An overview of 2017

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The Bridgetown Trilogy — finally DONE.

It’s been an interesting year, I’ll say that much.  Personally we’ve all had one hell of a bumpy ride.  I’ve certainly had my highs and lows.  And somehow I persevered.

Anyway, looking back over the past twelve months, I’m proud to say I went a hell of a lot further in my writing career than I ever thought I would.  A project that I started in all seriousness twenty years ago was finally signed off as complete.  I started not one but two completely new projects and sowed the seed for even more ideas.  I kept a solid blogging schedule.  I took part in panels on two different local science fiction conventions.  All while still holding a Day Job.

The Balance of Light e-book and trade release, and completing a long-term project.  That was the toughest of the three to revise, so it took me most of 2016 and early 2017 to finish.  Even the cover was a bear to get right.  But at the same time, overcoming the hurdles I faced on this one made me an even better writer; it taught me to take all the time I needed to get it right before I released it upon the world.  It was worth the wait, as that book went from the Troublemaker for a good few years to a novel I’m proud of.  And added to that, it truly did feel like a weight lifted off my shoulders when I realized I did not need to work on that project any longer.  I still miss it, of course, but I’m definitely glad it’s done.  Most importantly, I saw a very long-standing goal to its conclusion and I couldn’t be happier.

–Daily words at 750words.com.  I’ve been quite consistent with this as well, much more so than previous years.  I trained myself to use this site as a place for playing around with ideas instead of trying to force myself to use prompts (suggested or otherwise).  I just went with whatever popped into mind.  In 2015 and 2016 I used it to write an extremely rough and incomplete draft of Meet the Lidwells, and in 2017 I used it to plot out most of the project after that.  I’ve taken this month off from it for various reasons, but I’ll be picking it up again come January.

Meet the Lidwells!  This one surpassed all of my expectations, to be honest…so much so that I spent the first half of the project questioning whether or not I was doing it right!  This project hit a lot of goals: writing a complete outline ahead of time, writing a shorter novel, writing a story that had a personal connection (music), and writing in a minimal amount of time.  Because of this I have a minimal amount of post-writing work to do: some minor revision, shooting the cover picture, and prepping it for self-publication.  Quite possibly the shortest novel project I’ve had to date.

–Untitled ‘Apartment Complex’ story.  Having written out a few key scenes and plot ideas for this story using 750Words, I’m now working on the outline in the same manner that I did MtL.  That way when MtL drops, I can immediately focus on writing this one. This too has goals: to see if I can pull off ‘writing econo’ again.  I’m using the same process as the previous project, to the extent that I’ll play around with ideas on the project after this one for my daily words.

–Consistent blogging.  I wrote two different blogs twice a week for nearly the whole year, with very few lapses.  There were moments when it was tough, given that I always wanted to write something of interest and/or purpose, and did my best to avoid the fly-by entries as much as I could.  I also wanted to avoid repeating myself whenever possible; I’ll totally cop to writing the same damn nostalgia piece over and over, and I’m doing my best to break out of that rut.  And in the process, I’m learning how to expand my palette by expanding my interests.

–Participating in Convention Panels.  This was another big one for me.  I’ve gone to a number of cons over the years but always as an audience member, but never as a participant.  After releasing my books I knew that this would be a great way for me to get connected to the non-writing part of the business.  [Mind you, my very first panel was a reading, which went over well but I think could have been better.  Once I got past that first one, the jitters were no longer there.]  In 2018 I’ll be attending three more cons, and I’ve signed up as a participant at all three.

*

All told, I’m ecstatic with what I achieved as a writer in 2017.  It was an extremely productive and fruitful beginning to my career as a professional self-publisher.  There are some goals I wish I’d have hit, but I’m not going to let that bother me.  I’m definitely looking forward to reaching those plus many new ones.

On Writing and Stylistic Moods

anime snowing gif

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my recent new projects, and how much lighter and more positive they are in terms of mood and setting.  Not filled with Shiny Happy People, mind you, but neither have I filled them with Miserable Wretches.  I’m quite sure this is a personal emotional and mental reaction to things going on In Real Life, but I’m fascinated by this decision nonetheless.

The Infamous War Novel was written a) when I was a moody-ass teenager and b) during the last few years of the Cold War in the 80s, so you can well imagine how much of a funfest that book would have been.  Several of my trunked stories from that era and up to the late 90s were written during my high school, college and post-college years when was trying to figure out who the hell I was and what I wanted to do with my life.  So a lot of Gen-X whinging going on there.

It wasn’t until the project that became the Bridgetown Trilogy that I forced myself out of that rut and made it a point not to write purely as a reaction to Real Life Stuff.

In a way, though, I haven’t really shaken that off, not completely.  I know I’m not the only writer who’s done this.  Put it this way: I’m nerely making it a point not to write something pessimistic or grimdark, because that’s not where I want to be right now.  I want to write stories that are more positive in some way, to balance that out.  Granted, I’m certainly not writing Teletubbies-level harmlessness in reactive response, either.

Meet the Lidwells was an exercise in writing something purely for the fun of it, and for someone to read for the same reason, and I think I’ve pulled it off.  There are serious moments in that story, but they’re not High Drama.  It’s about the evolution of a band, as well as a family, as they grow from teens to adults.

The next project — the Apartment Complex story — is along the same lines.  There’s a reason I’ve been describing it as my Studio Ghibli story; the style is not just about the physical action, but also about the evolution of lives.

It’s kind of hard to describe, because it’s not exactly an American style of storytelling; it’s more inspired by Asian fiction than American.  There’s a kind of poetry to this style, where your focus on the physical movement of people is just as important as the movement their internal changes — spiritual, mental and emotional.  The pace of the story slows down a little, causing you to pay more attention to the details.

Will I pull this style off?  That’s a good question.  I’ve read so many books of this style over the last ten or so years that I think I have an understanding of how it works.  I hope I pull it off, and I hope you’ll enjoy it.

 

 

 

 

What’s in a name?

your name ribbon
Yes, yet another gif from your name. :p

When I start a new story, I don’t really focus too much on character names right away.  I’ll give them a placeholder name that I think fits at least for now.  If it sticks, it sticks.  If it needs changing, well… that’s what Find/Replace is for in MS Word!

I rarely assign a name based on what the name means.  Instead, I go with how their name — and sometimes its spelling — resonates with the character that I’m creating. I’ll at least ensure the name fits the character’s culture, but that’s about as far as I’ll take it.  The character’s name, in my opinion, should fit their family’s dynamic.

For instance, Caren Johnson from my trilogy:  she has a very unexciting, stereotypical last name, as she’s supposed to come from a very blue-collar family that’s been in the police force for ages.  And her first name is deliberately spelled with a C and not a K, even though her Mendaihu name starts with a K, to hint that there’s a bit of a rebel in her.  She’s someone who doesn’t want to stick out, but she doesn’t exactly want to fit in, either.

Now, did I really think that at the time of creation?  To be honest, no.  Her name just sort of popped up when I started the book and it sounded right to me.  It wasn’t until a few chapters in that I realized that the personality I imagined from the name could be imprinted on the character.

Yeah, I do tend to do a lot of things bassackwards, but hey, if it works…!

Anyway…

For the new project, have the names of about a dozen or so characters.  All but one was created in the same way: just a name out of thin air that sounded right to me.  I still do this for the same reason, actually.  I usually have a basic idea of who the character is and what they’re about, so the name becomes a memetic or an anchor for the idea.

Sometimes the original name I came up with no longer fits and I have to change it.  I changed five or six names in the trilogy over the course of writing it, one major change taking place well into the revision period.  And that’s okay too.  Sometimes the name I come up with is just a placeholder, waiting for me to figure the character out a little more before I can assign a much better fit.  I’ve already decided to change the name of one of the main characters in my next project, because I’ve finally figured out his own family background.  Thankfully, the only places I’ll need to change this is in my notes, as I haven’t started the first draft yet.

This process of naming characters might not be for everyone, but it seems to work well for me.  I like the idea of a character’s name not always being a perfect fit; it reveals part of their personal background and fleshes it out.  That background may have nothing to do with the story itself, but it certainly could help reveal why they might act as they do.

Secret Future Project Outtake: Ghosts

A little something I wrote on Friday that may or may not have something to do with the Secret Future Project, aka the College Story.  Enjoy!

[Note: the College Story is not a horror novel, nor is it only about the hedraac (my vampire-like characters that are also in the Secret Next Project universe, though the stories are not related).  This is most likely going to be a New Adult coming-of-age story, which happens to feature many human and non-human characters.]

*

When I cross the quad, there’s always a sense of stillness there, even if other students are mingling about. They could be shouting political slogans, or grunting and shuffling about playing touch football, or practicing their scales and harmonies, or simply scuffling along on their own, but all that tends to get drowned out by the stillness in the air. Even on a windy or rainy day.

I haven’t quite figured out why I feel that, and sometimes I even avoid crossing the quad some days, and I’m not sure if I ever will. Perhaps it’s the ghosts of the campus, forever traipsing along the four corners of the flat grass, forever hovering in front of the brick buldings with blank books and styli long emptied of ink in their arms.

I can sense those ghosts. Not many of us can. Mostly the hedraac, but there are others. The faculty tend to ignore the ghosts. They’ve gotten used to them by now. You know who the new professors are, because like me, they get skittish when they cross this area. They’re not scared, just wary. Like me, they’ll eventually learn to cross the quad without a single worry.

I met one of the ghosts during one of my shifts at the radio station. I’d just entered Davis Hall and headed down to the basement, and I was just about to pull the heavy door into the station, when I stopped short. Hovering in front of me, maybe less than six inches off the ground, a young ghost of a student waited for me. He didn’t look threatening. Maybe a little overtired with heavy eyes and stress lines on his forehead, but other than that he looked like any other student here on campus. A weathered jacket, an overfull book bag slung over his shoulder, worn jeans, and very worn sneakers. He and I locked eyes for a moment. He smiled in response, and slid out of the way.

“Pardon,” I said, well aware that others could have just seen me talk to myself. But I don’t mind that… a lot of students do that here.

My shift started in another twenty minutes, and I always got there early to slide through the music library to pick out the evening’s play list. Another hedraac was finishing up his own show, and was currently running down his own play list. He caught my eye through the studio window and waved. I wondered if he could see the station ghost as well.

This was my third semester at the radio station, and I was slowly making my way up towards the position of music director, something I’d been wanting since I’d discovered college radio when I was a teenager. Some deejays are there for the extracurricular activity or because they have nothing better to do, but me, I plan to stay in the radio field as long as I can. I’m one of those music fans who obsesses over records and bands, knows far too much about them. I’m also one who loves the night shift. It’s not that I’m a night hedraac… I just like the ambience and the fact that I’m alone for the most part.

My shift started as normal and I set the mood by throwing on some of my latest favorites, a wide range of styles that I know most of my fans like to hear. Now and again I’ll get a few calls from them, asking for obscurities or well-known classics, and I do what I can to provide. I may be a music geek, but I’m not a snob about it. I’ve been known to play a few major label tracks now and again.

It’s entering the second hour of my shift when I start hearing the voice.

It’s soft at first, a quiet humming that I mistake for an open feed that I forgot to tune down, and after a few flustered moments of checking and double checking the faders, I realize it’s not going out on the air at all. It’s in the speakers, alright, but it’s not anything I’m playing.

It’s the ghost, and he wants to talk to me.

“I hear you,” I say into the air. “I can’t make out what you’re saying, but I can hear you.”

I feel a tap on my hand, which makes me twitch. He’s trying to guide me to open one of the faders to a test channel. I shiver, but at the same time I’m intrigued.

I turn up the fader in the test channel. “You’re plugged in,” I say, and wait for a response.

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.

 

 

 

 

Trying a little something new

hanks-aol

With my Sort of Secret Next Project taking up my daily practice words, I’ve been tearing down some of the boundaries I’ve had set up for ages.  I suppose you could say it’s part of the ‘own it’ mantra I’ve been using lately…instead of trying to find reasons not to write a certain scene for whatever reason, I’m forging ahead and writing it anyway.

These are passages that work within the context of Secret Next Project, of course.  It’s not so much about pantsing the writing as I’m letting myself come up with things that I would normally not write.  Here’s the thing: when I’m writing a character, I have to have at least some connection with them, whether mentally or emotionally.  I get inside their head and see how they tick.  This is all well and good, but there is the tendency to write samey characters, or worse, write Jonc Personality #483.

I tried (and I think mostly succeeded) writing this way for the trilogy, especially when I had to get inside the head of characters like Denni and Amna, who were major players with a hell of a lot of stressful issues going on.  I think this is also partly why I trunked some of my earlier novels, because I’d failed.

The Secret Next Project involves quite the menagerie of characters, so I definitely need to stretch my boundaries there.  In writing my daily practice words, I’ve been doing my best to set as few boundaries as possible.  In the process, over the last couple of days I found myself writing some passages that surprised even me!  And I like that feeling.  It means I’m doing something right.

 

…That said, it also means I still need to focus mostly on Meet the Lidwells.  Which means the Secret Next Project is currently also the I’d Rather Be Working On This Fun New Project Instead Project.

As is typical of any writer, of course.

Balancing

Goats-balancing-on-sheet
….yeah, I’m not sure either.

If I’ve learned anything over the last week, it’s that the downside to coming up with a secondary project to play around with while working on Meet the Lidwells is the temptation to fall prey to the “ooh shiny!” of the newer project, leaving the original one undone.  I love the apartment complex idea at the moment, and I’m quite sure it’s because I’m still in the world-building phase of that one.  Two daily-words entries and I’ve already come up with some neat ideas that I’d like to play with.

BUT!  I really need to focus on my other story!  The one that’s been on my mind over the last few years.  The one I can FINALLY devote my time to.  The last thing I need right now is another distraction!

So how to handle this sort of thing?  All writers fall prey to it sooner or later…the rogue new idea that tempts you and won’t leave you alone, and you know damn well that if you don’t write it down RIGHT NOW it’ll be lost forever.  Often to the detriment of any other deadlines you might be working on at that moment.

Well…I’ve learned that there’s got to be a bit of balance.  From past experience, the worst thing I can do with a completely new idea is to try to create an entire novel out of it.  I definitely don’t have the whole story and its universe in my head at that point.  The end result will be a lot of making stuff up as I go along, thus needing a hell of a lot of revision on the back end.  It’s one of the reasons the trilogy project took so damn long.

I wrote outtakes of Meet the Lidwells via my daily practice words, and I knew that wasn’t going to be the final version.   And I wrote it while I was rewriting and revising the trilogy, so I put just enough into it to keep it alive until it came time for it to be my main project.

I’m doing the same with this new story idea.  Right now I’m looking at it from a workshop level, throwing stuff at it to see what works.  Coming up with characters, names, settings, and other background details that I can reference a little later.  And I’m sure sometime within the next few months I might even draw a layout of the main setting, maybe even some of the characters.  Bits will change along the way.  It’s all up in the air right now, malleable.

And that’s just for fun, at the moment.

The heavy work is on Lidwells, and that’s where it’ll remain until it’s done.  That’s my evening writing work, the stuff I’ll treat more seriously.  Attending to details, focusing on the feel of the story in my head, contemplating what needs work and what needs excision.  And besides…this one has a deadline that I don’t want to break.  If I have to put New Shiny Idea aside to devote more time to Lidwells to get it done on time, so be it.

Finding that balance is a bit of crazy work, but I believe I can get it done.

 

Rough Draft: Untitled New Project

For your enjoyment…something I wrote Thursday afternoon for my daily 750 Words.  It’s a rough draft of an idea I’ve had for the past month or so.  The setting is an apartment complex in a suburb of a sprawling mega-city, where its tenants are of all kinds: humans, aliens, monsters, mythical beasts.  It’s a Studio Ghibli-inspired story about a young kid living at this complex (whose family owns and runs it) and his adventures meeting all kinds of beings, getting to know their lives, eccentricities, and maybe even starting a few friendships in the process.

This is most likely going to be my next project after Meet the Lidwells, and I’m looking forward to writing and self-pubbing it.

I’ve put the passage under this here cut.  Hope you enjoy it.

 

 

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