January & February Update

Unrelated to the travel journal parts of this blog, but I have a new short story out in the “Gorgon: Stories of Emergence” anthology published by Pantheon Magazine. My short story “Of Talons and Teeth” is included along with fellow Viable Paradise alumnus Aimee Ogden’s “Psalms.” “Of Talons and Teeth” even includes an illustration!

You can find a list of my publication history on this very website.

On the travel journal portion of things, we’ve been up to our usual shenanigans. The big family highlight for January was our trip to see Hamilton.

I didn’t go to the theater much when I was a kid, and the handful of times I went in high school and college it didn’t really stick. (I have never forgotten the production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” that I saw at Drury as an undergrad, so I’m not sure why it didn’t stick.) It took listening to the Hamilton soundtrack for me to find an interest. The combination of whip-smart lyrics, history, and musical style caught my attention and never released it. I had to wait for it for three years, but I was finally able to see the show in person in London this year.

It was excellent. The production, the staging, the choreography, the costumes were all *amazing.* The cast was really good. They weren’t the same as the cast album that is seared into my brain, but they were all highly talented. I especially loved Rachelle Ann Go as Eliza in “Burn.” My favorite song of the show, and it doesn’t make my top 20 from the cast album.

If you’re into theater, you should see Hamilton. Period. Listen to the cast album a few times, read the Wikipedia entry on Alexander Hamilton’s life, and go when the opportunity presents itself. It will blow you away.

Also in January, I made it out to Griffin Park to see Brentford FC (named after me, obviously) take on Stoke City. It was a chilly afternoon, but a good result for the club. I had a great time visiting some of the local Brentford pubs and talking football with a bunch of people that have been following the clubs for decades.
And… I saw these two delightful street signs.

I was shocked this was the name of the street…
…and then I saw this one a block later. Well played, England.

In February, my mom came to visit, so we took her into the city to see some attractions. We made our first trip to the London Eye.

It was a typical February day in London.
We were back near the Eye a week later, and the weather was *perfect*

We visited the Museum of London, and it remains my favorite museum in the city. It’s the narrative that really does it, I think. I love that you walk in the entrance, start in the Paleolithic era, and make your way chronologically forward through the history of the city.

We also made it to the Sky Garden. It’s a three-story garden at the top of the Walkie Talkie in the City of London. From 35 stories up, you can see much of the city. We had a fairly clear day (by London standards) with wonderful views of the Shard, the Tower of London, the City of London, and St. Paul’s. The Walkie Talkie, you may remember, was the building that was melting cars after it was built. Sadly for us–but happily for the vehicle owners below us–the problem was successfully resolved with metal slats on the southern face of the building, and there were no unsightly lumps of plastic stuck to the pavement.

Back on the writing front, I am finishing a second pass of edits on my novel-in-progress. I started it in late 2017 and have worked on it off and on since then. The move led to some interruptions, but I’ve been working on it steadily since Viable Paradise. I have a few willing alpha readers lined up, and I’m aiming to have it out to them by the end of March. It’s part steam punk, part space opera, with a heap of revolution, and a twist of betrayal. This will be my first novel that I send out to agents and pursue the traditional publishing route, so it will likely be years before it’s available to a broad audience. Hopefully you’ll see some more short fiction from me in the meantime.

Celsius Temperatures, A Scale for Americans

  • Below 0 – Stay inside
  • 0 – Wear a coat, scarf and gloves 
  • 5 – Wear a coat and a scarf
  • 10 – Wear a jacket. Or a coat. Your call.
  • 15 – Wear a jacket
  • 20 – Wear a jacket if you’re standing around
  • 25 – Leave the jacket at home
  • 30 – Wear shorts. Stay hydrated.
  • 35 – We definitely need air conditioning now
  • 40 – What is this, Arizona?
  • 45 – Leave Australia, return in 6 months

Weekend in Paris – Quick Thoughts

We spent four days in Paris the weekend between Christmas and New Year’s. It was beautiful, not very busy, and cold.

The Eiffel Tower: worth climbing to the second floor for sure. The line for the stairs was much shorter than the elevator, so we took the stairs. There’s no choice but to take an elevator further up if you wish to go to the top. We did. No regrets, but it’s not really necessary, either. The second floor is impressive on its own.

Versailles was even more ornate than I expected. I’d like to visit in the spring or summer to see the gardens. I booked my tickets in advance, which meant I was able to spend 5 minutes in the queue rather than an hour (said queue is surely much worse in warm weather), but the really pro way to see Versailles is book a tour in your language. That lets you enter with your tour group, and then you can stay inside the gates and view the rest of the palace on your own without needing to back out to the queue. You need tickets to enter whether you do the tour or not, but the tour is worthwhile in its own right, and the ability to skip the queue is a nice bonus.

The whole time I was there I couldn’t help but think about how such ridiculous excess ultimately resulted in the French Revolution.

The Louvre would be worth seeing if all the art and artifacts were removed. The building itself is gorgeous. No one does ceiling moldings like the French. Again, book your tickets in advance. The worst queue here wasn’t to enter the museum itself, it was to get through security. If you enter through the Lions’ Gate or another side entrance, you can drastically cut down the time you wait. You can also book timed tickets, which we did; we had to wait for all of five minutes.

I’m not sure if you can book Notre Dame ahead of time. If you can, and you want to see the inside, you should. We wandered around the outside and skipped the inside due to lack of time for the queue. Basically, if you want to see anything in Paris, book ahead of time.

Also, research your restaurants in advance. We picked a random spot for our first meal just because it was near our hotel. I will charitably call it mediocre and accurately call it over-priced. I spent an extra ten minutes looking for food for subsequent meals with much better results.

Spend the extra ten minutes is pretty good dining advice anywhere. Download Yelp (for the US) or Trip Advisor (for Europe) and look at some reviews. See how a place rates. If it’s not in the top 10% in its city, consider something else unless you have inside info. Also look at the 1-star reviews and see if they are coherent and whether they address the same things. I’m perfectly willing to ignore bad reviews if they are reflective of staff having a bad day, but I’m less inclined to ignore them if multiple people mention quality declining over time.

Viable Paradise – Bonus Advice

Take some binder clips to hold your packets together. There’s lots to read, and you’ll be dragging papers around.

Take warm, comfy clothes. It gets chilly downstairs. I bought a hoodie on the island and wore it practically every day. No regrets.

Take good walking shoes. You’ll likely be doing a fair bit of walking, whether it be to town and back or out for your 1 on 1s.
Take the time you need to meet your critique and creative obligations, but don’t be afraid to take that time in the common room with headphones on. If I have one regret, it’s that I spent Wednesday afternoon–and especially Wednesday evening–holed up in my room getting work done when I could have been more social while still getting my work done.

Do not miss out on Steven’s pies. Or the fudge.

You’ll have a chance at leftover curry, but go back for seconds, anyway. It’s worth it.

November 2018 – A Month in Review

The calendar says that it is nearly winter, but the weather feels as if winter has already arrived. At the same time, it’s hard to believe we’ve been here for five months and that Christmas is only two weeks away. The girls were having a similar conversation last night, and it made me think about what we did in November. 

On November 1, I captured a video of the autumn rain. I didn’t record this thinking it would make a good intro to a blog post, but play this thing on loop. It’s incredibly relaxing. 

Technically, bonfire night was on the 5th, but London celebrated in style on Saturday the 3rd. The girls and I went to Battersea Park and took in the biggest fireworks show I’ve personally seen. It was truly a delight. 

The following week took me to Dublin for work. Traveling for work generally means long days and little time to enjoy the place I’m visiting. The museums and cultural attractions are typically closed by the time I leave the client office, but I usually manage to find a decent meal, a drink, and then see whatever I can. In Dublin that meant this guy:

And of course a pint of Guinness. 

I didn’t like Guinness in America. I tried it a few times, but it always tasted slightly burnt. When I came to London, I tried it again. It was better! Creamier and that burnt flavor was gone. Then I tried it in Dublin. Reader, a pint of Guinness in a busy pub in Dublin might just be the best pint of beer of in the world. (I am open to suggestions otherwise!) It’s like drinking a hug from an angel. Like warm sunshine on a cold day. Like a nice, long piss after… well, you get the idea. It’s not remotely the same beer as America. I realize folks have lots of reasons for not consuming, and I respect that. However, if you enjoy a pint now and again, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better pint anywhere. 

The following weekend Carissa and I managed to get out of the house for a few hours for a date night. We saw Dessa in concert, and the show was delightful. 

Dessa has her own, distinctive sound that covers ground between indie, hip hop, and pop. I enjoy music as a neophyte. I do not catch the complexities of composition, and I cannot carry a tune in a bucket. What I do especially love are clever lyrics, and Dessa’s lyrics are razor sharp. We had a delightful time supporting our fellow Yank.

Toward the end of the month I made my first-ever trip to Portugal. As with any work trip, the pictures are A: photos from airplane windows, or B: inanimate objects. I need to work on this.

Lisbon was great. Warm weather, friendly people, great food. 

My biggest challenge was the language. It turns out that all those years of Spanish have left me in a spot where I can almost sort of understand Spanish if people speak slowly, but completely confused me for handling Portuguese and its pronunciation. 

Enter Scene: Brent walks into a small, family-run cafe.

BRENT: Buenos dias. Una taza de cafe, por favor.

WAITER, in English: Sir, this Portugal. We speak Portuguese. And your Spanish is atrocious.

BRENT: Uh, I’ll have a glass of water. Please. 

That story may not have actually happened, but it is true nonetheless. 

The final day of the month saw me back in London, and the girls and I went to Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. 

  1. Winter Wonderland is lovely
  2. Winter Wonderland is crowded
  3. Winter Wonderland is expensive
  4. We plan to go back next year

The girls went ice skating, and we all went through the magical ice forest. It was cold. It was also magical. There were rides. There was bratwurst. There were CHURROS!

The park is a “Christmas” carnival, which means it is an exercise in capitalism in its purest form. They let you in the gates for free, but everything from there has both a queue and a cost. The place was absolutely jammed with people by the time we left around 9:00 PM, but we still had a lovely time, and the girls want to go back next year. 

If nothing else, for the churros. 

On Viable Paradise

It’s been six weeks since Viable Paradise ended. It feels like yesterday. It also feels like a lifetime ago.

Before I went to the workshop I read a bunch of blog posts from other students. One of the things I noticed was how many of the blog posts occurred weeks or months after the workshop ended. People wrote about how they needed time to process things, how they just weren’t ready to write about the things they had learned. It seemed weird to me then, in the before time. It doesn’t seem so weird now.

Moment: sitting in a critique group with my classmates, listening to people passionately discuss a story about a black woman in prison. Hearing Nisi’s feedback and seeing a glimpse of a world I didn’t realize existed.

When you step off the boat on Martha’s Vineyard, you leave behind whatever else is happening in your life. For that week all that matters is making good art. Work can wait. Family can wait. It’s like emerging from the wardrobe into Narnia where the forest is covered in ice and strange creatures are prowling just out of your sight. Only the island is covered in autumn leaves and the strange creatures make a damned fine curry.

Moment: walking along the beach with The Oracle of the Buses and discussing how trying to twist a trope can still give power to the trope.

The workshop occurs on an island that exists outside the regular flow of time. There are so many people to meet, so many stories to read, so much to learn. I arrived late on Saturday evening, and approximately one month elapsed before dinner on Tuesday . I blinked sometime after dinner, and it was already Friday afternoon, and I was scrambling to escape the nor’easter bearing down on the island.

Moment: reading novel chapters that are so good I can’t believe they aren’t published

I have notes. I always have notes. I write because it helps me order my thoughts and it helps me retain what I hear. Lord, do I have notes.

The staff remind you on day one that you deserve to be there. You were invited to attend because your work was good. There was a conversation one evening about Imposter Syndrome. Every single person in the room had it to one degree or another, including the ones with their names on the covers of best-sellers. That was strangely reassuring.

Moment: hearing critiques of those novel chapters that want to change the parts that I loved

Over the last few years I’ve read a number of books on craft. Dozens. The best books help you see things differently each time you read them. Many of the lectures at VP cover topics that exist in the craft books. There’s a difference between reading a thing a few times, hearing a thing a few times, and discussing a thing with someone that has been doing the thing professionally for decades and has incorporated it into their writing DNA.

Moment: listening to one of my writing heroes discuss the financial realities of a career in the genre.

The instructors are wonderful. There were a few that were not part of my critique groups or one on ones, and they each made a point to chat with me during the week. I don’t know the best advice I received, but I know the piece that felt most real. It had nothing to do with craft and everything to do with the realities of living in a world where obligations and art must compete for the scarcest resource of all: time. The advice was that when you get ready to be a full-time writer, see if you can reduce your hours at your day job to be part-time for a while. This will help with cash flow, but it will also help transition to a new routine without a single enormous shake-up.

It was good that the island existed for a week outside the ordinary flow of time. Not everything would have fit, otherwise.

Summer 2018 Update

A supermrine Spitfire suspended at the Imperial War Museum
Photo taken at the Imperial War Museum, London.

Oh, hello again.

Some things are changing around here. I’m moving from southwest Missouri to London, UK this summer. There will be more blog posts. Expect to hear lots about museums, food, travel, and general life in a place that is very different from my corner of the Ozarks.

There is a novel in-progress. It’s a sprawling thing that isn’t quite science fiction, isn’t quite fantasy, is definitely not Hamilton fanfic, but is definitely inspired by the American Revolution, wealth inequality, steampunk, and the month I cooked vegetarian food. “Sounds weird,” you’re thinking. “But I like weird. When can I read it?” Now that, dear reader, is a good question. I don’t have a good answer. “Someday” would definitely be accurate. “Next year” would be too ambitious. I’m planning to send this one out to the major publishers when I feel like it’s ready. It may well be years before it’s either published or I give up on selling it and publish it myself. Don’t hold your breath, but keep an eye on this space for updates.

There’s also another Porter Melo story kicking around in my head, but I probably won’t write it until Prosperity, LTD is out on submission. The Porter Melo story will be about soccer, FIFA corruption, and organized crime. Probably set in London since I’ll be able to do plenty of onsite research. This one I likely will self-publish. Ideally it will be available before the 2022 World Cup.

I do have a new story available Right Now, though. It’s only available in paperback, and you can find it in the Santa Barbara Literary Journal at Amazon. The story is titled “Petunia’s Baby” and it’s about a young lady that falls in love with the wrong sort of man, realizes that the world doesn’t owe her anything, and finds her own happy ending. Spoiler alert: things get dark, fast. If you’ve read “Who We Once Were, Who We’ll Never Be” (my story about the young lady in China), you’ll notice some similarities. Look, I won’t pretend that these aren’t my way of trying to send not-so-subtle messages to my daughters. Kick ass and take names, ladies. And have an alibi.

Altar of Tyranny: Available Now

AltarofTyrannyCover

Indeed, Altar of Tyranny has been available since Tuesday, but it’s also available now. And probably tomorrow, too. Maybe even the day after that.

Initial reactions have been strong. People are buying it. More people than I personally know, so that’s always a good sign.

You can find it in ebook or trade paperback, though the paperback is only available through Amazon and CreateSpace.

Amazon US, UK, CA, AU
Barnes & Noble
Kobo
iTunes

Coming December 8th: Altar of Tyranny

Greetings Revolutionaries!

It’s that time again. The holidays are nearly upon us, but it’s also time for a new book release and an ever higher bomb, bullet, and body count. Porter Melo is still in Hong Kong, and the world is collapsing around his ears. After the fiasco of the last job for the CIA, Sam’s on the ropes mentally, Porter is exhausted, and the Yan family is waging war against the state. But there’s no rest for the weary, and a Melo always looks after his own, so Porter is right back in the thick of things as the revolution turns into an all-out war.

AltarofTyrannyCover

The book is available for preorder at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon AU, Amazon CA, Kobo, and Apple. It will be available on December 8th at those retailers as well as at Barnes & Noble.

Every writer wants the newest book to be his best work yet. I can say with certainty that The Altar of Tyranny is a big step forward for me. It’s been a year that I’ve been working on it, and it’s been through more work and re-work than anything else I’ve ever written. I’ve tried to raise the bar for characterization, detail, and general mayhem higher than ever before. I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.