On Being the Producer

I’ve been watching the miniseries documentary Soundbreaking the last few days, and it’s given me a lot to think about.  It’s a wonderful series, focusing more on what it is to create recorded music than it is about telling lurid stories about fame or who knows who.

I knew they were Doing It Right when they decided to dedicate the first episode not to the band or to the music or the industry, but the producer.  Often overlooked unless you’re well known like George Martin or Linda Perry, the producer is an extremely vital part of the production…and yet their job is to make their own work on the finished product as invisible as possible.  Their job, ultimately, is to make the song be as true as possible.

What do I mean by that?  Well, here’s the thing:  they’re not aiming for perfection.  They might want the musicians and singers to hit all the right notes, but that’s not the main goal.  Nor are they solely aiming for the perfect pop hit that will reach number one on all the charts and make everyone involved  hell of a lot of money.

What they’re doing is taking the creativity and the ideas of the musicians and the songwriters, as well as the emotional drive behind the song, and maybe even the happy accidents that happen to resonate with the track, and pull it all together.  They’re also doing their best to make sure the song reflects the emotions of its creator and not their own.

Sure, there are some producers with signature sounds.  Phil Spector, of course, is known for his Wall of Sound (i.e., let’s have forty musicians in the room playing the same thing and drench it reverb until it drowns).  Nigel Godrich is known for giving bands a rich and resonant sound.  Jeff Lynne likes his drums front and center in the mix.  And there are musicians who produce their own work.  But the point still remains: they’re aiming for something specific, something that will make the song ring true.

In book speak: they’re your editor.  They are not there to put their stamp on it.  They are there to make sure this is all your work.  Sure, part of their job is to point out grievous spelling and grammar errors, and maybe suggesting that the plot take a gentle curve instead of a neckbreaking hairpin turn.  But their job, really, is to figure out what the writer is trying to convey, and help them get there the best way possible.

 

As a self-published author who’s decided to do the job of the editor as well, I had to keep this in mind when I started the major revision work of the Bridgetown Trilogy a few years back.  I knew it was more than just about fixing grammar and cleaning up the prose.  I had to connect with the trilogy on a level where I understood what I was aiming for on a deeper level.  But I also had to view it on several levels as well: I had to figure out how it flowed, what I was trying to say with it, and how I was saying it.  Even as the cover creator I had to keep these things in mind — how was this initial image going to tie in with not just the book but the other two as well?  And to top it off: how to produce the end result without making it obvious that I’d done all the work myself?

A lot of moving parts.  It’s a hard job, but with time, practice and dedication, it can be done.

Paying attention to detail

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I’ve  been thinking about this a lot lately, especially with all the different news (both good and bad) being thrust at us willing readers over the past few weeks.  It’s easy to get lost in the maelstrom, easy to get frustrated and scared and react the only ways we know how in such situations.

As a writer, I’ve tried to train myself to be a bit distant from it all.  Not exactly indifferent, mind you.  Just detached enough so I can keep a calm and open mind.  Too much information and I get overwhelmed.  Too close to the information and I let my emotions get the best of me.  But at the same time…being aware of the multiple threads and knowing how to use them in a positive and/or creative way.

The same can be said with writing novels.  There are quite a lot of moving parts, so it requires a lot of attention.  This is not just about the detail, but how it all interweaves. Plot Point A causes Plot Point B to take place.  Character 1 is affected by Plot Point B and has to take action, causing Plot Point C to unfold, which affects Character 2.  And so on.  However it works for you: index cards, Post-Its, spreadsheets, reams of paper, or your own brain.

Some writers only want to use the barest of detail.  Just enough to tell the story.  And that’s just fine; not every novel needs all that minutiae.  At the same time, there still needs to be attention to detail by the writer.  There has to be that continuity of not just the plot but the characters and the setting.

The downside is that writers can often fall into their own hole of that minutiae.  Getting too lost in the maelstrom of the world building or the overly convoluted plot.  Making every single scene, action or no, the Most Important Event Ever in the story.  I’m guilty of all of these, of course.  I’ve been known to obsess over sections of my work that really don’t need much detail at all.  Sometimes my blog posts go the same way.  Heh.

But anyway, my point is that the trick is to find the balance levels that work for you.  Pay attention to what needs paying attention to, and remember that there’s rarely need for obsession.  Use just enough to create a stable and navigable web where every point has a reason and a destination.  And once you’re done?

Then pull back and view it as a whole.  If you’ve done it right, you’ll have created that much larger piece of art you were aiming for.

Current Status

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EDITING LIKE A BOSS

So!  Yes.  I am currently going through my galley copy of The Persistence of Memories and will be uploading the finished version to CreateSpace to release the official physical version.  [I will also be checking the e-book version as well to make any fixes there as well.]

I think I lucked out this time, as there weren’t as many formatting errors I had to fix, nor were there as many grammar or plot issues as there were in the first book.  I’m sure I’ve missed one or two things, maybe a misused phrase or missing punctuation, but for now I’m happy with what I’ve done with it.  The plus side is that I’m already about halfway through that book already, so this one may even be out before Christmas!

And then starts Book 3.  That may take a bit longer, but we shall see.  If I remain dedicated to editing and formatting this last book, I should remain on schedule for early 2017.  This one’s worth the wait, folks!  I know I ended TPoM on a cliffhanger, but to be honest, it was more like the end of Bladerunner (the version where it cuts to black as Deckard closes the elevator door).

The Balance of Light is the culmination of everything that’s happened so far in the previous two books.  I did my best to tie up as many loose ends as was needed.  I ended it maybe not on a very high note, but an optimistic one.  That was one of the main points of the trilogy: doing the right thing, despite outside influence.  I hope you enjoy that one too…it was by far the hardest book I’ve ever written, but I’m quite proud of how it turned out.

So.  What’s my next writing project?

Good question.  I’m still not sure!  I’ll let you know when I have a more solid idea!! 🙂

Editing Complete!

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(SPOILERS) The last page of the third book in the trilogy.

Oof.  Note to self: as much as I’m happy that I’ve FINALLY finished galley editing The Balance of Light, in hindsight I probably should not have stormed through the last six (albeit short) chapters in one marathon session last night.  I climbed into bed and passed out around 11 last night.  Exhausted, but happy.

That said…one MAJOR hurdle has finally been overcome!  TBoL was a beast in need of taming, and over the last few months I did my best to do exactly that.  Most of the prose that got the axe contained a lot of chaff to begin with — a lot of lengthy phrases that were culled down to much shorter sentences, a lot of visual cues that were cut, a lot of filler words that weren’t needed.  As this edit took place purely on paper, I have no idea how many words I cut, but I’m sure I cut a lot of them.

So what’s next?

Well, next is the physical printing of The Persistence of Memories.  I have a galley copy here that’s been marked up and everything, I just need to clean up the e-book and prepare the physical copy for release.

Then, one more time with TBoL: create the e-book and physical copy for release.

And that’s it?  No more work on the Bridgetown Trilogy?  I can put it to bed?

Well, not quite.  I have something special that I’d like to prepare for a March 2017 release; something to celebrate it being twenty long years since that first writing session that started it all.  A special e-book release, maybe with some fun extras?  And maybe shiny collector’s edition versions of the physical releases with extra stuff?  Who knows.  But it’s gonna be fun!

And then I’ll have to think of what to work on next!

Eicho d’eichi.

Well.

Obviously you know how I feel about the Fuckwit winning.

But that’s not what I’m going to talk about.

Let’s talk about other writers, other artists, other musicians.  The creative people out there who inspire us, entertain us, move our spirits.

I’m looking pretty far ahead at the moment.  I dearly hope that I am 100% wrong in feeling this way, but I would not be the least bit surprised if over the next four years, life for creative people starts getting harder.  And that life for people who want to be creative — the students and the kids who dream about being writers, artists, knitters, sculptors, musicians and so on — gets harder as well.

You already know how I feel about this; it’s always aggravated and annoyed me that the arts is always the last on the budget list and the first to get axed when the economy starts tanking.  You can get financial help if you’re a football or basketball player, but you’re not worth much if you sit around trying to create something (that is, of course, unless you create something that’ll make tons of cash for everyone).  Too many people I know are held back from doing what they do and love best because of the Real Life of having to get a secondary job to supplement their income.

I should know. I’m one of them.  Sure, my wife and I are reasonably okay financially, but if I could contribute as much to our combined income using just my writing, I’d drop my Day Job in a heartbeat.

This is precisely why I love this recent vibrant era of DIY creativity.  Self-publishing, pop-up galleries, personal online stores, webcomics, boutique startups, Bandcamp.  It’s more, a LOT more than saying to hell with the establishment, more than saying ‘wouldn’t it be fun to put on a show in the barn’.  It’s saying “I know exactly what I want to do with my life, and I’m going to make that a reality.”  It’s not saying ‘fuck the rules’, it’s completely rewriting them.

So.

I ask all of you now, do me a solid:

Look at your social media timelines.  Look at those webcomics you read every day.  Look at those bands whose music you download from Bandcamp.  Look at that necklace or pair of earrings you bought off Etsy.  Look at those artists whose painting you picked up from their tiny booth at the local pop-up gallery down the street.  Look at those creative people, and realize that this, their creative work is what they do best.  This is what makes them happy.  This is what lifts their spirits.  Your purchases and downloads and reviews are there to say “I love what you created.”

Do me a favor:  in the next four years, if any of them have a Patreon, are running a Kickstarter, or are doing some kind of of fundraising so they can stay in business doing what they do and love the most in their lives, please donate.  Even if it’s five dollars a month.

What you’re giving them is more than money.  You’re giving them a chance to live the life they’ve always wanted to live.  And that is one of the best things you can do for someone.

 

*Note:  – Yes, my subject line is in Anjshé.  It means “brothers and sisters.”

What I’m not writing

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NOPE.

It’s probably obvious by now that I don’t write about politics in my fiction, at least not as a major plot point.  [Governmental shenanigans do make a few cameos in the Bridgetown Trilogy, but they’re not used for political intrigue.  It’s used to show how bureaucracy and adherence to rules over logic can cause a hell of a lot of headaches.]

That isn’t to say that I haven’t come close to writing a few politically-tinged stories.  The close I ever got to doing so was an short story idea I’d called “Noah and the Schoolyard,” in which the titular character witnesses a breakdown of order during recess, in which several cliques are formed and eventually start to fight each other.  It’s a too-obvious allegory of the present political weather and I found myself really not wanting to write it after maybe a few hundred words.  An interesting idea, but something I know I’d hate writing, let alone reading later on.  Lesson learned.

This also ties in with my decision during the last election cycle to disengage myself publicly from the peanut gallery.  I’d be contributing little except more white noise to whatever was already out there.  I have my opinions (and they’ll still leak out occasionally on Twitter if I’m all het up about something in particular), but for the most part I keep them offline now.

Are there any other subjects I won’t/can’t/would rather not write about?  Sure.  That’s not to say such things are beneath me, of course.  My main reason for not writing about certain subjects is simply a lack of interest in wanting to do so.  [This does not include stories or plots about gender or race — I’m interested in them, I just don’t want to write them half-assed.  I haven’t used them as plot points, but I have tried to be inclusive to some degree.]  I don’t often write what I love reading.  I’m fascinated by hard SF like Cixin Liu’s current trilogy, but I can’t write that genre to save my life so I’m not going to try.

I guess what I’m saying here is that I know my boundaries.  I’m not beholden to them, and if I so chose, I could figure out how to move beyond them.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, I taught myself early on not to hold back, either.  There are a few scenes in the Trilogy where I pushed myself past my normal comfort zone, because it was needed in the story.  But I wouldn’t do it if there was no reason for it.

Now–on that note, I’ve already voted via early ballot here in San Francisco this past weekend, so all I have to do now is wait out all the damn robocalls that are flooding my answering machine and the fliers that I’m sure even the mailperson hates at this point, and let Tuesday do its thing.  I’m not sure if I have the stomach to sit through the coverage tomorrow night (or to read all the live-tweeting for that matter), but we shall see.

[And for the record, if it isn’t already obvious, I’m definitely 100% With Her.  I have some…issues with Trump, which I’d rather not go into here.]

Keeping myself out of trouble

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Yeah, I don’t know what I should do with myself either, Spike.

As of tonight, A. will be out of town for nearly the entire month on a business trip.  She’s gone on these trips before, usually going for a week or two at most, but this is the first time in quite a long time that she’s gone for over three weeks.  This includes Thanksgiving!  [Not to worry, folks…I can certainly make do with one of the many local restaurants or cook myself up a turkey breast with a few sides.  I’m not that helpless!]

So what am I to do when I’m the only one in the house for a few weeks?  Well, I’m too old to slide around the floor in my socks and underwear like Tom Cruise (and we don’t have the floors for it anyway).  I’m not about to play hooky around town like Ferris, either.  On the contrary, the worst thing I can do is be a Complete Lazy Ass and not do a damn thing at all, and order out every night.

Seriously, though…I do have plans.  I want to go out and get some exercise, whether it’s walking around the neighborhood or going to the YMCA a few times a week.  And after all that doughnut eating during our vacation, I definitely need to go on a diet, or at least a hell of a lot healthier.  There’s always laundry and housecleaning.  And writingwise, I’m very close to finishing the line edits for The Balance of Light (about 1/8 to go, I think), so that should keep me busy in the evenings.  Plus I’ve got my blogs to keep up.

It does feel a bit weird to be left to my own devices for nearly a full month, but I think I can keep myself from causing any mayhem. 🙂