Post-Thanksgiving Haze

Luffy eating
This may have been me yesterday.

D’OH!  I seem to have completely forgotten to write and schedule a post for today.  It’s been such a weird week that it completely slipped my mind.  And being that it’s (hopefully) going to be a quiet day here at the Day Job, hopefully I can take care of other things that slipped my mind and/or didn’t have time for.

Such as making some headway on the Apartment Complex story outline.  I finished the initial revision run-through for Meet the Lidwells just the other day, and I’m letting it simmer for a few days before I go through it one more time…so this is the perfect time to kickstart that next project.  [I do need to futz with the MtL cover some more, but I think I’ll do that on the weekend when I have more time and space to breathe.  I know what I want, I’m just having a hell of a time trying not to make it look like it’s a craptacular botch job finished in five minutes on Photoshop.]

I’m hoping things quiet down on the Day Job from here on in so I can a) relax a bit, and b) sneak in some writing work if needed.  Things usually do start winding down post-Thanksgiving (with one last short burst in late December), so this is when I get to unwind and not have to stress out about all that much.  And I am so looking forward to that!

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.

 

 

 

 

Writing During Q4

anime yawning
I feel your pain, kid.

It’s that time of year again, I see.  When the Day Job teeters between being completely dead and boring to being so insanely busy I lose all track of time.  While I’m thankful that I’m no longer working in retail (or in a warehouse, or on a phone branch) during Q4, the bipolar quality of the job still tends to drive me crazy sometimes.  I never quite know whether it’s going to be one or the other until the day comes.

With my current Day Job, I’ve firmly stood by my rule: I do not think about the Day Job once I clock out for the day.  What if I still have outstanding work to do?  Don’t care.  What if I — DO. NOT. CARE.  It has nothing to do with how I feel about the job.  It’s got everything to do with maintaining sanity and energy for things other than Day Jobbery.

It’s the only way I can deal with the sheer volume when and if it comes.  I work in first-in-first-out fashion on cases that come my way — even and especially if they’re labelled as OMG requests.  These are most often the ones dumped on us at last minute, usually because the requester has forgotten to forward it to us two months ago.  The only ones I’ll drop everything for are critical escalations (and even then I tend to be a bit cynical when they’re labeled such, because sometimes they’re really not).

All this is so I still have that reserve of energy at the end of the day to work on my writing.  You know how I get when I miss a day due to circumstances beyond my control…I get irritable and cranky.  So even if my beloved writing time is spent working on minutiae or revision or low-level preparation for an upcoming project, I’ll at least have gotten that much further.

With this particular Day Job, I have a very vague idea of when it gets superbusy:  mid-month (a few clients send big monthly files then), close to month-end (clients trying to make their metrics), and end-of-quarter (tax season).  And I know that once the last few weeks of December roll around, it’s mostly about wrapping things up, finishing off outstanding queries, and taking it easy for a bit until mid-January.

That’s the trick, at least for me: having at least a vague idea of what to expect on the Day Job over the course of the month, so I can plan accordingly.  [Sure, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ll spend the first of those quiet, dead days by goofing off.  I figure I’ve earned a bit of a respite, though!]  It’s the only way I can keep up with my writing schedule without tiring myself out to the point of exhaustion or illness.

It’s not ideal, but hey, it’s a paycheck, and I’m willing to work around it.

 

 

 

Days Off

shirokuma cafe relaxing

Tomorrow is Veterans’ Day, so had I planned it earlier, I could have taken today off as a floating holiday.  [If memory recalls, I think I used it up earlier in the year so I could go to one of the cons.]  On days like this, I usually get up around the same time, maybe an hour or so later, and start the day.

[Granted, I thought I *did* have the day off (A. even initially took the day off so we could do stuff during the day), thus the inspiration for this post.  I figured I’d keep it up and revise it a bit.]

And like most creative people, my Best Laid Plan on bank holidays is that I want to spend the entire day writing, or doing writing-related things, or catching up on all the small fiddly writing-related things that I’d put aside.  Carpe diem!  Or something like that.  I say Best Laid Plan, of course, because in reality I’m usually doing the exact opposite: futzing around with email, watching cat videos, goofing around with my mp3 collection.  And just like most regular days, squeezing the actual writing work into the last three hours of the day.

Really, though…I do have to remind myself that it’s good to use a day off as a real day off.  Do stuff I enjoy doing that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with my creativity.  Going on a road trip, going to a movie…hell, even watching an anime series on TV.  There are other things out there I enjoy doing, especially with A., and days off are good for that sort of thing.

If that means I’m squeezing my work into just a few hours as the sun goes down, then so be it.  At least it’ll have been a full, productive, and entertaining day!

Keeping Metrics

anime-flipping-pages-notebook-animated-gif

I have a small calendar notebook on my desk that I update on a daily basis; it’s where I log my word counts, blog entries, journal entries, and anything else creative.  It’s something I’ve done off and on for years since the Belfry days.  There’s no real reason for it other than I’m curious to see how much work I’ve done over the course of a certain stretch of time.

I do this because, like most creatives, I feel like I barely get anything done on any given day!  This logging of work actually gives me a little dose of reality to combat that.  I may grouse that I only got four hundred words done on a novel project (I’m not happy unless I get at least 500), but when I look at the day’s progress, I see that I’ve also written 800 words on the 750Words.com site relating to another project, maybe a few hundred words on writing blog post that’s not due until next week (like this one, for instance) plus a few hundred more for a music blog post, and cleaned up emails.  And maybe noodled around on my guitar for a bit as well.

And it all adds up, because I’m pretty consistent about it.  Hitting 500-600 novel words nearly every day for six months got me finishing Meet the Lidwells in record time.  And with all those outtakes and notes on the 750, I’ve got a serious amount of worldbuilding done for the Next Project already.

So yeah.  Sometimes I need a slap upside the head to show that I’m doing a ton of work, it’s just spread out over five or six different things.

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.

Writing the End

the end

The beginnings of my novels and stories usually get the most revision, mainly due to the fact that there’s a bit of flailing involved.  I’m still trying to figure out the voice and the focus of the story, so there’s going to be a lot of dead-ends and extraneous filler that gets cut out, once I find my footing.

The endings, on the other hand, can go either way.  Usually I know exactly where I want to stop; it’s just a matter of laying out how I’m going to get there.  It’s a balancing game at that point…I don’t want to rush it, nor do I want to pad it out with unnecessary rambling.

I’ve made all kinds of errors in my years of learning how to write stories. I’ve written corny cliffhangers, implausible wrap-ups, unimportant ‘where are they now’ passages, and everything in between.  [I can proudly say I have yet to write an ‘…and then he woke up, and it was all a dream” ending.  Even I have my standards!]  I usually spend as much time focusing on nailing the end as I do nailing the most important climactic scenes that come before it.  I want to do it just right.  Or right enough, where it can be fine-tuned in revision.

With Meet the Lidwells — I’m currently writing the last chapter at this time, and I should be done most likely this week or next — the ending has definitely been a tough one.  As this is a story written in the format of a music biography, I can’t give it a nice poetic ending, or a roll-credits ending.  Those books tend to resolve themselves in a slightly different way.  The focus characters go on with their lives and careers, so this ending has to be more of an emotional closure.  That part of their lives is over now, and they’ve moved on.  And that’s been a hell of a tough one to capture just right.

I’m not looking to nail the ending perfectly, at least not right now.  But when revision comes along, hopefully I’ll be able to do it justice.

Anime Nights

A. and I decided to restart our Anime Nights, something we used to do at our old place in North Beach but hadn’t done in ages since.  I’ve always been a huge fan of anime since the mid-90s, though my watching habits always tend to come and go, depending on how much time I can devote to it and when it’s available. I was a huge fan of Cartoon Network’s Toonami back in the ’00s, and it introduced me to some great titles like Naruto (of which I’m still a fan), One Piece and more. We would also rent out anime through Netflix, checking up on some great titles like Haibane Renmei, Ergo Proxy and Trigun.

I kind of let it go for the last few years, mainly due to wanting to focus on finishing and publishing the trilogy, and also needing to get myself back into a consistent writing habit.  But lately I’ve come to realize that maybe I should at least take a night off and watch more of the things that inspire my writing in the first place.  Maybe in the process I’ll be inspired once more by newer, different stories.

Last night’s viewing, courtesy of Funimation, was finally catching up with Yuri!!! on Ice, which I believe all of our otaku friends have already seen when it was first released not that long ago.  It’s a lot of fun to watch (and I now understand the plentiful shipping that went on back then).

I should also point out this was a great example (one of many) of why I love anime so much: it’s a cartoon series about competitive figure skating. It proves you can write a compelling story about pretty much anything, whether it’s about sports or cooking or high school girls starting a rock group. As a writer, it reminds me that no idea is too weird or too corny or too goofy.  It really is the storytelling that counts.

It’s also made me think about finite serial storytelling. For instance, something like Cowboy Bebop. It tells a specific story over the course of its twenty some-odd episodes and its film, but it also has many shorter stories within the span of each episode. That gave me a lot to think about as a writer; it made me rethink how to interweave the main story arc around several smaller subplot arcs.

[I should add that I recently rewatched an episode while on our flight home from Boston, and realized just how great that show really is; I definitely need to watch it again.]

Then of course there’s my favorite movie of this year, hands down: your name.

I’m totally a fanboy for this film, because a) it’s beautifully made with some absolutely stunning shots, and b) its storytelling is amazingly detailed (I pick up more bits the more I watch it) and woven together in a really creative way. On the surface it looks like a girly ‘star-crossed lovers’ story but it’s not. I’ve watched it three times already this year (twice during our UK trip earlier this year) and I’m pretty sure I’ll watch it again before the year is over, just to study the storytelling.

So yeah…I’m looking forward to watching more anime in the coming months again.  It’s not only fun, it almost always inspires me to come up with new story ideas and storytelling styles.

Writing Econo

The great 80s punk band Minutemen from San Pedro, CA had a wonderful motto: “we jam econo.”  Tight playing, minimalist lyrics, dispensing with frivolous musical wankery.  Economical writing, playing and touring, in other words. Their songs rarely hit the two minute mark; many were even under the one minute mark.  [Despite the brevity of their songs, they state their name was actually making fun of the 60s rightwing fringe group of the same name.]

I wrote Meet the Lidwells with the same idea in mind; after the sprawl of the trilogy, I wanted to ‘write econo’ — dispense with as much subplotting as I could, tighter writing, constantly pushing the story along.  As of this post, I’m writing the last chapter of the first draft.  It looks like I may even complete the novel within the next week or so.

I started it on 28 April (not including a few weeks’ worth of outlining on index cards, as well as outtakes on 750 Words), and if I end it by the end of October, that’ll be exactly six months.  Its word count is around 75k, and by the time I revise it, it’ll probably be just a little higher.  If I play my cards right I might even be able to have it up on Smashwords and Amazon by the end of the year.

Those are new records for me, I think.

As I’ve said before, one of the reasons I wanted to try writing econo is to see if I could do it.  And if that worked out, then maybe I could continue with it.  I love writing sprawling genre fiction, don’t get me wrong…just that sprawl doesn’t always work with some of my ideas.  [Another reason of course was that after working on the trilogy for so damn long, I wanted to work on shorter, quicker projects where I could turn it around in a year or less.]  Sure, I did waste some time in between with distraction and procrastination, but still…six months ain’t bad at all.

I still have to revise Meet the Lidwells once I’m done with it, but at this point I’m thrilled that I was able to pull this off as quickly and as smoothly as I have.