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---by S.A. Barton

I have moved!

2013 January 12
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Posted by sbart023

I have moved my primary blogging efforts to sabarton.com.

I won’t say I’ll never update here again… never say never.  But I’m spending most of my time over there now.  Come take a look, and adjust your bookmarks. :-)

—S. A. Barton

The Story Isn’t Always About What It’s About

2012 December 18
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This was a hard one to write (find it on Smashwords; within a week or two of the publication date of this entry it will also appear with other ebook sellers linked in the right sidebar of this blog).

It wasn’t hard to write because of the subject matter.  Crowded Earths are a common feature of science fiction and have been for decades.  I crowded this one more than any other that I can think of, leaving even Asimov’s metal-paved galactic capitol of Trantor looking like a half-deserted podunk town.  Perhaps you’ll think I crowded it to an implausible degree, or perhaps humans are as ridiculously clever and adaptable as I imply when I describe the world of A Hell of Heaven.

And that brings me to what I mean with that title I put up there at the top of this entry.  Yes, this is a story about a crowded future, two societies in that crowded future, and how they interact.  But ultimately, in less than 5,000 words, all I’m able to show you are outlines.  And I like that, outlines give the reader’s imagination a lot of room to roam in.

But this is less a story about population pressure and more about human flexibility, adaptability, and just how far humans can and will go to preserve a way of life.  The main character, Willem, is barely recognizable as human, and the society he is a member of is even less so.  But he is human and the society is human.  Maybe you’ll read this and say to yourself, ‘there is no way human beings would ever tolerate living like that’.  But maybe, too, I’ll have told the story well enough that you will come away questioning whether or not you’re right, and whether or not the progress of a few dozen centuries could warp human life into something you wouldn’t believe if you saw it.

This story takes place somewhere around 5,000 years in the future.  To a person living 5,000 years ago, WE are the far future.  Most of the human race then were hunter-gatherers or nomadic herdsfolk; cities were far and few between and we’d be scandalized by the heinously unsanitary conditions even there.  Imagine what one of those nomads would think if we showed them a skyscraper full of office workers, a factory farm, a highway, a satellite launch, a modern war.

They wouldn’t even think we were people, living like that.  They’d think we were gods, demons, or something else entirely, but not people.

Tea Party Cows

2012 November 15
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Posted by sbart023

Maybe you’ve heard of politics explained in terms of two cows?

I thought I’d take a moment to add my thoughts on the Tea Party, explained in terms of cow ownership:

You own 2 cows.   You give one to a rancher who owns almost all of the cows to help him stop the election of people who want to keep one rancher from owning all the cows.  You blame immigrants for the fact that you own only one cow.

I’m going to have to be the one who blinks, aren’t I?

2012 October 12
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DON’T CLICK THE PICTURE. CLICK THIS TEXT RIGHT HERE.

I discovered something annoying a couple of days ago.  To my further annoyance, this experience showed me a couple of things that I habitually don’t like paying attention to.

First, the annoying thing.  After probably more consideration than it should have taken, I had settled on a pricing scheme for my writing.  Unless I decided to make the story free, under 5000 words = 99 cents, under 10,000 but more than 5000 = $1.49, 10K to 20K = $1.99, over 20K = $2.99.

And then I clicked through a couple of thumbnails on the iBookstore to make sure that when Smashwords takes the titles I publish with them and distributes them, it’s all looking good on the other end of the distribution pipleline.

It turns out that Apple’s iBookstore doesn’t like my radical nonconformist $1.49 price point.  It’s been rounding those suckers up to $1.99.  Well, darn.  Doesn’t seem like a big deal?  Well, it’s kind of not.  It’s a difference of 50 cents either way.  It’s just that I had kind of set up this real estate in my head: ‘this story is kinda longish, but it’s not so long that I think I should be asking a whole extra buck for it’.   That territory only exists in my head because I realized a while ago that a lot of folks are offering novel-length work for $2.99 online– especially self-published types like me.  It’s actually a pretty practical strategy, keeping prices low, because with self-publishing the author sees a bigger percentage of the sale price than with traditional publishing.  And of course, some things wouldn’t work at all with traditional publishing.  Like publishing short stories individually, which is what I do.

At first, I was really annoyed.  Like, more annoyed than I should be.  That was my reaction, because, let’s face it, I react to a lot of things like that.  I have a learned (I think) tendency to overreact.  “What the hell is wrong with Apple, that they can’t handle something simple like charging $1.49 for something?” I asked nobody in particular out loud, aggrieved.

And then I said to myself, “shaddap, Stuart.  This calls for adaptation, not complaint.”

Could I jump on my Twitter account, start blogging, email… a bunch of somebodies at Apple, I guess?  Start a campaign of outcry for the wild and strange $1.49 price point?  Sure I could.

Could I accept that Apple just seems to handle pricing in dollar increments, probably because it keeps things simple for them and their customers?  Yeah, I could do that too.  But, my internal grump complains, that’s more work for me.  I’m going to have to edit all my prices on Smashwords, edit prices at Amazon to match, edit the pricing paradigm that I keep in my own precious skull.

Well, it sounds like less work than trying to start a grassroots charge to get Apple to change to conform to my expectations.  And changing my prices is probably WAY more likely to work.  And, after all, is the difference between 4,000 words and 6,000 words really a big enough deal to make a price difference?  Yes and no… but so what?  A few cents here and there aren’t going to make or break me as a writer.  Concentrating on good writing that others might be willing to buy and getting it to where interested people are going to see it, that’s going to make the real difference.

Commence ‘Operation: Repricing’.  This time, I’m going to be the one who adapts.  Look, I don’t like to adapt sometimes.  Sometimes, change seems like a big chore.  But if I let it be a big chore, I’m going to be unhappy, because change is a constant.  I’m going to run into a lot of things that are bigger than I am, like the Apple iBookstore.  There are times and places that taking the hard road and saying ‘no’ to something bigger than I am is the correct choice.

But wisdom is in identifying when taking a stand is appropriate, and when it doesn’t make any sense.  I’m not claiming to be particularly wise.  I’m just wondering why in the world I wasted even ten seconds being grumpy about this.  As a reader, I like 99 cents for a short story.  Now, why didn’t I just listen to my internal reader in the first place?  Silly me.

Dammit, Mr. Armstrong, We Should Have Showed You

2012 August 26
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Neil Armstrong is dead.

The man had a good run.  As a boy, he wanted to fly airplanes.  He grew up to be a pilot.  Then he became an astronaut and walked on the moon.  He went on to live a full life the way he wanted, privately and without fanfare, in the arms of his family.  He was 82 when he died.

A good run, yes.

He was always best known for being the first human to set foot on the moon– no surprise there.  Generations have grown up, especially in the USA but worldwide, seeing his footprint, hearing of his unique place in history and taking it as inspiration.  In the years leading up to the moon shot, and for years afterward, science fiction writers wrote of space stations and lunar colonies in the future of the 1970s.  Then the 1980s.  Perhaps the 1990s.  Surely by the year 2000.

All those times have come and gone.  We’ve put innumerable satellites in orbit, sent probe after probe to this planet and that.  But, shortly after Neil broke trail, we stopped sending people.

It was too expensive, too distracting.  There were hungry people– or, more often, hungry corporations and wars to feed here at home.  Maybe there’s nothing out there, and even if there is, we can find it right here on Earth faster, easier, and cheaper.

We’ve always said such things to explorers.  Ultimately, we’ve always been wrong, we homebodies.  We always call the adventurous fools in the beginning, and with good reason.  A lot of them die.  At least, a higher percentage die young than do those who stay at home.  A lot of them fail.  Well, so do a lot of people who try new things.  Who venture into the uncertain.  Some of them turn out to be just plain nuts, chasing hallucinations.  Those are the ones we point at when we call the rest of them fools.

The thing is, we’d never have gotten anywhere, we overgrown primates, without our risk-taking crazy explorers of outer and inner space.  Our first distant ancestors who ventured out of the primeval forests in Africa, the ones who braved the strange terrain and powerful oceans to reach Europe, Asia, Australia, the Americas, and the later ones, the ones we know of by name.  Some heroes, some villains; most of them a mix of the two, or as I like to call them, imperfect humans.  The Marco Polos, the Buddhas, the Gandhis, the Columbuses (oh, brave and visionary scoundrel and villain!).  The MLKs, the Malcom Xes, the… maybe you get my drift.  The people who stuck their necks out, for good and ill.

Mr. Armstrong was one of them.  Like all of them, he may have gotten the spotlight, but he’d never have gotten anywhere without a lot of others helping in one way or another: breaking trail with wild ideas before the world was ready, being part of the team, following after and capitalizing on what was discovered or inspired.

In the case of Mr. Armstrong and all the others who went to the moon, we’ve fallen down on the job of following up.  When he walked on the moon, he was under 40.  When he died, he was over 80.  We treated him to more than 40 years of watching the world fumble around lukewarmly, hemming and hawing about whether or not it would be a good idea to poke our beaks a little farther out of the eggshell we’d just cracked.

It seems, for the time being, that we’d rather just sit around in the shell where it’s safe and familiar.

That’s not the way it should be.  It’s not the way individual humans progress and it’s not the way the human race improves itself.

Take it from someone who has stuck his neck out once or twice and profited.

As Always

2012 August 23
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Image courtesy of www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As always, my life is in flux.

This isn’t remarkable.  It’s how lives work, no matter how hard we try to– misguidedly– keep them static.  Things are always fluxed up, if you’ll pardon the completely terrible and suggestive-of-naughty pun.

This blog is a wonderful expression of that.  It started as a way to get my own head in order back when I stopped drinking.  Abuse, whether it is of alcohol, drugs, or… well, just about any kind of abuse you can think of… screws your head up.  It helps to write things down.  That makes you think about them, and separate the helpful thoughts from the not-helpful thoughts.

So this started as a ‘recovery blog’, entirely dedicated to the process of getting off the sauce.

It stayed that way for awhile.  Getting off the sauce, it turns out, takes a lot of your attention for quite awhile.  Perhaps, if you’ve done the same, it went faster for you.  I hope so.  But if not, don’t feel too bad.  A lot of people never get off it.  You can visit some of them in the cemetery; at least, the ones whose bodies were found.

Now it’s been a few years, and the last couple, my attention has really been wandering from this recovery thing.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a big part of my life.  It sort of had to be.  Being addicted to alcohol was the biggest thing in my life for years and years.  Not going back to that has to be at the top of the priority list.  It might be the biggest *single* thing in my life, because without sobriety there goes all the rest, the things that make life worth living to me.

But it’s not the biggest thing in my life overall.  As the good things have expanded, staying sober has stayed on top, but all the good things that follow it have become, together, bigger and more life-filling than sobriety alone.

A baby.  Because that’s really short and the next sentence is way longer, let me repeat that.  A BABY*.   To date, twenty-five e-titles on Smashwords.  I’m updating covers and links in twenty of them, a couple of titles at a time, and listing them on Goodreads as I go.

I’m still tinkering with a memoir, word by occasional word.  There are plenty of other things going on at the same time, some of which you may see here in future posts.

And this blog… well, there was nothing *wrong* with it.  But I found myself being moved to add to it less often.

I had a choice to make.  Close this blog down, and start a new one if I felt the urge, on a new topic.

Or, I could roll with the changes.  I sort of kind of half decided to do that a few entries back, but I wasn’t quite sure how to go about it or what to do with it.

Who the HELL has ever heard of a half-writing and half-recovery-from-addiction blog?

But then I thought, is this really a change?

It has always been a what’s-on-Stuart’s-mind blog.  It can keep being one.

Next trick: find… no, MAKE… the time to update more than once a month while still keeping up with everything else.

I think I can manage it.  Stay tuned.

* I know, people have those ‘baby’ things all the time.  But it’s a really big deal.  At one extended period in my life, I assumed having a family was not only highly unlikely, but was also a really bad idea.  Then I sobered up and was convinced otherwise.

This Is A Time Of Upheaval

2012 July 2
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Posted by sbart023

It’s a disaster.

We hear this all the time.  In politics, in the news, in television and movies.  We hear people say it.  It’s a disaster, it’s all screwed up, it’s all going straight to hell in a handbasket.

It might be.  But it’s probably not as bad as you think.

Look, I’m a ‘disaster is looming’ sort of guy… or at least part of me has pretty much always been*.  This has meant a life of anxiety and worry and screwing a lot of things up.  It turns out when you spend a lot of time and energy and thought on imagining what might go wrong and being either worried or pissed off about it or both, that’s a lot of time you could have spent on something else.

Somebody wise once said that time is all we have… or so I vaguely recollect.  Well, that man or woman or figment of my imagination was absolutely right.

Having a desire to make my own life better and a resolve to take action to do those things that I can figure out has been helpful in reducing that anxiety, worry, and so on.  But it can only go so far.  Worry, aside from distracting you and leading you to waste your time, also functions as a big pair of blinders.  We human beings are already pretty lousy at seeing our own faults.  This is both folk wisdom and confirmed by various psychological and sociological studies.  Worry makes things worse.

I’m not trying to say ‘don’t care’.  This is a big one people go for when they hear advice to drop the worry.  ‘What, I’m not supposed to care about anything?  That sucks.’  Yeah, that would suck.

Leaving worry behind and not being blind–or, to be honest, to be less blind than you were in the past–takes work.  It’s not something you do with a slogan.  Life is not a crappy shoe ad.

It takes paying attention.  It takes not feeling lousy when you notice you haven’t been paying attention after all, but telling yourself  ‘whoops, I’m not doing what I planned to do, time to start doing it again’.  It takes asking yourself why you are doing the things you do, and asking yourself why you are not doing the things you feel like you should be doing.  It takes looking for a way to accomplish your goals and not holding on to those goals so hard you can’t change course and shoot for a new one when life throws you a curve ball– and it will.

It takes pushing the reset button, doing something that gets your mind off of things and lets you see them from a fresh perspective.  Getting enough sleep is a start, your mind needs some down time and a lot of us push the envelope on sleep deprivation, trying to force enough hours into the day to go to work, take care of the laundry, water the lawn, and watch all that TV we were planning to watch.

A little basic meditation is better**.  You don’t have to go full orange-robe-monk or anything.  You’re probably not a monk, you don’t need to be one to have a happier life.  But you can probably make about fifteen minutes a day to sit quietly, breathe, and attempt to let your thoughts flow naturally rather than guide your internal dialogue.  To stop worrying, to stop making up scenarios about how your life is going to go next hour, next day, next week, next year.

What the blinders cause us to miss is that it’s always a disaster, because we are taught to think of change as a disaster.  Death is the worst thing that can happen to anyone, dropping your ice cream cone on the sidewalk is a reason to cry and wish that you had your ice cream back, you need to have a bachelor party because you’re ‘losing your freedom’, a storm is coming, someone will get pregnant, someone will not get pregnant, and so on, and so on, and so on.

Take a little time, and tell your internal dialogue: shut up for a bit.  It’s not a disaster, it’s just change, the only constant thing in the world.

*Shameless plug: you can see it in some of my writing.  Try ‘Dark’ (free) or ‘Labor of Love’ (not free) for examples.

**This mentions mantras.  If you like mantras, go wild.  I’m not a fan of them myself.  When I catch myself directing my own thoughts, doing the internal chattering of ‘oh, and then I have to do this, and I need to pick up something for dinner tomorrow, and I wonder how much gas is in the car’, I think or say, “thinking”.  I treat it like a reset button.  OK, mind, you’ve had your fun, back to meditating.  Mantras also tend to tie into the whole metaphysical-magical forces-and-spirits-and-deities mindset, and that’s not my bag either.  Personally, I find that flowers are flowers, rivers are rivers, ridiculously large SUVs are ridiculously large SUVs, and the interconnectedness of all things is the interconnectedness of all things.  No magic, just the world as big and beautiful as it always was.

Writing Labor Of Love

2012 February 18
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^^Click the cover to see it on Smashwords^^

One of the beauties of self-publishing ebooks is that there’s no question of where the rights lie, they’re all mine.  So I get to post my covers, excerpts, or whatever I like from them where I please.  Which means I get to get to talk about writing them without having to say “and if you want to know what I’m talking about, take a look at Holycrap Stories Magazine #37, page 15.”

I’m one of those writers who can’t help putting himself into the story in some way.  Not all of the characters are me, or even partly me.  Not all of the situations are either.  But I haven’t written anything yet that hasn’t had, at some level, a personal meaning to me.  A couple of them have been hard to write, and this was one of them.  I wrote the first half, then set it aside for a couple of weeks and worked on other things, then picked it back up, sighed a heavy sigh, and finished it.

It’s not a long story, just a smidge over 2,000 words.  Not the kind of thing you’d expect to take a month to finish.  Now, to be fair, I’m the sort of person who gets sidetracked pretty easily.  I start working on one thing, then get a second idea and want to hammer out the start of that before I go back and finish the first thing.  That’s not really the case with this one.

This one was slow to write because I did a lot of editing for the length.  I kept going back and changing small things, rewriting sentences, deleting paragraphs and then putting them back in with subtle alterations, trying to get the right mood.

That’s because I know the mood well.  The story has a lot in common with my own story.

~~~~~

“To the kitchen. My stomach gives a warning twitch. It knows where I’m going. I open the freezer, pull out a half-deflated liter pouch of bourbon. My stomach churns up a belch, I gag on the odor of bile permeating my sinuses. I pop the cap on the thick frosted straw, put it between my lips, clamp down. My stomach relaxes. It knows anesthesia is coming. My brain revolts. Why am I doing this, I shouldn’t be doing this, I should be sitting down with the search crawler looking for jobs, not rotting worthless on the public teat having bourbon for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

I squeeze the bag. For the thousandth time my ambitions crumple like the cheap mylar foil. I squeeze again and sit down in front of the MC. I type ‘epic fail video’ into the crawler.

It seems to fit.”

~~~~~

That’s pretty close to a chunk of my own life.  It didn’t make any sense, but I kept on living it.  Until I got tired of it, finally, and did something about it.  Until I went and got some help from people who had stopped their own alcoholic drinking and had sobered up.

The story is an expression of a couple of personal fears.  One, while I was drinking, was the fear that I would never stop, that my life would be the miserable existence of an addicted drinker until it ended.  The other, when I quit, was the fear that I would not be able to get away from it.  I had quit before after a terrible medical crisis that nearly killed me, and had gone back to drinking once.  There was no comparable medical crisis the last time I quit nearly five years ago… at the time, I thought, ‘what if I go back again? What if it comes and gets me?’

Live with addiction for long enough, and it becomes a monster in your mind, fully capable of crawling out from under your bed, clubbing you over the head, and dragging you back to its dank cave to have its way with you.

“Labor Of Love” is a story in which that last fear becomes real, in which technology not too far advanced from our own hands the monster that club, and a map to your house.  Writing it was a process of pulling one of my own fears out into the light, so it didn’t turn out to be the most cheerful thing I’ve ever written.

But I learned a thing or two in writing it, and maybe someone will read it and get a sense of those things too.

Writing, Interrupted

2012 February 9

A long time ago, I used to write.  Stories, I mean.  I’m not trying to imply that I became illiterate for a time or anything.  But as a grade school student I wrote a few little stories, having fun with writing some stories like the ones I was beginning to read in my father’s science fiction books.  I grew to love reading.  Writing, I had a slightly different relationship with.

I enjoyed creating a story.  But some of the stories I wrote were judged against the work of other kids in my classes, and I was unhappy that my writing was not judged to be the best.  I was massively impatient; if I did something I wanted to be the best at it right away.

I am still a basically impatient person now.  I have come to understand that patience, persistence, and practice have value and are virtures, though.  So I try my best to practice those things.

But back then, I left off writing gradually, dusting it off to play with it from time to time as I passed into high school and young adulthood.  I never took it too seriously.  I thought now and then that it would be nice to be published, but never did anything about it.  After all, if I tried to be published and someone rejected it, it might prove somehow that I wasn’t any good.  Whether ‘wasn’t any good’ would apply to my writing or my entire personhood, I think, wasn’t clear in my mind.  Psychologically, it’s not a very nice place to be, but there I was.

For a long time between high school and sobering up in my mid-30s, I bent my creative energies to playing fantasy role-playing games.  You know, that Dungeons And Dragons stuff.  I haven’t done that in a long while, but it’s a nice outlet for some folks.  It was a nice outlet for me.  But for me, it was also something not so good.  It became an immersion, an escape from reality.  When I wasn’t drunk and evading reality by being insensate, I was burying myself in fantasy so I could evade reality the rest of the time.  It wasn’t a healthy way to use a nice creative recreation.

And between drinking and playing games, my sometimes hobby of writing fiction fell entirely by the wayside.  For a good fifteen or twenty years I read fiction and I thought about what I might do differently if I were the writer of the story I was reading, but I did not put a word of my own down on paper.

A few years ago, when I quit drinking and sobered up, I began to think about my writing again.  I had barely learned to ride that metaphorical bike before I had given it up, and it took a little patience to relearn what I had known and begin to develop some skill.  It was frustrating.  I am still, like I said, a basically impatient person.  But getting sober from alcoholism absolutely requires that you learn to set impatience aside when something important needs doing, and writing was good exercise in that area for me.

So I wrote.  I wrote some short little stories, and stalled out on them when I couldn’t figure out what happened next.  I started a fantasy novel, and stopped it when I reread the thirty or forty pages I had written and found that they were wooden and poorly plotted.  But, patience, dammit!  I thought I could see some potential there.

I wrote some short stories.  I sent them off to magazines, got rejected, wrote more, re-read those first stories, compared them to my new stories.  I marked those first few stories ‘needs complete rewrite’ in my files and submitted the next batch.  The third batch began to draw an occasional personalized rejection and I thought, ‘hey, I might have something here’.

Maybe a more patient person would keep sending things off to the print venues.  I might still do so in the future.

But for now, I have decided instead to try some e-publishing.  Maybe I’m just being impatient again.  But to me, it feels more like being hopeful.

So now, I have a few short stories and a short collection of flash fiction up on Smashwords and Amazon, which you can see at either location by clicking its name.

If you look, thanks.  If you don’t look, thanks for reading this far.

Ultimately, it makes me happy when someone enjoys reading something I wrote.

A note for long-time readers of this blog:

It’s been a long time since I updated.  I could plead busy life, new baby, or spending all of my writing time on other projects.  But I won’t.  There’s a little truth in all those excuses, but they’re excuses and it takes about half an hour to put out a decent blog post.  I could have spared the time.

The truth is, I had run out of gas a little bit on my original topics, 12-step recovery and Tao-related philosophy.  There’s plenty more to write about on either topic, but I began to feel like I was in increasing danger of repeating myself, like the bounds I had drawn for myself were just a tad too narrow.

So I’m branching out.  An established blog with my pen name on it is a good place to talk about my writing.  I might talk about plain old regular stuff here, or even *gasp* politics– maybe.   It will also remain a good place to talk about my recovery and my philosophizing.  It’s just going to be a little more comprehensive from here on out.

Lost In Knowing

2011 October 14
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When it comes to yourself, knowing causes can be a good thing. It can be vital, really. And it is easy to get lost in the investigation, as well. Like so many good ideas, this sword has the proverbial double edge.

As an alcoholic, I looked for causes of my state for a long time, often while drinking, occasionally while sober (or at least not drinking). At one time or another I identified various experiences and people in my past upon whom I could hang… if not blame, then causation. Oh, my problems came from this person and that event.

Well, some of my thinking had some merit. My abusive relationship with an intoxicant did, in a way, spring out of some negative experiences and how I related to them. That last part is the key. How I related to them. The actions were mine, and the actions it took to recover, in the end, had to be mine. I needed help, guidance, and support from others with experience in recovery and from others who loved me or at least cared about me.

But for a long, ugly, drunken time, that ‘how I related to them’ part was something I glossed over, something I willfully ignored. I focused on the events and the people, and on my emotional responses to them. I looked over my past with all of the obsession that I had for drink, parsing and analyzing the events, reliving them, warping the negatives there into gigantic, funhouse mirror images of themselves, and losing all of the good, positive people and events.

That’s what I mean by being lost in knowing. I took knowing to be an end in itself, and it turned into an endless labyrinth through which I flailed ever more desperately, looking for a way out of my alcoholic life.

Once I accepted that my knowledge was a means rather than an end, that acceptance could guide me to release the obsession with the knowledge itself, to the actions that have given me more than four years of sober, productive life… and perhaps many more, so long as I do not lose myself in knowing again.