On Progress, 11/21/14

Words written this week on “Date Night”: 6000, for a total of 10,914 (72% of maximum word count, 90% of estimated final word count)

My grade for myself: A+. That total represents hitting more than my bonus word count every day.

Good things about writing this week: Again, it is reinforced that I have the capacity to balance Day Job and Real Life and Recreation and Writing, always Writing. This isn’t NaNoWriMo levels of output, but it is solid, healthy output for someone who is not a full-time writer (or at least who is constrained by the travails of a full-time job with a set schedule).

Bad things about writing this week: I need to carve out more time in my schedule that is just writing time, straight up with no chaser. I was busy this week, so it’s forgivable, but I need more writing to happen at a relaxed pace, in my writing chair, at my writing desk, and less of it to happen in my office chair at work. Even if the feeling rushed does not deeply affect my writing quality, I feel bad about having it be something I get done in between other things. Next week will both be a chance to remedy this, thanks to the Thanksgiving break, and also be a challenge to work around — thanks to the Thanksgiving break. The only thing left to do is dive in with both fists swinging.

Real life: This week has defined “mediocre.” Nothing bad has happened, but nothing great, either, and the weather continues to erode my energy levels and my mood in equal amounts. On top of that, I am dealing with some low-grade social drama and it’s got my anxiety kicked into high gear. But, at the same time, I’ve mostly done a good job fighting the brain-spiders and keeping myself focused on writing and work and merriment, and Sonya has been very sweet and supportive when the brain-spiders have gotten too large and Shelobesque for me to fight on my own. Plus it’s Friday, so, that’s probably got me feeling a bit more sanguine.

Recommendation: This week, your recommendation is a comic book. Check out Superman for All Seasons, by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. It’s an older Superman story (which is to its advantage; I’m looking at you, New 52), and it is another retelling of Kal-El’s early days in the tights; but it has an emotional aspect to it, along with an affection and appreciation of the Superman mythos, that really makes it stand out from the pack. If you love Superman, you’ll love this; and if you don’t love Superman, this might help you understand the people who do.

Have a good weekend, everybody!


On Progress, 11/14/14

Words written this week on “Date Night”: 4914 (33% of maximum word count, 41% of estimated final word count)

My grade for myself: A. That total represents hitting bonus word count every day but one, and going over my base word count on every day.

Good things about writing this week: I remember now that I can churn out word count with the best of them when I have a deadline; I’ve definitely found my voice in places, even if I might pare out some of the bits I like best as per standard editing procedure; I might finally get to write a story with an emotional tone I’ve been wanting to use for years.

Bad things about writing this week: Yesterday’s writing was a trip to the dentist (as in, it felt like pulling teeth, he said, explaining the metaphor). I really struggled through the first 500 words, and the last 800 only happened after one of my not-so-favorite cycles of complaining about not having anything to write and then exploding into inspiration. While I will not discount the magic of inspiration and the creator’s need to travel whatever road they must (as long they aren’t hurting anyone), I will say that I really don’t like carping on Twitter. At least the descent into difficulty occurred on the last writing day before my writing weekend, I guess?

Writing life update: What a week! You can now read more of my work on real dead-tree pages, via this link to order The Beast Within 4: Gears & Growls.

Also, thanks to you incredible people, you will soon be able to read me in Not Our Kind, which contains a story I am so very excited to get to share with the world. I got to write about superheroes, you guys! I got to make superheroes say things! It’s not quite Neil Gaiman summoning Batman and making him do his bidding, but it still feels so great to work in a genre (or a subversion/deconstruction of it, at least) that has captivated me for basically my entire adult life. I’ll have a link for those of you who are not getting backer copies as soon as it is available; and again and forever, thank you to everyone who chipped in, or shared a link, or told someone. I owe this success to you people, and I will never forget that.

Real life: I do not have a lot to say about real life this week, my dears. It’s been good, though I am still fighting off the horrible face-planting of my energy levels every afternoon. I finished reading Hell House, putting me at 60 books this year. Reading graphic novels really bolstered my count, since I just plain process them faster than novels; next year I think my deal needs to include the book being no less than 60% prose or something, just to avoid that workaround. Not that I don’t think comics count as reading, but I want to keep things balanced. To that end I think my next book will be non-fiction…as soon as I finish reading everything my friend loaned me in the graphic novel department…

This weekend is one of our first weekends in months where we have had nothing scheduled, and we plan to spend it getting a couple things done, but mostly a whole lot of nothing. My hope is to tackle our thank-you notes from the wedding and maybe deal with a box or two of junk in the garage; but my other hope is to sleep in late and play some of the new games from the October Humble Bundle. Adulthood, yo.

Recommendation: Big Hero 6. No, seriously, Big Hero 6. It’s a great superhero movie, it’s a great CG animated movie, but it’s also a great movie. It’s sweet, and it’s funny, and it’ll break your heart and make you laugh and do a little bit of everything in-between. The characters are well-realized, the story is both simple and complex, and it’s great, great, great. Go and give it a gander and then see if you change the way you fistbump forever.

Have a good weekend, everybody!


On Progress, 11/7/14

So, let’s see here…

Today’s updates may be a tiny bit disjointed, because of the first item I want to cover in this update. The time change is discombobulating me in a way I don’t remember it doing ever before. I always find the November time shift a little difficult, but this year the challenge is prodigious. In the morning I inevitably wake up to fear, the crystal-clear quality of the light telling me that there is no way I am getting to my train on time. In the afternoon my energy level slides downward with the sun, leaving me first a little sluggish, then unfocused, then gray-on-gray languid, unable to do anything but grit through and try to do the best I can until I get to the train and nap. At home, the idea of doing anything feels like a punishment from up above. I find myself unable to do more than clean a little bit, eat some dinner, and watch TV until the exhaustion is bad enough that I finally slide into bed*.

The lack of focus and drive is especially troubling to me; every time I find myself struggling with intellectual pursuits or floundering for vocabulary, I always flash back to the experiences with Alzheimer’s disease in my family background. In short, it’s rough right now. The good news is, it is not always rough right now, and the bright spot has been this week’s writing.

Sonya, ever-supportive, found me a new open call for submissions to play around with, and I dedicated this week to doing research and writing my outline for the new story. The anthology in question is dystopian fiction with a twist, so I’ve been going over genre conventions, watching movies, reading up on theories about what could cause us to slouch the rest of the way to Bethlehem and our violent, hunter-gatherer future. I’ve had an idea since I first read the submission, which I’ve been calling “Date Night” after the core motive force behind the plot. It started out with just those few bones in the skeleton, but thanks to a week of really letting myself read and watch whatever I needed to, I’ve got a full skeleton and even some meat and muscle, enough to know that I need to start writing before I can fill in the gaps. I had been struggling with exactly how my world got to where it is at the start of the story, but last night, we were sitting down to watch Snowpiercer, and for reasons I do not pretend to wholly understand, I was hit full-force with the exact nature of the end in my story  “Date Night,” and exactly why we were are in the straits we are in as a species, and exactly how being who they are makes the main characters both unique and imperiled, about ten minutes into the movie. To celebrate, we agreed to watch the movie tonight and just watch some garbage TV last night while I wrote down notes and let my aching brain try to reform itself into a shape that can actually think properly.

Also on the writing front, I managed to do some work on another outline — the one for Novel 4. It’s not fully together yet, and I know that there are even some bits I’ve scribbled down that will get snipped before all is said and done. But the process is the part that is really tickling me right now. Yesterday, with my “Date Night” outline done (barring the final jolts of inspiration to come while Snowpiercer ), I decided to try to work on other projects, and with the tools available and time allotted that meant outlining Novel 4. So I got some lunch, and sat down, and tried to make outlining happen. At first it was a bit cumbersome and slow, with not much happening at all; but right as the first sparks of despair hit, a couple gears clicked together in just the right way, and chapters upon chapters of outline just came pouring out of me, along with ideas for presentation and organization, new characters, new spins on old characters, scenes that only had the most tenuous connections to the outline but that pulsed with power and purpose. I ended my lunch break with my outline not complete, but far more fleshed out than I had anticipated, which is a really pleasing and reassuring experience, believe you me. It’s a good reminder that, while inspiration sometimes requires waiting, you really do need to put your butt in the writing chair (or make the place your butt is the writing chair) every day. If you do, after a while, inspiration will wake up as soon as it realizes where it is.

So, the next step is to enjoy my weekend, secure in the knowledge that I do not completely suck at this writing thing; and on Sunday, I will begin work on “Date Night,” and bridge the gaps in inspiration by doing more research and working on Novel 4. Hopefully I get enough sleep between then and there.

Sleep really is the order of the day; but first, I need to get my Day Job work done, and that means not sitting here and blogging. Of course, I would never leave you without bestowing a recommendation. This week, the recommendation is that you go back and watch all of Veronica Mars. It has been a companion to Sonya and I through our efforts to adjust to the time change, and I think it’s perfect for that — smart enough I know I’m not just rotting my brain, but it also holds the hand just enough that it does not become frustrating and leave me despairing. Also it’s a fun noir/high school story, with the added murder-mystery side-game of getting to try to guess what really happened before the main characters figure it out. It carries the Tyler Seal of Approval.

Have a good weekend, everybody!

*I have a problematic relationship with bedtime; if I get in bed before I’m tired I am guaranteed not to get any sleep, so I need to make sure I am well and truly exhausted.

On Advice

There are a lot of books and seminars and web sites bandying about a lot of advice for writers. A lot of makes a great deal of sense. Writers need to learn a lot of business skills that may not seem relevant at first blush; they need to learn to manage their expectations; they need to learn that other writers struggle; and they need to learn how best to equip themselves for the constant, internecine battle to balance one’s real life and one’s writing life. That includes advice on one’s love life; after all, writing is always going to be an ink-stained elephant in the room.

When I’m in the throes of a deadline, I can become a little inaccessible. Not emotionally, so much, but temporally; I need more of my day for writing than I do when I’m working on personal projects. It means I won’t necessarily be able to cook dinner, or watch TV after dinner, or go run an errand. It means that sometimes I am going to be exhausted at the end of the night. It means I will have days when I am consumed by impostor syndrome, when I am contemplating with dire seriousness the idea of setting the whole writing career idea on fire and just spending my off-time playing Skyrim.

If I tell Sonya I need time to write, I have time to write. Even if it means she cooks a few extra dinners or can’t watch Hulu because I need the bandwidth to access my outlines on Evernote. She regularly emails me with links to calls for submissions she finds online. She listens, avidly, to me telling her about outlines for novels or concepts for stories. She talks to me about our experiences with media that deal with some of the ideas I am having, about places we can go, physically or digitally, to find the data I need. She makes sure I have whatever weird little comforts I need to keep the Muse-A-Tron’s engines running (mostly San Pellegrino sparkling water, but sometimes I really desperately need a hot dog or a burger when I’m writing, too*). She listens to me bemoan my lack of talent, and she celebrates with me when I feel like maybe I’m good at this. She is genuinely interested in the process I am going through and is willing to be a part of it when I need a sounding board.

A lot of writers (really, freelancers of all kinds) will advise that one of the best things a creator can do is marry stably. What they usually mean is that a creator should marry someone who is happy making the money that covers the day-to-day necessities, so the creator can focus on creating. And I will admit, I wish I didn’t have to have a day job. I keep considering all kinds of God-forsaken places we could move just so we could afford rent on what I would make freelancing, or ways we could finagle it so I work out of the home so I can write when things are slow.

But in the meantime, having a day job means that I contribute to us having a roof over our heads and food on our table; that we have the leisure time available for date nights and game nights; that I am stable enough to be there for Sonya when she needs me to be there; that I am, in short, getting to help take care of Sonya, the same way she is helping take care of me.

One day, I would love to leave my day job. I would love to be writing full-time. But in place of the advice that one should choose a partner based on financial stability, I would offer this advice: choose someone who sees time for writing as a priority in your relationship, and who makes whatever you have to do to support each other feel absolutely worth it.
*No, I don’t really drink when I’m writing. Faulkner would be ashamed if he could swim up out of his stupor long enough to feel things. And if he weren’t dead.

On Progress, 10/24/14

In which we discuss birthdays, LARPing, prose vs. comics, and the healing power of samurai. Oh yeah, and writing.

So, let’s get right to the thing you all really want to talk about: yesterday was my birthday! For the next 365 days, the Sun will look down upon me and see a living palindrome, for I am thirty-three years old.

Thirty-two was a great year for me, in all honesty. I got a chance to submit a comic book pitch to a real comic book publisher, and have not been rejected out of hand; I proved to myself that I can juggle a day job, a passion, a relationship, and fun without having serious stress about it; I learned a lot about myself and my needs and the communicating of those things; and, oh yeah, I should probably mention I got married to the love of my life, and we conquered all the wedding stress and can now spend that energy building a happy, fun, and wonderful life together. She complements me, and completes me, and makes my life better every day for being in it. I love her so very much, and she is the best part of this year and every year we have together going forward. If I had to pick one reason we should develop a cure for death, the time I’m getting with Sonya would be it.

My one big downer, looking out from the promontory of this stressful, challenging, but ultimately rewarding, year, is that in being a year of learning about myself, it has also been a year of me learning about what I cannot and will not tolerate. There are obvious things, like the ridiculous Gamergate scandal, that have had me riding the Block button like I’m being paid to do it; but there are less political, more personal things, too. It’s been a year of admitting that I’ve changed, and others have changed, and those changes have sometimes left gaps. I just don’t like some people that I used to like, and have grown distant from others without any rancor; and I just don’t enjoy some things I used to enjoy. It feels cleansing to admit that to myself and not expend spoons trying to maintain tolerance of those situations; but it’s also saddening to see parts my life winnowed down, even as it opens up time and energy to do the things I love and see the people I love.

One of the things that has really hit home for me this year is the realization that I just don’t want to LARP anymore, at least for the foreseeable future. This is a writing blog, so I won’t get into details here, except to say that I looked around the other day at my bevy of live-action roleplaying options, and realized there was something about every single one of them that made me wary of checking it out, or that turned me off for some other reason; and the mere fact I am scared to say this out loud speaks volumes about my experience recently. It was deflating to realize that something I used to be full-steam, raging-bull passionate about now elicits a response somewhere just north of “ehhhhhhhhh maybe?”; but at the same time, it feels purifying to admit it to myself.

To give credit where credit is due, and also to shift to a more positive subject, a lot of this realization stems from one of the bright spots in my gaming hobby right now: the campaign of Legend of the Five Rings I am currently playing in. I had gotten to play one session of L5R prior to this game, and I have to say I am both sad that I never played it before (because of all that time, wasted!) and glad that I am playing it as an adult (because part of the fun stems from the group’s maturity level). The game is easily one of the best ones I have been in, both because of the game itself, the story we are engaged in, and the attitude at the table. The GM and other players are all very low-stress people who are there to have fun and play the specific genre we have shown up to play, and we all want to help each other relax and enjoy the game, and we all view it as, yes, a game. I begin L5R day with a feeling of anticipation and I end it with a feeling of satisfaction, and it proves to me that that kind of game is possible to have and that I deserve to have that kind of game. It’s also taught me, for like the millionth time, that I have good instincts when it comes to people once I get my jerkbrain to be quiet, and outside of some known issues with interpreting tone (thanks, social anxiety!) I do not need to let others make me doubt myself.

Also on the subject of games that make me happy, there is Wild Talents. “Great Responsibility,” the campaign I am currently running-slash-the inspiration for the comic book series I am pitching, has been a bit of an up and down for me, mostly because of what Sonya has dubbed “Art Feelings.” It is a story I am hungry to tell and a world I am hungry to explore, and so when it falls short of the exact tone I am going for I always feel it very keenly. I have had nights where I have been in full Biopic About Mad Artist mode, growling to myself and sulking and wanting to just burn the whole thing to the ground. I have also had nights that were all happy little trees and internal firecrackers about how great it was.

I’ve felt a little choked up and blocked in regards to the campaign lately, mostly because things got much darker in the last session than I intended. But I talked it through with (thank God for her) Sonya, and without betraying any twists and turns in the game or indeed any details at all, she was able to help me find my Buddha nature and make the plans I need to make to get us going down the broad track I am hoping to be on. We wound up spending my birthday dinner handling some downtime stuff for her, and it was actually really great to get to flex my creative muscles there. I am really excited about the game again, and while there may be more Art Feelings down the road (almost certainly), I think I am better-equipped to handle them. I just need to remember: I create things that do not exist without me creating them. My friends’ worlds are changed by the effort I put in. Even if I aim for Batman: the Animated Series and get All-Star Batman and Robin sometimes, I am better for the trying.

Speaking of medium, and speaking of actually talking about writing in my writing blog: after a couple weeks of working on comic book scripting, I have switched back to prose this week — specifically, further work on Eyes of Stone — and the return has been amazing. I have talked before about still rediscovering my voice after years of forcing a silly set of affectations on myself, and I have to tell you, having written within the comic-script medium now has helped immeasurably. Having to obey a new structure that I am not used to has really made me appreciate the strengths of both mediums; I know I’ve said that before, but the proof was in the pudding when I worked on Eyes of Stone again. My work was much looser, much more relaxed, much more natural than it has been. It was easy for me to see how to represent a scene in prose and how it would be represented differently than comics, to see the things that prose can and should play with and emphasize that a comic can’t. It feels good, and refreshing, and liberating, and I would tell you more about it, but I’m too busy actually getting writing done.

In other Eyes of Stone news, the work continues apace; I’m around halfway done with the editing and restructuring into a first draft. It’s a long journey, is the novel, and I am glad to be finding time to take it. In other general writing news, the Not Our Kind Kickstarter still needs backers; if you want to call it a birthday present from me I would even send you a thank-you card! (If you told me it happened, that is.) I’m also starting to look more seriously at trying to put together an online writer’s group of some sort; I really need writer-on-writer time, and with my schedule and mobility limitations (no car, not a disability) that really seems like the best and most efficient way to make that happen.

So, that’s 1500 words of blog post. I think I am going to sign off now; I’ve got work to do and a birthday party to clean up for. I will leave you with this week’s recommendation: I think you should check out the graphic novel Batman: The Long Halloween. It’s an excellent old-school (post-Miller) Batman story, that explores the issues with the character but also doesn’t try to hype him up as some kind of super-badass for having all those moral quandaries. It has some repetitive bits if you’re reading it as a collected work (Loeb was really into recapping things using the same words during this run), but overall it is a wonderful read for anyone who loves the Dark Knight.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

On Progress: 10/17/14

Let’s do this.

This week has been kind of up and down. On the positive side, I saw friends every night from Sunday to Wednesday. On the negative side, I saw friends every night from Sunday to Wednesday. Luckily it was a good mix of situations that tend to deplete my spoons and situations that restore them, so I came out of it roughly balanced, though starved for time to sit and write.

More important to my current good mood is that I finally hashed some stuff out with Sonya that needed to be hashed out. Not a fight or anything, just both of us talking through stuff the way I hear married couples are supposed to talk through stuff. Functional couples of any type, really, but, the point stands. I love her so very much and am so glad we are figuring out how to Adult together, and no, you don’t get to know what it was about; just that I feel so very much better having gotten through it.

The writing this week has been rough, I am afraid. Having social engagements every night for four nights straight really put a huge damper on my ability to find time to relax and write; sometimes inspiration strikes on my lunch breaks, but when inspiration has to strike on my lunch breaks, the word “strain” is an understatement. I’ve been writing a comic script, so “word count” is a bit hard to pin down, but I have not been getting as much done each day as I would like, and now here I am at the first of my two days a week off, wishing this could have gone better. My current thought process is similar to last week’s: I can either take my two days off, or if inspiration strikes, write on either of my two days off. I have options; and I know I will be back to the keyboard on Sunday.

Really, the thing that I have remembered this week is that I am lucky to have a life that supports writing at all. Many people I know suffer from too much overtime, from disruptive home lives, difficult commutes, and other things that can crush the life out of a pursuit like writing in one’s off-hours. I have a partner who makes sure I get into the writing room whenever I need to, who supports me when I send out submissions and comforts me when I get rejected, who understands that sometimes I need to drop what I’m doing and write something down, and who understands all the other things about the insane pursuit of making things up. I love her so very, very much, and I remember it every time I sit down to write. I mean, it’s hard not to; I see gifts from her on my desk every time I sit down to it.

Every time I sit down to it. That, above all things, is most important; that I just keep doing the work, regardless of how hard it is on any given day, regardless of what other things are knocking at my door. I get out to the computer, and I do. The. Work. I do not always necessarily feel I am good at the writing part; but I am good at making sure I try.

And I guess, really, that is what I want to be able to say at the end of my life. I want it written on my tombstone: I never stopped trying.

OK, it is time for me to do the Day Job thing. I leave you with a recommendation: Pick up Chew, by John Layman and Rob Guillory. It’s a graphic novel series about an alternate America where poultry is illegal due to an avian flu epidemic, in which a cop named Tony Chu solves crimes using his power to learn the history and memories of anything he eats. That is the least weird thing I can possibly type about this series, and it is glorious and revolting and funny and sad and everything I wanted it to be. Please, go read it. Give them money. Give them praise. You will regret none of these decisions.

On that possibly dangerous note, I leave you. Have a good weekend, everybody!


On Progress, Not Technically 10/10/14

Saturday is like Friday, after Friday’s had time to change and order his first cocktail.

So, clearly I am not quite back on the blogging bandwagon. It has been a weird week, to cap off a weird series of months. After a week of kind-of-writing, of difficulty focusing at work, of some extreme emotional reactions, and of just generally feeling like someone turned down the volume on the entire world, I’ve been forced to admit that my recovery from Weddinggeddon is not yet total. This is one of those places where I should be kinder to myself than I am being — weddings are stressful, travel is stressful, vacations screw up your rhythm, and it’s not like the consequences of difficulty focusing exactly fill you with marzipan and kittens even if you don’t suffer from an anxiety disorder. But I just plain expect more of myself than that; I should have made more progress with my writing than I have, should have gotten back on the exercise train full-time, should be back up to speed at work. I’m full of “should,” and falling short of it hurts me.

Some time Thursday, I finally saw the light. Unfortunately, this was not in time to prevent a bit of a screw-up at work, which I at least took ownership of, but I did see the light. It was triggered by the realization that this weekend is the first weekend since somewhere near the end of August that we have not either been preparing for the wedding, or been expected to be somewhere in specific. We have a friend’s birthday dinner tomorrow night (Sunday, for those playing at home), and that is our only plan that is being enacted at a pace other than one we dictate to ourselves. So, it’s time to try to fix the burnout. Time to sleep in as late as we want, to only cook as complicated a dinner as we want, to clean the house up at the speed we choose and to do whatever we feel like should it harm no-one. Time to hoard spoons in a manner most miserly and climb back out of this pit of sleep debt and into the light. (I use that metaphor a lot. I’ll need to watch out for it.) I look forward to starting the next week feeling a little bit fresher.

The good news is, I have not been entirely idle in the writing department. Though work on Eyes of Stone has stalled in reaction to my spoon shortage, I have been working on the synopsis for the comic book series I’d tinkered with, and it is currently with an indie publisher for consideration. They have told me they expect to get back to me next week, and I am nervous and elated in equal measure. Even if I am rejected, and let’s face it, in this world that is the likelier option, it’s nice to know I have tried to do something new and have gotten a response of some kind. That said, I hope they accept it. I would love an opportunity to write comics.

In other good writing news, an anthology I am proud to be a part of is on Kickstarter! Not Our Kind is an anthology of speculative fiction stories about people who don’t belong — who think differently than those around them, who question the status quo. Details about the book are available on the Kickstarter page, but bottom line is, if you want to contribute, I and all the other writers involved would greatly appreciate it. You can back for any amount you want, but $10 gets you an eBook copy of the anthology, and $25 gets you a paperback; larger amounts can also get you writing critiques from the pros, special gifts from Alliteration Ink, and even home-baked cookies if you go far enough. The majority of the money goes to paying the authors SFWA professional rates, which is a big deal for us, and should stand as testament to how awesome Alliteration Ink is and how much they deserve your money bits. Fair warning: This is important enough I will be posting reminders about the Kickstarter at milestone times — when we hit 50%, when we’re halfway through the Kickstarter, etc. I’ll avoid spamming, but this isn’t the end of the discussion, not for something that depends so much on word of mouth.

On a personal note, I want to take a second to talk about the story I had accepted for this anthology. “Hero Town” is probably the fiction work I am most proud of to this day; to paraphrase editor and fellow writer Jennifer Brozek, “Hero Town” is me being the best me I can be — me stretching beyond my previous ruts and limitations and really improving as a writer. It’s one of the stories that really clicked with me the minute I had the idea, that took some suffering to produce but made itself completely worth it in the end. I’m proud to be published alongside the other authors in this anthology, especially Jennifer, who was one of the first editors to accept my work for publication; and I’m proud that the piece I am getting paid my first pro rate for is “Hero Town.” I really hope you all like it.

Well, we are fast approaching a thousand words here, so I’m going to leave off and go back to an unwinding Saturday. I know I promise recommendations, and so to you all I recommend an oldie and an obvious one: Batman: the Killing Joke. It’s Alan Moore at his peak, writing the Joker in a way that has since become the axis the character spins on. If you haven’t read it yet, there is a gap in your comics experience. Give it a whirl.

Have a good weekend, everybody! I know I will.

On Progress, 10/3/14

God I’ve been terrible.

Friends and loves, this past month has been crazy. Two weddings where there should be three, an illness that would not quit, and so, so little sleep. My wife came down with bronchitis a week or so after the wedding, dodging us being sick on our honeymoon but causing us to miss our friends’ wedding (lest we infect the immunosuppressed groom). We then spent a week suffering, and are still not quite all the way well, but are at least as well as we are getting for the foreseeable future, chest colds being what they are. On top of that there have been big projects coming up at work, both at the Day Job and in my writing in a lesser degree, and the issue of all those social plans we deflected until “after the wedding” now coming due. But, we’re finally out of it; the Weddinggeddon has ended, and we have triumphed. Our weekends are our own once more, to do with as we please; and that is one of the best wedding gifts I could ask for.

All this is to say that I should be back to my regular updates again, now that my life is not being used to define the very concept of hectic; and that I missed writing these words once a week. It was a nice piece of ritual to close my work week out and bring me into the weekend, and I suspect that not doing it is part of why I’ve felt a bit off-center for the last little while. I’ve had a lot of my rituals interrupted by Weddinggeddon and illness, and getting back into them has really helped. Next week I might even get back to exercise.

As far as writing, well, writing never really stopped. I was off the wagon for the week of my honeymoon, focused instead of spending time with my love (and what a time it was!); but beginning the Sunday before I went back into the real world, I sat down and I started writing. Work on Eyes of Stone has progressed, though I stopped when I got ill and worked on other projects because my febrile brain just could not handle the complexities of editing and needed something looser if I was to keep limber. Editing of the comic-book scripts I’ve been poking at has continued apace. And perhaps most importantly: I am going out on a limb and pitching a comic-book series!

There’s a small-press comic publisher open for submissions, and they have done some things in the past that are similar enough to my ideas that I feel like it might actually be something they’d be interested in. This past week, I have devoted my writing time to getting my synopsis polished up and ready for them; this weekend, one of my beta-readers is looking at it, and hopefully next week I can get it out the door and begin this new and exciting adventure. Said adventure has a good chance of ending with rejection, as so many creative endeavors do, but I can’t fly if I never jump.

I’ve got some more good news waiting in the wings, but I want to be sure all the legal stuff is squared away before I talk about any of it. But suffice to say it is a good time to be a Tyler, what with the amazing wife and the great friends and the creative success, however “minor” it might be.

The truth is, though, that this is all the news that’s fit to print. Relaxing and recovering do not great stories make, at least not without a little effort, and I doubt you need a blow-by-blow of my Mass Effect playthrough right now. So rather than do that, I am going to conclude here. Of course, I would not leave you without a recommendation. This week, I recommend you pick up the first issue of the new Thor ongoing series, released on Wednesday by the folks at Marvel Comics. This is the beginning of the story of the new, female Thor, and while the beginning was definitely written before the ad blitz about the shift, it’s well-written and promises some interesting things going forward. Go check it out; verily, you will not be disappointed.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

On Marriage (You Knew This Was Coming)

I’m married.

It’s honestly hard to believe.

I don’t want to make it sound like wedding preparations were the single worst thing I have ever dealt with. That said, they were stressful, at times maddening, often the precipitator of fetal positions and defiant sobs. Both Sonya and I were extremely stressed during the process; so much so that when the weekend itself came, we were neither one quite prepared for how easy and pleasant it was going to be. While it was occasionally torture getting there, that pain was the price we paid to have the finale be easy. That said, the ease of it also put both of us on uneasy footing. Because the stress wasn’t there, neither of us quite believed the wedding was actually coming; we were sure even up to the moment that this wasn’t real, that we were having some sort of dress rehearsal and the real day, the clenching guts and the sweating brows and the deep, ruinous worry, had to be coming later.

On Friday we had the rehearsal dinner, and it wasn’t real then. The rehearsal was as simple and as easy as we could have hoped for, with all of the bridal party chiming in to help us make the process easier and iron out the kinks in the process. Afterwards was a lovely dinner at Rosie McCann’s (a local chain that was a common haunt for myself and my groomsmen during our college days), where the food and the booze were both superb and the company even more so. I gave my groomsmen their groomsman gifts (or the ones that had arrived, anyway), and we went back to our house with our visiting bridesmaid, Heidi, and decompressed. It still wasn’t real.

The next morning, I woke up at 5:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep, despite the wedding being at 4. The wedding that, mind you, still wasn’t real to me. We spent the morning in panic mode, convinced that we had tons left to do, that it wouldn’t get done, that we needed to exert every last drop of energy on getting ready. With two hours to go, all that was left was dropping me off to handle decorations. For the wedding that still wasn’t real.

Decorations happened, made easy with the help of my groomsmen and one of their wives/my friend. Getting dressed happened, with the assistance of my best man getting my damn half-Windsor knot to not look like a small yellow atrocity. I mingled with the guests, and gave a million hugs, and took some candid photos I didn’t entirely expect but really should have. It still wasn’t real, even as I handed off the book with the rings hidden in it to the maid of honor and took my position for the procession.

It wasn’t real when John Williams’ theme from Superman played and my groomsmen proceeded out ahead of me. It wasn’t real when I walked up that aisle, faceless faces all around me, all looking at me. It wasn’t real when I said hello to our officiant.

Then the music shifted to the Vitamin String Quartet rendition of “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” and the bridesmaids came proceeding up the aisle. And behind them came my fiancee, my girlfriend, the cool chick from OKCupid, the long string of delightful nights and excellent movies and laughter. And all of a sudden, it was real.

She looked beautiful, you guys. She looked amazing. The officiant went above and beyond the call of duty, reading out the ceremony with aplomb, including a last-minute addition from Mr. Kurt Vonnegut. Then all of a sudden I was kissing Sonya, and I had a ring on my finger, and I realized that we had just gotten married.

It would take me days to craft a description of the feeling that is worthy of it. It has taken me days just to get what I have here. Marriage really is a unique experience, an experience that changes the world and yet changes nothing all at once. An affirmation of a love we already felt and of a commitment we’d already made, a shift in terms of address that proved words could be earth-shattering. I have never been as happy as I was in that moment. So I did what I knew needed to be done, before the blur of the reception and the photos and the people wanting to congratulate us, of the gifts and the hotel room and the thousand ways the world would conspire to make sure we were happy at the beginning. I grabbed her, and I kissed her one more time, and I whispered in her ear “We made it. I love you.”

Then I kissed her one more time, and I whispered “Hail HYDRA.” It’s important to keep things in perspective.

There are a ton of people we want to thank – this wedding was a reminder of how excellent human beings can be. I am going to try to hit all the major ones here; I only hope I have not forgotten anyone in the blur of happiness I’m feeling right now.

Thank you to both our families, now our shared family, for all the support, both temporal and financial; this literally could not have happened without all of you, and you are all wonderful for having given it.

Thank you to Matt, my best man, for a wonderful speech and for all the work he did to make my bachelor party and my wedding excellent. I love you, brother.

Thank you to Nate and Nick, my other groomsmen, for your constant support, and your outspoken affection. I’m proud to call you brothers too.

Thank you to Kaitlin, my sister, for organizing the rehearsal dinner and for being a charming hostess during it. Also thanks for the quiet moment and the shot of bourbon before the festivities started; that little moment will be preserved forever in my mind.

Thank you to Alex and Bob, our photographers, who made our photos casual and fun and really, I think, captured who we are and what the wedding was. And thanks for staying late to watch us play our first board game together.

Thank you to Nathan and Patty at the Winchester Mystery House, who gave us access to an incredible site, helped us organize a fun and affordable wedding, and were so kind as to let us stay late and to store some of our leftover cupcakes after the wedding. If you need a site for an event and the Mystery House sounds good to you, go to Nathan and Patty, seriously; they will hook you right the F up.

Thank you to Bob at A Catered Affair, for incredible food on a totally doable budget. Seriously, talk to him if you need to feed a group; you will not be disappointed.

And to everyone else: thank you, too. Your presence and your love were a reminder that we love and are loved in return, by so many excellent people with whom we share wishes for mutual success. We have chosen the right community to be a part of, and we have chosen the right people to share our lives with. You, right there, are truly, literally awesome. I am in awe of you, and I am so delighted to know you.

I was asked at the reception if being married felt any different. After two days, I was ready to say that No, it really didn’t. But now that I’m alone with my thoughts, I have to say I was wrong. Marriage does feel different. It makes everything a little bit brighter.

I’m going to go spend some time with my wife now, everyone. I hope your day is anywhere near as excellent as mine.

On Cats, Nuptials, and Reluctant Collard Greens

This post was supposed to be about the countdown to my wedding. Instead, it is largely about the cat.

As of this last Friday, we were eight days away from my wedding, and I was due to cook dinner that night: collard greens with barbecued chicken and grilled pineapple. I was feeling overwhelmed by what needed to be done, and concerned about cooking something would take as long to make as collard greens on a work night; so Sonya and I decided we would address what needed to be done by going to Trader Joe’s, buying our usual “picnic” (some meat, cheese, fruit, and crackers), and then eating it and crafting wedding decorations while watching My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It’s a dinner plan that requires very little kitchen prep and is easy and fun and relaxing for us, and would be the perfect way to get us to push into the final few things we needed to do – finish the decorations, choose the last of the music, decide on the first dance, etc. We drove to Trader Joe’s, the whole way trading off the ball of stress we’ve been managing the last couple of weeks, as well as doing our usual Friday decompression, thinking about our weekend, etc. Plus we had Sonya’s bachelorette party to talk about, which was due to happen Saturday the 30th and was a source of excitement for both of us; she would get to be celebrated the way I was celebrated, and I would get the house to myself to play Sentinels of the Multiverse. Then we got home, and we knew this entire plan was going to be cast aside.

Our cat, Yossarian (“Yoshi” to his friends), has been having some issues of late. He’s been treating the tables and bench as his restroom, without regard to what objects he may actually befoul in the process. He’s also been dealing with our (apparently pretty gnarly) flea problem, courtesy of poor insulation and a local feral cat population. Given how old he is (well into his teens), we were monitoring him for signs he was getting worse, but also assuming it could just be age taking its toll and possibly the fleas annoying him into misbehavior. Also given how old he is, we were avoiding really harsh chemical remedies for the fleas, since the one time we tried that it seemed to make him nauseous and logy for several days and we didn’t want to risk killing him in the process of saving him. So we’ve been vacuuming dutifully, and spread diatomaceous earth, and waiting for a sign that we needed to do more.

Friday night, we got that sign. When we came home, Yoshi looked kind of dazed and lethargic, clearly a little upset and very, very tired. He complained at us, as he always does when we first get home, but it was very weak compared to the usual feline lambasting, and he didn’t try to make us feed him or pay attention to him the way he usually does, just sort of…sat there. We debated whether he needed to go to the doctor, or whether this was yet another bluff by the cat to get us to give him our undevoted attention. It was more extreme than his usual, but we weren’t willing to swear that it wasn’t just because his usual had stopped working as effectively.

Sonya set up dinner, putting out plates and knives and forks and washing the grapes for our little living room picnic, and we watched about thirty seconds of an episode of MLP before Yoshi tried to walk over to his food and water, wobbling and staggering the whole way. He got to his food, and just suddenly sat down, not a graceful sit so much as a slump after a failure to agree with his feet about standing. We paused the show and shared an alarmed look, and we asked ourselves “Does he need to go to the emergency vet?”

Sonya gave him some pets and some whispered queries about what he needed, and decided to try taking him to the litter box, in case maybe he was wanting to be escorted across the house (something Yoshi feels is his royal due) or was just out of sorts and couldn’t get there on his own.. When she put him down in the litter box, he stood for a moment, and then fell down again.

We agreed not long after that this was something that required a professional’s attention. Sonya went out to grab the cat carrier from the garage, while I sat and held him, trying to see if some time hanging out on one of our shoulders would revive him to his usual purring self (the thing he mostly wants when he plays at being weak or sick), and I found that he was not as warm as I was used to, and also not holding on and clawing my shoulder the way he usually does. When Sonya came back to the door with the carrier, Yoshi twisted away from my shoulder (exacting his usual price of blood in the process) and ran to the door, barking out his low, strained distress cry that means something is really wrong. Then he hunkered down on all fours there in the doorway, yowling and looking up at nothing in particular, acting as though he really could not understand what was happening to him.

For a second, we thought that could be it. That this could be the sounds of a cat in their last moments, and that we needed to comfort him and love him. But the possibility of safety was more important to us, and so Sonya hustled him into his cat carrier while I got the picnic put away and got the address of the local emergency pet clinic. We put him in the back of the Prius, and started driving for the clinic, as fast as was safe. Yoshi whined and yowled in his usual way, a little sharp and a little high and a lot angry, and we had hope that this was just sickness, not fatality. Then, as we got on the freeway, he went silent, and would not respond to us calling his name or making the kissing noises that mean we want his attention.

I say a lot of things are the worst thing in the world, or the worst time of my life, especially when the brain-spider has me in its clutches and I’m dealing with the way the world looks from inside its mouth. But there are few things I have ever done or experienced that were as harrowing and as heartbreaking as those ten silent minutes on the highway and in the low, dark suburbs of Palo Alto, trying to get Yoshi to respond to us and not being able to turn and see him. I found myself thinking that we had done everything we could to watch for signs something was wrong; that we had both loved him and snuggled him before he went in that carrier and that he knew he was loved by the actions we took to help him; and then I found myself thinking about the exact questions I would need to ask the clinic if we got there and I needed their help with memorial services and interment for our beloved ginger cat.

About three blocks from the clinic, we hit a red light, and from the back of the car, we heard a plaintive little mewl. The relief in the car was palpable.

The rest of the night was a haze of institutional white. We got the cat checked in for testing and analysis, and were told it would be an hour or so while they took his vitals and put him on heat support for his very low temperature. Dinner became a sluggish affair at McDonald’s, both of us trying to joke around and lighten the mood while we killed time on our iPads and watched the clock to see when we could go back and see the cat. Eventually, it was that time, and we listened dutifully while the doctor told us that Yoshi was anemic due to flea bites, and that we would probably need to bring him back in for a blood transfusion in the morning. They told us the fleas needed to be brought under control, and that the meds and topical cream they’d given him (on his shoulders where he couldn’t eat it, of course) would help with that, but that it was a threat to the cats life. Then we brought home a traumatized kitty and fed him the pills required by the doctors, as well as force-feeding him some red-meat-based baby food to try to help get his blood built back up; and we set about trying to get some sleep.

Sleep is impossible when you have a sick baby in the next room, whether that baby is human or is a tiny desert predator who has decided you are his parents. It’s cliche, perhaps, but I spent the night thinking about who our cat is, in between hyper-alert listening to his movement in the next room. I thought about how he’s selfish, and vocal, and persnickety about his needs and desires, but also always runs over to check on you when he hears you crying. I thought about how he likes to wake us up every morning to demand his cat treats; about how he charms everyone he meets, so much so that our corner of the Internet flooded my Facebook inbox with virtual hugs for the cat; about how he loves the Harry Potter films and will almost instantly sack out with us when we watch them; about the way his shouting echoes through the house, the way his claws dig into our shoulders when we hold him, the way he absolutely does not care if he’s inconvenienced you if he’s found that your current position affords him a choice way to sit and sleep. I thought about how lucky we are to have him in our lives, and how whatever we have to do for him is worth it if it means that his dotage is peaceful and painless.

The hour for his pill-giving came earlier than anyone wanted, but when it came time for him to eat, he at least did climb down and get food and water for himself. Then not long after came the hour of the transfusion, so we stuffed ourselves with the scones that had been intended as dessert for the living room picnic and drove Yoshi over to be dropped off. It would take between 6 and 14 hours to finish the transfusion, so we knew Sonya had plenty of time for her bachelorette party that afternoon, and that the board games I had planned would be a welcome distraction. We were able to wave bye-bye to Yoshi through the door to the back room as we left, and we counted our blessings that the vets at the clinic really, truly cared about our little man.

Saturday was honestly even more of a haze than the night before. Two good friends came over, and two others came by and dropped off their wedding gift to us – a window-mounted air conditioner, which was truly a blessing for us sweaty California gamers in our house with no AC of its own. We played Sentinels of the Multiverse after a late lunch, and found ourselves stuck waiting for the vet to call and so playing The Red Dragon Inn to pass the time while we waited (next to no setup, so easy to tear down and keep track of if we had to leave suddenly). I spoke to the doctor tending Yoshi around 7 and heard “the little stinker is eating us out of house and home,” and that he’d be ready soon. Some emergencies caused us to have to wait until 10 to get the little man, but ultimately we were able to. We spent an amount of money that did not matter, because we had it and it meant Yoshi was taken care of.

And that brings us more or less to now. Yoshi is in the house as I type this, basically rotating between eating, sleeping, and sometimes pooping somewhere inappropriate. He is not as weak or as sad as he was on Friday, and we’re not hearing distress cries, but he’s clearly not up to speed yet, either. The flea situation is mostly under control, and we’ll be getting a proper exterminator in the week of our honeymoon – the doctor’s orders are that he not be subjected to stress for a week, and with the meds and our brand-new vacuum cleaner taking the fleas to task we figure a stranger coming in and spraying weird stuff on the floor, nontoxic or not, counts as stress. Tomorrow he goes in to have his red blood cell count checked and see if the transfusion took properly, and we will hope for the best from there.

Sonya and I are both exhausted, due to the early-morning pill feedings and the constant state of alertness about his behavior. We both know we need to handle wedding stuff tonight, but in a way, we are both in a state where we almost forgot the wedding was happening. It doesn’t even feel distant; it feels like it was a part of a different life, a different schedule, one where we didn’t have our cat look like he was about to breathe his last breath on the little red welcome mat inside our front door. This took priority so heavily it actually reshaped our honeymoon plans – we’ll be day-tripping or overnighting our stay in Monterey, and later on in the week, after Yoshi’s pill regimens have already finished (which does have the bonus effect of us getting to spend time with a bridesmaid who is staying on our couch and whom Sonya has never gotten to spend time with in person). We may not get anything done tonight, really, though I have at least ordered my shoes and Sonya’s gift for the bride and groom gift exchange. I was supposed to cook the collard greens and chicken and pineapple tonight, but I simply do not have the energy. It can wait for Labor Day, it really can. It doesn’t matter in the face of our cat being safe.

In a way, as stressful and as exhausting as this has been, it has also been good. It’s proof that Sonya and I can partner up in a stressful situation, can make big financial and scheduling decisions without falling into an argument, and that we are able to do whatever it takes to take care of a small, helpless life together. Whether the next life we are tending to is Yoshi’s, or that of a baby, or a metaphorical life like a house or a car or an art project, we know we are capable of managing the stress of it together, and that the load is lighter for the other carrying it. It’s also encouraged us to tighten our budget – we’re not broke now, but we don’t have much left, and we now see very starkly the importance of having some extra cash around in case something goes wrong. But more than anything else, the stress and the exhaustion are worth it because our cat is in his heated cat bed, snoozing away with his limbs oozing out the sides, periodically getting up to chow down on his food; and not hunkering down in silence in the darkness of the back of the car, making us wonder if he’s dead.

We get married in seven days, almost to the hour; and I cannot imagine a person I would be more proud to spend my life with than the funny, smart, caring, quick-thinking, generous woman I have gone through this with. I, and Yoshi, are both lucky to have her.

One last thing. As tempting as it is, I am not asking for a handout; we had enough in savings to pay for Yoshi’s treatment and then a little bit more. However – if you want to get us a wedding gift and have not yet, money into our Wanderable account would be really, truly, vastly appreciated – it can go to the honeymoon, which gives us fewer expenses in the week to come and makes it easier for us to start recouping the cost of Yoshi’s medical treatment.

Now, I am going to go eat dinner and nuzzle my kitty, in that order. If you have a pet or a child in your life, please give them some love from us. And I hope you never experience the drive we did.