City of Unused Characters

Over on /r/writing, turtleofsorrows asked “Do you have any abandoned characters you love too much?

Yes, turtleofsorrows. Yes, I do.

The first that came to mind were Tristan and Esteban, who first showed up in a story I co-wrote with my brother-from-another-mother, the dearly departed Kevin W.

In the story, Tristan and Esteban were henchmen of a secretive redheaded woman whose name escapes me now. They were a pair of Latino men, snappy dressers, one tall, one short. They may, or may not, be brothers. They were one part Jake and Elwood Blues, and one part Penn and Teller, and one part Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd from Diamonds Are Forever. Except, y’know, Latino.

Their names are an homage to a friend and former co-worker, a person who was empathetic but sarcastic, and who had appetites larger than life. I miss him, but I doubt he’d want to hear from me after all this time and the mistakes I made in that particular social circle. Ah, well.

Tristan and Esteban, though, were wry, laconic, unflappable. They were loyal to their current boss but I always got the sense that this was just a gig for them. They did their job, which in that story (unpublished, alas) they were tracking down mystical artifacts which manifested as ordinary mundane objects, starting with an empty mayonnaise jar which had welded itself to the hero’s hand, annoyingly. But at the end of the day, they would probably do whatever paid the best. They had few scruples or morals, though, so finding work was never difficult for them.

I don’t think any of that made it into the original story, however. It’s all just backstory. I liked the characters, and thought that they would be fun to write. I wanted to find out more about them.

But I’ve never been able to crack their mysteries. I’ve tried using them in another story but they didn’t fit in well. And I even started writing a story with them as main characters, and I just couldn’t figure out what they wanted.

If I had to cast them for a movie, I would go with someone like Benicio del Toro as Tristan.

And Gael García Bernal as Esteban.

They’re always in the back of my mind, though, waiting for the right opportunity to spice up a story with some menace and wry sarcasm.

Any other writers out there carrying around abandoned characters? I would love to hear about them.


To help me re-focus on getting out there and seeing my words published (and paid for!) elsewhere, I’ve been following along with Nicole Dieker’s article A 7-Day Plan for Starting Your Freelance Writing Gig.

The hardest part for me was during Day 1: coming up with five publications I’d love to have bylines in. I’m not sure if it’s modesty, insecurity, or simple ignorance, but it took me the longest time to think up, and write down, five different publications where I would be proud to see my work.

I say “simple ignorance” because I’m just not aware of a lot of different journals, magazines, or publications. Especially so in the last few years, where I tend to read articles online that I gather from Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, and I rarely connect those individual articles with their overall publisher or publication. Which means I need to start doing that, again, with an eye towards “places I might want to pitch”.

But there’s also the underlying fear of “am I good enough?” and “they wouldn’t like me or my work” to deal with.

To combat that fear, here’s the list I finally – finally! – put down on paper. I would be happy to see my name on a story in any of these five, whether in print or online:

  1. The Portland Mercury – Portland’s best independent newspaper. Covers politics and local topics with a liberal, irreverent edge.
  2. Mother Jones – Also a liberal bastion of politics and current events. My anti-corporate skepticism and empathetic view of people would fit in very well here, I think.
  3. Wired – I’ve been reading Wired since the first month it came out. It’s where I honed my views on technology and the culture that surrounds it.
  4. Atlantic Monthly – In my mind, it’s the classiest place for narrative non-fiction.
  5. The New Yorker – Pretty much the pinnacle of prestige for writers of all stripes. They don’t normally accept unsolicited work, though, so I need to work my way up to this one.

I can think of a few other places but those five are a good target for my aspirations. Perhaps as I work on this, and do more research and reading, I can find more. There’s a whole world of paying publications for writers these days.



ReNoMeShaMo #1 – Shamsee: A Fistful of Lunars, by Tarwater & Ricker

Cross-posted from my Amazon review of the book, because I felt the best way to start was with something by the instigator of the idea. 

Shamsee is clever, charming, and great at working the problems of being poor, which is to say, he’s been known to steal, or trade sexual services for, the things he needs. But what else can he do? His sister’s the one with an actual job. Shamsee is job-averse; at least the kinds of jobs where they expect you to show up on a regular basis indefinitely and actually get sweaty and dirty.

Because of his job-averse-ness he owes money to Blighter, and Blighter is not amused. Blighter wants to put all this behind him; he knows that Shamsee will never pay him back the money he owes him, and it might just be more fun to watch his dogs, Hands and Faces (named for the things they most like to bite, I think) eat Shamsee. Certain satisfaction in that.

Shamsee is nothing if not charming, though, and manages to buy some time to avoid being dog food. That’s where the story starts.

Tristan Tarwater’s dialogue sparkles and she drops in place names, swears to new gods, and other tidbits that set this story and these characters in a fully realized fictional world, Tarwater’s The Valley of Ten Crescents. The characters’ motivations and personality are built on a solid foundation, and then Adrian Ricker illustrates them with a deft hand and helped by an assist from Michelle Nguyen’s gorgeous colors, expanding the world even further. That world has a subtle tilt to it, one that I found intriguing and left me wanting to learn more.

The comic is a brisk, delightful read, and I was glad to have backed this project on Kickstarter. Both writer and artist are locals in my hometown of Portland, and I could not be happier to support creators of this caliber.

Regional November Media Sharing Month

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Tristan Tarwater, over on Facebook, came up with the idea to share, review, or rate one cool thing, every day in November. It’s an alternative to National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a., NaNoWriMo.

I like this idea, and I will attempt to do it, starting today. I dub this Regional November Media Sharing Month, or ReNoMeShaMo (I’m terrible at naming things, just terribly bad at it).

Nuclear Wasteland

I spent several days last week at my sister’s house working on my Halloween costume. It’s mostly finished and I could not be happier with it. I could not have done it without the help of my sister Lisa, my friend Diana, and my nephew Max.

Here’s a small preview:

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Can you tell I’ve been playing a lot, and I mean a lot, of Fallout lately?

Mostly I’m writing this to push the “pardon my dust” post down the page, because for the most part, the move is done. I’m happy with the blog for now, except for the giant yellow box in the sidebar where, eventually, AdSense ads will appear. I’m not sure why it’s just a giant yellow box devoid of content. I’d rather, if nothing else, that it was a giant black box or giant blue box to at least match the color scheme. My understanding, and I may not be right about this, is that I have to leave that there until Google decides to start letting me run actual ads. It’s necessary for the approval process, I guess? Apologies for the ugliness.

Also over there in the sidebar is a handy Amazon link. Yes, I’m now using affiliate marketing. If you find yourself needing things from Amazon, feel free to use that search box. If you buy something that way, it should not affect the price you pay in any way, but I do get a small kickback for sending you there. It’s a small way to support my writing.

You can always support my blog by reading it, sharing posts you like, or just telling others about it. For all of that, if you’re here now reading these words, thank you. I am happy you’re here.


Pardon my dust

I’m in the process of moving my site to a new host (Site5, as recommended to me by a friend who knows this stuff much better than I do, Steve Libbey) so things may look weird today and tomorrow.

Posts appearing or disappearing, the theme changing and being unreadable, stuff like that.

Bear with me until I get this all sorted out, OK?

In the meantime, you can always find me in other places, too:

The mystery of Mason Parker

I have two pen pals that I need to send something to. One is in New Zealand and the other is in Massachusetts. I don’t know a lot about them. I was connected with them via a Slack group for a local art/tech festival I volunteer for, XOXO.

Not knowing much about them I figured the first thing I should do is tell them something about myself, because maybe they’re thinking the same thing on their end of the connection. I was pretty sure they had been to Portland, my home town, but they probably had never been to Sellwood, the neighborhood I live in and love.

I have three or four pieces of artwork by a local artist, sketches of different corners and streets in Sellwood, and two of those pieces are on greeting cards. I bought them a year or two ago in a boutique, called Fuchsia, just a few doors down from where I often drink and eat myself into oblivion.

I met the artist himself at a charity art show, in fact, where I purchased two of the four prints I own. I had gone there with some friends and had joked that I would only buy something if it was about my neighborhood, and that is exactly what I found.

And then earlier this year, I had seen him again, sitting with his easel on a sidewalk across the street from a breakfast diner I love far out of proportion with the quality of its food. He was sketching that corner, which in addition to the diner includes a dive bar and two different auto mechanics.

Yesterday, in the delightful gray rain, I put on my coat and fired up a podcast on my iThing and walked to that shop to pick up some more cards, to send to my pen pals. It’s an easy 20-25 minute walk.

I walked in, said hello to the lady behind the counter, and wandered around the greeting card aisles; when she asked me if I was looking for something specific I told her about the cards.

“Oh,” she said, her face falling, “we can’t get those cards anymore. The artist passed away.” She couldn’t remember the name of the artist and, sadly, neither could I.

Unsure what to say beyond that this was sad news, I ended up buying some cards of a different local artist, although these cards were not of my neighborhood. I still have to write in them and send them, which is the important part of being a pen pal with someone.

When I got home yesterday I looked at the signature at the bottom of the drawings I own. Mason Parker. I clicked around the site, a basic WordPress blog, and found that he had completed the painting of Bertie Lou’s (see above), and that he had artwork showing in Portland through December. That page was updated on 19 October 2015, in fact, just 10 days ago as I write this. There’s a list of stores that sell his cards and art–notably, it does not include the shop in my neighborhood. Did he really pass away?

Mr. Parker has a phone number listed and a P.O. Box and a PayPal link to order his art. I can’t tell if he’s not actually dead, or if his death was so recent that the site just hasn’t been updated.

Today, I’m going to call him just to check. I’m not going to wait.

How much do I need to know before writing a chapter?

Instead of actually writing the chapter (for now), I’m going to write (and think) about writing the chapter.

The scenes I’m working on in my not-yet-finished first-draft novel are pivotal ones. They’re intended to introduce two characters from previously unrelated storylines, and that meeting is going to affect almost everything that happens afterward. I know these characters and, once they’re introduced, I know, the way any writer or storyteller knows, how they’ll react and what bits and pieces of themselves they are willing to share with each other. I am not nervous at all about the interpersonal part of the scene.

The two characters are: a 3 term US Congressman who is facing an increasingly tough re-election campaign, someone who has a code of honor about his civic duty but might be willing to break some rules “just this once”; and a heart-broken woman serving in the US Army under DADT who regrets leaving the love of her life behind because she felt she had no other options for a career.

The parts that are giving me pause in writing are all the details of the setting in which they’re meeting: in and around, to the north and the south and the east and the west, of Baghdad, Iraq, during the height of US occupation.

All I know about the area is what I’ve seen in movies, and on TV. I don’t even really know much about military structure. What ranks would be doing what work? Who would she report to? Who would be there to meet the Congressman and his staff? How much leeway would each of them have to actually have a face-to-face conversation?

All these questions are nagging at me. I don’t want to fuck this up. I’m confident about the emotional elements of the story; the military and setting details, however, scare me. I don’t want to write things so poorly it kicks people who do know these matters out of the story.

I remind myself, however, that this is a first draft. I just need to get something down on paper (well, pixels), and when it’s done, I can have more knowledgeable eyes go over this (and every) section and tell me how to fix it. First draft is a long way from finished book. I can just focus on the parts I know.

Fingers, fly! Time to write.

Prepare for ads

Sometimes when you visit here, you may see an ad down at the bottom of the page. These ads are placed by WordPress, because I am currently on a free hosting plan. Maybe someday, after HBO buys the rights to the book I haven’t finished yet, I’ll be able to pay for actual hosting and avoid those ads. In the meantime, they should be unobtrusive; that’s what WordPress says, anyway.

In the meantime, however, I may be placing ads here myself. The current theme I’m using, Ecto, isn’t really a great one for ads, since the only place I can place ads is in the Sidebar, which is hidden away under a menu. So I’m looking at other themes that will allow me to put another ad or two on the page somewhere. Or there are plugins that allow me to inject ads into posts, but, man, that doesn’t really sit right with me. I may be just unaccustomed to advertising, however.

In any case, stay tuned for ads, but not a lot of ads, and with any luck at all, good targeted ads that aren’t racist, sexist, right-wing, or otherwise horrible.

If you ever see an ad here that’s offensive, please let me know, hopefully accompanied by a screenshot. I will do everything in my power to make sure such ads don’t appear here.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you all.

Flash player is needed, except when it’s not

Earlier this week, I got the following pop-up message from Safari running on Mac OS X 10.11.0 El Capitan. I don’t now recall what site gave me the message.

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Using Flash as a Mac user has been annoying and sometimes even dangerous; there are exploits out that use Flash’s security holes to attack our computers, on top of the normal performance draining behavior of Flash. Apple and Adobe’s Flash have been in conflict for a good long while now.

“Most modern websites will work without Flash if you turn it off” you say? OK, sold. Gone. Goodbye, good riddance.

For the three days following that message and my response, I have noticed no significant difference in use. Honestly, I forgot about it. Until just now, I followed a link from the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Twitter feed with a sneak preview of next week’s episode (linking to the picture of the page because spoilers if you’re not caught up on the third season).

When I got to the ABC website, the page was overtaken by a banner that took up fully a third of the window. The banner read:

You either have an old version of Adobe Flash Player or do not have Adobe Flash Player installed which is required to use this site. Please install/upgrade Adobe Flash Player.

Which brought me back to that earlier Apple dialogue box. Am I going to have to re-enable Flash? Do I care about what happened to Simmons enough to do that?

What happens if I just click that play button?

What happens is… the video plays just fine.

But that damned banner is still there, telling me it won’t work.

Which is hilarious to me.

I feel as if I’m watching a contest between titans, the corporate persons who shape our daily lives. Apple, Adobe, ABC/Disney, flailing around, each defending their turf, and all I can do is stand and watch and laugh, because nobody really knows anything.

Tech is weird, y’all.