Saturday, October 17, 2020

A Fruitful Day for Ideas

 Today turned out to be a good day to get back on the horse, or at least the beginning of getting back on it.

Since the death of my previous computer, I’ve kind of slowly gotten back to work. Looking back over everything I’ve already done this year, I see that I was busier than I sometimes allow myself to think, a lot of projects (some since lost, including the big revision project for a contest I’m reasonably sure I won’t be winning because Submittable wasn’t letting me attach the file but still somehow let me “submit,” and at the time I convinced myself it had somehow worked out despite the issues the site was having...) that were all in themselves well worth tackling, and all of which in some ways built on each other.

Anyway, one of the things that was eaten was a new vision of Collider, a long-term project a quarter century in the making that’s the first Space Corps story I ever began working on. Today I did a fresh take of the outline as I recently radically reconsidered it, building on elements I developed during Terrestrial Affairs, the novella from a few years back. It’s strange how much can change but still the basic shape remains as first begun in the mid-90s. Realizing this was possible was part of the reason I didn’t completely freak out over my computer dying and erasing the last version.

I also tackled an outline for George & Gracie, the novella I’ll be including in my Christmas poems collection this year (which is another project being revisited, with the novella being a substitute for two shorter works I lost and don’t want to rewrite). These collections are for my niece, the Burrito, although this year I plan to send the results around to family, in the hopes they might actually begin to see me as a legitimate writer (and not as “gee wiz that dude who keeps trying to make that happen,” which is the recent impression I kind of got from my dad). Anyway, it’s something I’m really excited to tackle, and will be the first thing I work on actually writing.

I also came up two other ideas today, “Kingslayer” and “Old Brown’s Daughter,” though I won’t really talk about what exactly they are here, although they reminded me about an idea I had earlier in the year, “Old Wizards,” and how much that would be fun to get back to. (“Old” being in a title twice is probably a coincidence.) These are ideas that practically told themselves when I conceived them. You don’t take such ideas lightly.

Plus today was the second day of my latest comic book scripting project, Catman/Batwoman, which nominally is a riff on Tom King’s real comic, Batman/Catwoman. It’s going to be the shortest to date, twelve script pages. But nine panel grids every page! (For those who don’t know, “Catman” is an actual DC character. The “Batwoman” indicated is actually Barbara Gordon, the original and most famous Batgirl, who has never actually been referred to as Batwoman. Except in this project. Because: symmetry.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

IWSG October 2020

 This was the first Wednesday of October, which meant that I definitely did not need the Insecure Writers Support Group Facebook page to remind me that it’s that day where we blog...

Nope! That’s definitely not what happened!

(In my defense, I skipped...many, many months of membership duties. I was dropped from the rolls an’ everything.)

Anyway, we have a question to answer, as always:

What does the term “working writer” mean to you?

I can only interpret it as a writer, such as myself, who has a job and writes in their spare time, so that being a writer is not the title they use for tax purposes.

And I have been doing that for many, many years.

At this point I actually have a job that feels like it’s a productive use of my time, that people see me as some benefit other than as an anonymous face. I mean I don’t need my ego involved, but it’s nice. It just feels less like a job, sometimes, this way.

But strangely, sometimes I wonder if actual job fulfillment could get in the way of being productive as a writer. I worked on a lot of things over the past year, including the “bonus pandemic time,” but I wonder if it’s comparable to what I might have accomplished if I were working a less satisfying job. I know, it sounds crazy! Not being overly miserable at work is a bad thing??? I wrote all of my manuscripts (except one, which was during my first experience of unemployment, and then others that weren’t book-length so I’m not counting them) while working versions of soul-crushing jobs. It almost felt necessary!

And yes, it still sounds crazy. Maybe that’s just what I told myself, and what I’m continuing to tell myself. Maybe this is continued fallout from giving myself a little time before truly breaking in the new computer (I plan to get some work done over the three-day weekend, I swear!), I don’t know. Maybe!

I’ve certainly written some interesting things in the two years I’ve been at this job. I’ve written extended comic book scripting projects for the first time ever, for instance. I even spun off one of them some original ideas (because both were based on existing DC or Marvel concepts), and maybe I could work on that next, if I felt like doing that again. And besides, I feel like I’m getting closer to writing new manuscripts. I plan to write a novella for the rewrite Christmas package for my niece (there’s only one element from the previous one I want to revisit, riffing on something she was singing while MASTERING RIDING A BIKE AT ABOUT FIVE YEARS OLD) (not that I’m bragging for her) (and to be clear, a two-wheel, no training wheels bicycle).

So that’s what “working writer” means to me. Complicated. But interesting.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

A Journal of the Pandemic #20

 Here we are reaching an eighth month of the worldwide response to COVID-19. Somehow! Pandemic time is otherwise immeasurable. Well, in some ways it is, and some it isn’t.

Absences are measurable. Reunions are measurable! At work it’s been a season of reunions. Some of my colleagues who’ve been out since this started have finally returned. Some of the kids who’ve been out have started trickling back. I’ve seen a couple kids I haven’t seen in forever! One of them I had to forcibly remind myself I last saw before our shutdown, because that crazy time has actually begun to blur, because in some ways what I was doing immediately before and immediately after was so similar I wasn’t really distinguishing anymore. But of course recent months have been all about acclimating to my new building, and that’s been a whole new era.

Speaking of which! I got a plush room assignment a while back, in a baby room, after it seemed I would exist in floater purgatory indefinitely...but then we had no babies. The one who had been showing up transitioned to a one-year-old room, and the other babies nominally assigned to us weren’t coming in at all. I mean, one did! For a single day! But then none. For what seemed forever! Then finally we got some new babies enrolled, and one starts on Monday (baby brother to a preschooler we have in another room) and our second a week later (daughter of a former coworker!). 

Lots of parents are still teleworking. Obviously the whole country has been working toward reopening. Infection numbers are sort of ticking up again as we anticipate a full-blown second wave (which is already happening in Europe)...But the thing is, what’s that even going to look like? The panic is over. There are still many people taking this very seriously, but...Another shutdown is highly unlikely to occur. What we’re going to see is an abundance of caution. My job is going to have a slow trickle back to what things were like at the start of the year. Most of our rooms are still single ratio (previously every room was routinely double ratio, which basically means we really only need one teacher per room instead of two, although of course at the moment we’ll have two or three teachers around at times just because we have that many and we’ve been in the process of at least operating somewhere close to normal, which is why all the teachers have been coming back). 

I went to the movies last Friday. Friday, and out of two movies I watched, a total attendance of...three. And that was for the second, later movie. (I had planned on seeing three movies. Doubt very much there would have been anymore viewers even then.) I mean, movie attendance has been ticking downward for years anyway. The huge box office numbers we’ve seen for Avengers movies, for instance, have still been a relative drop in the bucket historically. That’s inflation talking, not attendance. Mass popularity has taken a hit with the extreme proliferation of avenues across all mediums. It’s not just movies, it’s everything. And the pandemic is going to make it that much harder to find common experiences. Except the pandemic.

Just think of how much your own life was disrupted, how your experiences have diverged from your typical social circles this year. Personal narratives have taken on new meanings. That might become an obsession in nonfiction in the years to come. 

I got my new computer this morning (and a case! and a generous flash drive!)...But I’m hesitant to crack it open. To get back to work. It was just about a month ago that I was finishing the last work I did on the old one, before it died its horrible death. I’ve been processing what I can do with the stuff I lost, that I have to tackle again. But it really feels as if there’s a mourning process that still needs to play out. 

Anyway, this is pandemic time. Nothing makes sense like it used to. I’ll keep you posted.

Friday, September 11, 2020

The Computer Ate My Homework

 Well, it’s official. My computer ate my homework. Which is to say, my computer died and took my files with it.

Three weeks ago I got stuck in the rain, and I happened to have my tablet with me. It was a horrendous downpour. I don’t know if it’s because I didn’t get it to a shop until the end of the week, or if it died more or less instantly, but the end result was, because it was such a compact instrument, it was a complicated business just to answer whether or not my files were retrievable even before the diagnosis, and certainly out of the question after.

So I lost material. I lost the whole Oz affair. I lost Squire’s History of Oz, the greater nonfiction work, and “Falling Toward Oz,” which for me was far more valuable. I talked about this stuff here. It was actually some of the last material I actively talked about here. If COVID-10 hadn’t hit, this would not have even been an issue. I don’t have Wi-Fi at home. I travel to get it. This was far easier pre-pandemic, and even beyond that, when everything closed, it was more or less around the time I was completing this work. I’d’ve self-published it months ago. 

But now it’s been eaten. If I wanted, I could reconstruct the book itself and even tackle the story again. I’m not feeling especially motivated to do that at the moment. I’m not grieving. I kind of figured this was going to be the result, and so I made peace with it the day I turned the tablet into the shop.

I lost the manuscript I carved out of In the Land of Pangaea, something I didn’t really talk about here, something I did earlier in the summer and submitted to a contest. All the work on that is lost unless by some miracle it has legs in the contest. Again, I could be okay with that. I loved working on that thing. It was if nothing else an excellent exercise in revision. 

I lost this year’s Christmas poem package for my niece! I wrote it ridiculously early as it was, so I can always rewrite that well before the end of the year. I know the bones of what I wrote. I can either attempt to replicate or do something new. It’s okay.

I lost some plotting for Space Corps! I didn’t lose the major Space Corps material. I have the Seven Thunders manuscript, and notes in an actual notebook for most of what I had been working on, and copies attached to emails for other things. There’s so much already quite unwritten about Space Corps anyway, it’s difficult to say what can be lost in such a manner as this. Having Seven Thunders as it is, and in the revised form as I’ve worked on it, is the main thing, and what would’ve been the big loss in a previous computer loss.

That’s not everything, but those are the highlights. I have email copies of stories I wrote this year. I will have to revert to backups for additional poetry collections, whenever I get around to that project again, losing whatever work I had done in that regard. (I think it eats what would’ve been the next release, in the state I left it, which again would not have been a problem pre-shutdown, because I would have published it well before this happened).

Last week I bought a school-sized (rather than pocket-sized) notebook, with the intention to perhaps work on stories and/or notes there. This would not be a guarantee against loss, either, but it would offer a different level of control. I have some really old notes! Stuff dating back to probably 1996 at least, a lot of old Space Corps material. That’s how I always did it before. Then at some point I started doing it on a computer, and when I had a printer handy would carefully print it out (another backup model!). Technically I have a printer now but have no idea if it actually works. I inherited from my sister. Has been sitting on a desk I don’t work at (I find desks hard to work at for extended periods, unless they’re big, and this one isn’t).

And at some point I will buy a new computer of some extraction. And be very, very careful, especially as it comes to file preservation!

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Star Wars: The Art of the Incomplete Story

 I love Star Wars. I’m one of the crazy people who loves all three trilogies. I love them, I love Star Wars, because of the storytelling. 

Famously, the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back, changed everything fans thought they knew when Darth Vader revealed to Luke Skywalker that he was his father. By the time I watched the original trilogy for the first time, it was in fact already a trilogy. I was two when Return of the Jedi was released in theaters. I grew up in a decade when Star Wars was an incredibly simple thing to appreciate. There were some Ewoks movies, sure (I saw those), and some cartoons, but for all intents and purposes Star Wars began and ended with the original trilogy.

For me there was no mystery about Vader’s identity. Learning how important that revelation was to the early fan community was a chance to more fully appreciate the storytelling, to deconstruct what was in each movie concerning this relationship, and how much it meant to the saga.

By the time George Lucas decided to make the prequels and explain exactly how Anakin Skywalker became Vader, it seemed as if the essential mystery of the saga had been explained. And yet it wasn’t. The prequels couldn’t explain, in detail, how Palpatine became the Dark Lord of the Sith. What I loved so much about Revenge of the Sith was a sequence in which he implies his origins. For me it’s every bit as essential as Vader revealing his identity, though the moments could not be more different if they tried. Palpatine’s conversation with the young Anakin is slow, contemplative, deliberate. Vader’s exchange with Luke is a desperate moment at the end of a terrible duel.

 In the sequel trilogy, Rise of Skywalker reveals that Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter. Some fans remain baffled by this, especially as it relates to the title of the film. Naturally I love it. The mystery remains, what kind of lives did her parents lead? 

It could easily fill another trilogy, just as I immediately began envisioning the possibility of a trilogy around Palpatine’s ascension within the Sith.

But this is Star Wars. This is the art of the incomplete story. I don’t think it counts unless it’s in a film. No comics. No cartoons. No books. Some fans grieve stories that played out in the aftermath of the original trilogy once the sequels negated them. Some find answers to sequel mysteries in new material of the very same kind.

But it’s not official, for me, unless it’s in a film. Star Wars films are things of epic grandeur. From the very beginning, when a Rebellion destroyed a Death Star, these are stories that make the most sense when they are captured in the grandest form of filmmaking. There’s a reason why movies tried for so long to capture the Star Wars magic. It took twenty years. Nothing like it had been accomplished before, and at least as far as I’m concerned, nothing has come close to the full scope of Star Wars even now. 

And the scope is in the willingness to leave gaps. The instinct is to fill in all the gaps. That’s why it’s so common for the comics, books, cartoons, to try. But they never understand that the magic lies in the scope of it. Why focus so exclusively on the Skywalkers? Aren’t there more stories worth telling? Well, sure, but the depth of Star Wars is in the resonance. Stray too far from them and it could be anything at all. Basically, my opinion of all that material became, it basically was. 

Rey embraces the Skywalker legacy because that’s the heart of the saga, that’s what the story is all about, the ability to face great obstacles and still complete the hero’s journey. And what makes her journey so interesting is that she makes leaps of faith that defy all logic, just as Luke before her, and his father before him. These leaps are not about Jedi finesse, but the ability to embrace the art of storytelling, as few examples in film have dared.

The idea was never to simply leave fans wanting more. Three separate times the saga concludes. But leaves room for more, often in the past rather than the future. And sometimes it dares embrace the challenge. This isn’t laziness. This is brilliance.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

A Journal of the Pandemic #19

 I was kind of hoping that when I reached the nineteenth installment I would be able to say we were nearing some version of the end. But we are not.

It’s true that COVID-19 doesn’t fill the news anymore. We started reaching for other topics months ago, but the fact is the pandemic is still happening. We’re in a process of undoing measures that were put in place to help contain the spread, and whatever your feelings on those measures, your personal experiences with the virus, now we’re about to see everything in a whole new light.

Someone who used to work at my facility lost her mom to the pandemic recently. It rattled one of my coworkers. It’s actually been rare, given your geological location, to have first-or even secondhand experience with death as part of this thing. Knowing people who’ve gotten sick is one thing, but knowing people who have died from it is another thing entirely. You hear horror stories at certain epicenters about mass casualties and massive piles of bodies...but for the majority of us, that’s not what we’ve experienced. I didn’t work with this woman (at a previous job I ended up making friends with someone who’d been employed there before my time just because he visited frequently to see old coworkers, and he was a nice guy, so it was just natural), but my current colleague was obviously rattled by the news. We tend to limit ourselves either to our own experiences or blindly accept those of others. It’s difficult to find some middle ground (as in all things). So to say it’s easy to understand the pandemic just because it’s been inescapable is reductive and unhelpful. 

The reopening process will be more difficult than we might have imagined. My facility is actually actively hiding a diagnosis rather than address it as it might have been months ago. We always post a diagnosis (of anything, such as pinkeye) on the door of the affected room, so everyone is aware. To deliberately avoid doing so now can only mean it was determined, at this stage, that it would be counterproductive to the overall desire to bring operations back to normal. That’s been the big push for the past few months, slowed when numbers in-state started to surge, but never outright halted. We brought back most of the staff (less than a handful remain at home). Paycheck protection measures are ending. 

Based on the initial reactions to the pandemic, which the loudest voices insisted weren’t good enough even then, the assumption would necessarily be that we would handle new cases the same way as the old. The school year has begun. Even if most kids are distance learning, that still leaves a substantial new set of potential cases waiting to develop, as has already been the case. Schools here have been open for a few weeks already. 

If only. If only we had allowed ourselves to make reasoned decisions at the start. If only we had allowed ourselves to calculate what to keep in operation, not based on need alone but on a reasonable assessment of measures that could be employed, distancing possible within a given space. If only we had stopped for a moment to think about how this thing spreads in real terms. If only we had considered, in real terms, how our measures provoked reactions that led to more spreading rather than less. If only we had taken the time to do all this in April. 

It’s not a measure of how right you are to condemn someone for how they react. A reaction is a response, not a decision. You give someone a situation that totally disrupts everything they previously took for granted, and the result will be difficult to contain. You can be wrong by being too right. (This is an absolute proven by the fact that the reverse cannot be true: You can’t be right by being too wrong.)

I wish this were something that people could understand. But for some people, being righteous means the inability to question their thought process. It’s not merely a religious thing. You can be righteously wrong and have no concept of faith at all, except in your own misguided convictions.

Now we struggle to piece things back together. There will be missing pieces for a long time to come.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

IWSG September 2020

 The Insecure Writers Support Group meets virtually (well before it was cool) on the first Wednesday of every month (except in 2013, but we don’t talk about 2013) and generally follow a prompt, which in this instance means answering a predetermined question (letting members ask, and answer, their own led to Phil being banned, but that’s another matter entirely).

This month’s question: Which writer, living or dead, would you love to have as your beta reader?

This is a ridiculous question, because for me there’s only one right answer, and that’s the late Chilean genius Roberto Bolaño, who is best known for his novel The Savage Detectives, which is not about detectives (in the conventional sense) at all but a community of savage poets (the only kind worth being a member of) who track two members in general (based on Bolaño himself and his best friend) in their wild international adventures.

Bolaño was a literally genius. He considered himself first and foremost a poet, but he was a novelist of the first order (2666 is the best book I have ever, and will ever have, read), whose specialty was short novels, in which he would sometimes ruminate on his country’s little-reflected-upon history with Nazi exiles. 

The portrait Bolaño so casually paints of a country (a series of countries; he spent many years traveling, and in Spanish exile; many of his experiences, like Savage Detectives, are reflected in his work, such as in The Skating Rink, in which he spent a summer bumming it) filled with poetry workshops, like they’re libraries or something you just kind of visit in your neighborhood at your leisure, it’s intoxicating. I’ve never encountered anyone who literally seemed to breathe literature like him. 

I’ve tossed in little odes to Bolaño in my work, sometimes outright borrowing his most frequent fictional alias (Arturo Belano), or riffing on his stories. Although I have a lot of wild ideas, sometimes I think it could be a lot worse than to find success the way he did, by writing about the very heart of his experiences.

So to work alongside him...Yeah. Roberto & Tony...those crazy detectives of the world’s insanity...

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