View from the end of our street, February 22nd, 2019

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Road Ahead

          "Upon completion comes fulfillment.  With fulfillment comes liberation.  Liberation allows you to go on.  Even death is not a true ending.  Life is infinite continuation."
                    ~ DENG MING-DAO

          Today I'm going to look far down the writing path, into the dark forest of unformed plans, examine the tracks and trails, and try to get a feel for what might be waiting there.  Beyond the Rails III is in the latter phases of post-production, and it's time to do this, as I think I'm going to set the blimp aside for a while.  Beyond the Rails, a series of tales centered around the adventures and hijinx of the crew of a cargo blimp in 1882 Kenya, has been very well received by those who have read it, and I will forever cherish and be grateful for the many kind things people have said about my writing skills based upon those stories.  But as much as I love that cast of characters and the world they inhabit, the premise, after twelve short stories and a novel, has worn very thin.  There are only so many ways to describe picking up a cargo at "A," heading for "B," and having an adventure along the way.  It's time to try something new.
          The interesting thing for me to contemplate is what form that "something new" might take.  My next project, which is already well into its planning phase, is Stingaree, a story of a steampunked Victorian San Diego.  This is my home, and the place I still live, and the original Stingaree, old San Diego's vice-ridden waterfront district, still exists, although today it is the very upscale Gaslamp Quarter, a recreational zone consisting mostly of restaurants, clubs, hotels, and music venues.  The beauty of this is that many of the original buildings have been preserved as historic sites, including the Oyster Bar, primary setting of Stingaree.  The downside is that I don't see Stingaree being anything other than a stand-alone project that has no prospect of becoming a long-term domicile for its author.
          One choice, which I took the trouble to set up at the end of Beyond the Rails III, is to spin off a series to be called The Darklighters, which would see one of the Beyond the Rails characters accept an invitation from an agent to join that organization, and embark on a series of adventures opposing an Illuminati-style shadowy group seeking world domination, not through military means, but quiet takeovers, monopolization of trade, getting a stranglehold on resources, and so on.  Imagine an 1880s Man From U.N.C.L.E.  There is great potential there for enough stories to sustain me through the end of my days.
          Another option, and one that has long intrigued me, is a series with a lot of paranormal activities at its core.  I'm thinking here of ghosts, goblins, and creatures of myth and superstition from various cultures of the world.  As The Darklighters is a direct spinoff of Beyond the Rails, and quite naturally shares that essentially non-supernatural world, it isn't really a viable candidate for expansion into this area.  In the Scribblers' Den's anthology, Den of Antiquity, I offered a tale called Brass & Coal, a short story about a pair of bumbling confidence swindlers named Braxton & Collier (think Laurel & Hardy) who set themselves up as paranormal investigators, only to find themselves on the receiving end of a startling surprise.  Could be some thrilling tales there, and potential for some comedy as well.  Or, I could start from scratch and make it dead serious.
          And, of course, something else may grab my attention before Stingaree comes to completion, such as the long-dormant joint project with my dear friend Patrick that brought me to steampunk in the first place.  Seriously, I don't see that happening, but then, a lot of things have a way of happening that I don't see coming.  Need to work on that...  Anyway, I'd love to talk about this, so if anyone has any ideas, questions, or suggestions that might start the gears turning, I'd love to hear them!  Old friends, be advised that I'm soliciting your input, and if you've never commented here before, this would be a great time to start.  Click on the comments and offer your thoughts; you'll find I'm not as surly as that old picture makes me appear!

*          *          *

          I can't close here without expressing a few thoughts concerning America's most contentious election cycle in living memory.  I have remained outside the fray, saying very little as two of the most unqualified candidates I could have ever imagined turned the presidential campaign into a contest of bullying and name-calling beyond anything I ever saw in the schoolyards of my youth.  I'm not here to talk about who I voted for, or why I think Donald Trump is a better or worse choice than Hillary Clinton.  That's my business, and to air it publicly would only invite an argument that I don't intend to have.  Anyway, all of those views have been aired to death by people much smarter than me.  No, I'm just taking a few moments to unburden myself, and lament a great loss.
          I have often talked about how I miss the boys' own adventure stories from the years between the Wars, and as anyone who has sampled my work knows, I have taken it upon myself to recreate those stories in modern form for others who miss them as I do.  But there are other things from that bygone era that I miss as well, and unlike literature, I have no means to address them; I can only mourn their loss.
          Take political campaigns, for example.  In my youth, when I was enthusiastic and naive, and growing up in what every adult assured me was the greatest nation on earth, people running for president, governor, mayor, or dogcatcher would stand up on the podium and say, "If you elect me, I will create a national system of superhighways to expedite trade, travel, and aid the military in their task of defending us."  Or, "I will support democracy wherever it arises," or, "I will put a man on the moon," or, "I will end discrimination in our time," or whatever their particular vision was.  Then the voter had a choice of platforms among which to make an informed decision.
          Today, and for a good many years, but today especially, the campaigns have become concerted, billion-dollar efforts to find and publish dirt on the opponent.  "My opponent is a criminal, and if elected, I will see him/her jailed for treason!"  "My opponent's wife is an illegal immigrant!"  "My opponent is an adulterer!"  "My opponent is soft on defense!"  "My opponent is soft on immigration!"  "My opponent hired a maid who wasn't a citizen!"  "My opponent smoked a joint when he was in college forty years ago!"
          All of which may be true, but is it relevant?  What are you going to do about poverty, disease, the nuclear programs of rogue states, energy dependency, terrorism, and education?  How do we find out?  And it isn't enough to say, "Unlike my opponent, I have a real plan!"  That's good; what is it?  And don't just say, "Elect me, and it will be great, you'll see."
          I guess my lament is for my country, and the loss of something that may well prove to be impossible to recover anytime soon, or maybe ever.  Donald Trump has won election, validating all the hateful, divisive, denigrating, dismissive, and downright ominous things he said during his campaign, as well as the style of campaign that he ran.  Had Hillary Clinton won, we would now be lamenting our election of a slick, smarmy Washington insider who has repeatedly demonstrated her disregard for the rule of law, at least as it applies to her.
          So, who has won here?  Certainly not America.  I don't see a scenario in which we, the private citizens, could have improved our lot or come out ahead on any count.  Any chance of that happening evaporated, candidate by candidate, as the decent people were bullied out of the running by the big-money campaigns of the self-serving.  My daughter pulled up a stat on election night that said that 60+ percent of the people who voted for Trump didn't want to, but he was a better choice than his opponent; 50+ percent of those who voted for Hillary said the same about her.  If that's the case, how the hell did we wind up with these people as our only choices?  I've heard it said that if you give a free people the right to vote in open elections, they will get exactly what they deserve.  I hope to God that isn't true.
          For the past three decades, I have read pundits and analysts who have repeatedly said that the Twentieth Century belonged to America, and that the Twenty-First would belong to someone else, most of them naming China as the next rising power.  As an American, of course, I've always hoped that wasn't true, but I never imagined that I would be able to put my finger on the calendar and say, "This is when it ended, 8:00 PM Eastern Time, November 8th, 2016."  The next half a decade will tell us how this comes out.  Odin, Gilgamesh, Cthulhu, Jesus, Buddha, whoever's in charge up there, I beg you, prove me wrong!
          There, it's off my chest.  Now, I think, I can return to the mundane business of writing adventure tales, though I doubt I'll ever be able to concoct a story as outlandish and surreal as this election!  Until next time, just try to stay safe and keep breathing.  That's about all you can ask for in the wake of last Tuesday's debacle.


  1. As for writing, I think you'd rock a cool BtR anthology focusing just on individual characters from the tales, and not just the Kestrel crew. That may lead you, as you write them, on the route to the next novel.
    As for politics, I concur. We lost America. Maybe long ago and just now it is apparent, but she left. She left in shame from our hyper opinions, extreme party blindnesses and divisions.

    1. Ah, William, welcome back. See, a new direction I hadn't even considered. There's the beauty of this page! Right now, this doesn't look attractive, but a lot will happen in the months that I'm working on Stingaree, including the possibility that this becomes the way forward. Thanks for dropping it into the blender! As for the politics... I already made myself throw up in my mouth with this; I have nothing else to say!

  2. I think both Stingaree and the Darklighters have potential. As William suggests, spinning off from Beyond the Rails could lead some interesting places as you follow different crew members on their own adventures. You could just try a short story or two in each of these different, though not entirely unrelated fictional worlds and see which ones grab you the most. Even if one doesn't dominate, once you write enough of them and you'd still have potential for a pretty good steampunk short story collection.

    1. Thank you, David. I enjoy writing in a familiar universe more than starting from scratch every time, probably a product of 60+ years of watching episodic television. I want to tell that story about home, i.e., Stingaree, but I don't see that becoming a series; there just isn't that much going on here in the 1880s, unless you like stories about drunken sailors and subsistence farmers. The same kind of limitation I ran into with Beyond the Rails, in other words. I need a larger geographical field, either a whole region or a major metropolis, or a broader field of subjects. I may find one of those as Stingaree progresses, but in any case, there will be plenty of time for ideas to percolate... And thanks for yours. Every one helps!

  3. I'm very excited for all your projects, Jack. I've read at least a piece of all of them and I wouldn't be able to choose just one. They all have lots of potencialities, so everything I can say is, can't wait to read them :-)

    As for politics, we're living very troubled times. There was a referendum here in Italy just last week, and the campaign leading up to it was very ugly too. Sometimes I wonder: maybe our politicians just know they are not up to the task of sailing us through these times and are simply very scared themselves.
    Not a very comforting thought.

    1. Hey, Jazz, welcome back! I'm excited by my projects, too, but the one that's owning the notebook right now is The Nexus Chronicles. From my seat at the keyboard, I can see dictionaries of superstitions and mythologies, reference books on monsters and unexplained phenomena, and comprehensive guides to witches and their craft, magic, and strange places, so enough material for a couple of lifetimes. Time will tell.

      I've already said enough about politics. If anybody's looking for me, I'll be out in the back yard digging a bunker...