Hey gang! I’ll be at BayCon this weekend in (hopefully) sunny San Mateo, just down the peninsula from me! If you happen to be there, come by and say hi! No readings this time out, but this time I’m trying something new — Moderating! [This will either be a fantastic experience or it will end in tears, depending on how out of control they get, heh.]
Here’s my panel schedule:
Friday (5/25) at 1:30pm, Room Connect 3: The Next Generations of Science Fiction and Fantasy in Music. Description: What music have we heard in the recent past — from the 90s to today — that infuses the ideas of science fiction and fantasy? I’ll be moderating this one, of course! This was inspired by a panel I’d gone to at Readercon some years ago that did the same thing, though it focused mostly on the 60s-70s prog, psych and folk rock scenes. If I can pull it off, we may actually play some tunes!
Saturday (5/26) at 1:00pm, Room Synergy 4: The Elder As Mentor in the Star Wars Universe. Description: While the Star Wars universe often has the young maverick saving the day, it’s often thanks to their elders who helped pave the way and made them who they are. I’m moderating this one as well! This was actually A’s idea but neither of us could resist it. This one should be a lot of fun.
Sunday (5/27) at 11:30am, Room Synergy 5: Can You Go Home Again? Description: A good many authors these days are returning to the worlds of their successes in years past. Some critics and readers sneer. But why shouldn’t writers expand a beloved concept, if they have something new to say about it? I won’t be moderating, and I believe I’m the youngest/newest writer on the panel, but I’ll of course comment on how much I loved working on the trilogy and how I’m itching to return to it.
Between the two new projects I’m working on, I’m listening to a lot of newer albums lately. This is quite the change from the older projects I’ve spent tons of time on (such as the trilogy) or ones where I need to focus on a specific time period (such as the 90s and Meet the Lidwells!). It’s part of returning back to deep immersion with the music.
Mind you, I do give a lot of my purchases a deep listen as it is, or else I wouldn’t be gushing over albums over at Walk in Silence like I have for the past few years. This is about really getting into the meat of the album, and I find I often do that best when I can assign a mnemonic to it. That way the album will stay with me that much longer. [This is precisely why albums like Beck’s Sea Change are forever connected not just to the trilogy, but to my writing sessions in the Belfry.]
I’m doing this again with a handful of new albums that have become soundtracks of a sort for the Apartment Complex story and In My Blue World:
Beach House, 7. Unlike their more Cocteau Twins-like previous albums, this one ramps up the noise a little bit and sounds more like Slowdive and a bit of My Bloody Valentine as well. The dreamy atmosphere works really well for the otherworldliness of IMBW.
The Naked and Famous, A Still Heart. I keep coming back to this one for the Apartment Complex. TNaF are a much louder band with walls of guitars and soaring melodies, but this ‘stripped’ album takes out the volume and leaves beautifully delicate reimaginings.
Lucy Dacus, Historian. “Addictions” is one of those tracks you hear on the radio and then get stuck in your head for the rest of the day. The music is laid back and unassuming, but the melodies go in really interesting places. This one’s been getting plays for both projects lately.
Editors, Violence. I think pretty much every project I’ve ever worked on since 2005 has had Editors playing in the background at some point. They’re just an amazing band with a unique and adventurous sound. This one often gets played when I need to write an exciting action sequence.
Pinkshinyultrablast, Miserable Miracles. I gushed over this band on the other blog last week, and I still love them to bits. Russian shoegaze is all I need to say, and it’s all kinds of fun. IMBW has been getting most plays of this one, not to mention the rest of their discography!
GoGo Penguin, A Humdrum Star. Same thing — a recent discovery and now I play all of their releases during sessions, mostly for the Apartment Complex. Intriguing jazz sounds that remind me to keep the setting just a little bit on the odd side.
This is the fun part of my writing sessions…I love listening to music while I write, so connecting to a new album while working on a new project makes the sessions — and the albums — that much better for me.
Lately there’s been a bit of a dust-up on Twitter (no big surprise) about whether or not books should have an ulterior motive. More to the point, there are a few complaints out there stating that there’s been an uptick of them, and they bemoan that they’d rather have stories that aren’t all messagey or ‘political’.
Well, recent politics (and politicians) aside, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that kind of thing actually happens with alarming regularity. During wartime, during peacetime, during revolution and during calm, these sorts of stories pop up all the time. Either these people are oversensitive to this kind of story, or the supposed ‘agenda’ is right out front and impossible to ignore or pass over. Sometimes these agendas are there to make you feel uncomfortable.
If anything, I’m sure I have agendas in my novels. The trick to writing them is not to make them overtly obvious or overbearing. Novels with Very Obvious Metaphors or Thinly Veiled Critiques are hard to accept for some readers; it’s better to work with nuance instead. The trilogy’s agenda was all about Doing the Right Thing for Everyone, Not Just Yourself. I even came out and said that numerous times. Meet the Lidwells‘ agenda (if there was one) could be Don’t Be an Asshole to Everyone.
I’m well aware of those who see any kind of inclusion as political. So what if it is, though? The agenda there is simple, then: I’m Here, So Deal With It. I’m talking about novels that contain a minority main character or someone with some kind of disability; I’m talking about stories featuring these characters, doing what characters are supposed to do in the context of the story, nothing more.
Agendas are part and parcel of who people are. They make for good characters, and they make for good stories. And sometimes they’re fun to write, especially when you need to use it for story conflict. In the trilogy, the conflicts between Denni and Saisshalé were always a blast to write, because they pushed the limits. I kept pushing their agendas until it finally got to the point where they both had to stop and say ‘okay, this is getting seriously fucked up, we need to stop this.’ That’s when they both realized that their universe was bigger than just the two of them.
So yes! Don’t be worried that your novel might have a political underpinning to it. Chances are good it’s supposed to be there, and that’s a good thing.
[NOTE: This is a slightly updated repost from the original Dreamwidth entry from Wednesday night.]
I’ve been thinking long and hard about my writing lately, especially in regards to what processes have been working and what have not, and how to minimize the latter.
One thing in particular that had been bothering me was the fact that I had two projects in a row — the Apartment Complex story and now Can’t Find My Way Home — stutter to a halt, and both for the same reason. And that reason being that it just didn’t feel right. I know, I know…that sounds a bit silly and I’m probably talking out of my ass, but at the same time, the last two projects — Meet the Lidwells and In My Blue World — did feel right to me. Instinctively it felt like I was doing the right things, going in the direction the story needed to go.
Now, I knew it wasn’t just because of the story I was writing. Both ideas have a created world that I could have a lot of fun with. And I’ve definitely had my moments of the Don’t Wanna’s and the Oh God This Sucks with every project I’ve ever worked on, good and bad. But there’s so much less drama with those two well-behaved kids. So I had to really think about it — WHY was I having drama with the AC and CFMWH?
And then it occurred to me: maybe I need a change of platform.
Yes, I know, on the face of it, that sounds like one of the worst and lamest excuses I could come up with, but hear me out.
As you all know, Bob, I’ve been writing the first rough drafts of the successful stories in short bouts on 750Words. And all the rough outtakes of the AC that were well-behaved came from there as well. They were working well for many reasons:
–I’m always writing at a specific time.
–With each session, I’m writing a complete or almost-complete scene arc, which also sets up the next scene arc that I’ll write during the next session.
–I’m focusing only on the scene at hand. The novel-as-whole is secondary here.
–I’m allowing minor editing as I go, when I know that I can write something better.
–Each scene or partial is on its own screen; I can only access the other scenes by backing out of the one I’m currently on.
–I need to hit at least 750 words before I can call the session done for the day.
–These sessions are often very productive, as well as fast. And quite enjoyable nearly every single time.
And then I realized: This is the exact same process I used when I wrote The Persistence of Memories, which I consider a personal benchmark. Slightly different platforms, but the process was the same. It was enjoyable and exhilarating to write because I’d laid all those ground rules and stuck to them.
So I thought: what if I set up another 750Words account? I’d follow the same leads as above with whatever second project I happen to have going. This can be my evening writing session. MS Word would only be used for localized save points, revision, rewriting, formatting, and other post-production work.
So that’s what I’ve done, starting it Wednesday night.
And I started it with another trial run of the Apartment Complex novel. Despite my frustration with it over the past few months, my brain returned to it at least once a day. I took that as a sign that I should definitely return to it as part of this newly-implemented process. No giant outline, but just enough pre-planning to know where I need to go for the next couple of scenes.
I know, I know, I’ve blogged about this before, but it’s always worth repeating, because we writers are often our own worst enemies.
Sometimes I get so into the groove of writing or revising one of my projects that I just keep going for weeks on end, and let other things fall by the wayside. Which is fine, especially if I really want to make a significant dent in my progress. Thing is, sometimes I do this for a little too long, and I’ll either burn out or I’ll lose track of other important things.
So this past Saturday, instead of doing any writing, we went on a short road trip down the coast to Half Moon Bay for brunch and a little bit of shopping, and followed it up with watching the first two Star Wars prequels. We hadn’t seen The Phantom Menace since it came out, and neither of us had seen Attack of the Clones. [Our post-movie thoughts: TPM had promise but suffered from horrifically bad dialogue and lifeless acting; AotC was miles better and actually quite enjoyable, if overlong and with a few questionable plot choices. We plan on watching Revenge of the Sith sometime this week. Noted, we’re watching these for a panel we’ve devised for BayCon in a few weeks!]
Taking a day off from writing is always a good choice, for multiple reasons. One, every now and again it feels good not to have to worry about hitting a self-imposed deadline or word count. I’m allowed a fun day off now and again, right? Two, this is a perfect time for me to switch from Writer/Editor Brain over to Reader Brain. Time to kick back, enjoy a story. Be moved or inspired by a novel or movie. Three, I get to be social with other people, including my wife. Four, it reminds me that even though I might find the writing process thrilling and immensely enjoyable, there are other things out there that are equally as enjoyable. Like going to the local zoo!
I think I’ve managed to get the the point in my life where I’m okay if I take a day off now and again. Writer that I am, I’ll most likely still think about whatever I’m working on, but in a passive way, making mental notes for later. It’ll still be there when I get back in a day or so.
I’ve been writing the first complete rough draft of In My Blue World in short daily bursts of around a thousand words on 750words.com over the last month and change, and I’m actually kind of impressed at how far I’ve gotten in such a short time. After writing various disconnected scenes earlier in the year, this is my first start-to-finish attempt. There’s still a lot more to go, new and old scenes inserted, as well as revision, but I’m quite happy with it so far. If I plan this out correctly, I might have a new book to push by the time Worldcon rolls around!
Meanwhile, here’s Take 2 of the opening of the story. Hope you enjoy it!
I’d been looking forward to this vacation for months, and now that it was here, it occurred to me that maybe I should have been better prepared for it. I had on the wrong pair of hiking boots and my feet were aching something fierce, and they we had a mile to go before we reached the cabin. I’d also made the mistake of taking the newer backpack, which ended up being slightly bigger than expected, and its corners were digging into my kidneys.
Not that I was going to let all that ruin their time at our grandmother’s cabin, of course. Once we got there, we could kick off their shoes, relax in one of the deep chairs on the open porch, and do absolutely nothing at all. After four months of dealing with online clients and impassive management, it was high time for me to forget about the goings-on in the world. Me and my sisters had planned this trip to the cabin since late last year, and now that time was here, and I wasn’t going to let anything ruin it.
The path loomed ahead of us, a slow but seemingly unending incline heading up the side of the mountain. To one side were the steeper foothills, and to the other was a gentle slope downwards to the large lake in the valley. Even though I should be watching my step and keeping an eye out for any unexpected animals popping out of the brush, I couldn’t help but glance leftwards to the lake. I’d been camping down there as well in the past, spending hours in the water, swimming with her family and friends. We’d be making multiple trips down there in the next few days.
Grandma’s cabin, on the other hand, was equally as fascinating. About halfway up the mountain, the path leveled off at a meadow, with a few wooden cabins lining the edge of it, just inside the tree line. There was always something mysterious up there. Grandma Patricia always kept weird things there, things from her old life as a hunter. She’d taught all three of us girls, showing us how to catch, clean and cook fish and fowl and other things that ran around these deep woods. We knew how to survive in the wilderness for the next few weeks.
That tear in the universe, though…that was definitely unexpected.
“Dianaaaaa…” Katie whined, dramatically dragging my name out. “Are we there yet?” She made a production out of slogging up the final hill towards the meadow, dragging her feet and hanging her head. She hung onto her boyfriend Greg as if he was the last shred of life force left in her. Greg said nothing, but I was sure his eyes were rolling right then.
“Almost,” I said.
“You are so lazy,” Allie laughed, hitching up her backpack and darting up the hill with a renewed burst of energy.
“Stay close!” I called out, but it was no use. When my youngest sister set her mind to it, there was nothing to hold her back. In the process I sped up my pace to catch up. Katie responded with another groan and trudged along. “Allie, how many times do I–”
“Oh, wow…” Allie had suddenly stopped short. “What the heck is that?”
My heart jumped, thinking she’d just found a dead animal, or worse, a sick animal, and sped up to join her. I sidled up next to her and stepped out just a tiny bit ahead, her hand out just in case. “What did you see?”
She pointed in a vague direction of the path ahead. “That! What is that?”
“Where? I don’t know where you’re–”
“That… shiny thing.”
I glanced up the path again, and sure enough, she could see something flashing. Something small but bright. A reflection of sunlight against something, perhaps? Even Katie and Greg had stopped to take a look at this point, and neither was quite sure what they were looking at.
“That’s too bright for a reflection,” Greg said. “Unless it’s a mirror.”
Katie shook her head. “That doesn’t look like a mirror. That–”
Her words were drowned out, as the air as torn in two.
The point of light sputtered and sparked to life, becoming as bright as the sun. I shielded my eyes and swore, blinking away tears and pulling my sisters back. The point of light began to grow; it expanded from a point to a line; a thick line of light, dripping with god knew what kind of plasma energy. And it wasn’t a smooth expansion, either. It was jagged, as if it was hacking away at the air and hitting resistance. Each time it ripped upwards, another growl of thunder filled the air. It expanded until it was human height, and stopped.
The silence was terrifying.
Then the girl stepped through the tear, screaming unrecognizable words in a strange accent. She held a glowing sword in her right hand and a thread of green light in her left palm.
“Ah!” the girl cried. “Krozarr!”
The wisp of light in her left hand burst into a bright green sphere, and she pushed against the tear. Pushed down on it with all her might. She growled more words that we couldn’t understand. The tear responded with just as much resistance, though it was no longer thunder… it sounded like heavy boulders sliding against each other.
Finally, with a final push, she closed the tear she’d just made and all was silent once more. The girl shook the globe of light out of her hand and it dissipated. The tip of her sword dropped to the ground. She stood there, panting from exhaustion.
She turned around, and saw all of us, watching her.
One of my favorite things so far in writing In My Blue World has been creating the rules of magic in this universe. It’s very similar to the process I used when I wrote the trilogy, and it asked the following questions:
What kind of magic do I want my characters to use?
Why would they use it?
What are the limits of its use?
Sounds simple, yes? But the trick here was to remember: every use of magic must have its reason, and it must have its balance. In the trilogy, every time Denni used some kind of psychic force, she had to do it for a reason (usually to protect others), and it had its balancing effect (Saisshalé would respond in kind). This was to show that there was always a price to pay for their actions.
For In My Blue World, I essentially follow the same rules: Zuzannah (aka Zuze) comes from a universe where magic is a natural occurrence and is used in everyday life. What kind of magic do I want her to use? She uses this magic energy equally as a creative and destructive force; one of her abilities is to make ‘a tear in the weave’ of the multiple universes so she can jump between them, but for every tear, she must also ‘reweave’ it. Why would she use it? She uses it to temporarily escape from a stronger foe. She also uses it to return and face him once more, when she is more prepared. What are the limits of its use for her? Weave-tearing is an extremely rare ability and uses up a hell of a lot of power in the process. She only uses it when absolutely necessary. The level and process of magic she’d used in her initial escape was so high and unfocused that it rendered her unconscious for two days.
Using these rules helps me focus on how the plot should unfold. When she’s in the reality of our other characters, her magic is still there but it works differently. When she returns to her own universe, her original powers return. The other characters are also given the same rules: they are introduced to this magic as well, but with their own costs specific to them.
This is why I say that this kind of worldbuilding is often my favorite part of writing a novel. It’s not just about coming up with neat ideas that I can play around with throughout the novel — though that is a major plus and a hell of a lot of fun — it’s about laying the groundwork for how everything works. It’s a balance in and of itself, and quite often it suggests more of the plot than you initially expect.
Speaking of calling it, I’m putting an end to my ongoing test of whether or not I can write a novel longhand. It just doesn’t seem to be working out the way I’d like. I’ve tried it with at least three projects over the past couple of years, and if I’ve learned anything, it’s this:
I write longhand much slower than I type.
I haven’t tested my typing speed, but I know it’s at least 70 wpm, if not faster. [This doesn’t include my frequent misspellings; apparently the word “available” is the hardest one for me to type fast. Thanks to my Day Job for pointing that out.] I’ve never written longhand fast, because if I went any quicker it would be illegible shorthand.
I judge the pace of my novels as I write them. When I get into a writing flow, I connect with the pace of the story. I connect with the fast action scenes and the deliberately slow dramatic scenes. I’ve written novels on the PC for almost twenty years now, so I’ve gotten used to this process. And because I write longhand so much slower, I have trouble adjusting to the flow of the story. I’ve attempted this multiple times with a handful of projects, and each time it’s lasted maybe a few months before I give up and restart the whole thing on MS Word.
I’ve been thinking maybe this might be one of the reasons why I’ve been having so much trouble with the Apartment Complex story, and why I’ve been having no trouble at all with In My Blue World. I started noticing it again when restarted Can’t Find My Way Home the other night. I was frustrated and straining trying to write it in my notebook, but as soon as I restarted it on Word, everything started flowing seamlessly.
So. Does this mean I’ll give up longhand? For novel projects, yes. I’m still using it for my personal journal and other mini-projects, but for now, my novel writing will remain on the PC or on the laptop.
I’ve been putting a lot more books in my Did Not Finish pile on GoodReads lately, and to be honest, I’m not feeling too worried about it. It’s not that the books are bad (though there have been a few), it’s more that they’re just not my thing.
I’ve found that for me, one of the most common reasons for not finishing a novel is that trying to get through it is a chore. They’re either far too verbose, far too infodumpy, or just in a really irritating style. There are also the Everything/Everyone Is Horrible novels that I really don’t have time for in my life right now.
When I was a teenager it used to irritate me that I would lose interest in a book. Granted, a good handful of the assigned reading when I was in high school was dry as a bone (George Eliot’s Silas Marner remains one of my least favorite books for its desert-level dryness); others were Written to Make a Point (like William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, which dropped metaphors on you like Acme™ anvils). Both are my least favorite styles of writing. It actually put me off reading for entertainment for quite some time.
Yes, this, coming from a writer, right? This is why I focused more on storytelling in different mediums, like comics, movies and television. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I figured it was time to actually read novels for entertainment again. Once I got back into the swing of it, my personal library expanded exponentially.
Thing is, I found that I was trying to read everything, whether it was enjoyable or not. There were very few books that I wrote off as DNF; I kept a hold of them for years, trying to read them again at a later time.
Nowadays I go by my book ownership rules:
If I just bought it new, it needs to be read within the year.
If I’ve bought it but haven’t started reading it in over a year, I push it to the top of my To Be Read queue. If I don’t think I’ll get to it anytime soon, however, it goes to the donation pile.
If I’ve owned it for ages and enjoyed it in the past but don’t think I’ll be reading it again, it goes in the donation pile.
If I’ve gotten a quarter of the way in and it’s just not doing anything for me, or if it’s more irritating than enjoyable, it’s not worth finishing. [Note: This is not to say I toss books at the slightest irritation. It takes a lot for me to give up on a book, so I give it a serious go before giving up.]
I donate the books to the Friends of the SF Public Library at their book store over in Fort Mason. I’m totally fine with not making any money back, because these end up getting sold at their store or at their Big Honkin’ Book Sale they have a few times a year. I might not have liked the book, but hey, someone else might!
I’ve found that sticking to these four rules works out really well, as it helps me get through my towering To Be Read pile quickly. Time’s too short to force myself through novels that are more of a chore than a joy. Plus it leaves me more time to check out new writers!
As mentioned on Wednesday, the Apartment Complex project (and by extension, the College Campus story, as they’re both in the same universe) have been put on the back burner. Not trunked, just put aside for now. I’ll get back to them sooner or later.
So, what’s the difference between trunking a project and putting it on hiatus? Well, for me, anyway, trunking is when I’ve all but made my peace with it and given up. It can be for any reason, really: loss of interest, failure to find any kind of strong plot, or growing dissatisfaction with the project overall. I’m okay with those outtakes doing little more than just taking up space on the bookshelf next to my desk. Every now and again I’ll think about them, but I won’t do any more writing on it.
But what about putting projects on the back burner? There’s many reasons for that as well. I don’t want to give up on them, not just yet. They still show promise, they just need a hell of a lot more work than I’ve given them. More often than not I put them on hiatus because I’m stuck. I did this with The Balance of Light, and I’ve done it with a few other projects as well. I need to distance myself from the project for a bit so I can get a clearer head. Maybe I’m diving far too deep into the project and I’ve lost direction.
Or worse, maybe it’s that I’ve got some really cool ideas for it, with a lot of nothing in between. That’s the main problem with the AC project.
How does one make this decision, whether to put it aside or to put it away?
I suppose it’s different for every writer. Personally, if every moment feels more like a chore and I’ve lost all excitement about it, chances are I should trunk it. I’ve trunked stories that at one time I really wanted to write, but the spark just isn’t there anymore.
On the other hand, if every moment feels like a chore but I still think the idea is worth working on, I’ll put it aside. I’ve found over the years that these projects fall into one of two columns: either A) I just don’t have the emotional and/or intellectual energy to dedicate to it, or B) The story is far from coherent in my head. The Balance of Light was in column A, while AC is in column B.
If I’m at either point, it’s best for me to back away and get my shit together.
Either way, it’s moved to the ‘Backburner’ subfolder on my PC. I’ll get back to it soon enough. Sometimes it’ll take a few months, sometimes it’ll take years.