Thursday, December 1, 2022

Inside Looking Out

Find it Here!

It has been quite a crazy launch week for Y Signal, and I want to thank everyone who shared it all over social media and in real life. It was very much appreciated for such a strange story that would be hard sell otherwise.

It is no exaggeration to say that Y Signal is a difficult story to explain unless one is familiar with the new lost generation of Gen Y or the reality of Cultural Ground Zero. Regardless, there is a universal appeal even then. I have spoken a bit on Y Signal before, but the inspiration for this story goes back far before then. How far? Well, some of the characters and concepts are ones I came up with way back in the 2000s before I had even thought of writing anything at all. It only took until now for me to understand just what this story was. Writing is weird that way.

You see, even back in the day, back before the society-changing events of 9/11 or Columbine, I had a sense that the times were shifting, and that they were getting worse. I know this because at the time I was actually delving deeper into pop culture and the like due to personal events in my young life that made it more agreeable to me than the real life crap I had to deal with. Seeing things decay when I was told they just "got better" because that was how the world was supposed to work was such a bizarre mentality that I couldn't even process then. I still heard that hoary logic from my peers both online and off as far as up to the beginning of the 2010s, even. It isn't as easy to process such thinking today, perhaps because so many in the wider culture have gas-lit themselves into thinking some other party is to blame for certain utopia becoming derailed, but the magical thinking of humanism that said progressing to perfection was a certainty died out. The explanation of things improving because that's "what they do" lasted far beyond its expiration date, and we can see it when looking back at earlier times. It's easy to take for granted now, but it was a very real belief for a long time.

This was one of the reasons so many back then didn't put much thought in the future. If you lived then, you probably remember what the climate was like. There was no sense in truly pushing yourself if no matter what you do the same result will play out regardless. Yes, it was a pseudo-determinist view of existence, which makes sense when you are dealing with a pure materialist view of reality, as most everyone did in the 20th century. Humanity are a bunch of meat robots gradually stepping up a slope where paradise awaits at the apex. Everything will be better in the morning, because that's just how it is. Things will always get better.

People did believe that, until the party stopped.

Eventually, the mechanisms that made modernism worked began to squeak and break under the strain of impossible expectations. The rust had done its damage, especially with no one there to keep maintenance as it began to crumble. Even now, the system is still in the process of imploding. It still hasn't quite reached the extreme, but we all know it's on the way.

Now, you would have to be blind, deaf, and dumb, to still believe in the mystical idea of Unending Progress today. There is no shining paradise waiting ahead for humanity as long as we do what our betters tell us to. That well never happen because Utopia doesn't exist. All that is coming is self-destruction stemming from that vapid mentality that led us off the cliff in the first place. We did this to ourselves, and we continue to do it to this day.

What this means is that looking back on the old days is usually due more to regret than it is to longing. You don't really want to return to a time where you were more ignorant of where things were headed; you are nostalgic for the chance to make a different decision based on what you now know. Perhaps you can still find that reality you were denied. But it was always going to end up here, in the end. Too much would have to change to depart from the road to ruin ahead. In that case, how does one view the past aside from thinking it one huge mistake? What can be gained from it?

We're not on the outside looking in, because we've never really left the past behind. Instead, we are still inside, trying to find the path forward, the way out. But what does that even mean? This is why I wrote this in the first place. How does one find their place in a world that doesn't believe you have one, that you are expendable? Where would such a place even be? It's not an easy idea to think about, even over a quarter of a century after the modern world truly ended.

Where did we think we were going in the first place?

Remember this?

Y Signal started as an idea I had a long time ago, as I mentioned earlier, which was more focused on how Gen X (and, though I didn't know it then, Gen Y) kids found themselves outdated in the social decay the 2000s brought. Oddly enough, that old idea was probably was closer to SLC Punk than Y Signal ended up being. That eventually changed as I began looking into Cultural Ground Zero and questioning just what was it that made Gen Y so nostalgic for a time that, frankly, wasn't actually that great. It also helped that I had started taking influence from the pulps and old adventure fiction, too. That was when the story finally began taking shape.

How do we move on from the last period where it felt like social cohesion existed? What do we move towards, and how do we finally move on from the past?

Now, of course, this does not mean there was nothing about the 1990s worth remembering or taking forward, but it has turned into a sort of Shangri-La for Gen Ys, just as the 1980s have been turned into an aesthetic for those who never even lived in it, and I wanted to look at this from a different angle. What if those who inhabited this sacred time and place actually did see it all coming, or at least had an idea? How would they react, especially if humanity was determined to make things as they are today? Would reality itself break, or was it always destined to turn out like this regardless of what anyone did? Was there really only one possibility?

That was when it all blew up into the story before you. Reading through what happens in Y Signal, as things go more and more sideways, should tell you exactly what might have been, and what might be. There is more than one future, but not in the way you might think.

When I wrote the first part and shared it with you all, I had always expected it to go longer than that piece. However, I first wanted to see what the response would be to an idea like this, in the first place. For those who have read most of my other work, Y Signal wasn't really in my wheelhouse. While there are elements of horror and action in this one, just like just about everything I've done, this is a straight out weird tale before anything else. Thanks to the overwhelming positive reaction that shorter piece received, it allowed me to pursue the full story. And what a story it is. I do not think I will be able to create something like this again.

Talking about Y Signal without utterly spoiling the entire story is a bit difficult, so I'll try to talk about the inspiration.

One of the things people do uniformly miss about earlier decades is how much better mainstream art and entertainment was as a whole. That is because it was better, but also because there was a unified culture uniting everyone together. This doesn't exist anymore, and it won't again for a long time, however, that is what people miss more than just the products or brands themselves. They are nostalgic for a world that wanted them. At least, that's the thought.

Music, especially rock music, was very much a male interest back in the day. Before it died out in the 2000s, and before flatlining utterly in the '10s, you would be hard pressed to find any red-blooded male who didn't listen to it. Rock was energy and testosterone, embodied.

On top of that, music itself is also the most ethereal form of art, making it harder to quantify why it works or explain how it can dig in so deep. Without being fully tangible, explaining music's appeal is difficult. It is more than just sounds arranged correctly, but also a form that scrapes at your insides and stirs your soul in a way no other form can. That is also why describing it through prose adds a different flavor to the mix. It is using one form to try and describe the appeal of another. You might have noticed that a bit in my Night Rhythm stories. One of which is in Pulp Rock right now!

There was much music that got me in the spirit to write Y Signal, but as I was writing it I thought of what exactly the characters might listen to that affected them during the era of the story. It's not quite a soundtrack, but more of a tone that I wanted to set in atmosphere and in characterization. The only way I can really explain it, is by sharing.

These are the songs that helped me craft the feeling and mood of Y Signal. One can arrange these as a double disc compilation of the sort you would be able to buy back then, before Napster existed. Some of these were even directly mentioned and referenced in the story itself, though not always in obvious ways. This is the sound of Y Signal.

  1. Rush - Red Barchetta
  2. Supergrass - Alright
  3. Boston - Peace of Mind
  4. The Ramones - Chasing the Night
  5. The Replacements - Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out
  6. Pavement - In the Mouth a Desert
  7. Sonic Youth - Teenage Riot
  8. Urge Overkill - Positive Bleeding
  9. Fishbone - Question of Life
  10. Suicide - Johnny
  11. Pere Ubu - Navvy
  12. The Lemonheads - My Drug Buddy
  13. The Replacements - Johnny's Gonna Die
  14. The Specials - Blank Expression
  15. Less Than Jake - Blindsided
  16. Screeching Weasel - Going Home
  17. Less Than Jake - Last Train
  18. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones - Dogs and Chaplains
  19. Smashing Pumpkins - Siva
  20. Counting Crows - Mr. Jones
  21. Oasis - Wonderwall
  22. Pavement - Fillmore Jive
  23. The Replacements - One Wink at a Time
  24. Oasis - Champagne Supernova
  25. Goldfinger - King for a Day
  26. Less Than Jake - Sugar in Your Gas Tank
  27. Gin Blossoms - Follow You Down
  28. Smashing Pumpkins - 1979
  29. Swervedriver - Never Lose That Feeling
  30. Deluxtone Rockets - Judgement Day

You can find it all in a custom playlist on YouTube here.

These are the songs that got me into the mindset of the times, the characters, and the general feel of the in-between of the Here and There that makes the story what it is. Remember, these songs aren't meant as literal, at least, not entirely, but a way to grasp a sensation and mood--a lost spark--that both the characters and I, as the writer, were trying to understand. It's the soundtrack of Y Signal in that very specific way.

I realize I might sound more than a little frazzled or unclear when talking about this story, but that is for good reason. This is the era where the fostering alienation and fragmentation the west had been marinating in since at least the 1960s really bubbled up to the present, and it was most noticeable through the change in the music. Not even so much the popular music, as a lot of what became popular before Cultural Ground Zero was underground and college sounds that was scooped up by the big labels to try and wring some dollars out of it. As a consequence, "genre-fication" from so-called experts (the same kind that swallowed adventure storytelling in 1939) drained character and ambition out of an entire artistic medium, not even allowing it to flourish in the indies. Rock music died as a result of this shift. It's still never recovered.

As a result, there is a sense of foreboding one cannot avoid when exploring this era. It's a mood that was there even if we didn't see it at the time. When making a story that seems primed for easy nostalgia bait (and don't think Hollywood hasn't tried), it is easy to fall into the trap and ignore what was going on under the surface. Gen Y's relationship with the 1990s is a lot more complex than we sometimes realize it is, and I wanted to get it across here. The track-list above is not meant to be a walk down memory-lane, but to capture that relationship between the times and the people, both then and now. Art is meant to be unite, after all.

Hopefully, you, the reader, can connect with it. That was always the goal, to begin with. I wanted to find that missing link that gets mistaken for brand worship today. I pray I succeeded in my efforts. That was the whole point of Y Signal--to understand.

The last song in the above track-list is out of the timespan of the story, for a reason you will probably guess when reading it, but so are others that inspired its writing to begin with. Much of initial outlining was done as I listened to the album The Elements of Transition by Edna's Goldfish, a long defunct band that only put out two albums (and this is not the favorite of the two) which came out in 1999. It's an album that is odd for it's time period in that it is focused on one aspect of the transition between adolescence and adulthood that most don't, which is the loss of the little things that gets missed in the rush to move on, including regret.

Sample lyrics:

Summer of 95
I still don't feel like I'm alive
Sometimes I can feel so drained
But my friends are here I can't complain
I've underestimated again
The power of the words of all my friends

Everyone I know and
Everything I see
Everywhere I've been
It means so much you meant so much to me

What comes next I'll keep you guessing
Come to see the life that you've been missing

The Y Signal in the story is discovered by a musician, someone who works with sound and manipulates it to his whims to the point that he soon found a way he could use it for his own means. Though, of course, just stopping there does not give much credit into the ways a soul can bend reality itself and end up falling into the cracks of their own making. As everyone well knows, things fall apart. We are seeing it happen right now. But it always starts from our own choices.

So the story ended up being about finding something that won't fall apart. Do the characters know this? Not entirely. No one who lived at that time would really understand how fragile what they had then was. We don't even really know it now. Should something like what occurs in Y Signal happen today, I guarantee it would not end quite like the way it does here. Would it be better or worse? You'll have to read and find out for yourself and come to your own conclusion.

The entire story ended up being a lot more off-kilter than I originally imagined, with multiple parts including inbetweeners and a prologue and epilogue to tell a story that covers a lot of territory in a shorter pulp-like length with typical quick pacing. It's not something I would have been able to write if I hadn't gone through what I had since learning to write years ago, in many ways. Again, I doubt I'll ever write anything quite like this again, so please give it a read and see for yourself just how crazy it gets. This never would have been possible before NewPub took off, so I definitely must thank the readers for allowing a climate like this to exist so these sorts of stories could even be told and released in the first place. It's been quite the ride these last few years.

Strangely enough, Y Signal managed to release on the 25th anniversary of Cultural Ground Zero. It has been a quarter of a century since this modern world died out. Hopefully it makes for a solid capstone on it. What will we think of 2022 when we look back on it 25 years from now? That should be interesting to see.

Hopefully we will have moved beyond the brands by then and into a deeper love, lamentation, and appreciation for the past. We can only hope.

In the end, Y Signal is an amalgamation of everything I've learned since I started writing, filtered through my curiosity with an age that is long gone and never coming back. The 1990s sure were wild. It was a crazy time, but it's over now. It is time to face the present we live in today. What do we have now to look forward to?

Well, for us now, we are quickly entering 2023 in less than a month. Whatever happens next is in God's hands. For me, I will continue to write for as long as I am able to. Hopefully I will be doing this for a long time, and can share many more stories with you in the future.

But who really knows what tomorrow holds? Anything can happen, right? The possibilities are unending, now and forever.

There are many futures, after all.


  1. My kids were telling me about the new Got Milk commercials. They're not even funny like the 90s ones. It's just ... a recycled slogan from the 90s, like even commercials can't even come up with anything new. It's so weird to watch culture just running on this treadmill. It's all stopped, and you're so right. I'm glad you've taken the time to unpack it, because it's so weird to watch it happen and not understand it.

  2. Reading you talking about your work is a pleasure, and especially if that work is Y Signal, since we can feel how important this one is for you. I will soon get to read the book and am looking forward to that time with great anticipation. In the meantime, congrats for the new release and a good luck with your future work. A big hug from a friend! :D