Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Sailing Venus: Back in the saddle

My last blog entry on Sailing Venus, my perpetually in-progress science fiction novel, came on Feb. 13, 2018. I was struggling with Chapter 14, having just completed Chapter 13. My notoriously slow production had slowed to a crawl, even for me. Over the next few months, I squeezed out Chapter 15 and then 16, which is where the wheels fell off. I'm not sure when I walked away from the book. The summer of 2018 is as good a guess as any, although it could've happened as early as April. Regardless, Chapter 16, while technically a solid piece of writing, was a failure when it came to narrative. My writing group at the time (before it subsequently broke up) sensed it. I sensed it. But I couldn't figure out the problem. In hindsight, there's a lot of what I call "running in place" going on, in which the character talk and act in ways which creates the sense of motion, but doesn't actually advance the plot anywhere. I didn't have writer's block, but writing had become an unpleasant experience. So I decided to set the book aside and get a little distance, in hopes a solution would become clear.

That ""little distance" stretched all the way through 2019, 2020 and into 2021. In that span, I did almost no fiction writing. At the end of 2020 Don Webb approached me with a short story collaboration, which turned out to be a lot of fun and resulted in my first piece of completed fiction since 2011 (yikes!). After that I revisited the first draft of a short story I'd originally written circa 2009-2010 that desperately needed a rewrite. I completed said rewrite in the spring and have to say I'm happy with the final product (now, would that some editor be just as happy with it). Each time, I'd hoped that would be the spark that jump-started my creative juices and prompted me to resume work on Sailing Venus. Alas, that was not to be.

Fast forward to Oct. 22--exactly one month ago, as the crow flies. I'm not sure what the impetus was, but I printed out my manuscript, all 16 chapters, and sat down to read my narrative from start to finish. Some parts were quite good. Other parts were embarassing. Other had a clear "fix this in the second draft" vibe going on. Other parts had abrupt changes that didn't mesh with what had come before, a result of my incorporating insightful feedback from my writers group. But the long and short of it was that I felt I had a still-living, if incomplete novel on my hands.

It took maybe a week, off and on, to read through the manuscript. Then it took a couple of days to come to grips with the fact that Chapter 16 had to be axed and rewritten completely. But there was a section of Chapter 16 that I could see actually belonged in Chapter 15, so there was a rewrite there to get things started. And then I turned my attention to the new Chapter 16. I don't know why I've started writing again. Maybe it was just time. Maybe it was shame due to the fact that several friends have written and published several novels over the past three years whereas I have produced zilch. Maybe it the impending sense of my own mortality. I dunno. The important thing is that I'm writing again.

Don't get the idea that it's coming easily this time around. Oh, no. Writing to me has become akin to trying to wade upstream in a river of molasses. The only thing more unpleasant are the stories in my head clamoring to get out. The only way I can quiet them is to purge them onto the page. Lovely image, that.

Chapter 16 came in fits and starts. I believe the most I managed to write on it any one day was 400 words. Some days I barely managed 200. But progress, no matter how incremental, is still progress. I wrote a pivotal scene in the book, one that I've had the idea for dating back more than a decade. It was emotionally difficult, as well as technically difficult from a writing standpoint. I'm not sure if it works. I'm not sure I pulled it off. Maybe that's why the book withered on me way back when--I just wasn't ready to deal with this scene. That sounds like a cop-out to me, though. Pop psychology claptrap to provide a convenient excuse. More likely my subconcious knew the scene needed to come now, whereas I thought it still lay several chapters into the future. I'll probably never know. Writing is messy that way.

But here I am now, with Chapter 16--almost 4,000 words--completed exactly one month after I dusted off the old manuscript and announced the resumption of writing. That's not great, but it's better than I had been managing. The uncharted territory of Chapter 17 lies before me. At my current chapter-a-month production rate, by this time next year I may have the damn book finished. Here's a taste of tonight's work:


Erica looked up at Sigfried, who'd returned to his perch on the console. He watched her, ears drooping, concern in his eyes.

"I, um, I'm not good with ambiguity," he said. "I prefer the obvious. Obvious I can roll with. 'Read the room,' they say. I can do that, sure. That's why I've been quiet for so long. I'm not stupid, you know. But there's something you should know, even if the timing's bad. I think I'd know what to do if the Aye hadn't deleted all of my memories, but I can't be sure. I'm afraid I'll make the wrong decision, whatever I do."

"Sigfried," Erica said wearily, "just spit it out already."

"The clock just ticked over to 12:01. That's A.M. It's now tomorrow. Your birthday." Sigfried sat up with a strained smile, waving his forelegs in the air. "Happy birthday!"

Erica bowed her head and sobbed.
Now Playing: Timothy Drake Symphonies of the Planets
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Friday, November 19, 2021

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Bowling for Soup is a band I've really tried to get into. Their videos are wildly entertaining and the lyrics of their songs are clever and insightful. The trouble is--and I say this with no malice--almost all their songs (with the exception of "1985") sound the same to me. Maybe it's me. I dunno. My youngest brother lived with me in the early 2000s and was a big fan, so I listened to his CDs of the group, and it sounded like one long extended jam session with brief breaks of silence scattered throughout. Does that make me tragically unhip? Probably. So here's "Girl All the Bad Guys Want," which has a wildly entertaining video and lyrics that are clever and insightful, but sounds to me like almost ever other Bowling for Soup song out there.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Peter Wolf.

Now Playing: Timothy Drake Symphonies of the Planets
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Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Eulogy for Claudia

Our friend Claudia Cabrera has died. This comes as an unexpected shock, and I'm still processing it. The last time anyone spoke with her was sometime on Friday, Nov. 5. By Monday, friends and co-workers had become concerned, and she was found Monday evening. Her next of kin have been notified, and her cats are being taken care of until they can be placed in a new home. Beyond that I have no further information on her passing.

I met Claudia on Facebook the summer of 2019. She was a German chef who'd just arrived in San Antonio fro San Francisco to work for Whole Foods. In San Francisco, she'd supplied cocktail syrups to a number of tiki bars in the Bay Area, notably Zombie Village. I invited her to a tiki party we were hosting that September. She responded by gifting me an assortment of her custom, scratch-made cocktail syrups:

  1. Saigon Shrub (cilantro, jalapeƱo, cucumber, vinegar)
  2. Five Spice - Szechuan pepper, cloves, fennel, cinnamon, star anise
  3. Fassionola - Yellow peach, rambutan, fresh passionfruit
  4. Grapefruit / Smoked Pepper
  5. Finger Lime / Calamondin
Do they look good? Because they were. All had a flavorful pop and distinctive profiles that can't be found in off-the-shelf products. She was also a skilled jeweler and made some stylish, mid-century-style glass swizzles. She was a woman of many talents.

After that, she became a regular guest at our tiki parties and dive-in movies. She was friendly and open and very, very opinionated. She didn't drive, so arranging rides to and from San Antonio was always a bit of a challenge, but we almost always had someone from there driving in and they were invariably happy to spend a little extra time with Claudia.

When she found out Hugman's Oasis was in the works on the River Walk, she was over the moon. She applied to work there as a chef, making syrups and garnishes. I think she was the only person in the state who wasn't confident she'd get the job. She fretted over her interview. (Spoiler alert: She got the job). Then COVID hit, resetting the clock on everything. Having departed Whole Foods, she launched a business as a private chef and delighted by how quickly she was in demand. And she kept a hand in Hugman's development--literally. Claudia hand-tied the netting on every single glass fish float in that tiki bar. I seem to recall her saying she expected it to take about three weeks, and in the end it took three months. She invested a lot of herself into that bar. And every time I go I can't help but look at those floats and see a little bit of Claudia still there.

The strange thing is, Lisa and I didn't know her that well. Certainly not well enough to account for this outsized hole she's left in our lives. I have a suspicion that we're not alone in those feelings.

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Monday, November 01, 2021

A Moment of Tiki: Kon-Tiki, Tucson

A Moment of Tiki
November is here, bringing with it the all-new Episode 34 of A Moment of Tiki, in which we visit the historic Kon-Tiki in Tucson, Arizona! Established in 1963, the Kon-Tiki is a throwback to the Polynesian pop palaces of tiki's heyday. It's a fantastic immersive experience with the largest collection of Milan Guanko tikis in the world (in case you're wondering, Guanko was a Filipino carver who developed a reputation as one of the top carvers of the era, so his work is kind of a big deal).

There were a couple of things about our visit I didn't get to share in the video, so I'll do so here. First, I was surprised that the Kon-Tiki wasn't a stand-alone building. It's semi-detached in a strip mall area, and had we not been on the lookout for it, we might've just driven straight past. It looks as if it may have been stand-alone at one point, but somewhere along the line (I'm looking at you, 1970s) other stuff went up around it, some of which just happened to be built onto the restaurant. Odd, but the important thing is that the Kon-Tiki remains with us to this day. The other thing I noticed was the fact there are multiple flat screen TVs in there, presumably to draw in the sports crowds. That's unfortunate, and a bit of dissonance in an otherwise immersive tiki environment, but if those TVs are responsible for keeping the Kon-Tiki with us for decades to come, then I shall happily tolerate them.

And because I failed to share these here back when their first aired, I have a couple of bonus episodes for you as well. First is Episode 27: Podcasts A-Go-Go! in which I share some of the great podcasts that taught me much of what I know about tiki culture, rum, cocktails, music and woodworking. It's a diverse bunch.

And finally, Episode 26: Krypton Bar which involved a small tiki bar dating to the early 2000s I rescued from CraigsList and am in the process of refurbishing. Some day we'll have a restoration episode dedicated to it, but I'm only doing a bit here and a bit there on it, so progress is slow.

Now Playing: Various artist Technicolor Paradise
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