Sunday, December 23, 2012

Poet Who Did Know It

One of the aspects of my writing career that hasn't been emphasized here is that I am a poet.

I know, it caught me by surprise, too, when it started taking shape.  The first poem I remember writing of any note was about Lee Harvey Oswald in eighth grade (seventh?).  It was an aberration.  After taking a trip to Boston in my freshmen year of college, I struck on the idea to commemorate it by writing a series of poems about it, and got pretty far along, but...still didn't feel like an actual poet.

Then I started attending the University of Maine.  For some reason, much as my home town of Lisbon, Maine, inexplicably experienced a surge of musical talent in the early 1990s, the Orono campus practically fell face-first into poetry during my time studying English.  There were a number of teachers who were themselves poets, and I took classes from them, but it was the students who kept taking the same ones, and who formed such a close-knit group that several of us launched a short-lived literary journal of our own that really solidified the time for me.

When I graduated, most of these classmates had also moved on.  By the time I moved out of state a year later, I saw the journal come to an end, despite my best long-distance efforts to keep it afloat.  I started composing new work in earnest, thanks to my emerging habit of keeping a notebook on me at all times, so I could always make a note of inspiration.  In March of 2005, I composed "(The) Beat," the first of what I considered my mature poetry.  And I just kept writing the stuff.

Eventually I started a personal challenge of writing a poem mostly on a daily basis, one hundred at a time, the first beginning in the summer of 2007.  I've since completed five of them.

I'm mentioning this now because I've just made the first of them available as a collection, Terror of Knowing.
The funny thing is, the only piece of advice I got just before graduation was to try and make an official career in the world of poetry.  I had just finished participating in a class that explored the vital world of contemporary poems, during which I was able to write a number of essays, and the advice was to submit these around.  At the time I didn't take the advice seriously, since I wanted to pitch a book called Tug Rushmore and had actually asked advice about that, and I didn't feel comfortable enough in my comprehension of poetry outside of that class to consider asserting myself in any regard.

Besides, I had tried submitting poems to publications outside of the UMaine system and come up empty.  (The same reaction that would greet so many of my later literary submissions.)  Perhaps a little like Emily Dickinson, I might be doomed to be a poet not read in their own lifetime.  (This is the only mark of comparison I'm willing to make between myself and Emily Dickinson, by the way.)

Like all of my poetry, rhyming is not the first rule of Terror.  In fact, there's little rhyming to be found. As my descriptions for the collection assert, the major theme in the major poem is the Metaphysics of Value, my extrapolation of Robert Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (a book I discovered at UMaine, by the way).  Much of my poetry is simply my experience of the world, and mostly thought-wise.  What distinguishes Terror of Knowing is that there remains a significant remnant of the experiments I studied in UMaine classrooms.  Basically philosophy from your average joe.

It's marked as the first volume in the New Fade cycle, which links Terror to a poetic statement that predates "(The) Beat" (which is not in this collection), titled appropriately enough "The New Fade."  This is my conception of the modern age.  "New Fade" roughly translates to the increasingly quick way we cycle through eras, believing that we're escaping the barbarous past even as we complain about all the barbarity around us.  I wrote "The New Fade" in 2002 following a trip with my brother to New Jersey to visit relatives (including my godfather, a concept that seems strange today and not just because I myself am one), during a summer that saw some of my first independent experiments as a poet.

Why am I putting this out now?  I guess more or less to assert this part of my literary life, much as I have as a novelist (The Cloak of Shrouded Men) and short story writer (Monorama), all in the self-publishing realm.  Being a poem has dominated my self-identity for a decade.  It only felt right to make at least one record of it.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Writing Patterns

I wonder sometimes whether I'm a bad writer.

Even though I've been writing my current WIP (Seven Thunders), I am not following the old adage of writing every day.  In fact, my current strategy works so far against that grain that I'm wondering the above thought.

As I've discussed before about the evolution of my writing book-length manuscripts, I started very much on the writing-every-day pattern, but especially with last year's lessons I've backed away from that to a considerable extent.  What that means is that I write less when I have the time to and more when I make the time.  What that means is that I'm continually fighting a panic.  I know there are no deadlines in writing other than editorial mandates and personal goals, and since I don't have the former I'm only working on the latter.  But I still sometimes wonder if I'm doing it wrong.  I have eight chapters left to write to complete the book by the end of the year.  I began in October, and in November unofficially participated in NaNoWriMo partly to keep myself on track because I did not write what I would've liked the first month.  This month I'm learning more and more that my strategy both works for and against my goals.  I'm reasonably certain I can do what I set out to do, but all the while fighting the urge to call myself a failure because it seems like so much of a struggle, when it really shouldn't.

Maybe part of it has to do with the fact that I do not make a living writing, and the stuff I do for a living is not personally fulfilling and barely pays the bills, and I've been blogging to an increasing extent over the past few years to help compensate, but all this blogging also seems at times to be a distraction from the creative writing that I know I want to do.  But what if it's not a distraction?  I've been struggling to figure out who I am as a writer ever since I graduated from college without any clear plan as to how to use my degree.  That's what a lot of English Majors do, I guess, because there is no English profession, only a series of compromises, work-for-hires and contracts that you have to continually work toward just to try and get, because there are millions of competitors (even if that number isn't accurate, it surely seems that way), and if you don't get on that right away, you end up with a lot of jobs the few skills you have aside from writing allow you to get.

I don't know what the majority of my blogging friends do to make the money that allows them to blog and be aspiring full-time writers.  I continually fight the feeling of jealousy for those who seem successful enough that they have legions of supporters and established indy writing careers, but how much of that is a digital illusion and only in my own head, I don't know.  Some of these guys are doing stuff during the day that I couldn't begin to imagine myself doing.  A lot of the people I went to school with do the same thing, and I have no idea how it was apparently so easy for that to happen, or so easy for me to fall so easily off that track.  I'm not one to complain too much about that, because there are hidden developments to everything and I like to find them, and what I like to remind myself is that I would not have written (or be writing) any of what I have if I hadn't done exactly what I did, even if I have no awesome publishing contracts (so far) to show for it.

So while I'm busy sweating the maneuvering of how to write those eight chapters (5,000 words each) in the remaining weeks of December while apparently procrastinating as long as possible, I have to keep reminding myself that this is exactly what my life is and that I shouldn't complain too much.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Seven Books That Follow "Seven Thunders"

With a nod to PT Dilloway's recent Scarlet Knight timeline/outline for future volumes, I thought I'd give you a sneak at the bigger picture for my current WIP, Seven Thunders, which is part of the greater Space Corps saga, which is something I've developed for almost twenty years.

Before doing so, however, let me just put in a word or two as to why I'm finally writing Seven Thunders, after initially conceiving it in 1998, and why I feel like announcing the rest of the series.  For one, I've written a number of manuscripts at this point (including Modern Ark and Minor Contracts, which I've talked a little about previously, as well as the Yoshimi trilogy, but more on that in 2013), and so have gained a certain level of confidence in my ability to write books I'm satisfied with.  But I'm also beginning to see where my vision can fit in.  Thanks to certain movie and television developments of the past ten years, I've been able to see past some of my original sources of inspiration, Star Trek and Star Wars.  Peter Jackson's Tolkien films, for instance, or Harry Potter, even George R.R. Martin's newfound wide success thanks to Game of Thrones on HBO.  These have widened the public's popular reception for science fiction and fantasy (at a certain point, Space Corps really starts to blend the two genres).  It's not hard to see how the recent past has made it cool to be a geek.

Anyway, that's not really here nor there.  Space Corps is my baby.  I've nursed it to the point of obsession.  It's time to start introducing it to the world.  Seven Thunders, as I've discussed in the past, owes a great debt to the War of 1812, so it's only appropriate that I've begun to make it known in the world in 2012, the bicentennial of the conflict.  It's about two brothers, however, caught in the cross-hairs of a war between civilizations.  I've learned a great deal about this story I've only thought I've known as I've been writing it.  There were some things about it that could only have happened once it became a reality rather than something floating around in my head (and various notes).

And yet Seven Thunders is only the beginning.  One way or another, the saga will continue:

  • The Dark Side of Space, which in many ways is a direct prequel to the story.
  • The Fateful Lightning, which in many ways is a direct sequel.
  • A Tremor of Bones, which in many ways is my favorite Space Corps story.
  • The Feud We Keep With Space, which mirrors many of the elements of Seven Thunders.
  • Dead Letters, which brings the timeline into entirely new territory.
  • The Second Coming, which plays even wilder games with the timeline.
  • The Universe and You, which is an indirect prequel to Seven Thunders.
 Should be fun.  You have the Space Corps scoop right here.  Years from now you'll thank me!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Mouldwarp Press #1 "Project Mayhem" now accepting submissions

That's the extremely lousy publishing label that exists on the back of Monorama for anyone who's gotten the print edition.  It's also going to be my new zine/anthology title.

The idea is simple enough.  Mouldwarp Press #1 "Project Mayhem" is going to feature micro fiction of 250 words per story, and it is now open for submissions.  You can write whatever you want, whatever genre, just so long as it falls at or under 250 words.

There's no trick at all to this.  If I like what I read, I will print it in the zine/anthology, with whatever editing is necessary.  I will provide feedback to every submission, whether accepted or rejected.  All you have to do is email your entry to and we'll go from there.  Put the submission in the body of the email.  Submissions will be open through the end of the month, or as long as it takes to get a good amount (I guess I'll find out).

The zine/anthology will be published via CreateSpace (in print) and Kindle (e-book).  There will be no pay upfront, although let's be serious, you're writing a tiny amount of words.  If you make any money off this, you're already ahead in the game.

As a special bonus, if you want to provide a picture or snapshot along with your entry, it may be chosen as the cover of the collection (because I am not a qualified artist) and you will have my undying gratitude (although if I become a zombie, this contract will be null and void).

Bottom line, this should be fun!  Pass word along and thanks a million!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Age of Convolution

We're living in a weird kind of world.  I'm sure most of you know that already.  Part of the benefit of enjoying the arts is getting to be entertained rather than frustrated by this.

Here I'm thinking of Oliver Stone's new movie Savages, which was released over the summer and has just come to [insert home video market of your choosing].  There're a lot of ways to view it, either as the latest of his mostly-violent-popcorn-flicks (see: Natural Born Killers, U-Turn) or as the latest of this year's mostly-violent-popcorn-flicks-by-various-directors (see: Seven Psychopaths, Killing Them Softly), or even as a new version of Traffic (which was itself based on a prior incarnation of something called...Traffic).

Savages is about the modern drug trade scene (as opposed to the '70s drug trade scene as seen in American Gangster, or the '80s scene as seen in Scarface or the '90s drug scene as seen in Trainspotting or the '00s scene as seen in...Traffic), but it's not just that (although Stone and some of his critics who've softened since some of his more polarizing efforts, which culminated in Alexander, would have you believe it's just a mostly-violent-popcorn-flick).  It's about the horribly convoluted business of the drug trade, but it can also be about the horribly convoluted business of any business.

I think we're living in an age of transition.  I think most people can see that, but even after the great recession begun in 2008 that exposed the horrifying number of ways that lots of businesses were doing business very badly and are still trying to get away with it today (Occupy Wall Street, which ultimately failed, was an attempt to remind everyone that we have definitely not solved those problems, although peasants have been revolting ineffectually against the system for many centuries).

The reason why I say that we're in an age of transition, which anyone can see for themselves, is that more and more the little people are attempting to exert themselves.  The big people are certainly fortifying themselves, but the little people are trying to operate more and more on their own.  That's what the fad of crowdsourcing is all about.  It's the next iteration of all the illegal file downloading people were doing at the turn of the millennium, which caused such a revolution in the creative business model and brought us a lot of things with a small "i" at the start of it.

The short of it is that the little people are trying to get control of their own affairs.  This works really well, to a certain extent.  Of course, these little people realize from the start that this is only possible by building a huge network of support.  This is of course what brought us the old model that got us to where we are today.  The difference is that these people are theoretically learning how to do this without any one person gaining an inordinate share of the profits.  It's about the work more than the money.

Basically it's the monetary system that's in a form of transition, but because there are a few people (as there has always been) who really, really believe that money is the ultimate goal of everything, this is a process that is going to take some time.

Anyway, the Age of Convolution happens when all the people scrambling to figure out their place in the new system butt heads.  In a lot of ways, Breaking Bad has been demonstrating this for years, and a lot of TV viewers really enjoy it.  Savages is like the movie version of Breaking Bad, if that makes it easier for you.  Instead of a cancer patient looking to solve his problems by (to my mind illogically) creating bigger ones, we get two young guys making their money and also becoming involved in something far bigger than they realized.

Stone often makes movies about people falling into situations they did not expect and being swallowed whole.  It's practically the only movie he makes, actually.  In Savages you mostly don't have to worry about the politics.  One of the young men is a former soldier, however, and so our current wars are at least name-checked (the connection between war and drugs is not made as clear as in American Gangster, but it's the same; it's worth noting that the current comic book Before Watchmen: Comedian has touched on the same subject).

The problem is that these guys can't exist in a bubble.  They're closely monitored by an agent of the DEA and are actively being recruited by a Mexican drug cartel, the latter of which leads to a situation very similar to No Country for Old Men (the one actor I will reference directly is Benicio del Toro, who in this particular role is very similar to Javier Bardem, a physical presence, as del Toro always is, that haunts the movie and defines it without having to do much more than be the manifestation of the violence at the heart of the story).

What looks at the beginning of the movie like a fairly simple living arrangement for our two young guys (and their beach bunny mutual lover) quickly devolves into, yes, a convoluted affair.  Not convoluted as in Stone doesn't help us figure it out, but that he lets us know all too well what's really going on.

That's what makes it topical, that's what draws me back to my point about the changing nature of the world we're living in.  That's basically what's going on everywhere.  Everyone's trying to get their piece of the pie and they don't really care who they step on.  They're stumbling around.  That's the nature of a transition period.

In a lot of ways, Stone is most closely echoing Shakespeare.  I'm not calling Oliver Stone our modern William Shakespeare (that's an argument for another day), but that's exactly what Shakespeare was doing in his plays.  Think about it.  Romeo + Juliet is all about two families that outmaneuver themselves so cleverly, with so many convoluted things going on, that they don't realize the biggest losers are the smallest pieces on the chess board, the title characters who are just a pair of lovebirds.  That's Hamlet, that's Othello (though admittedly it's Iago pulling all the strings), that's King Lear, that's Macbeth, that's every single one of them.

Shakespeare was writing at a time where England was in a marked transition thanks to Henry VIII's religious reforms, which caused a cosmic shift in the balance of society.  Elizabeth I caused a lot of stabilization to occur, but she was also reigning at the start of the the exploration of the New World, and massive changes were still on their way.  In each of his plays, Shakespeare writes about a paradigm shift.

Our shift is all about globalization.  Some of us embrace it, some of us fear it, but it's an inescapable fact that it's happening.  It's drastically affected the economics of every nation in the world, and we're still trying to figure out how to stabilize the process.  It's mostly a problem of figuring out how we can begin to respect everyone and where their specific productivity exists.  So much of the past was defined by physical resources, and yet now we're discovering that more and more it's the intangibles that we must depend on.  Everyone knows the statistics that show how the physical resources are consumed unequally.  That's what's a part of the transition, why so many people are warning of environmental catastrophe (to force those consuming more to rethink their policies).

Anyway, the convoluted nature of the world is something that's surfacing again in our fiction.  Savages is one example.  I'm writing about it in my writer's blog because this is exactly what I do in my fiction.  I guess I tend to write stories of this nature because that's what I've known in my own life, how forces that have been building to this moment and continue to develop have affected me throughout my life.  I guess I didn't really realize it until now.  I'm not plugging a book.  I just renamed one of my manuscripts, Finnegan.  It's now going to be known as Modern Ark, for any number of reasons.  That's a title I've been playing with for years.  I named a poem after the term.  It refers in one sense to the biblical tale of Noah's Ark, which was all about God's wrath and how a few people escaped it along with a lot of animals.  I've read a number of books that reinterpreted it for modern readers (the two best being Not Wanted On the Voyage and The Preservationist).  Modern Ark is not about Noah's Ark, however.  It began as a vampire story.  I thought it was going to stay a vampire story.  I proved myself wrong fairly soon.  There ended up being a lot of convoluted relationships that consumed the story, some associations that Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers comic would appreciate, characters that never meet because some of them are biblical and therefore thousands of years in the past.

Not all of my manuscripts are like Modern Ark, but it's an effort that I've tried selling to publishers with no success.  I guess the recent developments concerning the fate of Yoshimi (which I'm now thinking I'll either sell around or sell myself in installments, the latter of which is similar to how Stephen King did The Green Mile and Michael Abayomi has done his science fiction epic).  I'm beginning to see why it's so difficult, because not many people write like that.  But there's an audience.  If Oliver Stone can make Savages (and there being any number of examples of other filmmakers making similar movies, and even William frickin' Shakespeare), then I'm not so far off the mark.  It's a direct reflection of the world we're living in, after all.  Maybe it's not always popular to be such a direct reflection of complicated times, but that's another thing that makes the whole affair so brilliantly convoluted.

Maybe you're free of such relationships.  Maybe everything runs smoothly for you.  Maybe everything is simple.  But I doubt that.  Everything about everything is increasingly convoluted.  Sometimes it's beneficial to shine a light on a giant mess.  You'll see a lot of ugliness.  But you'll also see beauty where you never thought it could exist before.  One man's trash is another man's treasure, after all.  It's all a game of perspective, and that's what art at its best can give you.  I like escapism as much as the next guy, but sometimes I like to have a little more.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


This week Hall Bros. Entertainment closed up shop.

This is significant news because HBE was scheduled to publish Yoshimi.  It was actually scheduled to publish the book back in July, and so that's just one of the many reasons HBE no longer exists.  I've got a long relationship with Hall Bros. #1, A.C. Hall.  We both wrote for the comics website Paperback Reader (which also no longer exists).  Ace (as I always like to call him) has a long history of writing cooperatives.  At one point (after another of his ventures closed up) I decided it might be a good idea to start a literary journal with him.  That was fantastic for about half a year, but that ended too.  When he and his brother (naturally) opened up HBE, I finally found a home for some legitimate publishing.  As one of those ever-present links on the right suggests, I got a story in their Villainy anthology that Ace chose as his editor's selection.

Yoshimi did not exist as a concept until I came up with a pitch for a book that I thought HBE might publish.  Most of my fiction is incredibly cerebral.  Yoshimi was my shot at doing something different. It's basically Kill Bill meets Harry Potter.  I wrote the majority of the book during an extended period of unemployment.  It's safe to say that if I didn't have that book to work on at that time, I might have gone crazy.  I turned in the manuscript to HBE and started the waiting process.

The waiting process turned out to be a waiting process.  I guess this sort of thing happens all the time, at least as far as small presses go, delays in the schedule.  Except this was no delay.  This was a slow march to oblivion.

I'm sad at HBE's fate for a number of reasons, but chief among them is the contract that is now no longer exists.  Yoshimi was going to be my first legitimately published book.  No matter the book sales, this would have been a huge step for me.  My blogging friends seem to have a lot of this in the bag already.  I've been working at maybe possibly theoretically being a full-time writer for years now.  It was my stated goal on graduating from college ten years ago.  I had no idea how to accomplish that goal, however.  Cerebral fiction does not sell well.  Publishers damn sure aren't interested in it.  Readers?  I have no idea.  I've never gotten the chance to find out.

I've self-published a few books (actually, Monorama the Kindle Edition was free on Wednesday and I completely forgot to mention it), but I don't have the resources to truly promote that stuff.  Some writers have the ability to sell themselves.  Some writers, like me, simply hope the work will sell itself.  They believe that this is the way writing should go.  Unfortunately there are a lot of people who want to sell books, but preferably their own, which makes it very hard for the people who want to sell other people's books to make decisions on who to select for that honor.

I had HBE.  Emphasis on "had."  I suppose the fact that I deliberately shaped Yoshimi to be anything but what I normally write might make it easier to find another publisher.  And maybe I simply haven't been as aggressive in my search for publishers to begin with.  Some writers can deal with rejection.  Some of us really hate form responses (or no response at all).  Some of us find that downright insulting (and unprofessional).

Anyway, this is just to say.  My life as a writer, as many writers can say, is not an easy one.  Thanks for being there, Ace.  Maybe we can try and do business again some time.  Although you'll forgive me if I approach the next opportunity more cautiously.

Monday, November 26, 2012


I've been talking about my oddball status as a Franco American and how it both has and hasn't informed my life as a writer.  I'm going to conclude those thoughts on a perhaps unlikely note.  Today I'd like to talk about The Da Vinci Code.

The Dan Brown book was released in 2003 and quickly became one of the biggest publishing blockbusters of the century.  I was working at a bookstore when the third book, The Lost Symbol, was released, so I have an idea what it was like to experience the frenzy over Brown's work (comparable to Harry Potter).

But this isn't about the book.  Many commentators have already noted that Brown weaves a better story than writes one.  I'm referring instead to Ron Howard's 2006 adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, famously starring Tom Hanks and a mullet, but also featuring Ian McKellen and Audrey Tautou (known best for the best-known French film of the millennium so far, Amelie).

As a self-professed Roman Catholic (see the confession in the last post), I am supposed to be hardwired against the controversial claims of this stuff.  If I were judging the story only on the book, I probably wouldn't take it seriously much less care one way or the other, but it's the film that does the religious themes justice, notably in the alternate ending in which Hanks breaks through his own skepticism, in effect finally doing what Robert Langdom's inspiration Indiana Jones only imitated with good guy piety.

My favorite parts of the film involve McKellen, who made his name with Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films (and soon to reprise the role of Gandalf, much to this fan's delight), as the genius who figures everything out but how to avoid becoming the villain.  He's the one who shows Hanks the presentation revealing the crucial Last Supper image of the Holy Grail, which is not a cup (there's none on the table!) but rather Mary Magdalene, mistaken all these centuries for the apostle John.

Anyway, I'm not talking religion.  What I really enjoy about The Da Vinci Code is how my elusive French heritage turns out to be one of the most popular yet controversial destinations of the modern era.  The title of this post, "Sangreal," is French for Holy Grail, also the subject of Indy's Last Crusade ("He chose poorly."), and is one of the many clues Hanks must unravel (at its heart Da Vinci Code is just an elaborate mystery).  In the aftermath of 9/11, international relations were stretched when America chose to declare its War on Terror and picked out Iraq as its second target.  The French were the leading opposition to this decision, and as you may or may not recall, some people started eating "freedom fries" and such.

The French have a complicated relationship with America.  It's likely the United States wouldn't exist today without its French allies during the Revolution.  Yet in modern times roles began to reverse, not the least when the British won Roosevelt's support during WWII.  The French today are known for the Eiffel Tower and their passionate lovers (and yes, their wine).

Sure, "Les Miserables" remains one of the few titles left untranslated in world literature (and soon to be another Hollywood blockbuster release), but the hidden heart of The Da Vinci Code represents what I've come to understand about myself.  I don't know how my family got a last name that seems to suggest a writer of some kind in its past.  Somehow Jesus Christ, who strictly for the record died a violent death and inspired one of the world's largest religions, ended up with an heir in France, at least according to Dan Brown and others who've told that story through the years.

It's the idea of strange associations that you don't expect but somehow feel right that I'm talking about.  I know of no other writers in my family today.  It's a struggle to be the first of anything, to begin something rather than continue it.  Where Howard's interpretation emphasizes the possibilities of the future inherent in The Da Vinci Code, I find myself paying respect to something far greater than myself, too, a tradition that I stumbled into but found would not let me go, no matter the obstacles that have ended up in my way.  Some people will look at The Da Vinci Code and see only the sensation of it.  I ended up seeing something past that, an affirmation, exactly what Hanks attempts to tell the viewer in the end.  I see my efforts today as an affirmation of my younger self, who had no idea where his ideas would lead him.

Like Howard's film, the direction forward for me is filled with the unknown, but I'm interested to see where it goes.  I have no idea what else a writer should do with their work.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Franco American without a home

As a writer I sometimes wonder where I fit in.  I don't tend to write in specific genres.  Even the book I'm writing now, which is in many ways very much science fiction, I'm writing more from the perspective of the characters than what you would find in the kinds of books that usually feature the kinds of scenarios that they inhabit.  That's happened in every book I've written.  The first one was about superheroes but doesn't focus on the action so much as, you guessed it, the characters.  When I wrote a vampire novel, I wrote about the characters.  This is what I do.

I think part of this is an extension of my cultural identity.  I've never really known where I fit in.  My immediate ancestors came to America from French-speaking Canada, and yet for the most part the only Franco Americans I've ever known have been from my own family, and in my own generation we've already lost most of what it means to have such a background.  We didn't learn to speak French in the home, and there were no specific traditions that came from this lineage except perhaps a strong Catholic faith.  My oldest brother was named Pierre, but I ended up with St. Anthony of Padua, patron saint of lost things, as inspiration.

I was raised on entertainment that rarely featured anything relevant to my origins.  Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, was French but played by a British actor.  Beauty and the Beast was most French in its villain.

Writers derive the most support from their own kind, and yet as a thoroughly American, melting pot kind of writer, I've stirred so many influences into my work that it's difficult to find anyone who relates enough with my instincts to see me as a kindred spirit.  I'm not talking about readers.  Readers are forgiving.  They're the only step in the process that can possibly offer me redemption.  The writing industry is not made up of readers, however.  Maybe that's a problem.

My family likes to suggest I do things they'll understand, like write about my family.  Like any writer, I do write about my family, constantly, yet always through the lens of whatever story I currently have in mind.  I think the readers who are interested in the familiar dominate the industry, not so much as writers but as editors looking for manuscripts.

Does any of this even make sense?  I wonder if I should embrace this Franco American existentialism. Is there a place for writers who don't have a culture but yearn for one?  I always believed that this was the definition of a writer.  Yet there seems to be a pervading belief that a writer ought to know better than anyone where they belong.  A writer should transcend the circumstances around them, not be defined by them.

If Picard was a Frenchman who was barely French, is that meant to be a statement about cultural identity in the future?  Malcolm Reed, Pavel Chekov, these were characters who were almost parodies of their countrymen.  Scotty was all but a stereotype.  And yet Miles O'Brien and Julian Bashir fought every cliche.  Star Trek in its best moments always strives to overcome the mundane.  Trip Tucker and Tom Paris revel in pop culture, but they're also some of the best if most complicated officers Starfleet ever had.

If I have any identity as a writer, it's something like that.  Perhaps that's why I've always liked Star Trek, entertainment like that.  My instincts match my heritage and my interests.  It's all so gloriously convoluted it can only be called modern.  I'd like to believe that my problem is very much a cultural one.  We're all trying to figure this out.  The only thing I know for certain about my writing is that through it I'm constantly trying to figure it out.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Tony did an interview!

The title is 100% true.  I did an interview.  Brooklyn Daily reporter Chuck O'Donnel was kind enough to ask me a few questions about the Orbit: Mikhail Prokhorov comic I wrote for Bluewater.  You can read the results here.  For the record, it's absolutely my first interview, although I've been on the other end before when I wrote for the Academic Advocate at Lisbon High School, as well as an unpublished one for the Merciad at Mercyhurst College (I was ultimately unpublished in my tenure at that student paper, so I gave up quickly, although I was regularly featured in the Soap Box opinion section of the Maine Campus while attending the University of Maine, so don't feel too bad).

What I appreciated from O'Donnel was that he was very forthright about the whole process, including the deadline he was under and the selection of questions that showed he knew exactly what he wanted (which plays out well in the subsequent piece) out of them.  It was also pretty cool to see my name written in around the quotes.  I'm someone who's flirted with using a pen name in the past ("Laplume" translates to feather or pen in French, so it would be pretty ironic), so seeing my name not just listed in a comic book's credits but in the press is surreal, a test of all the old ideas of whether I was comfortable with a fairly uncommon name.  The French don't get a lot of publicity in the States.  My family has its roots from French-speaking Canada dating back a century in the country.  At the time of my grandfather's ultimate rooting in Woonsocket, RI, he only grew comfortable when like every other immigrant he settled in with others like him.  As my mother tells it he tried to move here several times but it never felt right.  Growing up French was something that was a frequent element of my childhood, but I never learned to speak it.  In school (high school and college), I attended classes meant to teach me the language, but I'm not sure teachers in these classrooms understand how to do such a thing.  I left with a better appreciation of the film Au Revoir, Les Enfants, which was screened at both levels, but that was pretty much it (it's a great film!).  Other than that, there was also the local writer Denis Ledoux who made a link to this part of my life that had nothing to do with my family.

Anyway, needless quasi-cultural musing aside, I was interviewed!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Orbit: Mikhail Prokhorov gets press

 My Bluewater bio comic, Orbit: Mikhail Prokhorov, has been released, available nearly exclusively in e-book format, though you can get a print edition at Comic Flea Market.

The official press release has been making the rounds.  Geek the News has a giant shot of the cover, Comic Book Bin does it pretty standard, Atlantic Yard Reports covers the same material with a link to factual corrections that I'll use as its coverage here, Comic Book puts the giant shot at the very start, the New York Times writes about it on its website, SNYNets joins in the commentary on the apparent link between Prokhorov and Nets mascot the Brooklyn Knight, while Comic Book Frenzy is named Comic Book Frenzy.

If you have no idea who Mikhail Prokhorov is, he's a Russian who made international news by running against Vladimir Putin and buying into the NBA team Brooklyn Nets (this season relocated from New Jersey).

For your amusement, here's some news on another Nets development, Marvel Comics turning its mascot, the aforementioned Brooklyn Knight, into a superhero.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Monorama Kindle Edition Free on Saturday (11/10/12)

Assuming I did not boff it up, as the title of this post suggests the Monorama Kindle Edition will be free this Saturday.  That's in two days.  Free means free.  Unless I boffed it up.  That is all.  Feel free to either take advantage of this or ignore.  Your choice!  Democracy!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

How to Write a Novel

Part of this can be explained by a very strange modern word: NaNoWriMo.  Those familiar with it (and in my Interweb journeys over the past seven years, I've discovered few communities unaware of it) know that these letters stand for National Novel Writing Month, which rolls around each November, and is a challenge to write 50,000 words within its thirty days.

This was something I first did back in 2004.  The story as I famously recall it goes that I had been intending to write one story for weeks leading up to November, but came up with something else entirely on the 1st.  This is fine, because as part of the challenge you're supposed to do all of the work during the month, including outlining.  Somehow I survived that first NaNo.  Naturally, when I repeated the process during the next two years, I cheated, by continuing the same story (which eventually became The Cloak of Shrouded Men).

My method for success was simple enough.  I calculated the exact number of words I would need to write each day, assuming that I was able to set time aside each day, in order to end up with 50,000 at the end of the month.  With that total (1,667) in mind, I started writing.  At some point I started figuring out what I wanted to do with the characters I'd created, where they needed to go, what needed to be revealed about them, but in such rough sketches that I wonder how I survived and succeeded.  There was only a small amount of additional planning in succeeding Novembers.

The interesting part is that the daily wordcount became something of a guidepost.  I regularly missed days and had to catch up.  By 2006 I wrote far fewer than thirty chapters (one a day with that specific wordcount) because I ended up doubling up so often.  By that method I started to realize the potential to get away from the wordcount goal and to simply start writing.

If that sounds simple, then I'm only half-serious about my success in that regard.

In 2007 I had my first unsuccessful NaNo.  I got behind early and tried to catch up, but it just wasn't working.  I gave up and walked away from the story, and still haven't gone back to it.  Perhaps tellingly, I never officially participated in the event again.

As far as writing goes, I should probably admit at this point that I had never written a novel, or attempted one, before NaNo in 2004.  I'd written short stories, and not the short stories that I tend to write now.  I even started writing short stories in installments, which is something I still do now.  Yet it had never occurred to me to try a novel.  When I graduated from college in December of 2003, I had the vague notion of writing one, but other than what I wanted to write, I had no idea how to start.  (It probably explains my general lack of success.)

NaNo gave me all kinds of inspiration, and confidence to know that I could actually do it.  I wrote my first non-NaNo novel (although come to think of it, shouldn't Chris Baty, or someone else, launch the imprint National Novels already?) in 2009.  It was Finnegan, and I wrote the same general length and in the same general increments that I'd learned writing Shrouded Men, but instead of over the course of three years, over the span of months.  I made all the plans in the world on this one, or so I thought, and it ended up being almost completely different than what I'd expected.  This was how I learned what kind of novel writer I really was.  It directly informed my experience writing Ecce Homo (or, Minor Contracts as I've since renamed it) the next year.

Last year I wrote Yoshimi, but this time I was determined to rewrite my own rules.  I wrote it with a publisher in mind, and knew that some of my old tricks wouldn't fly.  One of the rules I rewrote was the wordcount per chapter, and for me it was a radical change that took a learning curve to master.  Once I did, I surprised myself again.  As I've said, I tended when I started to write a relatively small amount of words per day, and that would be a chapter.  With Yoshimi I determined that each chapter would be 10,000 words.  You see the difference?

Well, trust me, it was a big difference.  I had another outline for this one, and I was determined to stick to it. I'd put a lot of work into it, and thought for sure that I knew exactly what I was going to write this time.  (I was wrong, mostly, about that, too.)  I rewrote the opening of the book several times.  I'd done that before, with short stories.  The tone, the approach, doesn't seem right.  (I've even redrafted after completing a manuscript, for the record, changing chapters after the fact.)

Eventually (and let's be honest, because at the time I had the time), I struck on the ability to write each 10,000 word chapter in a single day.  It completely revolutionized the writing of that book.  I'd never done anything like that before, not even on those desperate days when I thought writing a mere two 1,667 word chapters in a single day was a big deal.

(I don't remember exact wordcounts for any papers where I wrote in similar marathon sessions at college, so we'll just pretend I'm awesome and leave it at that.)

This year and since last month I've been writing Seven Thunders, a novel I've been planning since 1998.  I realize now that the book I needed to make of it wouldn't have been possible if I'd attempted to write it earlier.  The learning curve I've been describing has been absolutely essential, plus many other things I've learned since that year.  I've cut the 10,000 chapter wordcount by half, and so far that has been going fairly well.  I cannot lie and say writing novels isn't still scary at times, not the least for the fact that I still have not successfully made a career of selling these manuscripts as easily as I've learned to write them.  There are still moments where I ask myself if I'm still just pretending to do it rather than actually succeeding.  I'll find out eventually.

I've learned that for me, the idea of writing every day is not only not possible, but counterintuitive.  You don't force writing.  If you do you probably should regret it.  The approach you need will not always be apparent, and writing without that inspiration and hoping to revise around it me sounds like the worst idea imaginable.  Give yourself a timetable and the way to reach it, and you'll get there.  Unless you're on a specific deadline, it doesn't even matter if you miss that timetable anyway, but it'll make you feel good to hit it.  The writing will work itself out.  The story will shape itself.  Even if you have the most comprehensive outline possible, if you stick only to that, then you've probably again sabotaged your own efforts.  Novel writing should surprise you.  I don't know how to emphasize that more.  If the shape of your story isn't organic, your reader will notice.  If they don't, they're not much of a reader.  So I just said that.

It seems as if most writers I read about these days depend on beta readers more than they do their own abilities to know if they've succeeded.  A beta reader is still a reader.  They can suggest changes, but they're still a reader.  Unless you're in a position where you absolutely must satisfy someone else's perspective, yours is the only one that counts.  You're the writer.  Deal with it.  If you can't, you ought to find another calling (though that's a funny thing to say, isn't it?).

That's it, then.  That's my thoughts on how to write a novel.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Digital proof that my comics career is moving forward

I've been mentioning my work with Bluewater Comics, a couple of biographies that I've written for the publisher.  One of them is getting that much closer to becoming a reality.

See here, here, and here for digital proof that I've got a profile of Mikhail Prokhorov, Russian superstar, in actual comics reality.  (There's also an American version of the Amazon UK listing here.)

Not only do I have digital proof, but for all you digital fans, it's also in digital format, which is apparently what all the budding writers are doing these days.  (I'll remind you that all my books are also in digital format, even if I myself prefer actual real material that's more than just a piece of plastic that you're reading off of like you think you're in Star Trek or something, with less Okudagrams.)

I guess that means I really will have to do that Dr. Seuss bio for Bluewater.  It's the one I'm most interested in, because I plan to do it in true Dr. Seuss style, all rhymes, so I've run out of excuses.  I hope they didn't find someone else while I procrastinated...

Sunday, October 21, 2012

This Is No Time to Talk About Time! We Don't Have the Time!

This is to say that I've been accepted into Martin Ingham's The Temporal Element anthology, to be published by Hall Bros Entertainment.  I'm quite pleased to say so, because this involved something that I rarely do, which is completely rewrite something I've previously written.  Sometimes I'll rewrite chapters or restart chapters or stories based on previous ideas about how to approach it, but a strict rewrite usually isn't something I'll do.  I nearly wrote the anthology off when the initial version was rejected, even though Ingham encouraged a rewrite.  I gave it some time and eventually decided that it was worth doing.  The story remained much the same, except for a perspective change.  And yet Ingham still wanted to make a few changes, which I decided was okay.

There seems to be a lot of controversy in the comics industry about accepting direction from editors, anger at rewriting or following a certain mandate.  I've always considered myself to be adaptable, but have rarely had the chance to demonstrate this as a writer.  As someone who would love to work in comics, I find it a little ungrateful to complain about certain things that ought to be understood when writing some of the most well-known fictional characters in modern fiction.  It's something fans of Star Trek have always had a hard time understanding as well.  They will sometimes have some pretty wild ideas about what should be possible.  Complicating this belief is the trend from Pocket Books to execute all of these ideas in its fiction, which has led to a splintering of the fanbase in the past.  I figure that there will always be certain things that should at least be reconsidered when generating stories for established characters.  It comes with writing something that a lot of people feel they have a certain amount of ownership of, a familiarity that negates some of the distance between an original vision and predetermined notions.

My short story is not Superman.  It isn't even Benjamin Sisko (much less Benny Russell).  Yet I think I had a personal breakthrough in my decision to rewrite it.  I was forced into a situation where the integrity of something I had written was called into question.  Over the summer I had a chance to examine how my fiction flies with a broad audience.  It didn't seem to connect so well.  This story was different.  Ingham simply requested another pass, and I decided to make that happen.  Usually when rewrites are necessary, it's to streamline and simplify a concept so that more people will be able to understand it.  In fiction this is a trickier deal. Ingham rightly suggested that it needed to be more relatable, which I suppose is similar to what I was just talking about, but different in a crucial way.  I didn't change too much.  I simply made it easier to identify with what was happening, which was Ingham's original point.

It should be noted that you should read the title of this post whilst poking something, preferably someone.  It's funnier that way.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Eating Plain Old Arby's Roast Beef

Over at Good Reads, I get John Marko's blogs fed into e-mail updates, and he recently talked about his opinion of Arby's.

I was intrigued, because I had previously made it a habit to eat at Arby's before seeing movies at one of my local theaters.  It's right next door, so the convenience alone was always a draw.  Truth is, growing up Arby's didn't impress me much.  I remember not being all that impressed by its signature roast beef sandwiches, in fact, so I never made it a point to go to Arby's.

The truth is, all that time I regularly went to Arby's before the movies I wasn't eating the roast beef sandwich, either.  I was eating one of their chicken sandwiches.  I love their curly fries, and the special Arby's sauce and horseradish sauce, too.  In fact, it was as much the fries and sauces that kept me going back.  But I also sampled the roast beef sandwiches again.  And I liked it better this time.

Sometimes we can be a little quick to judge, thinking we know exactly what we're doing when we say something, when sometimes we're only fooling ourselves, posturing and being, basically, a fool.  I will admit to that kind of behavior myself.  I wish everyone could.  Sometimes the ego won't allow it.

I still wish that writers weren't like that, but the truth is they are.  They may be some of the most egotistical bastards out there.  In some ways, they have all the reason to.  Writing can look pretty glamorous on the outside, but when you dig into it, it's anything but.  It's one of the dirtiest professions there are.  Yeah, jobs are pretty dirty on the whole (and thank Mike Rowe for adding new layers of grime), but few jobs are as dirty as writing.  People have a lot of expectations about writing.  Most people seem to think it happens spontaneously, as if there aren't even people involved.  It's the one job where the fantasy and reality of it have no relation at all.  Ironically, writing is all about fantasy.

How do you survive as a writer?   By compromise.  By admitting your ego probably isn't deserved.  That your elaborate defense only seems like it's helping you out.  Writers are like actors.  The more you pretend the more you'll lose yourself.  No wonder Pynchon has kept himself out of the public eye.  Of course, that's another pretension in itself.

I was just talking to my brother.  He was in a horrific car accident on Sunday, but he survived it, and with injuries that were not nearly as bad as they could have been.  The conversation still turned to me, because we hadn't talked in a while.  I found myself using my defenses.  It wasn't until we hung up that I realized what I'd been doing.  There are plenty of excuses writers can have, but none of them should conceal the truth from themselves.

It's a tough life, even if you're not a writer.  But as a writer, you have a certain amount of responsibility to the truth, even if you spend most of your time in fantasy.

Have an Arby's roast beef sandwich.  You may just be surprised.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Skippy Was Here

I recently finished reading the book Skippy Dies by Paul Murray.  It's a wonderful book.  The character Daniel Juster (nicknamed Skippy by his classmates) is an Irish lad attending a boarding school who finds himself caught in a perfect storm of emotional turmoil, eventually killing himself.

I can't help but wonder if I walked past Skippy a few nights ago.  This kid stopped me to ask directions.  It was pretty late on Tuesday.  In hindsight, so many things occurred to me that was wrong about the situation. Initially, I only kicked myself for the poor directions I gave.  But did I just abet Daniel Juster?

As a writer, I'm constantly wondering about these things.  I wonder about them in my head.  I wonder about them in my writing.  I wonder about them when I consider other people's writing.  I'm something of a Daniel Juster myself.  I'm not good at processing things that bother me.  And a lot of things bother me.

But I'm a writer.  Having a rough emotional life comes with the territory, right?  Except it's one thing to read about Hart Crane tossing himself off the side of a boat and quite another to be living the life yourself.  It sucks.  There's a whole group of writers I'm very loosely affiliated with who write about it.  But I don't feel like I'm connected to them.  I don't feel like I'm much connected to anyone, really.

I'm not asking for pity.  I'm simply explaining this writer's life.  I tried participating in some writing groups over the summer.  Well, got all the way through with one of them.  Quit the other.  This did not help me.  I cannot for the life of me figure out why I should be alienated from what seems to be my own kind.  This is some of what's bothered me in my writing career for many years.

But I get that not all writers write the same way, write the same things, have the same thoughts.  That would probably be more than a little boring.  But I keep thinking that it should be easier to find actual kindred spirits.  Maybe my kind really doesn't play well with others, even among our own kind.  Maybe that's it.

Murray wrote a 600+ page book about a bunch of characters who are experiencing very similar problems, and they all end up converging thanks to Skippy (well, I don't think anyone thanked him).  Maybe that's a little of what life's really like, even a writer's life, a life that seems predestined to misery.

Again, not looking for sympathy here.  This is what my journey is really like.  I figured it ought to be documented on the blog, is all.  This week I thought I would feel a little more triumphant.  I started writing my next book.  I got in my last book, which I had to order myself because of the way it was published.  I loved looking at it.  I loved holding it.  I loved starting to write the next book.

But the steps in the process are lonely, no matter where they might lead.  That's a little of what God (or whatever you might believe in) must experience, knowing how everything turns out but unable to change anything.  What happens happens.  It's not fun to experience.  The arc of it might work out better than the individual moments, but what can you do?  You're stuck in those moments.  Even God can't change that.

(A special assist to David Maine, whose Fallen I'm now reading.)

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Revolution Will Be Televised

One of the new shows I'm watching this fall TV season is Revolution, which posits a future where technology has been rendered worthless by the nullification of electricity.  Some commentators have suggested that it's a little silly to suggest that 1) electricity can be blocked like that and 2) people won't be able to work around that without going medieval.

For one thing, it's not uncommon for apocalyptic visions to view people having a hard time getting technology back up and running even when electricity hasn't been tampered with (see: The Stand).  For another, if society went to heck in a hand basket, who do you think would have a better chance of surviving the initial chaos, the big surly bullies or the puny little science geeks?  This week's episode had an anecdote about that very scenario, by the way.

Considering that the purpose of this update has nothing to do with Revolution, there's very little point in continuing to talk about it except to note that failure of the imagination can be catching.  As a writer, I come across this more often than I expect, in more ways than I'd like.  The world can be and in fact is very screwy like that.

If you'll recall, I put myself on a schedule for the end of September, hoping to round up some lingering projects before finally tackling a book I've been meaning to write since 1998.  I finished up "City of Tomorrow" at Sigild V as planned.  Tweeting a few of the chapters got me more readership than usual, so that was nice.  Overall, I think it was a more rewarding writing experience than other serialized stories I've blogged, because although I plotted the story, I let most of it develop as I wrote it.  That's nearly the opposite of what I hope to accomplish in the next three months as I write Seven Thunders.  Today I wrote the 5,000 word prologue (every chapter will be that length, half of what I eventually mastered writing in single-day marathons last year working on Yoshimi).  As I've mentioned, this is a story I've been developing for some time now, but even in recent weeks I've discovered new things that needed to be incorporated.  So although most of it is indeed planned out, I expect to have a few more surprises yet.

That's something of what's happened with my Top Cow/Ji Xi script sample.  I've known for weeks what I expected to do with it, but the original plan to have it written by yesterday didn't happen.  I wrote the captions today, however, as I continued to warm up for writing another book.  I only have dialogue and panel descriptions to go!  Normally I write all of that at once, but this is my second chance with a Top Cow talent search, and I don't want to foul it up again.  During my Digital Webbing days, I think I was more confident about my comic scripting abilities (this was several years after losing the first Top Cow contest), and I've been out of practice for a while.  I wrote two biography scripts for Bluewater early in the years, but there's been little word on progress in turning them into actual comics, and a graphic novel with an honest-to-god collaborator is still getting its sample pages illustrated.  (I know how this sounds like I'm almost a glimmer of a big shot!  But I don't feel like one, so don't worry about it.)  As I've mentioned, there's more Bluewater work I may hit this month in a Dr. Seuss biography, which I plan to do in Dr. Seuss style.  (But I've been dallying so long on that one, will someone else have been given this theoretical book?)

Anyway, the most important bit to take away from this is my excitement over finally beginning to write Seven Thunders!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Brief Update

Since I last checked in here, I mentioned some projects I hoped to finish by the end of the month.  I'm happy to report that progress is looking good.

"City of Tomorrow" over at Sigild V is shaping up well.  Seven chapters done and five to go, just the amount of days I need, since I'm writing one a day, what amounts to a page in the formatting I normally use.  All the major characters have been introduced now.  The first chapter I posted to Twitter spiked interest to half a dozen reads instead of one or two (or none!), so that's pretty good.  I tweeted today's, just to see if history repeats itself.  As per my previous description, the story explores uncharted territory in the history of Metropolis, influential figures in the folklore that exists outside of Superman (all created by me), who is never referenced by name, nor is Lex Luthor, the Daily Planet, or anything but the location name and its popular nickname.  Keeps most of it under my control.

I wrote my entry for Martin Ingham's upcoming anthology, around 2,400 words, which is still not too many, but still respectable.  I had a roadmap for the story, but actually writing it was still pretty surprising, the way it turned out.  I'm pleased with it.  The good thing is, if it's not selected I always have Sigild as a forum.

So just the five chapters and the Top Cow contest script and maybe Dr. Seuss bio to go!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Projects That Will Occupy My Time Thru September

In the run-up to writing Seven Thunders (that little project I've been going on about), I feel like getting the juices flowing via diving back into the writing game in a somewhat ambitious way.

There's my submission for Top Cow's 2012 Talent Hunt (something I hope 2004 winner Drew Melbourne does not enter because he's too busy eating steaks or something), which will center around Ji Xi, wielder of the 13th Artifact.  Only eight pages of comic book script here.

There's also "Homeland," a short story I'm composing for Martin Ingham's upcoming time travel anthology.  Ingham was the host of the Shootout, and the final round winner got an automatic entry into the anthology.  Y'all know how my Shootout experience went.  But "Homeland," once it came to me, became irresistible.  For anyone who may have participated and remember my efforts, this will not have anything in common with those stories.

There's also "City of Tomorrow," which I will be serializing at Sigild V, my writing blog (as opposed to this, which is my writer's blog; perhaps more sensible people will combine them).  It's a Superman story by way of Dean Motter via Action Comics #0, which features Lois Lane quipping about "yesterday's city of tomorrow."  Given that I'm a fan of Motter's retrofuturism (and you can read about what I've been reading recently to affirm that here), I thought it would make something of a nice fit for my occasional lapses into fiction based on the creations of others (some call it "fan fiction").  Most of the body of the story comes from random notes I've made recently based on holistic bits of inspiration, which is exactly why I do that sort of thing.  You never know when it'll prove handy.

Technically I also have a Dr. Seuss bio for Bluewater to write, but I'm not sure if I'm protesting their lack of progress on the two scripts I sent them earlier this year or if I'm just being lazy.  I fully intend to do the bio in full Dr. Seuss style, and the challenge of that may also be preventing me from doing it...

Anyway, all of this is to say that I will be getting back into writing fiction on a regular basis.  After I started Sigild last year, I started writing like crazy, and worked on a number of twelve-part stories that got me writing even more regularly, but have recently and very significantly slowed down, perhaps after the release of Monorama (you remember that, don't you?), so all this ambition is really to get me back on my proverbial toes (because in real life I HAVE NONE...just kidding!).

Monday, September 17, 2012

Seven Thunders and the War of 1812

One of the key components of Seven Thunders is its connection to the War of 1812.

As American wars go, there are more obscure wars than this one, but I'm still surprised that it's viewed as insignificant, even though it was basically the second war for independence.  True, independence was won the first time, but the revolutions of the 18th century drastically affected world affairs of the 19th, including the ongoing conflicts between England and France.  Contrary to how American/English relations seem to have been friendly since forever today (probably best traced to WWII and the epic courtship of Roosevelt by Churchill), they weren't exactly on the best of terms early on.  Madison asked for war because the British were constantly disrespecting American maritime rights.

That's the biggest connection between Seven Thunders and the War of 1812, the thing that runs between the brothers at the heart of the story.  One brother is impressed into service with the Danab, and the other spends the story trying to get him back.

Now, there are other elements and connections that I could discuss, more details that I only figured out after long years of development (remember that I've said it's a story fifteen years in the making), but I'd prefer to keep those to first readings (though you never know).

The War of 1812, celebrating its bicentennial this year (naturally, but to little public recognition), was just as controversial in its day as the Iraq War and even the Vietnam War are today.  That may be why so few people bother to think about it.  I happen to have a high opinion of James Madison, so that's one of the reasons I think about it.

Among the famous trivia of the war include Francis Scott Key's composition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the burning of the White House, not to mention Andrew Jackson's post-war Florida military victory that propelled him to the presidency (over John Quincy Adams, another of my underdog favorites) and America's last effort to add Canada to the country (which is what caused the burning of the White House).

Without the War of 1812, it's doubtful that we'd be an international presence today.  It was a crucial time.  It was the second generation of the country, when it was time to prove whether the Founding Fathers had created something enduring or that would fall apart.  It's an irony that Madison was part of both generations, and was probably considered a part of the mistakes that would eventually lead to the Civil War, and that without the war that was cause for such debate, the necessary galvanization of the second generation would never take place.  There was a string of mediocrity that would eventually lead to Lincoln, but Madison wasn't part of it.

Part of what distinguishes Seven Thunders for me is that it attempts to tell exactly that story, but in a way that perhaps explains things better.  It is not the War of 1812 transposed into a space opera, but that would not be a bad way of looking at it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Writing Seven Thunders

Writing Seven Thunders is a process that has so far taken fifteen years.

I have not written a single page.  I've written a few opening lines, but for the record, I have not started writing it yet.  Some people would no doubt find that to be a tad preposterous, especially in an era where anyone can be published, anyone will write.

Seven Thunders is something I've considered to be my potential masterpiece.  Now that I've written a few books (books I did not spend fifteen years planning), I can no longer say that with so much certainty, but it's still incredibly important to me, perhaps my best shot at a truly popular novel (though Yoshimi could be that, once those pesky Hall Brothers get around to it).

Considering that the world around Seven Thunders has since become what will be a series of books beside it in the form of Space Corps, perhaps some of what delayed my writing it has dulled some of the impact.  I never planned to write more books around it.  I don't know what I expected to do with the rest of the material (at some point I thought they might be TV shows, and more recently, comic books), but recently I started thinking of them as books, around the time I stopped thinking of Seven Thunders as a trilogy and more like the format of Finnegan, the first book I wrote deliberately, after The Cloak of Shrouded Men, which like Finnegan also takes three acts to conclude its story.  Only Ecce Homo so far (because Yoshimi does, too) doesn't follow this pattern so far, but I'm not sure I'm done editing its final shape.

Seven Thunders is named thus because of the DC Comics graphic novel Kingdom Come, which referenced the Book of Revelation and the thunder in some of its original advertising.  The thunders in the context of my book are the seven main characters, who have remained more or the less the same since I first sketched them out.  Another of the refinements I've figured out very recently is that two of them are brothers, like in Prison Break, grown up and still trying to reconcile the complications of their past that still affect them in the present.

I figure I will finally start writing Seven Thunders in October, and shoot to complete each of its three acts one per month until the end of the year.  I still haven't exactly decided how long it'll be, but I'm sure I'll know.  I've now had ample practice doing this, having now done it four other times, which is still a little incredible to think.  Since I haven't been too successful in finding publishers or making the decision to self-publish (Monorama being an exception and another learning experience), I still think of myself as a budding writer.  Possibly because as far as success goes, I wouldn't know too much about it.

Well, the rest of the year should be interesting anyway...

Monday, September 10, 2012

Introduction to Space Corps

A long time ago, on a carpet far, far away...

Space Corps is something I've been working on since at least 1995.  It's a direct product of my love for Star Trek, which at that time was being supercharged by Deep Space Nine's third season, which remains a high watermark for me in my experience with the classic sci-fi franchise, when a good show started figuring out how to be great.

Of course, Space Corps (it had a different name then) didn't start out anything like Deep Space Nine.  It was designed to match the kinds of stories the original Star Trek and Next Generation series had done, episodic adventures that hopped to something new every week.  In 1998, perhaps coincidentally when DS9 was again revolutionizing the franchise during its extended Dominion War arc, I expanded Space Corps to include the Seven Thunders saga (it had a different name at that time), the first time I had a self-contained story that could stand up against my other great sci-fi love, Star Wars.

So yes, I'm one of those people who can love Star Trek and Star Wars at the same time.  To me, they've always been distinctive yet complementary.  They're both visions of starships zipping through space.  What happens between the starships featured each franchise certainly distinguishes them.  In Star Trek, it's always been about a voyage of discovery, with a set of individuals deliberately (and sometimes accidentally) challenging the unknown.  In Star Wars (and here's why I've always had a problem with all the spinoff material that has swamped the landscape over the past twenty years), it's always been about one great story, the rise and fall of evil, and the individuals who challenged the known.

Where Star Trek often allows familiar characters to explore the unfamiliar, Star Wars follows unfamiliar characters exploring the familiar.  You know who Kirk and Spock are, right from the start (that was the genius of J.J. Abrams' 2009 film).  But you don't really know Luke and Han.  You don't know where Kirk and Spock are headed, but you do know that Luke and Han are confronting a giant menace.

That's something I thought could be combined.  There've been plenty of incarnations of Star Trek that've attempted to do that, but they're always succeeded best when they understood exactly what always made Star Trek work best, even if some fans have had a hard time processing that.  Star Trek can do what Star Wars does, but Star Wars can't really do what Star Trek does and remain Star Wars, just as Star Trek is no longer Star Trek if it starts to be too much like Star Wars.  Do you follow?

What Space Corps has increasingly attempted to represent is a melding of these experiences.  If it started out like a match for Star Trek, I eventually realized that it wasn't very much like Star Trek at all.  When you analyze the Star Trek tradition, you come up with a lot of very specific things that the franchise has always done, throughout each of its incarnations.  It loves time travel.  It loves moral dilemmas, but in very deliberate frameworks.  It loves allegories.  It loves having a very specific cast layout.  There must always be a captain. There must always be a starship.  (Even when DS9 rebelled against these last two, it eventually assumed them both, in that third season of course.)

Many of the original stories I plotted for Space Corps in the early years embraced most of these elements.  When I created my version of DS9, I started to move away.  I combined, in fact, DS9 with Voyager for one story.  Then I tried DS9 again.  Then I started to break away and figure out what gave Space Corps its own framework.  I kept circling back to Seven Thunders, one epic saga that had already resonated through some of the earlier stories, recurring elements that started feeling more like Star Wars than Star Trek, even when something like the Dominion War happened.  In college, I found myself starting to shape the reality of Space Corps further, figuring out its origins.

I never even considered getting any Space Corps material published.  A part of me must have realized that the whole process would need refinement.  Although it was already a sizable entity in my own head, I always wanted to start with Seven Thunders.  Was it ready?  Seven Thunders underwent its own refinements.  Character names are important to me.  One major character got a new name.  Now I can't imagine what it would have been like if the old one had been codified.  The new one helped shape the character in ways I hadn't even considered before.  Even now, I'm learning more about them because of that one crucial difference.

I've changed a lot of names in Space Corps over the years.  As I've said, names are important to me.  I've always considered it a mark of a good writer to come up with distinctive, memorable names, and good ones.  Plenty of writers try to come up with distinctive names, but they just don't work.  Plenty of writers overthink this.  Sometimes a good name can be as simple as Spock, and a great many people will be able to juggle the existence of the Vulcan science officer Spock with the baby expert Benjamin Spock.  It's still rare, even though it's familiar in two different contexts.  Plenty of writers come up with weird "foreign" spellings that will never look natural, and will only be a stumbling block to the more discerning readers.  If you can't come up with a good name, what else can't you do?

So I've juggled a lot of names, and I have a lot of characters in Space Corps.  There are many different stories in this saga.  There isn't a single story in this saga, so it's not completely like Star Wars, but I've tried to embrace the vision of having iconic things happen to characters against dramatic backdrops.  That's what Star Wars is to me, an intimate story that happens to encompass a giant event, what happens to Anakin Skywalker as the the Republic is for a time taken over by the Empire.  Yes, there are Jedi knights and smugglers and bounty hunters running around in the background, but even in the original trilogy, when it was Luke Skywalker trying to figure out what was going on and how he fit into things, it was always dominated by that distinctive black-clad individual, Darth Vader.  Even in the very first movie, Vader was an outsider in his own group, and the greatest moment of intrigue was when the audience realizes that this guy cares as much about the old desert hermit as Luke does.

How do you combine Star Wars with Star Trek?  Star Trek, even when things like Khan and the Dominion War and the Borg happen, is always about a crew of explorers who are trying to survive events that are bigger than them.  Even when someone like Benjamin Sisko ends up being the religious savior of an entire population, it's Sisko's need to understand that role that defines him, rather than anything he actually does.  Star Trek is introspective.  It doesn't breed characters who deliberately try to shape events, but rather characters who are shaped by events.  They're always at the fringe, even when Jean-Luc Picard becomes the Borg figurehead.  There was nothing of Picard in Locutus.

With Space Corps, I try to imagine ways that characters can be introspective and still drive big events, try to merge the intimate with the grand.  It was always my playground, after all.  Once you expand the story a little, there's a lot to play with.  I started out thinking Space Corps would be episodic, and gradually realized that it wasn't.  There was at least one great saga at the heart of it, and that's what stood at the heart of Seven Thunders.  In Seven Thunders, two friends end up on opposite sides of a conflict.  As an American, I suppose there will always be a residual of the Civil War running through my thoughts.  I'm no great Civil War scholar, but it's an intrinsically American narrative.  When I started expanding that conflict between friends, I realized that the Civil War wasn't the only time friends could have ended up in that position.  It's happened countless times throughout American history.  One could say we've always been a polarized nation.

I don't want to say that Space Corps ended up being about that.  Star Wars had the Empire.  Star Trek had the Klingons.  I have the Danab.  The nature of the conflict defines the nature of the franchise.  Once I figured out exactly who the Danab were, I started figuring out the rest of Space Corps, starting with Seven Thunders.  And once I figured out Seven Thunders, I started to understand the shape of Space Corps, the most important elements.  I started to understand the intimate and the grand, started to see where Star Trek and Star Wars met, once you removed all the barriers.

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but Space Corps became my Middle Earth.  George Lucas began and ended with a single story.  Gene Roddenberry began and ended with a single vision.  Space Corps isn't fantasy, but it borrows more from what Tolkien helped establish in that genre than from what most creators have done with science fiction.  It builds a world and a comprehensive history, one that follows a logical path.  If Gollum is a tragic character who accidentally puts a series of events in motion, then I figured I had to have a character who sows seeds throughout Space Corps. This character has no major role in Seven Thunders, but he helped form the backbone for the rest of the saga.

Hopefully in time I will be able to write it all down in books that will help better explain all of this.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Rounding Out the Shootout...and WRiTE CLUB

I just reviewed the final three stories of the Shootout.  It was not as painful as I thought it would be.  In fact, the story I picked to win I really, really loved.  So that was pretty pleasant.  Assuming my guess was correct, this was the first time I read this author, since they were on my team during the three-round preliminaries.

I've also made the decision to step away from WRiTE CLUB.  It may have something to do with the fact that my entry came up today, and it was inexplicably another of the random stories that the good folks participating actually decided they didn't like.  So my Shootout experience was not much of a fluke.  My style is not for everyone.

I've known this for a long time.  It's no surprise.  It's disappointing and a great relief to finally get it out as concerns WRiTE CLUB, however.  It means I don't have to continue reading other people's stuff.  You know that I've struggled with this exercise, too.

It is selfish, in one sense.  I'm making others "pay" by withholding future comments and votes.  But aside from David List, I don't think anyone else even noticed that I was approaching WRiTE CLUB differently from everyone else.  David and a few others seemed to get more chatty about their opinions once he contacted me (at Scouring Monk) a few weeks ago.  That's as well.  For a few rounds, I stopped voicing a strong opinion, but started up again, and part of that was because of the Shootout blowup that involved one of the finalists.

I already know I was a contrary voice in WRiTE CLUB, and to some extent, it'd be nice to continue being one, but that's not a place that likes contrary voices.  (Actually, no place likes contrary voices.)  All communities crave a certain amount of uniformity.  When they don't get it from someone, that someone eventually figures it out.  They become isolated.  Most communities are too cowardly to outright ban their outsiders.  They have an inkling that there's something of worth being said, even if they choose to ignore it.

The loneliest place really is in the center of a crowd.

There's still several months of WRiTE CLUB left.  You can still join in.  I'm not giving you another link.  Technically, I can put in another effort myself, but I don't see the point.  I know that when I write what I want to write, there's a lot of readers who just won't care.

One of my illusions has always been that writers are by nature lovers of traditional literature (even if that literature is experimental).  I'm beginning to suspect that most writers are more lovers of popular fiction.  That's all they read, that's all they write.  Literary fiction is by definition limiting.  Few people like to think.  They like visceral experiences.  There's nothing wrong with visceral experiences.  But there's a problem when you limit yourself only to that kind of experience.

Older generations are always saying how modern society is fast becoming a vast video game, turning everything into a digital playground.  While that may sound cool to people who are still obsessed with The Matrix, I think what it really means is that in the effort to embrace instant gratification, we're forgetting that some rewards take time and effort.  No, not the time and effort it takes to make something, but the time it takes to figure it out.

Picture your horror when you realized that Christopher Columbus was a horribly racist ravager of the New World.  Now, just imagine what it would have been like if he was exactly the man history tried its hardest to make him.  Memory is a funny thing.  It makes everything better, and it makes everything worse.  Memories create the Christopher Columbus who taught us that the world wasn't flat.

If you were to write a story about Columbus today, would you include that thought?

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Mark Waid's Flash and Lost

Most of writer Mark Waid's issues on The Flash included the phrase, "My name is Wally West, and I'm the fastest man alive."

While the phrase can be read as a mantra or as a simple matter of fact (if you didn't know, The Flash is a DC Comics superhero who runs really fast), it was also a statement of how Waid approached the character. In a word, brilliantly.

He was the first writer who wrote Wally West as someone other than the former sidekick who wasn't trying desperately to screw up replacing a legend like Barry Allen.  He create the whole concept of the Speed Force, and revolutionized the concept of legacies, uniting all of the speedsters into a coherent mythology, including the Zen master of speed, Max Mercury (still one of my favorites to this day).

What Waid figured out was that Wally wasn't just the guy trying to fill out red tights, but one of the first superheroes to grow up and truly embrace his destiny.  He wrote The Flash in a way that embraced the concept as well as the character.  It wasn't just about what had happened to him or who he was, but what he did with it.  In short, "My name is Wally West, and I'm the fastest man alive."

The TV series Lost was nearly capsized by its own cult following.  It worked so hard building up the mythology that the fans forgot what the series was actually about.

Was it about the mythology?  Sure, to a certain extent.  But Lost was always about its characters.  And like Wally West, the sprawling cast was a motley bunch of damaged goods who may have been defined in any other series by the tragedies their lives had become.  In any crime show, for instance, they would have been the bad guys, plain and simple.

Yet Lost figured out, like Mark Waid did, that it's not just what happened to someone or who they were, but what they do with their lives.

The island was a shot at redemption.  Plain and simple.  That's the whole kit and caboodle.  That's what it was all about.  All those crazy theories that were especially popular during the second season were great, but all the disappointment that heaped up in the second season, when Charlie and Locke are once again pathetic and nobody can understand why, is where reaction started to truly misinterpret what the show was trying to accomplish.

By the fourth season, when they got a chance to go home, and the fifth season, when they were hopping through time, and the sixth season, which ended in Heaven, the flashbacks that had propelled the first half of the series gave way to different kinds of material.  That was well and good for some people.  They got tired of the flashbacks.

Well, hey howdy.  The flashbacks were what Lost was all about.  Their lives on the island were a way of processing and letting go of the mistakes they'd made.  That's why the final season brought them back, helped us look at what their lives would be like if a few key differences help makes things easier off the island.  Because it was never about the island.

You can have the coolest gimmicks ever, running really fast or some fantastic island where odd things happen as a matter of course, but none of it truly resonates, none of it lasts, if the characters who are behind these gimmicks don't matter.

Sure, some readers, some viewers don't care.  As a creator, your primary focus should always be to give the audience what they want, but go well beyond what they want, give them as much as you can.  If you care about the characters, you owe it to the characters as much as the audience.  The audience is fickle, and you're not creating only for the first audience, but the second and third generation fans.  Well, presumably.  Some creators are perfectly content to work on disposable things.

I say, it's not enough to know what happened to a character (their backstory) or what happens to them (their story).  I say characters demand to have perspective, too.  The creator needs that perspective as much as the characters do.  If the characters don't have it, the creator doesn't, and if the creator doesn't, the audience will eventually notice.

To me, that's incredibly scary.  I want my stories to mean something, to speak to something.  I don't just write because I like to write, but because I think I have something to say.

If it's something as simple and profound as "My name is Wally West, and I'm the fastest man alive," then I'll feel like I've accomplished something.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I Write Like Stephen King (Seriously!)

Thanks to a former colleague of mine providing a link to I Write Like, I can now with a good deal of confidence say that I have that much more in common with Stephen King.

Let me start with the similarities.  King grew up in Durham, ME, and attended Lisbon High School.  Several decades later, I also attended Lisbon High School.  Ah, yes, many people can say that.  I had the teacher who famously told King he couldn't write very well (she taught me, among other things, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, and I wrote a bad English parable and some dude named William for her; I liked her just fine, and for the record, her name was Prudence Grant).  I also ended up attending the University of Maine in Orono (at one time abbreviated as UMO, but later revised as UMaine, because we're the, ah, main campus), to which King is an alumnus, and wrote for the Maine Campus, which King did, and for the opinion section, which King did.

For the record, he did come back during my time there, to make a speech about somesuch.  I was offered to do an on-camera interview for a local news station about it (mostly because I had arrived early and sat near the back), but politely declined.  I'm weird like that.

Some ten years later, I follow a link and have several pages of Monorama analyzed, and it comes up reading like Stephen King.  Now, part of that may seem not so surprising.  I mean, we attended several of the same schools, had at least one teacher in common.  Ah, well, I guess it's a little beyond the reach.  Regionally, perhaps, some of the same language seeped into us, which is something I would certainly like to believe, because I've always wanted to believe I had a certain brand of culture behind me.  Most people who think of Maine think of Mainahs and chowdah and lobstas, but that's on the coast.  I suppose there's a certain amount of small town life that exists throughout Maine, except for places like Portland (home of the Sea Dogs) and Augusta (the capital), maybe in a few more communities here and there.

King is known for horror, but by the time I started reading him (strangely, not in high school, where his books occupied a special case in the library, where I regularly volunteered and spent free time), I understood that he approached his fiction from a very folksy perspective, which resonates throughout The Stand, for instance (this is the same vibe that The Walking Dead attempts to emulate, which original show runner Frank Darabont has done successfully several times on film).  I suppose that perspective is entirely appropriate, given what I've just explained about Maine.

While at times I've attempted to emulate his Constant Reader approaching to talking about things, I never thought that I wrote all that much like King.  Perhaps it's because I still haven't really immersed myself in his books.  I've read maybe a half dozen.  Therefore, when I think about him, it's more about his ideas and perspective.  I'm just realizing as I write this that those are the two things that I always strive to emphasize myself.  Maybe I Write Like isn't so crazy after all!

But I'm not telling you I'm destined to be as successful as Stephen King.  King became a huge success because he wrote visceral stories, especially at the start of his career, which were easily categorized as horror, which no writer had done successfully in American fiction since Edgar Allan Poe.  He was a breath of fresh air that critics maybe didn't understand, but readers completely got.  It wasn't until King pulled away a little and just started writing about people in peculiar circumstances that the character of his writing really rose to the surface.

If I was in wrestling, the solution to success would be to start marketing myself as Tony King, Stephen's kid brother.

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