawl into to die?

Maybe I should let go, leave behind childish things and do something more adult. More responsible. More useful. Because, face it, if I were to roll up to a car accident, the only thing I’d know to do is tap the poor bugger on the shoulder and say, “So, wanna hear this cool idea I have for a screenplay?”

So, should I give in? Give up. Just realize that I don’t have what it takes to make it as a writer. Maybe I did, a long time ago, but I’m old now. I don’t have the strength, the stamina or the goddamn connections,*** to make any of those dreams that Young Nik had so long ago.

It’s a question that has been haunting me because, goddammit, I don’t know what else to do other than make up shit! It’s what I am. It’s encoded in my DNA.

Anyway, much like that Long Ago Nik, I’ve been sitting around, brooding. Maybe not quite so dramatically to include suicide but, I haven’t exactly been a lot of fun to be around.

And then I got a *DING* on my phone.

It’s a message from Nancy.

Like I said at the beginning of this.

The Universe can really kick you in the ass, can’t it?

*Nancy, if you ever read this, I hope I’m not misremembering this story. And if I am, well, so be it. This is my life, my blog, and I prefer to remember it as such.

**I wish, dear readers, I could show you a picture of this plaque. I still have it. It used to hang next to my desk but, since the move, I have no idea where it is. I spent 30 minutes in the hot box that is my attic, going through boxes, and found nothing. Well, not nothing. I found some cool stuff that I forgot I had and plan on hanging because, ain’t that just the way?

***And, Fortuna Help Me, I don’t have it in me to kiss anyone’s ass enough to make connections.

My Renewal and God Bless Us Everyone!

My favorite writing teacher back at Palomar College started off the first day of class by saying, “If you are in this to make money, let me break that illusion for you right here and now. The days of Stephen King payouts are over. If you think you’re going to make anything near a livable wage, well, good luck. But it’s probably not going to happen.”

That class started off with fifty very earnest students.

By the end of that semester, there were just five of us.

Five stubborn sons of bitches who couldn’t take the hint.

That was a long time ago. An ocean of decades separates that naive girl from me. Sometimes i wish I could go back in time and thank that teacher, David Cowper, for his harsh but real truth.

Check this out. This year, I made $28.00 from my Patreon (THANK YOU! I do appreciate all of you lovely beautiful people). I cleared nearly $24 from Amazon. And just last week, I received a royalty check for $7.08 for three stories. That figures out to be (insert calculator noises) $2.36 per story.

On the other side of the ledger, I have spent $675.00 on layouts and artwork. I have spent $100 on editing ( a freaking bargain!) and roughly $300 on swag, books and festival fees.

Yeah. Mr. Cowper was right: If you are in this for a buck, good fucking luck.

HOWEVER, I don’t want to end 2019 on a downer. I want to spread a quick piece of wisdom that injected needed oxygen on my dwindling fire.

A few weeks ago, my friend, M, and I were sitting in the Author’s Circle tent at the Dickens of a Christmas festival in Franklin, TN. The weather was terrible but there was at least a thousand people wandering around the stalls. In spite of that, I couldn’t hook a sale if I’d baited my books with cocaine. My spirits were sagging and M and I started talking about the lack of sales.

“Hey,” she said. “I didn’t come here thinking I’d sell a bunch. I mean, I’ve done okay* but I’m happy to just be here with my book. I have a job that gives me money. This is what I do for fun. I don’t need it to make money.”

I had a flashbulb moment.

And it was then that I realized I had lost my own perspective about the Craft. I was so concerned about the Profits and Loss that I forgot that this was supposed to be fun, goddammit!

I have a day job. THAT pays me money so I can buy food to feed my body. THIS….the writing, creating, doing all the weird, wacky, stupid, useless, fun storytelling…THIS feeds my soul .

I am taking that renewal of purpose into 2020. I’m going to have fun and I’m taking you guys with me.

Buckle up. It’s going to be a spine breaker.

*M published a book, God Bless Us Everyone! It’s an anthology written from the POV of the other characters in the Christmas Carol. I was so happy to get her into our group at the last minute. M came dressed as Charles Dickens and she had this huge, beautiful stage prop of a leather bound Christmas Carol book. She sold quite a few but what was delightful was listening to her talk about her book with such pride and wonder. It never came off as an elevator pitch or a shtick. Just love for something she had created. I learned a lot of from that day.

https://www.amazon.com/God-Bless-Us-Everyone-Christmas/dp/1689022485/ref=sr_1_6?crid=WACOPEWO7TR&keywords=god+bless+us+everyone&qid=1577828113&sprefix=God+bless+us+%2Caps%2C207&sr=8-6