Keeping Up

I’ve actually been pretty good with the 750 Words these days! Once again, it’s mainly because I’m using it for a specific single purpose instead of trying to write something new every day. [In this case, I’m low-key doing a bit of ongoing personal writing tied in with a not-quite-trunked, still-on-the-backburner project, but y’all probably know what it is anyway.] I’m lucking out because the writing I’m doing for it is super easy, and I can hit the numbers I want in about twenty minutes, leaving me with a perfect amount of time for the blogging and work on MU4.

Speaking of MU4, the day after I posted Monday’s entry here, I came to the conclusion that the only way I’d be able to break this low-stakes mindset is to do a complete one-eighty. My first thought was: you want tension? I’ll give you some f***ing tension. I realized I couldn’t just build up to it: I had to make it happen, and make it happen now. An ultimate oh shit moment. And I ran with it.

And it worked! This was exactly the push I needed to get this novel back on track, to give it the boost it so desperately needed. I already know I’m going to need to do some heavy revision of the previous six chapters at some future point to make it work, but that’s par for the course anyway. The important thing here is that I’m right where I need to be again. Now all I have to do is keep it going!


I’ll admit I’m having a bit of a problem with MU4 lately. I have some interesting ideas, but my brain seems to be stuck in low-stakes mode for some reason. I don’t blame anything or anyone other than myself for that; I’d put myself in that mode near the start of the pandemic to a) get through it and deal with the Former Day Job and post-FDJ personal stuff, and b) get into the mood that writing Diwa & Kaffi required. Thing is, I’ve been having trouble getting out of that mode ever since.

This is partly why I’m writing MU4, to be honest. If there was any universe that could get me back into the higher-stakes brainspace, it’s the Mendaihu Universe. It’s much easier said than done, however…I like what I have so far, but I REALLY need to start raising the volume, so to speak. I’ve written several scenes that I think are great, but I seem to be stopping short of Big Epic Action almost every single time.

So I think I really need to shake it up a bit. Whatever’s going on with both my new and old characters, I need to do more with them. They need to get in on the action, get stuck in oh shit situations, do things with consequences. Why am I avoiding writing that? Well, it could very well be that Certain Real Life Politics over the last five or so years took a lot out of me and I’m merely avoiding the emotional stress from it and elsewhere, but I can only avoid it for so long.

I need to connect and channel that tension again. Feed it into something creative. I’m good at that. I know I am. I just need to take that step and do it again.

Getting there one way or another

Every now and again I get to a chapter or a scene that is just not working. No matter what I do to it, no matter what I try, it just…fails. It’s frustrating, sure, but I’ve come to the realization that the true source of frustration lies not in the inability to fix what I have, but in the time wasted going trying to make it work in the first place. Thankfully I don’t let that eat at me too much.

I’m no perfectionist, but I am a writer who trusts their instincts. If this is a scene that just ain’t cutting it, I’ll give it the old college try for a day or so just to see if it’s salvageable. Sometimes it works — I’ll come up with a solution that wasn’t coming to me the day before, or I’ll allow myself some time to work through it in my head first. But more often than not, if it isn’t going to work after a few days, it’s not going to work, period. Cut the offending piece and pasted it in my Outtakes document. [And yes, all of my novels have at least one of those.]

I say this after about three days of trying to write the latest chapter of MU4 and not quite getting anywhere with it. There’s a mood I think works, but there’s no plot, just a few connecting scenes, and that makes for pretty boring prose. My mistake was that I went into the scene unsure where I wanted to go and hoping it would tell me. Sometimes that works, but often times it doesn’t. So what I need to do is cut the whole thing and start from scratch.

It’s frustrating, yes, but sometimes it’s got to be done to move forward.

Work/Life Balance, a year and change later

I had this past Sunday off from the Day Job and spent it frivolously by heading over to the Mission District to watch Fast X at the Alamo Drafthouse (it’s just about as over the top ridiculous fun as you’d expect). Considering my hours change from week to week, I’m always happy that I (usually) get at least one weekend day off like that.

But what about in general? Back in my days at the Former Day Job, I protected my work/life balance as much as I could. But what about the Present Day Job? Well, thanks to my ten-minute, eight-block commute and average of about 35 hours/five days a week, I’ve got a lot more time to work with than I did at the end of my tenure at the FDJ.

It’s been a year and change since I’ve started at the new place, and things are going pretty good. I’ve mentioned before that I take my sometimes wonky schedule day by day, working around it one way or another. When I have an 11:30am-8pm shift, I’ll get up early and write in the morning. When I have a 6am-2:30pm shift, I let myself have a bit of fun or do errands and get my writing done after dinner. And some days I’ll even write a few notes on scrap paper while at work! This is definitely a change from the FDJ when I had to fight for moments for writing when and wherever I could. [Remember those final days when I realized I could access 750Words on my work laptop and used that as much as I could?]

I’ll admit I have the occasional days when I’m a bit too lazy and/or distracted, but I’m no longer feeling too guilty about that. As long as I get something done by the end of the day, even if it’s just a few paragraphs, that’s all that matters.

AI and Writing

I’ll be honest up front with one thing: knowing me and my utter lack of patience, planning and focus in junior high and high school, I’d probably have used AI to write some if not all of my term papers if it had been around when I was a teenager. I’d have known enough to take the end result and revise it so it sounds more like me than a bot scraping info from the ‘net, but yeah, I would have been that student. I might have been one of the smart kids growing up, but the slow rigidity of school education often bored me.

These days however, the only reasons I’d use online AI bots is as a playground. Create silly mash-up picture memes. See what it can do sonically with music as inspiration for my own. Use it for character worldbuilding, just enough to keep it a private reference but not call it official. I’m not sure if I’d ever use it for writing, per se, because that would just be a) cheating, and b) taking all the fun out of what I love doing. I mean, come on: there’s nothing I love more about writing than working through the bits and bobs and swivels and parallels that go into writing a novel. That’s the best part! Why would I want to let a bot do that??

As is usual with a lot of my takes on various things, my feelings on AI these days is complex and often paradoxical. I love it and hate it. I’m fascinated and repulsed by it. I hope that it isn’t completely eradicated but I also hope that we find ways to tame it. I hope that it doesn’t die out as a fad but I’m pretty sure that, like VR in the early 90s, companies will try to monetize it and it won’t age well in a few years. I hope we don’t get a lot of terrible movies about AI (guaranteed to be about either hackers saving the day or bots taking over the world, as they often are), but I do hope screenwriters come up with clever ways to integrate the AI idea into their stories.

I do hope that the fad of creating full-on novels via AI will go away and stay away, however. I do believe that one won’t last long as most professionals are already calling ‘authors’ out on it. [And I do put that in quotes because come on: are you really a novelist if all you do is type out a few prompts and let a computer do the rest?] We’re near the beginning of this particular wave, so it’ll probably take a little longer for it to fade away, but I just don’t see it becoming anything major once that wave crests and starts to retreat.

Real life inspiration

There’s a little bit of real life inspiration in pretty much everything I write, and I’m sure that’s true for nearly every writer. Every story I’ve written does have at least one moment, scene or setting based on reality.

I wrote the Bridgetown Trilogy when I was working at the Yankee Candle warehouse, and while there aren’t specifically any scenes that take place in such a location, it did inspire a few ideas. For instance, the brief mention of Hallera, a planet where people live within instead of on its surface, comes from when I worked second shift and would look out from the dock bays into the deserted semi-darkness of the rear lot at 11:30 at night. There’s also a newer character in MU4 whose day job is working behind the scenes at the Bridgetown Nullport. Several names in the trilogy are Tuckerized from former coworkers in one way or another.

It also explains why the trilogy also had a lot of characters whose day jobs weren’t high-status and they specifically enjoyed Life Outside of Work. Those who were high-status were there for a reason, and their jobs tied in with the story in one way or another. Call me blue collar if you will, but those office job characters never really sounded like much fun to write to me. Even Diana Meeks in In My Blue World, who crunched numbers for a living, didn’t necessarily like her job and it’s barely mentioned.

Being that I live on the much quieter northwest side of San Francisco and currently work at a supermarket, I’m sure that the world of retail might make its eventual appearance somewhere in one of my projects, whether it’s MU4 or something else. One might see retail as drone-like as office work — you’re just another easily replaceable number, apparently — but there’s also a much closer connection to the Outside World that office work doesn’t always provide. Interesting and unique customers and locals become inspirations for characters and background crowds the more you interact with them. Vendors and delivery drivers become secondary characters with unsung but important roles that could help you out of a tricky plot twist. Coworkers once again get Tuckerized as street names and, if they’re interested enough (like many of my YC coworkers were), they’ll ask how the story is coming along.

There’s something about being a little closer to a community at this level that helps me feel more connected to the characters I create. There’s a shine to them that pulls me closer, wanting to know more about their personal lives and how they interact and interconnect with others. It might not be as glamorous or as high-paying as some of my previous positions, but I’ve become rich in other ways whenever I embrace that kind of connection, and that makes all the difference to me.

Balance…and Barrier

So, you ask. We’ve shown that the Shenaihu are not the antagonists of the Mendaihu in this universe. And yet…who is?

That’s a very good question indeed, because it took me a long time to figure that out myself. In the Bridgetown Trilogy we learn that the two do not necessarily have a protagonist/antagonist relationship, but one of balance. One exists to balance out the other in some shape or form. Both sides had a reason for doing what they do, whether that action is noble or misguided. But the fact remains that there is balance between the two. It is nuanced and often contradictory, but it’s there and that’s how life is. I thought about this early on when writing A Division of Souls as an extension of the Golden Rule: similarity and difference working together peacefully.

This was the question I’d been asking myself: who wants to upset that balance? Whoever that happens to be in MU4 is the real antagonist. The person or group — or even a belief — must have a reason to ensure that the true balance between the Mendaihu and the Shenaihu cannot hold. Which brings up the next question: why would they want to do that?

It occurred to me recently that the answer to that question will not be found in a goal-oriented way. Maybe they are doing this to gain power, but that’s only one of the end results and not necessarily a goal. I started thinking about how in this current political climate, there are those who see progressive movement as a positive evolution, and there are those who see it as a perversion of stasis.

Thus the drive of the antagonist of MU4 (and perhaps whatever comes after it) could be precisely that: a person or a group — or belief — that sees only the perversion and fights to eradicate it. [Which of course begs further thoughts about the balance between those two. But that’s a bit further into this created future.] They want to create barriers that keep this evolution from taking place at any cost.

So far I have two concrete things for this antagonist: a name for the group, and their sigil. And a pretty good idea of how far they’re willing to take it.

A different view of Bridgetown

It occurs to me that in writing MU4, this is the first novel in this universe that I’m actually writing while living in a large city, rather than in a small town somewhere in New England. [Not that San Francisco is a large city geography-wise, as it’s only 7 x 7 miles, but it is about 815k residents.] When I was writing the original Bridgetown Trilogy, I envisioned the Bridgetown Sprawl very much like a portion of Los Angeles, which I’d never visited let alone seen or researched to any extent. It was just a personal vision of a large city.

Years later, however, I’ve made multiple trips down to LA and lived in the Bay Area for several years, and also visited many other large cities and metropolises. Has this personal vision changed since then? Well, I don’t think so, at least not by much. I kind of understand the idea of distance better, for one. And thanks to my years living in the Boston area, I understand how different neighborhoods look different depending on their own locations, altitudes and so on. For example, I took that into account when I pictured Branden Hill being slightly higher in elevation than Main Street sector, but also less condensed, a mixture of residences and school campuses.

I’m kind of doing the opposite with these first few opening chapters of MU4, which take place in the Wilderlands area just west of Bridgetown. I’m using memories of living back in New England, but I’m also picturing the unincorporated areas and satellite towns here in northern California. A small city like Petaluma, or a cozy small town like Half Moon Bay. It feels kind of strange writing this sort of thing, as I really don’t think I’d have written it if we were living back on the east coast. I feel like I’m doing the exact opposite of what I’d done with the trilogy: writing a personal vision of woodlands and small towns.

Not to fear, though…Bridgetown is definitely going to be playing a big part in this novel as well. I am curious, however, if this vision of city sprawl will be different from before.

New Settings in the Mendaihu Universe

One thing I’ve been looking forward to in writing MU4 is that many scenes take place in locations that weren’t in the original trilogy. For instance, three of the first four chapters I’ve written so far take place outside the Bridgetown Sprawl, specifically in and around a small outpost town west of the city. It has specific ties to the trilogy, but as of now those ties aren’t the main focus.

It’s been fun and refreshing so far to write these characters in this new location. I’d been wanting to write a MU story set in the Wilderlands for ages! While this doesn’t solely take place here, a good portion of it will. This of course means giving the location a distinct layout, perhaps a map or two that I can use for reference, just as I did with Bridgetown. It’ll also have its own set of rules that I will need to follow. This is a special place in the mythology, so what happens here will affect everything that happens after.

Creating the setting has always been one of my favorite parts of writing novels, to tell the truth. Such as the city shared in two different universes/timelines for In My Blue World. The bayside cities and suburbs of Diwa & Kaffi. Even the small New England town of Meet the Lidwells. I love creating layers of this kind of background: its geography, its size and shape, its population. Little things that might not be completely important to the story as a whole, but certainly makes it more real.

Twenty Years On: Such Great Heights

I’m planning on doing a “Twenty Years On” of 2003 soon over at Walk in Silence as it dawned on me that I haven’t done one yet, and I got to thinking about how that time between 2003 and 2005 had become somewhat of a transitional year for me, creatively and personally.

I’d been working at Yankee Candle since late 2000 and had The Best Day Job Schedule Ever since early 2001. The Persistence of Memories was a few chapters in by early 2003, and by the year’s end I’d be starting in on The Balance of Light. I was about to buy myself a brand new PC with a lot more memory and power that would not only help my writing but take the next step in mixtape making, burning cds. I was listening to a lot of great music, even playing it with my friend Bruce. My creative output was at the highest peak to date. I was out of debt for the most part and paying only the student loan and car insurance at this point. I hadn’t been in a relationship in years, and I was okay with that. I had a strong circle of friends that were just a drive away now.

Life was pretty good at the time. Not perfect, but a damn sight better than ten years previous.

This is the era that I’m trying to emulate these days. Not ‘copy’ mind you, because I’m really not one of those people to relive the past to make up for present unhappiness. Not anymore, anyway. This is about emulating that same mental and emotional balance that had become my foundation. And I’ve been given a chance to make it happen again.

I think it helps that I’m no longer at a Day Job that so often threatened to disrupt that balance, now at one where I’m consistently happy and connected and not just another number. But you work in retail now!, I hear you say. Isn’t that more stressful than crunching numbers? Far from it. For me it’s a lot less stressful than banking.

But I digress. I’m in a good place in my life again, the road is clear, and I’m able to reach those same great heights again. And I’m going to make it last for as long as I can.