Saturday, February 22, 2014

Pale Moonlight

Announcing the release of Pale Moonlight, an epic vision of vampire literature.

This is the latest in my self-published works.  You can find the paperback version here and the Kindle version here.

This is the first book manuscript I deliberately wrote, after the thrice NaNoWRiMo experience that resulted in The Cloak of Shrouded Men.  I wrote it in the fall of 2009, with the idea of doing a fairly straightforward vampire novel, a sort of swashbuckling version that exists in the completed story in the form of the pirate Quincy, one of several supporting characters.  Instead of an action adventure, it became as most of my stories do an exploration of motivation.

I attempted for years to sell this book to traditional publishers, and never found any success.  I continued writing manuscripts, but it's the failure to find interest with it that led to all of the self-published efforts that make up the bulk of my releases.  I figured it was about time for the story to join that tradition.

Besides the silly notion of writing a version of the vampire story that I could never hope to complete with my particular writerly inclinations, Plato Finnegan's adventures in relation to his sister Fiona and the vampire Eolake in that particular aspect were based on my close bond with my beloved sister and her own successful efforts to emerge from a bad relationship.

Happily, the story also afforded me an avenue for a recurring character in some other projects, Oliver Row, who in Pale Moonlight is my version of Van Helsing, the one that would necessarily have to exist in this modern era of skepticism and TV drama which so often turns to this sort of material for inspiration.  One of the many minor characters who help round out the cast is Jason Clayton, my vision of an American Harry Potter, whose Dumbledore mentor is also an homage to a favorite high school teacher.

Pale Moonlight was originally entitled Finnegan, and that was what it was for the longest time, with at times various subtitles such as American Nightmares.  I had at one point retitled it Modern Ark, but recently - and for that reason finally decided to release it - on the present one, which not only evokes classic vampire imagery (not to mention the naming scheme for the Stephenie Meyer books) but a line from the Tim Burton Batman and a Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode (bonus points if you can give me details on both, perhaps even a free copy!).

As with a lot of classic literature, it is most likely completely unfilmable, but if you want to try, I would be more than willing to help adapt it.

As I am a terrible CreateSpace formatter, the paperback features nothing that would be mistaken for a professional release.  I released it because I believe in the story.  There are bound to be the same typographical errors that plague all my releases (although since this also occurs in the ones released by persons other than myself, I don't feel quite as bad).

It is a book I hope may be enjoyed by everyone, but I know it won't.  If you are Pat Dilloway, for instance, Pale Moonlight will probably damn near infuriate you.

I am quite pleased to present it.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The People vs. Epiphany

I can get a little ticked off sometimes.  Sometimes, I'm not very patient with other people.  Mostly it's because I sense the presence of intellectual cowards.

Those who anger me the most are people who take the easy way out when they react to a work of fiction, whether it be a book, a TV show, a movie.  They anger me because they end up walking the fine line between narrative and epiphany.  Narrative is what most people want from a story.  They want a beginning, a middle, and an end.  They want, in short, a story about a complete journey, and the reason they want it is because they believe that every story has that, and not just every story but every person.  We're told constantly that we must become something.  If we're not something then we're nothing.  The more something we are, the more important we are.  The less something we are the more we allow ourselves to be labeled as insignificant, both by others and even by ourselves.

And to a certain extent, that's both a healthy and natural reaction to living.  That's why it's entirely common for stories to feature narratives with those definite beginnings and endings.

But it's the middle where the interesting things happen.  The middle is the epiphany.  It's okay to mistake the beginning as the epiphany, but the beginning is really just an imperative.  The imperative means nothing without resulting in something.  Where I disagree with people is that the result is the conclusion.  No, the result is the epiphany.

The epiphany of a journey is the defining moment of a person's life, when they realize the journey they're on.  If you think about it, the journey itself has so many starting points that to pick one at all is to pick at random, because the starting point you identify still needed to have conditions necessary to allow it to happen, and those conditions are already present well before you're born, and involve people you will never know, even from your own times.

The epiphany isn't the ending, either, because there never is an ending, but rather an arbitrary conclusion that satisfies the arbitrary beginning, if the story is a good one an exact mirror.

But without the beginning or the ending, what is the point of the epiphany?

The point is everything.  The point is, without the epiphany a person is meaningless.  Without the epiphany the story is meaningless.  It's a random series of events that have no personal attachments.  It's all the network TV shows everyone claims they don't take seriously, so that all the cable TV shows that in fact focus heavily on narrative are all the ones people respect.  Yet these cable shows are equally meaningless without the epiphany.  I consider the critical darling Breaking Bad to be meaningless without Walter White having ever confronted the journey he undertook.  The decision to deal meth was not an epiphany.  It was merely a beginning, and not a very good one.  One doesn't decide to radically change one's life merely on the diagnosis of a terminal illness.

The epiphany is something that in a honest story, or an honest life, may not be properly understood by the individual in question.  This is keenly evident in recent films like Saving Mr. Banks and Winter's Tale (if both happen to feature the actor Colin Farrell, it's because he's the rare actor who has realized the importance of such an element to the roles he chooses).  Saving Mr. Banks might be construed as a movie about making the good guy look like the bad guy (as I saw it described recently).  Or it might more accurately be described as an epiphany perhaps only the audience is best suited to comprehend (I wrote a great deal about this movie here).  Winter's Tale cleverly suggests the whole narrative is really an equally challenging example of epiphany for its audience.

Ambitious TV shows are often challenges like that.  The ones I admire are the ones that remain true to this exploration.  Lost is the perfect example, and one of the many reasons fans eventually became disillusioned with it might be this disconnect.  On the surface it would seem obvious the whole point of the show was to figure out how the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 would get off the mysterious island, with or without discerning its secrets.  But it was really about characters whose lives had already passed the point of epiphany, and these experiences the series chronicles were ways for them to process the epiphany, certainly not the epiphany itself.

Other shows challenged the relationship between epiphany and narrative.  The whole first season of Heroes was about epiphany.  The rest of the series took epiphany as an ongoing narrative.  When most fans assumed the characters had reached their cathartic, definitive (or, concluding) moment at the end of the first season, the series continued for three more seasons, continuing to explore the matter of epiphany, where the characters came from and where they were going.  The whole series was already a challenge to the traditional notion of what a superhero is supposed to be.  There were never any costumes.  Even the last episode, which reached an appropriate echo from the start of the series, didn't reach an ending, but rather another epiphany.

Prison Break was the same way.  The whole series challenged the notion that a defining event, or epiphany, was the only thing to explore about its characters.  The first season was the prison break.  But that was hardly the end of the story.  If the end occurred somewhere near the beginning, then it was indeed a perfect example of what I'm talking about.

I've tried to write like this even when I didn't realize I was doing it.  Maybe that's why I've had such a hard time convincing other people to take my writing seriously.  Actually, the whole of my short fiction collection Monorama is about this, and I didn't realize that when I was writing any of that material, either.  My WIP has reached the part where I'll be writing about a life in transition.  If people crave narrative, they crave definition most of all.  They don't want to be told there isn't an ending.  They want the complete arc explained right away.  They think that something that doesn't have a definition attached means nothing.

Maybe they're right.  As for me, the meaning isn't in the definition, but how it's used.  An epiphany is something in motion.  It's on the move.  In the Land of Pangaea is a story of three lives, the first two being dramatic examples of traditional narrative, the third an exploration of a story with no ending.  I've long struggled with another manuscript, which I have finally decided to release on my own, which I now call Pale Moonlight but has previously been entitled Modern Ark and Finnegan, which began as an idea about vampires, but became something else.  It became more ambiguous.  It in fact because my first study of epiphany, when I discovered that the characters I was writing didn't have traditional narratives attached to them.  It takes the shape of narrative, but it breaks all the rules.  I don't have the arc of the main character explained at all.  The epiphany is something in the eye of the observers, and perhaps of the reader as well.

And for this, I look around and see how uncommon this is, to write like this, to think like this.  And, yes, it causes me anger.  I'm not really angry with other people.  I'm angry that when anyone tries to explore this idea of the epiphany, it doesn't really help others.  And really, it shouldn't.  You can't force an epiphany.  All you can do is provide the opportunity.

And perhaps that's why I write.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

IWSG February 2014

The Insecure Writers Support Group is the brainchild of Alex J. Cavanaugh, who incidentally has his CassaFire for 99 cents this week.  It's the second book in the trilogy.

Anyway, believe it or not, but I hate shilling for fellow bloggers.  I hate a lot of things.  Hopefully I like more.  But in some circles, hating things can be bad.  It's bad among bloggers.  It's especially bad among bloggers who are also writers.  Because those bloggers want to sell books.  And to be a part of the blogging community, you have to play nice.  And to play nice, you have to shill.

And I hate shilling.  If I am being completely honest, I would probably very likely never in a million years actively want to read a book written by a blogger.  (The obvious exception is MOV.)  This is not to say bloggers can't write good books.  But I find it unlikely that there will ever be a lot of great writers among bloggers.  And not to sound elitist, but I kind of like great writers.

I like great writers because I want the stories I read to be about more than the act of reading.  I'm not saying that bloggers are only capable of doing that, but when you're not a great writer, what else are you?  You're just some person writing a story.

I actually read Cavanaugh's third book of the trilogy, CassaStorm, and gave it a pretty good review.  I was probably the only one to have a lot of negative comments (or as we sometimes call them, pieces of constructive criticism) in my review.  Bloggers are seldom very critical in their reviews of fellow bloggers.  They somehow love every book by their fellow bloggers.  Just as if they are reading great writers.

Maybe their point is that not every book has to be a great book in order to be enjoyed.  And that is a valid point.  Last year, though, I read more blogger books than I would have otherwise, thanks to those darn Goodreads giveaway entries that of course do not at all disclose that some of them (a lot of them?) are blogger books.  Not all books actually by bloggers, but blogger books all the same.

As in, not great writers.

And I like to read books that are clearly not by great writers, too.  Sometimes it's good to do that.  These books are also enjoyable.  But there is a clear difference.

I hate shilling, basically, because when I write a review, I can't help but make that difference.  And bloggers hate that difference being pointed out.  They are either convinced that they are great writers, or they simply don't care.  And I do.

So the point of this insecurity is that I can't help but alienate myself, which is bad when you are trying to have a public forum where most of the readers end up being fellow bloggers.  Who want you to shill their books.  I can't stand it.  I don't want to feel so frustrated, that I must chuck the whole concept, just because I have a tendency to alienate myself, go against the grain.  People hate people who go against the grain.  Even the nonconformists.  Either play by the rules or fake the smile and play nice.  Even when there are things that are so glaringly wrong going on.

So I did the thing that must be done at the start of this post.  And sabotaged it all to Helena, MT.  Because that's what I do.  I'm sorry.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Ring Psychology #3 "In Which We Reach the Point"

So...What's the real reason I've been talking about professional wrestling?  Because for the last twenty years, I've been using it as a writing exercise.

When I say fantasy wrestling, I don't mean what people mean by "fantasy football" or "fantasy books" (actually, that one's just a joke, but for the record I've never really gotten into them).  And I don't mean that I always wondered what would happen if "Classy" Freddie Blassie met Ric Flair in a match (it would be a bloodbath, and awesome).

I mean that for the past two decades I've been coming up with fictional wrestlers in entire leagues of wrestling promotions.  There are no matches.  My imagination isn't nearly strong enough to deal with the tedium of scripting entire matches.  (Which reminds me, one of my great Internet Misadventures, of which there have been many, was almost participating in a Star Trek fan fiction where you had to describe everything your character did.  Maybe it's because I never played Dungeons & Dragons?  But I loved that one episode of Community.  No, scratch that.  I love every episode of Community.)

No, it's entirely a thought exercise.  Coming up with one wrestling personality and then coming up with another wrestling personality.  Figuring out what success looks like for these guys.  When you're juggling upwards to a hundred of them across several fake promotions...But it's fun, it really is.  The whole idea is to push myself beyond the limits of ordinary storytelling.  The idea is, it's to see what the story looks like outside of a strict narrative.  Sometimes it seems writers are a little too obsessed with the arc of a story.  They have to plan every single moment, from what the character is wearing to what they're eating to what they thought of that raised eyebrow to what their ear was doing when they reacted to the news of a puppy being saved from certain doom.

Wrestling is a means of storytelling that takes away most of the fine points.  This is not the same as saying it's not sophisticated.  The actual wrestling, no matter if it's "fake" or not, is among the most sophisticated things a human has ever accomplished, nothing so simple as learning to react in creative ways in direct relation to someone else.  It takes an incredible amount of imagination to pull it off.  The best way to tell if someone has what it takes to actually be a professional wrestler is to see how creative they are.  So it's not surprising when someone like Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) somehow ends up becoming a legitimate movie star, or like Chris Jericho (a version of) a bloody rock god, or like Mick Foley an engaging writer.

Some wrestlers are less inspired than others.  When I'm doing my fake wrestling, I sometimes have to work at a character to make them interesting.  I thought they were interesting, but they turned out to be pretty limited.  I know, this probably makes absolutely no sense to you.  I have this thing, and none of it is real, and I'm not even engaging in the basic functions of what it's supposed to be.

But again, thought exercise.  Sometimes I'll play directly off of something actual wrestling like WWE has done.  Sometimes (hopefully) it's totally original.  I've managed to keep it interesting for myself across twenty years.  As far as I'm concerned, I'm doing something right.

One of the best things about engaging in this exercise is the constant need to come up with interesting names.  Like race car drivers (what's up with that? do they accept or reject your application to drive based on how awesome your name is?), professional wrestlers tend to have, or be given, memorable names.  If you're Phil Brooks, you become even more awesome as CM Punk.  If you're Terry Bollea, you become Hulk Hogan.  If you're Michael Hickenbottom, you're a thousand times better as Shawn Michaels.  If your name is Ted DiBiase, you're worth your weight in diamond-encrusted gold.  At least one of the names I've come up with over the years I actually borrowed for another story entirely (an actual story), I liked it so much, and it's iconic (to me) in two completely different contexts.  (Character names are incredibly important to me.)

When you're forced to keep all the reality of a fictional creation in your own head, basically, which is what most writers do anyway, it forces you to keep thinking about it.  Writers are supposed to actually write, but the best part of this job is in thinking about your story.  Sure, the perks of having millions (and millions) of fans and being paid to write cannot be argued with, but if you're a writer who doesn't love the idea of thinking about your story, then as far as I'm concerned, you have no business writing.

And so one of the longest and best things I've done as a writer has not been about writing at all.  That's the real point.  And the point of watching wrestling.  Or enjoying anything, really.  A writer doesn't have downtime.  Literally everything a writer experiences is also known as source material.  Don't trust a writer who believes otherwise.  Never trust them.  No, seriously, they are not really a writer.

And that's why I keep writing about professional wrestling.
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