Heading On Vacation!

(Reed’s Playlist for today: I Want You Back by the Jackson 5)

First off, I believe some congratulations are in order.

Anyone who finished Camp NaNoWriMo today, you are my hero and someday I’ll be joining you. Take a much-needed rest, pop the champagne (or Martinelli’s), and get back on the horse as soon as you’re able to stomach the sight of your computer/typewriter/pad of paper again.

Second, I just wanted to let all my lovely readers know that I’ll be on vacation for the next two weeks. Where? WOULDN’T YOU LIKE TO KNOW.

But in all sincerity, while I do not believe anyone would be stalking me through my blog, I’m trying to learn to limit the amount of information I put out about trips at least until after I take them. Suffice to say it will be a very new location for me, and I hope to gain some interesting cultural experience that I can funnel into my writing after coming back.

You’ll have to find some other crappy blog to entertain you during these next two weeks. I know, I know, it’ll be hard to find something with that right blend of run-on sentences, unsolicited opinions, and sarcasm, but I believe in you.

I love you all, those of you who still continue to read. Okay, well, I love all of you, but I love my continued readers more.

Have a wonderful two weeks and I’ll be back before you know it.

Yours, wishing he spoke the language of the country he was visiting,

-R.R. Buck

What To Do Between Major Writing Projects

(Reed’s Playlist for the day: Photograph by Def Leppard)

So if you didn’t see two posts ago, I finished Symphony of Legend, my high fantasy novel. And oftentimes (or at least every time I’ve finished a project before this one), I get the last words on paper and I go on a multi-month hiatus from writing of any kind. Usually, it’s under the pretext of wanting to wait so I can jump right into editing the novel I just finished.

I’ve decided that I’m wrong for doing things that way.

There are a few reasons why. First, the reason why we need to wait several months in between finishing a first draft and starting a second is so that we can look at it with a fresh pair of eyes. If all we did during that interim month or two is sit around, play videogames, and think about the novel, then we really aren’t going to be looking at it with fresh eyes. However, if we’re writing something else in the interim period, we will definitely be taken away from the mindset of the previous project and, upon returning to it, we will be able to see with less bias and more clear evaluative thought process.

The second reason is that being a new writer means trying out a bunch of different writing styles, and the middle of a serious project is the perfect time to start a not-so-serious one. If you’re anything like me, you have ideas for stories that range from an epic series all the way down to a cute and low-maintenance short novel. If you’re not like me, chances are you still have ideas that are occupying the forefront of your mind, and some that occupy the back.

When we dig out these back ideas, we allow ourselves to obey the maxim of the writer’s profession – WRITE EVERY DAY – without making it super stressful on ourselves. Since we don’t care about them as much, we can have fun with them, experimenting with new styles, POVs, and tones. And it’s a great feeling of accomplishment to finish a story even while you’re waiting for your previous story to cool on the windowsill.

So, at the very least, that’s what I’m trying to do right now. I just finished Symphony and I’m working on a new idea I’ve had for a little while, the working title of which is Sordid Tales of a Callous Reaper. It’s going to be a low-fantasy, high-sarcasm novel which combines dark themes and light humor in the Pratchet-esque fashion. As a matter of fact, for any Discworld readers out there, it’s intended to be kind of like Mort if Mort were a Pixar film.

I’ll keep you all updated through the process – whether writing of any kind burns me out during this period, whether I feel more refreshed when coming back to edit Symphony after I finish Sordid Tales, and whether I think it is overall helpful to toggle projects like this. All I know is, Brandon Sanderson wrote Mistborn as a throwaway side series while he was working on his Stormlight Archives, and many other authors have given the advice to move on to a new project for a few months after you finish an old one.

Remember, screw what I say and screw what the world says; it’s about what works for you. But for any people finishing up Camp NaNoWriMo, I challenge you to try something similar – take a bit of time when you’re at your most exhausted to work on something lighthearted that you don’t have to stress out about as much, and see how it changes your editing experience.

As always, if you’ve tried this out or had experience in this area, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Yours, enjoying the snark of his new project,

-R.R. Buck

Teaser Chapter – Sordid Tales of a Callous Reaper (Low Fantasy Novella)

Mark O’Shaughnessy sits alone at the bar, finishing his fifth whiskey rocks in as many minutes. He grimaces as the drink goes down his throat; one thick-knuckled hand lifts to brush greasy strands of black hair back from his granite face. He snaps his fingers at the bartender for another drink, in the 4 AM twilight of serious alcoholism.

The bartender ambles over, a strangely genteel person to be catering to Boston’s late night drinkers. He has a strong southern drawl and a punchable face. “Sure ya want that last one? We close up in a few, and you’ve had your share already for sure.”

Mark glances up at the man who stands between him and the counter of dimly lit bottles at the back of the bar. He notices for the first time the tacky blue-and-yellow sign that says, “If you ain’t drinking, you ain’t having a good time!” hanging right above the bar, casting a halo of neon light down on the bartender.

“Give me another,” he says. His voice grates.

“You got it.” The bartender pulls a bottle from the top shelf this time, delivering the last drink with a flourish. “No additional cost,” he says, winking. “My pops always said a man’s final drink of the night should be smoothest.”

Mark cracks a smile on the corner of his lip. “Thanks,” he says, lifting the glass to his lips. The whiskey tastes like fire and forgetfulness.

“So, what are you up to on this fine morning?” the bartender asks, taking the empty lowball and washing it under the bar.

“Just got out of prison.” There are more signs, now that Mark is lifting his head – more blaring neon lights reading “Corona Time!” and “Designated Driver? That’s What Cabs Are For” and other such things. Their presence makes Mark shudder.

The bartender doesn’t notice as he tucks the lowball back under the bar with the others. As he stands back up, he raises an eyebrow. “Prison, huh? How long were ya in for?”

“Twenty-five to life.”

“Well, I guess you beat them on the life account, huh?” The bartender leans over the counter. “Aren’t you, uh, not supposed to be drinking when you’re on parole?”

“Yup.” Mark stands, his hand immediately going to the bar for balance. He gets his wallet on his third attempt and slaps a one hundred dollar bill on the counter. “Keep the change for the conversation,” he says.

The bartender nods to him. “You want me to call you a cab?”

Mark shakes his head, feeling delightfully numb. “No,” he says. “I want to be outside. I’ll walk.”

“Are ya sure?” the bartender calls, but Mark is already weaving his way to the door. He pushes it open, out into the cool night air, and he breathes in the dirty, piss-and-smog scent of downtown Boston. It’s been over two decades, and the city has already changed so much from what he’d remembered. New skyscrapers, new foreigners shouting to one another in their own languages, preparing to open up their family delis and their barber shops and their restaurants in the very early morning. But underneath all that, it’s still the same old Boston.

Mark closes his eyes, and when he opens them he’s slumped against the brick wall of the bar. The sun still isn’t up, so he hasn’t been here very long. He feels a little bit more sober, so he stands up and starts looking for a cab to hail. The street is still relatively empty, with only a few late-night drivers weaving around the early-morning working men. Mark holds up his hand, wobbling slightly, and waits for a cab.

He blinks again, and this time he faceplants into the street, right into the middle of an oncoming car. If it had been one of the early-morning workers, puttering along in their dusty pickups or their rundown Silverados, he might have survived the hit. But it’s a late-night driver, out with her friends after a few different bars, doing about sixty-five in the forty, whose tire comes in contact with the back of his head when he hits the pavement. Mark dies.

And that’s about the time when I get up, folding my newspaper over three times and leaving it on the table of the not-quite-yet-open restaurant just across the street. I gulp the last of my macchiato – it’s a shameful waste of a good coffee experience, but duty calls – and pack the ceramic cup away in my briefcase. A last straightening of the robe, checking for any bits of lint or debris caught in it during the wait, and I’m heading through the street to where Mark’s very confused spirit stands over his body.

I hail him from the middle of the street, raising one hand in greeting. “Hey, there, Mark!” I say.

He glances up, eyes full of fear and wonder, but then he points and yells, “Look out!”

I grin as a semi-truck bears down on me, swishes through me. I get a glimpse for a brief moment of the interior contents – twelve hundred boxes of Cheese Balls – before the truck continues on its path, and I continue on mine through the middle of the road. By the time I’ve reached Mark, he’s positively trembling.

“Oh, come on,” I say, grabbing him by the elbow. He jerks away from me.

“Are you the grim reaper?” he whispers.

Every time, they ask. And every time, I have the same answer. “You wish,” I say, starting to walk down the sidewalk. “Come on, we have to get going. Got a schedule to keep, and all that.”

“Am I dead?” he says.

I groan and turn back towards him. He’s staring down at his own body, at the jellied mess that used to be the top of his head. The party girl has stopped her car just a little bit down the road and is currently screaming at the emergency operator on 911; her friends are all in various stages of freaking out and/or sobbing hysterically.

“Yes,” I say. “You’re dead. Now can we please get out of here? I have to take you through the Veil.”

He says nothing. He’s just staring at his own body like an idiot. I tap him on the shoulder. “Hey, we have a long wait ahead of us, and you can figure all this crap out there. But for right now, can we get a move on? Huh? Remember walking? You used to do it when you were alive, with your legs and feet and stuff?”

He looks up at me. “I can’t be dead,” he says.

I slap my face, scratching my hair under the hood. “That mess of flesh says otherwise,” I say, pointing at his body.

He focuses on my hand. “Hey,” he says. “You’re not a skeleton.”

“Congratulations,” I say. “You may be the first person ever to realize that.”

“So you’re really not the grim reaper? Then… what are you?”

I sigh, looking at my watch. But he wasn’t really supposed to kick the bucket until a few minutes from now, so I guess I have a bit of time. I extend my hand, which he shakes in disbelief. “I’m Lee,” I say. “I’m a Callous Reaper. Kind of the same as a Grim, except not at all where you’re concerned.”

“I don’t… get it,” he says. Could he still be drunk? I mean, I’ve made more than my fair share of attempts to achieve intoxication as a spirit, but perhaps he’s cracked it.

I glance at my watch again. “All right, fine,” I say. “How about this. I take you to show you what’s confusing you, and I answer whatever little questions you have, and then you follow me through the Veil. Fair?”
“I….”

“Oh, for Goodness’ sake,” I snap. I pick up my radio. “Hey, Carol?”

A long burst of static issues from the thing before I hear a voice. “Lee, what are you using this line for? It’s emergency-only.”

“Yeah, well it’s an emergency. Drop won’t move unless I show him a Grim Reaper.”

“Not my issue. Overpower him.”

“Come on, Carol. Do me a favor; just tell me where the nearest Grim is. It’ll be a few minutes at most, and I’m ahead of schedule.”

“You? Ahead of schedule? Is it the Apocalypse already?”

“Ha-freaking-ha. You owe me, Carol. Remember that thing at the Christmas party…?”

A long moment of silence. “You’re a rat, Lee.”

“Please, dear, don’t insult the rats like that. Now, the nearest Grim?”

Carol sighs. “Just a sec.” The sounds of typing come through the radio.

Meanwhile, Mark is muttering something to himself. It sounds suspiciously like, “This isn’t right, this can’t be real, this can’t be happening.”

I look to him. “Let me guess. You thought death was gonna be different than life?”

He turns towards me, and his eyes are hollow. “What? I mean… it can’t be like this.

“Look around, Mark,” I say, gesturing at the worn shop fronts, the cars rolling by. “We’re not actually at death yet. You won’t follow me there. So no, what you’re looking at is life, just from the opposite end of things. And if you would just follow me into the Veil, then we would be able to get this all sorted. But no, you have to force me to call in a favor that I was really hoping to save, and all I get is this bug-eyed stare?”

He’s quiet for a moment, exemplifying perfectly the aforementioned bug-eyed stare. Then he says, “You know, you’re pretty mean for a – whatever you are.”
“Think again, Marky boy,” I say. “Remember the name? I’m a Callous Reaper.”

Carol is back on the radio. “All right, we’ve got one nearby. I’m assuming you’re at the drop location?”

“Yep.”
“Then head to South Boston. 1150 Bowen Street. You’ve got Meredith there. Better hurry up, though, she’ll only be there a few more minutes.” Carol coughs. “Some people have a sense of professionalism.”

“Coulda fooled me, with that Christmas party debacle,” I grunt into the radio before turning it off. I turn to Mark, who’s staring out into the street as distant sirens announce the approach of the ambulance. “Hey, spacy. You ready to go?”

He turns to look at me, and there’s some amount of lucidity to him. I find myself hoping that he’s finally going to cooperate.

Then he sprints off into the road.

Finished My Novel.

(Reed’s Playlist for the day: Ol’ Shoshone from the Firewatch OST)

It’s been three months, twenty-five days, and twenty-one hours since I wrote the first words of Symphony of Legend. Now I am done.

Before any of you wonderful souls ask, I’m not taking alpha readers right now. Certain parts of the manuscript are more polished than others, but mostly it’s a first draft and needs to be locked away for a few months before I come back to it. I will let you all know as soon as I’ve worked on it enough to have readers take a look.

It came in at 154,173 words, and it’s been one of the most important things I’ve ever written, for my own purposes. It deals with a lot of themes I’m struggling with right now – how the world views mental health and mental illness, our disregard for the environment, what it means to be a new adult in society, and how friendships and relationships break and repair. Even if it doesn’t attract a single publisher, it will always mean that much to me.

I want to thank everyone who offered me any measure of support, criticism, or advice while I was working on this novel. It may not be the first writing project I’ve finished, but it means so much more to me than anything else I’ve written.

Fuck, this is bittersweet.

I’m going to take a long weekend and get back to you all with quality content on Monday or Tuesday of next week. I love you all, and I hope your writing projects end up as well as mine has.

Yours,

R.R. Buck

Game Review – Firewatch

(Reed’s Playlist for the day: The Firewatch OST)

I normally wouldn’t post a review about a videogame (if I made one about Breath of the Wild it’d be 10,000 gushing words) but in this case, I actually feel like I’m a bit more qualified than usual to talk about the merits of a game. I guess it’s because Firewatch is a heavily character-driven suspense story as an interactive videogame, and since I fancy myself a writer on occasion, I feel like I can talk a bit about it.

So let’s jump in!

The premise of Firewatch is simple. You’re Henry, a firewatch officer in the Colorado wilderness, with only one avenue of human contact – a radio through which you speak to your superior, Delilah. Most of the game is just exploring the wilderness and learning about the deepening mystery with Delilah. It’s like a 5 hour game, so you can pick it up for $20 and play it real quick when you’re bored one day.

When I play a videogame, I really only look for three things – immersion, good gameplay, and good writing. The immersion means the visuals, the soundtrack, and the overall feel of the game have to draw me in, make me forget the world around me. In every way, Firewatch accomplished this. It also had good (albeit simple) gameplay of walk-around-and-interact-with-everything.

But the writing is really what blew me away. With only two characters in the entire game, the creators had a lot of time to lavish on their personalities, relationship, and dialogue. They’re both sassmasters and really likable from the beginning, and your admiration for them only grows as the game goes on.

There won’t be any spoilers in here, but suffice to say the ending was very divisive amongst the community. When I played it, I thought there was a time limit for each “mission”, and so I tried to rush through without reading some of the materials presented. I would really heavily suggest you don’t do that if you play it, because as a direct result of that, I was confused by the ending. And you’re talking to a dude who watches Christopher Nolan movies for fun.

It’s getting hard for me to write without spoiling the ending, so I’ll just say for now that I found myself confused, and then after looking some stuff up online, more disappointed than anything. A lot of people were saying that the game was incredible until the last 30 minutes, and I was kind of on the same page with them.

But the more I read about it and the more I’m thinking about it, I got a better understanding of what the writers were trying to do, and I think they accomplished it. It kind of reminded me of the end of Lost – like, I really wanted to like it, but there were just a few too many details that were either thrown in ad hoc, or missing altogether, for me to really enjoy it.

Despite this, I think I would really like to play through it a second time, with an understanding of what the ending is, and see if that changes gameplay. I’m willing to bet I’d like it a lot more the second time around.

Anyway, the ending notwithstanding, this game was pretty incredible, and definitely worth the $20 it cost. If you’re a writer, you could glean a lot about character development and interactions just from the dialogue in this game. So I’d definitely recommend you check it out.

Especially if you’re a fan of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, because that’s essentially what this is.

Reed’s Score – 8.5/10

Yours, about to go play BotW,

-R.R. Buck

Pushing Through the End of a Novel

(Reed’s Playlist for the day: Kids by MGMT)

Well, I forced myself to sit down today and write an entire chapter – 3,000 words. It’s been a few weeks since I made myself do that much writing; lately it’s been a struggle to even get down 1500. If I’m being honest, seeing a few of my fellow bloggers battling Camp NaNoWriMo was what helped me get back on the horse. (Apparently, I’m not the only one who struggles with writing.)

Anyway, I just wanted to pop on real quick to give an update and also to share some advice for what’s worked for me when you get towards the end of your novel. Symphony of Legend nearly became the third time I’ve stopped in the last few chapters of an almost-completed project, and I think I know why.

Part of it is reluctance, the same way we as readers feel reluctant to end something that’s been a core part of our lives for a month or two. Another part of it is fear – we’ve spent so long thinking about the conclusion of character arcs, the climax of the story, and its eventual resolution, that we’re afraid now that when it gets on paper, it won’t be as [satisfying/gripping/harrowing] as we imagined it to be. And of course, there’s the usual hesitation to write for various life distractions and reasons.

But if I’m really narrowing down on what scares us in these last few chapters, it’s gotta be the second reason I stated. Every author fears that no one else will find their work as entrancing as they do, and we try to keep ourselves from the REAL DARK QUESTION (Am I just not good at making up stories?) by making it a mechanical thing – more along the lines of, “Am I going to fail at writing my story down in a way that grips my audience?” This is a helpful way for most of us to look at it because then it becomes something solvable, a simple matter of finding the right words.

I would urge you to stay away from the REAL DARK QUESTION, especially when you’re finishing your novel. There’s no need to consider that when you’re in the middle of a project. Also, there may not be a need to consider that, like, ever. It’s just not helpful to sap at your own will or determination. Let the publishing companies and literary agencies do that.

So if it is a mechanical thing, my next suggestion to you is to remember that this is a first draft. If you’ve been writing your first draft the way I do, you’ve been hurrying through it, just getting the ideas down without worry for grammatical errors, gaping plot holes, or unnecessary sentences… okay, paragraphs… okay, chapters that don’t need to be there.

So why would it matter that your conclusion isn’t that great? None of the rest of your project will be from that first-draft perspective. That’s what your second draft is for – to find and root out everything gross and bad. I think we as authors put an unfair pressure on key moments of our novel to be better than the rest, just from the get-go, and that’s kind of a weird thing to think. Just because this is the most important part of your book doesn’t mean it’s not gonna be kinda crappy the first time around, like everything. The most important thing is to polish it later, after you’ve had a few months with the whole thing locked in a drawer so you have fresh perspective.

Related to that, I would also try to keep you from fiddling with the last chapters as you write them. You’ve probably got an outline or a list of scenes; stick rigorously to that as you finish up. Don’t try to immediately edit, not now, not ever. Just get down what you know is important to get down.

Finally, as you’re heading into the end, know your own writing habits. If you know you’re not any good if you’re not writing every day, force yourself to keep on with your writing schedule until the end. If you know you tend to get burnt out if you write too much too quickly, make sure you take a break in between each chapter. I once wrote the last five chapters of a novel (comprising about 15,000 words) in a single night, and when I came back to editing, it was a tangle of terrible prose and weird emotional swings that I’m sure felt great when I was up at 3 AM, but looked horrible in the light of day.

And, of course, after you’re finished, congratulate yourself. You fucking deserve it. If you don’t believe you deserve it, tell anyone you know (who doesn’t know you’re a writer) that you finished a novel. In my experience, they don’t even ask if it’s been published, or how many words it is, or whether it is good at all – they are simply awed by the fact that you put 50,000 words to paper. And you should be a little awed too, because it’s a goddamn difficult thing to finish, even at the best of times. So get a teeny bottle of champagne, put your computer away for a little while before you get back to editing, and just enjoy the fact that it’s done.

Camp NaNoWriMo homies – I believe in you. Keep digging at it, keep pushing yourselves more and more. You can only get better because of it. And if you ever need to take a break, hit me up in the comments and I’ll tell you the first stupid thing that pops into my head. That’s a guarantee 😀

Yours, with only four chapters to go,

-R.R. Buck

Reed’s Top 3 – Musical Tracks to Write To

(Reed’s Playlist for the day: see below!)

So this is technically an updated version of a post I made previously, but if my readers are anything like me, they don’t bother looking through the archives.

Well, for any new folks out there, I love music almost as much as (and sometimes more than) I love writing. I’m a classic rock and roll junkie, a 2000’s pop punk lover, and an inexperienced but passionate consumer of soundtracks from movies and videogames. My “playlist of the day” at the top of each post is the song running through my head when I wake up that morning, but it isn’t necessarily the song I’m writing to.

The most important thing to me in a writing playlist is that it be without lyrics. As soon as I’m hearing English lyrics, I start typing them, and it makes it harder to concentrate on what I’m writing. Of course, I also prefer to match the tone of what I’m writing to the tone of a particular track or song, but I still have three clear favorites I’d like to share with you, along with links.

NUMBER THREE: THE TWILIGHT SYMPHONY END CREDITS TRACK (find it here)

This one is a great song with which to write closing scenes, emotional scenes between characters, and epic fantasy in general. It’s uplifting, inspiring, and gives a sense of grandeur. Coming from one of my favorite video games (The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess) and perfectly remastered from game music to full symphonic glory, I promise this will set a perfect tone for your writing experience. Check it out!

NUMBER TWO: THE LIGHT OF THE SEVEN (find it here)

If you don’t watch Game of Thrones, you don’t know the disturbing and incredible scene that accompanied this song in the season 6 finale. But you can still feel the power of the piece, the eerie buildup towards something dark and sinister and cunning. This is my villain-writing song, will always be my villain-writing song, because it perfectly encapsulates what I want most of my villains to be – vicious but brilliant, manipulating situations to their ends. It gives me shivers just listening to it while writing this paragraph.

NUMBER ONE: THE JOURNEY OFFICIAL SOUNDTRACK (find it here)

This is my guaranteed piece. No matter what I’m writing, part of it always seems to fit. And since it takes me about two hours to write a full chapter, two repetitions of this hour-long soundtrack is nearly perfect for me to get everything out. It’s got incredible atmospheric content for any genre, short pieces of darkness and despair, and an end section that always feels to me like the moment when the protagonist finally concludes their character arc and bursts forth onto the page like a flower unfurling. If I can’t think of what song I want to write to, this is my go-to, and it hasn’t failed me yet. Seriously, if you like writing to music, please check this out.

If you like these suggestions, let me hear it! I’ve got a ton more, thanks to my incredible girlfriend who’s sent me about fifty pieces.

Yours, still reeling from the GoT season 6 finale,

-R.R. Buck

Book Review – Earthshatter

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Believer by Imagine Dragons)

I am so happy to finally be finished with this book so I can write about how great it is.

With that in mind, let’s get started!

Title: Earthshatter

Author: Albert Nothlit

Genre: YA Science Fiction

Premise: Eight individuals wake up from cryogenic sleep to find that their city has been completely destroyed – overrun by a species of intelligent, adaptive centipedes who seem intent on obliterating all life on the Earth. They must fight together to make their way through the city, avoiding dangers of all sorts, and try to piece together what happened on the night the centipedes first attacked.

Wow. Dude, seriously, wow.

I have to admit, when I pick up a book from a small independent press or publisher, I assume a lower level of quality. Maybe it’s because I assume (probably incorrectly) if a book is good enough, it makes it to one of the Big Six. Maybe it’s because my shitty work might (eventually) be published in one of these presses. But whatever the reason, I try to keep expectations low when I read a small-press novel.

Which is why this one completely blew my mind.

Earthshatter is an incredible novel for anyone interested in getting into sci-fi at the ground floor. If you want to see what the genre is like but you can’t stand the intensity of it – most canonical sci-fi is written in the same language and prose as a goddamn scientific paper – this is a great start. Because it’s written in the kind of YA tone and with a bunch of younger characters, it’s instantly more relateable and readable than most sci-fi.

Add onto this that the whole thing is written in first-person, and you have something that isn’t really sci-fi except for in name. Which is perfect for someone looking for a lighter read, but with the cool science-y stuff and the dystopic world and everything.

The characters each get their turn at having the perspective shift to them, allowing a lot of well-done, deep and realistic perspectives on events. They’re well-written and their motivations are completely clear throughout, and some of them undergo arcs that are actually really inspiring.

The only things I take issue with in this book are twofold – one, it’s a heavily character-driven book, and so while a lot of things are happening in terms of story, the plot is kind of on the backburner. Meaning, while a lot happens, not a lot happens in the grand scheme of things. This was very clearly meant to be the first segment of a series, and I’m excited to see how it turns out, but if you’re looking for a book where the plot is moving quickly, this isn’t it.

(Side note, check out this post about story versus plot for a better explanation of what I mean by this.)

And the second thing I have issue with is the same issue I take with a lot of new writing – when something is apparent through dialogue, and then is stated immediately after in a redundant way.

(As an example: ” ‘Oh, Omar,’ I said, understanding the full burden of guilt he bore.” It’s very clear from the context of this section – which is a spoiler, so I don’t want to post the full text here – that the character understand Omar’s guilt, so we don’t need it explicitly stated.)

But other than those two little things, this book is awesome. It keeps up a great pace, sets a dark but often humorous tone to match the post-apocalyptic feel of the world, and has enough of that cool science and technology to be sci-fi without being approximately as easy to read as a doctoral thesis. I would seriously recommend this one to anyone who likes YA, or wants to try out sci-fi, or anyone who just likes a good tale.

Reed’s Rating: 9/10

Yours, possibly working on some L. Ron Hubbard next,

-R.R. Buck

Streed of Consciousness [Part 6 – Life/Tattoo Update]

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: And Now I’m Nothing by the Wonder Years)

Hi, everyone. Miss me?

If you didn’t notice, I haven’t really been posting much the past two weeks or so. I got on the “writing every day” train around the time I finished work in mid-April; then I kept that up for a month and a half or so until I took weekends off; and now I’m at a point where I barely get out a post a week.

The truth is, I’ve been stressed. Very stressed about many things. And I’ve not been as good as I could be about following my own rule – when you’re stressed, vent about it. So I’m going to go ahead and do that here.

If you don’t like long rants, feel free to pass this one up.

So, what’s bugging me? Well, let’s just make an easy list:

  1. The political situation in the United States. I told myself I wasn’t going to be political on this blog, and I will continue to try not to delve into these subjects here – although they are probably one of the factors I recognize the least as stressing me out, so really, I should be talking about it more.
  2. My girlfriend is at home. When the relationship is good, you’ll not get into more fights just because there’s a little distance; instead, when you have your regular everyday stress, the kind your significant other would help you deal with, that stress goes unnoticed and continues to weigh on you. It’s like a stress multiplier. And she’s going to be gone – with only a few visits across the summer – until September.
  3. Various acquaintances have illnesses. Mental or physical, family or friend, you name it – I’ve got a lot of people in my life right now who are struggling with some pretty heavy issues, and I’m trying my hardest to be there for all of them. I’m going to talk about this more below, but for right now suffice to say I’ve stretched myself thin trying to make sure everyone is doing all right, at no lack of stress to myself.
  4. Being alone over the summer. Yeah, this one actually really sucks. All of my apartment has jobs, and for much of the week – namely, Thursday through the weekend – at least someone is here. But on some occasions, on some Mondays, Tuesdays, or Wednesdays, I might go the entire day without seeing anyone. There are absolutely some weird psychological effects that come into play when a person is alone, and I’ve felt them.
  5. A new wardrobe. This is kind of a weird one, and I’m surprised how much it’s influencing me. Recently, I decided to become an adult (yay me!) and I bought myself an entirely new wardrobe – summer and winter clothing in what I deemed to be “adult” styles. I brought my girlfriend and my fashionista friend to the Citadel to purchase $600 worth of clothing (and if you don’t know me, I’ve never spent more than $30 on clothing at any point in time, besides suits). And since I know literally dick-all about fashion, I let them purchase the clothing while I gave final approval. It’s been a difficult adjustment – most of my clothing before this was band t-shirts and long, ragged shorts from high school, baggy jeans, and sweaters for UCLA. I took pride a little bit in rejecting the status quo, and now my wardrobe literally is the status quo. It feels like a bit of my identity has been taken, and I know I’ll get used to it soon, but I dreaded the moment when my brothers would first see – and be able to make fun of – my new clothing. It happened yesterday when they came over for D&D, and it was light teasing, but it still made me feel uncomfortable.
  6. I don’t want to end my current writing project. This close to the end, I’ve felt threatened in my ability to finish out a project in a way that satisfyingly wraps up character arcs and narrative, and so I’ve come to a grinding halt just 5 or 6 chapters from the end of Symphony of Legend. Since I stopped posting every day, I’ve also stopped writing every day, and that has definitely been detrimental on my mental health.
  7. I got in a huge fight with my dad. And now he’s being weird about it. I don’t know how to confront him about how I feel about the way he lives his life – he kind of reminds me of the dad from Big Fish, always expanding his life into a narrative without realizing that he’s losing track of what’s important – and when I tried to broach the subject the other night, I was slapped down. Now the cat is out of the bag, and it’s ugly. He can tell there’s something wrong so he keeps texting me trying to gauge if everything’s okay, and I don’t really know how to answer.
  8. People are ~still~ trying to make my decisions for me. This time it was my girlfriend’s parents telling me I need to go to graduate school, because “you need to strike while the iron is hot, and some doors will close for you if you don’t pursue them now”. WOW, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THAT. But seriously, if you aren’t just a rando reader and you’re someone in my life who cares about me, please read this on how to deal with me right now.
  9. That disillusionment with… everything. Living in California is kind of like living in this little miracle bubble where the temperature is always above 70, the people are always beautiful, and the problems of the world seem so far away. Now I’ve been exposed to the underside of the world, the dark sides of the people in it, and the sickening levels of [corruption/moral ambiguity/greed/disregard for our fellow human beings/disregard for the state of the world/racism/sexism/phobic speech/anger directed in the wrong direction] happening right now. It just seems so strange to me that life continues to move on, that we all – myself included – aren’t trying to protest the horrible direction this country and world are headed in.

There you have it. I even kind of broke my rule about politics at the end. And there’s always a part of me that thinks, you’re alive, without physical or mental ailment; you have access to clean water, good food, medicine and shelter; you live in one of the most privileged nations on earth and you should really quit your bitching. And usually that voice makes me feel guilty, but today it’s not on my list of stressors. Today I say, “Fuck you, voice; these are the things that matter most to me.”

So what am I gonna do about all this? Well, if I knew I’d tell you. Some solutions are easier than others. I should probably text my dad and try to call my girlfriend more when I’m stressed. But in reality, a lot of these things won’t just be going away anytime soon.

So, in traditional Reed fashion, I’m gonna get a tattoo.

Or, rather, I’m going to add onto one. This one, the one of the silhouetted buck on my leg. See, ever since I started Symphony I’ve been thinking about the word “preservation”, and how much it means to me. The rowan tree – my middle name is Rowan, in case you didn’t know – is a symbol of preservation, protection, and healing (at least by my Pottermore quiz, which suggested a rowan wand would be perfect for me). And right now, I think the world and the people in it are in need of some preservation.

But I also need some self-preservation. And, like I’ve said before, I’m kind of shitty at prioritizing myself when I need to instead of taking care of other people. So I’m going to ink onto my skin a reminder that it’s important to preserve myself, physically, mentally, and spiritually, before I go helping other people.

So I’m going to add onto the buck in a design my girlfriend has already drawn up for me. I’m going to have the antlers of the deer giving way to rising branches of a rowan tree, which will arc upward and brush each other at the top of the tattoo, creating a circle between the buck’s head and the top of the tattoo in which a blank patch of my skin will be enclosed. That will be my reminder to look after me before I look after everything and everyone else.

I’m sorry for the dark turn this blog has taken recently. Honestly, if you’d met me a year ago you might be flabbergasted by how different I’ve been feeling lately compared to what I might deem my “normal self”. But this has been an incredible outlet for me to express myself, and I am deeply grateful for anyone who reads these long-winded posts and commiserates with me for even a moment. I love all of you.

Yours,

-R.R. Buck