February Writing Projects

The good news is that I finally got the rewrite of The Coop Run done last month.

The less than good news is that I didn’t finish the flash fiction project.

I know! I said I would. Well, I said maybe. The Coop Run took priority. When I started working on the flash fiction project, I realized that I wanted to add a few more stories to it. And a few more became a few more and then…

It didn’t get done.

But it will get done this month.

I’m looking at twenty-five stories for this collection, each story right at 1,000 words. That’ll make it a solid 25,000 words, which I think is both satisfying, but easy to read in small doses. I already had eleven stories written and revised when I started. I’ve since written and revised seven more. I just need another lucky seven. Then it’ll only be a matter of formatting, designing a cover, and publishing.

And that’s the only writing project I’m going to work on this month because I’m also going to be working on some Book ’em, Danno stuff. Despite my Twitter tantrums, the show will (eventually) go on.

You know what else is going on? Murderville: Rounds of Luck! Episode 2 goes live on February 12th. $1 an episode let’s you read. $2 an episode let’s you read and gets you a sweet bonus every other month, like the one $2 patrons will be getting February 26th. So become a patron and don’t miss out!

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Rerun Junkie–Episode: “The Fugitive”

You can blame Tom Elliot and The Twilight Zone Podcast for this. And then you can go listen to Tom Elliot and The Twilight Zone Podcast (and support him and the show on Patreon!) because both the host and show are damn nifty.

In a recent episode of the podcast, Tom discussed The Twilight Zone episode “The Fugitive”. While I encourage you to give the whole episode a listen, particularly if you’re not familiar with the episode at the heart of the discussion, I’ll give you a quick rundown here:

J. Pat O’Malley plays Old Ben, a kindly old man that plays with the neighborhood children and has a particular kinship with one little girl with a lame leg named Jenny. Jenny has it pretty rough. The other kids don’t like playing with her because she’s a girl and she wears a leg brace. The aunt whom she lives with is horribly abusive towards her. Old Ben is a bright spot in her life.

Old Ben can do magic, like turn himself into other things, because he’s really an alien. When two men show up looking for him, he first tells Jenny it’s because he’s a fugitive. He then heals Jenny’s leg and leaves. In an attempt to get Old Ben to come back, the men zap Jenny into a kind of coma. He shows up to heal her and that’s when the real truth comes out: Old Ben is actually a king. In the end, he takes Jenny with him to his planet. Rod Serling’s closing narration informs the audience that the picture Jenny left under her pillow for her aunt to find is of Ben’s true form. He’s actually a young man. And her aunt will never guess that her niece will one day be a queen.

The discussion of this episode brought up an uncomfortable, but valid interpretation of the relationship between Old Ben and Jenny, insinuating that Old Ben’s interest in Jenny was more than platonic and the fact that he’s actually a young man in disguise doesn’t really make it better since the king in the picture could easily be nineteen or twenty and Jenny is only about twelve. It makes certain scenes and some dialogue rather squicky and distasteful when viewed in this particular light.

Now, like I said. It’s a perfectly valid interpretation of the episode, though I don’t think it was all written with that intent. It was meant to be something like a sci-fi fairy tale. And I’ve never even thought of it in that light when I’ve watched it. That could, of course, be my J. Pat O’Malley bias here. I love that man and I really need to write a post on him. It might be why I always looked at Old Ben as a kindly grandfather figure, someone who went an extra mile to be caring with Jenny because she had so little caring in the rest of her life. Even the reveal at the end didn’t sway my perceptions. I never took the relationship to be anything more than innocent.

And that’s probably because of the fairy tale aspect of the story.

Little girls are groomed from baby-age to be princesses and aspire to be queens. That Old Ben was really a young king and wanted Jenny to be his queen is supposed to be every little girl’s dream, age of consent be damned. We’re actually taught to look for someone older to take care of us. That this would be the ending to this fairy tale isn’t at all out of the norm.

It also plays on another trope common in children’s stories: the abused/neglected kid somehow being special and escaping their situation. That’s what the story really struck me as. That fairy tale of escaping some hostile situation that you, as a child, are powerless to change. That Jenny became queen later never felt that important; you could have left it out all together and the story would ring just as true. If Jenny had been Danny, there would never have been a need for any postscript crowns.

And if Jenny had been Danny, I doubt that as many people would arrive at the less-than-innocent interpretation of the episode because people still struggle with the idea that boys are also sexually abused.

There’s a societal conditioning concerning gender roles that I think plays into both interpretations of the episode. Old men prey on little girls. Little girls want to be princesses and queens.

And while the episode is definitely a product of its time, the lens we view it through hasn’t aged as much as we think.

Fat Girl in the New Year

The new year is ripe for weight-loss related resolutions. Not for me. My commitment issues only allow for me to have half-assed resolutions. My weight requires my whole ass.

Lots of people make weight-loss related resolutions and that’s fine. Some people need that fresh new year to help motivate them in their health goals. I can relate. I always have to start a goal on a Monday. It feels wrong to me to start in the middle of the week.

For me, though, my weight isn’t a resolution. It informs too much of my existence, too much of how society treats me to consider it so casually. And let’s face it. Most people take their resolutions casually, like champagne bubbles made to broken.

It just so happens that I am trying to lose some weight this year and it just so happens that it looks like I started around the first of the year. But this is not a resolution.

It’s like this. In the last couple of years, due to a delightful combination of illness and injury, sprinkled generously throughout with some mild depression, I’ve gained some weight on top of the weight that I’ve already been lugging around and frankly, it doesn’t thrill me.

Now, I’ve tried to get this weight gain under control, but it seemed like every time I started to get back into the swing of taking better care of myself, something would come along and derail it. And then I’d have to go through the struggle of starting all over.

Last month, I put it to my mind that I was going to get back into the habit of exercising regularly. I started around the beginning of the month (on a Monday, of course) and I was doing well with it. And then I hurt myself. Leave it to me to suffer a devastating knee injury while doing holiday baking.

My knee healed enough that I could start doing modified workouts the week of the first (I started on Monday the 31st, of course). And I’ve continued doing them on a daily basis, wearing a brace and increasing the length and difficulty, using modifications when I need them as my knee continues to heal. This regular exercise should help me feel better and help me lose some of the weight that I gained in the last couple of years.

This is a goal. Not a resolution.

When you’re fat, it’s easy for people to assume that when you’re eating a salad, you’re on a diet. They can’t fathom that you might always eat a salad or that you prefer a salad or hell, you were craving a salad (it happens to me rarely and usually in the summer).

When you’re fat and committing to an exercise plan at the beginning of any given year, it’s easy for people to assume that you’ve made a resolution. And resolutions are famous for being quickly disregarded and therefore, aren’t taken seriously. Which is what compels me to clarify my particular position.

This is not a resolution. This is a goal. A goal with the purpose of creating a lifestyle change. A lifestyle change which should help me feel better.

As much as I struggle, I am taking this seriously.

And, weight-loss related or not, casual or not, I’m wishing you well on your resolutions, too.

Turning 39: The Last of My Thirties

I have once again completed a trip around the sun and once again I find myself looking around thinking, “Holy shit. I’m not dead yet. That’s wild. I probably should have planned this better.”

Since this is the last year of my thirties, I figure it to be a sort of a victory lap. I went into my thirties thinking that I’d have a good time and it’d be my decade. And though I did have a few good years, it was really hard in a lot of ways. I went through some shit. I’m actually looking forward to getting into my forties.

I suppose I should be disappointed. I’m 39 and I haven’t checked off a whole lot of things on society’s To Do List. Hell, I haven’t checked off a bunch of things on my own To Do List. I’m kind of a failure.

Oh, well. Too late to do anything about it now.

So this year I send off my thirties and prepare myself for my forties. I have no idea what that’s going to entail. Ideally, there will be more success than I’ve had. More fun. More good times with people I adore. Ideally, I’ll get to meet new people and see new places because ideally I’ll make more money and therefore be able to afford that. Maybe I’ll even get an idea of what I should do with my forties.

But for now I’ll leave it loose. No need to put high expectations on 39. After all, I haven’t really plotted anything so far. Why start now?

Should be a real swingin’ time.

Murderville: Rounds of Luck- Episode 1

Garbage Man

Kobel Industries was one of the big companies in Munsterville that employed a lot of people, bought a lot of real estate, and diversified often. Because of that kind of expansion, Kobel Industries had a lot of stuff that had no immediate function. They also had a lot of properties that had no immediate uses. But both the properties and the stuff needed to be protected from those without property and stuff.

That’s how Velvet Li made her living, by working as a security guard at one of Kobel Industries’ miscellaneous warehouses.

It wasn’t a glamourous job, by far, and certainly wasn’t anything that Velvet had set out to do when she graduated high school, but it was a job she enjoyed, weirdly enough. Maybe because the third shift suited her night owl tendencies. Maybe because it really wasn’t too stressful of a job since nothing ever happened. Maybe because her partner for the last five years was Otis Gorski, a man so odd that Velvet couldn’t help but enjoy his company. Whatever the reason (Velvet suspected it was a combination of all three), the job got her through four years of college. When she graduated, she never left the warehouse to pursue her chosen career, much to the chagrin of her parents, who didn’t even like her chosen career of event planner anyway. But somehow being a security guard was considered worse. Maybe Velvet could be doing so much more with her life (definitely, according to her parents), but she was happy where she was. She made enough money to buy a house in sort of a less-than neighborhood, but she loved the neighbors, even if dead people did pop up on their front steps now and then.

Such was the charm of Murderville.

The warehouse Velvet worked at didn’t have an official name. None of the Kobel warehouses did, as far as she knew. The large metal and brick square building sat a half a mile off of Rockrine Road on the south side of Lake Munster, so that’s what people in town called it. The Kobel Warehouse Off Rockrine Road. It was one of the older, more secluded warehouses, connected to the main drag by a long lane, the whole building surrounded by trees, the building’s original purpose lost to time. Most of the Kobel warehouses were in the industrial slum area that contained many of the factories and warehouses of the Munsterville businessfolk, making The Kobel Warehouse Off Rockrine Road feel even more isolated.

Velvet Li arrived for her shift about fifteen minutes early as usual. She drove down the lane to the small, seldom-if-ever used front lot, taking an alley down the east side of the building to the back. The huge rear parking lot behind the building was lit by a single pole near the backdoor which was framed by two massive, closed rolling doors on either side. Three cars huddled around the light like children out after dark. Velvet parked in the last free space next to the light, Otis’s little hatchback sitting on the other side. Velvet liked to be early; Otis liked to be earlier.

Velvet locked her cellphone and her purse in the glove compartment. Unless it was that time of the month, Velvet didn’t bother bringing her purse inside. And there was a strict rule keeping cell phones out of the building. Why? No reasonable explanation had ever been offered. The best reason that HR could come up with was it was unprofessional to have a personal cell phone with you while on duty. There were phones in the building if a call needed to be made, but only in the case of an emergency and no personal phone calls, please. Velvet suspected that it was because Manfred Kobel was a soulless, controlling man. At least, that was the vibe he gave her every time she had the misfortune of being in his presence. But nobody had minded when she brought her homework to her shifts while she was in college, so Velvet wasn’t too put out about leaving her cell phone in the car.

Dressed in her official navy polo with the Kobel Industries logo on the left breast, her black slacks well worn and comfortable, her black shoes cushy and sensible due to the rounds she walked, her black Kobel jacket keeping out the chill autumn air somewhat, her radio clipped to her belt, Velvet locked her car and walked to the building looking professional for an audience of no one. The parking lot was empty except for her and the cars, and if Cami or Trey were watching the monitor for the backdoor camera, they likely wouldn’t have been too impressed by the familiar sight of her round, Black self.

Velvet unlocked the door with her key (the set contained one for the backdoor, one for the office that no one used, and one for the security room) and went inside, locking the door behind her before clipping the keys to her belt loop. There was no alarm system at this warehouse. If there had been, Velvet wouldn’t have a job. At least, that’s what Mr. Kobel said. He’d told the press multiple times over the years that he preferred to employ real humans to watch after his properties and security cameras were all the technology they needed to do it. For a businessman at the forefront of industry in Munsterville, his own feelings towards technological advancement stopped somewhere in the early 1990s. Velvet suspected it was because the man found more satisfaction in firing employees rather than replacing machines, but nobody asked her about that, so she kept it to herself.

Door secured, Velvet turned and entered the maze.

Most of what The Kobel Warehouse Off Rockrine Road contained was miscellaneous things acquired by Kobel Industries for reasons that didn’t have much immediate use. In the five years that Velvet had worked security here, she’d seen plenty of stuff brought in, but couldn’t remember a single thing being taken out. Worse, when some new pallet or box or whatsit was brought in, it was just that. Brought in and left at the nearest empty space. There was no system of organization, no attempt at neatness. Instead, the pile up over the years had created a maze of boxes and pallets and crates, some stacked over ten feet high, some only waist high to Velvet. The disorganization drove her crazy some nights when she walked her rounds and she fantasized about how she would go about organizing the mess she guarded. Most of the time, though, she ignored it and walked the maze to the security office like she was going on an adventure: the mundane adventure of adulthood and collecting a paycheck.

If it weren’t for Otis Gorski, she wouldn’t have any fun at all.

The warehouse maze was counterintuitive because its first turn took folks in the opposite direction of the security office. For a maze it made perfect sense, but not for a workplace that was not supposed to be a maze. It also made for an interesting experience for anyone visiting the warehouse, including Mr. Kobel. The front door was never used, at least on the night shift (Velvet didn’t even have a key for it), so everyone came in through the backdoor. The security escort was so visitors didn’t get lost.

Velvet took the first turn, then the second, and then stopped short.

The path she’d walked multiple times a shift had been altered. Not by much, but something new had been shoved in, jutting into the path, narrowing it by two or three feet, not that the path had been that wide to begin with.

“It’s a good thing that side door is sealed,” Velvet muttered, annoyed. “There’s no getting to it now.”

Velvet skirted around the new bulk, wondering what it was. She took the next turn, her footsteps echoing inconsistently around her. Some nights she didn’t take much notice of how creepy walking this labyrinth was, with its blind corners and uneven stacking and alternate paths. Other nights, she did, and she found herself hurrying and looking around like she was about to be attacked by an unseen monster lurking behind one of the stacked pallets.

And still other nights, like tonight, Velvet just had the vague feeling of being watched, no doubt thanks to the security cameras she knew were placed at various points around the warehouse. There were blind spots, that’s why they did rounds, but they never figured into the weird, spidery feeling of eyes following her movements.

At the opposite end of the warehouse, at the end of the maze, sat the security room, the cheese for the uniforms in this rat race. Velvet ducked inside quickly to shed herself of the feeling of being watched.

Cami and Trey sat at the desk, watching the rows of monitors mounted on the wall. Between the two of them, they’d only been working at this warehouse for less than two years and as a team for barely one. They’d only started the middle shift three months before and Velvet had yet to bother learning their last names. Turnover tended to be high. Except for her and Otis, who currently stood behind the younger, seated security guards, arms crossed, sour, judgmental look on his face.

Otis Gorski had only ever been a security guard, but to look at his old, white, wiry frame, the wrinkles positively etched around his eyes and mouth, his thinning, grey, buzzcut hair, it would be easy to mistake him for retired military or law enforcement. He just had that no-nonsense feel about him that made people automatically mind themselves. Velvet, however, knew the truth. Not that being only a security guard diminished Otis in her respect any; it just changed the coloring of the stories he liked to tell her.

“Good evening,” Velvet said cheerfully as she shut the door behind her.

Otis grunted in acknowledgment.

“Hey, Velvet,” Cami said.

“Anything happening?” she asked.

“Never,” Trey said.

“It’s that kind of attitude that will catch you off guard,” Otis said, his voice a mix of gravel and age. “You get used to the routine of the job and you’ll miss something happening right in front of your own face. You’ll never see it coming. And do you know what happens then?”

Cami and Trey exchanged looks, unsure of what to say. Velvet was unsure of what to say, too, but that was only because the choices were too numerous to narrow down. Gunshot to the head, knife to the throat, kick to the groin, impalement, with Otis, the sky wasn’t even the limit.

“You’re clobbered with a blunt object and left for dead, only you don’t die. You just spend the rest of your days watching game shows and sipping apple sauce through a straw.”

Cami and Trey looked appalled. Velvet rolled her eyes.

“A head injury isn’t a requirement for that, Otis,” she said.

If Cami or Trey had said it, Otis would have snapped on them so hard a drill sergeant would have saluted. But Velvet said it, so he just shook his head, like she had no idea of the harshness and complexities of a world that had no place for a joke.

On that awkward note, Cami and Trey wrapped up their shift, standing and grabbing their jackets from the back of their chairs. Everyone left the security room so they could either clock out or clock in via the old-fashioned punch clock on the wall next to the door. Back inside, Velvet and Otis took Cami and Trey’s places at the security desk, their eyes on the monitors, watching as their co-workers worked their way through the maze and out of the building, crossing the parking lot to their cars and driving away.

The dark grey walls of the security room dimmed the fluorescent overhead, absorbing the light and making the room feel more like a cave. The scuffed tile was peeling in places and there was a sizeable divot in the floor next to the door; Velvet, like the other security guards, had conditioned herself to step over it to avoid the risk of a twisted ankle. The job required them to walk rounds and it was too much walking to be hobbling. On Otis’s side of the desk was the computer that ran the surveillance system, which replaced the banks of VCRs that used to be on the wall opposite the door. On Velvet’s side of the desk was the pointless paperwork they were required to fill out every shift. Behind them, on a little table, was a coffee pot that never seemed to have coffee in it, and two flashlights. Next to the table was a mini-fridge that most likely held Otis’s lunch. Velvet would have her lunch delivered from the 24-hour diner that technically didn’t deliver, but she had a friend who worked there and took a break at the same time. She was really looking forward to that patty melt and found her mind wandering to it while she watched the monitors mounted on the wall above the desk.

And that’s how Velvet and Otis’s shift began, as normal as any other. For the first couple of hours, they followed their routine. Otis walked the first round and Velvet walked the second, the two of them taking a flashlight for the outside portion, spending the time in between keeping an eye on the monitors while Otis regaled Velvet with his security guard tales and Velvet poked Otis with a verbal stick. It was the reason Velvet loved her job so much. It was easy, and Otis was great entertainment.

Around midnight, something on one of the monitors caught Velvet’s eye.

###

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The Results of My 2018 Experiments

In this post, I declared 2018 my experimental year, or more accurately, gave myself three challenges for the year. The results of the first challenge, exercising for 100 days in a row, was documented in this post, however, at the time that I did the challenge and reported back I didn’t realize that I was suffering from anemia that was causing debilitating fatigue. So, keep that in mind if you decide to check it out.

The other two challenges ran the course of the year: writing a page a day on a project and writing a sentence in each of the languages I’m studying every day. I’m happy to report that I did both.

The point of doing the language challenge was two-fold. First, it meant to help me be consistent with my language practice because sometimes I’d flake off and only practice one of them instead of all four. Because I had to write a sentence in each language, I needed to practice all of them. Second, I thought by writing out the sentences it would help with the learning part.

The first part was definitely successful. I have a notebook full of random sentences from my lessons and I never missed a day no matter how busy or tired or unenthusiastic I was. The second part is a little harder to gauge. I can say that my Russian handwriting improved greatly, but French still confounds the hell out of me and I still screw up my Czech grammar and my pronunciation in all of those languages isn’t great. I am reading all of them easier, though. I’ll take the small victories where I can.

Writing a page a day was a simple enough writing exercise. It guaranteed that I wrote something every day and it acted as a nice warm-up on the days when I was having trouble getting started. I had an idea of what the story was and where it was going when I started, but it ended up being something else entirely by the end (though the ending is pretty close to what I had envisioned when I wrote the first page).

I honestly didn’t know whether or not I had enough story to make it all the way through the year, but it turns out I did. I ended up with 365 (double-spaced) pages and 101,493 words of a messy first draft of story. It’s the longest thing I’ve ever written and likely will be the longest thing I ever write, but I’m so glad I did it. And honestly, I’m kind of lost not having it waiting for me every day.

So, it is with these results that I declare the experimental part of 2018 a success.

Man, I love me some good science.

January Writing Projects

Hello, there, 2019. I’m certainly glad to see you, though I’m a little apprehensive to see your face, too. I’m afraid you’ll look too much like 2018.

And in so many ways, 2019 will. That’s because much of what I didn’t get done in 2018 will be on the projects list for 2019.

In fact, January 2019 will look a lot like January 2018 because I’ll be working on The Coop Run again. Last January, I was finishing the disaster of a first draft. This January, I’ll be finishing the rewrite of it which will turn it into a much better novella, a rewrite that I started sometime last year and had to abandon so I could focus on the torment that was Murderville Season 3. I have no idea how easy it will be for me to return to a half-finished project that I haven’t looked at in months, but the first of the year sounds like a great time to find out.

I’ll also be finishing the flash fiction project that I wanted to do last month. I ended up writing a few new stories for it, so it didn’t get put together and published. But it will this month. Honest! Maybe.

Starting off 2019 really strong and stable here, as you can see.

But what is getting off without any(more) hitches, is Murderville Season 3! The first episode of Murderville: Rounds of Luck goes live on January 8th. As always, $1 per episode patrons get to read, $2 per episode patrons get to read AND get fun bonuses every other month. It’s super easy to become a patron. Just head on over to Patreon and join in the fun.