Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Seven-Volume Nightmare

Had a long-distance chat with the talented translator of "Orfy," and she told me about the multi-volume urban fantasy series she recently had to translate, and how seven-volume sagas are so cookie-cutter, and how translating a seven-novel series is sort of like having a job riding the amusement park roller coaster twelve times a day for six weeks. At some point the fun evaporates.

I told her I had a nightmare not long ago, where I was a character in a seven-novel series, and the author was waiting to kill me off in the seventh book. I felt like a car muffler that had been lodged loose from its moorings and dragged along below the undercarriage, scratching the pavement and generating sparks. I screamed in agony but I had five more books to go. The author kept checking on me. Apparently, he was at the wheel, driving the car, and every now and then he'd open his door, hang his head down under the car and check on me.

"How you doing down there?" he'd ask.


"Okay. We still got a ways to go. Hang in there."

So his other characters had to ride from Gaukyton to Plootz City, on the other end of the continent of Spleh! They weren't taking the express route. They'd ride on and meet some splendid mage who blah-blah-blahed them until they got into a little fight with the Sploogean Army, and blah-blah-blah. And some secondary character gets killed and then there's this blah-blah-blah about "Why must we pursue this journey?" and "This is not our choice. But the fate of Sploo-jah is in our hands." And so they go on, blah-blah-blah-ing to the next mage -- or dragon, or den of ogres -- and the next Sploogeans and maybe some fair lady beckons them with blah-blah-blah and they all sit round a fire and talk about things no human would sit through straight-faced without commiting at least one act of homicide.

We are now half-way through Book Three of Splornthorn Saga.

I'm still down below, scraping the pavement, a third of me rubbed off my skeleton, the sparks setting the remaining part of me ablaze. My flames make the vehicle look like a stock car champ.

Characters who do change, but in slow motion, are killed. They get dumped out from the back. But I -- still waiting to die in Book Seven -- scrape and scream and burn.

Up above, Plootz City is still a whole blorn-thorn away. Characters don't change. They do more of the stuff they did in Book One, just further up the line. Nothing happens except what happened before, only different. Even I, still being dragged under the car, am in no different situation.

"How you doing down there?"


So the heroes get to Plootz and reclaim the Sword of Bored, or whatever they came there to get . . .  and find that now they must return Gaukyton, and we're only at Book Five.


I awake from the dream recognizing the great career mistakes I made as a writer. First I conceive of stories as having endings. I conceive of characters as needing to make changes. And I forestall the inevitable and do all my ass-dragging before I complete the final draft, not after. Why cut out all the boring crap and useless, meaningless moving around, when that's what you're going to have to fill Books Two through Seven with?

Had I waited, I'd have a seven-book saga on my web page, with buttons taking you directly to Amazon to purchase the next thrilling book in the series.

No wonder so many of my students tell me the first thing they want to do is write a seven-book series.

The Fate of Sploo-jah has never been more dire.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Revenge of the Forgotten Entry

An idea for a blog entry came into my head. It bubbled up to the surface of consciousness early this morning, perhaps while I was fighting off my second migraine in twenty-four hours. I didn't grab a notebook quickly enough and the idea disappeared.

No matter, I thought. It will come back. Somewhere later in the day it will surface again and I'll jot it down.

I went downtown. Took the Metra. I like taking the the Metra and walking across the Loop -- from the river to Michigan Avenue, from Madison down to Harrison. Sometimes I'll just walk along and take in the city. I like the city, have come to terms with it in ways that I have not been able to come to terms with other parts of my life. A city is a wild, beautiful, untamed thing. It's worth taking in.

Other times, I'll work out scenes for stories. Like today: I worked on two scenes. One I'll need in one of my future saur stories, between Doc and Axel. Very dramatic scene and will not give it away now, though I'll hint that I also had Holst's "Mars" music from "The Planets" orchestral suite in my head at the same time, along with a little tag, a cue, from some James Horner score -- dramatic stuff.

The other idea had to do with maybe a brief story or anecdote about a silent director, sitting in his big house with a beautiful, mysterious woman (who would have to look like some sort of combination between Louise Brooks and Clara Bow -- if such a combo is even possible without setting the universe on fire). Anyway, the film director explains to the mysterious lady how he has insured his immortality by preserving prints of all his films and securing them in a vault downstairs. "Future generations will know my work." 

The mysterious woman is skeptical, asks to see the vault, and the director gladly obliges.

She takes a cigar, lights it, starts a fire. The contents of the vault is destroyed. Every last frame, every last image, lost. The director is in agony -- all his work, over a twenty year career, is now in ashes. Unless the studios have other prints (and we know most of the studios cleaned out their vaults with regularity once they considered the films stored therein were past their "sell by" date, and that no one would ever want to see them again) all of his work will be added to that list of "lost films" so many scholars of our day have devoted themselves to seeking out and rediscovering.

"There," says the mysterious woman, "now you will be immortal." For instead of having the films saved and ready for the perusal of every jaded scholar, all of the director's work now belongs to the medium of imagination, ever elusive, ever yearned for, ever an echo of eternity.

So I get to campus, log on in the computer lab, get through my e-mail and . . . 

Zzzzzz-anggg! Another migraine. The words in my head will not adhere to each other enough to form sentences. Every keystroke drives a railroad spike through a space above my right eyeball.

All day yesterday, I fought with migraine, and finally won. What the hell's going on now?

I think it's that blog post idea -- the one I forgot early this morning. Out of frustration, it exploded somewhere in my skull. Unforgiving, unforgetting.

I file this post as a compensation, and penance. I won't let another lost idea blow up in my skull again, promise.

And by the way -- . . . That's a pic of a Supermarine Southhampton, pride of the British Royal Navy circa 1925. I'm going to need that if I include a scene from my fictional character's first screenplay for "The Call of Cthulhu" (from "The Cthulhu Orthodontist") -- Doc Savage meets H. P. Lovecraft meets the great aunt of Emma Peel. A film that can only exist in the imagination and is therefore immortal.

Time to head back to the Metra Station.   

I Done Done It (my first ebook)

It took me long enough, but I finally went to the Kindle Direct site and posted a mini e-book, bringing together my two dark fantasy stories, "Surfaces" and "The Ambiguities." To be followed by three more mini books, the next one containing "Auteur Theory," "The Cthulhu Orthodontist" and "Where We Go." Then, one with "Last One Close the Door" and "The Button." The last one will contain "A Man Makes a Machine" (my first pro sale) and "Getting Along with Larga" (the winner of the first ISFiC Short Story Contest Prize and my "return" to science fiction after my apprenticeship in the literary salt mines).

It's been interesting. KDL says they support Word docs, so I worked in Word, even got fancy. My preview of the e-book doesn't show half the cool stuff I did, and it seems that the KDL format doesn't support the kind of layout I was doing (I threw in an illo preceding the start of each story, as you might in a print book, which would look good, except that the illos were by me, so they didn't look that good anyway). It seems they really want you to focus on the text. I can do that. This first book will look a little messed up, if the preview is any indication. I don't own a Kindle. Go figure. If I sell a few books, first I'll buy a char-dog at Phil's Last Stand on Chicago Avenue, then I'll buy a Kindle. One has one's priorities, you know.

I have given myself the option to make mistakes. Where I came from, the people I came from, you couldn't make mistakes. If you screwed something up you were a screw-up for life. I was a screw-up for life from about third grade. Which is probably why I hesitated so long in getting this first book out, and why I've been suffering a migraine all day. Old wounds run deep. They kind of feel like all-day migraines.

Yeah, I've got a Nebula. Yeah, I've had stuff in F&SF and Amazing and Hartwell's Year's Best SF series. When you go to KDL, you're self-publishing, and you feel like you're self-publishing, because that's what you're doing. It feels a little funny, but it also feels kind of interesting. I never started a small press, though I was always interested in doing so (though not for publishing my own stuff). The printing and storage costs were always unaffordable. The ISBNs are still unaffordable. But hey, I can go back. I can fix things. I can do the next one better.

Speaking of "doing the next one better": it's a weird experience reading your old published work, especially when you feel the urge to jump in and revise it. Well, there's nothing wrong in revising. Many writers have done just that when they prepared their old work for new publication (or in this case "publication" -- in some respects this still feels a little like a game instead of "REAL" publishing, because . . . it isn't "real" publishing). It's probably not a good idea to do too much revising. Save it for the next story. It's been my experience, so far, that I wasn't half as bad a writer as I thought I would discover -- though I wasn't as good as writer as I know I can be now.

That last sentence sounds suspiciously like the kind of thing a writer tells him/her-self when you know you have to give yourself that little inspirational sermon just to keep from throwing all your printouts out the nearest window (you can be fined for littering if you do that).

When you've been fighting a migraine all day, that can happen. Then, if you really want to mess yourself up, when your wife sends you off to search the shelves for the most recent edition of The Elements of Style, and you end up pulling a couple of story collections off the shelves, and you start reading (because, hey, the book is right there in your hands) some of Greg Frost's stories from Attack of the Jazz Giants, or something from Howard Waldrop's Things Will Never Be the Same . . . and you were already reading all these great stories in the latest Dozois-edited Year's Best Science Fiction collection for your fall semster reading list, that little voice in your head, that little editor, starts to shout at you, "You are such SHIT! How could you even think you could write anything even passably competent?"

And whatever happened to that Elements of Style anyway? I can hear Pam shouting from the dining room.

So, here I am, with an e-book, and now I'm supposed to go annoy people on Facebook and ask them to plug it, or post links, or do all the sorts of things that when I see other people doing it I just want to turn away to save them embarrassment (unless they're really good at it, and some folks really are).

It's been that kind of day.

But hey -- I've got an e-book! And that's one of things I set out to do this summer (along with starting a blog). I'm making some kind of progress.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Perils of "Perilous" Tales

Wrote this as an Afterword for an upcoming (maybe) e-book pairing of my two "horror" (or Dark-something-or-other) tales.

Science fiction writers aren’t supposed to write “horror” or “dark fantasy” stories. If they cross any genre lines, they’re supposed to gravitate toward fantasy. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

Science fiction writer or no, I’m more attracted to emotions than to technological or magical systems, or traditional narrative structures.

And the first emotion I remember experiencing to any significant degree was fear.

Fear. Peril. A Google search on the latter brings this definition up first: “Serious and immediate danger.” Peril is what every story, to one degree or another, should have.

Truth is, and this may be truth for more folks than just weirdo writers like me, is that if I’m not in peril I feel a little, well,  neglected.

Some of my earliest memories are of awaking from nightmares, looking around the darkened bedroom I shared with my brother, and seeing the little images on the china lamp on a little stand at the far end of my bed – some sort of eighteenth century pastoral scene where the men wore powdered wigs and the women wore billowing skirts. I watched them move around, sometimes dancing, sometimes chasing each other. Pictures on lamps aren’t supposed to move. That’s scary.

In the dark, all sorts of inanimate objects came to life. Sometimes, the darkness itself came to life. And shadows took silhouetted shapes and approached my bed – until I started screaming. One or the other of my parents had to come in and stay with me until I calmed down or fell asleep.

I developed a healthy dread of the supernatural, though I was enough of a Junior Philosopher to wonder if the “supernatural” were not just the region of the real world we hadn’t quite figured out yet. I had trouble accepting a differentiation between the two. Reality was reality, and I didn’t – couldn’t – believe it could run on two sets of rules.

Which meant I was probably headed toward science fiction from the get-go, but before I arrived –

I watched all the creepy, mysterious television my parents allowed me to watch. Old Universal monster films, episodes of Thriller and The Twilight Zone, even when they kept me up all night.

I read all the monster magazines I could find. I read Creepy and Eerie. I read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Haunting of Hill House. I loved all the Hammer and Amicus films I was able to see.

And about middle school age I sought out books about “real” ghosts and other supernatural manifestations. I was hooked on Hans Holzer and Susy Smith and Fate magazine. At one point I was convinced I would become a parapsychologist.

I refused to look at a mirror in the dark, convinced that Mary Worth would come out from it and scratch out my eyes.
And that went on for some years – at least until I found myself more afraid of what the real world had in store for me than anything in the arsenal of the supernatural.

Even so, I have a healthy respect for ghosts. Not that I “believe” in them (What does that mean anyway? What does “belief” have to do with objective reality?), but in a universe put together the way ours is, you don’t have to believe in a thing to have it come out of nowhere and bite you in the ass.

One way or another, it’s a perilous world. And one way we try to work our way through that peril, that fear, that uneasy sense of danger, is to lay it out in a story.

Turns out that every so often the sense of peril isn’t confined to the story and its world, but becomes part of the process of writing it.
*     *     *
“Surfaces” started when my wife and I lived in a little apartment in Rogers Park, on Albion Avenue. The previous tenant had run a little day care center from the place. We found crayon scribblings around the edges of some of the walls. Other walls had been painted by the tenant – no professional painter or decorator to say the least. One night, while sitting in the bathroom (yes, and on the most obvious object one sits upon in the bathroom) with no reading matter, I stared at the walls – the uneven application of paint, the shaky brushwork – and I imagined a few squiggles of paint looked more than a little like a hooded figure. I was brought up with thick paint and texture – my dad was a painter, the sort of painter who openly admires the thick application of pigments. He was more happy painting with spatulas than brushes. And he taught me to look closely at paintings, to notice how the complex figures could often be broken down into a network of simple lines and curves.

It was possible to look at an apartment wall as one big Rorschach  Test. From there, the scary part became figuring out the limits of obsession: how far can you follow the madness before it consumes you?

Writing a story about obsession can become an obsessive act in itself. I went through many drafts, with many casts of characters and many different outcomes. And once I settled in with my narrator, her sister, Wilford and Patrick, it still took many more drafts before I had sorted out my story.

In those days I had a friend, a former college instructor of mine,  who liked to take me to galleries on the Near North Side of Chicago after lunch. At that time, the whole “River West” neighborhood was booming, and part of that boom was measured in little art galleries. It seemed to fit in with a story where the main threat was created by a person with no “artistic” pretensions whatsoever, and yet what he painted came to frightening life. In contrast, I was looking at plenty of paintings that were void of any life.

It was about then that I also took note of how certain trends always created a coterie of experts. People who went to galleries learned to talk a good “art game,” just as later they learned to talk basketball while the Chicago Bulls were winning championships, or learned to talk hockey when the Blackhawks earned their first Stanley Cup in ages. Now, they talk about food and cuisine. But in each case, these aficionados don’t really “know” a thing about their subjects. They talk the talk, but can’t walk the walk.

Another aspect of the story that was important to me: I wanted the gay relationship between Wilford and Patrick to be just a matter-of-fact detail – an acknowledgment that there are gay people in the world, but that their gayness doesn’t bring about their outcomes in this story, either fortunate or unfortunate. I wanted to depict gay characters as being as much a part of the world as heterosexual characters, and to do so without it seeming that I was pointing it out to the world. “Hey! Look! I’m including gay characters! See how open-minded I am?”

The explosion of the house was inspired by a real incident. The owner of an apartment building blew up his building by trying to fix a gas leak on his own. It was less than half a mile from the building Pam and I were living at the time. I heard the explosion and felt the concussion – the saw the black smoke rising from the rubble. A few other homes were taken out by gas leaks around this same time. One fiction editor referred to my explosion scene as a “cop out.” I saw it as a simple Chicago fact of life. 

At the time I wrote “Surfaces,” I believed (and still do, though manifest in different ways) that truly subversive writing was (or should be) invisible. I want to subvert the use of the “supernatural” in a dark fantasy story. I wanted to write a female narrator that didn’t sound like a man pretending to some great knowledge of female psychology. I wanted the “real” places to be fully integrated into the unreal circumstances. I wanted the narrator’s intellectual questions to reflect her emotional insecurities and fears. And I wanted a reader to get through the entire story without being aware of any of it.

And after sending the story to dozens of places, and after getting some energetic feedback from editors scrawled on their printed slips, Gordon Linzner sent me a simple letter with a contract, saying that he was taking the story, that it should appear in such-and-such issue of Space and Time, and the check would be arriving shortly, which it did.

I never heard much in reference to the story after that. The magazine came out, I read the story at the dear, lost, fondly-remembered Twilight Tales reading series at the Red Lion Pub. And that was it.

At least until I met Jonathan Vos Post who, at the time “Surfaces” was published, owned Space and Time magazine. He said he thought it was the best story they had published during his tenure. I’m sure he was exaggerating, but I appreciated the exaggeration and was in no mood to contradict him.

Not too long ago, “Surfaces” was presented on a podcast that old friend and author Larry Santoro hosts, Tales to Terrify. Whoever handled the production did a great job, as did the woman who read the story, though the voice in my head that’s supposed to be Cath’s doesn’t quite match hers. A small matter. When I sat down and listened to the podcast, it was the first time I’d heard the story in years, and I didn’t squirm half as much at my bad writing as I thought I would.
*     *     *
Flannery O’Connor wrote: “St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in instructing catechumens, wrote: “The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass. Beware lest he devour you. We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon.” No matter what form the dragon may take, it is of this mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will always be concerned to tell, and this being the case, it requires considerable courage at any time, in any country, not to turn away from the storyteller.”
In “The Ambiguities,” Billy Elkrider became one of my most formidable dragons. He’s based on a “real” guy (or two, or even three), as much as you can consider anyone like Billy “real.” Yeah, he’s pretty much like I described him in the story and I say this in the present tense because, for all I know, he’s still out there. Older, maybe, but out there.
Way out there.
The comments about the Melville book were pretty much from the guy’s mouth when I encountered him on a CTA train heading for Howard Street from Wilmette late one stormy winter afternoon.
The “Joe Bazooka” story has not been especially embellished. I saw the guy with the busted, swollen hand pass out from pain at the bus stop on Devon and Clark Street as the big guy accompanied him to the nearest hospital.
Like most of my stories, it started out one thing and turned into another. I think I first tried to write it for a webzine Larry Santoro was launching at the time. I fumbled my way through it and took way, way too long working out a storyline with no strong resolution. By the time I turned it into Larry, he’d moved on to other things. Larry knew plenty of horror writers, so he wasn’t hurting for good stories. I was relieved he never got around to using it.
A similar thing may have occurred with a project Bill Breedlove was working on. I started revising the story, but the project fell through.
Then, in Madison at the World Fantasy Convention in 2005, I ran into Roger Trexler, who told me about an anthology he was co-editing, Hell in the Heartland. It sounded like an interesting project, and I knew a number of the authors who would also be contributing. I took out “The Ambiguities” again and decided to give it another try. I said, “I really want to make it into this anthology. Do . . . or die trying!”
The two big problems I had to solve with the story were 1.) presenting Billy’s humanity without diluting his scariness, and 2.) coming up with an ending that wasn’t nihilistic but not soppy or compromising. Of these two, the hardest by far was the latter.
Objectively, I can look at the older versions now and it's perfectly clear that my narrator’s encounter with Billy might have been an episode, but it didn’t make for a story. In my work, since I use a number of protagonists over and over again, I can’t just kill ’em off. And I don’t do the sort of stories where some poor schmuck makes a bad decision and pays the ultimate price, like a very literary version of an EC comic story. Other writers are much more successful with that strategy. It doesn’t work for me.
Not that I was consciously thinking of it at the time, but in retrospect I can see fairly clearly that I solved the problem of the ending (if I solved the problem at all) not by concentrating on Cath’s immediate problems (dealing with Billy, making her airline flight for the job interview), but by backing up and taking in the problem that’s at her core at the core of many of us making bad decisions as a way of life and, eventually, dealing with them.
In the earlier drafts, I wrote her scenes, thinking, “What does she do wrong? Where does she take the wrong step?”
In the later drafts, my concentration shifted to “What does she do right? And . . . does it matter?”
Of course it mattered. I just had to figure out how it mattered.
So, how do you pass the dragon in the road?
Some may view Cath’s nearly magical transport to her flight at O’Hare a deus ex machina. Maybe it is. I don’t see it that way. Billy may be the means by which she makes the flight, but only after Cath earns Billy’s respect. She acknowledges him (the most important thing), she deals with him honestly and ultimately she chooses to trust him – not without cost. She may have chosen to trust the Devil; or she may have chosen to trust a Jesus in disguise. Is Billy the former or the latter? She can’t know, but she still has to choose.
And thus the ambiguities.
Does that mean I chose Melville’s novel deliberately to reflect that aspect of the story?
I didn’t choose Melville’s novel. Melville’s novel chose me – with an assist from Billy – or the version of Billy I encountered on that CTA train. Pierre was the book I was reading, the one I had in my hand, when a giant guy in a Frankenstein jacket sat down next to me and asked, “Whatcha got there? Dirty book?”
In that moment, I had the story. It just took a mere two decades to figure out that’s what I had.

That’s what I love about writing. It’s on-the-job training until you die.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Saurian Archives: A Letter From Two Tyrannosaurs

This missive was intercepted from two small green tyrannosaurs, who as part of their penance were requested to make this apology public.

Dear Mrs. Omega,

We are sorry we ate your dog. It was very selfish of us and we promise never to do it again.

Pierrot and I were very, very hungry and didn't know if we would ever eat again if we didn't find some meat. Technically, your dog wasn't meat until we made it meat, but we were hungry.

We are sorry our meat was your dog.

We were afraid we were going to starve, but the human came back, and he brought other food.

Because it is healthier, we cooked the meat over a fire.

Your dog tasted good.

But we are sorry we ate him.

Very, very sorry.

Jean-Claude (and Pierrot)

Monday, July 15, 2013

How I Didn't Stop Feeling Guilty About Not Doing Nothing

A writer needs time to do nothing. To wander. To think. To allow silly, stupid, half-formed scenarios to pop up in his head -- to twist the scenarios around a few times, then make Silly-Putty shapes from them. A writer needs time to stick his (or her) hands in his (or her) pockets, bellow out, "Awww f*ck it!" and take a walk down a shaded street she (or he) has never walked down before. A writer needs time --

-- But not too much time. Sometimes doing nothing is a way to escape the inevitable. Escape briefly, if you must. But before long someone (even yourself) needs to kick you in the cajones (or equivalent antomy) because no matter how long you wait, the inevitable isn't going anywhere.

In the meantime, "downtime" may be "uptime," if it leads to something interesting -- some potential future project you may not have considered before.

I've been reluctant to post anything for nearly two weeks because I felt like I really haven't done anything other than muddle around, sit in libraries, take down books I'm not supposed to be reading and otherwise waste my time.

Facebook is like a social stock ticker, and as such it is just as addicting, granted you have the money to make the comparison valid. So I said: "Hey, you really need to post something, Mr. I-Need-to-Have-a-Blog Guy.  So tell the world what you haven't been doing when you were supposed to be doing something."

And I couldn't. Because in between all that time I was supposed to be doing nothing, I edited the eighteenth chapter of my novel, The Va-va-va VOOM!, which is going to need a new editor (due to circumstances beyond my control -- I better make it look as good as I possibly can, and finish that outline I promised that former editor a while back). And it wasn't easy -- as I may have mentioned before, I'm pushing myself in this novel to do more action scenes, and do them tightly, move them quickly, and do them without so many crappy, dead sentences. I already cleaned up the seventeenth chapter. I read it over today, while sitting in the Panera Bread in Wimette, and it didn't suck as much as I thought it did.

I also wrote an Afterword for a mini e-book I've been working on, explaining a little bit about how I came to write "Surfaces" and "The Ambiguities."

I also pumped out a few thousand words more on an accompanying piece for another e-book that will include "Auteur Theory," "The Cthulhu Orthodontist" and "Where We Go." I'm not liking that one, because it's turning into a memoir, and I don't really think any readers want to know that much about anything I write.

I've also been fiddling with covers and titles and . . . Hey! I thought this was going to be a simple matter of putting this junk into a doc and "making book," so to speak -- like I'm trying to do a careful job! What's with that?

And then, while in the same Panera, I worked a little on "Agent," or whatever I end up calling it, in a scene where I needed to look up some Henry James, so I actually had a reason for going through the shelves at the library and look up a quote from "The Middle Years."

All of this is not to say that I haven't been wasting some time, but at least I've been wasting that time in interesting ways. I got stuck reading a fascinating essay today by Alfred Bester, "My Affair with Science Fiction," where he describes part of the inspiration that went into his writing The Stars My Destination, and a great account of his "demented" meeting with John W. Campbell.

And, at one library or another, I've spent time reading Henry Adams, Isaac Asimov, Edgar Pangborn, Neal Stepehenson, D. F. Jones and Jospeh Epstein. A writer might do worse.

While driving around through ravine territory in Highland Park and Glencoe, I worked out what I needed to do in the nineteenth chapter of VOOM!

The other week, while taking the Metra downtown, I stared at freight cars sitting on a side track and realized that all the research I'd done on boxcar ladders could have been accomplished if I'd just opened my eyes and looked out the window as I rode into the city.

So, as much as I would like to say I feel guilty about having wasted so much time, I'm finding that I haven't wasted enough time to say that -- though I feel guilty about it all the same.

That's what writers do when they're not writing.