Wilderness Restoration

Taken from whitewaterguidebook.com/idaho/main-salmon-river/

Last month my wife and I flew out to Idaho to join some friends on a seven-day trip on the Main Salmon River (not to be confused with the Middle Fork or the South Fork). The river runs through the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, the largest contiguous wilderness area in the United States (I have to say rowing the Salmon involved some of the most enjoyable river miles I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. The whitewater was not terribly intense, the scenery was stunning and the wildlife abundant.

It felt good to get back behind the oars for a multi-day trip for the first time in eleven years, since we did a 16-day trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Having guided for a number of years on the rivers of southern West Virginia, returning to the river felt good. It felt natural, reading the currents, feeling the movement and scouting the horizon lines.

The best part about multi-day trips is truly immersing in the condition of just being. Sure I thought about the dinner menu or wondering where we might stop for camp, but mostly I was in the moment, taking it all in, sharing it with my wife and maybe another member of our party who would be boat hopping throughout the day. It’s one of the few times in my life I’ve been able to truly disconnect and let everything else slip away.

We saw eagles and ospreys, big horn sheep and mountain goats, snakes and jumping fish. We ate ripe cherries from an old abandoned homestead and soaked in a primitive riverside hot springs. We watched the sun creep into the canyon in the mornings and slip behind the ridges in the evening. We saw the great bowl of stars overhead, more stars than many people get to see in their lives. That’s the beauty of a huge wilderness area.

As with most trips, I brought my journal and a book, Margaret Atwood’s Year of the Flood. Also as with most trips, I didn’t do much journaling, but read nearly every day. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of reading a dystopian story in a utopian setting. The contrast helped me enjoy both that much more.

At one point someone asked me about my writing and my current novel. In the middle of the conversation, they realized their phone, with which they’d been taking pictures, had fallen out of their vest–and into the river. And that was the end of the conversation. As I look back, that was probably the only time I really thought about my writing during that trip and I think I needed that.

I’ve been back for almost three weeks and finally have my feet under me as I work through key story elements in the beginning of the novel. You’d think that by draft number four I’d have this stuff nailed down, but here we are and it’s okay, just part of the process. I think I can thank the Idaho trip for the dollop of equanimity in the long journey of writing this novel.

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Slow Burn

I’m working through the fourth draft of my latest novel, Flood, and have been leaning into the process, doing my best to not worry about the final product and timelines.

It’s hard work.

But it’s also good, gratifying work. The way I figure, we only have the time before us. The time that’s most enjoyable is the time actually doing the work. Sure I like to imagine what commercial and critical success looks like, but if that’s the only thing I’m after, what about all the time spent (13 years and counting)?

If I never publish a novel will it all have been for naught?

Will I have wasted my time?

That was a question I didn’t ask myself when I was younger and my life was stretching ahead of me. But as I’ve put some decades behind me–five and change so far–I’ve become more conscious of how finite my time is. And so the question of using time wisely is often in the forefront of my mind.

But I’ve also become more conscious of how the time we’re in, the present, is the only time we have. And thus, there’s no reason to be in a rush.

So when my mind starts questioning the value of my writing, my toiling in unpublished anonymity, I ask myself, “Is the writing enjoyable? Is the challenge still there? Do you still get a thrill seeing things come together?” Samuel Delany points to the German word “Begeisterung”, literally defined as “bespiritedness”, to capture the kind of enthusiasm creatives bring to their work.

Begeisterung is a tonic for all my doubt, all these questions, so much so that when I find myself revisiting them yet again, my answer is invariably “yes,” which is reason enough to keep writing.

Raising a Relic

Coming to you live from the Star City, Roanoke, Virginia.

I’ve decided to bring back Words and Coffee using the most economical means possible. As a result, I’m back where I started on wordpress.com. I probably should bring in all the content between that last post I did on this platform in 2010(!), but we’ll see if I can find the old .xml export from when I took Words and Coffee offline in 2021.

Long story short, I’m still writing, deep in draft number four of my latest novel. It’s been an illuminating project for a few reasons:

  1. Having done this before, I thought I would find some efficiencies, but that really hasn’t been the case;
  2. Because this is a totally different novel and my goals go beyond just getting a novel under my belt, I have more difficult goals that are taking longer to materialize; and,
  3. It occurs to me that, if you’re striving to be better with everything you write, your difficulty level is always increasing and therefore the idea that it gets easier isn’t really true.

I read an interview with an author recently (I can’t remember who, shame on me) where they said every subsequent novel is actually harder. I firmly believe that’s true, although I secretly hope it isn’t at least once!

I’ll make no commitments to how often I post, but because I’m still at it, it’s a good idea to have an online presence, especially since I’ve dialed back my social media presence almost to nil for sanity’s sake.

Anyway, it’s good to be back. Looking forward to reconnecting.

The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello

I may have posted this before, but I’ve been thinking about it lately. Great story. Great animation. Steampunk at its finest.

Here’s the synopsis:

Nominated for an Oscar and for a BAFTA award, Jasper Morello is a short feature made in a unique style of silhouette animation developed by director Anthony Lucas and inspired by the work of authors Edgar Alan Poe and Jules Verne. In the frontier city of Carpathia, Jasper Morello discovers that his former adversary Doctor Claude Belgon has returned from the grave. When Claude reveals that he knows the location of the ancient city of Alto Mea where the secrets of life have been discovered, Jasper cannot resist the temptation to bring his own dead wife Amelia back.

But they are captured by Armand Forgette, leader of the radical Horizontalist anti-technology movement, who is determined to reanimate his terrorist father Vasco. As lightning energises the arcane machineries of life in the floating castle of Alto Mea, Jasper must choose between having his beloved restored or seeing the government of Gothia destroyed. Set in a world of iron dirigibles and steam powered computers, this gothic horror mystery tells the story of Jasper Morello, a disgraced aerial navigator who flees his Plague-ridden home on a desperate voyage to redeem himself.

For more on this world, visit here.

More Neal Stephenson

This video is an hour long,  or roughly two and half cups of coffee, but the first three minutes is worth it alone. In the rest of the video, Stephenson talks about Anathem. If you’ve got the time, watch. It’s fascinating to see how a sci-fi author delves the modern day for material.

Oh yeah, read Anathem.

While I’m Busy…

Until I finish this latest draft of my novel (I’m close. So very close), I’ll be posting videos of writerly and other artistic things. At least as I perceive them.  Hope you enjoy them until regularly scheduled programming resumes.

To kick things off, here is Neal Stephenson talking about SF/Fantasy Actors.