I’m not sure what to write next.

courtesy Portlandia

Yes, I’ve blogged about this before.  I have a bunch of ‘maybe’ projects simmering on the back burner, waiting to be picked up and worked on, or trunked and forgotten.  It’s not going to take center stage until I finish and release The Balance of Light, so it’s going to be a while, but that doesn’t mean I can’t start with the pre-production.  I can certainly start playing around with outlines, character sheets, timelines and whatnot.  Just that the bulk of the project won’t begin until at least sometime this autumn.

But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the process of starting a new project.  As I’ve said before, it’s been so long since I’ve come up with a completely new idea that sometimes I wonder if I’ve forgotten how to do it.  [I don’t always think this, though…one of the ‘maybes’ came out of nowhere during my 750 Words exercises, so I know I can do it.]

I know I sometimes overthink this part of the process; it’s the most stereotypical of writer’s blocks: what should I write?  We focus too much on wanting/needing to start something.  It’s like when you need to start that term paper for English class, but you have no idea what to write about…and that’s when you start stressing, because you’re focusing too much on getting it done before deadline and not enough on the writing itself.

I try to keep my mind open when new ideas come to me; more to the point, I try not to rely mainly on chance and random inspiration, because that almost never works.  The trick is to sow some kind of seed of an idea and work with it for a bit, see if you can make something out of it.  I tend to be a pantser in terms of writing, so what I consider my best ideas usually come from something only distantly related to it: one of the ‘maybes’ I have on tap came to me out of someone else mentioning the Osmonds in passing on their blog.  Out of that came the idea of writing a fictional music biography.

I have an idea jar here in Spare Oom, a long narrow glass jar with a plastic stopper that I bought for a dollar-something at the kitchenware store up the street.  I haven’t used it in some time, but there’s a few years’ worth of scrap paper in there of passing ideas.  Thoughts that came to mind that I didn’t have time to follow up on.  Just images, scenes, or characters that popped into my head while I was doing something else.  I haven’t even looked at these notes for some time, so now I’m curious as to what’s listed.  I used a few of them for my daily practice words a year or so ago.  Perhaps it’s time to do that again.

I’m not sure what I’m going to write after the Bridgetown Trilogy is done, but at least I’m going to be somewhat prepared.

Reading and Writing Other Genres

Combo TBR and Have Read Pile.  I’m currently working on that lower shelf.

I’ve been reading a lot of non-fantasy/SF books lately.  It’s partly because I have quite the To Be Read pile next to my bed, and I figured it was high time to dig through some of the titles that have been there for quite some time.  There’s a goodly amount of SFF in there, but there’s also a lot of non-genre, and I felt it was time to take a different path for a bit.

I mean, isn’t that what they always say?  Read anything and everything.  In among the SF I see in that picture, there’s also a Love and Rockets collection, a collection of Chinese Literature, a few mystery novels, some poetry, and a lot of Japanese literature as well.

Recently I finished reading Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, which I adored, but also fascinated me due to Fowler’s wonderful use of language.  And currently I’m reading Xiaolu Guo’s I Am China.   Then there’s the various mangas, the music biographies, and the couple of history books (Alwyn Turner has a great triad of books about Britain from the 70s through to the 90s, if you’re interested) that seem to make their way to my TBR pile.  Such is the fate of living down the street from Green Apple Books and their excellent selection!

I don’t think I’ve burned myself out on genre fiction as much as I think I’ve oversaturated myself with it.  I can usually tell when I get to that point when a few things happen: the plot points start crossing over to different novels, I start comparing the characters and personality traits between different books far too much, and I start guessing the ending of the story way too early.   That’s when it’s time to back away and do something different for a bit.

My usual go-to with this is Asian literature.  I love how the pace and voice of the novel is equally as important as the plot itself.  I love reading characters whose motives are often culturally different from my own.  It makes me think about my own writing, how to approach storylines from different perspectives.

I admit I don’t enjoy too much litfic out there, but there are a few mainstream fiction authors I’ll pick up regardless.  Douglas Coupland and Mark Danielewski are two of them.  And of course I’ll pick up any music biography that catches my eye, especially if it’s a well-researched history of a particular genre.  I’ll pick up anything by Mark Lewisohn, Greil Marcus or Simon Reynolds.

Point being…as a writer, I have to remind myself that I need to read as often as I write, if not more, and I need to keep the scope of the material pretty wide if I’m going to learn from it.  I may read things simply for the pleasure of it, but even with those silly graphic novels and manga tankobon, I’m still picking up on the different ways to tell a story.

Writer’s Block: Yeah, it’s real

See?  I have it right here!

It is kind of interesting to see the various articles and blogs out there, stating that writer’s block doesn’t exist.  I get where they’re coming from.  For some, writer’s block is what I call the Don’t Wannas: the feeling that I’d rather be doing anything else fun.  For others, it’s the realization that they’ve written themselves into a corner and they’re not sure what to do about it.  For still others, it’s the fear that they’re doing it wrong that freezes any inspiration or creativity.

What I think these people are trying to say is that writer’s block doesn’t, or shouldn’t, exist, because there’s always a way to work around it.  They’re saying it as an affirmation, not as a truth.  That might work for some, and it may have worked for me in the past, but at this point I have to call it for what it is:  it’s blocking me from getting my work done, so ergo…

Writer’s block comes in all shapes and sizes, but however it looks, it’s a big pain in the ass.  The important thing is to learn how to work past it the best you can.

Fly-By: Setting up the new computer!


This may take a few days, but I hope to be up and running early this week.  I’ve got most of it done and ready to go, I just need to adjust all the settings and I’m good to go.  Right now I’m doing all the important stuff:  setting up MS Word, Dropbox, and of course Media Monkey so I can have my tunage.

This week’s Welcome to Bridgetown post will be a few days late, but I should have one up by mid-week.

Thanks for your patience!


Computer Blue


I really dislike the fact that my computers never last more than about three years.  I really wish they would last a lot longer.  I don’t mind a bit of a slowdown as it gets older, and I’m okay with what software I have…it’s okay if it’s not up to date, as long as it works correctly.

It’s been just about three years to the week since I bought this PC.  My previous one (another Gateway), which I probably had since…(checks LJ entries)…January of 2010.  Which means I bought that one not long after we moved to our present apartment.  And I know the one before that (a Gateway, natch) was bought sometime late 2006 or so, and that one replaced the Dell I’d bought in 2003 back in the old Belfry days.  [I don’t count the various Hewlett-Packards I had before that, because they were all hand-me-downs and lasted a few years at most.]

So yeah, that averages to about three years.

I say this, as it’s May 2016, and this current PC has started acting funky as well.  It hasn’t crashed and burned, at least not like the previous one, but it’s bluescreened at least five or six times over the past two months due to bad overwriting errors.  There’s also been an uptick of sluggishness, especially when I’m multitasking.  It’s also had a few startup issues lately, which is why I’ve been powering down via Hibernate rather than Shut Down.  I’ve already made it a habit of saving everything important on my external drives, and having my documents on Dropbox.

So as you may well imagine, I am grudgingly going computer shopping soon.  Here is my wishlist in terms of what I want it to have or be able to do:

  • High processing speed.  I’m not a gamer or a high-level programmer that needs a crapton of processing power, but I’d like something that will let me have multiple things going without slowdown.  Something that can handle MS Word, Photoshop, Media Monkey, and various art and audio software, sometimes all at the same time.
  • Lots of disk space.  I like having a buffer where I can save things straight to the PC and have the externals as backup.
  • USB slots.  Lots and lots of USB slots.  I don’t mind if they’re USBs, USB2s or USB3s, as long as I got ’em.  I gotta plug my externals and other toys in somewhere!
  • A CD/DVD RW drive.  Yes, even in this day and age, I still want/need this drive, mainly so I can rip new cds, as well as watch DVDs if I so choose.  [Hell, if it has BluRay capability I’m all for that, but I’m okay if it doesn’t.]
  • Wireless keyboard and mouse.  It’s not essential, but it would help clear up clutter and the way I work/sit at my desk.  Quality speakers might be nice too, but those aren’t a necessity either.

I actually do not need a new monitor at this time — I’m actually still using the widescreen monitor from the previous Gateway.  The power button might be a bit wonky and loose, but it works just fine and hasn’t given me any trouble at all.

So I’m thinking, in the next couple of weeks or so, I may be taking a trip to Best Buy on Geary, or Fry’s down in Palo Alto, just to see what’s available.  I’m willing to put some money into this, considering it’s a unit I’ll be using on a daily basis, sometimes for hours at a time.

And if it lasts more than three years before I run it into the ground, all the better!


[Noted: For those of you who give thanks to the iGods, I have no issues with iThingies in general.  I just never got around to getting on board with them, and see no reason to do so now when PCs work just fine for what I want/need them to do.]

On Writing: Who Am I Writing For?


I’ll admit, that’s not a question I often thought about when I first started writing, because the answer was most likely going to be: well, ME, of course.  What a silly question!

I’ve tried in the past to write for a specific audience, and it never quite panned out the way I wanted it to.  Love Like Blood was me trying to write to the urban fantasy crowd.  Two Thousand was me trying to write for the litfic crowd.  True Faith was me trying to write for the sf/virtual reality crowd of the mid 90s.  All three projects have since been trunked, as I found them to be some of my worst work.  Paved with good intentions, but let’s face it: I was pandering.  I was trying to write for an easy buck.

Recently I’ve been thinking about who I’m writing for, and each time, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m still writing for who I want to write for:  just your regular blue-collar joe who likes to read.  Yes, I’m still writing for me, but I’ve noticed the biggest response I get from readers is not always the avid science fiction/fantasy reader, but those I know who like to read a little (or a lot) of everything.  Someone who might read the latest George RR Martin but follow it up with, say, a history of 60s counterculture.  Or maybe not even that: someone who just likes reading what they like reading, and don’t necessarily fit into the definition of ‘avid fan’.

That’s not to say I find avid genre fans beneath my stature, far from it.  I just know that I’m not a hard sf writer or a military sf writer or even a high fantasy writer.  I just write what comes to mind, and I try to fill my created worlds with people and ideas that my readers will connect with.

The Mendaihu Universe might be chock full of spirituality, but I try not to write religious/spiritual fiction, which is its own genre.  The characters in this universe of mine have the same issues as readers: frustration, fear, indecision, confusion, irritation.  I put the characters into an everyday situation that just happens to have a supernatual/spiritual setting.  And for the most part, I think I pull it off, because nearly all my readers so far have commented on that as a definite plus to the worldbuilding.

I’ve been thinking about this in part because I’ve been trying to figure out how to sell my trilogy now that two-thirds of it is already out there.  It’s one thing to self-publish and release it, but it’s quite another to get it out there and advertise it.  As much as I dislike sales, I do need to think about who my target audience would be.  I know, I should probably think of this WHILE I’m writing the stories, but that can’t always happen.  Again: if I write to order, I write horribly.   I can only write what I know I can write.

But what about my other projects?  The non-MU stories?  Who am I writing for then?  I probably won’t know until the project starts.  I have some non-genre stories in mind that could easily be quirky litfic.  I have some genre stories that would fit nicely in the urban fantasy mold.

For me, I guess the only way I’ll know is when I start writing the damned things!


Your personal reminder, from one writer to another:

  1. Don’t forget to get up from your chair every now and again to stretch.  Your lower half will thank you.
  2. Try not to slouch in your chair.  Straighten that back as soon as you suddenly find yourself hunkered over like Quasimodo over the keyboard!  Your back will thank you.  And it will surely let you know (as mine did today) if you don’t follow up.
  3. For the love of pie, turn the chair!  Don’t swivel at your waist like that, because your sciatic nerve is going to make some noise soon enough if you keep that up.  Face your whole body in the direction you’re looking in.
  4. Walking is always a good thing.  Even if it’s across the house to check up on your kids/cat/significant other and let them know you’re still one of the living.
  5. And yes, I know it’s tempting to spend all your waking hours writing everything you love to write.  But it’s not that healthy to be sedentary for so long.  Change it up every now and again.  It’s healthy!
  6. And this is mostly for myself: drink a lot of fluids. And by fluids, I mean water, tea, and other healthy things.  A sufficiently hydrated writer is a happy, healthy writer!

This is brought to you by Jonc’s Sciatic Nerve and Its Attending Back Pains.

Thank you and (ouch) good night.

On Editing: When to Murder Your Darlings

Last night, for the first time, I deleted a complete chapter from a manuscript.  Sure, I’ve deleted or cropped whole scenes before, or shuffled them around to different sections of the novel, but never have I just said to hell with it, highlighted the entire chapter and cut the entire thing.  And just to drive the point home, I went through the rest of the manuscript and adjusted the chapter numbers.

I’d always had issues with the beginning of The Balance of Light, I’ll be honest.  There’s a lot of great stuff in Book 3, but it gave me a hell of a lot of trouble.  I think it was partly due to not giving myself a break.  Back in late 2003, I’d gone straight from finishing The Persistence of Memories to starting TBoL without downtime in between.  I was on a roll and didn’t want to stop just yet, and that didn’t give me enough time to fully plan out the book’s main plot.

Chapter One, in retrospect, felt a lot more like an unneeded prologue or pre-credits opening scene than a good novel opening.  It had a few interesting ideas, but not enough for it to hold the reader’s interest. It served very little purpose other than to set a mood, and while that might work with some novels, it certainly did not work here.  The action actually starts in the next chapter — in fact, Chapter Two (now the current Chapter One) starts in medias res.  This works a hell of a lot better for the novel as a whole, because TBoL is all about the tension.

How did it feel to delete an entire ten pages’ worth of work?  Well, me being the writer packrat that I am, I didn’t delete it outright; I cut it from the working file and saved it to a ‘deleted scenes’ document.  I’ve done that numerous times for my various writing projects, for a few reasons: one, because I usually don’t like to completely destroy my work, and two, I never know if I might want to use it in a different context elsewhere.

But it was a move I didn’t take lightly.  In fact, it took me a few days to finally make the final decision.  I wasn’t happy with the prose, either…it’s painfully obvious that I was trying way too damn hard.

There’s two things to question with this kind of decision:

  1. Is it worth keeping?  This is the obvious question, the one everyone arrives at first.  Is there a point to it remaining in the book, or is it just filler?  Even if it’s one of your favorite passages, does it help drive the plot in some way?
  2. Will it affect the rest of the plot if I take it out?  This is the less obvious question, one that isn’t always hit upon, but in a way it’s the more important of the two.  If I take out this scene, will it disrupt the evolution of any other scenes?  Is there pertinent information here that is integral to a scene much later on?

In the case of question 1, no.  Maybe a ‘shot’ or two, a short bit of character interaction that I works well, but it’s not important enough to keep it.  I can always insert those shots somewhere else and achieve the same response.

In the case of question 2, yes, but it’s easily fixable.  The chapter starts out with Denni sensing a recently awakened Mendaihu from across the city, before the action ‘pulls back’ (to continue the film references here) to the Warehouse.  This same Mendaihu shows up again about three-quarters of the way through the book* but their two minor scenes can easily be revised or rewritten.

Even more interesting is how this decision affects the mood of the book.  I knew deleting Chapter 1 was going to affect two future scenes, but I was also conscious of how starting with Chapter 2 would do the same.  Instead of starting on a quiet but tense moment, I’m starting with a punch to the head.  Which is good, because now it’s given me something to aim for in terms of dramatic arcs.

And that, my friends, is my One Weird Trick I use when editing: know your story.  And I mean that in the context of knowing it like you know your own life: inside and out, how everything interconnects, how each event affects other events.  This is precisely why I did about a year’s worth of rereading the three books: so I could know it intimately enough that, if I made a decision on one thing, I’d know how it would affect everything else.


*I will totally admit I was flailing at that point.  I was having some serious writers’ block and thought reintroducing an extremely minor character would shake things up.  I’d thought about having this character join Vigil at one point, but it never panned out.  The end result reads as one would expect: an obvious shoehorning of a character for no other reason than ‘oops, I forgot about them, better squeeze them in somewhere.’

Meme Extra: V is also for Vigil

If the Mendaihu Universe has an actual origin point, it’s Vigil, that jacker group of digital anarchists that form the unseen backbone of the Bridgetown Trilogy.  They’re the earliest characters I’d created, dating all the way back to the original story in 1993.

[Technically they go back further; their 1993 incarnation is a mashup of the original characters in my Infamous War Novel from 1984-86 and an unnamed cast of characters from a short dystopian story I started but never finished in 1988.]

Q: What is Vigil about, anyway?

A: The idea behind Vigil was to create a group of people whose raison d’etre was to influence the actions of others. I always saw them as deliberately removed from everyone else’s reality, by their own choice.  The original soldiers in the IWN were literally drafted into their situation and fell prey to their isolation.  The punkers in the unfinished story deliberately chose to distance themselves from the status quo (as all self-respecting punkers should).  The Vigil of 1993 were a bit of both: living within the construct of mainstream society, yet working outside of it on their own terms.  The Vigil of True Faith expanded on that. They resurfaced as behind-the-scenes characters in The Phoenix Effect and even more so in the trilogy.

Q: What is their origin within the MU?

A: I can’t say too much without giving it away, but let’s just say they’ve been around for quite some time.  This question is answered in The Balance of Light.  I can say that their reason for wanting to influence others is a just cause; they do in fact have a connection to the Mendaihu and Shenaihu, and their main concern is to assist the One of All Sacred — on a nonspiritual level — to ensure the two sects remain balanced.

Q: So, is that why we always see Matthew in a workstation cage, perpetually distracted by whatever’s scrolling by on his multiple screens?

A: Exactly.  He’s a datacruncher of the highest sort and is constantly watching what’s going on so Vigil can act (or react) accordingly.  He’s been doing that every single day for at least fifteen years so he’s got it down to a science.

Q: Who is in Vigil?

A: We meet its leader, Matthew Davison, early on in A Division of Souls.  We know he’s the only son of the former Provincial Senator Gregory Davison, who had been assassinated a decade previous.  Matthew chose not to follow in his father’s political footsteps, instead becoming a software engineer of some renown.  He did, however, follow his father’s wishes to continue his work with the Mendaihu and Shenaihu.

There are other members, who we meet in The Persistence of Memories; in particular is Jenn Underwood, a childhood friend of Matthew’s.  She holds a day job at the Data Research Library and has an amazing memory.   They are essentially the two co-leaders of the group.  Others will show up in Book 2 and 3.

Q: Anything else?

A: Matthew, at least in the trilogy iteration, was partly inspired by Corey Feldman, specifically in his role in the TV show The Crow: Stairway to Heaven; he has both his hoarse voice and his scruffiness.  [He’s the only Vigil member based on anyone in particular.]  Despite all of Vigil’s personal quirks and irritations, they’re quite a close-knit family and look out for each other.  Funding for all their electronic toys is mainly from two places: Matthew’s day job, as well as his inheritance from his father.  Their penchant for constant attention to small details, sometimes to the point of distraction, is partly from my own work ethic in both writing and my day job.  I’ve wanted to change Vigil’s name for years, as it sounds a bit plain and uninspiring, but I just couldn’t come up with anything else that fit them so perfectly!

Meme Extra: F is also for Dylan Farraway

In doing the A to Z Challenge last month, even though I couldn’t come up with anything for X, Y or Z, there were numerous characters and ideas that I didn’t hit, due to something already laying claim to that letter.  So without further ado, here are a few more entries that you may enjoy!

* * *

Dylan Farraway - Kevin Spacey

Q: What is Farraway’s origin?

A: Along with Alec and Caren, Dylan Farraway was one of the newer characters in the Phoenix Effect reboot.  I’d originally pictured him as a takeoff of Chief Aramaki in Ghost in the Shell: bald and kind of weird-looking, bound to blow up at his staff on a daily basis.  I soon backed away from that idea and recreated him as an even-tempered, highly intelligent but extremely overworked boss.

Q: How is he connected to the Mendaihu?

A: Well…it’s kind of complex.  But I can say that he’s quite efficient at obtaining and retaining his various contacts outside of the ARU, so he knows quite a few Mendaihu and Shenaihu.

Q: That’s Kevin Spacey in that picture.  Did you base Farraway on him?

A: Actually, no!  It wasn’t until maybe about a month ago that I realized he’d be good at playing Farraway.  Just like when I chose Kathleen Turner as Madeleine Jakes…I had a general idea of what they looked like and how they acted, but didn’t have anyone in mind until recently.

Q: He has quite a close relationship with Alec and Caren.  Is there a reason for that?

A: In general, yes.  Farraway knew Caren’s parents quite well, having come up through the ranks around the same time they were high-level agents themselves.  He was never their chief, but he would work alongside them on many cases, and got to know Caren personally in the process, while she was at the ARU academy.  He’d become Chief Inspector at the Branden Hill HQ around that time, and had personally put in a request to have her assigned to him when she graduated.  So in the process, whoever Caren has worked with, he has connected with.  He was also the one to decide that Caren and Sheila should remain close workwise, ensuring she remained as part of the Team Two setup.

Q: Anything else?

A: He lives not that far from the HQ, actually…he walks to work.  He has a wife, but she unfortunately never made it into any of the stories.  He’s quite aware of Alec’s connection to Vigil; in fact, he deliberately says nothing because he knows it’s a safe and very lucrative connection for them.  He always plays his cards close…even with his agents, he never reveals everything unless absolutely necessary.  He won’t even reveal who his own outside connections may be.  He does have some psionic strengths (he’s quite good at clairaudience and clairsentience), but refuses to use them as a crutch.  He speaks softly, but he can really raise his voice quite loud when need be.  He drinks way too much coffee.