Here I Am, Speaking Wise Stuff

Today I’m doing something I haven’t done in long time:  I’m speaking on another blog!  Yes, I did a guest post over at My Write Side and I am giving Wednesday Writers Wisdom–which you can probably take or leave.

You’ll find me here on this link, so come on over and share the love, and see what I have to say.

I'm even having coffee.  Come join me.

I’m even having coffee. Come join me.

Once Upon a Time in China

Story-wise, it was a barn burner.  What do I mean?  I mean with all the chatting I was doing, either on certain Facebook walls or in PMs from people I know, I still managed to write one thousand, three hundred, and fifty-five words to finish up the current scene.  That means there are only two scenes left in Chapter Fifteen, and one will be very short, so the hell that is gonna be The Witch House A Level Beginning Sorcery class is coming sooner than you think.

Sorcery:  it's always closer than you think.

Sorcery: it’s always closer than you think.

Believe it or not, Act Two has reached a word count of thirty-nine thousand, nine hundred and three, if my memory servers me correctly.  When you add the up almost one hundred and fifty thousand words in Act One–well, you see where this is going.  Sometime tonight I’ll pass forty thousand words on this current act, and that will probably put me over one hundred and ninety thousand words for the novel by this evening or tomorrow.  And if I keep on keepin’, somewhere in the middle of July I’ll bump past two hundred thousand words for only the second time in my writing history.

Yep, it’s a big one.

But I’m not talking about writing today.  Why not?  Because one of the conversation I had last night concerned something about my past as related to a few hookers I know.  Get your mind out of the gutter:  not those kind of hookers.  These are women I know who crochet, and while I don’t hook myself–I have no talent there, believe it now–I am fortunate enough to know the owner of a Facebook group who sorta, kinda, pretty much lets me hang out and act as comic relief.  (One of the reasons I have a big white HodgePodge Crochet button on my page, because I always return favors for my closest friends.)

What happened was someone was saying they ordered something off Amazon that was listed as “hand made”, but when they got the shipping conformation–surprise!  It was shipping from Shenzhen.  I mentioned that I knew Shenzhen rather well, since there was a time when I used to work right down the road from there, and one thing led to another–usually with comments like, “You should write a column for us!”–and it got me thinking about my time in China . . .

Or as I like to call it, "The Land Where I Was the Minority."

Or as I like to call it, “The Land Where I Was the Minority.”

There were many times, from 1998 to 2005, that I used to fly into Hong Kong (the area to the bottom of the map above) spend the night, then while all jet lagged to hell and gone (traveling from my home to Chicago to Hong Kong used to take almost twenty-six hours on the nose, from the time I walked out of my house, to the time I walked into the Sheraton on Nathan Road in Kowloon), I’d hop a ferry and head up the river to the area on the above map labeled “Shekou Residential District.”

And I’d stay here, at the Nanhai Hotel, my home away from home, and where I’d usually have a morning conversation with the dragon in the fountain, because why not?

Hotel to the right, Ferry Port to the left, and the prostitutes used to be found at the top.

Hotel to the center top, Ferry Port to the bottom left, and the prostitutes used to be found at the top area out of frame.

My company used to send me over to sling code for our factor just over the mountain in Chiwan.  The reason I was there was because the site had their own computer, but no one to program.  Since I didn’t have a problem traveling to the other side of the world, there I went, rocketing around the world–which, actually, I once did when I missed my flight to Tokyo, and I had to fly Minneapolis to Amsterdam to Hong Kong to Tokyo and back to Minneapolis before returning to Chicago.

At the plant I spent most of the time locked in the computer room, which was actually an old storage room not much bigger than my current location.  Most everyone in the office spoke English, so there was never a problem with communications.  Getting out of the office, however . . . there were parts of Shekou where people had no idea what you were saying.  I also ran into that in parts of Hong Kong as well, but I never let that bother me, because when you’re out and about exploring, you just go.  Or as some wrote to me yesterday, take the road less traveled and see where it leads.

I saw a lot of these roads.  Once on a walking trip I visited Tiger Balm Gardens–which is an insane terracotta garden meant to visualize the various Chinese hells–and Happy Valley, the large horse racing track, all the while walking westward across Victoria Island.  I’ve been up the Tram to Victoria Peak in good weather and bad, and sat meditating on one of the highest points with a great view of the city.  I visited the location of Kowloon Walled City, and once ventured on a rickety bus to the Po Lam Monastery, home of the gigantic bronze Buddha that you may have seen.

There he is in the bottom center of the picture.  Hey, remember me?

There he is in the bottom center of the picture. Hey, remember me?

There was a noodle house in the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong that I used to visit all the time, where for $90 HKD you could get a huge bowl of noodles with a little pork and eggs, and green tea.  The exchange rate then was $7.50 HKD for one US Dollar, so for one of the most expensive cities in the world, it was cheap eating.  (The other end of that spectrum was dining at a steak house one night with a friend and running up a bill of $250 USD on two steaks with normal trimmings and a couple of beers.  They were, however, damn good steaks.)

In Shekou there was a mountain overlooking the area that had, what looked like to me when I wandered out of the hotel, a white building on it.  One day I went looking for that building and found stairs leading up the mountain.  I eventually found the building–it was a covered rest stop–and discovered there was a path going up one side of the mountain, across the top, and coming down on the other side.  I was the first one from my company to find this, and every time I was working in China I made a point to walk this path at least two or three times.

And on one trip I counted the stairs used to get up and, at the northwest end of the mountain, get down to ground level.  How many were there, you ask?  2,846.  And at the end of that particular walk I came across a street vendor selling grilled sweet potatoes.  He didn’t speak English, but it didn’t matter:  I pointed to a potato, handed him 10 RMB (exchange rate of 8 RMB to 1 Dollar), and he gave me 3 RMB change.  I slowly walked back to the hotel nibbling on that potato, letting the sugars and carbs replenish my energy.  It was one of the best moments of my life.

One thing to point out to some of my friends who were asking about this last night:  Hong Kong is not a big city.  It’s crowded and compacted, and most of the city on Victoria Island isn’t even on the island.  Allow me to explain:

Here is an area I know very well, because I’d walk this way from the Star Ferry building to the Peak Tram station.  The Bank on China building is on the right, and the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) building is on the left.  The HSBC building is famous because it’s not only a lot of glass from one wall to the other, but most of the floors are glass, and standing under it you can actually look up into the offices.  Reason for this is not only because having a clear view of the harbor is good feng shui, but a feng shui master informed the company that the dragon living in the hill behind the building needed to see the harbor, too.

And are you gonna argue with a dragon?

And are you gonna argue with a dragon?

In the picture above do you see the thick line of trees just below the HSBC building?  That’s the actual edge of the island.  Where those bank buildings stand, that was ocean maybe a hundred years ago.  So when we expand our view . . .

We're still keeping that dragon happy . . .

We’re still keeping that dragon happy . . .

Nearly all those building above that dark green tree line are built on land fill.  And that’s not a wide stretch of land:  maybe a half mile (800 meters) from the harbor to the edge of Victoria Peak.  On the north side of the harbor Kowloon found land by knocking down the eight mountains there–and yet, there are still parts of that area that are all land fill.  Until you visit Hong Kong, you can’t imagine how close together everything is.

I’ve talked enough about this.  I haven’t been back to China in almost ten years, and while I still have those memories, like Roy Batty’s tears in the rain, they’ll fade away one day.  It was a great time in my life, and I can say I pretty much enjoyed myself–when I wasn’t suffering from loneliness and depression, but that’s another story.

And one day I’ll have to tell you about the Wan Chai reader who told me about my past life in the city . . .

The Spells Her Destination

Here’s a tip for anyone listening:  if you know you’re going to get your blood pressure taken, do not drink a double espresso that morning, even if you do it like four hours earlier.  Did that yesterday before driving off to have a consultation with my HRT doctor, and she was about ready to order an EKG.  Lessons learned, I guess.

That little event kept me out of the house most of the day, and once I did return to The Burg it was a matter of eating and watching some television before getting into the Orphan Black season finale.  That meant watching some old Star Trek TNG, and coming up with another one of those things that didn’t come to mind years ago, but hit me as a really important plot point:  whenever any of this alien races that still used money to get around the galaxy demanded payments from Star Fleet personal to get something/go somewhere, what the hell did the Federation people pay with?  They didn’t have money!  Did they pay with toenail clippings?  Cat litter?  Sexual favors?  It never really bothered me in the past, but these days it’s obvious as hell a huge plot hole.  Everyone in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants had to know the Federation didn’t deal in currency any longer, so why demand payments from their people?  In the end they were gonna get stiffed.

It was only after Orphan Black finished that I finally found the third wind I needed to get into the story.  But not before I discovered something with Scrivener–pretty colors!  I mean, most of the time my display looks like this:

Pretty simply, right?

Pretty simply, right?

But then I discovered I could color the folders . . .

This is looking a bit more interesting.

This is looking a bit more interesting.

Then I started coloring the binder–

Ooh, where did this come from?

Ooh, where did this come from?

Or, if I want, I could color the folders and pull that over into my outline!

Reminds me a little of an acid trip I took in 1978.

Reminds me a little of an acid trip I took in 1978!

For those of you with Scrivener, play with F5, F6, F7 (this affects the cards on the Corkboard), and F8, and you’ll see the same thing I’m showing you here.  Have fun!

About the writing . . . as I said I would do, I finished the scene.  It ended up taking a little over an hour, but I chewed it up like a cat with a catnip mouse.  I just had to finished the sucker, because–well, there was a urgent feeling that completion was necessary.  In the process of getting this written, I came up with this little moment on the spell floor . . .

 

(All excerpts, this page, from The Foundation Chronicles, Book One: A For Advanced, copyright 2013, 2014, by Cassidy Frazee)

“The thing is . . .” Annie thought he was pressing harder against her forehead, even though she didn’t feel an increase in pressure. “I listened to what you said, and if I’m good, it’s because of what you’ve done for me. It’s all because of you.” He tilted his head a little so it seemed as if they were facing each other. “That’s why I have faith in you.”

“You have faith in . . . me?” Kerry’s confession caught Annie by surprise. She’d never heard anyone say that her actions made them better—and she suspected that Kerry wasn’t used to having anyone show enough interest in him to want to make improvements in him. And he probably found it incredibly difficult to tell me that . . .

“I have faith in . . . faith.” He smiled. “’It isn’t necessary to something to believe in. It’s only necessary to believe that somewhere there’s something worthy of belief’. That’s from The Stars My Destination—” He lightly touched Annie’s chin with his left index finger. “You’re the something that’s worthy of my belief.”

 

For those of you who aren’t aware, The Stars My Destination is probably one of the greatest science fiction novels ever written, and even if you’re not a fan of the genre you should still read it, because it can stand beside anything one might consider “literary”.  And in case you can’t find the novel to buy, the Internet Archive actually has the scanned issues of Galaxy Magazine from October, 1956, November, 1956, December, 1956, and January, 1957, which were the issues where the novel was serialized in four parts.  You won’t be disappointed.

That little snippet, however . . . that’s another of Kerry’s breakthroughs in terms of dealing with this whole girlfriend/soul mate thing.  He find Annie worthy of his belief; she’s important to him in ways that makes him feel she’s sort of the center of his universe.  He knows, he believes, that she a point upon which he anchor himself–his center, so to speak.  After all, he’s already told her that she’s made him a better person, and how many eleven year old boys would ever tell that to a girl they’ve only known a month?

There’s more going on here than you can image, though, and I know this.  You don’t.  Not yet.

One day . . . yeah, you’ll find out what’s happening.

You can believe in that.

The Bridge, the Dreams, and Everything

The first day of June was a good one:  sunny, not too hot, not too chilly, just right for getting out and walking around.  Which, surprise, I did.  I left the confines of the hovel and ventured out into the sun for the first time in a while, because I’m not a complete hermit or vampire, and every so often you need to prove to yourself that you’re not going to burst into flames the moment you walk around in daylight.

And just to prove that I was out, here:  pictures.

Nothing say The Burg like a bridge.

Nothing say The Burg like a bridge.

And an island.

And an island.

And there’s even more proof I was outside . . .

Photobombing Ol' Shaky, yo.

Photobombing Ol’ Shaky, yo.

So there:  two point two miles of walking–or three and a half kilometers as my kids back at my Salem school would say, ’cause screw those Imperial measurements.  You’re part of the Real World now, so Go Metric or Go Home.

There was a strange dream I just had, too.  I was time traveling with someone–a person I’d never seen before–and I had to travel back to 1984 to pick up a couple of people in an alternate reality, and then when we found them and were ready to come back, we discovered that our foci for channeling time winds or some crap like that was missing.  So we managed to get a message back to wherever our modern time was, and discovered the whole thing was a prank set up by Ricky Gervais–which, if you’re going to get pranked into time travel, you might expect that from him.

Needless to say we had a repair kit, and I was getting ready to repair our trusty machine when I woke up.  Probably for the best, though, because where the hell was the dream going to go after that?

It is something, however, that I can remember the dream, or even that it was so vivid.  I remember writing recently that I was upset that I didn’t seem to have vivid dreams these days, and then, bang!  The last couple of nights they appeared to be returning.  We’ll see what happens, if this is a phase, or if spilling about it kicked out some block I had.

I was also working hard on some time line stuff, because I’m like that.  Always thinking ahead, I am.  Even so far as to come up with a scene for one of my kids that was . . . the only way to put it is heartbreaking.  A lot of pain, and lot of crying, a lot of wondering why, if you’re born into being one of The Aware, does one have to suffer because you’re perceived as different?  Because, in this fictional world I’ve created, all the Normal kids have to hide who their are from their parents for a while, and then–Coming Out Time!  And as you might figure, it’s viewed by the folks like any other coming out:  some times there’s happiness, some times you’re kicked out on your ass.  You’ll find out from the instructors who were raised Normal that they all went through various rotations of that particular wheel–some had happy parents, some had confused ones, and some had to leave home before they were beaten–or worse.

And you’re find that some students got the worse . . .

And lastly:  writing!  It happened.  Eight hundred and forty-six words of happened.  No excerpts today, though:  I’m giving away too much.  Maybe tomorrow.  Maybe the day after.

We’ll see, won’t we?

You Are Not My Darlings

First off, writing:  yes, I did.  Almost seven hundred words before I reached a point where I knew the scene would get hot and heavy and I didn’t want to get into that section and then run out of creative steam.  So that scene gets finished today, along with the chapter, and then I can move onto the next chapter, which is going to be magic heavy.  Yeah, baby:  it’s gonna be nice.

But the real reason I’m here:  the writer is annoyed.  Well, not really, but it sounds like a great lead-in.  Kinda.

There is a meme about writing that has made its way around the world, and has become so prevalent that it’s now found on mugs, tee shirts, and pillows.  It goes as follows:  “Do not annoy the writer.  She/He/They may put you in their novel and kill you.”  Because we’re like that:  volatile and creative at the same time.  Maybe this is why we do things like figure out how to topple one hundred and fifty story buildings full of people in 1991, because we need to do that for a scene.  Or maybe that was just me, because I totally did that.  (My research came from examining how various office buildings I worked at in Chicago were put together and extrapolating what I knew about skyscraper construction.  The downside was I never finished the story with that particular scene of destruction.  Pity.)

Now, basing characters in stories on real people is nothing new–writers have done this for centuries.  The comic book character Tintin was based upon fifteen year old Palle Huld who went around the world in forty-four days to win a contest.  Norman Bates was based upon Ed Gein, and Sherlock Holmes was based upon Dr. Joseph Bell.  Dirty Harry Callahan and, to a lesser extent, Frank Bullitt, were based upon Det. Dave Toschi, who later had his life turned into a few movies concerning his most famous case, the Zodiac Killer–which, it should be pointed out, was the basis for the movie Dirty Harry.  And a certain English chemistry teacher, John Nettleship, ended up better known as greasy haired potions master Severus Snape.

Harlan Ellison wrote often about how, as a kid, he’d been bullied badly by a certain individual at school whose name escapes me at the moment because all my Ellison books are six hundred miles away.  So when he became a writer he kept putting this guy in his stories, using his real name, and said bully always came to a bad end–a really bad end.  If I remember correctly, Ellison was finally contacted by this guy and asked if he’d stop doing that, because it was getting embarrassing to hear from friends that the Jewish kid he used to beat up every day for lunch money had just written another story where the character named after him had his spine ripped out in a convenience story by a fae he’d pissed off.  If you know Harlan, then you know his response was probably . . . pleasant.  After all, we’re talking about a guy who received a B in a writing class at Ohio University, along with a note from the professor telling him he had no hope whatsoever of ever becoming a published author–and after every story sale Harlan made, he’d send said story, along with a copy of the note, to the professor in question.  I’m sure there was another note included as well, but I doubt very much that it said “Nener, Nener, Nener.”

But as far as characters getting put into a story because they annoyed the writer?  I know there was a novel–and I’m blanking on the name–where the bad guy in the story, who happened to be a murderous pedophile, was based in whole on a critic who’d panned the author’s last work.  I also know of one instance in a movie where characters were based off of individuals who’d pissed the creators off:  the 1998 Godzilla movie by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin.  The mayor of New York City and his closest aide were based upon movie critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, who had been, shall we say, less than kind in their reviews of Emmerich and Devlin’s last movie, Independence Day.  There wasn’t even an attempt to hid who the characters were:  they physically looked like Ebert and Siskel, were named Mayor Ebert and Gene, and at the end of the movie, to show his displeasure at all the mayor’s actions, Gene gives him a “thumbs down”, something that Siskel and Ebert were famous for doing on their review show.

Being a writer I’d do the same, right?

No, probably not.

When you create characters, you are giving them life.  If you base those characters off of people you know, then you are, in a way, giving your friends a life beyond their own.  And if your work becomes wildly popular, then you’ve granted your characters–and by extension, anyone they were based upon–a form of immortality.  We know that Huckleberry Finn was based upon a close childhood friend of Mark Twain, and one hundred years after Professor Nettleship has left this mortal coil, people will remember who Professor Snape was based upon.

So here I am sitting in Panera, and if some annoying asshole should approach me and start getting in my face with stuff like, “Whatcha doin’?  You writin’ a book?  A blog?  You blog?  Is it about sex?”, I’m going to give him or her–probably a him, sorry to stereotype–the Michonne Side Eye, turn up the music on my computer, and finish what I’m doing.  I’ve been fortunate not to have that happen, probably because I scare people sitting here behind my gigantic laptop, but that’s a good thing, right?

Would I want to put this person in my story just to kill him or her off?  Nah.  First off, I know who my characters are, and right now I can tell you who dies before the end of my current work in progress.  Hint:  it isn’t one of the main characters, but people do bite the big one.  And more than a few people in the story are based, in part, on real people I know.  People I know.  People I even love.

It’s my hope that this will be their form of immortality.

And annoying buttheads will never share the stage with them, even as cannon fodder.  The best thing to do with them is forget they were ever speaking to you five minutes after they leave you.

There’s always this to remember, too:

"I should make this guy the one who spreads the STD all over the world by sleeping with an advark--except he'll never buy the story, so what's the point?"

“I should make this guy the one who spreads the STD all over the world by sleeping with an aardvark–except he’ll never buy the story, so what’s the point?”

Ain’t it the truth.

Quibbles in the Bits

Yesterday I roamed off on my own to see Godzilla.  There are many reasons I wanted to see the movies, but mostly it’s due to remembering seeing the first movie as a kid and completely digging the idea there were gigantic reptiles living in the ocean that would come up and smash your cities into dust just for the hell of it–and if you have radiation breath, that’s a plus, too.  I wanted to see it to scrub my brain forever of something that was released in 1998 that showed the role of the King of Kaijus performed by a mutated iguana.

It was like watching Pacific Rim, only there weren’t gigantic mecha beating the hell out of monsters, it was monster-on-monster action, and a lot of property damage left in the wake of such throwdowns.  It also drove home the point that Godzilla does not like Goggle Hipster Buses, so suck on that.

But . . . I gotta quibble.

I know you’re rolling your eyes right about now:  “Cassie, it’s a movie about giant monsters, and you’re written articles about how that’s impossible because of the square-cube law, so of course you’re gonna quibble.”  No, you’ve got me wrong.  If I’m digging something, I can suspend my disbelief enough that I know what I’m seeing is in no way possible, but I’m still gonna enjoy the movie.  That’s why I like Pacific Rim:  I know you can’t build those mecha, but that doesn’t keep me from cheering for Gypsy Dagger from kicking kaiju ass.

No, I gotta quibble about something else, and that is . . . geography.

There is a scene in the movie–and you can stop reading right now if you don’t want this spoiled for you, but if you’re like the majority of my friends you’ve either seen the movie already, or you won’t case, because it’s a minor point–where Las Vegas gets its whomping (as seen in the trailers shown everywhere) because the American kept a monster egg somewhere they should:  namely the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain.  That’s a doubleplusungood idea, folks, but the part that made me go, “Why did you do that?” is showing the monster walking towards Vegas, presumably to try the lobster and champagne Sunday brunch at Caesars Palace, from the point of view of the section of Yucca Mountain it just busted out from.

Ugh–why did you just spoil my monster madness with something so wrong?

Most people will see this and go, “Nuke crap is being stored that close to Vegas?  Horrors of horrors!  What the hell is wrong with those people?”  That’s because they don’t know where Yucca Mountain is.  I do.  Why?  Because I’m strange.  And I love exploring by map.

So allow me to explain:

This is the Yucca Mountain Repository.  It’s not hidden from sight–hell, little is these days.

"You're not catching me on my best day."

“You’re not catching me on my best day.”

Pretty desolate place, right?  That tends to happen in the desert.

According to the movie Vegas has to be right over the next panel, right?  I mean, you can see the monster walking there . . .

Hope the monster brought water; wouldn't want it to get dehydrated in the desert.

Hope the monster brought water; wouldn’t want it to get dehydrated in the desert.

In case you’re wondering. the distance between those points is 86 miles, or 140 kilometers, with the point in Vegas sitting in the middle of the street between Caesars and Bellagio, which we see getting smacked around in the movie.  Those must be good cameras to be able to see that far, you know what I mean?

And to pick a few more nits, the monster is suppose to be going to San Francisco–presumably with flowers in its hair–and if that’s the case, you’re going the wrong way!  You’re not going to find anything interesting in Las Vegas save for a lot of people crying over lost mortgage money when they doubled down on 18, so why visit?  You know what would have been an even better place to visit?  Here:

I'll bet property values here are low.

I’ll bet property values here are low.

That’s the Nevada Test Range, aka Where We Used to Make Atom Bombs go Boom.  Each one of those craters is the aftermath of a nuclear detonation, particularly the one top and center:  that’s Sedan Crater in Area 10 of the Nevada Test Range, produced by the Sedan Nuclear Test on 6 July, 1962.  The crater is big enough to be seen from the ISS with the unaided eyes, which is another way of saying it’s big.  It’s 30 miles northeast of Yucca, and monsters who just busted out from an underground storage area would probably enjoy hanging there for a bit.

But wait!  Why stop there?  Because if you go just a little further to the east you hit this place:

Who said the desert was empty?  There's all sorts of stuff here!

Who said the desert was empty? There’s all sorts of stuff out there!

There’s Sedan Crater in the lower left corner, but what’s this airport in the upper right corner?  That, my friends, is officially known as the Groom Lake Test Facility (Groom Lake is that extremely shinny salt flat to the north of the runway), but we all know and love this joint as Area 51.  Only another 13 miles, or 21 kilometers, hike from the crater, and the monster could of hung out with some alien buds from Independence Day!  What a missed opportunity for a great crossover.

What does this all mean?  Nothing, really.  I get to rant for the morning, and you get a bit of a geography lesson brought about because Gareth Edwards wanted to set up a scene of Monster Apocalypse in Sin City.  Don’t make it wrong or bad, but Gareth, please:  next time call me and I’ll do your research for ya.  And I’m cheep, too.  Just call, bud.

But what about me, Cassie?  Do you still love me?

But what about me, Cassie? Do you still love me?

I still love you, Big G.  You’ll always be King of the Monsters to me.

See you at the squeal.

And Today I’m With Rachel Carrera!

Before I get into my normal post, a couple of weeks back I was interviewed by Rachel Carrera, and today the interview is up on her blog.  Click on this link, go over and give her a little love, and read all about get into my work.

As if you didn’t know already.

To Ride the Residency

There are a few things I’d like to do while I’m out here in The Burg.  I have my eyes on a place I want to visit once the weather starts to agree with normal people, and there’s another location that I think I could visit under the guise of collecting resource material for a story.  (Hint:  it would have something to do with space.)  But now something else has appeared on my radar, and for the first time in a long while I’m excited by the possibly that the event in question could be one of the best things I’ve ever done.

I’m talking about Riding the Residency.

Okay, so what am I taking about?  It appears that Amtrak, the organization in this country that handles rail travel, has given to residencies to writers to ride the rails.  One writer has already taken the New York City to Chicago run, and another is setting up for a cross-country sprint in mid-May to travel from New York City to Portland, Oregon.  And by residency I mean they’re letting them ride for free so they can work on their writing and talk about the experience.  The woman who did the NYC to Chiberia (as we were calling the city during the January polar vortex attack) run spent fifty-five hours relaxing and writing and generally having a good time, and who isn’t about a good time when they’re writing?

So, Amtrak, allow me to explain why putting me on a residency run would be a great idea:

1.  I love riding trains.  I’ve commuted by train for years.  I’ve ridden from Chicago to Florida by train.  I’ve taken them to work.  I’ve even ran the European network and spent a few hours on the French TGV, which I consider one of the best experiences ever, and one of the reasons I feel we need high speed rail in the U.S. like yesterday.  I like other people doing my driving while I sit back and enjoy the view, so a long trip that involves getting some writing done in the process is a big win for me.

2.  I am Ms. Social Media.  You want Tweets of the trip?  How about I up that ante and start posting my adventure to Facebook with pictures?  How about getting two or three blog posts out of the adventure, which will go out world wide in case you’re interested.  I could even put this adventure together in an ebook and offer it up for free on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

3.  I have friends in a lot of different cities, and many of them are creative as well.  I know an independent film writer/director down in the Big Easy; maybe she could take a return trip with me and work on a screenplay?  I have a writer friend in New York City who would like to run to Atlanta; we could do a run together and Chatty Cathy the adventure–or kill each other along the way, which would also be entertaining.  I’ve friends in Seattle and Portland who I could meet, and on the way to both those locations I could stop in Denver and make fun of the Hell Pony who apparently couldn’t bring any mojo to their local sports teams.  I could visit my Magical Girl Katie in Minneapolis and I could get pictures of my Twilight Sparkle plush kissing one of her mecha models.

4.  I am a writer.  Okay, so I’m not a big-time Stephen King-style writer who could probably buy a train for this sort of thing, but I have sold one story and self published two more, and I’ve always working and writing and trying to get my work out there.  That means I’m just like Rick Grimes in that I have stuff I’m working on–you know, things.  During a long trip I could probably do a great edit on a novel and prep it for publication.  Or start on Act Two of my current work in process.  Or write something completely new during the trip.  I’m open, you know?

It’s simple, really:  I need a seat, a place to put my computer and a plug for power, and a wifi connection to allow me access to the Internet, and I’m ready to roll outta Harrisburg for points unknown.  Oh, and I live within walking distance of the station, so I just throw my stuff in an overnight bag, get my computer into my backpack, and ten minutes later I’m ready to pick up my tickets.

I’ll be in touch.

My bags are packed and I'm ready to go . . .

My bags are packed and I’m ready to go . . .

Hangin’ With the G Friend

Yesterday it was talking about bad teachers in dreams and all the crap I went through it fourth grade–not a pleasant recollection.  The thing is, that recollection didn’t stay long, because by mid-day yesterday my mind was on something else, and it was a far better time than I had in that lousy dream.

What I’m talking about is the next year, and fifth grade.

Fifth grade was completely different from the year before, because my teacher then was a great guy whose name is, unfortunately, lost to me.  I want to say “Mr. Haney,” but I don’t think that’s right, though his name started with an H, so I’ll just call him Mr. H.

Mr. H was one of those teachers who didn’t dumb things down.  He knew which kids were good and wanted to learn, and which didn’t give a single shit if they made it through the year.  He loved reading and he loved science, and that was good with me.  He’d lived in Japan for a while, and while he was there he’d recorded an interview with someone who’d been a school boy in Hiroshima, and who survived the atom bombing by hiding in a cave being used as a bomb shelter.  Though he spoke English well, when he tried describing how the mouth of the cave lit up from the blast he completely lost it and started crying and mumbling in Japanese.  It was a pretty powerful moment for me, considering I’d already done my own reading on what happened then.  (And believe it or not I eventually dated a Japanese woman whose mother also survived the Hiroshima bombing.)

Mr. H pushed me in history and geography, because he knew I loved the subjects, and that I wasn’t content to stop at a certain point and look no further.  One class assignment we had was to do a report on a country, and the country I chose was Macau.  This was 1967 to 1968, and when you said “Macau” the majority of adults went, “Whu?”  No one in the class knew where my country was, nor if it was even real, but I was given extra points because just about everyone else went with stuff in Europe, or if they did Asia it was Japan and China.

The best thing Mr. H ever did was tell the Daughters of the American Revolution about my grades, and they came into class and gave me an award for “Excellence in American History”.  I was given a book, which for me, at the time, was better than money.

But I’m not here to rap on about Mr. H.  No, I’m here to talk about someone else.

I’m here to talk about Kim.

Kim was in my class.  She was about my height, she had long dark blond hair, and she wore glasses.  I also wore glasses, so it was always a bit comforting to be around someone who also had crappy eyesight.  Kim introduced herself to me in a rather unique way:  she walked up to me on the playground during recess and said, “Hey:  you’re the kid who knows all about flying saucers, right?”  Indeed I did, because since I was reading a lot of science fiction then, I was also reading everything I could get my hands on about flying saucers and the paranormal and what we know call cyptozoology.  If there was strange crap out there, I knew about it.  Kim was asking me about a story she’d heard where a horse had its head burned off, and I instantly told her about Skippy, the horse that had all the flesh on it’s head burn away–some say by a portable vat of acid, some say by aliens with a death laser!

Whatever.  That’s how Kim and I met, and we were good after that.

I don’t remember Kim hanging out with girls a lot.  Back then we called her a “tomboy” because she liked wearing jeans and button-down shirts and tennis shoes.  But she never came across like that to me.  She wasn’t rough and tumble; she always wanted to talk.  She liked horses and the mountains, and she liked math and history, too, so we had stuff in common there.  She also liked reading, but she found the stuff I was reading then to be amazing.  She was a smart girl, which back then meant she was different.

Then again, so was I.

It wasn’t just headless horses and flying saucers over which we bonded.  There was something else, and for that I have to go tap-dancing back into all those little corners of my past that I’d rather not exist, but are just waiting to jump me the first chance I get.  So here we go:

Every summer, right after school was out, my father would take me down to the barber shop and basically have all my hair cut off, so that when it was over, I looked like Ellen Ripley from Alien 3.  I hated this, because as a young child suffering with Gender Identity Disorder, I wanted my hair to grow out, and it was that summer between fourth and fifth grade when I started having arguments with my parents about getting my hair cut.  Maybe that was one of the reasons I never left my room those summers and just stayed in and read, but I do remember it was the last time I let my parent do that to me.

My hair grew fast, so usually by Halloween it was longer than most of the boy’s hair in the class, which again made me stand out a little.  This led to “getting picked on,” which led to getting bullied and called a freak and crazy and a lot of other shit, but I spent that school year avoiding a lot of those idiots and staying to myself.

Kim, however . . . I do remember one point in the fall when we were walking and talking on the playground, and she turned to me and said, “You’re hair is so . . . pretty!  It’s so curly!  I wish mine was like that.”  Which was true:  I had curly brown hair and long eyelashes, something my mother was always going on about . . .

I told Kim that I wished my hair was nice and straight–leaving off that, “and long like yours” because you just couldn’t talk that shit then–and bam!  I bonded with her over hair, because we weren’t like all the other people on the playground.  At that moment I felt there was something special between us, because not only did we talk, but we didn’t seem to care about what others thought of us when we were together.

"Seriously, you have lovely hair, and if I can use an expression that won't become popular for another twenty years, your parents are dicks."

“Seriously, you have lovely hair–and if I can use an expression that won’t become popular for another twenty years, your parents are being total dicks.  But you know about time travel, so there.”

The moment I remember the most, because it was just so damn strange, was of Kim and I on the swing sets all alone, with there appearing to be no one else on the playground–or if there were, they were sticking close to the building because the sky that afternoon was a rather strange gray and blackish color that appeared as if it was about to unleash Hell at any moment, but if you live in the Midwest and you’re afraid of a stormy-looking sky, you best move the hell out ’cause that’s pretty normal.

We were alone, and swinging like mad, talking, laughing, going higher and higher all the time . . . it was one of those magical moments that you don’t ever forget, and there was a timeless quality to what we were doing, because it did seem to go on for a long time, though we were probably only on the swings twenty to thirty minutes.  But it has become a fixed point in time, one that I flash back on now and then, and though I can’t remember everything that was said in those minutes together, it doesn’t matter:  we were together, and it was fun.  That’s what’s important.

Kim moved away after the school year was finished.  I knew this was coming, as she’d told me months before.  The last day of school we found a spot out by some of the trees at the edge of the playground and talked for a few minutes.  I told her I’d miss her, and she told me she’d miss me back.  We didn’t exchange addressed and say we’d write, probably because deep down we knew we’d never do that–though I wish I had, because I would have totally done so.  Before we parted, she leaned in and kissed me on the cheek:  that was the first time anyone outside of my family had ever done something like that, and it made my eyes mist up.  Then she was off, back to class, and so was I a moment later.  She left class as soon as the bell rang, headed for her bus, and was gone–off to Colorado, if I remember correctly.

I, too, was off to my bus and back home.  The summer sucked, I stayed inside a lot, and sixth grade blew chunks.  I wouldn’t talk to another girl until I was a senior in high school–I literally mean this, because people avoided me, or I avoided them, not really sure on this point.  I had a few friends, but for the most part I was always that weird kid who read a lot and didn’t want to do any sports.

I also missed my friend, but I didn’t talk about that much.

These days I kind of realize that Kim was probably my first girlfriend, but not the “I’m dating her” kind of girlfriend, but rather “My BFF besty” kind of girlfriend.  She didn’t think it strange to talk about the thing we talked about, and neither did I.  She saw nothing wrong with complementing my hair, and didn’t consider it strange that I did the same for her.  If she’d hung around I wonder what would have happened; would we have spent sixth grade continuing to talk about the things we did, and would we have expanded the conversation to include us?

I can’t say:  that’s all speculation.  I leave that for my writing.

I have no idea where she is now, or if she’s even alive, but if she is I’ve been sending her positive thoughts for years, and I hope they’ve helped.  I don’t dwell on her, or those moments together, because they are far off in the past, and as my Phoenix spirit told Kerry in The Foundation Chronicles, “That chapter’s over; it’s time to write some new ones, kid.”

You were one of the few good chapters in the story of my life then, Kim.

I wish you well in yours.

Selling the Sorcery

I’ll tell you, Sundays are never a good day.  I was busy all morning, busy all afternoon, and by the time you get to writing you feel dead–exceptionally dead.  Sort of like the Resident Evil movie that was on last night:  brain dead but still moving, albeit slowly.

However, I did think more on the idea I posted yesterday about the Mórrígan and Åsgårdsreia students–mostly the girls, the boys would probably feel foolish–squaring off during the Samhain Ball in the great hall.  Since everyone’s in costume, you’ll have your various interpretations of the Goddess of War on one side of the room, and your Valkyries and shield maidens on the other, and it’ll be like:

Come at me, Bro!

Come at me, Bro!

I am no Bro.

I am no Bro!

Yeah, I gotta write that.  Even if it’s only a short scene, and it’s taking place outside the Hall, and they aren’t really using swords, but being how they’re all witches and gifted students and technogeek mad scientists, they can probably come up with something else.

Part of the business was due to an article I was writing.  There was tons of research I needed to do, and at one point I was getting tired hunting down the correct papers I needed to write.  Still managed to get out five hundred words, and I’m not finished.  I’ll do my best to get that wrapped up by this weekend, though no promises.

That meant when it came time to actually write last night, I did about five hundred and fifty words.  Not a good total, but I’ll take it.  As I’ve mentioned before, some times you feel the words, some times you don’t, and perhaps it was a combination of being tired and feeling distracted that put me off my count.  Not worried, not worried:  I’ll bounce back tonight, hit a thousand, and start my, “Helena is a Bad Girl” section of the scene.  It’s gonna be great.

One of the things I like doing is setting my story in the current world while indicating that most, if not all, of our pop culture references do exist.  You’re in a school full of witches and super powered kids, with a mad scientist thrown in here and there, and when you have a room full of eleven-year-olds, who isn’t expecting to hear something asked based upon what they may have read or heard in the Normal World:

(Excerpt from The Foundation Chronicles, Book One: A For Advanced, copyright 2013, 2014, by Cassidy Frazee)

“This leaves sorcery. Whereas the other disciplines can used against another person, sorcery is designed to work against a person, whether directly or indirectly. You all encountered what Professor Sladen eloquently called the ‘Hell Shawl’ yesterday—” Helena grinned, satisfied by the looks on the faces of her students. “An example of my handwork.

“Sorcery is all about dominating people, controlling them, hurting them . . . killing them. You can do it directly, or you can do it with cursed items and various chemical product—” She heard a few students say, “Potions,” and almost mentioned that it was a good thing Erywin wasn’t there to scold them, for if there was anything she truly hated, it was hearing her lovely formulistic magic called potions.

“There’s also two lesser branches to sorcery: necromancy and daemonmancy. Adric will instruct you in the ways of dealing with spirits and the recently deceased, but even he won’t touch necromancy—we teach you that together. As far as daemonmancy is concerned . . . I only teach that on a need to know basis.” She half turned to her right. “I doubt if many of you will need to know.”

Helena was ready for her experiment. She had every student’s attention, had then following her every word—and now it was time to do what she’d planed for most of the week. All she needed was for someone . . .

“Is there like a main spell used for killing people?”

She didn’t know who asked the question, but Helena didn’t care. Every year someone asks that, and I have to answer. She turned her attention back to her students. This year I’ll have help . . . “There is more than ‘a main spell’. I can think of a half-dozen different ways to kill someone with little more—” She raised her right hand and snapped her fingers. “Than that.”

With that out of the way. . . “Miss Kirilova.” Annie’s eyes snapped towards her. “What is the name of the discipline set aside for the various means of killing within sorcery?”

That Helena:  she doesn’t care to keep hearing about all this fantasy crap, does she?

Lastly, I was upset–well, just a little–that Orphan Black‘s Tatiana Maslany didn’t win a Best Actress Golden Globe award last night.  You play seven characters, some whom interact with each other in scenes that take the better part of a day to film, and people just don’t give you props.  I’ve fallen in love with Orphan Black, mostly for the acting and writing, and the life Tatiana brings to each member of the Clone Club.

The hell with them.  Lets get out on the floor and move to our groove.  Go, little psycho bitch, go!

And this is the part of the post where we dance with the tail!

The Winter of Discontent

Yesterday something popped up on my blog–not my blog, actually, but more a message from WordPress.  It was, “Congratulations!  You registered with us five years ago today.”

I had to think about that, because I was damned if I could remember just when I’d signed up and established my presence here.  I remember when I started blogging–those first, abortive attempts in April of 2011 that I didn’t take very seriously, like damn near everything else in my life back that.  But I hadn’t remembered when I signed up for this space, I had to think . . .

Yeah, that would be right before Christmas 2008, not long after being laid off from a job I’d held for thirteen years.  A job that had been going downhill fast at the point, but because the economy was free falling faster than Gypsy Danger from fifty thousand feet, there weren’t a lot of options when it came to better employment.  So when the end came I took my severance with a smile and more or less told them I was happy to be leaving their shit stain of a job behind.

Sure, I wouldn’t work again for a little over three years, but you have to take the bad with the good.

Why did I sign up?  I don’t remember the exact reasons.  I believed, most likely, that I had something to say, and that I was going to try this fangled thing the kids called “blogging”, ’cause I can write and people are gonna want to hear what I have to say.  Yeah, December 2008.  I had me a blogging area.  I wouldn’t start writing until about . . . let me see . . . yeah, about two and a half years later.

That was probably a good thing, because everything coming out of my mouth back then was filled with remorse.  I was still in therapy, and would remain so through 2009–that was when my insurance ran out and I couldn’t afford to not only see my counselor any more, but I couldn’t afford the medication I was taking.  I will tell you right now, in case anyone is wondering:  mental health coverage is a wonderful thing.  Sometimes the only thing preventing you from jumping off a building is a twenty dollar co-pay on your meds, and if you have that in your life, you should consider yourself lucky.

Why all the gloomy talk?  For one, I had another strange dream–yeah, that’s been happening for some reasons.  I can’t quite put my finger on what happened, but think of it as Glee with time travel.  Like I said, strange.  I have no idea what it meant, but it was there.  The one thing I do remember is that I was told, quite a lot actually, that I needed to get better.  And I spent a large part of the dream alone.

I’ve also thought, for a few weeks now, that my depression has come back.  I’d distracted a lot these days.  I look for things to break up the monotony, and it’s not always there.  When I’m writing, at times it feels like I yank the words out onto the page, that I have trouble typing them, like I don’t want to see them, even though I do.

When I’m not at work I spend all my time alone.  It’s one of the reasons I try to eat out on the weekends, because I do get a bit of peace from being out among the people–even if the majority of them look like scary-ass crackers, like the people I saw yesterday.  You pay your money and you take the ride, right?

Five years registered, half of that writing.

Where am I going to be in five years?

Maybe a time traveling Glee knows.

 

Philadelphia Freedom

Really, if you read yesterday’s post, how could you not think I was going to follow up with this title?  After all, it’s the title of one of the most well-known songs of the 1970′s, and the name of a sports team that Bill Burr forgot to mention when he was ripping the city a new one a few years back.  No way I wasn’t going to make it my title.

Outbound from The Burg, the train left on time, but lets note that it’s a local train, so you end up stopping a few times along the way.  We were also held up by another train at one point, which is a major fault with commuting by train in his country–you have to share the line with freight.  When building high speed rail you need dedicated lines; when I rode the TGV back in 2006, it wouldn’t have done to bring the train to a stop from 180 mph just because a fright line was crossing ahead.  Gotta nip that crap in the bud.

This saw us getting into Philly about and hour late.  No real biggie, ’cause I wasn’t on any kind of time table save for my return trip, and I’d still have time to make it with time to spare.  Spent a few minutes looking for the subway station, and then realized that I had to leave the train station and walk across the street.  Bought two tokens–to get to 5th Street and then return–and I was on my way inside a car that seemed packed to the rafters with people.

So it was I made it to the Park.

I arrived at the corner of Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.  Really.  You step out of the train station and to your Independence Hallright is the Liberty Bell, and as you walk across the park, there’s Independence Hall to your left.  It looks none the worse for wear, but then you’d expect that because being part of the national park system, there are people taking care of it.  At least they don’t have to worry about douchebags looking to destroy it because it’s old . . .

I didn’t go inside ’cause I was on a schedule, but I did take time to walk in and see the Liberty Bell, just to see if, like the Constitution, Nic Cage could steal it.  After giving it a close examination, the verdict is no, he couldn’t,  Liberty BellYou can see it’s pretty big, and doesn’t look as if it would be something you could pick up and run with, but hey:  maybe they’ll rig up something with explosives where they touch them off and Micheal Bay it right into the back of a U-Haul, and just like that, they off into the night!  Yes, Hollywood, you can cut a check for my idea right now.

Saw the first bank–it’s not ripping anyone off ’cause it’s closed, but it looks pretty cool.  Then I headed over to the location of Ben Franklin’s house, and why it’s no longer standing, you do get to see his privy hole.  What is a privy hole, you may ask?  The 18th Century equivalent of a nice outhouse.  It’s where your, um, “business” went when you were finished with said doing.  And, in Franklin Court, there were a number of covered privies, all marked so you’d know where people were pooping over two hundred years ago.  History!

I mailed a document from Franklin’s post office, the only one that doesn’t have a zip code or flies a flag–for obvious reasons if you think about it–and visited his print shop.  No where did I see his opinion on why having an older mistress is totally hot, nor of his connections to The Hellfire Club and if he partied with Sebastian Shaw.

Then it was back to the 5th Street Station and a return to the train station, and while waiting for the subway I could hear Bill Burr going on about “your shitty little subway”.  Yeah, after you’ve been on Chicago and Hong Kong’s subway, it seems small, but then it’s old as hell, too.  At least it’s still running, and I could get back and forth for a couple of bucks.  I really love traveling by subway, don’t ask me why, but zipping through the dark is sort of a cool rush for me.

I had to wait for my return to The Burg, so caught a little lunch before waiting for The Pennsylvanian to return me home.  For one the jobs I held in Chicago I had to pass through Train Station SouthUnion Station every day, and Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station reminds me a little of Chicago–though you have to walk down the famous Untouchable Stairs to reach the main floor.  But the feeling here is the same:  huge and majestic.  It’s one of the reasons I set a Train Station Northscene in Her Demonic Majesty in Chicago’s Union Station because nothing says timeless like one of these places.  I’m a sucker for buildings like this, and while I’m the first one to say I want to live in the future, seeing all these places disappear slowly gives me a sadness, because I know we’ll never see their likes again.

Then back home.  The The Pennsylvanian is more of a direct route home, so no stopping all long the line, which meant getting home when I was suppose to get home.  I looked up the route for this train, and discovered it takes five hours to travel from Philly to Pittsburgh, due in part to the line following rivers for most of the way through the Allegheny Mountains.  This is where high speed rail would kick butt, but ultimately be far more expense to employ, because you’re gonna do a lot of cutting through mountains, and where you can’t go over, you go through.  That’s going to mean long tunnels that you can go through fast, maybe some as long as fifty miles, and given the longest train tunnel in the U.S. is only eight miles, who’s going to build a fifty mile tunnel?  Hey, it’s been done.  And when it comes to getting water, distance doesn’t seem to be a problem

The end to all this was I ended up having dinner about four-thirty, then went out for a long walk.  When I returned to Laputa, my body felt as if someone had beaten it with a pool cue, and it was all I could do to make it through Torchwood.  I crashed and burned about ten-thirty, but today I’m alive and in much better shape.

Where to go next?  Well, now . . . that’s the question, isn’t it?  Back into the novel today–

Tomorrow, we’ll see where my mind takes me.