Saturday, October 22, 2016

These are a few of my favorite things (read: influences)

Favorite indy book: The Patron Saints by T.M. Wells

A long time ago, long before anyone I know was blogging, long before the A-to-Z Challenge, long before the Insecure Writers Support Group...Well, you get the point.  Anyway, the very first time I learned indy books existed was actually on a Star Trek message board.  Wells was going by the handle BoynamedSue (this was also before I became a big enough Johnny Cash fan to fully appreciate that) and posting the working results of what turned out to be his first novel.  I had the pleasure of reading along and offering comments along the way.  Never mind that this twisted tale of Catholic guilt (the main character is a troubled guy whose tattoos, of patron saints, talk to him) struck an immediate nerve with me, but that I ended up loving it all the way around.  If you ever wondered why the stuff I write doesn't really resemble anything else your blogging buddies are doing, it's because of Wells and the example he set early in my writing life.  At the time, I was concentrating mostly on Star Trek fan fiction (which is something I still do on occasion), and didn't really know what I'd do with my own creations.  When I graduated from college, I babbled to one of my professors an idea about Gutzon Borglum literally talking with the faces he was carving into Mount Rushmore.  Looking back, it's suddenly easier to see where I came up with that.  I'm still working toward that story, and I still have Wells to thank for that.

Favorite mainstream book: 2666 by Roberto Bolaño

This was something I discovered more recently than The Patron Saints.  But it arrived like a thunderclap into my life, a book I discovered randomly when browsing the catalogues delivered to the bookstore I was working at five years ago.  You can't always predict how someone else's glowing praise will turn out for you personally, but in this instance, 2666 more than delivered.  Still the most ambitious, stunningly executed, and intelligent book I've ever read, I've since devoured most of the late author's work.  Split into five volumes, 2666 encompasses a number of seemingly unrelated perspectives in trying to finally explain the still-unsolved deaths of a multitude of women in a Mexican border town.  I've included a tribute of sorts in one of my own books, The Whole Bloody Affair, which is otherwise not at all to the literary achievement of 2666.

Favorite movie: Alexander

Dismissed as Oliver Stone's convoluted vision of Alexander the Great and a stateside box office failure (it scored big internationally, however, much like Troy earlier in 2004), I watched this because I was already at that time a devoted fan of Colin Farrell (something that remains true to this day).  But I became fascinated by the movie itself (and the many other cuts that followed; for what it's worth, I would probably recommend The Ultimate Cut, which is the most recent one), in all of its aspects, which is probably in total the most complete cinematic experience I've ever experienced.  The acting, the storytelling, the perspective, the music, everything; it's a true masterpiece, one I hope in time will be easier to recognize.  A lot of the movies I've embraced in recent years (The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Fall) have fallen well off the public radar, and this is not me merely be contrarian.  I like blockbusters, too.  I've talked previously about my love for Star Wars (someone commented that maybe I should broaden my horizons; they clearly had no idea), which is about as mainstream as you can get.  But the movies that mean the most to me are true creative triumphs, epic visions that need only one movie to convey them, which is not to say they are superior to the sprawling visions of George Lucas and his kind, but that sometimes it's better to be able to tell one complete story. 

Favorite TV series: Lost

From the first few seasons, I wouldn't really need to explain this one, but the longer the series continued, and the more complicated it became, the more demanding, the more it lost (heh) viewer support, so that you're probably well familiar with the overall opinions of how it all turned out, as more of a disappointment than success.  And yet, this was a TV show made for me, which delved so deeply into its characters, and its story, I was riveted for six seasons.  For me, this was exactly like reading a good book (2666, say).  When JJ Abrams later launched Fringe, which is as close as anything I've seen come to Lost's achievement (if you're at a complete loss as to what Fringe is, think of The Flash but without the superheroes), I knew beyond a doubt that Abrams was one of the defining creative voices of his generation, which, yes, Star Wars fans can maybe agree with, too, now.

Favorite comic book: "The Return of Barry Allen," The Flash

This was an early '90s comic book storyline, which means (if you're not a comic book geek) Barry Allen did not return, having been dead for about a decade and still some fifteen years from actually returning.  Instead, this was a story that focused on Wally West, the former Kid Flash, who had replaced Barry as the Flash some years earlier but was still struggling with living up to his mentor's legacy.  This remains the most profound statement on the nature of superheroes I've ever read.  It's hardly the most famous, and writer Mark Waid actually is better known for a lot of other stuff, his Flash comics in general, in part, but for me, there's absolutely no question.  James Robinson gets a lot of credit for exploring the idea of legacy in his classic Starman run, but it's Waid who got there first, and did it best, by surrounding Wally with characters who in a lot of other hands would never have worked nearly as well: the Golden Age speedsters Johnny Quick and Jay Garrick (the original Flash) and especially the so-called Zen master of speed, Max Mercury, whom Waid cobbled together from various existing characters but in the end made wholly his own, and none of them came off as old and tired, but rather a lot like Yoda (there's Star Wars again), guys you really want on your side, but in the end aren't really capable of fighting your battles for you.  The villain, by the way, is the Reverse-Flash, so fans of the Flash TV show really wouldn't have that hard a time keeping up with the story, so to speak...

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Vampire Books for Blood!

I've gone ahead and listed Pale Moonlight over at Vampire Books for Blood, a nifty concept that is soliciting donations to the American Red Cross and Canadian Blood Services.  If I manage to sell any copies of Pale Moonlight in October, I'll donate a dollar for each one.

I found out about this thanks to C.D. Gallant-King, who it should be noted wrote a book called Hell Comes to Hogtown.  C'mon, it's a great title!

Anyway, even if you're not interested in reading my book (or worse, if you already have), check out what the other participants are offering! 

...Pale Moonlight is a book I wrote seven years ago, shopped around for a while, and then finally self-published two years ago.  The great irony about it is that it was partly inspired by a relationship my sister had that helped her get over an earlier relationship, which itself has since turned out horribly.  If you know comic books at all, it's kind of written in the fashion of Neil Gaiman's Sandman, in which the story kind of becomes a series of stories in the process of trying to explain how the priest Plato Finnegan manages to confront the vampire who has been preying on his sister, even though he seems to be the least qualified member of the heroic ensemble that assembles around her, including a Van Helsing type and a man who describes himself as a modern pirate (but not in the Captain Phillips way).  The thing about Plato is that in a weird metaphysical way he's also a dragon.  Yeah, it's that kind of story...

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

IWSG October 2016

The Insecure Writers Support Group meets every first Wednesday.  If you miss a few months, they drop you from the list, so it's important to check that out and sign up again if you continue to post.  Anyway, this month's prompt is:

"When do you know when your story's ready?"

This is something that's incredibly important to me.  I'm of the mind that half of writing is actually thinking.  Probably more than half.  Say you have a story idea.  Sit on it.  And then continue sitting on it.  During this period where you are sitting on it, you should be thinking about it.  (Otherwise it would be kind of pointless.) 

The idea, if you're thinking about it, begins to change.  To evolve.  To grow more complicated.  Unless you're a crazy genius who can think up ideas fully formed (and let's face it, if you're a member of something called the Insecure Writers Support Group, and I don't mean to offend you, you're probably not a crazy genius) (or you really, really are; it depends), chances are you need to give your ideas some time to grow.

People have this crazy idea that writing is the art of stringing sentences together, a series of events and characters doing things.  But that's not the story at all.  The story is what it all means, what all these events and characters mean to each other.  I'm not saying that every story has to be an infinitely complex work of great historical significance.  You can get people to like lightweight, meaningless (and yes, poorly written) drivel.  Like everything else in life, reading takes shape as a popularity contest.  But if you want to be honest with yourself, you want to write the best possible thing you can, so that if a complete stranger, who didn't otherwise imagine themselves reading your book, whether because they're not inclined to the genre you write in, or never heard of you, but just thought the idea sounded neat, ends up reading your story, they won't hate you with the heat of a thousand suns.

Not to exaggerate or anything.  I'm just saying, it shows when you don't think things through.  I'm not talking about disagreeing with your conclusions.  I'm not talking about writing as an academic exercise.  I'm not saying you should write such intricate plots that events and characters become meaningless.  I'm just saying, the more you think about a story, the more it should appear logical, all the way around.

Because the more you think about an idea, the more it changes, the more it makes sense to you, and therefore, hopefully, others. 

That's when you know you're ready to write, when you've more or less thought everything out.  Some people think that's kind of the job of revisions, but I think if you've waited that long, you didn't wait long enough to write the story to begin with.  I mean, sure, you can change things after you've written the thing, but it shouldn't resemble tossed salad.  If you write a story like tossed salad, I'm just saying, maybe you shouldn't be writing. 

Writing the story is an entirely different matter, of course.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

IWSG September 2016

The Insecure Writers Support Group meets on the first Wednesday of every month (except in leap years, when it happens on the first Wednesday of every month, the distinction being completely nonexistent, so let's...just move on).

When do you find time to write in your busy schedule?

Taking on the responsibility of working as my niece's primary caregiver for the next year means I have less time to myself than I've had previously.  It used to be, I could massage time a little, if I didn't have a lot, but that's just no longer possible.  So after she goes to bed, I have to figure out what I want to write, because now it's the split between blogging and writing, and writing has suddenly taken on a greater premium than ever.

I used to be a pretty nutty blogger.  I mean, I still technically have a heaping handful of blogs active.  But "active" is not very active these days.  I've slowed down a lot over the past year, but things are changing even more now. 

I have a lot of stories I want to work on.  Two comic book contest scripts are in the pipeline, and the IWSG now has a story contest, with a rapidly-approaching deadline.  I can easily write 5,000 words, but things are different now than when I was pounding out novellas this summer.  That's three projects, all needing to be written soon.  So I don't have time for blogging, or messing around, like I used to, and that's all there is to that.

It's a great change of pace, writing in the evening when you've spent the day interacting with a goofy one-plus-year-old.  Starting tomorrow (last night I started outlining one of the scripts), I should hopefully have gotten some of the work done, and come up with the new kind of discipline I'll need to make this work for the next year.

Wish me luck!

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Burrito, the Night Circus, and a cat named Boo!

I've been fairly quiet the last few weeks, across my fleet of blogs.  I mean, more quiet, because there's no denying I'm no longer posting near as much as I did in years past, for a variety of reasons.  But recently it's because I've moved again, and taken on an awesome new responsibility.

A little over a year ago, Burrito was born.  Obviously, that's not her real name.  Anyway, Burrito is my sister's daughter, the sister I've lived with and/or near for most of the past decade.  Starting last October, we renewed the tradition when she went down to Florida for some training, so someone would be available to watch Burrito, and then we all went back to Virginia.  When we left Colorado, I saw Virginia for the first time, a fleeting glimpse, really, before heading back up to Maine so I could help make my mother comfortable in the little over a year she had left from a hellacious battle with cancer.  So I got to spend ten months in Virginia, get a sense of how my sister was living while I was away, and watch Burrito grow.

Now I'm a full-time caretaker of Burrito, since my sister has shipped out overseas, and couldn't take her daughter along.  I consider this a huge privilege.  I'm one of those people who never imagined they'd have such an awesome responsibility.  I've watched two nephews grow into early boyhood in Maine, but it's different seeing (nearly) the whole process firsthand.  I've seen a lot of behavior George Lucas stole for Star Wars (Luke Skywalker's reactions in The Empire Strikes Back, for example).

Anyway, that's just a little peek behind the curtain.  I'm don't tend to get too personal in my blogging.  You may be wondering why I'm talking about this on a writers blog.  The last month, I slogged through Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, which I picked up earlier this year at an airport, fully expecting it to be a magical experience.  If I had extremely limited literary experience, it would have been.  It was anything but.  I have no idea why a major publisher would have touted this as a viable adult read.  It was about as good as a young adult book would be.  In my Goodreads review, I called it Suzanne Collins' version of Lost, which was still being generous, because Collins would've included a nonsensical third act, like in Marvel movies.

What I decided about Morgenstern is that she embodies what has become an unfortunate trend in books, and perhaps the culture in general: personality before talent.  As far as I can tell, it used to be that you had to have talent before anyone cared what kind of personality was behind it.  But now you're supposed to have the personality, which kind of ends up overriding the talent.  Talent is meaningless and unnecessary in this equation.  It's a nightmare!

I'll now mention the other family member I'll be watching for my sister: Boo.  Boo is a white furball of a cat, whom I've known since 2004.  My decade+ tagalong with my sister has included many great experiences with Boo, who single-handedly (paw-edly?) made me into a cat person.  But as anyone knows, cats aren't dogs.  They don't just, usually, let you get close to them.  I wish we treated writers like cats treat humans.  You have to get to know their work before a relationship is possible.

Before Burrito, there was a lot of things I didn't understand about babies, and I think it benefited my relationship with her.  That's what I'm talking about.  Be more like Boo, be more like Burrito.  Be less like Erin Morgenstern.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Crime Against Art

In 1941, Orson Welles released his masterpiece, Citizen Kane, to the world.  It was to be the last movie he would have full creative control of, following by a career of studio meddling and diminished opportunities.  All this because of his abrasive personality.

I think this is a crime against art.  While it can't be argued that he never again made meaningful contributions to film, Welles should have been held up as the very pinnacle of Hollywood's early legacy.  For years Citizen Kane was the standard by which critics judged American film, and regularly topped their lists of the best movies ever made.  Just imagine if the filmmaker responsible for it had been encouraged to fulfill his potential, had been allowed to make films unobstructed the rest of his life...

Welles had a considerable ego, the product of an upbringing in which he was repeatedly told of the greatness that was ahead of him.  He literally thought he could do no wrong, that naysayers only got in the way, and that anyone who wasn't with him was against him.  There's always room for contradiction, and in fact is necessary for personalities like that, to help keep them in check, but what happened to Welles was a willful destruction, just as if someone had tucked Shakespeare out of the way, and thus deprived us of his later genius (there is in fact a clear distinction to be found between his Elizabethan years and the plays written under the rule of King James) and rich legacy. 

Because he was difficult to work with?  Because he was difficult to work with.  Sure, some of it was because he struck a blow against the powerful media tycoon William Randolph Hearst (you'd have to know now that this satire exists in Citizen Kane, because no one really cares about that anymore, except as intellectual curiosity), but Welles's idiosyncratic approach to his work was used against him just as impressively. 

It's true that hindsight often gives better perspective on the events of history, but sometimes the present speaks for itself, too.  Welles garnered Oscar nominations for Best Film, Best Director, and Best Actor while winning for Best Original Screenplay.  You'd think that was proof enough of his talent.  It's also true that Citizen Kane wasn't a box office draw, and studios then as now considered this a primary factor in their continuing creative decisions.

Was that good enough?  I'd like to think not.  Today, that wouldn't be the case.  Young directors making a big splash with a small production today usually are given bigger opportunities the next film, and their future opportunities are defined by those results.  Welles, he was simply buried, and his every decision second-guessed.  Again, that's the nature of filmmaking, but with Welles, this instinct was particularly vindictive.  It makes no sense, but again, ego had everything to do with it.  Other people wanted to prove he wasn't as good as he, or anyone else, thought he was, and worked hard to prove it.  Numerous completed films were taken out of his control and violently recut (The Magnificent Ambersons is the most famous example), with the excised material callously discarded.

Some of this may sound worse from a modern standpoint.  Early Doctor Who was lost to history, too, because film preservation as we know it simply didn't exist in years past.  But my basic argument, that what happened to Orson Welles can be summed up as embarrassing to the history of art, stands.

Because people didn't like him.  Really?  One the great creative visionaries of the past hundred years, stymied because people didn't like him?  It's like saying Pope Julius II would have had the right to end Michelangelo because of their complicated relationship.  Thankfully, that one ultimately resolved itself (see: The Agony and the Ecstasy). 

To be a fan of Orson Welles is to be entangled in the debate of what could have been, following restoration efforts, comparing competing cuts (I own a set of the film Mr. Arkadin in which there are several versions to be considered).  Nowadays directors release their own competing versions (Ridley Scott and Peter Jackson routinely provide extended cuts, for instance), but that's not what I'm talking about with Welles (Terry Gilliam is a more recent example of this phenomenon, and as such his Brazil has a similar fate and collection).

What I'm saying here is that, within reason, stay out of a true artist's way.  It benefits everyone.  The best of art of timeless.  History understands that.  Cultures are made on the backbones of art.  When countries fade away, only the art remains.  I wish Orson Welles could have benefited from his peers thinking that way.  Because we all would have, in turn.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Miss Simon's Dime Novel now available!

This summer I've been hitting the books pretty hard...writing novellas, anyway, and Miss Simon's Dime Novel is the last of them.  Rounding out the Americana Trilogy, Miss Simon and her lover Jim Herbert have a discussion about that most hallowed of geek debates: whether or not it was cool for George Lucas to monkey around with the notion that Han Solo shot first.  To do so, Jim proposes examining a different story, a fictionalized account of early cowboy actors Jack and Al Hoxie (they stopped making movies roughly the same time John Wayne was making a name for himself), and a rivalry that results in another shootout (which, historically, never happened).  Does Jack Hoxie, the more successful of the two, shoot first, or his half-brother Al, who in real life was honored by the state of California for his role in ending a hostage crisis?
Jack's life was a crossroads of popular entertainment, straddling the line between the traveling Wild West shows of the 19th century and the dawn of Hollywood in the 20th.  He starred in numerous rodeos and circuses before and after his years making movies.  The closest you'd come to knowing anything about him now is Three Godfathers, a 1916 film featuring Harry Carey, a fact history remembers with the second remake from 1948 featuring John Wayne and Carey's son, Harry Carey, Jr., and later echoed by the smash 1987 comedy Three Men and a Baby; if Wikipedia, for instance, were properly edited, all of these connections would be so much easier to make.
Dime Novel plays fast and loose with the facts, but they're all present, from the fact that Jack's father was commonly known as Doc Hoxie, to his mother's name being Matilda Quick (seriously, the guy's parents had the best names), to his stepfather being accused of murder, to his early first marriage to a woman named Pearl and the second daughter he later had being named Pearl, too, to...It's a dime novel version of history, from a modern perspective, as close to Quentin Tarantino as I'll ever get.  This is the Western for modern times, with the myth ratcheted way up and the humanity even higher (if that makes any sense to you, then you're exactly my target audience).
Writing it was the perfect way to end the summer for me, building on everything else I'd worked on, pushing the word count a little upward (it's the longest story of the four I've written this year), and because it's a drama about two specific characters, the focus remains tighter than what I've done lately, too (actually, it's the first time I've ever done a long-form story with only two main characters, unless you count Leopold's Concentration). 
As always, available in paperback and ebook formats. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Miss Simon's Brute released

I've finally concluded, and released, Miss Simon's Brute.  I've included with this post all the labels to where I've written about the development and history of this story here, but the most important thing for me is that this is a milestone for me. This is the story I was working on two Novembers ago, with the insane wordcount challenge I'd given myself, that I abandoned the day my mother was admitted to the nursing home where she'd die five months later, which began a lengthy writers block I hadn't been able to escape until this year. 
Brute is a version of the classic fable of Beauty and the Beast, which is a favorite of my older sister's, and I initially conceived of the project as a favor to her.  I set it during the War of 1812 (which has factored into other things I've written), specifically in the aftermath of the Battle of York, which precipitated the retaliatory burning of the White House.  The story ties together the lives of an Irish immigrant, an Indian orphan, a Canadian widow, and the eponymous individual, a hulking black man whose lynching motivates the shattered lives of the immigrant, orphan, and widow to find new purpose.  During the course of the story, hidden truths are revealed, such as who the Brute really is, which deepen its emotional impact.
Like Sapo Saga and Miss Simon's Moxie before it, Brute is a novella, a shorter work meant to focus my writing and give potential readers something meaty to sample.  Writing the earlier stories made it easier to finally work on and complete Brute, besides.
Brute also serves as a tribute to the writer Jerome Charyn, who through the support of Lenore Riegel has become all the more important in my life as one of the giants of literature, despite the fact that awareness of his efforts has remained at a minimum in the fifty years he's been producing his insights into the American psyche, past and present.  He often includes characters like the Brute in his stories, although for my version I chose to move the character front-and-center, whereas Charyn usually has him in support (unless he's Abraham Lincoln).  

You can buy paperback and ebook editions.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Miss Simon's Moxie is released

I've just released Miss Simon's Moxie, a political satire featuring Miss Simon and Tim Laflamme, two characters who've previously appeared in my fiction, as well as the soft drink Moxie, which is hugely beloved for reasons not entirely to be understood, and celebrated annually in my hometown of Lisbon, ME!  Paperback and ebook versions are available.

Writing this novella was part of my continuing efforts to get back into the swing of writing, and also having shorter things available for interested readers. 

No, that isn't Frank Anicetti on the cover, but it might as well be.  Frank recently retired as the proprietor the Kennebec Fruit Co., which was better known as the Moxie Store.  He's a living legend in Lisbon, and is directly responsible for the Moxie Festival that brings thousands of visitors to town every year (incidentally, this occurs on the second weekend of July, so this coincidental timing is also somewhat fortuitous). 

Even if you've never heard of Moxie, you can also construe the title to indicate Miss Simon herself, because the old gal certainly has moxie, too...

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

IWSG June 2016 - Writer(s) in the family...

(We join the regularly-scheduled-meeting-of-the-Insecure-Writers-Support-Group, already in progress...)

This past weekend I had a chance to visit with Wit's family again.  For those unfamiliar with Wit, that's the alias I gave my cousin last year.  She was my writer-in-the-family that I got to talk to about this sort of thing (writing).  She also happens to be fifteen.

So it turns out her sister likes writing, too.  Her sister, whom I'll call Soul, is younger than her.  I had no idea, until this visit, that she likes writing, too.  So it kind of derailed what I had intended to talk about during the visit.

I ended up, briefly, chatting with Soul about writing.  Turns out she likes writing in notebooks.  I told her that's good.  I'm told the act of physically writing is a good creative outlet in and of itself.  It stimulates the brain to think in ways it wouldn't when, say, typing on a keyboard.  I told her, truthfully, that sometimes I begin new stories by writing some of it out in notebooks I carry with me everywhere.

And that's pretty much the extent of my writing conversations from the weekend.  Never even touched base with Wit.  The weekend ended with possible plans to meet up again for the July 4th weekend.

I'm talking to you about this, not to remind you about Wit, or to tell you about her sister Soul, but because I'm sad about chickening out.  When I talked about Wit last time, I was flush with the idea that I had a writer in the family.  At last!  Their mother, and her sister, have always been among my kindest supporters in the family, and so it was nice to know they were fostering little writers of their own.  I mean, despite what the Internet may have you believe, writing is a lonely calling.  Isn't that the whole point of the IWSG?  (Maybe it's just me, but isn't the group better for alleviating loneliness than insecurity?  Well, it should be.)

Then again, I'm not sorry, because I knew exactly what I was thinking throughout the weekend.  I didn't want to come off like I was desperately trying to connect with them.  From my own experience, conversations are best when they happen organically.  I spent nearly a decade away from Wit and Soul as it is.  They grew up considerably in the time I was away!  So really, I'm just getting to know them again.

But it's good to know they like writing.  That's something to work on, right?  And that's what writers always do.  They find something to work on.  And we're always busy, aren't we?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Sapo Saga has been released

I've just compiled the story I serialized over at Sigild V for last month's edition of the annual A-to-Z Challenge, and while the result is surely short, I'm proud to present Sapo Saga to the world.  Here's the back cover, too, so you know what it's about:

Basically it's the condensed version of a classic space opera epic, told from the perspective of twenty-six individuals recounting their relationship to the story, which at its heart details to heroics of Ulysses and the redemption of Zuri, both of whom are heroes of the Sapo Order and saviors of the planet Zala, and are equally desperately needing to be rediscovered by a galaxy that has forgotten they were real people.  The people lending their thoughts strange from friends and relatives to the persons responsible for finding out the truth about what really happened.  Central to the whole thing is the mysterious Kindly, the android depicted on the cover.

You can purchase it here (digitally, here).

Speaking of that cover, yes, it's the first time I've delved into creating a distinctive, art-centered cover, so on that score, it marks a transition in my self-publishing.  Thanks for your continued support.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

IWSG May 2016 - May the 4th be with you...

This is an Insecure Writers Support Group post...

I love Star Wars, in part because it stands as a triumph of the imagination.  George Lucas took things he loved (old sci-fi movie serials, Hidden Fortress) and showed everyone why he loved them.  (This makes him a little like Quentin Tarantino, actually.)  And the first version he came up with (later adapted by Dark Horse Comics in its The Star Wars) is virtually nothing like the saga as we'd get to know it.  Hollywood literally spent twenty years trying desperately to catch up with it, and it was such a tough job the fans eventually considered that Lucas himself wasn't up to it when he created the prequel trilogy.

His imagination, however, was a powerful lure.  I grew up with these movies.  By the time I was old enough to watch them, the original trilogy had already been completed, and my family watched them over and over again.  I was young enough to be extremely impressionable, in a number of ways.  The scariest parts of the movies were things I wasn't really ready to face.  I vividly remember that iconic moment when the Emperor removes his hood and reveals his ugly...Wait, you say that never happened?  Well, it did for me.  That, and tiny, shrunken Princess Leia.  I mean, that was a gimme, right?  Only if you didn't understand how the scene was being presented in that prison cell.

Beyond that, and in conjunction with Star Trek (I know, right? most fans like one or the other), Star Wars was to have a profound impact on my budding creative life.  Like Hollywood, it was to be a daunting journey.  I didn't write a word of Star Wars fiction until about a decade into my budding career.  (I've previously written about the huge challenge I set for myself later, the 101 Star Wars Variations.)  A lot of writers tend to be inspired by what they read rather than watched.  That certainly seems to be my experience, anyway.  There are definitely writers who crib from their viewing habits (it's always obvious), but it's far more common (see George R.R. Martin and other famous fantasy writers, obviously following in the footsteps of Tolkien, for instance) for reading habits to be exposed.  Most sci-fi writers still exist in the insular world of book logic, including those actively penning Star Wars (and Star Trek) fiction.

Well, not me.  Star Wars was too important to me.  And yeah, I've been chasing it ever since.  Probably a foolish obsession, I know, but one I can't shake.  It defines the term "saga" for me, and what I always wanted from that saga, but never found except in the movies, what I've always wanted for my sagas.  I mean, what would be the point otherwise?

It's not all Star Wars (or Star Trek).  Last time I checked in I talked about the need for inspiration that truly inspires you, and a large pool of it.  But without Star Wars, my pool would be considerably more shallow.  In both senses.

Is it an impossible dream?  Who knows?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

IWSG April 2016: Steal Like an Artist

Welcome to another month of the Insecure Writers Support Group, which meets digitally on the first Wednesday of every month.

The only thing I have to tell you this month is to read the opening chapters of Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist.  The rest of it is rubbish, but the first few chapters are essential.  The title argument is pretty clever, in that it suggests you gather a lot of heroes, and steal from them, because it's a lot harder for someone to say you stole from them in that they won't really know what you stole. 

Which is to say, love what you love, and then take away from it what is most valuable to you. 

The third chapter is entitled, "Write the Book You Want to Read," which is equally essential.  So many writers write for the sake of writing, imitating instead of translating, that it's incredibly wearying. 

Imitation is the act of doing what you saw someone else do.  Translation is figuring out what it means from the only perspective you'll ever truly know: yours.  Because translation means taking a story and making it your own.  Believe me, people really can tell the difference, and telling your own story makes all the difference in the world.

But writers are notorious for ignoring good advice.  We're an impetuous lot, prone to all the mistakes everyone else already made, because most advice is about as lousy as everything else Kleon says in his book.  So many of us are motivated to write, to simply put words together in the general semblance other people will easily understand, we overlook the art of it. 

But it really is better to be an artist, and, hey, you might as steal like one, right?

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

IWSG March 2016 - Impending A-to-Z

It's time, once again, for everyone to climb aboard the IWSG train!

This month I'm just going to briefly touch on my plans for April's annual A-to-Z Challenge.  This year I'll be participating at Sigild V, where I tend to post my short fiction experiments, so yes, that means I will be writing fiction this year.  I tried doing that last year, but it didn't go over well, so I switched tactics.  This year, however, I'm writing ahead, so everything will be done before anyone reads a word of it.  This will also have the effect of getting me back into the writing mode, which is something I've been working on the past few months, after an especially trying period in my life.  I've found that the years I spent writing full-length manuscripts were perhaps a more unique period than I thought they were, certainly an excellent foundation for future efforts, but something that now seems like a different phase of my life as a writer, and so once again I'm relearning what exactly that means.

Always keeping things interesting...

Friday, February 12, 2016


In my ongoing attempts to right the wrongs of my past, I'm allowing myself another shot at DL Hammons' WRiTE CLUB.  I've participated twice before.  The second time, after there started being so many would-be participants not everyone even made it into the competition, I...didn't make it into the competition.  I think.  Either way, I haven't done very well.  The first year I was pretty grumpy, and that's mostly what I need to overcome.  I hate being grumpy.  I can't help it, possibly, but I can also choose not to foist the grumpiness on others.  Try and be positive.  Try.  This kind of thing comes with the territory.  That's what I need to keep reminding myself. 

So I dashed off something that was fun to write, and that may be the only thing I take away from the experience this time, but it was fun to write, and that makes me feel good.  Entrants have until the 26th (because apparently this year's contest is earlier than usual), and then I guess everything concludes before the end of April, and we can all move on, regardless of how things turn out...

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

IWSG February 2016: Writer's Block

The first Wednesday of every month hosts the bloggers meeting of the Insecure Writers Support Group.

Today I'm going to talk about that most dreaded of subjects: writer's block.  This is something I'm very passionate about, because I think it's one of the most misunderstood aspects of writing.

You know how it is.  You want to write, but for whatever reason, you're completely unable to, not because you have too much demand for your time on other things, but because the words simply won't flow.  Writers tend to find this incredibly frustrating, and why shouldn't they?  Writers write.  Right.  They think there's something wrong with them.  And that's simply not the case.

I'm here to argue that writer's block is the most useful tool in a writer's arsenal

Pretty odd, right?  But it's absolutely true.  Have you ever heard a writer explain how after a certain point, a story just started to write itself?  It's one of the weirdest aspects of writing, but it's also the most telling one.  You can try and master a story yourself, but in the end it's the story itself that knows what it's doing, and every time you disagree, you end up with something less than what it could have been.  I have a theory that the weakest stories are the ones the writer forced the most to happen, and the strongest are the ones that, well, wrote themselves.

What does this have to do with writer's block?  This is the story trying to take over.  And the writer just won't let it.  It's essentially the writer getting in their own way and not even realizing it.  It's the story telling the writer that they have to take a break.  Yes, I'm literally saying that writer's block is a good thing, a necessary thing.  The more you embrace it, the better off you'll be.

Because this is the point where you realize new possibilities.  This is where the story becomes enriched, past the original idea and into a full-blown story.  Not a series of events.  A story.  This is what truly makes a writer, the ability to distance their own ego from their work.

A lot of writers depend heavily on support.  And this is a good thing.  This is the writer acknowledging, once again, that they need some extra help.  The story needs some work.  Not mechanically.  Okay, maybe sometimes mechanically.  But whatever the case, the best storytelling is the product of acknowledging that something isn't write.  It takes a humble writer to admit this.

Never take the reader's opinion for fact.  Never take a critic's opinion for fact.  If you've given the story the attention it needs, if you've allowed yourself to discover the authentic story, the right reader, the right critic will come along and figure out what you did, what the story did.  Readers can be wrong.  Critics can be wrong.

And most importantly, writers can be wrong.  That's what writer's block is telling you.  It's telling you that you need to step back and let the process work instead of trying to force it.  Again, you can always tell when this hasn't happened.  I'm not just talking about mechanics.  More writers than any of us will ever care to admit suck at mechanics.  Which is okay, because if you suck at mechanics but can somehow work around it, that's the story taking over, too, because the story will always know.

The story knows!

Sounds crazy, I know.  But it's my guiding principle.  And every time I've had writer's block, I've ended up with a story that feels more right than it did before.  I've been in writer's block on the latest story I'm working on, Miss Simon's Moxie (previously talked about here as Miss Simon's About the Moxie Incident).  Miss Simon is herself a significant piece of discovery in my writer's block, as I've talked about before.  She's become something of an inspiration machine.  A year or so ago, I was working on what has now become Miss Simon's Brute, and I'm only now beginning to see how important it is for her to be a part of that one, and why the recent idea for Miss Simon's Dime Novel was responsible for the breakthrough on Miss Simon's Moxie (and how all of them will help writing what's now Miss Simon's Doom so much easier when I get around to that).

No, I'm not trying to hook you on a series of Miss Simon books.  I'm just not that good enough at marketing.  But this is not a case of something that works for me working for you just because I'd like to believe so.

Historically, retelling stories has been a major part of storytelling in general.  More recently, I can think of one example where tackling the same subject has led to an incredibly richness that can only be understood by taking in all of the attempts.  This is another form of letting the story speak for itself, an idea that just won't go away.  To wit:

Consider the classic Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day.  You're probably familiar with it.  His character keeps experiencing the same day over and over again.  It's a terrible nightmare, but makes for a great movie. 

Now, two more recent examples of this idea are Source Code and Edge of Tomorrow.  I came to Source Code because I'd become a big fan of filmmaker Duncan Jones, who seems to be bursting with the same unique mindset as his father, the late David Bowie.  In it, Jake Gyllenhaal, yes, keeps experiencing the same day over and over again.  This time it's because he's been drafted by a military program that's using him to test out a new machine that will hopefully be able to prevent disasters.  The whole experience is pretty transcendental for reasons I don't necessarily need to get into here.

Anyway, then there's Edge of Tomorrow, in which Tom Cruise, yes, experiences the same day over and over again.  I finally got around to seeing this one because of all the positive chatter it received despite a rather tepid box office response.  There came a point where I realized I'd seen something like it before. No, not Source Code or Groundhog Day, but The Matrix Reloaded.

What?  Really? you're asking me, incredulous. 

Really.  This was the second movie in the Matrix trilogy.  It was also the first of two massive disappointments for fans transfixed by the first one's suggestion that there's a good explanation for why life is so disappointing, and it involves lots of kung fu and explosions!  Fans found the second and third films ultimately unnecessary attempts to duplicate the first one.  I never saw them that way.  What fans expected was to have the first one fleshed out.

And that's exactly what the sequels did.  The thing is, they kind of explain that Neo's powers are derived the same way Tom Cruise eventually becomes a super soldier in Edge of Tomorrow.  Cruise experiences the same events over and over again.  He begins to anticipate rather than simply react.  He's able to dodge what he knows is coming.  Although this is not the way it's presented in Neo's case, by the second film we have that wonderfully verbose Architect explain it exactly that way. 

So we end up, if we're paying attention and reading between the lines, realizing that the entire Matrix story is basically exactly like Edge of Tomorrow.

There is of course a massive difference in storytelling.  That's the art of storytelling.  That's why any of us thinks we have something new to say.  That's why every time someone complains Hollywood has nothing new to say, or that there are no new stories, it's the silliest thing ever said.  Because that's literally the story of storytelling.  It's the way it's done.

And it can't happen if you don't let it.  Get it?

The story knows best.  Writer's block exists to help you.  Get out of your own way.  You'll be amazed at what results.  And eventually, you'll have readers who do, too.  I never subscribed to the idea that stories exist for immediate results.  They are perfectly visceral things.  And instant success is nice.  Except sometimes the results aren't what you thought they'd be.  Because you left out the most important part, the story itself.  Because the story knows best.  It understands better than you that the tradition isn't the enemy.  You are.  When you get in your own way, you'll be telling yourself that, too. 

Now you know why.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

IWSG January 2016: New Year's Goals

The Insecure Writers Support Group meets digitally the first day of every month.  This being the first of the new year, I figured I'd discuss goals and how I intend to approach them...

I've pushed myself for so long wanting and expecting and needing a paying future in writing that I've sometimes been hysterical about it.  I couldn't see a future where I'd be happy doing anything else.  Strangely, last year taught me a different way in the most unlikely circumstances possible.  First I thought I might never write again, and then I found a new job, one I'd never thought I was remotely qualified for: helping raise a baby. 

I won't regale you with the wonders I've already experienced in that regard here.  Instead, I'll talk about my new perspective (same as the old one), and what it means about my writing future.

I will try and not push myself so hard, and not be so hard on myself.  I will try to write, and let that be its own reward.

That's the short of it.  The long of it is a series of projects, some old and some new.  One of the old ones is Brute, a story I've talked about here in the past, previously entitled The Pond War.  It's the manuscript I was working on a year ago that I ended up abandoning for a variety of reasons, one of them being guilt (I won't be talking about the reasons for that again).  I always say that when a story has trouble being put into words, it's the story telling you that something is wrong, that if you persist with it as you're currently thinking about it, it's a mistake.  Every story eventually takes on a life of it's own.  I think most of the stories I've read that feel wrong are ones that were written without taking this into consideration.

So I had put it aside, and continued thinking about it, and eventually new thoughts came to me.  Among them is the new narrator, Miss Simon.  This old gal will be narrating a lot of my manuscripts, including About the Moxie Incident..., which concerns an amnesiac president strolling about Washington, D.C.  Miss Simon is intended to help me find a consistent comedic voice.  She made her debut in Mouldwarp Press Presents: Barbarian Translation - The Trojan War, which took care of two birds as a result (I have a jones to write about the Trojan War).  I liked the results, so the idea seems like a go.

I've been thinking about my Space Corps saga lately, thanks to my sister's feedback on the Seven Thunders manuscript I've had sitting around for a few years.  She wanted to know if the main characters were going to pop up in later books.  The more I thought about it (one of them was always going to star in one already, but the main character was only going to make a cameo at best), the more I knew what to do about that. 

So I've become more interested in getting around to writing more Space Corps books.  The only thing I want to do before I get into that (besides, probably, the Brute and About the Moxie Incident... manuscripts) is take one last stab at the Star Trek writing contests I've been entering for fifteen years (with a gap, mind you).  There's another one for this year's fiftieth anniversary of the franchise.  I've got a handful of days to write an entry.  If I win entry into the anthology, there's a publishing deal that comes with it.  I will go ahead with Seven Thunders, which has always been my baby.  If I don't, I will self-publish Seven Thunders, something I've been long reluctant to do.  But things have changed.  I kind of no longer expect big readership.  If I'm going to write this stuff, and be such a coward (and/or completely incompetent) in the submissions process, it might as well be at least available

It's not quite the same with my comics goals.  I lost another contest, but I'm sticking around the venue, which is kind of like what I was doing a decade ago.  If someone notices whether or not I have talent and/or potential, so be it.  But I guess I'm no longer absolutely concerned as to whether or not I have a future in comics.  I don't know whether it's because I've written so many novel manuscripts since the last time I pursued this particular goal, and not written nearly as much material in comic script form, but at the moment I'm just wondering if this one's at all reasonable at this point.  The guy who beat me (y'know, relatively speaking), has obviously made a lot more progress, with or without the win.  (His name?  Deniz Camp.  If he turns out like Drew Melbourne, at least I'll get to talk about things like Double Steak Day!)

I haven't talked about comic books nearly as much as I have prose fiction here.  That may change in the coming year, too. 

But I'm officially taking the pressure off myself.  If nothing really happens for me, so be it.  There's an adorable little girl who probably won't really care anyway. 
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