Going to California

Author’s Note

One of my favorite authors, Haruki Murakami, in addition to being a novelist is also an advice columnist. When asked if the pen really is mightier than the sword, he said, “I choose my words so the least amount of people get hurt, but that’s also hard to achieve.”

I’ve been pretty busy with work these past three months, which is why there’ve been so few updates — regular bouts of 12- to 16-hour days, along with a strong schedule of time with family, keep me from feeling like I can set aside the time to write the more intense rounds that are coming up. There’s a lot of angles from which I could tell this last run of our story here, and a lot of ways in which I could tell it — though given that at this point I’m writing about the much less distant past, and about people with whom I’m lucky enough to still call my friends today, I haven’t had enough of those long, quiet moments from which I can choose my words well enough to hurt the least amount of people. There’s some stuff coming up that I’m afraid of writing off the cuff. I want to be deliberate in how it comes together. I’ve been super thankful for the continuing stream of “Go for it” messages that I’ve been getting these past couple of months from the people who know what’s coming up. It’s helped.

What’s also helped has been an editor making it all the way through to end of “Making Magic” — I’ll be folding in his changes as updates to the original posts. (Thanks, Mr. V.) Reviewing his notes made me remember how much tighter things were in the earlier session, and I’m inspired to begin shifting back toward that density of story and language as the story accelerates into its conclusion. Expect tighter, shorter stories, with more action.

I’m going to take both “Gray” and “Interregnum” offline for now, though. They inform a lot of the final third of our story, though only a few pieces directly join up with it, pressing on through from “Making Magic” directly. This time last year as all of that was coming together I was on a roll, pushing myself to write consistently, daily, for many weeks, and I was happy enough being successful. Only some of that material was culled from journals or from other writing projects, so I now have the confidence that I can write that much, and that well, for that long. Still, again having gone back and re-read the first third, I’m afraid that most of those two stories don’t feed into the core of the overall narrative. Those stories will find a home, it just may not be here.

The good news is that I’m about to take a short vacation from work, where I’ll focus on playing with the kids, cleaning my office, and writing. I actually returned to writing earlier this week, blocking out a tight outline of the rest of the story. I even wrote half of the second-to-last post, given that I want to make sure that I bring this thing in for a three-point landing. So you can expect new content to start appearing as early as next week, or if I wait to get a couple of posts in before I start throwing them online, you’ll see the story continue as late as the week after.

That’s where I am with it, and how I hope to be getting to the end. Thanks again for reading.

Going to California

Author’s Note

Pressing on into the last round of writing on this story is taking a lot longer than I’d wanted. I spent the better part of three weeks traveling on business, and nearly a week later I’m still fairly jet-lagged. Or maybe 11 weeks of daily writing is the most I can do in one long run without some recharging.

Still, in about five weeks I’ll be taking a long vacation from my normal life. I want to have this story wrapped up by then, and I plan to make the time to do it. It’s a simple matter of putting one foot in front of the other.

I appreciate your patience. Thanks for reading.

Going to California

Author’s Note

This whole time, I have been successful at putting off thinking about what I was actually going to say about California, but following a recent class on personal essay (by the great Jane Ganahl) I reckoned I needed to one together, and I admit I’m taking my time. Still, now I have an general outline to write against, and so regular daily posting will resume on Monday. Thanks for being patient as I put the rest of this story together. I’m aiming to be done by the end of June. Let’s see if I can stick the landing there. Thanks for your encouragement.


Making Magic — Author's Note

This is as much as I ever planned out of that last stretch of writing.

Going to California

Making Magic — Author’s Note

Going to California

Author’s Note: Progress

Here’s how all of this gets written: I spend between an hour and ninety minutes hammering out some text, and maybe I proofread it, then I post it. Maybe I look at it again the next day and make a few changes — maybe I make a lot of changes — but maybe I don’t.

I’m confident that there are typos.

But I’m looking back at how much I’ve written so far. Rough word counts are as follows.

1. From the Beginning: 4,297

2. The Sunshine Factory: 5,179

3. True Names: 7,233

4. “Shall We Play A Game?”: 6,679

5. Confusion: 7,284

6. Dancing: 4,335

7. The Hacker Crackdown: 8,660

8. “Shall We Make A Game?”: 17,270

9. Making Magic: 33,837

Total: 94,774 words

That’s a lot of words. I bet I could cut a third or more out of the Hacker Crackdown without trying hard. I bet I could cut a thousand words out of True Names. But all of stories 1 through 6 combined are about the same size as “Making Magic”, which I don’t feel like I could cut too much. I’m shocked to look back and find it’s that long. I’m even more surprised to realize that I wrote all that in just under four weeks. Maybe I could cut a lot out of “‘Shall We Make A Game?'” but even still, the story’s not over yet and we’re already in the neighborhood of 100,000 words.

A small novel can be around 45,000 words. So this is already a medium-sized novel.

What I find most interesting is how something like a hundred people are all reading and enjoying this. I think there’s more, actually — somewhere just over 600 people visit at least occasionally — but some people’s visits are very far apart. Something like a hundred people get caught up every two to four days.

I’m grateful that anyone is reading it, much less so many people from all over the globe. Most people are from America, though maybe a third are in the UK, followed by Australia, Mexico, Canada, Brazil, France, Germany, Argentina, Spain, Peru, Hong Kong, Japan, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, over the last 30 days. That’s cool.

I’m going to see how long I can keep up with daily posting. I think we’re about two-thirds of the way to the end of this. I may just keep writing until I get there. I’ll try not to stretch it out.

Thanks for reading while I’m writing.

Going to California

Author’s Note

It’s been a while. I was sick for nearly two weeks, after which I had to focus pretty seriously on work for a week in order to catch up from being ill. Then I had a week of intense work-related travel, followed by a week of reconnecting with my family. A month went by without having hardly written anything. But that little narrative isn’t the only reason I haven’t been updating the story-in-progress.

I started this with the idea of being perfectly honest about a story that means a lot to me. I wasn’t entirely sure what the story was, only that I’d feel bad if I didn’t tell it. The previous work has been the easiest writing I’ve ever done in my life: I’d sit down and I hammer out between 1,200 and 2,200 words in an hour or two, then I’d make a quick edit pass for dumb mistakes before publishing it. Sometimes I’d re-read it the next day and fix a few little things, but for the most part I’ve only been pushing forward. It’s felt pretty cool.

Now I’m running up against a part of the story about a bunch of people who I still know, and talk to regularly, and care about. I know a few memoir writers who are happy to risk needing to make a new set of friends after publishing their intimate doings, but I’m not one of them. Still, after something like four attempts to push the story forward, I found myself dwelling too much over exact details versus my sense of things, and how I felt at the time. My memory of twenty years ago, you won’t be surprised to hear, is flawed. I admit I was surprised. But the more I worked to get things right, the more stilted the writing turned out, likes blow-by-blow of someone else’s long-forgotten boxing match. In a couple of cases, in trying to do justice to friends I found myself focused on telling other people’s stories, and ultimately that’s not what I’m here to do.

So what spare time I’ve had in the past month was filled with breakfasts, lunches, and dinners — and emails, and chat sessions — with a good number of people, some from mid-1990s Austin and other from my later days in California. I’ve done my best to tell people in general what I’m looking to write, specifically about them, in order to give them a good sense of where they fit in the story and to understand what they’re comfortable with me writing.

Thankfully — mostly because the bulk of these stories do have something close to happy endings, at least for now — everyone has only been encouraging, and supportive, and understanding.

Here are the general rules I’m setting out.

If I mention you by name, it’s either because I’ve reached out to you in advance about what I’m going to write (or, in a few cases, what I won’t write), or it’s because overall I don’t expect to say anything too outrageous or mortifying. Hopefully we’re either good-enough friends that you can trust I don’t intend to be mean-spirited.

If I haven’t mentioned you by name, but you know me and my stories well enough to know where things are headed and you’re deeply uninterested in having your name anywhere near anything you’re afraid I’m likely to say, please let me know now.

When I think a story might be too embarrassing for someone, whether or not we’re still in touch, I’m changing the names and some inconsequential details in order to avoid stirring up too much of the past. To further obscure the trail in some cases, I’m combining a few individuals together as a sort of representative character. I’m told that this kind of simplification is acceptable in modern memoir, and if it means fewer hurt feelings then I’m good with that.

Ultimately, if you’re a part of my story it’s because I remember you fondly and I wish you well, regardless of how things went at the time. I hope you can accept that the foolishness of our youth is worth capturing as part of what made us the sober, mature, and responsible people that I presume we have all grown into being.

One massive exception to all of this: People who knew me when I lived in Austin know that there are some seriously strange threads to that overall narrative. With a few exceptions that I don’t see a way to avoid, I’ve decided that getting into too much of the high weirdness would distract from the overall purpose of getting to California and talking about my time there. And it would probably be better served by a different voice, as well. There’s likely a whole book that could be unpacked from that handful of years, in mid-1990s Austin. I’ll probably find some way to write it after I’m done with this, God help us.

But given the work of this past month, I hope that reminding myself of the general order of things, and what I want to say, I’ve let the newly refreshed narrative settle back into my head where it can be cleanly and clearly mined. If I’m right, then now I can focus on nothing more than telling the story.

Because readers overwhelmingly want regular updates over bursts of text, I’m going to err on the side of scheduled posting. I’m shooting for Tuesdays and Thursdays. We’ll see if I can do it.

So: thanks for reading so far, and buckle up. It may get a bit bumpy, but I hope you trust you’re in good hands.

Going to California

Author’s Update

You know all those little slices of time between arriving at an airport and being told to turn off all electrical devices because voodoo might turn out to be real and it was giving people a bad vibe so please just go with it? Those little slices of time are great for tap-tap-tapping out some little stories on a phone — for me, anyway. Back home, without all those little in-between slices of time, and having to work a serious normal day at work, and having jet lag, is not contributing to my writing.

So I’m only promising two updates this week, to wrap up the Dancing thread, before moving on to another chunk of very interesting story that has not a whole lot to do with me.

Expect posts on Wednesday and Friday. Have a good week.