Ten Years Ago Today

On August 12, 2004 I reached the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail in Maine, after hiking for five months from the southern terminus in Georgia. You can still read the whole of my journal from the trail... I posted it as I went, from whatever public libraries I could find in towns along the way.

At the time, I was mostly just relieved to be done, but since then it’s become an important bedrock of personal strength for me. If I can complete a 2200-mile, five-month hike, I can do a lot of other things, whether it’s travelling to other countries on my own, or moving to the West Coast, or starting a photography business, or dealing with chronic depression.

To this day, I’m a huge believer in challenging yourself, in stepping outside of your comfort zone, in reaching for crazy and far-fetched dreams and goals, even at the risk of embarrassing or expensive failure. Hiking the A.T. may have been the first thing that really taught me that, even if it took me a few more years to recognize the lesson.

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Please, Don’t Tell Me Robin Williams is at Peace.

In the wake of Robin Williams’ death, I’ve seen a lot of people post things like “I hope he’s found peace,” or “I hope he’s at peace.” And while I understand that those things come from a place of good will, they really, really bother me. Because to me, it reads like “I hope that committing suicide worked out for him.”

I’ve been fairly open on this blog about my own struggles with depression. On occasion, I’ve struggled with suicidal thoughts, and one of my ways of combating those thoughts is the knowledge that suicide doesn’t work out. There’s no peace, no joy, nothing positive to found in killing yourself. It’s a tragedy that strands your friends and family in a sea of grief, and denies yourself every good experience and little bit of love you might have had between now and your natural death. It’s a horrible, terrible permanent response to a temporary emotional state. Because even though depression is a chronic condition, the emotional states that it brings with it usually are more temporary, coming in episodes, and even if not, seeking help and treatment is still a vastly preferable response to taking your own life.

Ultimately, depression killed Robin Williams, in a similar sense that cancer killed my mother. It’s a disease. It’s not a failure of will, or a fault of personality, it’s a fucking awful disease, in which a problem with the neurotransmitters in your brain causes deep depths of despair and anxiety that aren’t necessarily related to any outside life event. The nature of clinical depression is that it doesn’t have to have an outside cause; it doesn’t care who you are, any more than cancer or Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s does. It can strike anyone, even one of the world’s most successful entertainers. Robin Williams didn’t kill himself because he was a coward, as Shep Smith suggested, or because he was a bad person, or because he lacked a failure of will. He killed himself because he suffered from severe depression. Cancer killed my mother. Depression killed Robin Williams.

The death of Robin Williams is a tragedy, and he is a victim of a disease. I suppose it’s the nature of the way our culture mourns that we attempt to wring anything positive from terrible events, in an effort to make ourselves feel better; usually this comes in the form of platitudes like: He’s in a better place. Or, I hope he’s found peace.

But even typing those words makes me tremble with anger. If you must take something positive from the death of Robin Williams, then be nicer to people, because you never know. Share and publicize the suicide prevention hotline. Educate yourself on the nature of depression, and learn the best ways to listen to friends and family who suffer from the disease. If you think you might be depressed, if you find yourself feeling sad and anxious often for reasons way out of proportion to any rational cause, then please seek help. And maybe through his death, we as a society can become more educated about a widespread, tragic disease that is nevertheless often mocked or dismissed by media and culture.

But Robin Williams’ death– indeed the death of anyone who commits suicide or has their life cut short by a terrible disease– isn’t something to be validated, any more than I would try to validate the cancer that killed my mother.

For the sake of anyone else still alive who struggles with depression and suicide, please don’t suggest or wish that suicide is a valid way of finding peace. It’s not. It can’t be, not if we don’t want to lose more people the way we lost Robin Williams.

Photos, Novels, and Trips, Oh My

clarionwestIt’s been a busy August, and it’s likely to get even busier… more on that in a moment. But first, thanks to everyone who sponsored me in the Clarion West Write-a-thon. It’s been a fun Clarion season, with lots of get-togethers and writing evenings… and congrats to my friend Folly Blaine for finishing the full six-week workshop!

For the write-a-thon, my goal was to write the second draft of my current work in progress, Noah’s Dragon. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite finish that– I got about three-quarters of the way through. As I approached the end, I realized that the amount of work the end needed was going to be larger than what I had time for, and so instead of doing a full second draft, I worked on doing a read-through, and planning what needs to change in the third draft.

In the meantime, in addition to working on the third draft, I’m planning to write a synopsis and hopefully get things in shape so I can send out a few agent queries before I travel to Nepal for six weeks in the fall, starting in mid-September. Which will be its own bundle of planning work, even though I’m very much looking forward to it.

Earlier this year, I got an invitation from a friend travelling in Asia to hike the Annapurna Circuit, a three-week walk through the valleys and mountains of Nepal. And since I’ve never been to Asia, and this would be a dream backpacking trek in almost every sense of the word, I decided to seize the opportunity. Now my plane tickets are bought, my destination date is less than six weeks away, and there’s an ever-increasing list of things I want to accomplish in those six weeks before I leave.

One of the things I’ve actually managed to check off my list is rework my photography website, Journeys in Color, to include a comprehensive list of portrait packages, event photography, and retouching services for sale. If you live in the Seattle area, please take a look! I’m hoping to particularly cater to the geek and cosplay communities, since that’s what inspired my original passion in portrait photography.

I’ve also set up a shop where you can buy photo prints (including standard prints, bookmarks, cards and stamps) of selected pictures. You can also buy photos as digital backgrounds, for computers or mobile devices, which have been pre-cropped to 16×9 horizontal and vertical resolutions. If you enjoy seeing the pictures I post, and you’d like to support my photography, please consider taking a look at the store. If there are any pictures which you’d like to buy but that aren’t available in the store, send me a message and I’ll see what I can do!

So I’m attempting to be a bit more “commercial” with my photography. If you have any feedback on the site itself, or the shop, drop me a note via the contact link in the previous paragraph. Also, note that I won’t sell pictures of people without a release, so I won’t use any pictures that I take of cosplayers at cons for commercial purposes unless I have a written agreement with them to do so. I still plan to do hall cosplay, and I still plan to make digital copies of those pictures available for free to people who are in them– though I might offer people the ability to purchase physical prints if there turns out to be any demand for that.

Besides the big Nepal trip coming up, I’ve also gone a few smaller excursions, and had an awesome time. On Tuesday I got to go hiking with some good friends at Sunrise, on Mt. Rainier, up to the Mount Fremont Lookout. It was a fun day– the Sun was sweltering, but the breeze at 6500 feet generally kept us cool. It was also the 34th entry in my Journeys Around Seattle photo series, and you can read the entry and see the pictures at my photoblog here.

The previous week, I went backpacking at Garibaldi Provincial Park with my girlfriend, Lisa, for a few days. We camped on the edge of Lake Garibaldi, which was a beautiful shade of turquoise thanks to all the glacial runoff in the water. The Flickr set of those photos is here, but I’ll also be making some of those landscapes available as prints and pre-cropped backgrounds in my shop. (Did I mention I have a shop over at Journeys in Color?)

Anyway, that’s my life right now. If it seems focused on the photography side of things, that’s kind of because it is, but it’s also because I’ve got a lot of really cool travelling going on right now, and those sort of go hand in hand. I’m also reaching the point where I need to focus on getting the ol’ revenue stream going again, and photography is the first (but not the last) of those endeavours. My writing is still happening, as mentioned above, it’s just that writing tends to take much longer to pay dividends (or even to have interesting news updates).

Lots of cool stories, updates and pictures coming down the pipeline. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.

A Weekend Amongst the Writers

I spent last weekend at the Cascade Writers Workshop, a small three-day workshop full of panels, round-robin critiques, and the opportunity to meet and listen to fellow writers, agents, publishers, and editors. There were about 60 attendees, so it was small, and easy to meet and talk to not just other attendees, but speakers and group leaders as well.

The biggest part of the weekend was the small-group critique sessions. We were divided ahead of time into small groups of three to six people, each one led by a pro author, agent, or editor. We circulated manuscripts a month or so in advance and read them ahead of time, then met several times over the course of the weekend to go over everyone’s feedback, one story at a time. My critique leader was Lisa Rodgers, an agent with Jabberwocky Literary.

I submitted Chapter 1 of my novel-in-progress Noah’s Dragon, and got some great feedback from Lisa and the other group members. I was pleased to note that the part of the manuscript I was most worried about turned out to be one of people’s favorite parts– although, of course, there were other issues with the manuscript that I hadn’t anticipated. (Which is why we do these things!)

I enjoyed critiquing other folks’ work, too, and being able to probe in-depth into different people’s writing styles and see how they compare and contrast with my own. I’ve been doing critiques as part of a local writing group for some time, but this was a different group of people, and being able to see some different perspectives and writing styles from what I’m used to was a good experience.

I also got to pitch Noah’s Dragon to Lisa and another agent who attended, Bree Ogden of D4EO. It was my first experience doing a formal pitch of a novel, and I’m pretty pleased with how it went. Both responded positively, and gave me some good feedback, and I also learned a few things about how to construct a pitch, thanks to the pre-pitch practice session held the previous evening by Spencer Ellsworth.

But the best part was meeting new folks, making new friends (and getting to hang out with old friends!), and in general spending a few days among some fantastic, creatively-driven people. Whenever I go to a workshop like this, it reminds me that the field of fiction writing– while a very, very hard to make anything approaching a living– is full of awesome, friendly, hard-working, weird and imaginative people, and my desire to be a writer is at least partly driven by my desire to have such amazing folks as friends and colleagues. So to my critique group– David, Casey, Lisa, Haley, and Craig– and everyone else I met, thanks for an awesome weekend!

On an unrelated note, if you’re intrigued by the concept of a fireman who’s really a were-polar bear, in an erotic romance novel called Too Hot to Bear, you should totally click this link. Don’t mention my name if someone asks where you heard about it. I know nothing.

Ninja vanish!

Write-a-Thon Midpoint Progress Report

As part of the Clarion West Write-a-thon, I’ve been writing the second draft of my current work-in-progress novel, tentatively titled Noah’s Dragon. You can track my chapter-by-chapter progress in the Write-a-thon tab. Overall, I’m pretty happy with where I am– I’ve managed to stay on track with my goal of editing five chapters a week.

It hasn’t been perfectly smooth sailing, though. Some chapters are very easy to edit, while others require more work than writing them in the first place. So as I’ve worked, I’ve made a list of “Third Draft Changes”– things which I don’t have time to do now, but that I want to work on in the third draft. These may be scenes that need to be add, or overall things (like foreshadowing and explaining the magic system) that I’m working on now, but may need to be improved with an overall look in the third draft.

However, I’ve decided that this week I’m going to pause and essentially “backfill” by taking care of some of the items on that list now. I want to shore up what I’ve got of the second draft so I can finish strongly– I suspect the second half is probably going to require more work than the first half.

This is a shortened week, anyway. Starting on Thursday, and continuing through Sunday, I’ll be at the Cascade Writers Workshop, so my usual writing time this week is cut in half– which makes it a good time to pause in my chapter-by-chapter progress and shore up what I have, rather than rush through another five chapters this week.

There are 23 chapters total, so at five chapters per week in a six week write-a-thon, I had an extra week and a half in there anyway. Using this week to shore things up means I’m still on track to finish all 23 chapters by the end of the write-a-thon, and it’ll hopefully be a stronger effort for taking this extra time.

Meanwhile, at the Cascade Writers Workshop, I’ll be workshopping Chapter 1 of the novel, so I’ll hopefully walk away from this weekend with some more ideas of where to go as I finish up the second draft and for when I start the third. And of course, it’ll be a fun four days of hanging out with writers and hopefully recharging my creative batteries a bit. I’ll also have the chance to practice my book pitch in front of an agent, which is something I haven’t done before. I’m looking forward to it!

A Few Writing Updates

I haven’t blogged much about my writing lately, but it’s not because I haven’t been working on it. If anything, I’ve been afraid that by blogging about what I’m doing, I’ll jinx what’s been an otherwise productive few months. It seems like everytime I blog about a current project, I lose momentum on it… although that could also just be my paranoid writer self.

Anyway, I do have a few updates that I wanted to share:

1) I finished the rough draft of a new novel.

I’ve already posted this on Twitter and Facebook, so if you’ve already seen it there, I apologize for the repeat. But here I can actually go into a bit more detail. I started writing the rough draft of a new novel at the Rainforest Writers Retreat this year, and on June 15, I finished it. The draft is 70,180 words long, and was written in about three and a half months… which I’m pretty pleased with, considering I went through spells of multiple weeks where I didn’t work on it.

Of the three novel-length pieces I’ve finished, this is the one I’m happiest with, without a doubt. I’ll be workshopping Chapter 1 at the Cascade Writers Conference in July, and I’m looking forward to that. But in the meantime, I need to revise the rest of the novel, which brings me to the next item on the list.

2) I’ll be participating in the Clarion West Write-a-thon.

The Clarion West season is upon us, which means lots of author readings, writer socials, and of course the Write-a-thon, Clarion West’s big fundraiser and a good motivation to get some writing done. My goal will be to edit one full chapter a day, and a minimum of five per week. This is the summer, after all… have to save some room for hiking! (On that note, if you want to see photos from my hikes and various summer trips, check out my photoblog.)

But for the Write-a-thon, I’ll be trying to edit five chapters a week. The novel has 23 chapters, so it should take me just under five weeks to get through the whole thing. Any extra time, I’ll use for revision and cleanup of the overall work. People who’ve done a lot of editing might think I’m doing this backward, that I should do large-scale, overall edits and then go chapter-by-chapter… but I actually think the chapter-by-chapter process is going to work better for me personally. We’ll see how it goes. Despite the fact that this is my third novel-length piece that I’ve written, this is the first novel-length piece that I’ve edited, so I’ll be aiming to find the best process for me, and hopefully learning a lot in the process.

So with that said, please sponsor me! Clarion West is an awesome workshop for aspiring writers, and a great benefit to the writing community. But it’s expensive to run, and tuition isn’t cheap. It’d be nice to keep student costs down and increase the scholarship opportunities, and in that regard, every dollar helps. Think of it as a down payment toward the next generation of awesome science fiction & fantasy books.

3) I have a new short story coming out later in 2014.

Because of all the novel work I’ve been doing this year, my short stories have suffered. Nevertheless, I have written a couple– one of which I’m currently waiting to hear back from on its latest submission– but by and large I’m not writing or submitting short stories this year.

That said, it’s not entirely quiet on that front. I do have a short story, The Gatebuilders’ Daughter, which is due to appear in the magazine Stupefying Stories later this year. It may be a few months yet, but I’ll let you know when that appears.

So that’s about it for now, but I’ll let you know as more news comes. Between writing, photography, and hiking, it’s going to be a busy summer. I’m looking forward to it.

And on that note, Happy Solstice, everybody!

In Rememberance

First off, thanks to everyone who responded, in public and private, to my previous post. Clearly it hit a chord with folks– a somewhat scary and disturbing chord, perhaps, but a chord nonetheless. I hope it didn’t come off like I was trying to excuse or justify the killer’s actions, or even his feelings. There’s a difference between being able to understand how feelings might arise, and agreeing with or trying to justify them. My goal was to articulate a toxic culture– one that desperately needs to change– because of its potential to give rise to very hateful people.

But if you want to comment on that line of thought further, please do so on the previous post, or if you wish, feel free to contact me privately via any method in the Contact tab above. I’m writing this post because I want to focus on another aspect of the tragedy– and indeed, of all mass shootings, that bothers me a lot.

This was inspired by this Tumblr post and this WSJ article. The short version is that one of the motivations for mass killers is they want to be famous. They want to be remembered. They want society to recoil in horror from them, and they want their name to live in infamy. In doing so, they become far more famous and well-known than if they hadn’t killed anyone.

Well, fuck that noise. You’ll notice that in my posts and tweets, I haven’t mentioned the name of the killer, or linked directly to his words, one goddamn time, and I’m going to keep it that way. The mass shooters in places like Isla Vista, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Columbine, etc. don’t deserve to be remembered. They deserve to fade into the cesspool of history with hundreds of other faceless monsters and mass murderers. And in time they will– I just don’t think it happens fast enough.

I don’t want to remember the killers, but I do want to remember the victims. These people– who were very much like us, with families and loved ones and dreams and stories to tell and goals and hopes and aspirations far better and nobler than “mass murder”– these are the people that deserve to be memorialized and remembered. We should remember their names, then we should do what we can to ensure that the list of victims does not get any longer.

I hate that I can easily remember the name of the Sandy Hook shooter, but can barely remember the name of one victim, no matter how hard I try to remind myself, because the shooter’s name was repeated ad nauseum but the victims’ names blurred into a long list. There’s no too much that can be done about that now, particularly the latter part.

But here’s my challenge: I’ve listed the names of victims from some of the most well-known mass shootings in modern American history; ones in which you may know the killer’s names, but probably not the victims’. Pick just a few of these names, and try to commit them to memory. Try and make those one or two names be what you remember when you think of those tragedies– not the perpetrators, but the victims. Remember the victims. There’s a lot of them, but if each of us can remember a few, maybe the names and identities of the victims might outlast the killers in our individual and collective memories.

In each case, I’ve linked to a source with more information on each victim, if you’d like to read about their stories. I encourage you to do so– it will help you remember the names that you pick.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of shootings. It simply can’t be. But if there’s one you’d like to add to the list, if can add a link in the comments to a compilation of information of the victims, I will add it.

Isla Vista, California
May 23, 2014

Katherine Breann Cooper

Cheng Yuan Hong

George Chen

Weihan Wang

Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez

Veronika Elizabeth Weiss

 

Newtown, Connecticut
December 14, 2012

Charlotte Bacon

Daniel Barden

Rachel D’Avino

Olivia Engel

Josephine Gay

Dylan Hockley

Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung

Madeleine F. Hsu

Catherine V. Hubbard

Chase Kowalski

Nancy Lanza

Jesse Lewis

Ana Marquez-Greene

James Mattioli

Grace McDonnell

Anne Marie Murphy

Emilie Parker

Jack Pinto

Noah Pozner

Caroline Previdi

Jessica Rekos

Avielle Richman

Lauren Rousseau

Mary Sherlach

Victoria Soto

Benjamin Wheeler

Allison N. Wyatt

 

Oak Creek, Wisconsin
August 5, 2012

Suveg Singh Khattra

Satwant Singh Kaleka

Ranjit Singh

Sita Singh

Paramjit Kaur

Prakash Singh

 

Aurora, Colorado
July 20, 2012

Jonathan Blunk

Alexander J. Boik

Jesse Childress

Gordon Cowden

Jessica Ghawi

John Larimer

Matt McQuinn

Micayla Medek

Veronica Moser-Sullivan

Alex Sullivan

Alexander C. Teves

Rebecca Wingo

 

Blacksburg, Virginia
April 16, 2007

Ross A. Alameddine

Christopher James Bishop

Brian R. Bluhm

Ryan Christopher Clark

Austin Michelle Cloyd

Jocelyne Couture-Nowak

Kevin P. Granata

Matthew Gregory Gwaltney

Caitlin Millar Hammaren

Jeremy Michael Herbstritt

Rachael Elizabeth Hill

Emily Jane Hilscher

Jarrett Lee Lane

Matthew Joseph La Porte

Henry J. Lee

Liviu Librescu

G.V. Loganathan

Partahi Mamora Halomoan Lumbantoruan

Lauren Ashley McCain

Daniel Patrick O’Neil

Juan Ramon Ortiz-Ortiz

Minal Hiralal Panchal

Daniel Alejandro Perez Cueva

Erin Nicole Peterson

Michael Steven Pohle, Jr.

Julia Kathleen Pryde

Mary Karen Read

Reema Joseph Samaha

Waleed Mohamed Shaalan

Leslie Geraldine Sherman

Maxine Shelly Turner

Nicole Regina White

 

Jefferson County, Colorado
April 20, 1999

Cassie Bernall

Steve Curnow

Corey DePooter

Kelly Fleming

Matt Kechter

Daniel Mauser

Daniel Rohrbaugh

Dave Saunders

Rachel Scott

Isaiah Shoel

John Tomlin

Lauren Townsend

Kyle Velasquez