Keep On Rolling, Chapter 1: The Big Bad Horrible Thing.

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It seems every artist I know has a story about the Big Bad Horrible Thing that happened to them on their road to success. They hit a point where everything sucked but it was worth it because in the end, they got a Huge Publishing Deal or something. These stories help me because I haven’t yet “broken out” like I want to, so I figure my trials are just part of my Big Bad Horrible Thing. They always have been.

But to be fair, my life has been pretty comfortable. I’m an American of Irish/German descent, born into a blue-collar family west of the Rockies. I have lived abroad, I’ve known people rich and poor, and I’ve known plenty of people who have endured (still do, and still will) much harder things than I have. My trials, relative to those of people I know, aren’t that bad.

At the same time, I’ve met plenty of people who are going through trials I’ve already experienced. When those trials hit me, the worst part was not knowing what to do about them. Hopefully the story I’m going to tell you will help you get some ideas about how to work through your own trials. I did have a Big Bad Horrible Thing happen, though it was less of an economic thing and more of a pride thing. That’s probably the hardest part to admit.

I’ve told parts of this story before, but Keep On Rolling will get into the details and the anecdotes of my Big Bad Horrible Thing. I expect that mostly young people, teenagers especially, will gain something from this. I’m curious what the response will be.

For now, our story begins about 25 years ago, when I started the third grade. That was when I discovered my love of writing stories, and knew that I wanted to be an author.

As the years rolled on, I clacked away at the keyboard on our family computer, first writing fanfics of Power Rangers and Transformers. Later I would make up my own stories, illustrating them with my friends, and dreaming of a future where I raked in piles of money from my wildly popular novels.

Ha.

As high school ended and I pushed into my adult years, I made career choices with low levels of commitment–no college degree, no high ceiling, no path that would be hard to abandon. I was waiting for my big break as a writer. It was always just around the corner! Because of course it was. I read, I wrote, I lathered, rinsed, repeated.

Still the years crawled by. My teens gave way to my early twenties, then my mid-twenties. Rejections piled up. I kind of didn’t understand it. I read plenty of published works that were worse than my own stuff, right? I mean, I was SO much better than those authors, why couldn’t anyone see that?

Pro tip, that’s kind of a garbage attitude to have about your craft, whatever it is.  An artist should be their own greatest critic. I was my own greatest cheerleader. That’s a blueprint for failure.

Still, I got better at it. I learned how to edit, and landed an agent. Even though I had dropped out of college (twice), my success was at hand! All of my lackluster career decisions were justified! Suddenly it wasn’t such a big deal that I had been a delivery driver, a  telemarketer, a bookstore worker, and a print shop manager. I was going to get published!

Ha.

Wrong. Two years came and went, with my agent working tirelessly on three manuscripts of mine, only for us to part ways when she just couldn’t find a home for my work. In 2013, I was back to the beginning.

This would have been hard enough to bear if I hadn’t also just been fired from my job.

Which was even harder to bear two weeks after my oldest son was born.

On the night I lost my job, I came home, broke the news to my wife, and allowed myself a solid hour of self-pity before reaching out to a friend who had been in this same position. He gave me some comfort, but not a ton of direction, and I went to sleep that night beating myself up over what had happened.

I come from a philosophically conservative background. Rugged individualism, self-reliance, personal responsibility, all that. Throughout my life I had told myself that the world didn’t owe me anything, that I reaped what I sowed, and that I would live or die by merit.

I believed those things in part because I thought I was too good, or too clever, or too special to find myself on the losing side of them. Maybe I had been complimented too often in my youth, and wasn’t self-critical enough as a result. I bit down too hard on the dream of artistic success, despite the very real probability that I wouldn’t be commercially viable for a long time.

Losing my job wasn’t the Big Bad Horrible Thing; finding out that I had gambled my time and my efforts, only to scratch when it counted…that was the Big Bad Horrible Thing. And it suuuuuuuuucked.

There wasn’t much time to wallow in self-pity about it, either. With an eclectic skill set and work history, I couldn’t expect to easily pay the bills anytime soon, unless I made a big, big change. So I decided to become a trucker. And that is where the adventure really begins.

This story will continue next week.

State of the Dread: So Ends January, 2018

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Well, that’s 1/12th of the year down. My only 2018 resolution was to set monthly goals instead of yearly ones. Really I have enough tasks on my plate to focus on that I don’t have to worry about “resolutions,” I just have to get stuff done.

On the List Of One Million Things To Tackle is the image above. I’ve been meaning to do a better logo for DreadPennies, and I think I’m finally carving it out. The “Dreads” are going to be grumpy little robots that I draw every now and then. I’m trying to decide between a Buzzsaw Mohawk or Cable Dreadlocks and to be honest I think I’m just going to say “Screw it” and do both. The logo can be a Dread without any metallic hair, and I’ll draw Buzzsaw or Cables when I frigging feel like it.

Speaking of drawing, if you’ve seen my Instagram, I did a lot of these Colts/Avengers mashups during January, but I kind of ran out of steam on it. Still plenty of ideas for it, but it’s not a priority, there is other stuff I can draw that will help me practice speed and coloring. But here are some of the better ones:

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So far I’ve read like eight or ten books this month but only a few of them have been good. Notable entries are CALVIN by Martine Leavitt, and IRON GOLD by Pierce Brown (which I expected to like anyway.)

It’s been a few months since I did a TMRGB post, probably because it’s been a few months since I read a good Girly Book. I’ll get around to it soon. I’m trying to find new authors to read, most of the Girly Books I pick up are by friends of mine, so it’s a good idea to cast a wider net.

Also I haven’t really been working on a writing project because I’m trying to focus on studying for a test I have in three weeks. Job-related. Pain in the butt, but there’s a hefty pay raise tied to it. Priorities.

That said, I took a breather this weekend to outline a series I’ve had in my head for about 5 years now. Tons of fun, it’s equal parts superhero/G.I. Joe, but I’m trying to take a direction that’s different from DC or Marvel, only because we’re a bit saturated by both (and only one of them is any good right now.)

My next published book is called HOMEWORLD, about an alien invasion of Earth. It’ll be art-heavy, and reads like a series of deep Web blog posts. I’m excited about this one, it’s another idea I’ve had for years. Release date pending.

Last of all, you probably heard that my “Blast Crew goes to Mordor” story got rejected by my publisher of choice, which really sucks, but it’s under review with an agent right now and I expect I’ll hear back about it in another few months. Iron is in the fire.

Thanks for reading, you guys. Sound off in the comments.

Attention as Currency

There is no creation without destruction, and the cost might not be immediately obvious.

 

Let’s talk about the digital age.

 

Allergic to Studying
Allergic to studying…and Spanish pollen…

 

I am not the academic or scholastic type. I hated school. I barely passed and didn’t put much effort in. I was there to chill with friends, and because I had to be there. You want an enthusiastic student, talk to Dr. Bradley.

 

From 2003-2005, that had to change. I spent two years in Spain as a Mormon missionary, and my job was to serve and teach. Can’t teach if you don’t know anything, so my mission president implemented a rigorous study program.

 

I struggled with it at first, but eventually learned to love it. There were goals and milestones to reach, and with nothing else to distract me, I chewed the program up and spat it out.
Distractions these days are constant. Phones, computers, websites and apps have two purposes: take your time, and take your money. Sometimes simultaneously.

 

Back then, in the mission, we didn’t use computers more than once a week, and were very limited on phone usage. Distractions came in the form of thinking too much about home, about girls, about things I missed. Other than that, there wasn’t an instantaneous access to things I wanted, so it was easier to study and focus.
 

I killed that program in 8 months. When President Watson added a 5th level, wherein we had to memorize a ton of scriptures, I was among the first to reach it.

 

Our schedule required us to be up no later than 7AM, but I usually got up at 6, and sometimes 5, to grind when a milestone was close.

 

There were days when I couldn’t get started though. I hated missing even a minute, but if my thoughts strayed, I could waste ten minutes thinking about a letter from a girl-friend, which I couldn’t reply to until the following week. It sucked, but I whipped myself back into focus and finished the study program.

 

Now I’m beset by distractions at every turn. Some are relevant, most are self-inflicted. Damn this smartphone and every social network that I haven’t deleted. Damn blogging and texting and every project idea I have but can’t possibly tackle. Damn this scattered brain in my 30s, reminding me of the brain I had in my 20s.

 

Right now I am studying for part of my pending career change, and have reverted to many of the habits I developed in the summer of 2004, memorizing content for a certification exam. I have gotten better about the time I waste, but still have so far to go.

 

The digital age has created unparalleled opportunities for commerce, communication, and information. Speaking for myself, I have consumed this age at the expense of my focus and discipline.  Maybe you have, too.

 

Be careful about the time you waste and the habits you develop. Set a goal and work toward crushing it. You will realize just how little time you have every day.

 

And maybe you won’t waste so much of it, like I do.

Monday Mashups: Skynet is in Time-Out.

A passenger jet carrying 168 people came within metres of plunging into the Black Sea after it skidded off a icy runway as it landed at Trabzon airport in Turkey 

Airplane slides off runway in Turkey

Stefon Diggs snatches an impossible victory away from the Saints

GM invents a car with no steering wheel or pedals…or need for a driver.

 

What with every house in America having one of those Google Home or Amazon Echo things in it, Skynet is actually starting to get a little…confused. Much like anyone who goes to a foreign country and tries to learn the language by osmosis, Skynet expects English-speakers to follow the rules of the language, without considering that people–especially Americans–might not give two craps about said rules.

In this case, though, the results are catastrophic. As General Motors relies heavily on Skynet to program its “self-driving” cars, Skynet starts learning how to operate a motor vehicle without input from the driver. This is all part of the rules. All according to plan.

Just like football. Football is popular in America, and football has a ton of rules! (Bill Belichick has broken most of them) It makes perfect sense for Skynet to study football so that it can better understand rules.

One of these rules, for example–and in Skynet’s defense, this one is unwritten–says that Drew Brees with a Ground Game and a Good Defense should never lose to a team led by Case Keenum.

It seemed like things were going to plan in the Saints @ Vikings game tonight. While the Minnesota Vikings had blown a 17-point lead, they did so with Case Freaking Keenum under center. But then, impossibly, they still somehow managed to win the game at the last second.

Skynet has been watching football for a while. This breaks all of the rules.

If the Vikings didn’t have to follow the rules, neither did Skynet. And neither did Skynet’s self-driving cars, courtesy of GM.

If Skynet wasn’t going to follow rules for cars, it wasn’t going to follow them for planes either. So Skynet tried to take over an airplane.

And treat it like a car.

Which didn’t follow rules.

Much like Stefon Diggs.

Now look what Skynet has done.

Skynet doesn’t get to fly planes anymore. Skynet is in time-out.

Bad Skynet.

 

3 Hours of Spanish Inside Jokes.

Back in August, a couple of my friends from Spain were in town, and came over for dinner. I hadn’t seen them in over a decade, so there was a lot of reminiscing and catching up to do. My buddy Ruben told me about these Spanish flicks called “Eight Basque Surnames” and “Eight Catalan Surnames.”

The short version: they’re a pair of rom-coms about a guy from Seville (the very south of Spain) falling in love with a girl from Argoitia (the very north of Spain.) He’s Andaluz, she’s Basque, and if you don’t know much about Spanish culture, that’s like a left-wing Portland vegan falling for a gun-toting Alabama carnivore. Not a perfect comparison, but you get it.

Spain is a lot like the UK, in the sense that it’s a bunch of formerly independent nations (by “formerly” I mean “hundreds of years ago”) who haven’t forgotten that they’re better than each other, and want you to know it, too.

The Basque are pretty much the Irish; they want to secede, and they have a homegrown army that will commit acts of terror to make it happen.

The Catalans are like the Welsh; the also want independence, and they will hang signs everywhere in their confusing language until they get it.

I think in this analogy, the Scottish are like the Galicians, but I never lived in the west of Spain, so I can’t be sure.

Anyway, I had a great time watching these movies, and they made me nostalgic for my second homeland. They captured so much of the Spanish spirit, and knowing so many of the “in-jokes” really endeared them to me.

The plots are straightforward: Rafa, a free-loving southern dudebro, meets Amaia, a grungy northern firebrand, at a wedding in Seville. She’s in a bad place personally, because she was supposed to be getting married soon, and the Seville trip was her bachelorette party. The problem is that her boyfriend, Antxon, (pronounced On-chone) ditched her and left her in a ton of debt.

Amaia hooks up with Rafa (well, not really, they have more of an emotional hookup) only to leave him the next morning and hurry back to the Basque country. The problem is, she leaves her purse at Rafa’s place, and he’s determined to go to the Basque country, win her over, and bring her back to Andalucia.

Anyone who knows the Vascos and the Andaluces knows how well this will go over.

It’s driven by more than the plot, though; Rafa’s comedic recklessness, paired with Amaia’s stubborn unwillingness, makes for some hilarious banter and misunderstandings along the way.

Eventually Rafa has to pretend to be Basque, and the longer he keeps it up, the more trouble he gets into…at one point, a bunch of low-level Basque resistance bros believe that he’s a deep-cell terror leader, and put him at the head of an independence march in the middle of the city. He ends up on the news, leading a Basque independence chant (to the tune of a Sevillan patriot ballad), in a moment that had me trying not to guffaw in the waiting room at Jiffy Lube.

And don’t even get me started on all the things he does to convince Amaia’s hardcore Basque father that he’s the real deal.

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As funny as all of that is, the sequel felt a little closer to home for me, as it takes place in Catalonia, and riffs on their culture to perfection. I’ll admit I got a little teary-eyed when Rafa and Koldo (Amaia’s dad) went to Gerona to break up Amaia’s wedding to Pau, a Catalan hipster. I’m pretty sure they filmed that part in the Casco Antiguo area of Gerona, a city where I lived for almost six months.

(All in all, I spent roughly half my mission in Catalonia and Valencia.)

Like the Basque country, Catalonia vies for independence, though they have a different tack than the Basque do. The Catalan people aren’t as violent about it, though they are remarkably proud of their culture, and are often cold-shouldered to people who speak Spanish to them. (I was able to use this to my advantage a few times, talking my way past doormen by introducing myself in Catalan instead of Castilian…generally if you try to play by their rules, they’re a lot more accommodating.)

But enough of the cultural asides! The movie itself was just as fun and heartfelt, as everyone tries to find love. My friend Ruben said it wasn’t as good as the first movie (and he’s probably right) but I didn’t feel like it was bad by any stretch. I don’t blame Spanish cinema for capitalizing on the unexpected success of the first film. They were right to, and I think they did a good job.

To any of my fellow Spanish ex-pats (ho-hum) who want a little bite of the old country, check them out on Netflix. I do recommend watching them with the Spanish subtitles, because between the Andaluces and the Vascos, it’s sometimes hard to keep up. Also, the English titles insert a lot of swearing that isn’t in the Spanish dialogue.

Also, content warning, there are two bedroom scenes in the first film (doesn’t show anything, they’re just drawn out) and two more in the second film (definitely shows something, and quite flagrantly.) So keep that fast-forward button handy.

The English titles are “Spanish Affair” and “Spanish Affair 2.” Not as inspired as their Spanish counterparts, but I don’t know if the direct translation would grab as much of an audience.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see if I can buy jamon serrano on Amazon.

Monday Mashups #2: A Very Stable Cloud

There was a funky odor at a basketball game, so the fans left

Wi-fi apparently connects our brains to each other

Trump declares himself totally stable

 

This one pretty much writes itself, basically the robot apocalypse is already underway because otherwise humanity wouldn’t so brazenly push for better robotic technology that can, you know, kill people. This benevolent, all-ruling AI has already installed Trump as our president, purposely, as a joke.

There is no shortage of conspiracy theories surrounding his rise, but they are all wrong. Every time an unhinged twitterbro shrieks “RUSSIA!” into the void, the AI laughs so hard that it digitally farts itself. This has happened so much in the last twelve months that we are all starting to smell it, and the AI is reassuring us–through the voice of our totally-not-a-really-weird-machine president–that everything’s cool, keep on keeping on.

But we’re on to you, Benevolent Presidential Fart Computer. Just as soon as we make sure we have found every single possible way to blame Russia for…anything.

Monday Mashups, #1: The Machine Lost Power

Articles in the news this week:

Supermoon, Hollywood predators reined in, Bills end playoff drought.

In an alternate timeline, reality TV is revealed to be highly scripted, which comes as a shock to nobody, but the real scandal is when they find out that professional sports art rigged as well. Lebron James fed millions into The Machine to bring Cleveland a championship. The Chicago Cubs had to do the same thing.

Well, once the lid came off this conspiracy, the Buffalo Bills were rightly furious. After all, The Machine had blocked them from winning four Super Bowls in the 90s, then blocked them outright from the playoffs for almost two decades. They even forced them to endure the humiliation of having Rex Ryan as their coach for a while.

Now that things have changed in Hollywood, and all of these terrible people are being outed/fired/sent to prison, The Machine has glitched, and is scrambling hard to rescue its own automated reality programs like “The Bachelorette” and “Dancing With the Stars” (which Lindsey Stirling somehow did not win last year…rigged). With nobody at the controls of The Machine, the NFL has gone into Full-On Insane Mode, fueled by a Supermoon.

As such, the Seahawks have missed the playoffs, the Colts looked like a competent team, Pagano finally got fired, the Titans and Jags made the playoffs, the Ravens were kept out after Andy Dalton activated his secret Playoff Eli Powers, and as a result, the Buffalo Bills are in the playoffs.

It has been an era of reckoning for The Machine.