Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wednesday, Lovely Wednesday

At some point in my journey, I realized I was not the kind of writer who liked being an island.  I'm more of a peninsula.  Oh, I love my alone time.  In fact, I'm notorious for 'nesting' in my home, working on my fiction, and having limited interactions with the rest of the real world beyond these fortress walls.  When I do venture forth, normally it's to enjoy a movie at the cinema with my squeeze or to shop for groceries. Sometimes it's only once in a full week, on Wednesday nights when I attend my writer's group meeting.

I joined this group in early 2011 when it met in the loud and chaotic cafe of the local big book retailer. Toward the end of the same year, facing greater hostility from the store's management over ridiculous reasons (not enough of us swiped membership cards on Wednesday nights, though all of us bought drinks, whole meals, and plenty of books and magazines there weekly) and getting elbowed out by other groups claiming the increasingly limited table space, we relocated to a small coffee and donut shop in a strip mall that, against all expectations and assumptions, has become to me proof of the Divine.  Despite no WiFi for laptops, brutal heat on one memorable July night when the air conditioning died, teeth-chattery cold on a recent January Wednesday, the occasional crazy customer, and robust coffee aroma that impregnates whatever clothes one wears to meetings, I have grown to love that venue like a home away from home. On most Wednesday nights, I arrive a few hours early, hopefully snag my favorite seat at the big round table beside the only public plug, turn on my laptop, and listen to music or favorite TV episodes on CD, like Space:1999 or Stargate Atlantis.  I order a drink, a bagel, uncap my pen, and the fresh pages flow. In December, I spent an entire pre-meeting visit jotting unwritten ideas on note cards as part of my end-of-year organization, getting the bones down on all those near-future adventures.  And it all felt like a blessing.  So much fun, it should be illegal.

But what has made Wednesday nights so unique and such a gift are my fellow writers, who routinely thrill, inspire, and captivate me with their newest offerings.  It has been my pleasure to see so many of them evolve and notch the first of what will amount to many publication credits. Though I'm frequently a zombie from the scalp down after six p.m. and hear the siren-song of my bed calling from across the miles, I am seduced by their prose, fall in love with their characters, and count my lucky stars for being in such talented company.  I completely believe that many of my comrades-in-pen will grace shelf space in that same big bookstore that didn't want our weekly visits.  One or two, I'm convinced, will become household names.  My writer's group is that good.

Last night, I attended what will be my last visit for a while.  Our little family is about to embark on a new journey to the grand old house in the hills we purchased, a hundred and fifty-odd miles from that strip mall that feels so much like home.  Being part German, I tend to not show much emotion (don't ask the many writer's group members who bore witness at my recent Sweet 1,000 Party, where I blubbed nonstop while reading from my 1,000th work of fiction, "Alibe's Story"; I'm not sure where the endless stream of tears originated -- in the story's subject matter or as a result of the occasion's scope. Maybe both).  But as I sat and wrote on my final Wednesday night in the coffee shop before the move, part of me was overwhelmed.  The other stemmed the waterworks by reminding me that I will return, and joyous reunions await in the not-too-distant future.  Already, plans are underway for a long weekend retreat to nearby Maine, where I and my fellow attendees will write, eat, read, and dream. We're hosting our maiden Sunday all-day writer's party up at our new home in May and, though I've already been invited to join a new local creative group in our soon-to-be adopted town that meets 2/10ths of a mile from my front door, I plan to pop down on Wednesday nights from time to time, just not as frequently.

Until then, I will love this new beginning and stately hilltop home to the fullest, write and polish and submit, and savor the many wonderful memories of my times at that table, with those outstanding writers and people, the finest of the fine, the best of the best.  Until we meet again, they'd better keep creating -- and save a seat for me!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Number 1,000

(Upper Left, in honor of my 500th; Upper Right, for Number 100)
Though I have never been great at math, for me certain numbers are charged with as much power as the most magical of words.  311, for instance -- the number of men and women stationed on Moonbase Alpha in the late, great Gerry Anderson's outer space parable, Space:1999. From the moment I first picked up my pen, 311 or combinations thereof have acted as signals or portents around me. This past summer, the number in perfect sequence began appearing on license plates throughout my fair state of New Hampshire, at a time when I was gearing up for another number that has held awesome power over my life for a long time: the Number 1,000.

Many years ago, while watching a biography of the luminous Rod Serling, who wrote over 1,000 stories, short and long, and numerous scripts for both television and the big screen, that number lodged in my grey matter.  I had written some 200 short stories, novellas, and even a handful of novels by that time.  The impetus to reach 1,000 imprinted on my psyche, my soul, and for twenty-two years it became not only a goal, but a concluding point as well.  I believed that the millennium mark would punctuate the end of my journey, which I have so loved with all my heart.  It has been my reason for living.

On May 28, 1982, a humid and overcast Friday, I labored throughout that day's high school classes to complete my 100th work of fiction, a rousing Space:1999 novella called "Arrival to Palmeron."  Two stories earlier, I'd introduced a race of bellicose androids into my fan fiction continuation of the series. The Palmerons were based upon the many bullies and brutes who made my three and a half high school years miserable -- because they were artificial life forms, I could destroy them and bring them back, again and again (thanks to the Palmeron 'Personality Imprinter' construct), my own secret imaginary war against real world enemies.  I got in trouble for writing in Mr. Mills' chemistry class that afternoon.  I wrote on the bus.  I raced home and wrote, because my mother, bless her, was throwing a "Happy 100" party for me, complete with a guest list of my small but wonderful circle of friends. Diane Elaine Gauthier didn't have a lot of resources to draw upon, but she crafted an award certificate on a pilfered sheet of my typing paper, made the best cake in the history of cakes in celebration -- golden, with milk chocolate frosting, shredded coconut, and a cherry on top, the same cake I once mentioned was my favorite from boyhood birthdays growing up in the big woods of Windham, New Hampshire. And since this was a costume party, she had stitched together a mock-up of the uniform worn by Lorne Greene as Commander Adama on the original Battlestar Galactica, my second-favorite TV show.  To address the discrepancy of Adama's silver hair, she shook baby powder into my luxurious Lebanese Afro. Throughout that muggy May night, sweat poured, and liquefied baby powder ran out of my locks and down my costume.

(My Sweet 1,000 cake, in tribute to Number 100)
At the party, held in the basement of a house I haven't visited in a million light-years, I sat on the floor, careful not to drip onto the pages, and finished "Arrival to Palmeron" while records played on the record player, and my friends danced and ate and talked.  There was no alcohol involved, nothing illicit took place.  It was all very civilized when you consider it.  And incredibly fun. One for the history books, truly. It's part of my history that I am supremely proud of.

In February of 2000, during a horrible time in my life following my mother's death from the Big C, I reached what I assumed was the halfway point with another 1999 tale, a 300-page novel that again found the Alphans facing off against a new race of Palmerons on a vaster scale than ever before. Planetkill 6: Hands Across Space was the sixth installment of a monstrous eight-story series that tallied to nearly 1,500 pages by its conclusion.  All of my noteworthy numbers -- 1, 50, 100 -- had been 1999 fan fic stories, and so, too was 500.  My writer's group at the time commemorated the occasion with cake and an award plaque, which still hangs on the wall of my Writing Room, thirteen years hence.

In 2007, on the first of three weekend writer's retreats spent in the White Mountains with my group before resigning after sixteen years over the deplorable behavior of some new members, I penned my 700th, a 1999 novella called "Moon City".  Camped on a cozy sofa beneath my headphones with the show's emotionally-charged Year 2 soundtrack playing, tears flowed along with a continuous succession of fresh longhand pages.  The tears were misinterpreted for sadness by some of my fellow attendees, forcing me to put down my fountain pen long enough to clarify: I wasn't crying because I was sad -- I was supremely happy.  Writing is powerful stuff.

In 2010, during one of the most difficult years of my life, something as uplifting in contrast occurred: I penned 100 works of fiction -- six novellas, three novels, a short script, the rest a mix of flash and short stories.  Through a devastating medical diagnosis, loss of work, and a house foreclosure, I wrote nonstop. I sold numerous stories and all of the novels penned during that time.  Writing ultimately saved our small family, each of those contracts, the big and the tiny alike, coming in when needed most.  And in July of that year, I penned Number 800, my 1999 novella, "The World at the End of All".

After two productive years in a new rented home, the Number 1,000 loomed.  I have a lot of ideas. They're my babies.  I write a lot, and try to finish everything I start, those worthy of publication, and those I pen only for my own enjoyment.  In other words, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  At one point, I released the notion that the Number 1,000 was an ending point.  I didn't, however, let go of the desire to make my 1,000th a 1999 tale, as all the other Big Numbers were, despite having mostly written out the universe over the course of thirty-seven years.  Seated in my Writing Room with episodes of Space:1999 playing on my laptop, I asked myself if there was one story I had yet to write, one I wanted to in honor of that powerful equation.  And I soon had an answer.

(With my lovely lifelong pal, CathyAnn St. Jean-Lemieux January 27, 2013
at my Sweet 1,000 Party)
Toward the end of 1999's run, actress Alibe Parsons appeared in three episodes as the moon bases's communication's officer, "Alibe Kurand." Parsons, also featured in the early scene of Aliens where Sigourney Weaver's "Ripley" suffers the nightmare of an alien ripping through her stomach, delivered an impressive and layered performance in her sparse time on screen.  I would write Alibe's back-story, starting in her grandmother's home north of Boston, when she first dons her Moonbase Alpha regulation uniform, and is told she will do great things during what is believed will be a short tour of duty.  I wrote through the emotional devastation after Earth's moon breaks out of orbit, followed through by penning narrative to all of the character's individual scenes in her three episode appearances, and then placed Alibe, seemingly alone, in a no-win scenario against the Palmerons. The story swelled to novella length.  I shared the Palmeron pages of "Alibe's Story", some 3,000 words in all, to a packed house during my Sweet 1,000 party's reading portion, and life came full-circle. Decades in the making, one of the biggest blessings of January 27, 2013 was the surprise attendance of my wonderful friend CathyAnn, who was there way-back-when on that muggy May night in 1982 for my 100th.

And so, the Number 1,000 was made manifest, not with trumpets or special effects, but chocolate coconut cake and special friends, real and imaginary.  Members of my talented present writer's group arrived en masse. We ate from a magnificent buffet spread, we sipped sodas and iced coffees, laughed and read and celebrated this magical gift we all love so dearly.  And the next morning, I picked up my pen and started work on Number 1001.  Number 2000, here I come!