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.

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On The Seance of Dead Writers

An interesting conversation occurred this morning between Tess and me. We were talking about the mechanics of voice, specifically Elmore Leonard’s ability to convey entire stories through little more than dialogue. She loves his style or writing, if I heard her correctly, because of the way that it lies.

Now I should explain.

All fiction is a lie. Author literally makes this stuff up, and the trick is we’re sometimes able to make our readers believe that lie as if it were fact. Leonard’s genius is that he lies in a way that makes you feel like you’re witnessing the story as it’s happening. It’s memory. A long conversation that you’ve listened instead of some words you read.

While I appreciate the technique, much of what I’ve written does not make use of this. Per my wife, I should probably think about channeling the voice of Leonard. This is, however, only one possible conclusion of the conversation.

I am now keenly aware of the authorial voices that influence me as I pound out manuscripts. In fact, I’ve noticed that as I’ve developed as a writer, I tend to read with a new found insight into these creative aspects within the domain of any story’s construction.

Right now I’m very much channeling the spirit of Dead Ed with a little Jack London tossed in. For the first time, I’m mindful of the influence these two authors exert on my writing, as I write. I often ask myself if what I’ve written is something they might like to read. Of course, I’ll never know, but the question is an important one for me to answer because the example of their work sets a new expectation that I’m shooting for.

The October Omnibus Update

I’m going to drill down on what’s up with the words. That’s the part that you’re likely interested in the first place, and it’s certainly at the core of everything I do.

Short Stories

Since I sent Shadow Over Your Shoulder out into the world, I’ve been working on another short project. The working title is “Running,” and it’s a refugee story about a woman caught between her culture and an alien invasion.

This has been a difficult writing exercise for me because I’m not a woman and I’ve never been pregnant. For that matter, I’ve never been a refugee, so I’m always reaching. Asking myself, “Given these conditions, how would you react?” It’s an exercise in empathy that can often be very draining.

Currently, Running is about 2,000 words, and there are easily four or five more chapters I need to write.

Plague of Contentment

About mid-September I put this down. I ran into a speed bump, and I needed some time to figure out how to get around it. One of the problems with being high-speed, low-drag I suppose is that don’t always have the elevation to clear these hurdles.

The good news is that Frank and Alice now have a way out of Cle Elem and I know how I’m going to rob them of the RV (without sending them back to the ranch). Ever tried sucking diesel fuel from an underground well through a hose?

Up Slope

Yeah, so I spent the later part of September solving structural issues which were a byproduct of having written the original manuscript as a novel. A lot of this involved moving parts of the story around so each episode had both its own arc and ended on at least one cliffhanger.

I feel that I’ve done this and now I’m digging back into revisions, edits, and rewrites. I’m not sure if there’s enough time for art this month, but if all of these things come together, Episode 2 could be out this month. At this point, I guess you won’t see it until November, and that may be for the best. Lots more time for us to polish this one.

Bone Eaters

I got my NaNo reminder today, and oh yeah, I’ve been using a lot of spare cycles to outline, in great detail, the particulars of a slipstream novel called The Bone Eaters.

The draft synopsis I’m working from is as follows:

”Centuries after a solar flare cooked the planet Ji Practitioner Taego Bou, a young Ax from the Western Cloister of the Pinan Sangha, toils to ensure that this island of a lost world will continue under the protection of the Dragon’s Egg. At the center of the city stands a grand stupa where four bodhisattvas exist in a half-life between Nirvana and death to maintain a pinch in space-time that protects the inhabitants below.”

“Over the centuries, a once benign dogma has become an all-encompassing influence of the time population within the confines of the Dragon’s Egg. Strict population and genetic controls are tightly and blindly managed by a pedantic administration class who clings to the power and privilege of their position.”

The outline is already more than 2,000 words and growing quickly. The novel is about intransigent cultural influence, indoctrination and the revolution of mind and awareness necessary for people to expand. For this novel, I’m targeting around 75,000 words, and I’m planning out all the details (no more pants-ing it).

GeekGirlCon

Yeah, I spent Saturday at Seattle’s very own celebration of fandom. My first impression was that this was a whole lot bigger convention that I had anticipated. Despite my social anxiety I persevered. I’m rewarded for sticking with it.

So much of the CosPlay was beyond believable. The panels were often so well attended that they were turning people away. And I had sushi at Blue-C (with the first grain I’ve consumed in more than a month; they didn’t have sashimi).

My favorite part of the whole thing was getting the opportunity to talk to so many creative, thoughtful people; I walked away from the Con with much to think over including a handful of up-sights. Later this week I’ll get through the stack of contact information and do my best to untangle all these memories in a blog post.

Musical Touchstone

Considering the rollercoaster that the last week became it’s a small wonder this section is chocked full of angry punk anthems. Probably a sign of my aging mind, but those albums are statistically insignificant through September and now October.

Rather, I’ve been diving into downtempo, trip-hop. My ears have been craving harmonies vibraphone, a steady beat and steel strings. Skye Edwards singing “The Sea” for Morcheeba played over the rambling susurrations of the coffee shop.

World Domination

In September we passed the second funding goal for this project, thank you one and all for your participation reaching Incremental Assassination. What this means is that I can now afford to have some prints of cover art made.

The next milepost is just visible on the horizon. I’ve been dreaming of an Isley Scotch Whiskey from Jura, heavily peated. For me, this smokey flavor is reminiscent of my fire-fighting days. I’ve had my eyes on Ardbeg’s “Supernova.” Antici …

Pation.

Let me reiterate my September call-to-action. If you enjoyed SYOS and know someone else who might as well, please feel free to pass it along. With that same sentiment.

Thank You Readers

Every so often, when I’m sitting behind the keyboard, pounding out another tale, I feel the immensity of this challenge I’ve set ahead of myself. I feel alone, shipwrecked-alone. Like there’s no help out there, I’m the only one who’s ever going to read any of this stuff. Sometimes that’s enough, but then there are other moments.

I struggle against this sensation because I know that it’s not true, but when it happens it takes a lot out of me. Instead of focusing on the story at hand, I have to repair the cracks that form in my self-confidence.

But occasionally, one of you mixes up the mortar.

Ser Pan Comido – Matthew Alan Thyer – 4.5/5 – This tale almost begins like something from Aladdin, with the street rats circling trying to get around in a city full of wonders. However, you quickly get a feel for this story, and understand not only the intricate city the Author has built, but the culture surrounding it. Then there is the wreck of this ship laying amongst it. The story follows 3 young teens that manage to gain access to the derelict, and in the process of doing so, get a little more than they bargained for.
I don’t want to say too much, as it will give away too much of the story and ruin it, needless to say, this is a fantastic adventure, brilliant in its story telling, with really clever, well written characters. There are some fascinating parts to this story, especially once they are inside the ship, that kept me enthralled, and in a single session (difficult with young kids!!) His characters are really well written and believable, making this even more enjoyable.
Again, I found myself finishing this tale, and seeking the authors other works as I really enjoyed this story.”

Jas P

Maledicta?

I have been criticized for the use of coarse language in my writing and, you know, that’s fucking fair. Regardless of where the scrutiny is coming from it tends to make me wonder, Could I say the same thing, but keep it pure as snow? This is completely rhetorical noodling, however, and I know it. Don’t believe me, walk out your door and gnaw on a handful of the white stuff. You’ll be spitting dirt, hair, and heavy metals for the rest of the day.

I was born in the early 70’s. Some of the worst atrocities of Vietnam War were taking place as my mother labored over my birth. The 1972 Easter Offensive was only broken by US lead sustained carpet bombing counter-campaign. While estimates of the military personnel lost or wounded during this knock-out, dragged-out slug-fest range vastly even today, we’re certain we’ll never know the actual human toll extracted from the South Asian jungles. Thousands, hundreds-of-thousands in that year alone? Just people in the wrong place, because that’s a lot of death for little more than rubber tree plantations. We know that the final tally went well into the millions of people dead in the name of slapdash policy wonks who inhabited the white halls of capital buildings thousands of miles away. Broken individuals testing their favorite military hypothesis with actual lives.

I grew up a child of the 80’s. Some would argue that this was, in America anyway, a period of relative peace and prosperity, and those fuckers would be absolutely wrong. Violence, the threat of loss, these things were everywhere, even in whitebread American suburbs. Always there was the specter of Soviet aggression, and the media played this chord constantly. While I struggle to recall most memories from my childhood, I can vividly recollect duck-and-cover exercises and the unspoken certainty that hiding under a table was rehearsal for bending over and kissing your own ass goodbye.

But it didn’t stop there, never. Red Dawn, Iran-Contra, the War on Drugs, mob battles, train wrecks, plane crashes, refugees, assassination, mass shooting, and buildings bombed; the 1980’s were a violence mill, and this was reflected in the culture of the time.

North

Some of my favorite music from that time is little more than an appreciation of my generation’s violent inheritance. And we made the best, from ribald rhymes intent on eliciting prudish moral outrage to confrontational indictments of the latest criminal insult passing without consequence. We may not have invented the grassroots response, but we did our part to perfect it. Honing our tools the only way anyone had ever shown us.

Our words got sharp. Baby boomer hedge fund managers and MTV executives making piles of cash from the sweat of our backs, politicians and generals extracting the rest right from our hides, we were justifiably indignant. And that indignation is what got us this far because it’s always better than the alternative. Despair is just going to end you.

And now the next confrontation strikes me. This morning, while scrolling through social media, I noticed a displacement maledicta (yeah, that’s fucking latin). One of those curse words composed of similarly shaped eccentric characters designed to suggest the idea of a bad word without actually saying it. “$h%#,” “&*#@&*^%,” and the insidious “@$$hole.” H … e .. double hockey sticks, the message was the product of a guy from my generation. A person who appreciates the same sort of music I grew up loving. Felt the same sort of outrage I did (and sometimes still do). A dude who can and will pepper his speech with the actual negatively pitched expressions.

“I’d rather stay a child/ and keep my self-respect/ if being and adult/ means being like you.” — Dead Kennedys, Life Sentence

Listen, I am well aware that bad words hurt, and in my forty-something years I’ve grown up just enough to understand that there is a time and place for them. So, this isn’t a diatribe against political correctness campaigns, twisted moralist minds, or hypocrisy. And, I should state, matter-of-factly, that I take great pains to improve the diction and vocabulary of my children. But I want to go on record, displacement maledictum are endlessly more insidious and potentially destructive than the actual expression of the swearing’s equivalent.

Just Say No

If your message requires the use of a sharp tool you’ve just reached behind your back and pulled a spoon from your belt. For the pen to prevail mighty, your nib must remain keen.

Advice

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Yesterday evening, while attending my local writing group, the advice started pouring. A perfect storm of what I needed to read, who I needed to follow, in order to write a breakout novel. What I needed to do in order to achieve my goals with DISTANCE. Everyone was well-intentioned, no doubt, but once I got home and started going over my notes, I felt randomized. Like a few wheels had slipped the track somewhere down the line, and my train was dragging to a halt on under the strain of the extra drag.

Later, I spent some time talking with a friend, mostly about the first couple of chapters. His advice was concrete, easy to understand, and given the arc and direction of the story made sense. It was specific, and it advanced DISTANCE further down the tracks because it was a simple matter to integrate it into the writing process.

I’ve concluded that writers need feedback during the development of a work. I certainly do. We write alone, but we refine in a public crucible. This is one of the few professions I can think of where other people’s early opinions prove critical to the development of the final product. I’m drawing an image in mind’s eyes’ of others so it is useful to know that my sketches cross the void that separates us from one another. Engineers, on the other hand, design something THEN test that thing. While they’re hunched over the draft board, however, they’re not interested or concerned about what anyone thinks of their process. In fact, it’s likely outside inputs may destroy their eventual effectiveness.

Given the above, I’ve become very discerning when I get outside inputs. Like most writers, I’ve developed a pretty good understanding of what I want to do. Even good, pertinent counsel can distract from my end goal.

So it goes, that last night, I came to another realization. Writing a “breakout novel” is not my goal. This sort of encouragement is nudging me off the rails. Knowing this, I can easily disregard well-intentioned advice which seeks to push my work in the wrong direction.

Yeah, having a breakout novel would be great. And, while I acknowledge that some people enter into the writing process with this as an end goal, it has nothing to do with the story I want to tell. Much like winning an award or holding a lottery ticket with all the right numbers the “breakout” is a potential end benefit.

I’m sticking to the plan.

 

The Ten Year Plan

One thing you can easily and always find on the internet is advice. It’s everywhere and I mean everywhere. Some places will charge you for a little, other people will lavish that stuff on you like scented unguents over a decadent Roman emperor, and free of charge.

I end up accepting, relative to the sheer, mind-boggling expanse of what is available, an insignificant mote of the stuff. So much advice either doesn’t apply or is bone-headed nonsense when scrutinized even for a tender moment. And, this rule goes double for writing advice.

In 2014, at DetCon, I got into a discussion with a couple of much more accomplished authors. We were talking about the advice that is often dispensed to independently published authors about “how to make it.” “It” being that undefined often variable bar after which you have a couple of clams to rub together for all your efforts deep in the manuscript mines. Success, baby. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I made the observation that this advice is usually “lottery winners telling you how to make it big, just like they did.” And my meaning was that most of these people couldn’t tell you exactly what worked for them and what didn’t, and that at least some of their success must be the direct result of luck. That’s the thing about this “career” path; of all authors, no two of them are alike. Some of us make a JK Rowling-sized swimming pool of money after writing a single meritless POJ while others will always languish in obscurity.

This morning, after getting my 1k down, I noticed that Hugh Howey posted the following. So You Want to be a Writer … could be just another repetition of the same tired “work harder, write more” advice that pops up pretty much anywhere, but I’d urge you to spend a little time with this one. It’s not that.

In fact, Howey gives authors aspiring to make a living from their art some pretty objective milestones by which we might plot our own course. Immediately, I saw the utility of what Howey has proffered.

Long-Term Writing Plan: (2016-2026)

Below is my ten-year plan to become a successful author. It is based on the advice Hugh Howey provided in the post linked above, but it’s my plan. Laid out and customized for me.

Reading: Hugh Howey is completely correct. I’m surprised how few writers I meet just don’t make the time to read.

  • Read for at least an hour a day.
  • Log the reading the same way I log my writing.
  • Figure out a way to integrate audiobooks into the ledger.

Practice: Yeah this one is obvious, it almost does not bear mentioning, but this is also where I’m going to quantify my discipline. Where the ink meets the page, so to speak.

  • Three blog posts a week (not about things that make me angry).
  • Weekday writing time is 9:00 AM to 12:00 or 1,000 words. No internet, not distractions before this. This is dedicated story time, not blogging time.
  • One full-length novel, plus two short(er) stories per year for ten years.

Daydream:

  • Hugh’s advice here is spot on. I know that if I’m not filling myself up as much as my work drains me, the deficit will quickly show in my words. For me, the best, and most reliable flow state–where my mind wanders and explores–is when I’m moving. So to daydream effectively, I need to walk, run or ride. Daily, without over-training.
  • You can’t write science fiction without science. So I will continue to network with people working in the sciences. I will stand in awe of them, I will be their fanboy, and I will learn as much as I can from these people.

Learn to Fail:

  • Far from perfect here, but I’m much better than when I began. I will continue to learn from the feedback and review I get, when and where it’s available. And I will revise, revise, revise, and revise until what I’ve written no longer wakes me up in the middle of the night.
  • I will re-read everything I write at least three times before I move on.

Things to Lose: These are the things that I’ve got to toss overboard and fast. They’re getting in the way and despite the fact that I know this, I haven’t been able to let them go. No more, they’re going.

  1. Limit game time, approach zero.
  2. Limit screen time, approach zero.
  3. Take care of your house and hobbies proactively.
  4. Get exercise, daily. Stop being a slug.
  5. Want to be the person I’ve envisioned. Cut out the thought loops that make me fail.
  6. Stop talking about what I am writing until it’s ready. Then don’t talk about it much, work on the next project.