Ticking . . .
by M. Stephen Lukac
Almost to the day, five months separated the end of one life from the beginning of the next. With twenty years on the back end of the gap and another twenty stretching forward (I hope), five months –or 150 days, or 3600 hours, or 216,000 minutes, or 12,960,000 ticks of the second hand, however you want to label it- isn’t a lot. Expand the sample to include everything between “from dust ye came” and “to dust ye shall return,” and five months becomes the temporal equivalent of an eye-blink.
At first, I attempted to look at this unexpected sabbatical in a positive light. After all, this was the situation all would-be authors dream of: Time to write, free from the demands of a day job, without being freed from the income such employment provides. My downsizing came with a severance package. I was eligible for unemployment. Financially, I was prepared for The Great Experiment of full time writing.
Life, however, had different plans.
Due to the professional incompetence of a plumbing service, two rooms of our house had been painted in shit, and I mean that in the literal –not metaphorical -sense. This necessitated the complete renovation of one level of our home after the Haz-Mat team completed their cleanup. With my wife and I playing apprentice, my father did the bulk of the work, but this ate into the time I could dedicate to The Great Experiment.
Mother Nature also contributed to the erosion of my plans. A week after professional bookselling and I parted company, winter asserted itself with a ferocity it hadn’t showed in years. The initial onslaught dropped nearly two feet of snow in twenty-four hours; subsequent storms added subsequent accumulation with alarming rapidity. The weather not only interrupted our efforts at do-it-yourself contracting (each snowfall trapped our “foreman” at his house, where the snow fell faster and harder), but pulled me away from my desk to shovel out our sidewalks and driveway. The Great Experiment sacrificed on the altar of squalls and blizzards.
I wasn’t overly concerned. Regardless of the time I spent at construction or snow removal, it didn’t add up to forty hours a week, and I had written several novels and scores of Vents while working full time. My extracurricular activities shouldn’t have negatively impact The Great Experiment.
And, it didn’t.
For one thing, snow shoveling is a lot like grass mowing; physically taxing but mentally boring, an ideal opportunity to consider plotting, characterization, story beats and act structure. While moving metric tons of fluffy white stuff, I mapped out the second half of Oogie Boogie Breakdown, and wrestled with creating a plausible explanation for the main narrative thread in the next Ducalion tale. In the alpha state generated by the repetition of scoop, lift, throw, I performed the cranial aerobics necessary for successful keyboard time.
Every day, I trudged down the stairs to our basement and closeted myself in my den (my wife and I are fortunate enough to both have dens in our home; mine was the one not covered in feces). I’d sit down, wake the PC and open the Breakdown folder. Chapter 18, I’d think. Here we go . . .
As soon as I check email.
Checking email is important, as I’m sure you already know. The very first Monday of my involuntary hiatus (between the excrement explosion and Snowmageddon 2010), I received an email from an editor I know, expressing possible interest in reprinting Oogie Boogie Central. For a moment, I entertained visions of beginning The Great Experiment with the result I hoped for at its conclusion. The editor warned me that he was swamped with work and any response might take eons, but my writer’s brain interpreted this caveat as an imperative to hit F5 in Outlook every ninety seconds.
I know, I know.
With email checked, I would return to Word, to transcribe my carefully considered and prodigiously plotted prose from my brain, through my hands and onto the page. I’m starting with this, I’d think, fingers dancing while watching the word count tally my progress. Everything moved along exactly as I intended until –WHAM!
I did a Wile E. Coyote right into the side of a mountain with a tunnel painted on it.
It was horrible. It was trite. It was a convoluted mess. What was I thinking? How could I possibly have thought this was any good?
Frustrated, I’d open the forbidden Firefox, vowing to momentarily distract myself until I could attack Chapter 18 with a fresh perspective. And, while I did battle with the gangs of New York, Cuba, Moscow and Bangkok, I deluded myself into believing that I had all the time in the world. When my red wheat required fertilizing, when my yellow melons were ready for harvest, when the cows needed milking and my horses begged for a brushing, I justified the diversion by calculating the number of productive hours that lay before me.
And then, it was June.
The severance had run out. The unemployment benefits were in danger of being exhausted, thanks to the elephants determined to blame the current economy on the actions of the current administration, when even the dimmest bulb knows that present circumstances are the result of past mistakes. My email inbox continued to fill with offers of physical enhancement and pornographic solicitations, but no word from my possible editorial savior.
An opportunity arose that allowed me to put twenty years of experience to work at approximately eighty percent of what that experience used to be worth, and I took it. I am now back among my beloved stacks. I am no longer the master, merely a sharecropper on another’s fields, but that’s OK. I spend my days doing what I’m best at, and the 2400% longer commutes to and from considering plot, characterization, story beats and act structure. My cyber-fields stand mostly fallow, and the criminal elements of the world soldier on with only intermittent interference from my Mafia and me.
The jury’s still out on The Great Experiment, but I can offer the following results.
I think I now have a handle on the second half of Breakdown, but I’m still not sure how to get Ducalion and Keith where I need them to be to make the second Ducalion stand-alone work. I’ve also discovered that writer’s block isn’t a deficit of creativity, but a function of physics. A body at rest tends to stay at rest; a body in motion . . .
You know the rest.
And still the clock keeps ticking.
But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .
M Stephen Lukac has been reading since he was three, writing since he was seven and selling other people’s books since he was twenty-eight. At forty, he realized it might be time to get serious.
He loves stories set in coherent worlds, where the rules and situations –no matter how fantastic they may be- remain consistent across the author’s body of work. Experiencing the creation of a fictional universe –whether overt or subtle- is akin to peeking over God’s shoulder. Inhabiting those creations, regardless of the medium, is his second favorite thing.
His favorite thing is definitely not talking about himself in the third person.
But Then Again, You’ll Have This . . .
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