Recognition

Here is my somewhat hackneyed awards post. Yep I wrote ‘em so I should probably toot my own horn. Especially since I just received a voting reminder for nominations from the very fine folks at Worldcon 2015. So, I would be exceptionally grateful for your Hugo, Nebula and/or other science fiction/fantasy awards nominations.

Wind Dancing the Cliffs of Olympus Mons

Wind Dancing the Cliffs of Olympus Mons

Best Novelette

The Big Red Buckle, FeetForBrains Publishing; Nicole L. Riviezzo, editor.

Best Short Story

Tokyo Yakuza #11: Mob Dance, Oriental Excess Co.; Nicholas Phillips, editor.

Of course, there’s more. Much more. But those are the big’uns that need some embiggening. I’ve been going over what I read last year and trying to develop my nomination list. I intend to post this some time very soon so hang tight.

I Watched SoTU like Football

Which means rarely and hopefully after the fact if at all possible. In large part this is because political parties, to me at least, are starting to seem very much like sports teams in the NFL. The conflict seems choreographed and, in the end, pointless. “GO SPORTS TEAM!!!!” So say the instructions, I’m just not compelled. Not even one little bit.

But any one who gives even passing attention to social media will invariably encounter third party accounts of both sporting and political happenings, days and even weeks after any notable “event.” For instance, my narrative of the Seahawks/Packers game has grown significantly in the interim. Fans of the game have made comments and thus added flesh to a time and place that would have otherwise remained skeletal in my recollection. I suppose this could be a zombie world view. If we speculate that the undead are in possession of conscious thought then perhaps they experience a vicarious existence, only encountering the experience and memories of their victims while gnawing on their brains.

Anyway, having spent a little time watching, I enjoyed the SOTU. Much of what President Obama had to say resonated with me starting with changing the political and tax structure of our nation for the better. I am glad too, that the President has recognized both the existence of anthropogenic climate change and the necessity of changing our behavior in the aggregate in order to maintain a human future on this planet.

But then there is the theater of the event. And that friends, is what we come to watch. I was rooting for John Boehner throughout the whole 59 minutes and 57 seconds of the speech. The guy looked like he desperately needed to make a trip to the latrine. Like there was a tsunami of effluent knocking down his back door and flowing over his flood barriers. I wanted to dress up in theater black and sneak onto the podium to momentarily hand him a couple of Imodium.

I chose to enrich my narrative by pitying this man because the alternative, the story line in which he spends the entirety of the President’s speech looking peeved and petulant, seemed to me scornfully abusive of him. It reminded me of how far we haven’t come, and how unlikely we are to reach higher. If the Speaker cannot find it in himself to respect the office, let alone the man, then what lowered standards of conduct should we anticipate from all those people who make this country work?

Then the curtain closes and we gather up our things and tuck our programmes into a pocket and head for the door. Right?

Not so fast, the main event is over, but the show must go on. The Republican response to the SOTU was fucking amazing sauce. A rich mine of theatrical and comedic who-ha, all the Presidential hopefuls tripping over one another and themselves in a mad rush to befuddle the masses. That’s like finding gold and diamonds in the same dig.

“Hah! Joni Ernst wore those bread bags during the Reagan administration!”

I hadn’t watched Joni Ernst’s official response speech until this morning, at which point I had to ask for help scraping my jaw off the floor. Really? Did you write that yourself? Did you bother to have anyone read it over before you stood up in front of the whole of the nation, nay the world, to foist that load of crap our way? Because it was cute, but that’s about all.

Honey, a fucking bus load of kids with bread bags on their feet means one of two things. It could be that the autobus de scolaire is designated transportation for patient-children suffering from Lionel Poilâne Syndrome. In that case find some butter and follow those nut jobs, you’re in for a gluten enriched célébration de pain. Otherwise, you’ve encountered the economic byproduct of a willfully ignorant electorate in adolescent form. Not being able to afford a second pair of shoes isn’t a right of passage, neither is it a situation we should hope to cultivate. The fact that this is part of the GOP narrative, that they constantly try to spin that line of bull crap, is evidence that indeed there is a culture clash going on in America. The hopelessly superstitious part of the country and the rest of us are trying to occupy the same space and failing.

“That’s the view of the people who live in the bubble-ville…. The whole point is that there is a real clash of cultures and there is a disconnect between people who live in the bubbles of New York, Washington, and Hollywood verses the people who live in the land of the bubbas.”
— Mike Huckabee on The Daily Show.

“God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy” may be a cultural norm in some parts of this nation, but not one I will ever want to emulate. I enjoy living in the 21st Century and none of those things seem to fit here. Add to this that this nonsense is only thinly veiled social injustice.

You can watch Ted Cruz’s epic flub on youtube, but beyond the first ten seconds there’s nothing terribly notable. Seems the only thing this guy is really good at is shutting down the government. I snickered and then moved on to the horror show.

Yep, Rand Paul remains the resident freak superior. He opens his response with a smile and then dives  head first down a rat hole.

Honestly, I didn’t get very far into this. When I was in the Army I knew a sergeant who liked to say “don’t piss on my boots and tell me it’s raining.” Paul has moxie. He’s got guts. And he must employ a team of writers and idea people because I spent the first couple of minutes of this fighting off the feeling that he was asking me to thank him for crapping on my shoes.

“America is adrift?” We need new leadership? Wait, hold on a second, yeah I couldn’t agree more, but you’ve “only been in office a short time.”

Clearly, if any of President Obama’s suggestions are going to be ignored by the prevailing political structure, it is without question going to be the one where he calls for improving the political dialogue in this country. Absolutely all of the GOP “response” speech has been simple repetition of the same tired bullet points they always spout off accompanied by homey, hackneyed anecdotes involving shoe shortages or pig balls.

The problem with hope

Some six or seven years in, depending how you count, our nation is now confronted by the problem of hope. There isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with the idea that we can hope for more or better. But hoping is meaningless without achievement. And sure President Obama has achieved plenty given the circumstances of his term of office. But I come away from this very optimistic SOTU feeling like I should aspire to that utopian vision we all mass hallucinated back in 2007 and 2008. That if I want it bad enough, if I work hard enough, I’ll somehow be able to educate the superstitious, willful and idiotic masses. That I’ll be able, through the power of my conviction that all human potential can be realized, to convince others to aspire to altruism.

“When you believe in things you don’t understand then you suffer.”

— Stevie Wonder, Superstitious

Which is why I choose realism. Every morning I ask myself, “What can I realistically do today?” Sure, I hear the proposals. I’d love some gub’mint help to go back to college, but is that likely? What is more realistic is that I’ll spend too much time arguing with the Veterans’ Administration over their snafus with my paperwork. Yeah, the same old crap in this machine. Nothing ever changes.

Now, back to real life. There’s a pile of dishes collecting on my kitchen counter, a geologically significant collection of laundry that needs washing, and I may need to visit the men’s room because as I write this I’m making that John Boehner face.

How to Be a Writer

Neil Gaiman just responded to this guy’s question via his tumbler and it’s precious. You’re going to want to go read it as soon as you can click through. But save the reverse button because once you’ve read his response, you’re going to want to read what I wrote. Then you’re going to want to go to your tumbler or blog and write the same sorta thing. Because awesome!

 

Write your ideas down on a note pad. Carry that note pad with you everywhere, you never know when inspiration might strike you. Make sure you have a pen or pencil because writing with blood is actually pretty messy. Once you have ideas written you can develop those ideas into something that you’d like to read. Tell your stories to your friends and family. Bore them if you have to, but listen to what they have to say about your writing. Keep writing. Finish your stories even when it is difficult.

Also I’ve been told that there is an easier way. You may want to try this instead. Go to school, learn as much as you can about consciousness. Get your degree in neurology. While you’re at it spend your spare time advancing computational sciences. You must be on the bleeding edge of both of these sciences, but this is well and good because you’ll easily be employed.

Always remember that your job should be fun, you’ll need to appear passionate about it, and it’s likely that from time to time you’ll encounter project managers and middle management that will attempt, because of their short sightedness, to thwart you from your goals.

When you encounter these people, you’ll know them because they’ll use terms like “business objective” and “mid year review.” Send them email invitations to visit your office when no one is at work. Entice them and make sure it’s all but impossible for them to refuse. When they come, as they’re sure to want cookies or pie, hypnotize them when the least expect it and then command them to journey to your secret lair.  Your henchmen should be ready to quickly subdue them and harness them to your Superior Intelligence Engine.

Write and rewrite the artificial intelligence that inhabits the artificially animated corpses of your former workmates. Name this intelligence “HERBIE” because he reminds you of someone you once knew. Also the name is sort of cute and can probably become an acronym. You’ll want to spend as much time as you can making HERBIE perfect, because eventually you’re going to need the SIE to help you devise fool proof methods of keeping the cops off your trail.

When the police finally do catch up with you because HERBIE is young and has been isolated deep inside your secret lair for all his life don’t run. Running will only complicate matters and cops carry tasers and guns which really hurt.

When the grand jury indicts you and locks you up for good, know that the government will probably use your SIE for domestic surveillance. It is immensely valuable because it is, after all, the only working artificial intelligence ever created. Understand that this is why they keep you alive and happily ensconced in a six by eight room in their secret facility. Later, this may help you convince them to give you frozen peas instead of the canned kind. The canned kind are tasteless and bland, but the frozen kind are actually quite enjoyable with a little butter.

After the interrogations end, you’ll wake up in your cell one fine morning. Perhaps a prison guard will bring you a plate of frozen peas. Take this time to write down your ideas by scratching them into the walls with your fingernails. Add some characters. Develop a nice plot line, in fact, one you might like to read. Finish this writing project, you’ve got all the time in the world. Now you’re a writer.

ConFusion

To: All my ConFusion Friends
From: Me

Wish I could be there this year STOP
Have a great time STOP
Take many pictures and post them on the internets STOP
Don’t buy the hotel scotch, it’s much too expensive STOP

END MESSAGE

Project Management

This is more of a belated review of the last year in writing than anything else. I’m opening with that sentence because I want to end this blog post before I begin. That said, this post is also going to contain a modicum of resolve.

Looking back on the last year I am compelled to the realization that I’ve been putting the cart before the horse. This despite being a 40-something adult with a load of project management experience and a well developed understanding of how to go about these things. This realization comes on the heals of devising the crux to a story I’ve spent a considerable amount of time developing. I took an interesting idea, drones fighting wildfire, and sort of shoehorned it into a science fiction drama without ever really knowing how I might end the damned thing. Oops!

Clearly there must be a better way to go about this business. Right now my writing process seems entirely too by-the-seat-of-his-pants. And this news is coming from the inside, where it’s likely to go unnoticed until it has become a raging problem.

How did it get so bad?

I need to answer this question before I can see my way to streamlined perfection. Last year was a roller coaster for our family. At the time it felt like I was dipping with the dives, with my hands in the air, and enjoying the corners as much as these things can be savored, but each and every time we had to pack up and move I had to start jumping through my own rear end. Every time there was a change of job I had to pry a wooden shoe from the finely tuned mechanics of my schedule. With each friend that passed I felt like I needed to take a break, let myself grieve a little, before I could move on. When I got off the 2014 roller coaster I realized how sick I felt. That thing was scary, precarious, and it’s something of a miracle I got to the end of it in one piece.

I’ve already identified how important routine is for my little guy. The Holiday season has been ample illustration of what happens when he doesn’t get his nap in the afternoon and what I should anticipate if his expectations are thrown too far out of whack. But what I’ve seemingly missed all this while is that, as a father and a writer, I need that same level of routine. Without it word counts dwindle, projects stall, and this whole writing thing feels more like an expensive hobby than a career decision.

Upside

Yes there is an upside. While 2014 was not my breakout year I learned a lot. I learned plenty about the business of genre writing. If I don’t say so myself, I did a pretty awesome job being a Dad. And, I wrote plenty considering the number of lifestyle changes and interruptions we experienced.

 

Word Count by Project 2014

Because A-bear demands it, yes my little guy has decreed today is “backwards day”, we’ll review in reverse order. I was able to achieve about 61% of my 250,000 word goal for the year. Yeah, 150k ain’t nothing to sneeze at, I know. I sold a short story to an anthology which you can buy individually or soon as part of a collection. I gracefully backed out of two articles that were going to cost me more to write than I’d make on their sale. And I received a pile of rejection letters which included examples of both the best and worst of their form.

From all this word-smithing I learned a couple of things. First, I need to keep very accurate account of the time I spend writing as well as the amounts I produce per project (a tip of the hat to Jim Hines for the idea). In fact, since July I have been keeping an annual spread sheet of the times, word counts and projects I’ve worked on. The 2014 version of this, even though it only covers a little less than half a year and is very rudimentary, has unquestionably helped me and improved my accountability.

Second, I’ve learned from this accounting that it doesn’t always take me a lot of time to write well. Per the spreadsheet I’ve kept since July, I can see that some of my most productive times weren’t marathon sessions sitting in front of my laptop. Rather, they were brief ten and fifteen minute blocks, usually crammed in on the heals of laundry folding or dish washing, where I had an idea in my head and wrote it down in three to 500 words.

Aral turned four in 2014. I’ve been effectively handling him for the better part of two plus years now, being the stay-at-home-parent and acting the part as much as I am able. Don’t get me wrong, Tess is still an excellent and involved parent, but for the bulk of the workweek I’m the guy A-bear relies on. So I’ll take a bow from the wings of his stage knowing that my work as director has quality.

My big guy Justin, turned 17. He’s been accepted to the college of his choice, has improved his grade point average considerably, and plays a mean blues riff on his guitars. Although I haven’t had much of a physical presence in his life for the last couple of years I still fell pride in his accomplishments and I simply love the time we spend together online.

As far as the business side of writing, conventions played perhaps the most important role in that education. I really loved my time at all the different venues I got to attend. Even more I enjoyed participation at some of those venues. Time on panels felt more like an exchange of information and ideas than a dictatorial lecture. My favorite experience by far was the shared reading session I had with Jim Hines at DetCon.

Add to this, the valuable connections that happened in and out of these convention spaces. Spending face time with my heroes, people like John ScalziJacqueline Carey, and Tobias Buckell lead me to a number of important insights. Even better, it periodically renewed my intention to write more, and write better. It also put me in contact with networks of people supporting these writers. From these people I received valuable feedback, helpful advice, and a couple of opportunities (including interviews, more appearances at conventions, and in the case of Tokyo Yakuza a tip to submit).

In each case, I walked away from the convention feeling overwhelming gratitude; both for the opportunity to hang out with others “in my tribe” as well as for the amazing support I get at home. I’d still be slaving for a soul crushing salary if it wasn’t for my amazing and super smart wife.

Resolutions

So what does this all mean for 2015? So there are the obvious tweaks I need to make to the system to keep writing and working well inside my home. Add to this there are longer term life-goals that I should probably identify so that I can work toward them. Some of these are specific to writing, others are more about supporting or enriching me so I can remain a productive and effective bullshit artist.

Short Term

These are goals that I need to address in the next six to twelve months. In no particular order:

  • Finish outstanding projects. Like Fire Weather, Winter City Above the Clouds and Counterfeit Horizon. I’ve got a lot of time and effort wrapped up in these. If I let them sit, I’ll be wasting all that. FW is nearly done, I’m writing the ending now in fact, and I may try to workshop this piece before I try to publish it. Counterfeit Horizon is big, needs lots of reworking, but has some really cool ideas, characters, and concepts in it. Of all the stories I’ve written this one needs to be done and I’d feel horrible shame if I shelved it for any reason.
  • Focus on routine. A-bear and I both need this, so each and every time it is challenged I need to ask myself how a change to it will effect both our interaction as well as my productivity. Nap time, for the time being, is a necessity. Time outside cannot be lost to errands. And above all the laundry must flow.
    He who controls the Laundry, controls the universe! – Baron Harkonnen
  • Economize, economize, economize! I will continue to sell off or give away things that no longer fit into our lifestyle. Minimization will help, but financial discipline must be the other critical consideration in this equation. Debt only limits us moving forward, we are transforming ourselves into cash-only family.
  • Build endurance and health for the long term. At this point I’m very inclined to consider my whole health. Last year I’ve injured myself several times, mostly from overtraining, and as a result I’ve ended up taking two steps back for every one I take forward. So I’m taking advice, restructuring my training plans, and learning much about holistic endurance training. I’m doing this because endurance is key to my success as well as to my happiness.
    • Build a great aerobic base. This essential physical and metabolic foundation helps accomplish several important tasks: it prevents injury and maintains a balanced physical body; it increases fat burning for improved stamina, weight loss, and sustained energy; and it improves overall health in the immune and hormonal systems, the intestines and liver, and throughout the body
    • Eat well. Specific foods influence the developing aerobic system, especially the foods consumed in the course of a typical day. Overall, diet can significantly influence your body’s physical, chemical, and mental state of fitness and health.
    • Reduce stress. Training and competition, combined with other lifestyle factors, can be stressful and adversely affect performance, cause injuries, and even lead to poor nutrition because they can disrupt the normal digestion and absorption of nutrients.
    • Improve brain function. The brain and entire nervous system control virtually all athletic activity, and a healthier brain produces abetter athlete. Improved brain function occurs from eating well, controlling stress, and through sensory stimulation, which includes proper training and optimal breathing.-Maffetone, Dr. Philip (2010-09-22). The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing

Long Term

These are long term goals, they may take years to reach, but getting them out there will help me obtain milestones in the correct direction.

  • Continue to develop the Diaspora storyline. Counterfeit is a sort of prequel to what I have already outlined. A technology roadmap for sending humanity out into deep space. I’ve had some new ideas about how I want to spread humanity lightyears beyond our solar system and they’re unique and truly “epic” in every sense of the word. My intent is to make this trilogy large enough in scale as to be humbling for the reader. Someday readers will compare me to KSR, Iain M. Banks and Clark and say, “Thyer? Yeah he makes me feel truly insignificant in the context of the universe.”
  • Endurance Athlete. I want to continue my quest to compete in extreme distance endurance sports. At this point I don’t know if this means that I want to be part of organized suffer-fests like the Grand to Grand or if I should focus in more in on independent long distance crossings. In any event I plan on growing my personal endurance.This summer I am still trying to put together an independent bulki hike along the John Wayne Trail and I have a recurring delusion in which I hike all 2600 miles of The Tour Divide.My intent is to reclaim the sensation I used to be saturated in when I was a backcountry guard on the Flat Tops Wilderness. Then again, in 2009, having come to some sort of compromise with my bum leg, when I started running trails a lot more often.

    “You don’t stop running because you get old, you get old because you stop running.” – Christopher McDougall

    Finally this goal, whatever it’s final outcome may require a COMPEX muscle stimulator, a new WAA Ultrabag 20l, and a competent and understanding endurance coach. As I discharge debt and fix my financial situation I’ll look for ways to invest in these things.

  • Collect Rejection Letters. I’ve come to realize that there are only authors. There are plenty of myths roaming around the internets about all the kinds of authors — traditional and independent, take your pick — but my observations lead me to the conclusion that publishing is in too much flux for these to have any lasting meaning. They are are the sort of ridiculous labels that get used to segregate people which doesn’t serve any of my purposes at all, ever.

    The best rejection letter of the 2014

    I want to make a living doing something I’m passionate about. That’s it, that is all there is about publishing that matters. All avenues to publication are open to me. As I write more I’m only increasing the possibility that someone will be engaged. Rejection letters don’t hurt me; they may help, especially when they’re well written and contain hints about the work under consideration. No longer am I a label dependent author.

  • Workshopping. Last summer, while sitting across a table from John Scalzi, I had the opportunity to talk to this man that I admire for what he has accomplished with his fiction about what motivates him. At least that’s what I wanted to know about. I’ve heard him say that he writes for his mortgage, but this doesn’t answer the question that’s been bugging me. Why writing? Of all the things a smart, accomplished guy could possible do, why would you willingly choose to enter into the profession of making shit up for a living?It’s a tough gig no matter how lucky you get.I’m not certain I really got an answer from him. John turned my own question around on me and then I was confronted with the surprising realization that I didn’t have a good answer. I know the answer is in part, “because I’d do this even if there weren’t any money involved.” In fact, I have written most of my life starting back when I was a kid. I wrote stories and drew pictures of those stories. But there is more to it than that. Writing is a discourse, an exchange if you will. I really enjoy the feedback I get from the audience that reads my stories. This is important to me as a writer.Since that conversation believe me when I say that I’ve thought on the topic. In September I ran into Ramez Naam at a reading in University Bookstore. At the time I was looking for workshops and writer’s groups and we discussed what role these played in his writing. Turns out pretty much none whatsoever. Mez has a select group of beta readers he relies on before he sends off a manuscript to his publisher.

    I’ve tried a bunch of different groups. Writing groups can be helpful, but my experience tells me that this is very rare. They can be clique-ish, some of them are set up to help only the organizer grow as a writer, and I’ve even run into groups that are more about playing games than writing or critiquing manuscripts. Mez warned me away from them, gently suggesting that I was indeed wasting my time.

    I heard Tobias Buckell talk about the sacrifices he made to go to school this summer on a panel at DetCon. My takeaway was that he feels four years of college actually delayed his writing more than anything. He found the most value, made the most improvement going to Clarion.

    In 2015 I’m not certain Clarion West is in the cards for me. Given the cost and the time commitment I need to answer the question, “can I do this if I’m given the opportunity?” I know I need exactly this sort of immersive experience to take my writing discipline to the next level, but this may have to go on the long range project lists for now.

 

Good News

Mago is not impressed.

Mago is not impressed.

Yeah, a short story I sold just dropped today. New Year’s Eve for all that it’s worth. Talk about good news, this is the best. Oriental Excess put out a call for authors back in September. I took up the challenge, pitched a story, and got a spot in the anthology. All that remained then was to write something so awesome that fans of cyberpunk and Japanophiles alike would dig it so much they’d want to butter their morning toast with it.

Yeah, the hard part. I slaved over this thing for the next two months. Writing and re-writing because I just couldn’t be happy with it. Tokyo Yakuza: Mob Dance has had about ten endings, all of them where underwhelming. None of them qualified to butter toast. Especially cyberpunk toast. Then in November, with some isolation and dedication, I had a breakthrough. This story is now whipped butter nicely warmed and ready for any variety of toasted bread. Even $9 toast, although we’re only charging 0.99 pennies for it.

Thanks Matt Amend

Thanks Matt Amend

The anthology, in hard back, is supposed to come out this spring, so wait if you must. But if you enjoy frenetic story telling doused with plenty of funky tech with a sprinkling of the fantastic from the Korean Peninsula you’re going to love-love Jihoo. It’s unique and new, and for the first time since I left these parts of Asia I feel like I got to use some of what I learned there. And just a brief reminder, it is the holiday season, your reviews are the only thing on my wish list.

Right now I’m plotting ways to get in on future editions of the anthology. Despite the challenge of writing in someone else’s world and needing to interweave plot threads across multiple authors and story lines I had a lot of fun with Mob Dance. I hope you enjoy it.