Okay, now what?

Source: Beastars

I let myself have the rest of last week off to get used to the idea of being out of work (and to a larger extent, no longer tied to a company I’d been employed by since 2006), though I think it’s going to take a little more time than that for it to truly sink in. It’s been a very weird couple of weeks and the most I could do is just take each moment as it comes, with a calm and stable mind, and my eyes and thoughts already towards the future.

Right now I’m not even sure what my next writing projects will be, considering. I mean, I have a few possible ideas that I’ve been toying with, but this particular situation has given me a much larger playing field to work with. A much larger playing field. Some of these ideas seem a bit…small, in comparison. I’ve been given time to reach further. Go further. Be better. [Mind you, being successful, while up there on the list of things to achieve as a writer, it’s not the only thing on the list, and it’s certainly not on top. Being better, in my eyes, means being able to write stories that I’m proud of. Right now I feel I’m almost there, but not quite. There’s just a bit more to go.]

I don’t really know what I’m going to do next, other than do all I can to change this life and this writing career as much as I’d really like to.

Telling a visual story

Yesterday over at Walk in Silence I talked about using this free time I suddenly have to finally work on all those creative endeavors. You know, the “if I only had time to do (x)” things. Since that’s my music blog, I talked a bit out making more time for my guitar playing and getting better at it.

As for the writing side of things, I’ve been thinking a lot about artwork. I mean, a lot. Back in the pre-pandemic days when we went to the gym, I’d find myself listening to the same things over and over on my mp3 player, because I was working out specific scenes of my novels in my head. This is a super-old writing process that I used as a teenager, first starting out. It was how the Infamous War Novel was written.

One scene in particular that I’d work through during those gym sessions is the final scene/credits sequence of Diwa & Kaffi. The novel itself ends with the two taking off and flying towards home, with their two friends watching them, proud of what they’ve become. But there’s a bit more that follows, a purely visual segment, that’s not in the book. Set to The Sound of Arrows’ “Stay Free”, it starts with their liftoff and progresses through multiple shots of them feeling the pure joy and freedom of flying, interspersed with flashbacks and flashforwards of their lives at their apartment complex. There’s also a section of this where they fly alongside a train containing their tenants, returning back to the estate by land, showing that they are also bonded to their neighbors. [Picture credits flashing or rolling throughout, of course.]

Once I was free of the Day Job, I thought: you know, I have this film studies background that I’m not using…and I’ve been told by numerous people that I’m a very visual storyteller (“I can see this as a movie” is a common phrase — to which I secretly pump my fist, as that was my plan all along). And I also follow a lot of artists and animators on Twitter and elsewhere, so I can check out how they do their work. [Side note: Natalie Nourigat’s I Moved to Los Angeles to Work in Animation is a wonderful short graphic novel about exactly this, and I highly recommend it both for the information and the enjoyment.]

So. Why not learn how to storyboard?

I mean — why the hell not, right? I’m a visual storyteller, I have the general knowledge of film, the practice of screenwriting, and I understand how it all works as a whole. And thanks to the artists and animators I follow, I don’t feel too self-conscious that I’m not the best artist right now — it’s been repeated by many that it’s not the artistry that pushes storyboards but the way the format’s used. Knowledge of how to visualize a story well is more important than getting every sketch perfect.

I have no idea how this will pan out, but what the hell, right? It combines my love of writing and my love of drawing, and that’s certainly a start.

Let’s see what happens.

So now what?

Source: Beastars

I’m still trying to get used to the fact that my tenure at the Day Job is ending next Tuesday on the 31st of this month. I mean, I figured I’d be bailing sooner or later, but the fact that I’m leaving on a less than peaceful note is not something I’d planned. I’ve only done that once before, way back in 1994. Most every other job I left was out of mutual agreement or due to Life Changes.

But either way, I’ve been handed an opening. One that I’d kind of hoped would come sooner or later, and I’m not about to let it pass me by. I don’t know what my next Day Job will be, whether it be at another bank, or doing AP/AR work for a company, or even something unrelated to finance. My only hard and fast rule, as it’s always been, is that I need to be able to balance it with my writing career.

I know it’ll be tough, considering everything going on in the world at the moment, but I’m not going to let that stop me. It’s reminding me of things that I’d been thinking at the end of 2018, when I was posting about saying goodbye to things. Positive leave-taking of things I should have said goodbye to ages ago. I should have done this years ago, fought past my inclination for comfort and avoidance of conflict and moved forward, but now that it’s here I’m ready for it and I’m not afraid.

I can do this.

It's been a strange week…

…and to be honest, I’m kind of glad it’s nearly over. I’ve had to remain brave and determined the entire time, standing up for principles and common sense while putting myself through an extremely stressful and life-changing situation, all while my city goes from state of emergency to shelter-in-place because of COVID-19, and everyone starts panic buying all the TP.

I’m doing just fine, by the way. Tired and strangely calm, but otherwise I’m fine.

Mayor Breed put out the shelter-in-place announcement on Monday morning, effective at midnight that evening. My company, on the other hand, had demanded that I — working from home full time for the last seven years — had to come into the office as an ‘essential worker’. I argued with upper management about it. I stated my case clearly and calmly. I followed their suggestion of going to HR — who bounced the decision back down to my management. Long and stupid story short, we were at an impasse. I refused to go into the office when there was a possibility I could catch this virus, or worse, be a carrier and give it to someone else in the building. They refused to let me stay at home.

On Tuesday, I gave my two weeks’ notice.

I think I scared them by my actions. By Wednesday they changed their tune and started letting people stay home. I took a hit for the team, but I’m glad that I won that particular fight for them.

SO.

I’m looking at it this way: this break from this Day Job was bound to come sooner or later…I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t care much for it either. It was a steady (if small) paycheck, and I got along just fine with my coworkers, that’s all. But I wasn’t exactly happy, especially after they got rid of working remotely. I needed to break free of it. I’m seeing this as a perfect opportunity to focus more on a career that’s more my style and liking. It’s the break I’ve long wanted. It’s also the perfect time for me to make some long overdue changes in my life as well, now that I can do so.

And I’m still writing just as I always have, so there’s that.

Now if we can just get past this virus pandemic and the social fallout caused by it, then we’ll be groovy.

Writing in the time of viruses

Everything is still groovy here in the northwest corner of San Francisco. A and I have a well-stocked fridge (thanks to multiple weeks’ worth of shopping instead of panic buying), the only thing bothering our health at the moment is allergies from the airborne pollen, and we know well enough to was our hands thoroughly and frequently.

While I’m still concerned about having to continue going into the office at this time (as Sunday evening I have not heard any updates from the Day Job), I’m not overly worried. I sit somewhat away from a lot of other people — purely by chance — so my social distancing has been working out reasonably well so far. If they finally call it and we end up working remotely, I am totes fine with that.

I’m still working on my writing, regardless. I’m doing an edit of the Diwa & Kaffi synopsis that should be done by the end of next week, and I’m hoping to squeeze in some new words or at least new ideas for the possible new story ideas I have milling about in my head. My writing schedule is continuing as normal.

I do, however, remember the occasional winter evenings back in my Belfry days when I felt annoyed and frustrated when I was too sick to be productive. This was the end result of trying to hit a deadline, continue my streak of writing a thousand words every day, having a smoking habit, downing multiple Mountain Dews daily, and working extended hours during fourth quarter at a shipping warehouse. Guaranteed by late December my immune system was shot, my sciatica kicked in, my head was spinning, and my sinuses were pounding. The most I could do is play a game or two of FreeCell and call it done.

I know better now. I try to be creative about my writing time (read: I take it where and when I can get it, including slow moments at work), not give myself deadlines I can’t possibly keep, and I’m a hell of a lot healthier. I’m okay if the only writing I can manage is a paragraph or two in my personal journal. I’m annoyed, but I’m not hung up about it. I write when I can write.

Being healthy is just a tad bit more important, especially right now.

And yes, I time my hand washing via running through the twenty-seven seconds of The Beatles’ “Her Majesty.”

Until the End of the World

Source: Until the End of the World, directed by Wim Wenders

I remember going to see this movie back when it came out in 1991, when it played briefly at Coolidge Corner theater in Brookline, just a short-ish trip on the T from Charlesgate dorm near Kenmore Square. I remember it being a long-ish movie — the US version was apparently two and a half hours — but for some reason I also seem to remember somehow seeing the European cut, which is closer to three hours. It’s visually gorgeous, filmed in eleven different countries.

The director’s cut, however, is closer to five hours, and I sat through it all this past weekend during our flight back from New England. And I enjoyed every single minute.

It’s one of my all-time favorite movies, but I can totally understand why others might question my sanity, as it’s not a movie for everyone’s tastes. From the beginning it has a slow and deliberate pace — not a glacial one, which quite a few European art films tend to suffer from, but a novel one. I say ‘novel’ because that’s what it feels like: reading a novel, playing it out on the screen. It takes place in the final days of 1999 when a nuclear-powered satellite is spinning out of control and threatening to crash somewhere on the planet’s surface. But the story is not about the satellite; that’s just the framework of the more personal stories that unfold. There’s Clare, a young and emotionally lost French woman trying to find meaning and stability in her own life; there’s Sam, an American on the run from the government after stealing top secret hardware; there’s Eugene, Clare’s ex and a writer who still loves her; there’s Henry, Sam’s scientist father who focuses more on his projects than his son. And there are even more secondary and tertiary characters who also have their own storylines. It’s about dreams, love, loss, and hope.

It’s kind of hard to explain everything that goes on with this story, though not because it’s confusing or convoluted; it’s more that what we think is the story is only the surface of a much deeper and more important one that involves every single person on the screen. It goes in quite a few unexpected directions but does so deliberately and always for a reason.

I was first drawn to the movie due to its fantastic soundtrack featuring numerous well-known bands of the early 90s performing songs that, on the request of director Wim Wenders, were to evoke what each band would sound like at the other end of the decade. It features songs by Depeche Mode, U2, Can, Lou Reed, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, REM, Elvis Costello, and more. The soundtrack alone is worth picking up, even if you’re not interested in the film!

I mention the movie here on my writing blog, not just because I’d sat through the marathon five-hour director’s cut (which, to Wenders’ credit, manages not to drag at all), but because one of the reasons it’s my favorite movies is because it was an extremely important influence on my writing. From this movie I learned pacing; I learned that not every story needs to be going at a tangible constant speed, nor does it even have to hit high and low points at specific times within the story. This is a slow-burner that starts off calm and introduces new plot points at a leisurely pace, until we get to a point where we suddenly realize we’ve been going at a pretty damn good clip for the last hour or so. It’s a perfect example of how pacing can help tell the story by way of playing with our emotions and expectations.

Until the End of the World has just been released as a remastered Criterion dvd, and I highly suggest watching it if you have a full weekend afternoon.

Fly-by: going on vacation

Going to take a few weeks off from blogging as I’ll be busy doing IRL stuff, recharging my brain cells a bit and spending a few days in New England to see friends and family! [Yes, I know we’re heading there at the back end of winter, when it’s still freakin’ cold with the possibility of wonky weather, but that’s the way it goes. Oh well!]

We should hopefully be back to our normal schedule come March. See you then!

More on Tropes: The Personal Twist

Source: Carole & Tuesday

I’ve been thinking a bit more about using tropes in my writing. As I’ve posted previously, using well-worn tropes can be a good thing, especially when I’m starting out on a new project. I’ve tried building up new stories organically in the past, but to be honest it really is like trying to reinvent the wheel sometimes, and perhaps I don’t need to put myself through that much toil. I can just as easily build the foundation and framing of the story I want to write based on well-used and well-trusted ideas, then make it my own.

It took me some time to learn how to do it successfully when I was just starting out, though. A lot of my trunked stories were 100% pantsed and suffer from having little to no sense of that foundation; I just had a vague idea of where I wanted the story to go, but none about how I was going to get there. There’s a reason those are still trunked.

One way I learned was to watch anime. I’ve stated many times before that my obsession with the form is not on the otaku level but more on the creative. My favorite anime series and movies have always been the ones that took a well-used idea and gave it a unique and often non-Western spin. The ‘star-crossed lovers’ trope of Your Name inserts not just the Asian ‘red string of fate’ mythology but skews with the idea of time as well. The ‘army of misfits’ trope in Dragon Pilot is subverted by their flights being, well, dragons (which ready themselves for flight by literally swallowing their pilots). The ‘young adults finding their way in the world’ of Carole and Tuesday has the extra twist of taking place on a semi-terraformed present-day Mars, where all popular music is literally created via algorithms and little to no human input.

It’s this kind of unconventional twist that inspires and influences my own work. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but the process is always a lot of fun. I have different ways of going about it: often I’ll be writing a scene and get to the point where, if I was going to follow the tried and true plot trope, I’d have the character act a specific way. I’ve trained myself to always be conscious of when this happens, so that when I get to that point, I can make a conscious decision: do I want them to follow this path, or do I want them to do the unexpected instead, thus taking the story in a different direction? I do this all over In My Blue World, because my aim was to show that its main characters were all unconventional women that didn’t always do what people expected of them. Sometimes it got them in trouble, but more often than not their irreverence undermined the expectations of the antagonists.

Another way I play with this setup is to take a page from Studio Ghibli: the world of my story is pretty much the same as this world, only the rules are slightly different. The world of Diwa & Kaffi is the same as real life, just that there are sentient beings other than humans living in tight knit communities. This is more tied in with the world-building side of things, but it’s equally as important, especially when it’s an integral part of the story.

I’ve learned from experience that I don’t necessarily need to go above and beyond, creating extremely detailed twists and backgrounds (perhaps like I did with the Bridgetown Trilogy, though that was done purposely due to its ‘epic’ tone I was aiming for). Sometimes all you need is just that quirky little detail that will set things going off in an intriguing direction. And not only does the reader enjoy that, the writer often does too!

Busy Weeks and Long Weekends

Last week at the Day Job was very long, busy and headache-inducing, so I did not get a chance to update my blogs. On the plus side, I did spend a considerable amount of time in the evening finishing up the first draft of my synopsis for Diwa & Kaffi! Plus, it was a nice relaxing (and relatively clear!) long weekend here so I decided to just enjoy it while I had it. Got caught up with emails, slept late-ish, cleaned the house, and completed other errands. And we also walked quite a few miles in and around the neighborhood to get our exercise in!

Sometimes that’s the best thing to do for extended weekends. I know some writers will immediately think: Brilliant! Now I can spend hours on end working on my WIP! And if that’s your jam, that’s cool too. I used to be that writer back in my single days, staying up far too late working on stuff and goofing off online at my leisure. But now I find that taking the weekend to just enjoy it is a really neat idea as well. We’ll maybe hit the gym one morning (like we did today) and go out for lunch, then spend the rest of the day streaming tv shows or catching up with easy errands. Like catching up on my blogs!

The older I get, the more I appreciate taking weekends off from writing. Not because I Am An Old, but because I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I don’t have to work at top speed all the time. The weekend is here to recharge, so why not do exactly that? It gives me more energy, but it also lets me think about my current WIP at a slower speed. I don’t always have the time for that during the week, so I cherish the slower, calmer moments when and where I can.

Reading new books

Source: Makoto Shinkai, ‘The Garden of Words’

Please I beg of you if you want to be a published author read one effing book published in the last 5 years. Just start with one. I’m BEGGING. — Sarah Nicolas on Twitter

*

Last week a YA author posted the above tweet, but the reaction to it was quite unexpectedly divisive. While quite a few authors completely agreed with her, there were just as many who acted as if she’d took the lord’s name in vain or something similar.

To be honest, I totally get what she means by it, but it’s not something I can easily explain in just a few words. Personally, I’ll admit to reading a lot of books that have been published within the last five years, and hardly any that are older than that. It’s just my tastes, I guess? I did a ton of reading of the classics when I was younger; I was a middling Asimov fan and had a brief obsession with Vonnegut, but I kind of grew out of that in the mid-90s when I started reading more recent titles.

For me, it was never about trying to stay on top of whatever happened to be popular at the time. Even then I understood that it would no longer be hip by the time I got my own manuscript out there. It was more about checking out different voices and styles. Each writer has their own way of using and even subverting trusted ideas and tropes to make them unique to their own style. It’s informed not just by their imagination but often by their culture.

Sure, I’ll occasionally pick up an old book now and again. I still have to get through the last few books of Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars series, nearly all the CJ Cherryh Union-Alliance books, reread Mary Gentle’s Ash books, and all those Robotech tie-ins. I’ve been wanting to revisit the Transmetropolitan trades, and I’m about to get caught up with John Allison’s Giant Days trades as well. So many books, so little time!

But back to that tweet. I mean, I can understand how some might have been upset by it (though to the point of trolling harassment is just a titch overboard, mind you), but let’s be honest: there really is a lot more out there nowadays. A LOT more, thanks to indie and self-publishing, e-books, anthologies, Kickstarter-funded publications, and even concerted efforts by big name publishers to introduce new voices.

If you want to write similar to Tolkien or Asimov or even George RR Martin or Stephen King, by all means, go for it. If that’s the style you’re best at, that’s cool. But this tweet isn’t about forcing you out of that style — this is suggesting that perhaps you should check out more recent books written in a similar style. Perhaps you’ll see that the genre has evolved in ways you hadn’t expected, giving you an even wider playing field for your created universe.