Swinging at smoke…

Writing is hard.

It’s a very cyclical thing for me. It moves along in stages. What those stages are, how long they last, and whether or not I recognize them as they’re happening all vary on a case by case basis.

Right now I’m in the JFC everything is crap stage.

It happens.

I’ve spent a lot of time staring at my writing folder—like I do—trying to discern what I should be working on. Truth is, I really don’t know.

Once upon a time I went through and summarized all of my “active” projects. It was a lot more difficult than it should have been. And I’ve been trying to do an updated version of it with the current active list for…a long time. It’s an exercise in brevity and it’s incredibly difficult for someone like me who has a tendency to ramble incessantly, especially when it comes to talking about writing.

I want to write a brief summary of the plot, a few notes on where my brain is at on the given project, and a snippet of text from the actual story. Problem is I could go on for hours about each one when “summarizing” the plot. (I might need to lookup the actual definition of the word summarize, because clearly it doesn’t mean what I think it means.) As for where my brain is at with each one, a lot of it generally comes out as fuck if I know. And when it comes to pulling out a few lines of text…I want to take paragraphs.

And then I have a twenty-thousand word post.

Give or take.

I’ve considered doing an individual post on each one in a series. Then I could ramble all I want. But it’s supposed to be about brevity. And while that’s clearly not one of my strong suits, that’s what I want it to be.

So as it goes with everything in writing, I keep hacking and slashing until it resembles something I’m more or less okay with.

Or I shove it back in the drafts folder and forget about it for awhile.

Fair warning…this whole thing is five-thousand-some-odd words. (The last one I did was 3000+…so…)

So much for that whole brevity thing, I guess.

Hey—it’s fairly brief commentary for each story. But once you pile them all together…

almost easy… Kate and her family find themselves reeling when her dad dies suddenly and unexpectedly. Her Jewish-when-she-needs-to-be mother decides the family needs to sit shiva following the Catholic funeral and drama ensues as the caustic relationship between mother and daughter finally comes to a head, and the youngest sibling’s addiction problem resurfaces in the face of grief. Meanwhile Kate finds a surprising source of support and sanity in her ex-husband, causing both of them to question the future of their relationship.

The original plan was to take the timeline just to the point of the family returning to their “normal” lives post scheduled grieving, but the more things develop between Kate and her ex, the more cloudy that end point becomes. I’m having a difficult time figuring out where the cut-off should be. It could potentially turn into two separate stories at some point.

“What do you think your dad would say?”

Kate flinched, the sudden thought of not being able to seek her dad’s advice on the matter hit her like a blow to the stomach. She sighed tiredly, watching the blades of the ceiling fan spin above her, “Keep an open mind and tread lightly.”

“Sounds like him.”

“How can this be real?”

“I don’t know, Baby Girl,” Lucy shook her head, “I keep hoping I’ll wake up from this nightmare and he’ll be right here next to me. But every day I wake up to the same horrible reality. We were supposed to have another twenty years together, at least. We could have gone thirty. Or more. I don’t know how to live in a world without him…alone.”

“You’re not alone, Mom.”

“I know. I just…it’s not the same.”

“I know. It’s not.”

chance records… So many stories revolve around music artists signed to the Chance Records label. (Mahoney [the band], Darren Baylor, Andrew Mason, Ryan Mills, Fifth Sector, Subtle Definition…so on…so forth…) When the writing folder starts to look like an even bigger disaster than usual, it’s time to group together the ones with a common theme. (It could be argued that ALL of these stories have a common theme, but…shush.) It’s more or less a stalled folder for CR-specific tales.

dangerous connection… Alex grew up in Virginia until the middle of high school when her dad got a job transfer to Minnesota. Moving halfway across the country, she left behind the best group of friends she could have ever asked for. In an age before social media and always connected technology, they quickly lost touch. Nearly two decades later, she finds herself on the brink of a high school reunion of sorts when she comes face to face with those same friends—who are now the five members of the rock band Ruse.

There are two separate stories sitting here, with a convoluted history of how they each came to be over roughly a decade. There are two versions of how Alex is reunited with the boys of Ruse and her life circumstances are vastly different in each. Both plots are viable in their own right, which is a rare occurrence when multiple storylines pop up for the same characters. I feel like I should at least be writing about two different bands, but it was hard enough coming up with one band name, and I like both versions, so it stays.

        v1…code name Dear Adam…Alex works for the famed Jenkins siblings, Kate and Marc, at their Minnesota-based recording studio. Ruse comes to town to work on album eight with the siblings and Alex finds herself completely submerged in the group of friends she lost touch with so long ago. Meanwhile the boys in the band are gobsmacked to meet Alex’s teenage son, and learn the reason why she all but disappeared after moving so many years ago.

“I was a stupid kid. I didn’t know which end was up or what the hell I was doing. I had just moved a thousand miles away from the only home I knew, and my parents were so angry with me. I tried so many times to call you, but I was so terrified of how you’d react. So many times I tried to call, but I could never finish dialing the phone. I wrote you so many letters, but I could never bring myself to send them. And eventually, it just became easier to keep the secret. I’ve been living with this suffocating regret for so long, and now it’s all blown up in my face.”

        v2…code name Three Night Stand…Alex works for the Hiller Entertainment Group, playing hostess to varied and sundry celebrity types that pass through town—mostly musicians. The group takes a job to host the band Ruse during a 3-show stint in Minneapolis. Face-to-face for the first time in nearly twenty years, Alex finds out Adam has been carrying a torch for her all these years and she’s forced to admit that she’s been carrying one for him too. The big question on everyone’s mind…will the flame still hold up when the band leaves town come Monday morning?

She had always known that they would remember her, but she had no idea they would be so quick to pull her right back into the fray of being friends. In so many ways, it really did feel like no time had passed at all. Moving a thousand miles away and losing touch had been painful, but somehow, it no longer mattered. She knew the reunion could be short lived. It was entirely possible it would end when the band left town, but right now, she was going to enjoy what time she did have with them.

dispatch… Olivia and Gavin met their first day of college classes and have been together ever since. Fourteen years down the line, they’ve been married for ten, have a twelve-year-old son, Olivia runs a successful web development business, and Gavin travels the world as a musician. Everything is thrown into a tailspin when Olivia reaches her breaking point as Gavin has been severely neglecting his family in favor of his career for far too long. He’s forced to stop and reevaluate his life, what he really wants, and figure out if there is a way to repair the damage he’s caused.

Cobbling together a hodgepodge of ideas and characters that have been lurking around for longer than I can figure out. I might be making it more complicated than I need to with some plans I haven’t fully hashed out yet. I’m using some themes I’ve been trying to work with for a long time. Maybe I’ll get the combination right with this go-round.

She was eighteen when she met him. It was the first week of college classes. Sitting in a lecture hall with a hundred other students, somebody slid into the empty seat next to her at the last minute. She looked up to meet a pair of dark eyes and a wide, borderline wicked grin. He apologized for jarring her and introduced himself. He was twenty-one, a musician, and a transplant from Connecticut, starting over in school after getting a two-year degree he was never going to use. When she questioned how he ended up in Minnesota, he shrugged, and replied with a casual, “Why not?”

executive decision… Andrew hired Juliette’s small-time web design firm to build a site for his developing non-profit organization. Things started off rocky between them, but Andrew’s persistence eventually paid off. Medical emergencies on both sides and Andrew’s severe anxiety issues cause a whole lot of drama, but somehow they manage to work through it and come out stronger on the other side.

These two have been spinning their wheels for quite a long time because the timeline needs an extensive amount of work, but I’m not ready to give up on them yet.

Stepping out of the elevator into the garage, she followed two steps behind as he led her to a shiny, silver import, and opened the passenger door for her. “You’re driving?”

He shrugged, “I do know how to drive, yes.”

She eyed him a moment longer, shaking her head as she climbed into the car. She took the opportunity to heave an exasperated sigh as she watched him walk around and slide into the driver’s seat.

“Believe it or not, I actually drive myself to work every day,” he smirked, turning the key in the ignition, “I might have money, but I don’t need somebody else schlepping me around everywhere I go.”

“I’m impressed,” she muttered.

“No you’re not,” he snorted, steering the car out of its parking space, “but I do like your snark.”

fostered… Ryan and Hallie knew before they even got married, biological children weren’t in the cards. After a lot of medical intervention and heartbreak, they decided to pursue adoption. It takes several more years of heartbreak, but they finally get a promising placement with Emery—a teenager who has spent half his life in foster care. It’s a rough road, but they manage day-by-day, and both sides finally get what they want: a family.

Aside from good old Ben & Marina this is my longest story to date. I’ve reached the point of having most of the major plot points written, it’s just a matter of connecting the dots with proper narrative. Ah yes, narrative, the bane of my writing existence.

Hallie watched Emery, sound asleep on the couch, her mind reeling. When she’d left the house this morning, she knew her life would be forever changed by the time she got home. It had been building for months—or really since she was nineteen—and as the day inched ever closer, the magnitude of the situation grew increasingly more overwhelming. It was terrifying and exhilarating and exactly what she (and Ryan) had been hoping for, for so many heartbreaking years.

She was a mother.

Ryan was a father.

Emery was their son.

It didn’t matter that he didn’t share their DNA or that he was mere weeks from his sixteenth birthday. Today he officially became their son. Today they officially became parents. Today they officially became a family of three.

freelancer… Kate gets a job with Flammable Tech Productions and somehow ends up dating Michael, who also happens to be her boss. While her romantic relationship is building with him, she’s also building a best friendship with Joel, which eventually leads to her setting him up with Remy. And before long the crew at FTP are planning for two employee weddings instead of just one.

There are half a dozen what if scenarios under the freelancer header. It originally started with a story about Kate and Joel getting together, but eventually changed in favor of Kate and Michael. When Remy entered the picture, what was supposed to be a minor subplot became a huge part of the story. Kate and Michael’s relationship with Joel is as much a part of the story as their relationship with each other. So when Joel unexpectedly ends up with a new boyfriend, it’s fitting for it to be a much bigger part of the story than originally planned.

“Normal is highly overrated. I don’t do anything the normal way anyway. You know that. It took me seven years to get a four-year degree. I changed my major twice. I got a job that had nothing to do with that degree it took me so long to get. Then I quit to start a company nobody can seem to explain. I made the worst move anyone can make in business by hiring all my friends, and then I decided to marry one of my employees. And now I want to put an apartment in my basement so my best friend and his boyfriend can live in it.”

hill country… Once upon a time Darren and Alex were best friends. Then Alex’s family moved two hundred miles away and they lost touch. Ten years later, Alex is back in his hometown after inheriting his late grandparents’ estate and finds himself face-to-face with his once best friend. He also finds himself seriously conflicted as he knows he has no intention of staying in town, but old feelings for Darren are dredged to the surface making him question what he really wants out of life.

It’s an odd concept for me to have a story that doesn’t have a female main character. Having the primary focus on two guys is uncharted territory. Then factoring in the detail that the two main characters are gay…what do I know about being a gay man? Just about as much as I know about being a man in general. I’m probably writing things I have no business writing, but…

Coming back to his hometown after ten years, Alex hadn’t expected to encounter his childhood best friend at all, much less find out that he too was gay. In hindsight, he probably should have known. They’d spent years commiserating being different from all their peers in the small town, but neither one had audibly expressed why they were different. Alex knew by the time he was thirteen that he was gay, but as much as he’d wished it was, he hadn’t thought the same was true for Darren. He had also been too terrified to share that piece of himself with anybody until long after he’d moved away. He suddenly found himself wondering just how different life during the torturous years of high school could have been had his family not uprooted and moved nearly two hundred miles south.

klaine… It started with a project dubbed theatrical debut wherein Darren moves home after six years away and discovers his long-time crush on the older girl next door is still going strong. Hannah is on the rebound after her divorce and finds herself wondering when the hell the adorable neighbor kid she used to babysit grew up on her. Friendship leads to confessions, which leads to romance, and…maybe eight years isn’t really such a big age gap after all.

And then I managed to concoct half a dozen other stories revolving around Darren and Hannah and a handful of other characters and then I realized I should probably condense them all into a single folder before things get even more out of control.

When Darren finally got a look at his face, his stomach dropped. He’d heard tell that David was ridiculously good looking, but he wasn’t expecting some sort of GQ model. Even in a standard button down and jeans, he looked like he just stepped out of some fashion shoot. Darren would have enjoyed the view if he didn’t feel suddenly, inexplicably jealous. When David stopped and kissed Hannah on the temple, nuzzling her, and she leaned into him, Darren could barely breathe from the fire burning in his chest. Though he did feel a tiny hint of satisfaction when she jabbed David in the stomach and put her hand in his face, shoving him away. He heard her say something about flirting with her mother and walked away. Heat seared up the back of his neck when she turned to face him and smiled, crossing the room to where he stood.

no signal… Four years after an argument and a black eye resulted in Ben and Marina finally getting together, they are married, homeowners, and living a comfortable life of domesticity. Late one Friday night, the doorbell rings and they find the hysterical and terrified fourteen-year-old son of friends standing on their doorstep. Tyler had finally mustered the courage to come out to his parents, and while he fully expected it to be ill-received, he had no idea just how horribly they would react. After countless phone calls, tears, heartbreak, drama, and a barrage of interviews and caseworkers, Ben and Marina find themselves foster parents to an abandoned teenager.

Yes. This is a sequel to Ben & Marina. Yes. I managed to shoehorn Tyler into Ben and Marina’s world. But IT WASN’T EVEN MY IDEA. Truth be told, it was Bob’s idea to combine the two. In one of our many conversations about writing, and the monstrosity that is Stephen Tyler, I mentioned that I missed working on my other monstrosity—Ben & Marina. To which Bob suggested combining the two. I already had a character named Tyler in the story as one of their nephews, but I could change that name in favor of my favorite damaged teenager. It took a lot of trial and error to figure out how exactly to fit him into their universe in a way that could make sense, but I finally landed on something I could work with. It might just be an absolute train wreck, but this is me we’re talking about. Absolute Trainwreck is kind of my thing.

“She is totally one of those people that will carry on endlessly about how much she absolutely loves both of her children and she couldn’t possibly choose a favorite, but it’s blatantly obvious that she does favor one over the other to an extreme degree. In her case, she fawns all over her younger son, and her first born barely gets any attention by comparison.”

Ben and Marina didn’t have much in common with Natalie and David, but they spent time together because they shared mutual friends. Monthly dinners had them on friendly terms with their kids, but nobody would call them close. In the time they had spent together, they’d witnessed a decline in the relationship between Tyler and his parents. It always seemed as if Natalie and David were irrationally irritated with him for merely being present. Ben and Marina weren’t entirely sure what went on at home without an audience, but Tyler never struck them as a problem child. When they were all together, he was always well behaved and respectful. Anytime they witnessed him getting in trouble, it always seemed like an overreaction on the part of his parents. Marina had long had a gut feeling that something wasn’t right, but she never felt it was her place trying to ask Tyler questions.

And now he’d shown up unannounced on their doorstep, terrified to go home.

reunion… Ben and Marina…a wedding, an argument, a black eye, a trip to the emergency room, a family crisis, and a collection of alligators…

We’ve beat this dead horse so many times, there’s not a whole lot left to say about it. I KNOW what I need to do with this story. It’s just a matter of mustering the mental fortitude to get it done. And now that there’s an unnecessary sequel in the works, there’s part of my demented little brain that’s wondering if I could somehow combine the two into an even bigger clusterfuck. Because WHY NOT?

Marina stared at the steering wheel, her stomach twisting in ways she’d never felt before. She took a deep breath and held it for a moment before letting it out slowly. She threw open her car door and stepped out of the vehicle, willing the stabbing pain in her stomach to settle down. Her mind spun as she forced herself to move. Ten feet of sidewalk felt like miles and she hesitated before pressing the doorbell. She fidgeted anxiously with her necklace, all the while fighting the urge to run away and forget the whole thing.

The door flew open and Ben froze, phone pressed to his ear. He stared at her a moment, dark eyes wide, and shook his head, “Brody, I’ll call you back. Marina just showed up.”

seek therapy… Surprisingly the inane fanfiction and never-see-the-light-of-day monstrosities have been sitting fairly dormant for quite awhile. Even with the recurring bouts of writer’s block that have me banging my head against the wall. Even though it can be a whole hell of a lot of fun to write this stuff, I’m not exactly upset I haven’t been pumping out pages of it, because that means I’m working on legitimate projects. Even if it’s only a few words at a time.

In the eight years she’d known him, she’d watched him grow from a slightly awkward teenager with no shortage of zeal, into a confident, highly accomplished man.

In all that time, the crush he had on her remained fully intact. It was always there in his wide eyes and his infectious smile, and in the way he sought her validation in things that were important to him, or her comfort when he was in pain. She’d suspected over time that his feelings had evolved, but he never quite breached the threshold to move past a silly crush.

And now he’d told her he loved her.

She didn’t necessarily doubt him, but his admission had thrown her—shocked her—even though a piece of her had long suspected it was true. Hearing him say it out loud forced her to acknowledge her own feelings she’d been denying for a long time. She loved him too—a hell of a lot more than she’d realized—but she worried about his timing. She worried that he was grasping for a connection to dull the pain of grief. And while she had no intention of rejecting him, she knew she had to tread lightly to make sure neither one of them got hurt.

spoiled brat… Olivia lands a photography gig with real estate empire Parker Investments and garners the unwanted attention from Parker son, Christian. It’s a surprise to everyone who knows them when they end up dating. They are polar opposites from the outset, but as Olivia breaks down Christian’s commitment-phobic walls, they find they have a lot more in common than either of them realize. And it turns out Christian isn’t actually the colossal douche bag he makes himself out to be.

Of all the stories carried over from the previous blurb fest, this one has gone through the most changes. I really started to hate the character Christian was turning into and I started making modifications to him and his backstory. It eventually led to a large cast overhaul and reworking of several plot points. The over-arcing story of the relationship between Olivia and Christian is mostly the same, but a lot of the details have changed and it’s turning out to be a much better story overall.

Touch base.

Christian fought the urge to roll his eyes as his younger brother continued talking. He struggled to pay attention, mind wandering back to his morning coffee break, and his conversation with the caustic Olivia Waite. She clearly had zero interest in him, but he couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to have an actual conversation with her, not just some condensed, idle chitchat. Would she continue to be so ornery about having to deal with him? Or would she soften up a bit with a little time? And would this imaginary conversation happen before or after the sex? Before would give him time to loosen her up. She did seem to be wound a little tight. But after would leave them both plenty relaxed for a lengthy conversation.

His thoughts stalled, suddenly wondering when a real conversation with a woman had become something he actually wanted. Conversation was generally the last thing he was interested in, the less talking the better. It infringed on time spent in bed. If he wanted to talk, he’d go visit his sister or his mother. Those two did enough talking for everyone.

“Are you even listening to me?”

Apparently, so did his little brother.

stephen tyler… The all-encompassing code name to collect the multitude of plotlines revolving around Alison, Parker, (or Hannah and Joel…or…) and Tyler and a handful of other characters. At last count there were twelve different plotlines (plus three others not being kept in the ST directory). It’s a sickness, I’m pretty sure. But when I break them all down there are really only two truly viable stories in the whole bunch. That’s perfectly fine. I’ve managed to clear out a whole lot of muck from my bad addled brain in the process. I’m still tempted to pick one of them to have the three main characters named Stephen, Olivia, and Tyler as it would be stupidly amusing to me. Because I am easily amused.

        lightning v1.0… Hannah and Joel were once best friends, but a nasty argument derailed everything. More than a decade later Joel moves back to his small hometown and reconnects with Hannah, who is now a single mother to fifteen-year-old Tyler. Hannah is reluctant at best to rekindle the friendship they once had. Problems with her son (drastic changes in personality and overall disposition) have her worried and distracted, but Joel manages to remind her why they were friends in the first place. Meanwhile life keeps throwing wrenches around left and right.

This could actually be considered a sequel to Hill Country as Darren is actually Joel’s younger brother, and Darren and Alex are both close friends with Hannah. When I was setting up details—location, jobs, etc…—I realized how similar things were turning out and figured I could just tie them together by making Darren and Joel brothers. So I did.

Mother and son had always had a close and candid relationship. He’d always been able to talk to her about anything, no matter how awkward or upsetting it might be. Now he didn’t want to talk to her about even the most innocuous subjects. Change was inevitable she knew, but the changes he’d gone through were so completely out of character, they’d left her reeling. She had a theory or two, but she wasn’t sure if she was reading too much into things, so desperate for answers, or if the truth really was staring her right in the face, just waiting for her to speak first.

        lightning v2.0… Parker and Alison find their marriage on the rocks after a long struggle to have kids. Everything gets knocked off its axis with the unexpected arrival of their nephew Tyler, when his mother drops him off on their doorstep with no intention of coming back anytime soon, if ever. Managing an emotionally damaged, recently abandoned fifteen-year-old is daunting enough, and then unexpected health problems enter the picture. Parenting a teenager turns out to be a blessing in disguise as it forces them to face their marital problems head on and get their issues figured out for the sake of everyone’s sanity.

There may or may not be a certain level of influence from this story in the Ben and Marina version of Tyler—abandoned teenagers and all. But while the two Tylers do have some things in common, the core reason for abandonment is different for each. Which is enough justification in my head for both to stick around.

Alison was starting to wonder if she was deluding herself—if Parker was never actually going to take steps to reconcile. The prospect of filing for divorce made her physically ill, but she had no idea what else to do at this point. If walking out the door hadn’t incited a reaction out of him, what would?

teenage dream… Matt and Alison had a baby at seventeen and split up three years later. Now that Zach is on the verge of graduating from high school, they’re finally getting back together and talking marriage. At the same time Zach’s relationship with Remy is progressing to the point of living together as Zach, Matt, and Alison work to mitigate the damage from Remy’s emotionally abusive parents.

Would you let your teenage son’s boyfriend move in with you? Probably not. But Matt and Alison have always seen Remy as a second son, and taking care of him in his deep pit of depression is far more important than societal norms.

Alison studied Remy closely, watching him sleep, and listening to him breathe. Once he’d finally settled, he fell asleep within minutes. She rubbed his back and smoothed his hair, unsure where to begin with his problem. She wanted to go to his parents’ house and punch his dad in the throat. And his mother too, for her complete lack of defense for her son. She couldn’t wrap her brain around how they could be so cold to their own child. It broke her heart. When she thought about the suffocating intensity of her love for Zach—how she would sacrifice everything for him, no matter how old he was—her heart broke even more for Remy, knowing his parents were never like that. It intensified her overwhelming need to protect him even more.

the redo… Marc and Olivia grew up together as best friends, pegged to be a couple by the time they graduated high school. Then Marc inexplicably moved to the other side of the country to go to college. Eighteen years, two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s degree, and one failed marriage later, he’s finally back home. Olivia was engaged parallel to Marc, but the relationship ended when she got pregnant unexpectedly and her fiancé left her because he didn’t want kids. Now a single mother to six-year-old Matthew, she’s taken completely by surprise when Marc moves back home. They quickly rekindle the friendship they once had, and romance is lurking in the background, but Marc is still reeling from his nasty divorce and not in any position to start something new—even with an old friend.

The theme of two friends reunited after years apart with the potential for romance is the center of more story ideas than I care to admit, dating way back to…a much younger age. (There are four in this list alone. WTF?) Has it worked yet? Actually, I do have a short story (possibly two…three?) that I actually finished…years ago…revolving around that theme. In long form though? Time will tell.

Olivia leaned on the counter, feeling overwhelmed as she watched Matthew and Marc together in the living room. Matthew was tucked into Marc’s lap, reading one of his favorite books. Isabel was snuggled up right next to them with a paw resting on Marc’s knee, and it was a perfect little moment. She tried in vain to stop her mind from turning on all the possibilities of having Marc in their lives. He was back. He was home. And right now he was sitting on her couch, cuddled up with her kid and the dog, reading bedtime stories, looking every bit the part of doting dad.

She was in big trouble.

And that, as they say, is that.

Or maybe not.

Who knows?

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