Watching 90s Action Films

So A finally made me sit down and watch the original 1998 Blade film, and HOO BOY yeah that was certainly something. Definitely one of those “this is terrible” but in a fun popcorn flick kind of way if you’re into that sort of thing.

It reminded me of something that I’ve been thinking about over the last few weeks or so: man, the 90s were fucked up. I’m not just talking about world events here, which goes without saying. I’m talking about some of the films, books, music, art, pretty much any medium. It’s almost as if us Gen-Xers, realizing that we were essentially the Generation Nobody Paid Attention To, decided to see how far we could push our creativity. And then push it just that little bit more. See what we could get away with. And it usually paid off, because the Gen-X audience loved it when the boundaries were pushed like that. It’s part of our DNA.

Blade in particular is a ridiculous vampire action film with all the bingo spots that makes up 90s action films: badass martial arts battles, quote-worthy dialogue, insane weaponry, a secret rave in a bizarre location, a ridiculous car chase, a few insane how-the-hell-did-they-shoot-that sequences, and all of it edited to fast-bpm techno dialed up to 11. It also features quite a few ‘let’s see how far we can push this’ moments, one especially squicky scene within the first five minutes of the film.

I watched a hell of a lot of these in the 90s and 00s, from the Matrix films to the Underworld films and yes, even the Mortal Kombat films. They were all good fun on a stupidly hot Saturday afternoon during the summer.

They also feature some great whoa! moments, and I’m not talking the Keanu Reeves kind or the car-jumping-a-moving-train kind. I’m talking about the kind that a writer like me would love: the little seemingly inconsequential shots that make me perk up. There’s a shot in Blade that did it for me, when our heroes are being chased down a subway tunnel with way-too-fast trains zipping by every couple of seconds. Dr Karen Jenson somehow loses her balance and lands on the tracks, but at the last second reaches her arm over at an odd angle, thus keeping her face from landing on the electrified third rail by mere inches. It’s a three second shot that didn’t need to be in there, but for me it was definitely an ooh, nice detail! moment. A lot of 90s films are filled with those kinds of shots, and they add charm and reality to the moment.

These often inspired my writing at the time. The original version of the Bridgetown Trilogy (The Phoenix Effect, written 1997-98) features the same level of detail alongside some of the classic tropes. Some of them even show up in the final books. I had a rule for writing them: if I wanted to add a ‘this would look really cool’ moment, I had to give it a reason for being there. I realized the best way to do this was similar to that Blade moment I mentioned above: it had to tie in with the character’s personality. Dr Jenson’s purposely avoiding the third rail underlines a major point of her character: she’s smart and always thinks ahead, especially on the fly. Whenever the Mendaihu gang had one of those similar Hollywood moments, I made sure it had consequences.

While a number of more recent action films have dialed back the over-the-top ridiculousness somewhat, that’s not to say they’ve completely disappeared. See the still-going Fast and Furious series for a prime example of that. It’s even there with more recent stories: the John Wick series is just one over the top fight scene after another. Even there we have a nice attention to character detail: Wick hardly ever speaks in any of the movies. And when he does, he does so for a reason, and his words are important.

My point here? Well, let’s just say that watching 90s action films might be a fun and enjoyable way to waste an afternoon…but even these films have moments that inspire a writer like me.

Cleaning Up Spare Oom and Revisiting the Mendaihu Universe

Continuing the Great KonMari Tidy-Up of Spare Oom…

As of Thursday, one major chapter in my ongoing Spare Oom Cleanup Project has finally come to a close with the final sorting and filing of my writing! Everything’s in binders (or in some case, boxes) now and and in its own specific place.

Early, finished and trunked projects are over on the bottom shelf of the (Formerly) Forgotten Bookshelf, with journals and poetry notebooks on the top shelf with easy access from Fancy New Chair. All my artwork, maps and Murph doodles are finally in one place. Numerous dead pens have been given a proper sendoff along with disintegrating manila folders and Crap I Really Don’t Need to Save.

And of course I saved the best for last, and it took me a few days to go through it: The Mendaihu Universe Library! Heh. This is every scrap of paper, every story idea I scribbled down during a day job, every character reference, every outtake (longhand and typed), every chapter printout with revision notes, and One Clean Full Printout of every related project, from its humble 1993 beginnings all the way to the 2015 prep for self-publication. And let me tell you, there’s a lot less of it than there used to be! Many clean printouts have been sent to the shredder over the years, and I’ve finally managed to get them down to one single box full of them.

I really enjoyed going through all those folders and documents and getting them into chronological order. For a project that lasted 22 years (!!), it was quite interesting to see how it evolved from one version to the next. It started off as a science fictional re-imagining of my Infamous War Novel (which in 1993 was already nine years old!) but quickly took on a life of its own with all kinds of detours, rewrites and re-imaginings along the way.

I even managed to get some clarity on how it evolved from 1997-8 with The Phoenix Effect to 2001 with the start of A Division of Souls. I knew I’d tried submitting TPE, attempted to rewrite it, and also write a sequel to it, but I couldn’t quite remember the path all that clearly. Come to find out, a lot of it lines up with my day jobs shifting — leaving HMV in September 2000, starting second shift at Yankee Candle, and moving to first shift in April 2001. That last date pretty much coincides with the time I’d decided to nuke TPE and start from scratch with ADoS.

But the best part is that I was able to recalibrate my thoughts on the Mendaihu Universe and future plans for a Book Four. There will be a Book Four, no doubt about it…I’ve been planning to write one for ages, I just had to finish off all the other projects first.

And now I finally have the time and the inspiration for it!

Granted, I still need to finish off the final revision for Diwa and Kaffi and get that one submitted; that of course comes first. But this also means I can start playing around with story ideas, character development, and more. (And yes, there will be more Songs from the Eden Cycle mix tapes. Volume 5 was created last October, with more on the way.)

Yeah, I should know better than to announce my next project, as inevitably it crashes and burns, I ragequit it a few times, and put it on the back burner for a few more years. I’m not promising anything…so let’s just say that I’m willing to push this one pretty hard to keep it active this time out.

On Submitting Instead of Self-Publishing

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been contemplating submitting Diwa and Kaffi to agents and/or publishers. I haven’t taken this route since probably 2013, when I submitted A Division of Souls out to a few publishers. I’ve self-published everything since then.

So why go the submission route this time out? Well, my first and most important reason is that I have high expectations for this particular novel. I’m quite proud of how it’s come out; it’s quite possibly my best work since I started self-releasing my work. And to be honest, I really don’t want this one to fall into a void like my other books have tended to do. [That’s partially my own fault, but that’s for another post.] I want Diwa and Kaffi to get the best cover, the best production, the best editing, the best everything. While I could find an artist to commission for a great cover, and while I could do my damnedest to get this book into the hands of as many people as possible, I also know that going the ‘pro’ route would provide me with better chances than I could ever give myself.

Which means I need to start researching for agents and publishers for the first time in ages. I’m aware that the process and the field has changed considerably over the last ten or so years since I last researched it, so I’m going in knowing full well that I may need to relearn it all. I’m totally down with that, considering I’ve been in this writing gig for pretty much my entire life. I’ve read all the Writer’s Digest articles. I’ve read the how-to books. I’ve talked to the panelists at conventions. I know where to look and who to ask.

So what’s different for me this time out? On a personal level, I’m going into the submission process with a bit of context and experience. I’m not mailing these printouts passively into the wind and hoping they graduate past the slush pile. I’m not looking at the process with rose-tinted glasses and getting my feelings hurt when I get rejection letters back. And most importantly: I understand why those past submissions failed as they did. I learned how to read my own work clinically so I could see why they were rejected. I was able to understand that changing my style or my process or whatever had no bearing on me personally; there’s going against the grain and then there’s just using that as an excuse for sloppy work.

Do I know who I want to submit to? I have a few ideas. I look at who’s published my favorite books in the last decade, who the editors were, who their agents are. I’ve met a few of them at cons, or know of them through some of my other writer friends (this is one of the reasons I do enjoy social media).

I know it’ll still be high-stakes. I know the turnaround will be significantly longer. I know it might still get published but not get any promotion whatsoever. I know it might still get rejected. I know it still depends on timing and luck. But I’m willing to try it anyway.

And if all else fails, I can still self-publish it.

Do I really need to save this? Probably not.

In my ongoing process of cleaning up my files and getting them in order, I’ve come across quite a few printed copies of the same stories. Which surprises me, because I though I’d thinned out that particular collection of papers back in 2006 when I got rid of all those three ring binders. Apparently not…?

And these copies of stories that I mailed off to publishers? Yeah, I definitely don’t need them. Hell, I don’t really need the rejection letters either, to be honest…most of those date back to over fifteen years ago and I’d like to think I’ve learned from my writing mistakes by now. I’m in 100% agreement with them for rejecting that short story from the mid-90s — it’s kind of embarrassing to read now, and I’m embarrassed to admit I even submitted such a piece of half-baked trash.

Which leaves me with…what? Oh, I still have some of the printouts saved. These are the ones I actually used for revision purposes, writing detailed notes in the margins. Those were helpful and I’m okay with those cluttering up my bookcase. And I’m definitely saving those scraps of paper where I’d originally come up with the idea during a slow moment at the Day Job. Those are always fun to look at and remember how it all started.

I found myself doing the same exact thing when I cleaned out my old collection of 3″ floppies. I’d saved a lot of my work on multiple disks over the course of a decade, and making duplicates seemed like a great idea, given how easily they’d get corrupted over time. Especially when I reused older disks. Some documents I had only one surviving copy, while others I’d had maybe three or four. (I narrowed these down by way of moving them to folders on my shared drive and deleting the duplicates via matching the timestamps. I may still have some duplicates, but it’s a hell of a lot more organized now.) Once that particular project is done, I’ll save it to my cloud account for security.

But with the paper versions…I’ve come to the conclusion that the most important things I want to save is the longhand notes and outtakes, the original sketches, the partial outlines…the work behind the finished product. Anything else can go either way.

Thankfully, I’ve kind of grown out of being a pack rat. I used to be a horrible one, both with my writing and pretty much everything I collected. Marriage and moving across the country made me rethink that. Hell, I’ve even cut down on my books! Seriously, though…I’ve still got my digital writings in their various versions (I save each new revision version under a different name so you can still see the work in progress.)

I no longer feel bad getting rid of that fifth print-out of chapter 3 of a book I’ve trunked over a decade ago…as long as I have it saved digitally, that’s good enough.

Going Online

Don’t forget to add *70 to your dial-up settings!

Sometimes it blows my mind that I’ve been connected online for roughly a quarter century. I believe my first AOL account was in the autumn of 1994, using my roommate’s computer, which I used sparingly because I was too damn broke to pay for the subscription or the phone bill half the time. And even then, I mostly stuck to AOL’s chat rooms.

When I moved back home in late ’95 I talked my family into signing up for it. While the subscription and phone bill weren’t as hard to pay, it was reminding my family not to use the phone when I was online. Most of the time they remembered, but every now and again someone would forget, pick up the phone, and start dialing, severing my connection. (Surprisingly, it wouldn’t be until around 2001 or so when we finally got DSL. It just wasn’t available to us out in the sticks of central MA until then.)

I’d had various emails over the years and started the joncwriter one around 2001 (I think?), but it probably wasn’t until 2004 when I finally took the plunge into full-time social media with LiveJournal. And things have grown exponentially since then. So many platforms, websites, browsers, apps, and everything in between. I’m amazed I can remember half my passwords.

Mind you, I’m not complaining about how Kids These Days Are Always Online, or How The Internet Was More Fun In My Day. I’ve got other things to think about most of the time. It’s more about how I’ve eased off using the internet over the years.

Sure, I still use it a ton, more than I really should. I go through spells of overindulgence followed by bouts of internet detox. As a writer, though, I can’t completely disconnect. I rely on a lot of internetty things to keep me going. I stream radio stations during the day for entertainment and background noise. I have multiple links to online dictionaries and thesauruses (that’s a legit plural, I just looked it up on Merriam-Webster’s site). I almost exclusively download all my music now. It’s a vital part of my writing career. [Yes, even the music. Heh.] And most importantly, I save all my writing on Dropbox so I can access them at any time, even on my phone.

The trick is to catch myself when I know I’m just wasting time that could be better used elsewhere. Catch myself when I feel I’m getting worked up and caught up in the latest drama. Catch myself when I’m faffing about on YouTube watching viral videos. Easy enough to do, but sometimes it’s embarrassing when I realize how often I catch myself. I’ve had to figure out ways to keep myself from goofing off.

Lately, though, I’ve been doing a lot of logging off, closing the browsers. Not out of desperation or frustration, but just because I want to. Part of it is inspired by some of my pre-internet high school and college friends out there who are surprisingly impossible to find on social media — it’s like they decided that they’d rather have a real life than a digital one.

It’s also been a mental and physical choice. The longer and later I’m online, the harder it is for me to fall asleep at night. And sometimes I just don’t have all that much to say that I haven’t already written or blogged about already. Sometimes I just need to take a break and just use my PC or my laptop for its intended use: my writing and music.

I just recently bought a new laptop to replace an old one (which was dated 2013!!) and I’m once again out in the living room in the evenings, sitting next to A while we stream whatever movie or show we’re currently into, and I can focus on the revision for Diwa and Kaffi. I might pop online and check my email or the latest webcomic update or Twitter, but I’m doing that much less nowadays. And I kind of like that.

I’m not nearly as addicted to the internet as I used to be, which is always a good thing. Life goes on both digitally and IRL, and it’s up to me to find that balance that works best for me.

Something I should probably do more often with my desk PC…

[PS: This entry was partly inspired by a panel I’ll be running at BayCon this year: Strange Days: Hollywood’s Take on the Internet, Hacking, and the Digital World in the 90s. I’m looking forward to this particular one!]

What’s Going On?

That’s a very good question indeed, because I’d like to know myself. I’m kind of hovering at the moment, providing nearly all of my writing focus on the editing and revision of Diwa and Kaffi and doing very little in terms of anything new. I mean, I always want to have a new project going, but I’m purposely not doing that for the reason I just stated.

I’m not going to complain, I’m kind of enjoying this break from Writing All the Things. I’m forcing myself to try new creative avenues, which was part of my plan. I’m picking up my guitar more, thinking about songs to write…hell, I’ve even started noodling around on our keyboard after ages of ignoring it or using it as a temporary storage table! I’ve churned out so many words over the last five years that it’s time for me to give that a break and have some fun.

I don’t plan on making my music a professional thing, as I don’t see myself at that level. Maybe putting stuff out on Bandcamp if I ever get a full song down? Sure, why not? I’d essentially be self-publishing my music and I already have a background on that, so I think that would be groovy.

What about the other avenue, you ask? My art? Good question. I’m winding down a few small projects at the moment and will be finding more time to doodle. I’m not sure what — it could be my usual map drawing, perhaps my Murph comics, maybe trying out new styles. I have the sketchbook and the pens and pencils, I just need to start doing it. I’ve always found drawing to be quite calming, so I’m looking forward to doing that again.

But yeah, the writing, after D&K is out and away? Good question. I have plans there, but they’re not set in stone, and they’re not on any kind of schedule. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I’m just going to not think about it for a while…

1: On Saying Goodbye…?

When I was ten or so, I was just starting to develop my tastes in music by listening to all sorts of things: my sisters’ records, the local radio stations, albums taken from the library, and so on. During one particular family party at my uncle’s house, I asked if I could listen to his eight-track tape collection. He sensed that I was already a big fan of music, handed me a pair of super heavy aviator headphones, and let me have at it.

I remember hearing Alan Parsons Project’s “Time” (from their 1980 album The Turn of a Friendly Card) during that little listening session, because the song stuck with me. I remember hearing the words, and thinking to myself: what if that happens to me? I’d gone past the song’s intended maudlin idea of leaving and unknown future; instead I went even further and imagined what it would feel like to truly say goodbye for a final time, fully knowing I’d never see them again, whether it was someone moving on or passing away. How would I handle that? Pretty heavy shit for a ten year old…

Decades later and here I am, writing this in the last days of 2018, and thinking: I think it’s time for me to say goodbye to a few things. I’ve been vague-posting about this for a few months now, and though I’m really not going to go into much detail here (because, y’know, it’s personal), I can say that it will be a positive leave-taking. It’s me finally letting go of the Old Me. I’ve done a lot of life-cleaning over the years, and I’ve finally come to the point where there are just a few final barriers that I’ve left for last. Personal and emotional barriers I put up a long time ago that I no longer need. It’s time to pull them down once and for all and become the New Me in the process.

Some of this is related to my creative outlets; some of it is related to personal things. It’s not going to be a simple Magical Transformation come January 1, of course, and that’s not what I’m expecting anyway. This is more about getting rid of the defaults I’ve kept myself in for ages. It’s about saying goodbye to old habits and distractions. It’s about taking the next step into something much bigger and more important.

It’s kind of weird and I feel a bit vulnerable about it, but that’s what happens when you decide to take major steps in your life. Especially if they’re ones you’d been avoiding for most of it.

SO! That said, I’ll be making good on my idea of taking a blogging hiatus for a little while in 2019. I’d like to spend some time offline working through all of this. I’ll be working on the post-production of In My Blue World and the Apartment Complex story, but I have no major projects after that, giving me some long-delayed time to focus on other creative avenues for a while.

It’s been an interesting year, to say the least. But despite all its ups and downs, I’m ending it on a positive note, knowing that I’m going into the new year with the same positivity.

Thank you all for following over the past few years! I’ll still post here now and again, but I won’t be on any strict schedule for a while. I wish all of you a happy and creative 2019!!

2: On Flailing

Two more entries to go in 2018, so I thought I’d do a bit of an overview of things I’ve been doing or thinking about over the course of the year, building up to my new writing plans for 2019. 

Ed provides a sterling example. Source: Cowboy Bebop.

I did a hell of a lot of flailing this year. A TON of flailing. So much flailing that it was kind of embarrassing to watch. And I’d rather not go through that process any more than I have to, ever again. It’s a huge waste of time, productivity, and energy.

What the hell am I going on about, you say? A fine question. I am of course talking about the numerous attempts at writing the AC story…about the grand idea of writing longhand as a change of pace…about yet another attempt at writing Can’t Find My Way Home and failing once again…about trying to come up with blog post ideas here without repeating myself…and so on and so forth.

It’s also on a personal level as well. I’ve frequently stated how frustrated I get when I approach something in a reactive manner. I spend far too much time, energy and emotion reacting to statements and situations rather than processing them. Instead of finding a way to fix or contribute to them (or even ignore them if applicable), I focus on how I feel about the situation. It only serves to make me yet another responding echo and totally failing to do anything about it.

And let’s go one further: when I get to this particular level where I see my problem and want to do something about it, chances are I come up with Best Laid Plans to change myself in one way or another. I feel proud of myself for coming up with a kludge that I think (maybe…?) will make things work again. Sort of. Sometimes they work, but more often than not, that’s all they remain: plans. I get distracted. Or worse, I get disillusioned. I fall back into the same feedback loop and I’m back where I started.

And that has been so goddamned tiring and I’m sick of it.

Which is why I’m choosing to spend a considerable amount of time in 2019 on a hiatus. It’s not exactly an internet detox, though. I’ll still be around in one form or another. I’ll still blog here, though on a less hectic schedule. I’ll still be available and contactable.

I just want to stop reacting, stop flailing, stop planning, and start doing more. Figure out who I am at this point in my life, and do something about it. It’s far past time.

3: On Commitment

Three more entries to go in 2018, so I thought I’d do a bit of an overview of things I’ve been doing or thinking about over the course of the year, building up to my new writing plans for 2019. 

Looking back over the posts I’ve made this year, I see that one of my most common themes, especially in the first half of the year, was determination versus knowing when to give up.

Near the start of the year, I found myself floundering multiple times while writing the Apartment Complex story. I ragequit writing it at least three times within the span of a few months. It frustrated the hell out of me, because I knew exactly what I was doing wrong, but I didn’t quite know how to fix it. I just kept going in the wrong direction over and over again. I tried starting over on MS Word. I tried writing out a full outline beforehand. I tried — twice — to write it longhand. Eventually I took a short hiatus from it. Instead I focused on releasing Meet the Lidwells and working on In My Blue World.

When I eventually came back to it, I did what I’d done for the last few projects: I wrote it a single scene at a time using 750Words. Instead of trying to push myself through, I let it grow organically. I knew where the story needed to go, but I let the story tell me how it wanted to get there. More importantly, I let its characters tell me — they all had specific goals they needed to reach by the end of the novel, so I built the main part of the story around the four main characters intertwining with each other.

I learned a few things over the course of writing the novel, things that utterly changed how I look at my writing now:

–Breaking down self-made barriers when the story demands it. The relationship between the two main characters is unconventional and I realized the best way to handle this was to just let it all happen naturally. If there was a hint of romance, so be it. If there wasn’t, no loss, because the love they have for each other is the most important part of it. I had to be true to the characters, no matter what.

–Trusting myself on a much deeper level. I had a vague framework of where I wanted this story to go, and certain beats I wanted to hit, but I wouldn’t know how exactly to get there until I got there. I knew my failed attempts were because I’d been forcing it to go in a direction it didn’t want or need to go in. And again with the main characters’ relationship: I had to learn to trust myself that I’d do a good job portraying their love for each other without resorting to tropes and manufactured drama and conflict. Trusting my characters was a leap of faith.

–Resonating with the story on multiple levels. This story wasn’t about dialing up the tension little by little like I did with the trilogy, or surfing the rise and fall of fame like I did with Lidwells. This story was about understanding different people, cultures and emotions, and figuring out how they were all interwoven in some way.

Anyway, my point here is that I’m glad that I decided to keep returning to the Apartment Complex story despite all the frustrations I faced when I started out. I remained committed to it. I truly believed in the story, that it had something important to say, and that if I remained dedicated to it despite all the frustration, it would be worth it in the end. The result is that I’m super proud of this project and I can’t wait to share it with all of you later in 2019.

5: On Older Ideas

Five more entries to go in 2018, so I thought I’d do a bit of an overview of things I’ve been doing or thinking about over the course of the year, building up to my new writing plans for 2019. 

I’ve trunked a lot of my ideas over the years.  It’s no big surprise…it’s par for the course for pretty much every writer.  I still think about them every now and again, maybe even wondering if they could ever be revived now that I’m a better writer (albeit jokingly — I don’t plan on doing this IRL at all).  Depending on when I started them, I pretty much have them collecting dust on a bookshelf or getting forgotten in some folder on my external drive.

When I think of trunked ideas, I think of one of the plot points in Jack London’s Martin Eden, one of the few books assigned to me in school that I truly enjoyed.  He’s a writer who can’t seem to get an even break, but once he does, it snowballs to the point where he’s digging out his older work, revising it, and his readers keep eating it up.  Thing is, he’s not doing all this for himself; he’s trying to impress a girl.  Interestingly, London pulls this idea off by not blaming her disinterest for his downfall, but by having Martin realize he alone is at fault, thinking ‘wow…I really wasted a lot of my life trying to impress everyone and making myself miserable.’

I don’t think I’ve wasted my years with all those failed writing projects.  I knew well enough to give up on them when the time came.  I realized the most common sign is when the writing feels more like a chore than a project.  [Not to be confused with that feeling of failure we writers often get during the revision process — you know, the oh god this sucks why am I still working on it phase.  Truth: I’m going through this with In My Blue World as we speak.  And yet I still have faith in it, and will see it through to its conclusion.]

Sometimes the ideas are little more than moods or images; they won’t or can’t be expanded into novels, or even short stories.  Sometimes the story is a little too uncomfortable to write.  Sometimes I get through the main planning stage, or even the first draft, and realize how much of an unsavable mess it is.  Regardless of what level I get to it, I’ll have to make a decision: keep moving along with it, or file it away and try something else.

I did a lot of this in 2018.  While I released Meet the Lidwells and started work on In My Blue World and the Apartment Complex stories, I had so many other project ideas kicking around that I realized I no longer had any interest in.  I decided it was probably time for me to trunk nearly everything else that was still up in the air; I just did not feel connected to them anymore.  I’d still feel a “hey this might be fun” wave of interest, but that’s all.  And I can’t base an entire project on that.

I think part of it was also completing the Apartment Complex story.  That novel is…different.  Very different from a lot of what I’ve written in the past.  Even the current past.  It resonated with me in a way that none of my previous novels ever did, even the trilogy.  It felt like a gigantic step forward, and a step away from the work I’ve done in the past.  It felt that this was the direction I needed to go in next, and almost none of my backburner projects fit that mold.

In short, I felt I was closing down one part of my life and writing career, and moving on to a newer, better one.  I had to leave the old stories behind.

I’m looking forward to 2019 being part of that newer, better life and career.  And I’m definitely looking forward to the newer stories, whatever they may be.