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.

 

New Things

Admittedly, I am a far happier person when I stick to the predictable. Want to take me out for something to eat? Take me to someplace I know well enough to avoid looking at the menu and I’ll be a happy. I usually ignore alternative driving directions because they might take me along unknown roads and into unexperienced traffic messes. And I spend the greatest effort in my day-to-day affairs sticking to a predictable schedule so that both Aral and I can exist in the tranquility that results from that sort of routine.

I’ve played World of Warcraft, the massively multiplayer on-line role playing game of great fame, since people actually role played within the confines of the world. When it was new I got sucked into it because a friend was playing and because it was arguably the climax of a pursuit I had invested a lot of time and effort into previously (starting way back with DiKU MUDs). So, for nearly a decade now, I’ve ponied up about $15 bucks a month and slogged my way through dungeons, guild politics, griefers and hackers while seeking purples and legendary orange tokens indicative of my dedication to this collective suspension of disbelief.

After a while this became sort of a habit. Something I kept doing because I have done it before, because I scheduled my life around this game. “Leave me alone, it’s raid night,” was a common refrain heard in my household. I don’t think I ever over did this indulgence, but I certainly invested my time and effort into it. Often gladly, some times even with great joy.

But here is where my story finds a kink. Last January, while attending Legendary Confusion, I met a representative from S2 Games. Unfortunately I don’t recall the guys name, but I imagine I could pick him out of a line up if pressed. Hopefully I can be forgiven, there were a lot of new faces and names and likely some drinking mixed in. Anyway, he handed me a short comic book about the new game he and his compatriots were working on.

I thanked him and tucked it into my bag next to a growing stack of interesting hand outs. There it sat, forgotten until just a few days ago.

Sometime this summer, when I was increasingly frustrated and bored by the same old slog I have labeled Pandarian Summer Funk, I somehow made it into the closed beta for Strife. I downloaded the game and played a little. Game play was exciting and new, tactically challenging even. Most matches were over in an average of seventeen minutes, which meant that I could pop open the client, get a quick game fix and return to real life satisfied. Compared to the cluster events that even Looking for Raid imposed upon me this was an exceptional advantage. Write a thousand words, play a quick match, fold some laundry — my days and life are not consumed by a little escapism.

As time wore on and the beta opened up I started looking into the story. The artworkS2 commissioned, both in game and for the game, is excellent. A very rich and involving world with just enough visual zing to keep the GPU warm. The character and world development feels a lot like looking over the edge of a crevasse on a deep glacier. You don’t see much on just over the surface, but you get the impression of depth. And the story itself, that the heros gather on the fields of Strife to practice their martial arts, requires no more disbelief than WOW ever did.

By September Strife had replaced all other games. Today I composed the basis of one of three new heros that have been floating around in my head (a werehippo named Hadiya, she if freaking awesome). In some small way, a way that I thought never to see repeated after WOW entered my life, my imagination has been captured once again by a game.

I’ve recently canceled my WOW subscription. Ostensibly it’s because I just don’t have that much time to play games these days, but you can add to this that I think Blizzard has lost the all too critical thread of their own story. They seem more focused on improving graphic rendering in game and concocting media sell-out events designed to pander attention than hiring good writers who can continue their formerly strong tradition of story telling. Seriously, Azeroth Cycles? This is some of the shit I am trying to escape while playing people.

Going through some of my convention stash recently I came across the comic I had been given last January. I pulled it out of its plastic and thumbed through the pages. Mostly inked over pencil work, nothing stupendous as far as a comic book goes, but in these pages I saw a group of people in love with an idea. Taking time and effort to perfect their craft and, more importantly, to tell a really cool, new story.

That’s gold, no tropes being repeated here, golden story telling.

EDIT:

If you’re interested in trying (and Strife is free to play) if you could use my referral link than you’d be buffing a true fan of the game. Click on through from here.

Dispatches from the Future (B-list)

Rock Landing

Three days and nearly no sleep. The solo crossing from Makah Bay to Ucluete had turned out to be much more of a challenge than Paul had expected. He had stuck with it, dodging the huge cargo craft entering and exiting the Straight of Juan de Fuca. Avoiding La Migración where they had staked out safe bays and inlets on the south side of the US border waiting in ambush for the unpapered.  And in sticking to the open water he had even landed a pair of salmon that would fill his larder for weeks. If only he could make it to shore and smoke them before they spoiled.

Now Paul was reaching as hard and as fast as Brosings’ Necklace could cut the current. He needed a beach, one with a high waterline, because a very low pressure hyper-dynamic Rossby circulation was headed his direction. The Navicom had raised an alarm that morning, but thankfully the broadcast described a storm front moving at an average and predictable speed. That he had even bothered to re-check the device had more to do with the wind-driven waves he had spent the afternoon negotiating, big haystacks with plenty of foam crashing down one after the other on the cramped deck house of the single handed sloop. Fortunately he had taken the time to sort through all the new information that had been disseminated by the weather service. The storm front had picked up energy and speed as the day had progressed and now it was rolling into the coast like a train without breaks.

Paul was tired and wet, but most of all he was worried. He was having a difficult time making out the lighthouse beacon that stood on the end of the little peninsula which would protect him and his tiny boat. The wind driven waves were threatened to capsize his boat and they were now driving snow and icy spray into the little craft.

Brosings’ Necklace had become the cradle of Paul’s life. He had traded in his on shore past months before, imagining that life at sea might prove more liberating than the existence he had inherited within the dense confines of the city. So far, the little boat had exceeded all his expectations. Coasting up and down the Puget Sound had been enjoyable and sometimes profitable. He had been scared once or twice. Belligerent immigration agents rounding up illegals near Anacortes had passed over Brosings’ Necklace twice despite Paul’s lack of a valid visa or a boat registration. He was a very small fry swimming in the same sea as Los Tiburones. Paul was just another undocumented barnacle with nothing of value and no one to ransom him from the clink, and he liked that about this lifestyle. No one cared about him, he had no one to care about.

And then Vera had sailed into his life. Late on a a sunny August  afternoon she had slid into Mail Bay. Paul had been fishing, or, depending on how you looked at it, patiently waiting for the sunset. Her long-distance rig had rounded the shallow inlet on the east side of Waldron Island. He had flagged her down before she made landfall. Paul had been lucky enough to catch a PirateNet broadcast earlier that day about the county sheriff nabbing “boat people” who made landfall anywhere on the San Juans. Vera had seen him waving her down and had dropped her traction kite. She had paddled the rest of the way to Brosings’ Necklace on the polymorphic hydroplane she called home.

Vera’s companionship had been a wonderful break from the lonely existence to which Paul had escaped. They had remained mostly autonomous since their chance meeting at Mail Bay, but, perhaps more so when they were apart, Paul felt his growing connection to this strange woman. Their instant attraction, perhaps a byproduct of their shared nomadic lifestyle, had seen Brosings’ Necklace rafted next to her polymorphic hydroplane in pod form night after night. Night after night they shared their food and conversations around a tiny fire brazier on the pilot house of Brosings’ Necklace.

One morning, he had woken to the tide slapping the side of her hull and wondered if all this was sustainable. Vera was as undocumented as they came. Paul wondered what he might do when La Migración caught up to her, how he might feel when they carted her off. Deportation for him meant transport back to Hansen-Seattle Arcology number 12 with the possibility of indenture. Paul lay there attempting to justify leaving; for Vera, a citizen of the Mayori Nation, capture was a fate he was unwilling to contemplate.

When he had worked up the courage to talk to her about his feelings she had proposed that they move up the coast separately. Spend some time on their own and the regroup. “Maybe we could meet up near Port Hardy”, she had suggested. Paul’s sloop had never been wetted in open water and so he decided that he’d take the outside passage. Vera had been talking up an open water crossing, plus all that space was sure to give Paul some isolation to think things over. Terrified of his growing attachment to this woman, Paul had set sail into the Pacific.

Since then Paul had weathered two lows always running to shelter from the open before these storms made landfall. The hyper-dynamic Rossby circulations were now acknowledged as a permanent climate feature of the North Pacific. Very large, slow-moving high-pressure fronts pushed up into the fast melting arctic followed by very large, lows dipping down from the pole creeping across the middle latitudes. The destructive capacity of each cyclical system had become the norm. Sailors knew to find shelter before a low crashed into the coast. This was Paul’s third Rossby wave and he had not stayed ahead of it.

Now Paul was cranking on the rudder hoping that the light off his port was the right one. A big windblown wave crashed into the left gunnel of the Brosings’ Necklace, threatening again to capsize the sloop. Paul scrambled up the deck and leaned over the side, trying to bring the keel under her. Another wave smashed into his back and water obstructed his breathing for a moment. The boat’s heel lessened and he dropped down into the pilot’s well able to breath in the calmer air. A beam of light, still to his left, cut across his bow this time definite and sure. Checking his Navicom mounted on the backside of the deck house, Paul saw that he had slid into the channel south of Ucluete. Wind poured over the rocky spit of land that now separated Paul from the raging storm front and the rigging of Brosings’ Necklace rattled above his head, but he was safe behind the wall of sand and riprap. Paul sailed up the narrow channel enjoying the calm. On the starboard light from the little settlement of Ucluete slit the salty spray rolling over the storm wall. There in the harbor, before his prow, lay Vera’s polymorphic hydroplane.

This Should Be a Thing

I’m plum tuckered out. Today I have been more or less consistently disappointed by humanity. Disappointed in general, as well as in particular. Pretty much everyone I’ve encountered in the last twelve to sixteen hours has figured out a new and sometimes interesting way to let me down. For example, the long line of college aged kids on the trail to Lake Serene who were speaking so loudly I could make them out over the din of the forest and a 200 foot cascade crashing into boulders. Guys, hiking should be a lot like visiting the library. Then there is pretty much everyone on social media for, well, saying dumb shit.

After our hike we picked up some passable fried fish and an okay beer. Expectations thereafter lowered, the Fam and I returned to our castle on the hill and played frisbee at the park for a while. Mostly good, but I caught a disc, thrown at close range by my three year old, with my ear. It’s still throbbing. Eventually, we made our way back to the house and I thought, “Hey, I need a pick-me-up. I should see what my friends are up to,” and then clicked through to Facebook because I’m a glutton for punishment, or disappointment. Take your pick. At the top of my feed the fine folks at Facebook thought I’d appreciate this.

Got a request from a new author to read his book. These always set me on edge.

I love helping out new authors. But I’m super busy, so I can’t really take the time to pour myself into that kind of critical reading. And whenever I tell someone this, it’s always a crapshoot whether I’ll get a “thanks for your time” or a raging screed about arrogant writers.

I will not name the author that wrote this. He’s a good guy, and I suspect that this was probably written out of frustration. The amount of reading anybody associated with this gig is constantly asked to undertake can be daunting. At some point we all have to draw lines and declare “None shall pass.” Also noteworthy, I am not the author making said request. This guy writes fantasy, I write science fiction; I’m uncertain he would understand my works any more than I get his. Add to this he’s just an acquaintance I’ve made, not a bosom buddy or a connection to an agent or an imprint. Just some dude I was friendly with over beers at a convention. I’d be really surprised if he reads this blog post. Ever.

But this very public comment struck me as particularly off-putting for a couple of reasons. First, it is a public declaration characterized by indirect refusal to the request of another. He’s not refusing to help by telling the requesting author, he is refusing by telling his fans. While this avenue of response avoids direct confrontation, it also creates more drama than it solves. While at the same time, the comment itself appears to be a lightly veiled attempt to raise one author above another. The Cliff notes for this post? “I’ve got mine, don’t bother asking.”

Add to the above that I’ve found this attitude somewhat widespread. At conventions I’ve sat next to people, other authors, who spend an inordinate amount of time bitching about the unwashed masses with whom they’re too good to consort. To further the misattribution of a phrase “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.” This seems to me the genre specific contemporary version of Marie Antoinette’s contempt. Funnily it is not the people with swimming pools of book revenue that tend to do this. Go figure.

If you “love helping out new authors” than give it your best shot. Do what you can, no one expects any more. Be more than a self-promoter, be an advocate for your favorite stories. Tell others about all the really fine works that will improve their appreciation of your canon. You’ve worked hard to find your audience, and you may have had help along the way. If not, it cannot hurt to pay it forward. If you really don’t have the time to read someone else’s work than, at the very least, be honest and mature. Tell them upfront.

In an attempt to reconstruct my attitude I turned this nugget on its head because I’m not into maintaining a never ending streak of disappointment. I seriously had to let this one go or risk staying up all night thinking about it, thus, this is a little bit of therapy. I probably need to turn this into a policy statement, but in the mean time consider my public declaration an invitation. Feel free to change out the pronouns as you see fit.

Got a request from a new author to read his book. These always get me excited.

I love helping out new authors because I might have just been given an early opportunity to find my next favorite wordsmith. This is why I will create time in my busy schedule to read his book instead of concocting a series of excuses designed to passive-aggressively justify my own narcissism and surreptitiously segregate him from my social crowd. Besides, I should spend less time playing video games. Whenever I tell someone that I will read their book I am reasonably confident I’ll receive a sincere “thank you” for my time, perhaps some quid pro quo. This is far preferable to the anxiety of waiting on their reply which can range from polite dismissal to an arrogant, raging screed.

It is the last day of August. Today I can officially say I’ve been doing this professionally for a year. Writing, or making shit up for living as I love to call it, is an excellent way to make a living.

One of the most important things I’ve learned over the last year is that it’s a group effort. No one makes it alone. The idea of an “independent author” is a myth, a complete and utter fabrication. For each and every one of us who takes this chance, who writes something down and then sends it out into the world, there must necessarily be a collection of people to read that wager. If you’ve got your’s, I say, “Great! Good on ya.” But I’d also remind you that you did not find your level of success on your own. Someone read what you had to write and loved it enough to tell a friend, to write a blurb, put it in front of your agent or your publisher, or just leave a review on Amazon.

Don’t crap on your fans. Don’t crap on your peers. Pay it forward when ever you can. And always, ALWAYS play nice.

Textbook Example

Extreme Precipitation in US Increasing Data from the latest National Climate Assessment shows that brief, heavy downpours are increasing across the United States, with the Northeastern and Upper Midwestern states hardest hit.

Good morning! For the first time in a very long while the Seattle area is covered, horizon to horizon, with a dense, probably-won’t-burn-off-today layer of creamy, rich, gray clouds. In celebration of this momentous day I put on my running shorts, loaded up the bulki, added Aral, and ran down into Issaquah. Right now, we’re sitting near the rear of the Issaquah Coffee Company; well I am anyway, he is playing with trains and friends in the play area.

First observation of the day: while it is far cooler, it is dog gamed muggy today. Running in muggy is miserable. The body wants to sweat, but the air is not going to help you out. Not one little bit. So you plow through that air moving faster, because while you might sweat a little more, the movement of air over your body feels marginally more comfortable than clinging, humid, still air.

I think about it this way, muggy running should be naked running. Seems you cannot even get away with that at Burning Man these days so I suppose I’m SOL. Otherwise, it was a good run. When we’re done at coffee I’m going to pack everything back up into the bulki, run around town getting some errands done, and then head back up the hill. Perhaps some of the moisture will fall out of the air in the mean time.

Now, beyond contemplating my slimy skin in humid weather, my mind did wonder quite a bit on the run down. I kept coming back to this PopSci article about extreme precipitation, which has been making me say to myself, “Well yeah, this is news?” It’s not news. Rather this is textbook, meaning predictions of a general increase in the intensity of weather events has been around since nearly the beginning of climate science. Meaning that you can literally read about extreme weather predictions in any credible textbook on the subject.

I realize that this may be me experiencing some some cultural dissociation from the rest of the country. Hell, even the rest of the population juxtaposed right next to me. That there are people who still don’t believe in anthropogenic climate change is something I know about. And while I know this, my rational mind wants, desperately, to not believe in this ridiculous state of affairs.

Derp, derp, derpy, derp. Numbers from Gallup’s annual Environment poll, a nationally representative telephone survey conducted each March since 2001. The 2014 update was conducted March 6-9.

So you’re wondering, “Where is Matt going with this? How is he ever going to tie this back into science fiction?” Dear Audiance, that’s the fun part. There is a lot of science fiction and speculative fiction out there which describes a future so morbidly FUBAR that this question is no longer permitted. In these stories, the stark reality that everyone inhabits is so far gone that characters are no longer aloud the luxury of being such bone headed ingrates.

Now here’s the challenging part. John Scalzi has written extensively about white male privilege in the genre. He’s been acknowledged as something of an expert opinion on this topic and having met the man I’d have to endorse that opinion. Dude’s got credit when it comes to recognizing easy mode.

John Scalzi’s linked essay has a line in it which I believe is endlessly quotable:

So that’s “Straight White Male” for you in The Real World (and also, in the real world): The lowest difficulty setting there is. All things being equal, and even when they are not, if the computer — or life — assigns you the “Straight White Male” difficulty setting, then brother, you’ve caught a break.

The thought occurred to me while running down from the plateau this morning that writers who write a) in the future and often b) in settings that have been fundamentally altered by climate change are often choosing easy mode. Myself included. In these stories it is a very rare bird that does not believe in what he or she can  easily see happening all around them.

Paolo Bachigalupi’s Ship Breaker series, for instance, lacks characters who persistently ignore their setting. Who insist that climate change is not affecting them. Even Nailer, illiterate and uneducated as he is, knows that things are now much different than they were in the distant past. And those characters necessarily padded by privilege from the consequences of climate change still believe that so much has changed, often for the worse.

This is not a criticism of Bachigalupi’s work, but it is illustrative of my point. Writing in this mode preempts the debate and worse avoids solving a persistent problem of our time. I’m guessing here, but I imagine that Bachigalupi set out to scare/thrill our pants off with Ship Breaker, not quell an irrational dissension on a contemporary topic.

But if you’re writing cli-fi and you’re not writing irrational denial of the obvious you are choosing easy mode. Why? Because, right now, every day, plenty of people are still holding out despite the very real consequences of anthropogenic climate change.

Detroit, Boulder, Kearney, the whole freaking Gulf Coast, the East Coast, the West Coast, the Rocky Mountain Region, you name a place and even the most cursory web search looking for an extreme weather event will likely reveal occurrence as well as increase. And in every one of these locations there will be a population of cognitively dissonant people who will deny the obvious happening right outside their doors. In fact, the will dogmatically cling to the fiction of denial, even when those events come crashing through those doors. If 43% of the US population can ignore these facts of everyday life in 2014, how do we imagine that a similar percentage of people won’t defect from reality in 2040?

Much of my editing of late has been focused on getting Counterfeit Horizon closer to publishing. Not to provide spoilers, but I’ve effectively removed all human agency when it comes to climate change in the conclusion of this story. In doing so I’ve also crossed into the gray area which resides somewhere between science fiction and fantasy and consequently I’ve neglected to realistically solve the very problem that I pose. Humanity does not solve for climate change.

Convincing others of the obvious, then somehow compelling them to act in their own best interests, that’s hard mode and even I haven’t written that story yet. The good news is that the plot arc is now written, the outline is right there. I don’t believe that the existing mechanisms for changing people’s minds will be any more effective in the future than they have been up to this point. The fun and the challenge is going to come making up workable solutions to this problem.

Rolled a Druid

While researching something for something I’m writing I came across this character generator, which asks a bunch of personal questions to build a D&D character. I’m a middling Druid it turns out. Watch yourselves or I’ll cast stone skin on you and whack you with my +2 Staff of Beating.


I Am A: Neutral Good Human Druid (6th Level)

Ability Scores:
Strength-13
Dexterity-12
Constitution-14
Intelligence-14
Wisdom-10
Charisma-13

Alignment:
Neutral Good A neutral good character does the best that a good person can do. He is devoted to helping others. He works with kings and magistrates but does not feel beholden to them. Neutral good is the best alignment you can be because it means doing what is good without bias for or against order. However, neutral good can be a dangerous alignment when it advances mediocrity by limiting the actions of the truly capable.

Race:
Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Class:
Druids gain power not by ruling nature but by being at one with it. They hate the unnatural, including aberrations or undead, and destroy them where possible. Druids receive divine spells from nature, not the gods, and can gain an array of powers as they gain experience, including the ability to take the shapes of animals. The weapons and armor of a druid are restricted by their traditional oaths, not simply training. A druid’s Wisdom score should be high, as this determines the maximum spell level that they can cast.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

Top Ten

ListDavid Wohlreich recently posted a list of ten books that have remained with him and/or influenced him throughout his life. Any reasonably literate person probably has a list like this simmering on their back burner, but bringing it to the front, where it can stand as a fully formed entrée, seems like an undertaking.

Just as I said I would, I’ve given this some thought. Here’s my list in no particular order.

There are many more stories and works that I’d love to put on this list. Ultimately, writing it down became an act of excision. And yes, there is indeed a trilogy in my list. You cannot read just one of these books and have the whole of the story.

Finally, I’m posting this to the blog and not directly to Facebook. Why? Mostly because this is a little portal into my head and I’d much rather share these sorts of thoughts near the core. Facebook feels much like a social extremity. Also, I get to link to the titles themselves.

Finally, I’m not challenging anyone, but if you feel inspired to write your top ten books down please feel free to tag me so I’ll know. Give it some thought, make the list longer than ten then start chopping.