Category Archives: unemployment

An American Horror Story– The Blackberry Bramble

One the great dangers of unemployment (aside from lack of income, imminent foreclosure, over-dosing on Youtube, etc.) is that you’re available for special projects around the house. And that includes the two most dreaded words in the English language– “yard-work”.

I hate yard-work. Now, all of my ancestors were farmers (except for a few cowboys and indentured servants), so you might therefore think that I would have an affinity for the soil and growing things. Nah-ah. I hate having to grub out weeds, mow the lawn, or prune bushes. Soil, you know, is where bugs live. Every minute tending the lawn is a minute when I am not writing, reading, or playing World of Tanks. In other words, time lost forever.

So, when my wife told me we needed to cut back the blackberry bramble overrunning the bottom of the yard, I contemplated flight, perhaps to Afghanistan or King George Island. In the end, though, I knew it was no good. There’s no place in this universe I can hide where she can’t find me. I resigned myself to my fate and trooped down to the back corner of our lot.

If you have never done battle with a Northwest blackberry bramble, know that they are meaner than a Triffid and a good deal smarter. They appear to be making a bid to become the dominant species in this part of the world, so suppressing them might be seen as a duty to the human race. Having never been terribly enamored of the human race, I would have preferred to live and let live, but my wife is implacable, so I girded up my loins….

As weapons I had an electric hedge trimmer, a hand hedge clipper, a hoe and a pruning saw– and I can tell you, brothers and sisters, it wasn’t enough. Properly I needed a flame-thrower and, perhaps, a tactical nuke. There is something profoundly sinister about the density of a blackberry bramble– you half-expect to find a pulsing alien pod at its core. And the thorns– did I mention the thorns? All wickedly sharp, and some so long that they laugh even heavy gloves to scorn. Even in death the bramble exacts its vengeance.

You might think that the blackberries themselves would be some compensation for this misery, and usually there are few things I like better than some good blackberries straight off the vine. Unfortunately, this summer has been unholy hot and dry in Seattle, which left most of the berries small and sour, and not worth the picking. Otherwise, I might have found an excuse to more merciful. Instead, it was war to the knife-hilt.

For more than two hours my wife and I fought with the bramble, and there were times when it wasn’t at all clear who was going to win. We faced a vicious and cunning foe. I mean, really, there is something more than elastic recoil going on when you cut through a vine and the other end comes loose from the fence and wraps itself around your neck. Forget Triffids– try The Thing.

Oh, and one piece of advice– never, ever, cut back a bramble while wearing shorts. Like I did. The price of hydrogen peroxide in the Western US is going to spike over the next few days. Sorry.

In the end, scratched and bleeding, covered in sweat, berry juice and plant sap, we succeeded. The bramble was cut back, and we filled two large yard-waste barrels with the sliced-up remains of our enemy. We had the satisfaction being able to see our back fence once more.

Our sense of triumph, however, was restrained. Because there’s another truth about blackberry brambles–

They always come back.

King George Island is looking better and better….

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A plea to new writers, while treading carefully…

A certain author, on a certain online group, recently posted, with evident pride, a chapter of their work-in-progress. I looked it over. It was not a happy experience.

One of the greatest problems with online self-publishing, in all its forms, is that it makes it entirely too easy to put out work that is in no way, shape or form ready for public viewing. And in this instance it wasn’t just poor writing– the author obviously had no grasp of basic grammar or punctuation, the very things Stephen King calls the writer’s fundamental toolbox. Comma splices, run-on sentences, misused or missing capitalization, long interior monologues, and adverbs– dear God in Heaven, not just over-used, but used in bizarre and novel ways…you probably get the picture, and it ain’t gonna be hanging in the Louvre. It’s the sort of thing that gives ammunition to those who denigrate self-published works as amateur and unreadable.

It is a simple truth that, to write effectively in English, you must master– and not just master, but internalize– certain rules and nuances of the language and how it is expressed in symbolic form. You can’t get away from it, not if you want your work to be readable and to rise above the status of laughing-stock. You ignore those rules at your peril.

Now, having said that, you will notice that I have not named the author, nor their work, nor have I quoted any of the more wretched passages (a strong temptation, if for no other reason than to bear witness to those adverbs…). It is not my desire, nor my purpose, to denigrate or belittle any author, just as you would not denigrate a student struggling with a math problem (at least, I hope you wouldn’t). In the first place, we all have to start somewhere. The difficulty is that self-publishing allows thousands and thousands of neophyte writers to plunge straight off into the deep end, with the result that the self-publishing sea is layered thick with their corpses….

In the second place, I am not sure I would personally have many stones to throw. I think I write fairly effective sentences, and I have been at this a very long while (depressingly so), but, even so, I trip up all the time. The hard-copy edit of Princess of Fire has rubbed my nose in that fact (more about that below). And I remember quite clearly how long it has taken me to get to whatever level of competence I have achieved.

Here’s the truth– English is a hard language, even for native speakers. This bastard child of German and French, bespangled with a host of ‘loan’ words (more like, hijacked), is tricky and ever-shifting– and it hasn’t helped that formal grammarians have long insisted on imposing Latinate rules of grammar on an essentially Germanic tongue, which has basically gummed things up even worse for generations (but that’s another post).

To handle this language effectively, you have to learn the rules. You have to study. You have to read good writing, by good authors. I have already name-dropped Stephen King, so I’ll go the whole hog and mention his memoir, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, as an excellent primer on not just what tools a writer needs, but as an outline of how life influences a writer. Among other things, King hammers hard on the idea that to write effectively, you must read widely. And then you have to write, write, write, over and over again, figuring out what works and getting rid of what doesn’t.

And while I’m mentioning books, if you don’t have a copy of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, stop reading this and go get one. Now. I’m not kidding.

All of this takes time. And time, I fear, is something many new or young writers don’t want to part with. Worse, they don’t understand that there is no other way to become a good writer than by putting in the effort and the time. Instead they charge ahead, afire with the enthusiasm of seeing their work online, on Kindle or Smashwords or Nook, and then wonder why the reviews are cruel, if they get reviews at all. This is, frankly, one of the downsides of the self-publishing revolution.

I’m saying nothing new here, but I think these truths need to be repeated every so often. More than that, though, I want to try end on a hopeful note. The fact is, everyone starts in the same place with writing, except for those extremely rare native geniuses who are born with pen in hand. Most of us have to do it the hard way. And that should be encouraging to anyone struggling to learn how to write. You need to write, and read, and persist. Therein lies your hope.

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On another note–

Re: Princess of Fire , yes, progress is being made, but my first estimate of a week to put in the hard-copy changes was, unsurprisingly, way, way off. Part of the problem is that I am in the process of re-writing, from scratch, a climactic piece of action; also, the real life demands of being unemployed, of dealing with medical Cobras and unemployment insurance issues, having been seriously distracting. But I’m closing in….

Later.

The daily routine of a man newly unemployed (warning– may involve some whining….)

1. Wake up at an unnecessarily early hour.
2. Get up about an hour later.
3. Look at emails, hoping for a job offer.
4. Take daughter to school. Don’t get out of the car, because you’re still in your pajamas.
5. Get dressed.
6. Walk two miles to Safeway to buy a bear-claw.
7. Walk home.
8. Shower.
9. Look at emails, hoping for a job offer.
10. Sit down to edit current novel-in-progress.
11. Fall asleep over current novel-in-progress.
12. Wake up.
13. Look at emails, hoping for a job offer.
14. Eat lunch.
15. Check state job boards, Monster, Linked-in, Indeed.com, Dice, Ziprecruiter, Siemens, Volt, Kforce, and about a dozen other job sites.
16. Submit one resume.
17. Watch forty to fifty Youtube videos about cats and World of Tanks and guys ranting about movies, most of which you’ve never seen.
18. Go to library.
19. Check out a book.
20. While at library, try not to get depressed looking at all the other people’s books that got published.
21. Go home.
22. Think about doing a blog post.
23. Fall asleep thinking about doing a blog post.
24. Eat dinner.
25. Look at emails, hoping for a job offer.
26. Play World of Tanks.
27. Watch Youtube cat video to make yourself feel better about the pummeling you just received on World of Tanks.
28. Look at emails, hoping for a job offer.
29. Go to bed.

(repeat)

A big helping of reality pudding….

Okay, I’m going to try hard not to slip over into whining.

Today I got the official, certified, no-kidding, that’s-all-folks notification that my current IT gig is ending in a week. No surprise there, we knew the project was winding down and the probable end date was the end of April. The hardest part, though, is that I haven’t yet been able line up anything else. So, unless something comes through in the next six days, it appears that I will soon have some time on my hands.

Pro: I’ll have time to finish Princess of Fire, and maybe launch into Horse Tamer and a couple of smaller projects percolating away in my brain.

Con: Yard work.

Yep, I need a job….

Later.

Wanted to share a couple of things….

First, I was reading Patrick O’Brian’s HMS Surprise this morning, and I encountered what may be the most screwball single line of dialogue I have ever read–

“Jack, you have debauched my sloth.”

Even though it makes perfect sense in context, the image it creates still leaves me giggling like a maniac. There are few who can write like Patrick O’Brian.

Second, by the grace of God tomorrow I start a new job. It’s contract, not permanent, but it looks like a good position and may lead to more permanent positions. It comes rather in the nick of time, too. Thank God.

One potential downside may be that, because of a long commute, I may be blogging less frequently (actually, there may be some people who will see that as a blessing. Just try not to cheer too loud). If so, so be it. On the other hand, I should have plenty of time during my commute to contemplate projects and make notes. You gotta use the time you got as best you can.

Speaking of Ripley…..

Made this–

ripleycatharsis2

Original is here (somehow the link won’t attach to the picture itself).

It is entirely possible I have too much time on my hands….

On a positive note, tomorrow I have my first face-to-face job interview in three months. If you’re of a praying persuasion, I would not look askance at that sort of support.

The worst first draft EVER….

I’ve been AWOL for a few days, dealing with employment issues (still got none), personal issues (you don’t want to know), health issues (nothing serious, but yucky) and general morale issues (running on fumes). You don’t know how important it is to be gainfully employed until you’re sitting at home watching the same YouTube video for the fifteenth time.

You would think that I would get at least a little lift out of the fact that I have cleared 90,000 words on Princess of Fire. The problem is that I am increasingly convinced that this draft is quite possibly the worst first draft ever. In the history of Western literature. Maybe in the history of world literature, right back to Gilgamesh. It’s even worse than the first draft of Princess of Shadows, and that was a nightmare. So far I’m hanging on to my resolution to keep pushing ahead, but I’m fighting the urge to call this thing good-enough and start Fire 2.0. In truth, though, I really want to write at least another twenty thousand words to cover major gaps in the narrative. I would much prefer to have those gaps filled in before I start thinking about remedial action.

The silver lining on this cloud, the one happy thought, is that I now have a very good idea how this story needs to be structured. Kathy is faced with two simultaneous series of events that keeps her bouncing from crisis to crisis, while she battles intransigence close at hand and her own doubts. I now have a very good idea who the characters are, good, stupid and indifferent. I am also getting a fair idea what’s surplus. And it has been the act of writing that has revealed all this. Once I do start Fire 2.0, there will be a tremendous amount of work to do restructuring and re-writing, but I’ll be on much firmer ground than when I started this whole project. All of my original timelines for this project are probably junk at this point, but I’m used to that.

Now if I could just make money at this…. 🙂

Sunday Photo Fiction: March 9th 2014 – The Enchanted Grove

Sunday Photo Fiction— 100 to 200 words inspired by a photo–

Copyright – Al Forbes
Copyright – Al Forbes

(Okay, this is getting out of hand– two poems in one month. It’s probably because I don’t have a day job…. 😉 ).

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The pond
a still ocean
the distant traffic noise
the music of the spheres

In this enchanted grove
dragonflies are X-wings
and tadpoles
are submarines

A trout breaks the surface
doubtless, it is
the awful and fearsome
Kraken, writhing in rage

The trees round about
the pool the forest primeval
not yet sullied
by the tread of man

The far shore
is a misty,
mysterious foreign land
barely to be seen

There dwells a lady
sad and proud
whose call for aid
echoes among the sun-lit leaves

To heed the call
a hero must brave
the sea, the Kraken
the enemy submarines

Perhaps
the lady will be patient
as the hero
is not yet ten

The blues monster, Part II, or dang you, J.D. Salinger

In my last post I mentioned that real-life has been pulling me away from Princess of Fire. Well, real-life has now doubled down on me– under considerable pressure from the spousal unit, I have started working on our taxes, in the hopes of getting our tax refund back in a timely fashion. I understand the logic, since we need every dollar right now, but I really despise doing my taxes every year. Really, really despise it.

On top of that, I woke this morning in a funk, the first real one I’ve had since publishing Princess of Shadows, mostly around my continued unemployment. I spent a good portion of my morning walk thinking up new acronyms for myself (I’m either a Person of Worklessness- POW– or an ILL– Individual Lacking Labor).

Between the funk and the taxes the most productive thing I did today was take a nap. Progress on Fire is slowing. I anticipated it would. Hopefully this is just a temporary lull.

Unless, of course, I give up writing entirely. I watched part of the documentary on J. D. Salinger last night on PBS, and I discovered that there is nothing better than J. D. Salinger to give a person an instant literary inferiority complex.

I didn’t get to see the whole documentary, as it ran way past my bed time, but ’tis enough, ’twill serve. I look at Salinger and I know I’ll never be in that class of writer. I try to console myself that I am writing genre, but I will never be Heinlein or Martin, either. Grrr.

But, of course, I won’t give up writing. I’d have to shut off my brain to do that. I will just have to keep plodding on, doing my best. Maybe someday I’ll actually be good.

But that’s after I get the taxes done.

Later.

Princess of Fire progress, and the return of the doldrums

Princess of Fire is now at 26,000+. Someone once said that you should write the end of your story first, otherwise you won’t know what the story is about. Taking that advice to heart, I’ve basically written the very end of the novel. It may change at some point, but that’s a problem for the second draft (or the third, or the fourth…).

The accelerated pace continues– I haven’t run out of pre-written material yet, although I am landing at widely separated locations in the story almost every time I return to the manuscript. At some point, of course, I will need to start knitting these pieces together into a single narrative. This is particularly important with Princess of Fire, which in its final form will need a fairly tight timeline for the action, with several major elements playing out in locations distant from each other, but interacting to drive the drama. At least, that’s what I want to happen.

One thing I haven’t figured out that I would like to do is to add a progress bar to my widget area to show a word count for Fire, and maybe one or two other projects. I’m unclear if that’s something only available on premium accounts or not. Any advice on this would be welcome.

Despite the progress I’m making on Fire, though, I find I’m having to work at not surrendering again to the blues. I’m going into my eleventh week of unemployment and nothing’s biting. I didn’t hear back from one place this past week that said they would be making a decision then, so that’s fairly ominous. Meanwhile, the resumes continue to go out.

I’ve made some sales of Princess of Shadows, but nothing spectacular. Not really surprised– I wasn’t planning to quit my day job yet. Once I get a day job, that is.

Later.