12 December 2014 0 comments

Failure is not an option.

Okay, so I didn't reach that 50k goal.
But November was far from a loss.
Red's story is sitting just past the halfway point. I have a solid framework of where it's going and how it's getting there. I just need to find the energy and inspiration to write it. And...that's not a thing that will happen this month. My momentum dies every year around this time. It's inevitable.
I'm planning to reach the fin for her story during the month of January. It was one of the projects on my "To Write" list for 2014. Or was that 2013. I don't recall. I've been sitting on it so long, if it had been plant life we'd be dealing with diamonds right about now.

Actually, I think that particular analogy is best allocated to my old trunk novel, DC. Whose first volume has been lurking in a shadowy corner of my psyche for the past year, draft completed and just...waiting.
For the time to be right. And soon, I think.

First, though, I want to finish with Red's story. And I have another step I want to take first, too. I don't want that epic series, with my enormous investment of time and emotion, blood and sweat and tears, to be my first foray into self-pubbing. So.

I'm going to self-pub a reinvention of Blood & Peyote. I think the story the boys originally tried to show me deserves to be seen, because it's the way it should be told. It's not a story that many publishers would seriously consider, what with the multicultural mysticism I plan to build upon, the graphic violence which will only get expanded upon, and the religious and spiritual drug use that deserves more space and proper justice.

So, yes, the story of Apisi Howling, Chartreuse Beaudrou, and their squad, will be in the very least a novella if not a full-length novel, and will mark my first foray into self-publishing.

As a writer, I enjoy taking the reader outside their comfort zones. And sometimes, so deeply inside them that their zone flips inside out much like a sea cucumber expelling its intestines.
Red's story, for instance, will revisit the first person present tense style of Blacker Than Black, a POV style so deep that its confining blindness disturbed and turned off some readers. It's quite fun, as a writer, to find ways of encouraging the audience to consciously acknowledge their discomfort, the shifts of perspective and perception that maybe open their eyes to something else beyond the art itself. I'll admit that I don't have visibility to the moments of self awareness that follow days or months later, but I hold out hope they occur.

Granted, Red's story engages a slightly looser POV, as the narrator is more actively focused outward than inward. The narrator is a wholly different sort of character than Black was, and that difference shows in myriad ways. Including their perceptions of Red and Blue, Black and Garthelle, their collective and individual presumptions and expectations. I'm having fun with it, but it's certainly not an easy story to write.

Not that Api and Char's story was easy to write. Or that the expansion of it will in any way be easier. War is ugly; a dirty, nasty burden that soldiers step forward and volunteer to carry on our behalf. The moral injuries inflicted upon them through the course of their service, however, are not a burden they should carry alone. As the curator of soldierporn.tumblr.com, a blog that focuses exclusively on military personnel, their experiences, ethos, sentiments, and plights, I remain firmly dedicated to the belief that we, the civilian population, have both a duty and a responsibility to listen to the stories and experiences of those that wage war at the behest of politicians we vote into office. Their moral injuries are ours to bear.

So when I write of military personnel, when I forge characters from the recesses of my mind and fashion them into a story, I'm incorporating intricate, tiny facets of every veteran I've met or spoken with. I'm incorporating shadows of the stories they've told, the experiences they've shared, the wounds they carry still. The combat medic who carried the spinal column from the driver of a VBIED through a field in Afghanistan, in search of the rest of the man's body [X]. The vet who mourns the loss of the brother in arms with whom he was closest, who died in a mortar attack while waiting to return stateside from Afghanistan [X] [X] [X]. The medic who remembers the names of every brother he worked on who didn't survive [X]. The Medal of Honor recipient who denies the label of hero and abhors any public recognition, the death of his comrades too high a price to pay, still too raw a wound to tolerate poking by random strangers [X] [X] [X]. The Marine who knelt in the dirt with his battle buddy as he took his last breaths, unable to say "I love you" to his boyfriend because DADT hadn't yet been repealed. The painfully fake cheer in the last words of a veteran, recorded on a voicemail to his brother in arms, before he committed suicide [X]. (This is just a small cross section. Check out the full archive of soldier stories I've collected over the years.)

I abhor the medical term of PTSD. It has birthed a stigma, a faulty and darkly tinted lens through which all combat veteran military personnel are viewed, this Rambo Fallacy that every last one of them is a time bomb with a broken fuse that can detonate at any moment. There is nothing wrong with them, there is nothing broken that can be fixed. An expensive cocktail of prescription drugs certainly won't do the deed.
They are different people, the chemistry of their brains has changed. They have Survivor's Syndrome, and they must get to know themselves all over again. Their sensitivities and tolerances are altered. Their personalities have changed. They have moral injuries from which it is impossible to heal or recover fully. They must each, following their own path, learn to live with the demons that have followed them home, deeply embedded shards of the battlefield in their psyche.

There is nothing glamorous in war, or warfare. Fetishizing the uniform in pornography and mainstream music culture is bad enough; portraying combat veterans as abusive, violent, damaged or unstable is outright harmful to everyone. The truth of the matter is that the in-depth training that accompanies military service guides personnel in setting aside the shackles of civilized humanity. When they return to civilian life, they are not retrained quite so exhaustively, or at all in fact, in how to once again regain that constrained mindset.

While being a soldier is in fact a job, military service demands an oath of sacrifice the likes of which no other form of employment demands. "To support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same." The part about following the orders of the President and the officers placed over them, as in keeping with the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, is tacked on after this important piece of the oath; like a hierarchy of ethos, in order of precedence.

Granted, there are other sheepdogs that stand between the sheep and the shadows that walk the night. None other walk the night to make it safe the way the military does, however. No others return home in pieces as often, physically or mentally or otherwise; no others sacrifice so much.

And so it is my passion and duty as an artist to portray with authenticity and realism the military aspect of the characters I create. I swear to pull no punches. I swear to let the reader feel the full brunt of moral injury to the best of my ability. I swear to you, the readers, that in no story I write will the uniform worn be presented as little more than a prop. You will have a glimpse of reality as best I can fashion it. And the blood and grit may get on your tongue; you might even choke on it. But in the end it's artistic portrayal. Unlike the soldier whose combat boots still carry the dark stains from the dead and dying, you'll have no reminders when you finish reading and walk away.
15 November 2014 0 comments

Behold, my monster stumbles forth into the light, squinting.

Today marks the halfway point for NanoWrimo.

Bringing Red's story to life has not been an easy journey thus far, nor is the path likely to become more forgiving in the weeks to come.
I've felt more like Frankenstein than a parent. Fashioning from the death, despair, and destruction a miracle of science, not some fresh gift of nature to be molded and formed like wet clay.

Largely this is because the first portion of Red's story has lurked in the back of my mind like a ghost limb in the years since Blacker Than Black came to fruition. She was there, loitering in the shadows, sharp gaze following every shift of inspiration, the ebb and flow of creative energies. Waiting for her time to come.

And in the end, she isn't the one telling her story. The task of narrator falls to someone else. She approves of this in ways I cannot begin to describe. For her, it feels like a relief. The pressure has shifted. The performance anxiety no longer exists. She can breathe, and be, and someone else can worry about whether or not every thought is presented properly, concisely, coherently. So often, hers are not. She has thought sequences that few could track, let alone keep pace. The complication of her internal debate over what she is, and is not, and what she permits to define her, trickle out in pieces as she acknowledges and comes to terms with them, instead of dumping into the reader's lap all at once.

Last weekend the words flowed effortlessly. For the past week, every sentence has resembled a monumental struggle. Her story is roughly a third of the way done. It is the meat, the middle, that is creating the greatest difficulty, this time around. I already know how it ends. Pieces of it are already written. Getting her there, getting the rest of them there... well, some days it resembles herding cats with a feather duster.

I recall writing every sentence three times before I was satisfied, while in the throes of Black's story. There's less of that, now. But all the same, it seems to demand the same amount of effort.

I'll get her to the end eventually. Her, and Konaton with her, the meaning of family once again redefined.
04 October 2014 0 comments

Old projects, fresh blood

Literal and figurative, mind.
The past couple weeks have been rife with research, exploring and developing writing tools.
Resurrecting old projects, that sat incomplete and untouched for too long, is a large contributor.

Foremost on my mind lately has been Red's story, the sequel (of sorts) to Blacker Than Black. Many of the dangling threads from the end of that tale have provided anchors and, if you will, belay lines, for the skeleton of what Red's story will become. It's been almost three years since I touched that 150k word tome. And I'm going to have to reread it because I never did finish fleshing out the timeline and character references as I intended.
Red's character is very easy to slip into. It's the plot that, as usual, will offer the greatest obstacles for me. I lean heavily toward character-driven stories. But there's means, motive, and opportunity floating around like flotsam and jetsam and it needs addressed. And also, nothing in the lives of Black, Red, or Blue is in any way simple or straightforward.

I'd been poking at the WIP with no name for much of September, but the impetus and drive died and sputtered out. I can't figure out why, so I shoved it to the back burner until I have the tools to do some more thorough in-depth exploration of characters and motivations. The timeline for that one is all but (vaguely) set, but that whole "unhappy ending holy shitballs," aspect that I've known was there all along, finally caught up with and depressed me.

Also how do I even market or sell something like that unless I've got the sequel all but finished when I do. So there's that, and that's a damn enormous load of (largely emotional) work. So Red's story seemed like a saving grace in comparison, despite the fact that I have been Avoiding It Like Ebola for quite some time now.

Face what you fear and write straight at it, huh? Well. It might seem strange, but my two greatest fears are (1) success, and (2) failure.
I'm just fucked either way.
So I may as well write the damned thing. And finish it. Here's me gritting my teeth and slogging back into it.
26 August 2014 0 comments

Teaser peek without spoiling anything.

With a story as short as my piece "Blood & Peyote," I don't really feel comfortable actually offering an excerpt. Even a small one offers up too large a chunk. I've seen a few readers comment that they don't want to spoil the surprise and pleasure of reading the anthology when it comes out.

So I've devised a substitute. It offers a bit of the mood, tone, and flavor of the story and the characters without divulging anything of the actual narrative.
Behold, I give you the soundtrack to "Blood & Peyote." Each song was chosen to coincide with a specific scene and section. The exception is the twelve-minute "Blackfoot Fire" which is included for the sole intention of conveying something of Apisi Howling's culture, as well as his weight in the story.

In the event that Spotify doesn't work for you, I've created an abridged Blood & Peyote from rhi.e on 8tracks Radio as well. There are a couple songs missing from it, namely "Healing Touch" by Green River Ordinance, and "Blackfoot Fire" by Niall. Apologies, but I make use of Spotify quite heavily in my writing process, so that's my preferred venue.

I've added these to my website as well. I'm planning to discuss the music choices and influences more in depth after the anthology releases, since I don't want to go spoiling the surprise for anyone and there's little chance I can manage to avoid that.
17 August 2014 0 comments

Rediscovering the groove.

Perfect porch perch weather is perfect.
It's something I have to do every time I start a new project.
The right atmosphere to encourage the muses. The right music for white noise. Rarely does the same music work for more than one project.
This time, I couldn't even stay in the same genre of music. Perhaps because this project is in a different realm than my most recent works. It strays back into the universe of the Doctrine and Alliance, political foes constantly at each others' throats, though its cast of characters is entirely removed.

It has no name just yet, and it's shaping up to meld together a couple ideas that had been gestating on the back burner. One based on a dream I had decades ago about the reclamation of a military base by the indigenous locals, and an unrelated story about a genetically modified assassin whose xeno-genetics overload its psyche--the ensuing bloodbath of a killing spree lands it in a maximum security intergalactic prison. It seems my writer brain has decided that one event is the precursor, the trigger, of the other.

There's something about analog writing.
The combination should make for an interesting writing journey, since the reclamation story had a pair of assassin arch-rivals lurking in the shadows trying to best one another. Sort of ... black ops, white noise.

So I broke out the closest pen and a notebook and settled onto the chaise lounge on the porch with the window open. The weather was surprisingly cool and breezy for late summer, but you won't hear me complaining about it.
I got more written-- fleshing out a thorough overhaul of scenes written from dream sequence memory long ago-- than I expected. I don't know if the steady white noise of crickets and cicadas was to blame. Later in the afternoon when it got too muggy, I fortuitously stumbled upon a "Rainy Mood" app that creates the perfect ambiance for this story when overlaid with traditional Japanese Koto and Flute music through Spotify.

 Given the name and moniker I'm using for one of my assassins, I'm not terribly surprised that this particular combination of sounds is conducive to the mood of the writing. Also, the planet where this clash of forces takes place is a very wet rainforest-jungle sort of atmosphere, and I am absolutely having fun wreaking havoc left and right...

It's a relief to realize that I've managed to find that almost perfect combination of sensory inputs that satiates the muses and gets them to open up enough to make the words flow. I have to rediscover it anew each time I embark on a new project and unearth new muses whose skeletal remains require some assembly before reanimation is possible. I never feel like I'm creating so much as I am recreating, taking discarded shards of inspiration from a thousand different places and recombining it into something that, one day, might give off some glimpse of beauty.
I feel like Doctor Frankenstein. Mind you, that's pronounced "fronkunsteen."
11 August 2014 0 comments

Ooh, writer porn! What notebook nerdery.

The wolf, it mocks me with its laughter.
As a kid, I was a nerd. I loved learning, and the scholarly aspect of my formative education was far from a burden -- with the exception of that damned section on quantum mechanics during Physics 2AP my senior year.

Anyway, I used to look forward to going back to school. It was a relief from the endless doldrums of summer, for one. Granted, I usually found plenty of time and energy to invest in writing, and going back to school sort of cramped that. And the actual interactions with my peers? No thanks, I could do without that.

But all the school supplies. Notebooks, and pens, and erasers, and mechanical pencils...it was enough to make me drool. And yep, it's that time of year again. I really didn't intend to go buy anything. I seriously didn't. I'd splurged on a hoard of writing utensils earlier this spring, actually, and didn't need anything. Really. Plenty of space left in the notebooks I've got.

I certainly didn't need these.
But they came home with me anyway. An entire rainbow of composition books.
That array was Not Planned. I'm dead serious. It just... happened. I got home and unloaded them from the bag and blinked in amazement.

Yeah, I still use good old pen and paper to write, at least some of the time. I am not yet to that point where I can justify purchasing a tablet that has the size and capability to have both ease of mobility and convenience of either my laptop or desktop computers. And sometimes my thoughts just seem to loosen up and flow more easily when I pick up a pen. Especially when it's a gel pen that just slides over the paper like silk bedsheets (which are terribly impractical, mind you, if you're at all energetic in bed--I like my sex sans contusions or fractures, thanks--or a mobile sleeper).
Anyway. Pens. And paper.

I have a collection of smaller Moleskin notebooks hiding about for potential giveaway material in the distant future, their content the arduous working material of a few different WIPs. These, though. The composition notebooks are my workhorses. Clamped with butterfly clips to bookmark content no longer needed, standard paperclips to separate notes for different projects that inevitably lump together in the same space. Inevitably, because I only carry two of them, and one is devoted to the tome of a book I'm working on, so all the others stream together in the overflow one. Stream together, because as much as I do try to focus my energies on a single story at a time, I'll have ideas for plot points, thoughts about character backstory or development, and it comes out almost stream of consciousness, all over the place.

These won't stay so pristine and lovely for long. I figured their cleanliness was worth commemorating. Much like any 'before-after' comparison.

11 July 2014 0 comments

High hopes and little victories.

Releases October 13, 2014.
So, it's now official enough for public knowledge:
The military anthology for which I've completed a short story is slated for release in mid-October, just in time for GayRomLit, and has a confirmed title and cover art.

I'm so excited. Mostly because I completed a story. Yes, it's short, and I'm still doing some tweak editing, but thanks to my Magical Betas of Awesome, it has a solid ending that I don't loathe with every fiber of my being, as I do most endings that I write.
The characters are ones that I enjoy immensely, and their entire squad is likely just as interesting too, come to think of it. I expect there will be more of tattooed, red-headed heathen Chartreuse Beaudrou and his battle buddy, Kainai medicine man Apisi Howling. No, neither of them look anything like that hairless, pale hot toddy on the cover there. But that's okay. He's doing his job quite well, too.

I did my damnedest to keep their story "contemporary," which isn't something I write a great deal. Okay, fine--it isn't something I write at all. The only way I managed it was by giving myself wriggle room all over the place, and shading word choice and phrasing to allude to things that mean nothing from the perspective of the story, but could mean whatever I want them to, or need them to, when I dig deep and write their sequel/prequel/full-fledged story.

So come on over to the anthology's Facebook group and check out the full complement of contributing authors, and show your support! This anthology will be limited availability, from October through March.
24 May 2014 0 comments

Reminders, of writing life and writing loves.

I forgot how exuberantly "puppy" actual puppies are capable of being.
I was reminded, yesterday, when I was introduced rather unexpectedly to a yellow lab pup who was all legs and paws and bright blue eyes. I remembered, almost immediately, the entire pack of yellow labs my riding instructor kept at her ranch. They went everywhere together, it seemed, a teeming mass of golden tawniness, happy friendly energy bumbling everywhere, wet noses and slobbery tongues and solid bodies nudging enthusiastically into legs and knees and whatever else was within reach.

This puppy was precisely like that, came barreling toward me with no bark of warning or malicious intent. Just a huge pile of happiness as though he could instantly detect that I was someone he wanted to sniff and lick and share his energy with. He came racing after me not once but on four separate instances, which thoroughly baffled his humans because he'd never done anything like it before. Ever.

Ah, the innocent impulsive perceptiveness of youth. No filters, no fears, no preconceptions.

I've been stumbling upon reminders, recently, of projects and stories and muses that had gotten shuffled to the side over the past couple years. Other things required my focus and energies. It's not to say that they've returned in full vigor, but I have an increasing desire to drag them from the shadows, brush off the cobwebs, and play with them again. With outlines, this time, so that I have direction and a target to focus on, to maintain some motivation and course corrections without stagnating and getting sucked into the Bog of Eternal Stench.
Outlines are my nemesis. Plot arcs and the Things That Must Happen always trip me up. Finding the path to Satisfying Climax and Resolution is not one that comes easily. I'd much rather meander about in the meadows full of wildflowers, exploring worlds and character dynamics and to fuck with following the Generally Accepted Protocol of Storytelling. I've no fucking clue how to do it properly. I've no fucking clue, to be honest, why It Must Be Done This Way.

Conflicts are of course a part of any interactive dynamic. I have always despised the formulaic method of writing, and that doesn't just go for the cliched tropes of having the romantic leads first interacting in the third chapter, etc.

I need more organization, though. I've always been one for letting the muses loose to do as they please, but inevitably they trip up, freak out, and lose their momentum, running away from whatever it is they really need to confront. This is the case in at least three different stories I currently having sitting incomplete on my Writer's Desk. This is a personal vendetta against my own artistic methodology that I'm embroiled in, and it's demanding the sort of purging and careful reinvention that is never pleasant.
The most difficult part about this is that there's no topographical map I can whip out and land nav my way to the solution with a few quick azimuths to determine the most efficient course to the destination.

I suspect it will be the journey itself that is most beneficial for me. Still, the knowing won't make the process any easier. I am hoping to rediscover and reinforce my confidence in my storytelling abilities, along the way.

Puppy love is often rife with naivete, youthful blindness, and hormone-fueled passions that swiftly burn out and die.
But as the puppy reminded me, it's sometimes good to let yourself approach life and your passions with this sort of energetic disregard for mundane, mature concerns like safety, well-being, and logic. Moderation in all things, including sobriety and sanity.

Once more into the breach, my friends.
07 March 2014 1 comments

Seasons and timing and such. And cookies!

As though winter isn't rough enough most of the time, this year Mercury went into retrograde for the entire month of February, and of course, oriented in Pisces. That's my constellation, the one that resonates with me the most--I'm technically an Aquarius/Pisces cusp, but when it comes to art, and writing, the Piscean in me comes to the fore. (The Aquarian side I save mostly for forced social interactions.) At any rate, February was a big fat bust. The most I managed to write on any given day was 100 words, when words came at all. Oftentimes just that much took hours to accomplish.

Yet life is cyclic in so many ways, and Mercury relented at last. I could almost feel the floodgate giving way, the surge of words scourging away the residue built up by weeks of frustration and headdesking.
Of course, the parameters of my upbringing demanded this sort of pagan resonance receive disbelief and an "evil" label, so despite the years and distance between us, I still doubt the influence of the natural order of things. Right up until the evidence is as undeniably present as this. Like a slap to the face.

The past week has seen more than just a decided warm/sunny trend and the thawing of the ice flows in the right side of my brain.
It's been a week of profound, decisive actions as far as my stories and writing career are concerned.
And cookies.

Not just any cookies though.

No, not just any cookies. Big Soft Ginger Spice Cookies, a Haus of Rhi specialty. With Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder sprinkled on them. Let's all drool for a moment, shall we? Because these things? They might not look like much thanks to my shitty photography skills, but by the All-Father. They rival Loki for sweet, sweet divinity.

[wipes drool from chin] Okay, back to the writing things now:

I'm plotting my publications for the coming year. Yes, a bit late out of the starting gate, aren't I? As it's already March and whatnot. Did I mention winter and I don't get on well? I did? At any rate, there's this anthology piece -- I swear, it's almost done, I have to change a sea monster into a dragon, scorch a pod of orcas, and reorder the scene where someone's brains melt out their ear canals so that it doesn't make the rest of the ending feel anti-climactic in comparison -- and then I've got a very huge fantasy series that is taking shape, finally finally finally, into a self-publication project. My first. In all probability, the first of many to come.

And then Red still wants to talk to me. Though I can't imagine where she's found the patience. Darning the holes in her argyle thigh-high stockings, I expect.
And then Mike has decided that retirement just makes him restless. The wide open spaces of his family ranch just trigger old traumas on top of the new and make him smell blood-soaked Cirokkan soil all over again. Add to that the fact that Sergei has no idea what to do with himself; the prospect of freedom is terrifying to him the way an animal who's only ever known a cage or crate is fearful of wide open spaces. Like living rooms. Never mind yards and free range prairies.

Yes, you read that right. I expect there will be some "Adventures of Nikishin's Brain" involved, at least peripherally, and all this is of course very informal, but The Sequel cometh. At last, behold, the apocalypse is surely bearing down on us.
Any moment now.
Brace yourself.

Any moment now.

Oh well. Come on by and have a cookie then.
29 January 2014 0 comments

Interview and Gift Card Giveaway at BBB

I was over at "Bitten By Books" for the two-year anniversary of Blacker Than Black today. Talking about my muses, and hosting a $20 gift card contest.
Contest ends at midnight on Saturday, February 1st.
Please stop by to check out my interview, ask some awkward questions, and maybe enter the giveaway. (Hey, free stuff, right?)

a Rafflecopter giveaway
04 January 2014 2 comments

Ebb and Flow

It's come back to me, and I am so, so very relieved.
Back in October, the anthology piece I was writing just...stalled out and died on me. I was struggling with the relational dynamics between the characters, how best to proceed with constructing a believable interplay that would engage some emotional investment from the audience.
This project has been excruciating for me on a number of levels, but what I've struggled with most is the faint undertones of questionable consent. Not on a sexual level, but a relational one. The power play between the main characters, the dissonance that occurs. I still don't know if it will have a "satisfying" resolution.
But then, I didn't go into this WIP with the expectation of a positive or even satisfying climax taking place. I think I've worked my way around to that much--a satisfying climax, as the case may be--but the resolution that takes place in its aftermath is unlikely to leave the audience with more than the bitter taste of discontent.

I find it difficult to find the right words to describe what's taking place in my head, never mind the story. But it's coming along finally, the tide has turned and with it the story's energy and inspiration and driving motivation are returning to life as well.

A thousand thanks to my betas, for their assistance in that regard.
After Nano bombed out on me with such a spectacular belly-flop, I was getting a bit concerned. This, however, is a great way to begin 2014, I'm pleased to say.
Knock on wood that this trend continues, because I have Red sitting over there staring at me with this expression that says, "well fucking hurry up already, because it's my turn when you're done there."