Music for Vampires, Part 2

So there we were, combing through 5,000 rods to bloody our fingertips on a single needle.

And all the while there is fear. Horrible, oppressive, heart squeezing fear. Fear that there are no other vampires like you. Fear that you're beneath their notice. Fear that they're all vampires, and you're the only one who isn't in on the joke. But mostly, there's the fear of irrelevance, that your actions, no matter how magical and strange, have no meaning because you're the only one who thinks they do. That's where solipsism comes into the Black Year, because after going through the entire pile twice, you might decide you don't care if it's real, and that's a very dangerous place to be for someone flammable.

You bring your fingers to your lips in horror. They taste of blood.

Sheer, f-ing panic. Was that a glint in the crowd? Did the pile shift? And meanwhile, the other vampire watching you is thinking, "Stop flapping around, you idiot. You're going to give us away." You take a breath, remember you own the night, and start to dance. I think that might be a glorious moment, if you can shut out the thought you're dancing alone.

Sometimes, I think the Agency was founded to fill out vampires' dance cards, and the monster hunting just a happy coincidence.

 

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Intimacy

I keep a list of people's names, drawn in lipstick.

Actually, Twitter keeps it for me, and it's not really their names, it's their handles. Confuses the heck out of me when they change their display name and their picture, but I hope it makes them happy.

I keep a list because 95% of my followers have never talked to me. I don't know who they are, or what their dreams are. I don't know if they've read my book, or if they liked it. They're like the people sitting across from me on a city square, eating their lunch, maybe watching me spill ketchup in my lap but not offering me a napkin, and that's fine because social media is mostly watching interesting weirdos who can't keep their pants clean.

But every once in a while, a stranger will like a post, and I'll take a look at their feed and I'll like or retweet what I laugh at or think you would like. It's a nice little acknowledgement, but we'll probably never meet again.

If they do it a couple times, I add them to the list.

I have a pretty busy life - time is never abundant - so I pretty much never look at the main feed. Those 15 retweets of that thing you're selling? Didn't see it. I check on my friends. These are people I've been social more than once. I know stuff about them. They matter.

They're people like Somer, who always posts things I want to eat when I can't have them and tells great one-liners, or  J.L. who wanders America taking kicking pictures and being profoundly human. They're G.S. and Andy, who write great sci-fi books (Andy mostly breaks--repurposes--things) and are still madly in love with each other after years of marriage, or Tim, who's just a dude, I guess, but tells a great yarn and is also incredibly sharp when it comes to being an indie author. They're about 200 in all, those are just some of the more public personalities.

I'd say that 99% of my social media enjoyment comes from people on that list. Many of them have not read my book, and I'm cool with that, because they know me. They interact. They care. They may not be songbirds, wombles, cats, or bears as their profiles might suggest, but they take time out of their day to see how mine went.

It's why I don't auto-DM people. It's why I write a different email to every person who joins my mailing list, and if they answer, so do I. I think it's important. When the robot invasion comes, it's the only way we're going to be able to recognize the real people.

I guess the point I'm making is that if you're spectating, you're missing out. Can I talk to 200 people every day? No. Can I take a meaningful peek into their lives once in a while and cheer them on? And is it worth it? Absolutely.

So if you're passing through Twitter, give this guy a napkin and start a conversation. He's friendly, and they're just ketchup stains, honest. 

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Quiet

Sometimes the city holds its breath.

I grew up in a little big city. Monaco is 30,000 people crammed quite comfortably into one square mile, mostly by building vertically and occasionally by reclaiming land on the sea. There's a rhythm to cities like that, where people overlap people until they fill every silence. The day is traffic, voices raised, things being dropped, and the night? Water rushing through pipes, far-off sirens, the occasional drunken argument or someone discovering they've got the entire street to themselves and gunning it. It's like that in Monaco, New York, Geneva, and any other city I've lived in or visited. The city snores, and you either hate it or look at it fondly when it wakes you.

Sometimes it stops mid-breath and it's just you and a glowing screen, the hum of electricity, and maybe the sound of typing keys. I heard it happen for the first time in the smaller apartment we moved to when my mom got divorced. I'd stayed up to read and the city paused, and suddenly it was like the whole city was mine. Those moments were always holy to me. They're probably how I wound up nocturnal.

It's 11:50 p.m. and Geneva just held its breath. Archive's "Collapse/Collide" is playing on my computer, and I'm the only person alive. It's just a pause - in a second, a bar door will open and someone will stumble back to their apartment. A car door will shut. Glass will settle in a dumpster, and the city will roll over and start breathing again. Maybe it's dreaming.

I'm home.

 

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I'm Disappointed, and it's Wonderful

A week doesn’t go by when I’m not disappointed in myself, and I think that’s great.

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A dream / a parable

Had a cool dream last night.

I was a warrior in a society where the king could be challenged to a duel for the crown. The king was kind of a Nordic badass, though old, sitting on his throne in full chainmail with his sword at hand to answer pretenders, his grey beard hanging over the steel rings, and a brown bear's pelt as a cloak, covering his shoulders and clasped around his neck.

So I challenged him and the ritual began. He walked down the steps to the throne, slow and deliberate as I'd expect for a man his age, and we headed to the chapel a few hundred yards from the throne room. The king walked ahead of me, neither looking to the left nor right, across a marsh, his feet splashing through the water. I looked down and I could see for several feet down, and it was a living coral reef, full of anemones and various types of algae and fish. Beautiful. Then I realised I'd sunk halfway up my shins. I raised my feet to follow after the king, and my feet found purchase on top of the water, but I felt weak. The king's steps were still slow and deliberate, but I could barely keep up.

As we reached the chapel steps, an undulating monster made of ropes and moss flowed across the stone, growling, but with the smoothness of practice, the king pulled a head-sized stone from a wall and dropped it on the creature, pinning it in place. I edged around it, heading into the chapel.

A bell tolled. Inside was warm, torchlit space just short of cathedral size that could have fit 50 people. Three women sat in stalls to the left of the door, brunettes with full, painted lips and a chalice full of rose petals. "To make us drink, you must sing us the music of the ceremony." They were quite pretty. The bell still ringing, I committed the tone to memory. The king was already walking back, his step sure and forceful, like he was a younger man. He looked at me with amusement and walked straight past the three women and out the door.

I shuffled to the front of the church. An organ played, and I strained to remember the notes for the three women. I reached the dais and a priest said, "Hurry, or you'll miss it!" I lunged forward to catch half a handful of water that trickled down from a stalactite and drank it, the music still playing, and I felt young and strong again. I had the strongest feeling that the priest was corrupt and that the chapel was obscenely opulent compared to the king's throne room and the marsh. In thinking that, I forgot the music, so I left the chapel without singing to the three women.

I walked across the marsh, looking neither to the left or right, knowing that if I looked down I would see everything I wanted, but that looking would mean I would never reach those goals. I also realized that both I and the king were made strong and young by the failures of others - the water in the chapel had to come from somewhere.

All that was left was to face the king, made fit to fight by my lost life force. Then my wife came home from the grocery store and I woke up.

Thoughts?

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Friends with Benefits

Didn’t have time to post something in a while, so here goes.

I don’t just want readers. I know that sounds strange, but bear with me and it will make more sense.

When I started the whole social media thing, it was to sell books. I write a pretty good yarn, and sometimes I’m funny, and I’d rather do that than wear a suit every day which means I need to get paid for it. That and I like telling stories. I’ve been shot at, bitten by a police dog, buried friends, saved others, and manned a helm during 35 degree pitching, so I’ve got some pretty good ones to tell.

But I’ve also met some cool people in the past few months (that’d be you), and it’s improved my quality of life beyond my suitless expectations. I like reading about your day, making smartass comments about your posts, and fending off your own witticisms. I love geeking out about my book with you too, it makes the writing more fun, and I put more of what you enjoy in the next book.

The feed is going well, I’m only getting unfollowed by people I don’t follow back (p0rn, offers to buy followers, etc.), but that also means I can’t keep up with everyone’s feed anymore. I read your feed the first time you followed me (you might have noticed me favorite some of your posts, and retweet others), and if you’re happy with that level of interaction I’m glad, hope I make you laugh, give my book a try sometime.

But if I make you laugh regularly, stop by and say hi. Comment, favorite stuff, and retweet it of course, but better yet start a conversation. Do I want readers? Yes please, in the thousands if possible. But I’d be stoked to have more friends who like my books.

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Top Shelf

When I was about eight years old, I got it into my head I was going to read a grown-up book, so I carried a stool to the bookshelf and pulled Stephen King's "IT" off the top shelf.

It was a 1000+ page monster, and, after dragging it up to my platform bed, I read every single page and understood about half of them (not because the writing was difficult - it was remarkably clear - but some of the ideas were beyond me).

After that, there was no such thing as a grown-up book; there were only interesting ones and boring ones. I moved from "The Hardy Boys" to Ken Follett, Michael Creighton, Wilbur Smith, and Tom Clancy. "The Silmarillion" was a quagmire, but I tore through "The Hobbit," "The Lord of the Rings," and "The Chronicles of Narnia" without pause. I wish I'd had a tool like Goodreads back then, because I'd love to know what I thought of them at the time. A friend's father turned me onto the "Discworld" books (thanks, Mr. Cooper), and the military fed me entire lists of recommended reading.

I was on my way back from a wedding, recently, when my plane was delayed by a conscientious pilot and a flat tire (it takes both). Since I had an hour to kill, I picked up "Mr. Mercedes" at an airport kiosk and started going through it (Review here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1289198659). There were no supernatural elements except a vague sense of fate, but I didn't feel let down like some reviewers. Reading Stephen King as a new writer is a different experience from reading it as an eager kid.

I like to think I appreciate the finesse of his work more. It's no longer the adrenaline rush of a spectator, but the pleasure of seeing a fellow practitioner do something well. I admired the spareness of the prose, the way he maintained the tension of the plot and twisted it whenever it became predictable. I realized on several occasions I was out of my depth and have a LOT to learn, but also noticed some things (alright, two of them) I would have done differently. 

I've come a long way from tracing lines I had a hard time with, my head resting on a giant stuffed lion, but that little thrill of reaching for something that's  beyond me is still there. It's just going to take a little stubbornness, a couple decades, and a whole lot of writing.

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About Swans

I moved to Geneva, Switzerland, this year, doing a job that has me working 50 hours or more a week, plus the occasional working lunch or dinner, at my desk. Also, I live in the same building I work in. As you can imagine, after about a month or two of this, the little Marine voice in me sat me down for a serious talk and said, Bodden, you're getting soft.

So I take kung fu lessons on Saturdays. I'm going to try to make the weekday classes, but Saturday is a requirement, and as much as I hate dragging myself out of bed in the morning, I always feel better afterward. The city seems prettier, the colors brighter, the people more interesting.

This week, on my way home, I stopped and got strawberry gelato from a street vendor, laughed at a small dog, and put five bucks in a busker's flute case because every hero needs mood music as he walks.

And then I saw the swan. You know how birds generally react to humans? They either ignore you or scatter, depending on how close you are or fast you're moving. The sparrows were congregating around a small child tossing bread crumbs, the ducks were quacking at each other, and the swan - spotting me at the same time I turned toward it - just slowed in its glide.

It was like I could hear it thinking, Is today the day? Is today the day I get to #$%* UP A HUMAN? Hmm... I guess not.

As soon as we'd passed each other, it turned and sped back up, and I started walking at a normal pace again.

Swans are pretty cool.

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