So the first draft of the next book is done.  I sent a copy to John to read, and I will now let it ferment a bit before I start the next pass.  It’s in pretty rough shape right now. I think the plot is there, and there’s a lot I like about it, but I feel like the “texture” of it isn’t in yet.  There are probably major continuity problems, all the names have to be changed — it hasn’t even been spell-checked, but it is “feature complete” at this point, and the length is just about there.  I will probably read it while I’m on vacation, or maybe when I get back.  Until then, I will relax, do some free-writing, and think about other projects.

I got a question or two about what program I’m using to write, and I have mentioned Scrivener on here, but haven’t written much about it in a few years, and that was when I was first getting started, before I really knew much about it.  And my workflow for this book was much different than my last few.  So maybe it’s time for me to write another “how I write with Scrivener” post.  I’ll chip away at that.  I’m not sure how many screen shots I can do without major spoilers, but maybe I’ll just blur things.

I’m leaving for Germany tomorrow, and I am woefully unprepared.  I have not started packing, aside from leaving little piles of cords and adapters all over my office floor, and going through my camera bag to pull out all of the junk I left in during my Hawaii trip last fall.  I always want to pack light, like my friend Bill, who goes on 40-day trips to India or whatever with only a single carry-on that’s not much bigger than my laptop bag.  But I also read all of these gear and tool sites and start locking into all of these travel gadgets that I want and don’t need, and then I suddenly need to carry a hundred pounds of voltage adapters and noise-reduction headsets and rechargeable batteries.  There has to be some compromise, but I won’t find it in the next 24 hours.

I started reading this biography of Joe Satriani that just came out. I was in Barnes and Noble yesterday and saw it, and read about half of it last night.  It’s strange, because I have not followed his career much in years; I think I last got his 2008 album, but I haven’t paid much attention.  (I think the stock response to that is something something “maybe he should stop singing on his albums,” although he did that once and it was 25 years and 73 albums ago.)  When he was first breaking out in the late 80s, I was obsessed with his work, and used to read everything he wrote in the old guitar magazines, all of the interviews and music theory lessons and news.  I listened to his first and second album incessantly in high school, too.

The book is a bit of a mix, I guess.  It has very little biographical information, which is a bummer.  He spent his early years hacking it out here in Berkeley, giving lessons in the back of a local guitar shop and playing in little bands. I wish I could find out more about that, like where he lived or where that shop was or where he hung out.  That is a Berkeley I don’t know, and when I am around the UC campus and it reminds me of Bloomington, it makes me wonder what that area was like in the 80s or 60s, if any of the old shops were the same or had the same sort of transitions that the same types of stores had on Kirkwood near the IU campus. There’s not really any of that in this book.

That is something I am very curious about, though, because when I was a kid and it was 1987 and I was reading about him in Guitar for the Practicing Musician, I assumed he was some millionaire living in a mansion in LA like all of the heavy metal videos of the time, sitting by a pool with a thousand guitars around him. In reality, he was probably renting a room in a crappy student apartment building, the kind of lifestyle I had in Bloomington in 1992. The book talks about how for his first record, he paid for all of it on a $5000 credit card he got in the mail, and recorded everything on the graveyard shift or whenever the studio had free hours, and they scrimped and struggled to get everything done.  There’s a story about how one of the songs on the album had fucked up drums on it, and at the last second, while doing another song, they ran out of tape, and didn’t have a hundred dollars to buy another reel, so they recorded over that song, and glued together scraps from the garbage to get the last few feet needed to finish the album. That’s a completely different vision than what I thought when I was a 17-year-old in Indiana worshipping everything he did.

The two things this book does have in abundance are recording and gear information, and to a lesser extent music theory stuff.  Big chunks of the book are like a recording engineer’s log, talking about microphones and outboard effects and stuff, and it’s interesting, although it does get monotonous.  The theory stuff is good when it happens, but it’s a bit sparse.  It does show that he really knows the theory behind what he’s composing, though, like when he talks about the chords or modes he’s using to build up a song, and how they came out of practice marathons or just two chords he wrote down in a notebook a decade before, thinking he eventually wanted to find a way to write something using those.  His perfectionism is inspiring, and I like those stories.  But the book is lacking, so it’s not as cool as it could be.

Anyway. I have so much to do before I leave.  I don’t know what my connectivity situation will be while I’m gone, but I’ll try to update a bit, and there will most likely be a huge picture dump after I get back.  So, Auf wiedersehen and shit.



Dig your own hole

Busy. Busy. Busy.

I have been trying to finish this next book. I usually write 500, 1000 words a day, and the last few days have been 3000, 4000 word days as I rush to complete this thing before vacation. I had a goal, according to my outline, of 55,000 words, and I hit that yesterday, but the story’s not done, maybe another five or ten thousand left to go. And this is just a first draft, to get the bones down. The writing itself is a mess, and will require a lot more work to even it out. This book is a huge departure for me, the closest to a genre book I’ve ever written, very plotted and end-to-end linear, about as Hollywood as I could possibly get. That leaves many question marks about what to do with it when it’s done, but I’m excited about its potential. I’m also blotto from the tail end of a huge sugar high and have consumed far too much caffeine for the day, so that’s an issue.

I leave for Germany in four days. I am entirely unprepared. I have to pack and figure out what I’m doing, and I feel like I won’t have enough time once I get there. I basically have two days in Nuremberg, then a travel day and three days in Frankfurt, then the travel day back. There’s two full days of flying and airports in there. I have new noise-reducing headphones. I hope they work.

I just read Circuits of the Wind, a three-part novel by old friend Michael Stutz.  (It’s actually now available in an omnibus single-book edition, too.)  I’d read parts of the book years ago, as he was sketching out a mad volume of pages about early net life, but never envisioned how it would all fit together in a massive arc from a 70s childhood before the dawn of video games to the era of the hacker scene and modem BBSes on up to the birth of the internet and the early 90s web explosion. Stutz is a solid writer, a master of the long Kerouacian lyrical style, knitting together observational sketches of deep detail and strong emotion into a longer, flowing river of nostalgia and history.  It was a fun read, but knowing that he probably cut thousands of pages from the final product makes me wish I had a ten-times-longer version to wade through for weeks.

I still don’t know where I’m going with the writing, although I’ve been very productive as of late. I have so many different projects piling up in the background, ideas that are waiting to mature on the vine. But one of the things I keep pushing back is the idea of a giant nostalgic work like Circuits, something that explores the deep emotional k-holes I sometimes dive down when digging through old emails and archives. I did this in Summer Rain to some extent, but I feel like I could do better, do more.  I have a few different half-assed attempts sitting up on blocks, but feel like to do it right, I’d need to start with a real outline, at least a roadmap for where to go and an idea for how the whole narrative would work, so I could dig in and start sketching the thing out.  This is a huge undertaking though, and I’m half afraid if I would try it now, I would just be aping Circuits.  But there was so much resonation in that book, I told Michael that the one major problem I had, which is also the biggest compliment I could give, was the number of times I had to stop and tell myself, “damn, I wish I wrote this book.”

I also have these heavy nostalgia trips about two other eras: my time in Seattle, and the period of New York right after I moved to Astoria. Both of these are periods that always come up in dreams, which is a sign that they’re knocking around my unconsciousness too much. They are also parts of my life where I was incredibly alone, and felt a great need for something to happen.  I wrote a lot during both the 1995-1997 and 1999-2001 periods I’m thinking about, and there were periods of dating and friendships, but there was also some horrible, unchecked depression and complete despair about what direction I was going in life.  That makes it a lot like the 1992 period I wrote about in Summer Rain, and makes me think it’s worth mining for fiction.

Another common theme of all three of those periods were they were specific eras in the development of the internet and the culture surrounding it.  1992 was this precursor, when those of us on college campuses had rich internet interactions with telnet and FTP and usenet and irc and electronic mail, digging into online culture and meeting people at other schools through listservs and chat rooms.  By 1995, when I got to Seattle and started at Spry, the web startup era was in high gear, with URLs appearing on ads and products, web browsers like Netscape popping up, and startup culture in full gear, everyone scrambling in the first big land grab for cyberspace.  In 1995, I thought I could help change the world and help form an online utopia; by 1997 or 1998, I saw the world was nothing more than a Dilbert comic strip, and it was all becoming corporatized and diluted, the usenet and telnet era of the beginning of the 90s gone.  And then in New York, in 1999  onward, I worked at Juno, the next era of democratization of the internet, moving from the eccentric tech nerds with expensive home computers to the time when millions and millions had the internet. Another big boom of startups happened, but much more mature and high-stakes.  And it went from dumb corporate culture to behemoth corporate culture.  And then NASDAQ crashed, big mergers happened, big Enron scandals happened.  Cue 9/11 for the end of that story and the beginning of another.

I don’t know how to link all of this together yet. I have vague ideas.  I don’t know if anyone would read it.  And I’m rounding third base and trying to run out the throw to the plate on the first draft of this other book.  And where’s my passport?  How many pairs of socks do I need to pack?  How warm is it in Germany?  How do I convert Celsius into real degrees? Busy, busy, busy.


Programs that don’t exist that I wish I had

I think of stupid software every day that doesn’t exist, and I waste too much time trying to find it. I should just start a blog of all of it, and hope someone steals the ideas and writes them. Or, I should really learn to program, quit my job, get a bunch of funding, and get rich riding these ideas into the ground.  That won’t happen, though.

I’m sure these programs exist in some partial way. Or, more likely, they exist but only work for 14 days and you have to pay for more, or they work, but are run “in the cloud” by a startup that will get bought by someone and then promptly shut down.

Okay, here’s a list, off the top of my head:

  • A program that goes through my incoming email, grabs everything that looks like a UPS or USPS or FedEx tracking number, and feeds them into a program like the Delivery Status widget. Maybe there’s a way to script Delivery Status to add entries, and maybe there’s a way to scrape email with an AppleScript for  Those are two big maybes, though. Oh, and a Safari add-on so if it doesn’t come in an email, I can click it from my browser.
  • The same as above, but flight info and my calendar. (No, I’m not forwarding all of my mail to TripIt. Locally.)
  • An iPhone app that can track everything I do during the day and make a log of it, so that in two hours, if I need to know if I ate lunch or not, I can ask Siri and it will tell me.  (Yes, I forget.)
  • (Not an idea, but a discovery – I just found out Siri works as a thesaurus!  Just ask “what’s another word for rumination?” and it will pull up a very kick-ass thesaurus entry from WolframAlpha.)
  • A way to take Amazon’s recommendations engine and make it find web pages. For example, if I’ve bought all of these Orwell books, find me some online web sites and communities where people with similar interests are. And don’t just throw “Orwell” into google. Use the power of Amazon’s engine, so it knows that if I read and liked books A and B and C, I’m going to want to read web site D.
  • A faster way to take the 20 years of old email mboxes that are completely unorganized and scattered across ten different directories and archives and explode them all into one giant timeline that I can visually sort and explore.
  • Something that can take my geo-coded photos in iPhoto or Aperture, search for the lat/long in wikipedia or whatever, and try to determine the names of the nearest locations in some sensible way to add captions.  So when I take a bunch of pictures on my phone on a work trip, I plug it in, let it churn, and then it magically says “632 Broadway, NoHo, New York City” in the caption field.

That’s all for now.  If you implement one of these and form a company and get millions of dollars, do me a favor and buy a few hundred copies of one of my books and give them away, so it makes it look like I’m a best-selling author for a few seconds.


Two for two

I’ve spent far too much time at Guitar Center in the last few days, and too much time at UPS in the last week or two. I’m in the middle of a long bass guitar arbitrage situation that will eventually end up dropping two (or three) basses and netting another two.

First was the massive pedalboard sell-off.  I use a Zoom B3 multi-effect for everything and love it, so the idea of having a pedalboard and a bunch of effects pedals was silly, and it sat in the closet for the most part. I listed everything on talkbass, and sold them off, one-by-one.

My goal was to part out my main bass, a Fender Jazz I built from parts, selling off the aftermarket bits and putting back on the stock parts, which I kept, until I eventually could dump the bone-stock version. I took off the hipshot detuner, and I also took out a set of EMG pickups that were in an old starter bass, and those went.  That’s about a dozen trips to the PO total, although I did chunk a few together.  The Jazz bass still has a high-mass bridge, very nice Nordstrand pickups, and an Audere preamp.  Those will go in a bit.

I then scored the pieces to my next Jazz bass build. A guy on talkbass sold me a Road Worn 50s-reissue Precision bass neck, in maple. And I scored a 60s-reissue Road Worn Jazz body in Fiesta Red on eBay.  Put together, they will make a very light, very vintage-looking bass with lots of fake mojo.  The Road Worn thing is sort of a gimmick; they relic off some of the paint, and age the hardware with some acid so it looks all rusty. It’s like buying pre-ripped jeans, which is sort of silly. But the secret of the Road Worn is that they use real nitro paint, like the old days, and not the super-thick, super-glossy stuff that doesn’t kill spotted owls or whatever. And they kiln-dry the wood longer, so it’s got the light weight and deep sound of an old bass.  And you get the shape and controls and contours of the old stuff.  So those parts are in the mail, and I may have pictures later in the week there.

On Friday, I rewired the Ibanez that gave up its EMG pickups, and brought it and my Schecter to Guitar Center for a trade-in.  This took forever.  They are nice enough there, but they’re always understaffed and overworked and doing nine things at once, so it’s a wait.

I didn’t feel much remorse about the Ibanez, even though it was my daily driver for about a year, and it’s a nice lightweight bass and looks decent enough.  The neck is thin and fast, but not perfect, with lots of fret sprout and some unevenness.  The Schecter I was more conflicted about.  It’s a very nice-looking bass, mahogany wood with a satin black finish. It’s well-balanced, a very smooth neck-through that feels great, and it looks awesome. It’s a 35″ scale, and has a great sounding B-string for a 5-stringer.  But it’s got a thin neck with narrow spacing, and I just couldn’t deal with it.  It wasn’t getting played. So, time to go.

I ended up swapping the two, and ordering a Warwick. They didn’t stock them, and it got back-ordered.  I really wanted one, but I didn’t want to wait a month (or two, or three) and was dead-set on either getting something in-store, or at least something GC had in-hand. So I went back the next day to cancel the order, and play everything in the store a second time, and maybe pick something out.

A general bulleted list of everything I argued about mentally while they were taking hours to do my paperwork:

  • I played a couple of the Epiphone Toby basses and their necks were surprisingly smooth for a $200 bass.  But they were $200 basses, so light they felt cheap.  And I didn’t need another dual single-coil bass, if I had a Jazz.  And that missing-puzzle-piece thing in the headstock is weird.
  • I tried a few higher-end Ibanez basses. They were okay, but the Ibanez SR/GSR line is plagued by the problem that all of the basses look and feel functionally identical, with slight increments in workmanship and electronics. A GSR-500 is not 2.5 times as good as a GSR-200. It’s like if Toyota built nothing but Corollas with more and more options as you paid more.
  • Squier basses are coming very close to Fender basses in quality. I played a Jaguar from each and they felt very close to the same. But a Jag is a Jazz with a weird body. I played a standard Precision, and it was a standard Precision. Sort of boring to me.
  • The SBMM SUB is a damn decent feeling $300 bass.  If they had one with a rosewood fingerboard, I probably would have done that.
  • The EBMM Stingray is a damn nice bass. (Explanation: Sterling by Music Man is a company that licenses the design of the Ernie Ball Music Man basses and makes them in Indonesia.) The EBMM version has a perfect neck, very fat and wide and a strange satin feel to it that’s just incredible.  The cheapest one was about $1400.  So, no.
  • Spent a lot of time on a Gibson EB-0.  I don’t like their stuff (I also played a Thunderbird, which, aside from having a book by the same name, I was not into) but this thing was sweet. It was all mahogany with a cherry satin finish, but weighed almost nothing. It had a really responsive, thumpy neck that I liked.  But, it was a short-scale 30″, had this dumb anniversary inlay at the 12th fret, and was a little above my price point.  I really hemmed and hawed over this one, though.
  • Played a couple of Yamahas and they were shit. Very fret-buzzy.  It could have been the setup. There are probably some nice Yamahas, but that’s like saying that I’m sure International Harvester could build a nice car.
  • I played a Jackson with a nice neck, but it had that swoopy inline headstock with a giant logo that looked as 1980s as Yngwie Malmsteen eating a McDLT.

I ended up doing a compromise on the EBMM/SBMM front. Sterling makes a RAY34 which is sort of the high end of the low end line, and has an active EQ and pickup voiced to be close to the old-school Stingrays. I found a used one in aqua blue with a rosewood fingerboard in a store in New Jersey, so that’s on its way out here.

So, down to just one bass in the house temporarily. Lots of UPS watching this week. Hope this long gear thread didn’t bore you too much.


Review: Call Me Burroughs by Barry Miles

It feels like I’ve read too many Burroughs bios lately. I just checked the shelf, and there are a dozen and a half of them, and that wasn’t something I planned. I’m not writing a dissertation or making this my life’s work. I think it was because Road to Interzone came out and then went out of print so quickly, I now hoard books about Burroughs. I wasn’t in the mood to read another bio, especially a 600-page one, so this book sat for a minute before I got into it, but I’m glad I did.

Burroughs is a strange nut, because the ratio of people who are fans to people who have actually read his work is staggeringly high. As someone who writes strange, experimental, nonlinear fiction, it’s something that’s always perplexed me, something that I’ve studied, as I’ve tried to find a way to get people interested in my own books.  Burroughs himself is a brand. People are more interested in his life than his work. The work is important, but the myth behind what he did with his life, both for good and for bad, is what makes him persist in our culture.  I’ve met many, many people who told me some variation of “I didn’t understand a single word of Naked Lunch, but I’m a huge fan.”  So the life of this guy is the gimmick: the addiction, the shooting of his wife, the moving to strange foreign countries, and the persona is what makes people interested in Burroughs.

This means that biographies of the man are paramount. And the last solid bio of the man was Ted Morgan’s Literary Outlaw, which was published in 1988 and which Burroughs hated.  (Side note: something I didn’t know until recently, because I’m an idiot or maybe because I read his book pre-wikipedia, is that Ted Morgan is a pen name used by Comte St. Charles Armand Gabriel de Gramont.  It’s an anagram for “de Gramont” and he changed his name to this when he became a US citizen.)  There have been plenty of other biographies covering parts or pieces of his life, but not a solid end-to-end book since his death, at least that I’ve read.  (I’m sure there are – there are so damn many books about him.)

There’s not much for me to say about Miles’ work in the bio, except to say he’s fairly thorough, and the book doesn’t skip over much. There are bits where I found his structure confusing.  Like there’s one bit where he mentions Cronenberg visiting, finishing a final script of the movie in 1989, and then taking six years to finalize the script.  At first read, I thought “wait, that movie came out in 1991 – he’s saying the script was finalized in like 1995?” But really, after I read the paragraph nine times, I realized he meant he visited around 1983, labored on the script for six years, and completed it in 1989.  There was nothing technically or grammatically wrong with how he wrote the paragraph; it was just backwards and upside-down to me.  This happened in a few places; otherwise, it’s a pretty smooth read.

I’m trying to think of any new ground covered in this book, and there’s not much, but maybe a few minor points.  I don’t remember reading elsewhere that Burroughs was a bottom, which he mentions several times. His methadone treatment late in life might be news to some. He paints the picture of Burroughs having money issues late in life – not issues per se, as much as having worries, and not sitting on a giant pile of cash as some may expect from a famous writer.

Overall, I don’t have too much to say about the book.  It’s worth a read if you’re into him, but I’m a bit Burroughs-ed out at this point.  I’m also down on a new wave of Burroughs fans that haven’t cracked open any of his books outside of Junky and Interzone, and who don’t know the joy of when a book like The Soft Machine finally clicks and starts firing on all cylinders.  This is a very well-done history, but I’d urge readers not to get too mired into the history and get back to the actual work.


The long walk to W384 Intensive Writing

I love it when it’s cool in the early morning after a hot day. There’s a certain charge in the air that’s unexplainable, not just the relief from the heat, but a somnolent, undisturbed feeling.  It was 83 yesterday, and I woke up to 55, and it was wonderful, even if it will be back to the high 70s in a bit.

In the summer of 1992, I had this 8AM writing class.  I was one of the only guys in the class and we talked about metaphor and Susan Sontag and I wrote a paper about the Pink Floyd song “Two Suns in the Sunset” that I’m glad I lost a long time ago.  (I wrote about this fictionally in Summer Rain.)  I used to stay up late every night, meeting people at midnight at Showalter Fountain, then wallowing in depression, sitting on computers or just walking around campus.  I’d maybe sleep a few hours in my pizza oven of a flophouse room, and wake up for the quick walk across campus to Ballantine for the writing class. During the day, the temperatures would hit the 90s, but in the early morning, the temps would sometimes drop into the 60s, and campus would be empty at that time of day. Those walks have permanently burned into my brain, and I think about them every time there’s a morning like this, and I feel that mixed state emotion of fulfillment and emptiness that a quiet, early morning can bring.

I think this work of progress is now paused.  Still not talking about it, except to say that I got a third of the way through the first draft and felt like the writing was too wooden and not me, and I needed a break to pick up some steam.  I think I need to watch a bunch of David Lynch movies in a row and get back to it later.  It’s still a good idea, and it’ll keep, but I need something else right now.

I’m still more or less writing daily stuff, automatic writing, brain dumps of whatever happens to hit at the time I sit down to write.  Sometimes, these are absurd and hilarious and end up in a book like Atmospheres, but they also become these nostalgic things that make me think about writing another book like Summer Rain, which I feel like I can’t do.  Maybe it will end up being a chapbook of some sort.

I was going to write more about nostalgic writing, but I should probably just go do some.