Coming back to the grind and other notes

your name comet taki
One of many spectacular shots from your name.

It’s Sunday mid-morning as I write this and both A. and I have been up for a few hours now.  I think we’ve both somewhat adjusted to Pacific Time again, having spent the last few days in a jet lag haze.  We’re both going over our work inboxes to clean them up at the moment, and I’m streaming some new music releases over the last few days.  [Best find so far: Moscow-based Life on Venus with their album Encounters, which I would describe as Slowdive if they had MBV’s volume.  So yeah, right in my wheelhouse there.]

Our two-week vacation in London was quite enjoyable if a little exhausting — thanks to my phone’s pedometer app, I figured out we walked just a little over eighty miles.  Lots of places seen, friends seen, cats petted, and lagers or tea ordered.  And somehow within all of that, I was also able to work a little on some of the index card notes for Secret Next Project!

And if you’re wondering why I chose the above gif from the anime your name., it’s because I watched it on the plane twice (once each way).  It’s become one of my favorite movies on many levels.  This makes three times I’ve watched it — so far — and I’m sure it’ll be one that will get even more views in the future.  And yes, I’ve already decided I’ll be writing a blog post about it here soon enough, as I find it an excellent example of detailed, layered storytelling and how to successfully unfold each subplot and hint of characterization so it all fits together perfectly.

Speaking of writing, I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things as soon as possible.  I’m still feeling exhausted, but only physically, so I think I should be able to get back on the horse with little issue.  I’m particularly excited that I’m about to start the last act of Meet the Lidwells (and working on the cover!), which means I can start up the revision quite soon!  I’m also hoping to get started on further work with Secret Next Project as well.

As for non-writing creative stuff, I finally got the drawing models that I ordered online a short time ago (half off, so basically two-for-one!) that are made by Bandai.  They’re small but they’re detailed and pretty versatile, so I think I’ll be able to use these for future drawings.  Check ’em out:

Taki Mitsuha
I’ve named them Taki and Mitsuha, of course.

They come with some nifty accessories like different gesturing hands, katanas and handguns (because why the hell not), cell phones and tablets, and so on.  The directions are entirely in Japanese of course, but they’re super easy to use anyway.  I’m sure I’ll get more work out of these than out of Wilhelmina, the simple articulated model I got from Ikea for like six dollars. 🙂

So yes…we’re back from vacation, autumn is nearly among us, and I’m eager to get back to Doing All the Creative Things.  Hell, I may even record a few more Drunken Owl demos if time permits!

Now, if I can just shake the remnants of this jet lag…

 

Fan Service

cat fan
No, not that kind either.

What do we owe our fans, as creators?

In a perfect world, writers, artists and musicians would be thrilled to be able to put their creation out there into the world, and have a positive (or at least constructive) response.  It’s not a perfect world, so we’re reasonably okay with whatever we get, be it a bunch of lukewarm responses, very small but amazingly positive responses, or, if we’re really lucky, a snowball effect of growing positive responses.  So we at least owe them something they’ll enjoy.

Do we owe our fans perfection?  Well, that depends on who’s defining ‘perfection’ here.  In normal situations, the writer defines it as ‘the best damn version of my creation that I can give to you, to the best of my ability.’  In this case, yes: we owe our fans our best work.  Anything less than that, and we’re phoning it in.  And fans can see phoning it in a lot more clearly than we as creators can.  You don’t want to cut corners, say ‘fuck it, it’s done’ or ‘…oh HEY LOOK OVER THERE’ [whoosh of handwavium].  And if our creation is in an extended universe, the last things we want to do is kludge it with a bit of poorly applied spackle or reckless retconning, or worse, not even bother with the continuity.

However, we don’t owe our fans what they would consider a Perfect Story.

We do not owe them their perceived headcanon.  Yes, our fans have invested time and care in our creations, and that’s really cool!  But they’re not the ones driving this bus.  The creator is the one dedicating a hell of a lot of personal and creative time planning how each intricate bit of action is going to unfold.  If the creator decides to do or not do something in the story, I can pretty much guarantee that 99% of the time, the creators have a reason for it.  We especially don’t owe them an explanation when we go against their perceived headcanon.

*

So why do I bring this up?  Well, part of it is due to Sunday’s reaction to the unveiling of the thirteenth Doctor Who, Jodie Whittaker — the first female to play the role.  It’s an awesome decision and for the most part everyone is thrilled by it.  It’s the usual small-yet-vocal male contingent that are having issues with it.  How dare they mess with an always-male institution?, they cry.

But it’s also partly due to frequent conversations I see between webcomic artists (frequently female) and their fans, where the reader (frequently male) has ragequit the series or released a Twitter tirade — or worse, harassed the creator through the comments sections of their work — due to their headcanon not actually being canon.  And I’ve also seen it in a lot of anime and manga fandoms; for example, the ending of the Naruto manga series (and in effect its anime) was faced with a bizarrely antagonistic American backlash due to certain characters ending up romantically linked and others not linked.  It was weird, a bit unsettling, and completely uncalled for.

I admit I haven’t had this kind of response to my books as of yet.  That’s partly due to my relative obscurity at this point in my career, but I would not be surprised if it was because I was a male writer, either.  That said, though, I still think about it.  I write knowing that I’m probably going to piss someone off for one reason or another.  I won’t let that stop me writing what I want to write, though.  I can deal with that if need be.  But it still baffles the hell out of me.  It’s fandom expanded to bizarre extremes.  It’s an extreme emotional reaction to something harmless and fictitious.  It’s reactions unchecked.

I don’t owe anything to fans with that kind of reaction.

I just owe them a damn good story that I hope they’ll enjoy reading.  That’s all.

 

Frustrated

dr tennant annoyed

Feeling frustrated by my less than stellar output lately.  It’s the same damn thing, too…distraction and procrastination.  A tiny bit of it is a not-high-but-consistent volume of work for the Day Job, which I can deal with.  What’s annoying me is that I’ll have few spare moments to breathe and realign myself, and waste those moments my fucking around online.

Even more frustrating is that I’m even doing that off the Day Job clock.  Time for my nightly writing session!  Woohoo!  Let’s go check Twitter first.

NO.  NO NO NO NO.  STOP THAT, DAMMIT.

I swear, if this keeps up I’m going to have to enforce another internet hiatus.  Mind you, I’ll sort of be having one in a few weeks anyway, while we’re on vacation.  It’ll be mostly fly-by blog entries and Instagram posts.  Writing will most likely be a bit of longhand work on the Secret New Project, as I don’t plan on bringing a laptop.  Hopefully I’ll get all this frustration out of my system and start anew upon return.

So!  Let’s just get this all behind us and soldier on, shall we?

On Being a Writer: Document Retention

cat copier
Thats…not how it works, kitty.

I’ve been meaning to scan my longhand writing for quite some time.  For one reason or another, however, I’ve barely gotten around to it.  The Great Trilogy Revision Project took up a hell of a lot of my time, enough where I couldn’t squeeze any of that in.  Now that my work volume isn’t nearly as large as it once was, I believe I should be able to squeeze a little bit in now and again.

I used to be a pack rat with my writing, to the point where I had multiple copies of the same printed documents.  I also had a lot of spiral notebooks that only contained maybe a few dozen pages’ worth of work.  One of my first projects when we moved out here to San Francisco in late 2005 — mainly to keep myself busy while I waited for job openings — was to go through these countless printouts and shred what wasn’t needed.  I had two large storage tubs, a few milk crates and two wooden boxes full of stuff when I started.  As of today, I have everything in manila folders on two shelves of the bookshelf next to my desk, plus a few straggler folders elsewhere.

Over the years I’ve been meaning to create pdfs or something similar so I at least have a digital image of my work.  The most obvious reasons are the security and the ease of access: I save all my writing-related things on a cloud already, so this would put everything in one place for reference, and so I wouldn’t have to worry about losing it.  And if the apartment went up in smoke, the only thing I’d have to grab is my external drives where my music collection is!

I’ve attempted it a few times in the past, of course.  The only failure those times was due to a low-end scanning device that took one look at the amount I wanted to scan, LOL’d at me, and decided not to work anymore.  I now have a much higher-grade printer/scanner/copier — not to mention a lot more time to work with — so I have no excuse to put it off any longer.

So is any of this writing worth the work?  On a personal note, sure.  I have mostly fond memories of writing most of this stuff, even if I did end up trunking a high percentage of it.  It’s part of what made me the writer I am now.  You can definitely see the evolution of my writing style, the themes I often revisit, the imagery I like to use to tell my stories.  My own writing also shows where my mind and emotions were at the time, and my attempts to make sense of them.  I’ve even come back to a few of these trunked works to steal a scene or two for one of my successful books and stories.

Is any of it worth saving on a ‘donate my papers to a public/college library’ level?  Maybe not, but it’s worth saving for my own reasons.  It’s not just my stories, it’s the story of me as well.

Out on the fringe

abitw

I still think about that bit of graffiti we used to see in the back parking lot down in Northampton in the 80s, spray-painted impossibly high up on a brick wall and perfectly visible from Main Street if you looked directly down Cracker Barrel Alley, just around the corner from Main Street Music.   It was just one word, deliberately spelled:  ANARCY.

For some people, it was pure collegiate thinking so typical of the Pioneer Valley — next-level meta tagging against The Man as well as against the Rebellion.  For others it was simply a bit of clever smartassery.  For me it was a bit of both.  I liked the idea that not only were they rebelling against the mainstream, they were also rebelling against the ‘alternative’ mainstream, so to speak.  It made me think about what it means to be a nonconformist:  there’s more to it than just being the opposite of whatever the prevailing crowd is doing, even if that particular crowd is full of alternative-minded people.  I also loved that it made you look twice and say “Heyyy, wait a minute…”

I’ll be honest, I wish I’d taken a picture of it at the time, because it’s one of my fondest memories of the 80s.

Why this ongoing fascination with nonconformity lately, you ask?  Good question, and I think I have more than a single answer for it.

First, it’s a part of my revisiting some of my old ideas that worked out really well that I’d put aside for a while, for one reason or another.  It’s not just reminiscing about my teen years of listening to college radio and wearing weird tee shirts and ugly duster jackets and being a weirdo.  I’m not trying to recapture that.  It’s me thinking about why I was like that, how I felt when I gave myself that sense of emotional, intellectual and social freedom.  Thinking about it thirty years on, it’s less about trying to recreate that mood — an error I made countless times over the years — and more about following up on the philosophy behind it all.  Maybe there’s some truth to what I was thinking back then, that I can finally act upon, now that I have the knowledge and experience and a different setting.

Second, it’s part of coming to terms with why I didn’t completely follow up with it all.  I had reasons for holding back how far I could go with it.  It clashed with my instinct for wanting to please others before myself (which would get the best of me more often than I care to admit).  I didn’t necessarily want to make waves within my own family, not when I really had no reason to in the first place.  And it’s kind of hard to rebel against a mainstream when the social cliques of a small New England town in the 80s couldn’t be bothered either way.  They just call you a weirdo, make fun of you for a few moments,  and leave you alone.  In the end, sometimes you just wanted to be a normal kid and leave it at that.

Third, it’s part of figuring out who I am now, within the context of the society we live in at this time.  I’m now seeing a lot of parallels between my past and present, what with all the talk about a popular idiot I can’t stand, who delights in ruining the days of others because it makes him feel better about himself, pretending that he’s the alpha.  There’s also the parallel of the incurious, unquestioning followers of said alpha, who’ll just join in on the fun of punching down.  My instinctive emotional reaction wants to take over, now as then, only this time take it to the white noise of social media, and I would not be alone in taking that route.  But I no longer want to take that route.  As I keep saying — I’d only be adding to the noise that’s already there.  [I’m not dismissing this soapboxing as a valid step here…I’m just saying it’s something I no longer want to do.]  I could hide behind my notebooks (or go online) and bleed out my emotions just like I did thirty years ago, but I no longer want to do that.  It’s therapy, but it’s not entirely productive for me.

So where am I now?  Where I am is relearning my intellectual instincts. I’ve had those in the past, I just didn’t always follow them, often to my own annoyance or misery.  I’ve cleared the road of as many distractions and pathetic reasonings as I could, and the path is a hell of a lot clearer than it was in the past.  Owning up to who I am and what I want to be, and doing my best to stick to it.  And most importantly, any response I have to events and situations has become thought-out and processed instead of reactionary.

And how does this tie in with my writing, you ask?  Another good question. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately as well.  As I’ve said, it’s one of the main reasons I chose to self-publish; a lot of my stories are interstitial, meaning that they don’t quite fit perfectly into the expectations of more mainstream stories.  I don’t mind that I don’t quite fit in; in fact, just like my personal life, I embrace that.  The few times I have tried writing mainstream, it was disastrous.  I’m a fringe writer.  Not necessarily writing about the fringes, but being a writer whose style doesn’t quite fit in to the mold of mainstream publishing.

It wasn’t a path I chose lightly, but it was the one that was available to me, and the one that made the most sense to me.  It’s not exactly a harder road to take, but it’s a lot of work and I have to be up for it.  There’s a lot to learn and remember.  I’m still learning to this day.  It’s a strange balance of figuring out how the mainstream pros do it and implementing that into your own production.  It’s okay to imitate the cool kids if it gets you were you need to be, you just don’t have to be one of the cool kids in the process.

A bit of anarcy never hurt anyone, when used correctly.

Lazy

sleepy cat

It wasn’t as if I’d had an energy-draining day at the Day Job on Friday.  In fact, it was smooth sailing for most of the afternoon.  I kept myself busy by catching up on personal emails and listening to some new release tunage.  After work we went for a walk to the Legion of Honor Museum up on the hill (it’s just a little over a mile from our house by foot, uphill 98% of the way) for a sneak preview of their Degas, Impressionism and the Paris Millenery Trade exhibit.  A bit tired from the walk but otherwise just fine.

Did I get any writing work done, though?  Not a word.

Nor did I get any work done Saturday, when we went to see a movie at the Opera Plaza (the documentary Letters from Baghdad) and afterwards stopped by Green Apple to buy a few books I’d been looking for.  I did turn on the PC to update a few drivers and software, but spent the rest of the day catching up on webcomics that I’d been backed up on.  [I’m a big fan of webcomics for multiple reasons and will most likely have a future post on them at some point!]

Sunday was shopping day, so hopefully some time tonight I’ll be able to squeeze in some Lidwells work.  If I’m not distracted by other things!  Heh.

It’s not all that often that I’ll take a day or two off without feeling some sort of guilt.  I’m at that point in my writing career where I’m once again comfortable with my processes, that I don’t feel the need to rush to get things done.  [I’ll still kick myself for procrastinating, but that’s more about getting my daily processes started in the first place.]  I can afford a few days off where I’m living a normal life, watching TV and going out into the world and whatnot.

It’s a struggle of many writers, considering many of them are like me, juggling their writing career with their Day Job.  You can’t really decide ‘I’m gonna play hooky from my Day Job, I deserve to do it now and again’, at least not without consequences and/or lost pay.  On the same token, you don’t want to do that with your writing either, because a) that’s admitting your writing is less important (which you do NOT want to admit), and b) that’s one less day you’re moving forward, one more day your story is just sitting there, doing nothing.  It’s also why, when writers do take a day off from writing AND their Day Job, it’s usually for vacation purposes and purposely doing nothing, and STILL feel guilty about it.

Still, it’s a struggle I’ve gotten under control.  I’ve been hitting over 2000 words daily, between blog posts, personal journalling and occasional poetry writing, the 750 practice words on Secret Next Project, and Lidwells.  My deadline stress is light.  My near-future plans are clear.  The docket is a hell of a lot clearer than it was just a few years earlier.  I can afford to take a writing day off…especially if that day is spent reading and watching other people’s creations with an eye on what their own processes were!  [See what I mean about Writer Brain never being completely turned off?]

I can afford to be lazy every now and again, and not feel the least bit guilty.  I just need to remember to enjoy it!

A product of my generation

1984
courtesy of 1984, Michael Radford 1984 version

Somehow I found myself listening to 1984 the last few days.  It may have been sparked by hearing my favorite song by The Fixx, “Deeper and Deeper” (the end credits song to the movie Streets of Fire from that year) on an 80s Sirius XM channel.  This in turn influenced yesterday’s Walk in Silence, with the various songs that I was listening to at the time.  And as is my wont, I’ve gone down the rabbit hole and am listening to various songs and albums from oh so long ago.

I was thirteen at the time, seeing the back end of junior high and entering high school as a freshman, hoping that life would be a bit more exciting and less drama-filled.  [Seriously, what is it about middle school and everything in life sucking?]  I’d just started focusing seriously on writing, to the point where I probably spent more time on the Infamous War Novel project than I did on my homework.  It just seemed a hell of a lot more exciting to me.

Thinking about it now, I’m fascinated by the parallels between then and now.  A resurgence of ultra-conservatism, American exceptionalism, international terrorism, sexism, ism ism ism.  I’m even a bit weirded out that we could fit Russia into this equation again.

With the current administration doing whatever it thinks it’s doing, I’ve been sort of preparing myself mentally to get through it.  I could easily fall down the other rabbit hole — the one where I fall prey to the doom and gloom and feel like shit until it’s over and done with — or I can learn from the past and know that there will indeed be a light at the end of this tunnel soon enough.  [Granted, this tunnel is a detour that we really truly did NOT need to take and it’s a big pain in the ass for all involved.]

Personal point being — to get through the troubles and frustrations of today, I’m thankful to have a decent memory of the past.  It helps me to stay one step ahead of the beast.

In the context of writing: this is part of why world-building is so important to me, and it’s also why I’ve been working on future projects with the 750 over the last few years.  When I was first starting out way back in the 80s, figuring out how it all works, I just sort of made up the scenes as I went along, with a somewhat vague overall plot line being nudged ever so slowly forward.  The end result was patchy and inconsistent at best.  Writing these practice words for a project I haven’t even started yet gives me just enough of a world and a plot to base it all in.  It helps me to stay one step ahead of that beast.

It’s tricky, and you really need to know yourself and your own thought processes, but it’s worth it in the end.  It’ll keep you sane, that’s for sure.

 

 

 

 

“I am sick when I do look on thee.”

Hiddleston Henry V a
Tom Hiddleston as Henry V

I’ve said it before: I really don’t want to wax politic here, I really don’t.  This blog is about writing.  It’s about my love of writing, the things I’ve learned that I want to pass on.  It’s a part of my lifelong career.  I don’t want to wax politic because a) that’s not what this blog is about, b) I don’t want to bore you/chase you away, and c) I try to avoid said waxing as much as possible these days for health reasons.

So I’m just going to say this about Shakespeare in the Park’s recent interpretation of Julius Caesar:  to be honest, when Shakespeare is reworked and set in a more current context, quite often it’s bloody fantastic.  We saw a recent version of Hamlet that took place during an extremely paranoid Cold War that worked perfectly.  West Side Story (aka Romeo and Juliet, of course) is one of the best musicals ever made.  The Globe Theatre’s version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in present time that we saw last year was absolutely hilarious.  So a version of Julius Caesar in which JC is a very clear interpretation of Donald Trump?  Totally makes sense to me.  [And yes, it is true that the same troupe did a version some time ago using Obama, to little or no controversy.]

The issue here is not using a sitting President (a term I presently use with a bitter taste in my mouth, natch) in a play in which a major plot point is that he snuffs it.  I mean, come on — remember Primary Colors (the book and the movie), which was supposed to make Bill Clinton look like a moron?  LOLs for days from the right wing, as I recall.  I saw the movie myself — it was pretty bad quality, but its ham-fisted attempts at cleverness didn’t give me the vapors.

The issue here, at least for me, is the willingness to be so incurious, so impassive, so willing to blindly idolize a person to the point that logic flies out the window.  Or as Darrin Bell’s comic strip Candorville put it so wonderfully yesterday, “I’m starting to think you’ll say anything just to win an argument.”  The vocal backlash was boggling.  Blessedly short, but boggling.

On the plus side, it’s ridiculous situations like this that empower me even more to keep on writing.  I don’t need to fight against pointless agruments like this.  These voices may be loud and have a network megaphone, but they’re also a shrinking base.  The longer this play goes on, the less comedic it becomes.  There’s the unfortunate byproduct of all this, in which certain people will find this claptrap as God’s Truth and hurt someone, and I do sometimes fear that will escalate if this keeps up.

BUT — I refuse to lay down my quill because of it.  More to the point, I want to pick it up more often.  To keep sanity alive and kicking.

Yoiks and away!

daffy yoiks and away
This is what being a writer feels like sometimes, folks.

Another thing about perseverance, especially when you want to be a writer, is knowing full well that you’re going to face-plant into that next tree, but you go ahead anyway, scream “Yoiks, and away!” and make the jump.

It took me a long time to figure that out.  I’d say most of my 90s output was really just about fostering the writing habit, getting used to it, getting better at it, little by little.  Sure, I had delusions of grandeur that I’d be able to sell what I was writing, but there was always a small part of me that knew those delusions were exactly that.  My attempts at submission then were during a time when I had no idea if I was any good.  If they’d get accepted, then I’d figure I was on the right path and doing something right.  If they didn’t, well…at least I knew that I still had some ways to go.

I still metaphorically face-plant into trees on a regular basis, of course.  This time it’s less about quality or submission success, and more about dedication and time management.  On Wednesday I wasted too much time doing other things that I didn’t give myself enough time for my daily practice words.  I only got a few hundred down before I had to log off of that and get some Lidwells work done.   I made up for it Thursday by avoiding Twitter* and making a point to get the practice words (and a few other creative things) out of the way early.

(* – Well, given that it was filled with comments, hot takes and livetweeting of the James Comey hearing, I had good reason.)

That’s the thing, really…despite the face-plants, I still have to shake it off and jump again at the next opportunity.  Maybe one of these days I’ll clear all those obstacles.

Fly-By: One Last Con Day

panda train

I’d completely forgotten today is Monday.  This is what happens when you have a four-day weekend full of fun plans:  you completely forget what day it is.  Which means I’d completely forgotten to write up an entry for today.

D’OH.

Oh well, that’s okay.  I have a few things in mind that I’d like to post about, though we’ll be heading out to San Mateo pretty soon for the last day of BayCon (in which I’m featuring on two panels).  I’ll either post something later today or I’ll have something in the next day or so.

Hope your weekend’s been relaxing! 🙂