Friday, August 29, 2014

Star Wars

Today I finished writing the fiftieth installment of my "101 Star Wars Variations" flash fiction.  In a practical sense, it's a necessary milestone for August, because I hope to finish the suite by the end of the year.  Needless to say, I've still got some catching up to do based on my current pace, no matter how accelerated I've made it recently.

As the title of this project might imply, "Variations" is my look at the saga with alterations ("from a certain point of view"), the story featured in the six films changed here and there, settling on individual characters and how it might be interpreted differently, or outright changed.

Prior to this, I've never really written Star Wars fan fiction.  (Although I've been writing Star Trek fan fiction for years, I've long struggled with the term "fan fiction," being something I tend to interpret negatively; aside from my origins writing unsuccessful submissions for the Pocket Books Strange New Worlds contests, I've always striven to find my own voice in these efforts, which is the secret origin of everything else I've written since.)  I'm deeply steeped in love for Star Wars, a fact of my existence that's about as old as my existence as a whole.

Writing these things has been a new challenge for me.  I've taken the opportunity to stretch my own definition of what I'm like as a writer.  Most of what I write can be considered thought exercise.  Writing straight-out narratives or, you know, scenes, isn't always my top priority.  I tend to immerse myself in the interior lives or narratives of my characters, which ends up taking precedence over whatever they're actually doing.  Taking Star Wars as a framing device is a way of taking a shortcut around these instincts, then.  It allows me to try and be a little more casual.

Which isn't to say I'm not indulging my own instincts, too.  There's plenty to go around.  The song remains the same, but the lyrics, the tune, they're always shifting, and I'm having a great time.  Allowing myself to play in the sandbox has been a real revelation.

Anyway, I'll let you know if I've successfully completed this peculiar saga by the end of the year...

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How a very short story came about...

Back in May I decided to take another shot at DL Hammons's WRiTE CLUB.  Turns out my entry wasn't selected to compete.  Fine.  That wasn't ultimately all that important to the 500 word story I wrote for it.

(Read it here.)

"Slightly Fitted" began as a challenge for me to overcome something I'd told Nigel Mitchell in my reaction to one of his 100 word stories.  Every writer has pet peeves.  One of mine is the word "scream."  Except on rare occasions, it's just not a description I care to read much less write.  After leaving a comment to that regard, I guess I started rethinking that.  So I decided to write a scenario where a character heard a scream.

While I was thinking about it, I remembered another piece of micro fiction I'd written over at Sigild, "Facts in the Disappearance of Elmer Haskell."  If you take the time to read it, you'll see how incredibly minimalist it is (and very, very short).  It was just an idea I had that I never really explored, or particularly wanted to.  Except finally I kind of wanted to.  I started thinking about it.  Elmer turned out to have a sister who went searching for him.  I was no longer interested in Elmer himself, or exploring why he disappeared, but the rest of the context.

And it seemed like a great time to once again revisit the Space Corps sandbox.

As my long-suffering readers will probably know, Space Corps is my sci-fi saga.  I'm pinned my whole literary future on the absurd belief that I will get a major publisher interested in it.  Fame and fortune, movies, all of that.  I've developed Space Corps for decades.  I made a focal point of Seven Thunders, and wrote the first full-length Space Corps manuscript a few years ago.  I sent Seven Thunders to a major publisher.  In a little over a month, I will probably get to stop waiting for a response.  It's just more slush pile material to them.  For me, it's everything.  Yeah, I've self-published a good bit of material at this point.  I understand that it's ridiculously common at this point for writers to expect self-published or small press books to be legitimate conclusions to their literary journeys.  But I want more.  Especially for Space Corps.  It's a dream.

"Slightly Fitted" is part of a curious development for Space Corps.  Most of what Space Corps will be was developed years ago.  Refined, sure, over the years, and continually so, but the books in the series I hope one day exist and can be found in any good bookstore (or digital platform) looked like they were all outlined, the story complete.  Until I realized it wasn't.  I had never actually developed the story of how humanity entered the intergalactic community.

As a Star Trek geek, First Contact was a crucial moment.  I adored Enterprise.  I love seeing how things begin.  In more recent times I've been writing snippets of stories like "Slightly Fitted" that have helped shape this beginning to the Space Corps saga.  I snuck one such into The Kennedy Curse, an anthology that for me represents a kind of official literary debut.

Now, Space Corps has primarily become the story of humanity's relationship with the Danab.  I could tell you a lot about the Danab, but suffice to say that they're big nasty aliens and there were two major wars fought between Earth and them.  Seven Thunders pivots around the second.  All these snippets have been shaping the first.

The other thing "Slightly Fitted" explored was the idea of immigrant life.  Writer G. Willow Wilson fascinates me for any number of reasons, but one of them is because she's a woman who converted to Islam.  So there's a little of that in this particular story, too, and the reason why the main character is a little girl.  I could write a lot more about this situation, how it more directly ties in with "Disappearance of Elmer Haskell," for one (which also transforms whatever I used to think I knew about that one).  The book outline I've crafted for the new final Space Corps story doesn't necessarily feature any of these elements, but who knows?

What most interested me about "Slightly Fitted," though, was naming a Danab city.  I loved what I came up with: Gugu Kendi.  "Gugu" as in actress Gugu (goo goo) Mbatha-Raw, who recently starred in Belle but who was also completely adorable in Larry Crowne ("Tis gratis!") and was featured in the short-lived Undercovers.  Since the last book will be saturated in all things Danab, this was a fine way to really start getting a feel for them.

(A city name that includes a word like "goo goo" for big nasty aliens?  To me, intriguing.)

For me, Space Corps is indistinguishable from sci-fi worlds that exist in movies and television, the ones I love (Star Trek, Star Wars).  It's not really something I think about in relation to sci-fi worlds as they exist in other books.  I haven't really read a lot of sci-fi books in that regard.  Seems kind of stupid.  I'm pretty sure I haven't written Seven Thunders in a fashion that's similar to other conceptually similar books (military and/or space opera).  Par for the course with the way I write.  I think I managed to make it more accessible than, say Pale Moonlight.  But what do I know?

Hey, I'm an idiot for my own material.  We all are.  It's so personal to me, though, that I don't think I could self-publish it, the way I've been going.  I don't want it to languish.  I think it sells itself.  Can't get into WRiTE CLUB, but hey (I thought most of the writers from this year were terrible anyway).  Crazy stupid dream.

But they all are.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

IWSG August 2014

The first Wednesday of the month means burritos for every beagle the Insecure Writers Support Group meets once again.

This month's thoughts are basically "The Babylon 5 Dilemma" revisited.  Last time I talked about the seminal J. Michael Straczynski TV series, I wasn't terribly kind to it.  This time will be different.

I've been trying to find things my mom will enjoy watching.  This is not always as easy as it might seem.  As a family we've always been obsessed with Star Wars, so I figured one day that maybe she would like seeing the original Battlestar Galactica film.  It kind of landed with a thud.  I followed that up with In the Beginning, the Babylon 5 movie TNT aired in 1998 as part of the network's push for the show's final season.  It's always been my personal favorite memory of the series.  Surprisingly, my mom liked it too.

The dilemma this time is that I don't really have a lot more B5 to show her.  There are, of course, five seasons of the series, plus the short-lived Crusade spin-off, and a bunch of TV movies (Beginning, as well as the pilot, The Gathering, and River of Souls, Thirdspace, A Call to Arms, The Legend of the Rangers, and Lost Tales).  I have the DVD collection of all the movies except the last two.  I can keep showing her these movies.  I could start buying more of the saga.

Should I?  In the Beginning is pretty unique.  It's self-contained in a lot of ways, a story told from the perspective of Londo Mollari, the draconian (in more ways than one) Centauri who regrets his secret role in the Earth-Minbari War, speaking about it years later as a way to amuse a couple of kids.  It's elegiac, prosaic, probably the best single selling point of the whole experience.

Babylon 5 always suffered from a relatively minuscule budget.  This caused issues with the production I wasn't always able to overcome.  At least two of the actors were of the quality I think would otherwise have been beneath the series under ideal circumstances.  But then, I think Straczynski's famous need to control nearly the entire scripting process severely limited the series.  When he was inspired, such as the scope and the arc of his vision, Joe was close to untouchable.  But he wasn't always keen on the details.  One might say he tended to write in broad strokes.  That's evident in Beginning as well.

But I love Beginning all the same.  I love its subtleties.  I always loved Peter Jurasik (who played Londo; the other real treasure was his nemesis, Andreas Katsulas as G'Kar).  I love how it's written.

At its best, Babylon 5 was everything its fans always said it was, and I guess my mom unexpectedly liking it was a way for me to see it that way for, really, the first time.  We all have experiences like that.  For years we're convinced we hate something, and then all of a sudden we realize we don't.  We might even become big fans.

As a writer, as a writer who specifically fears that his material might never find an audience, this is a special kind of dilemma.  Execution is a hard thing to master.  What works for the writer won't always work for the reader.  It might be an issue of the talent simply not being there.  It might be an issue of the story needing to overcome a general lack of writing talent.  It might be an issue of the talent being something the reader simply can't appreciate for whatever reason.  It could be a combination of all those.  Then again, appreciation might only come as a fluke anyway, so who's to know where it comes from?  Get people to think positively about something, and they'll sell the merits of anything, even stuff that has no merit.  How do you even gauge these things?  One day you don't get it and the next you do.  If it exists, if it continues to exist, there're always possibilities.

I mean, life is hard enough just trying to figure out what you can control.  The things you can't, maybe that's just something writers should worry less about.  So what do you say?  Should I try and get my mom some more of this Babylon 5 material?
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