The Bad News

Yeah, so all has been quiet on this front for some time. The reason for this is pretty straightforward, I’ve been experiencing intermittent issues with the keyboard on my laptop which became catastrophically worse late last week. Look at yours right now. See all the letters between W and P? None of them on my laptop’s keyboard work any longer and most of them get used all the time to write simple sentences.

Today, after much hullabaloo on the phone with Apple, I drove to the mainland specifically to get it repaired. I’ve watched the surgery necessary on YouTube, and it’s pretty involved, so I sought help. Help, it turns out, cost considerably more than the laptop is worth.

“So there he is, banging away at this post,” you’d rightly point out. “How the hell is doing it?” Well, I bought a cheapo keyboard and turned my very expensive Macbook Pro into a desk potato. This may become my new mascot or something.

“What’s next?” you ask when informed of my clever and inexpensive workaround? Well, obviously a lot less portable computing. When I work away from my desk, I’ll necessarily be doing so on a tiny device like my phone. This is slower and considerably more prone to borkage, but possible.

Right now my big project is a Space Opera retelling of Shakespear’s Romeo and Juliet which I’m very glad to be working on once again. If I do anything to improve my workspace, it will be to add a bigger monitor to this potato setup. However, unless and until I’m able to sell some stories, this is going to remain an aspiration since it lacks funds.

Off to the Editor

Oh, that’s a good feeling. No, strike that, it’s a great feeling! I just submitted a 7,500-word short story for an upcoming Future Chronicles anthology. Doomsday Chronicles isn’t due out until February 2016, but my story is very done. I’m very satisfied with the work as well.

This piece should cement my SFWA membership, if not this year, then early next year. Added to this In Goat I’ve managed to turn out an entertaining, compelling, topical tale I’m certain will make readers think. So, yeah, I’m congratulating myself just a little bit. I think this may be an overlooked part of writing for a living that more authors need to take in hand. Celebrate your accomplishments people.

“What’s next?” you ask. I’m contributing to another anthology — this time steampunk’s Drifting Isles — and I’ve already begun this one. It’s due in November so I’ve got time and since this tale is outlined and just needs words I’m going to have more time to work on other things concurrently. So I’m left wondering where I should focus.

The top contenders are two novel-length projects and a novella length speculative fiction piece. Counterfeit Horizon is something like 70,000 words (currently) of very rough work. Part of my reluctance in finishing this story — that I began back in 2013 — is the sheer volume of editing that it’s going to take. Counterfeit was my first attempt at a novel length anything, and consequently it’s just riddled with mistakes and plot holes. One strategy I’ve been contemplating is to junk the old manuscript and just re-write the story using the characters, settings and plot I’ve already developed. I wrote the bulk of Counterfeit Horizon during NaNoWriMo, so I know I could knock this out comfortably in a short space of time.

Second is the novella project. Fire Weather is almost there now; a short sprint could have this piece ready for publication by late winter. With the incredible fire season, we’ve seen this summer the story is topical. Right now my big problem is that the tension in the tale tends to fall off. There are interpersonal battles, health issues, and of course, the fireline fight, but when I read my work I’m left wanting more. This story needs some Spike, and my feeling is that I don’t know how much to add. I suppose I can add spice in small amounts, reworking by chapter and scene, until I think it’s got the right flavor. Now that I write this out, this begins to appeal to me.

The final candidate is Winter City Above the Clouds. The first two chapters have been written, and I’ve spent some time this summer working on the outline for this science fiction epic. This project is daunting. And what I mean by that is that right now, I’m looking at what I want to do with it, and I’m not entirely sure I have the skills necessary to reach that lofty goal. I’ll be making everything up, and this tale requires a rich, expansive cultural backdrop just to make the stage believable.

Of these projects, Winter City is where I’d like to be spending my time, it’s where I go to get lost in my own imagination right now. I based my first Future Chronicles contribution Ser Pan Comido in the universe I’ve been developing for Winter City. So it has that element of guilty pleasure about it. I just don’t want that to interfere with the final quality of the piece. Better, I don’t want to find myself back in the same situation I’m in with Counterfeit Horizon.

Conclusion, it’s sometimes very easy to be your own boss and other times it approaches impossible to be at the helm. Option paralysis is real.

Can’t Pass a Turing Test

So Tess and I are trying to buy a new house, I may have mentioned this before. Internet access — specifically high speed access — is a big requirement for us. Between the two of us we’d have a very hard time getting any work done without it. Thus, for anything that gets put into the “serious” list we usually search out local high-speed internet providers in the area and confirm a) that they offer service at the address and b) that they can accommodate our bandwidth and throughput requirements.

I’ve accomplished this before with several companies, and in particular with Comcast/XFINITY. Perviously I talked to a guy named Ruhid and while it took him a bit he was clearly searching for an answer. Today, I had to do the same thing, but as you can see below, I was not able to answer these very basic questions.

Chris: Hi, I’m a live Comcast product specialist. What questions can I answer for you today?
Chris: Just type your question below.
Matt: I’m trying to determine what sort of speeds I can get for a house we may buy

[address of new house]

Chris: I’d be glad to check the Internet plans we offer in your area.
Chris: Do you mind if I ask a few question in order to give you accurate information?
Matt: sure
Chris: Just to check before we move on, are you a current Comcast customer or have you had Comcast service in your name within the last 120 days?
Matt: no and no
Chris: Thank you for considering Comcast!
Chris: To better assist you with our Internet plans, may I ask what do you usually do on the Internet?
Matt: mostly work, I am an author, my wife is a software developer
Matt: we also stream entertainment
Chris: Perfect! How many computers or gaming devices do you connect to the internet? Are any of them laptops?
Matt: most of them are laptops and I maintain a router for NAP purposes
Chris: We offer the Wireless Gateway which packs a router, cable modem, and voice adapter into one device. It allows multiple devices in the house to access to access the Internet at the same time with lightning fast speeds!
Chris: Just to check, do you currently have TV and/or phone service/s with another provider?
Matt: Thanks, I’m just checking access for potential issues at this time
Matt: yes we’re on community fiber installation right now
Chris: By the way, are you interested in Internet-only service? We currently have promotions for new customer for triple play bundles that you may qualify. Please note that you will be able to save more on the costs if you go with bundling up our services.
Matt: only internet please
Chris: It’s alright, just wanted to let you know the benefits of bundling our 3 high speed cable services.
Matt: I just need to know what if any service at this address
Chris: Based on what you’ve told me, I highly recommend our Performance plan. With Performance Internet, you will be able to stream high definition movies and TV shows easily, work online at home and surf the web with fast speed of up to 50 Mbps downloads with up to 5 Mbps upload.
Chris: How does that sound to you?
Matt: are you saying that the CP on Vashon island can support 50/5 Mbps?
Chris: The calculated maximum speeds of the internet plans vary from area to area (in most cases by 2 – 5mbps differences). The promotions show the “National” plan that is advertised the same, the everyday pricing shows the local area pricing and the speeds in that area.
Matt: that’s not what i’m asking, I need to know what the line to that address will support
Matt: can you answer that question for me?
Chris: May I ask what do you mean by saying “CP”?
Matt: the control plane on the far side of the network. If there is coaxial cable into the house, which COMCAST owns, then there will be a control plane somewhere in the neighborhood.
Matt: its your companies router
Matt: What I’m after is does Comcast service this address? If so, what kind of service can I expect?
Chris: Our high speed cable services run through our fiber optic cable network that’s why we’re not only fast and reliable but we’re also up and running, rain or shine.
Matt: that is precious
Matt: so you can’t tell me if comcast can provide service to that address?
Chris: We provide services in your area as I have checked on our system.
Chris: Our Performance plan is on promotion at $39.99 per month for the first 12 months. After 12 months, regular rate of around $66.95 per month will apply.
Chris: The lease for the XFINITY Wireless Gateway ranges from $8-$10 a month, depending on your area. Let’s move forward so that we can check on the Customize page.
Chris: Do you have any other questions before we place the order?

As this conversation got longer and longer the thought that Chris might not be a real person, kept occurring to me. When I finally closed the chat dialogue, that question was itching my brain something awful. It seems I’m not the only one who is walking around with a raging case of Comcast brain rash.

Now, I think it’s probably safe to assume that Chris was a piece of software answering support calls on the far side of our current service plan. If not, well then I apologize Chris, but you should know that you come off as the cross between an incredibly shallow intellect and a religious zealot with a cable fetish.

So moving beyond the frustration of not knowing about internet service at this address, my fascination with this situation is plainly apparent. There is a part of me that wants to go back to that pop-up chat window and troll Chris for a while. Ask him unusual questions like “I love cherry pie. What’s your favorite pie?” Then make rhetorical statements suck as “Nice weather we’re having.” I’d just leave it there to see if he’d recognize the conversation bait. I’d love to provoke a more satisfactory tell than his relentless insistence that my life would be better if only I chose a package deal and I’d like to determine the edges of Chris’ script. Looking up an address in a service database is way beyond him, but does he contemplate the complexities of relative humidity and precipitation?

The story I’ve been investing in of late is an attempt to examine quality of life, both from within a perfect simulation of reality, and outside the simulation where experience is real, random and often fractured. We’re not too far away from a day when the virtual representation of a thing will be as good as, if not better than, the actual thing. When the fidelity and clarity and ease of an animated fish swimming through virtual space in our living rooms exceeds an actual SCUBA adventure off the coast of Hawaii, where will we chose to swim?

I should probably write Comcast/Chris a letter thanking them for giving me a ready made subplot. After I finish this blog post I’m going to go outline a machine learning Guru living within the Lucid Landscapes Corporation virtual space. Either that or I’m going to take a break from living inside my own head for a bit and go work with my hands. I have a kayak that is nearly assembled.

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.

I Cannot Think of Nothing that Might Go Wrong

Yep, nothing…

Okay sarcasm aside, let’s take something like this to its logical extreme. One-hundred ton road trains crossing vast uninhabited Western wastelands of the west. Crowded stop and go traffic of over-populated urban areas. Stoned hackers who desire nothing so much as a truckload of fresh Chinese Twinkies. Man, talk about mash-up potential. Road warrior meets Minority Report. This has potential.

Dispatches From The Future (B-List)

Since I started the Dispatches I’ve been getting a minor bump in readership. That’s a good thing. Nothing like what I expect should I bleed on the blog about my seizures, but a bump nonetheless. That’s something because its not about me breaking down. Those reads are about me making something.

Also, it should be noted that I’m opening this up. I’ve written a couple so far and I’d like to see what you guys might have up your sleaves. Rules? Simple. There are some great examples of what I’m looking for at the PopSci link. These are vignettes of life at some point in the future. They should be around 500 words. More is okay, but less is much better. If you need assistance with editorial work, I’m happy to help.


Scare Tactics

“Should you decide to step out of line,” said Detective Pérez, “know that you’ve already been caught. It might seem a little like magic, but it’s math.”

The response from the classroom was predictable. A communal noise somewhere between a scoff and a irreverent chuckle. One of the kids, a skinny caucasian boy wearing an Ubu LED light up shirt and Freez boots, crossed his arms over his chest and said, “You can’t catch nothin’ Cheezer. Nothin’ but dust.”

Pérez tapped her right temple and bracketed the kid’s head with the target reticle floating in her vision. An eye blink later his dossier became an augmented vision floating transparently before her.

“Reuben Seth Wilson, you’ve already been arraigned twice in Juvy court system. And it looks like you’ve got a hearing scheduled next month for a traffic ticket. Thirty-five over the limit? Hum, you should prepare for a Reckless Endangerment charge too,” Pérez said.

The snicker-sneer was now focused on Wilson who shrunk a little in his seat. “Everyone gets caught, because everyone is in the system,” Pérez continued. “Wilson you signed a EULA when you purchased that Ubu shirt and those sneakers you’re wearing. That EULA tied you into the internet of things and gave law enforcement access to any meta-information you produce while wearing your stylish garments. We know everything about you. We’re better than Santa Clause that way, because once you’re beyond the Juvenile system we don’t have to wait for you to fuck up.”

A stillness descended on the classroom for perhaps the first time in the history of the building. “That’s right, you’re all nearing your eighteenth birthday. That’s why you’re here. The idea is that I’m supposed to scare you into minding your P’s and Q’s. But that never works. I’m a little woman, and a cop to boot. I can’t scare you with my piece or my authority, so I’m going to do it with math. Predictive data science to be exact. I know when you’re going to commit a crime before you do. So enjoy the little bit of time you have left before your next birthday, because after that day, I’ll have officers waiting to bag and tag you. You’ll be arraigned and processed and on your way to lockup from sentencing within seven business days of capture, and you’d better prey that you don’t already have a record of sociopathic behavior, because you’re future will be bleak if you do.”

“Ting” Is the Sound it Makes

Treasure Planet, a really well done story with admirable role models

When an idea is properly seated in my mind, I don’t so much hear a sound, but rather experience the sensation of those cogs snapping into alignment. This morning, while warming up for some writing, I was dabbling in casual Twitter word dalliance when just such a moment occurred. Pow! Bang, snap … TING! New, formerly unknown mechanisms, found deep within my lump of gray, started rolling and turning.

The problem? For some time I have been concerned, perhaps overly, that my female characters aren’t enough. The smarter and wholly more capable half of my marriage maintains that if I write people, instead of men and women, I will have successfully broached the gender problems most commonly found in contemporary fiction. And I believe she is correct, without reservation. I do, or I try to write people, but then there are those moments when I write something and even she says “that’s some sexist, crap-pile of words there.” Essayer n’est pas fait, non?

Case in point, as a writing exercise, I began writing character sketches of people that I have seen in and around Seattle. I’m making this place my home, and for the first time in my life I seriously do not want to move. Rather I want to reinvent the way I perceive my situation and surroundings. The character sketches are meant to say something about this place and the people who can be found here, while at the same time creating avatars for the spirits that reside only in this place. It is an attempt to write a modern mythos of the city and its surrounds.

I found my raven and wrote her. The narrative voice is that of a early 30-something male who is both critically observant and judgmental.

And so Raven, heart broken with the loss of her closest intimate, took on a cloak of sadness. Dyed with the pigments of pregnant rainclouds as they pass across shadowed tree tops in a winter night sky, for the first time since the eyes of the world opened, she wore her sentiments around her slender shoulders for all to see. Therein, anyone with eyes keen enough, should be able to view loathing and lamentation.

But if you had know Raven before Coyote left her bereft and miserably lonely you might then understand better how all this grief came to be. Had you the privilege of time, she might have spoken to you in the dawn of the world and you would have known, for even then her voice was the rasp of madness as it slid across the grains of a red wooded truth. Raven has always been too clever, and in her voice is the dementia that even the Mad Dog could not endure.

#

Black silk over lustrous, tan skin, she stands beneath the maple melding her savvy brain to the polished complexion of her smart phone by way of that perfect, petite ear. Her honeyed voice murmurs into the microphone hypnotically; audible, but not discernible over the sputtering chatter of bubbling water flowing from a distant fountain. The black stilettos scream something about appearances, but the red paint poking out the end of each shoe, brushed sometime before with meticulous care, is noise confusing that message.

“What gym do you go to?” A question she’s heard a hundred times in a thousand martini bars. “Slim” is a poor choice of words. To describe those compact curves any wordsmith worthy of his dram would need to invade the esteemed halls of automotive PR. “Aerodynamite,” “fasterpiece,” “JOOOY,” she is a four point two liter V-8 turbo, fuel stratified injected, brushed in glossy, metallic black with rich-tanned leather behind the wheel. An automotive masterpiece on two legs, you wouldn’t want to hear her redlined, but a deep, sonorous growl of satisfaction might just fill up your tank. Yeah, you will raid that treasure room of purpose built, designer adjectives needed for this Benz of a woman.

And then to confuse and befuddle just a little more, from out of a tiny, black handbag, until recently tucked under a well muscled arm, she withdraws a vaporizer. Gloss nightmare and chrome, fully charged, she lifts it to her sculpted lips and draws deeply from the reed. The seams of that tailor fit dress strain as she inhales deeply from the slender, ebon phallus, a pair laser carved breasts pushing directly and immediately against the interior of the garment. Then, after a too-long moment, anxious with anticipation, she exhales a gossamer cloud of acrimonious smoke into the courtyard. The dress seems to sigh with relief at the passage of that steely grey cloud. You check your tablet, the P/E on this stock looks great, but oh the maintenance. Upkeep would be a bitch.

Hidden somewhere beneath those matchless mammaries and well beyond that raven hair exists a dark mote. A stain that must be dealt with cruelly. Constantly. Consistently. The saccharine scent of sativa slithers edgewise across the square violating the aroma of your gourmet brew. It is merely breakfast time, the prime commute, and this avatar of Muninn just drew enough high potency, grade A+, medical, BC kush to make Andy Griffith forget Aunt Bee. Something lurks there, dark like a shadow on the far side of a building with rain clouds looming over the Sound. Something even she hasn’t the courage to deal with directly.

The day that I wrote this I could not wait for Tess to come home. I was pretty darn proud of the prose, and it was merely an exercise. A sort of word-workout. Her reaction was less than the “Wow! You’re such an awesome writer Matt,” I was anticipating. When we discussed it later I had to agree that, “Yes, this narrative is from the perspective of a misogynistic, dude-bro occupying a position of undeserved privilege.” The unnamed observer of Raven is a jerk. Not me, but I wrote a jerk.

The question then became, “What does this say about me, the writer?” So I wrote a pair of broken people, I will willingly acknowledge that. Broken people exist, they also happen to be a major component of many stories. And in some way, these characters provide — in their nose dives toward despair and destruction, or in their hard fought assents towards redemption —  much of the texture we seek in our storytelling. Or that’s the way it works for me. But what does that say about me, the writer? It’s not the lasting impression I want to leave on the world with my storytelling. That’s for certain. I’m not a cynical guy and I try, often against great resistance, to find the silver linings in my life.

This morning, Kameron Hurley dropped this tweet into a conversation I was following.

Moments later, after scanning through her impressive panel schedule at Readercon I encountered this gem.

12:00 PM    F    New Models of Masculinity.Erik Amundsen, John Benson, Kameron Hurley (leader), Catt Kingsgrave, Bart Leib. In a comment on Chuck Wendig’s blog, Nobilis Reed wrote, “I think one of the ways that speculative fiction can really change the world in a way that it needs right now, is to provide models of masculinity that don’t involve oppressing people.” There’s no denying that today’s speculative heroes are frequently brooding, violent, incapable of healthy relationships, and otherwise not exactly role model material. This panel will brainstorm ways to create fictional men and masculine people who we’d actually want to spend time with.

And right there was the “ting.” I know that I will likely continue to write broken and flawed people. I can assure you that there will be many more bent Ravens and misogynistic jerk narrators skulking around the ever growing metropolis of my DropBox because they’re necessary. The gallant knight cannot save the fair maiden from the clutches of the evil necromancer if the evil necromancer is someone the maiden might just settle for in the event all the good knights are taken or gay. That practitioner of the dark arts has to suck, and this reality of storytelling cannot be helped.

But it occurs to me that I don’t have to write stories (not that I do) which conform to that plot trajectory. In fact, I don’t have to write about love, sex, gender equality or disparity, misogyny, reverse-misogyny or any of that. Rather, I can focus my will on writing what I know, or want to know better. I can write role models. People who, despite all the wrong decisions in their midst, never fail to feel empathy and good will. Are always there lending a hand when it is needed. Boys and girls and hermaphroditic, changeling, cyborgs we should look up to.

Things may be cracked and little rough around the edges, sure, but there’s no reason we have to focus our attention on those flaws. I feel that too much time is lavished on these negative aspects of our shared reality already. There is no reasonable justification for letting them become the standard flying above our shared imagination.