Posts Tagged ‘writing’

NaNoWriMo 2017: A Success

December 6, 2017 Leave a comment

Do you know what I like best about National Novel Writing Month? It really forces me to take the time to sit down and get a new idea out of my head and on paper. Well, not really paper but you get the idea. So far I’ve managed to get out four novels of at least 50,000 words. They’re not complete by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re really good starts for ideas that I’ve wanted to develop for years. Life gets in the way sometimes, you know?

I have a notebook full of ideas that I want to develop into novels or short stories, and the latest story I wrote from NaNoWriMo was taken from it. I think I’m up to 67 ideas that I’ve come up with? Either way, if I come up with an idea that I think is worth remembering and developing, and I don’t have time to work on it right then, I write it down in that notebook to get back to later. I called it “Zombie Projects,” because they’ll come back from the dead some day.

After two years of not participating in NaNoWriMo I managed to hit the 50,000 word mark on my fourth novel, and I did it in about 28 days. Technically it is actually 21 days since I didn’t write for seven of the days for various reasons. I finished the contest on November 28, with no small amount of relief. I really do love to do this, but it’s a lot of stress and pressure, and I always end up writing many more than 50,000 words because I will completely rewrite entire sections, which means that I probably came closer to writing 75,000 words in 21 days.

The story I wrote–and am currently in the process of writing, still–is called The Road That Leads Home. If you want to see the details of the novel as they exist on my NaNoWriMo profile, you can click here. There’s a brief synopsis (which needs to be updated a bit), and a rough draft excerpt of one of the important parts of the novel.

So what is it about? Well, I had this idea to write a science fiction novel about a half-human / half-alien girl who had to grow up on Earth, surrounded by people who hated her for merely being only half-human. For the longest time I had no idea how to approach it, but two things really fell into place that helped to finally launch it. The first was attending a panel at the science fiction convention Escape Velocity, in which one of the panelists asked if we could get into touch with the “other” within ourselves in way that doesn’t honor our humanity or humanism, but changes and transforms us. In other science fiction aliens embrace the human within them or human ideals to resolve conflicts of identity.

Take, for instance, Commander Spock from Star Trek. His cold, logical alien demeanor is constantly pitted against the empathetic humanism of Doctor McCoy. Conflicts between them, and those of identity that Spock experiences personally, are often resolved by Spock getting in touch with his human side, and holding as a virtue the ideals of humanism. It seems as if Spock needs to abandon his alien parts. Aliens in science fiction are meant to destabilize our own identities, to throw our own views of ourselves into question. We can use them to analyze our behavior and our philosophies, but because we think so inwardly when we think of aliens we never really imagine something truly alien.

My story was not an attempt to imagine something truly alien, but to look at the development of Spock and say, “Huh. Wouldn’t it be interesting if there was a character who specifically rejected humanity and humanism?” Could we maybe use that as a way to move beyond self-congratulatory–even conceited–celebrations of humanity and explore someone coming to terms with their identity by embracing the otherness within them?

So how do I get there? The second thing that fell into place was attending a lecture by N. Katherine Hayles called “Why We Are Still Posthuman.” I had heard of posthumanism before, but never really explored it in depth apart from one aspect of it called transhumanism. This lecture really helped me to connect to dots that led me to develop the central conceit of The Road That Leads Home. Being human is contingent; it’s an historical and cultural construct. What a human is, and what it takes to be one, changes over time–it’s constantly in flux. Humanism is often constructing and bounded–in the world we live in now, one with cyborgs and Google Glass and other technological wonders, our definition of what makes a human is expanding every day and we’re not even aware of it.

So I wanted to write a story that deconstructs the boundaries in humanism, exposes its limitations and its prejudices, and tries to find something beyond it. In my novel, humans don’t really react well to that, and why should they? They’re being asked to abandon the idea that they have a special place in the universe, or that there’s something special about them in their very nature. The very existence of my protagonist is one that is a threat to them and any philosophy that puts humans front and center.

What’s funny is that this is happening today, even as you read these words. It’s unavoidable, and as we explore the impacts of technoscience on how we imagine ourselves and our place in the world. The emergence of new technologies that connect us to each other via social media changed us. The medical science that allows for organ transplantation changed us. The fact that we acknowledge the sentience and intelligence–not to mention rights–of animals besides ourselves is changing us. And this will only accelerate as time goes on. Humanism will not be able to keep up with that, which is why posthuman schools of thought (like transhumanism, for instance) are becoming more attractive to greater numbers of people.

We’re entering a brave new world. I think we should embrace it.

Before I close out this post, I want to include a small excerpt from my current rough draft of The Road That Leads Home. It’s written to be like a biography / autobiography, sourced from different types of media and put together to form a narrative of the life of my protagonist. Her name is Freya Jameson, and the excerpt is televised interview between a journalist and Freya’s fully human brother, Scott. Please keep in mind that this is a rough draft, and as yet contains rather blunt, unsubtle references and language–I’ll clear that up later. I just wanted to get the general scene written.

Charles: Welcome back to Detroit News Now. Sitting with me in the studio is the brother of Freya H’val r’ Earth’van, a member of the first generation of Human Hybrids. Scott, thank you for agreeing to speak with us today.

Scott: No problem, Charles. I’m happy to clear things about and set the record straight.

Charles: It’s good that we’re launching right into this, because I have a hard question right off the bat. What happened to Freya?

Scott: Can you clarify? Lots of things happened to Freya.

Charles: Why did she renounce her humanity and leave Earth?

Scott: Because she wasn’t human.

Charles: It’s a matter of record that she was a Human Hybrid. Her father—

Scott: Let me stop you right there, Chuck. Can I call you Chuck? You call her a Human Hybrid, not a human. Her whole life she was essentially told ‘you’re not really human.’ And people act surprised when she finally agrees with them?

Charles: Don’t you think that’s a little unfair? Not everyone feels that way about them.

Scott: No, absolutely not. You might not have directly caused her harm, but you are part of a media organization that breathlessly and repeatedly reported on the so-called ‘Hybrid Crime Wave.’ Don’t deny it, Chuck. For years you could turn the news on and the first thing you would see is one of your anchors reporting on some minor crime by one of the desperate people that were rejected out of hand by our society, next to some scary graphics, as if they were out in gangs, roaming the streets, murdering people.

Charles: The reporting on those crimes was problematic, yes, but that doesn’t—

Scott: Don’t give me that. You can lie to yourself, but we both know what it was. Tell me, Chuck, did you have to clean up your sister’s busted lip after some jerk broke it open with a rock to the mouth? Did you have to endure the scorn of other people merely for having a sister that was a little different? Did your grandparents tell you that they wish you had died in the womb? Don’t tell me this isn’t about how much we pushed her to that.

Charles: So you’re saying that she blames everyone but herself for what happened to her.

Scott: Excuse me? I’m sorry, it sounded like you were implying that Freya was responsible for what we did to her. Are you going to blame her for almost being raped next?

Charles: What I’m saying is that we know she was radicalized at some point in her early twenties. There is evidence that, for a time, she advocated for violent separation from the human race for all Hybrid Humans. Are you denying that she became a public danger?

Scott: Absolutely. See, this is so like you [censored]. She didn’t advocate for a violent separation, and that you’re still claiming that tells me you never actually cared to listen to her.

Charles: Well, then, tell us, Scott. What did she advocate for? What did she mean by, ‘we must free ourselves of the shackles of humanism, forced on us against our will by circumstance of birth. This isn’t a struggle for human rights—a racist term—it’s a struggle for the rights of all thinking and feeling creatures in this Silver River. There will come a time when we all must ask ourselves if we prefer benevolent subjugation under the yoke of humanism or the bullet.’

Scott: Can you finish that quote, please?

Charles: Don’t you want to answer that?

Scott: If you don’t want to finish the quote, I will.

Charles: Answer my question. What did she mean by that?

Scott: I’ll finish the quote.

Charles: Answer my question.

Scott: Don’t interrupt, Chuck. That’s rude. Here we go: ‘…humanism or the bullet. If we can’t free ourselves of the chains imposed upon us by those who would call us Hybrid Humans while denying our humanity, we must cease to be that which we are now, and through the violent revolution of the self, set out on our own. Henry David Thoreau once said that ‘we need the tonic of wildness,’ and I am here to tell you my brothers and sisters of common heritage that we are athirst of home, country, and community. We need to drink of the tonic of wildness and discover our own country in the stars.’ Where do you see a call for violent separation of the human race?

Charles: She literally mentioned a bullet.

Scott: Obviously a reference to Malcolm X’s speech ‘The Ballot or the Bullet.’ The second part of the quote, which you refused to read to your audience—which I find both unethical and dishonest—gave it context. She wasn’t talking about a violent overthrow of government or attacking people in the streets. She was talking about a radical reinvention of the self, embracing the otherness that had for so long been forced on her by us. She said, ‘if we’re to be dismissed as other, let us embrace the otherness. Let us show them it won’t be an albatross around our necks, but an identity. We’ll define ourselves as other than human. I’ll define myself as other than h’tro. What will you drop in order to embrace the otherness in you?’

Charles: And you don’t see how that makes her look bad? You don’t see how that might turn people against her? Doesn’t that, in actuality, confirm people’s feelings about her?

Scott: Do you know what Freya would say to that?

Charles: Please enlighten me.

Scott: She would say that what they fear the most, what they find the most repulsive, is that she turned her back on them—on humanism—and embraced something foreign and strange. It was a rejection of the very thing that they denied her, that they constantly told her she wasn’t good enough to possess. It’s not about her, Chuck. It’s about them. It’s about you and me, and your audience sitting at home. They constantly said that Freya wasn’t like them. All she did was embrace that.

Thank you for reading!

Red Ink

January 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Red Ink

I have a love / hate relationship with red ink. That seems really cliche, but the fact is that the red pen sits on the table in front me, and I imagine it is taunting me. See, the red pen is both critic and muse; a force for destruction and creation.

The pen sits on a stack of papers, themselves covered in red ink. Scribbles, symbols, lines, and words speak of the surgery I have performed on it. We don’t like tearing apart that which we destroy create. When I was younger, I built castles made of legos, and I dreaded the time I had to take them down. But that force of destruction is also a way to build.

First drafts suck; there’s no way around that. Typically they are nothing more than idea vomit on paper, at least for me. Sometimes my stories go through several revisions (I label these by letter, and the furthest along I’ve ever gotten in the alphabet so far is “H”). I have binders full of drafts–or rather–the dry bones of drafts that are covered in crimson.

I keep them because they’re instructive. I can learn from them, and I can see how my writing evolves over time. And I come to see that the red ink isn’t my enemy, it’s my tutor. Learning isn’t always a fun process. Often we are asked to unlearn things we thought were true, and more often demanded that we venture outside of our comfort zones.

Creativity is fragile, and it must be nurtured. But it is also prone to stagnation, so it must be challenged, not just by others but by ourselves. Maybe the things we create have no value to anyone but ourselves, but the act of creation itself demands change and growth.

An artist refines her techniques, life evolves from generation to generation, and humans learn from their mistakes. Creation and change are on the same coin, and maybe even the same side of that coin.

Musings on Writing in a Cafe

January 17, 2017 Leave a comment

I never really appreciated how sitting in a cafe can be conducive to the creative process before now. Before I saw them as loud, distracting things to avoid. But as I sit here, sipping Earl Grey and writing a book review, it strikes me how human it is. It seems to me that creative endeavors are human endeavors, and human endeavors are typically loud and annoying.

You could drown it all out by putting on headphones, but you miss isolated threads of conversation: “I was thinking…” and “That’s not how you…” What are they talking about, I wonder? The jazz music in the speakers overhead, the atonal beeps of the cash register, the whir of the cappuccino machine–the environment sings with activity, and the melody is alive and pulsing.

People talking, reading, studying–all with their own stories. So just look up and take it in from time to time.

Categories: Life, Musings, Writing Tags: , , ,

NaNoWriMo 2014

January 13, 2015 2 comments

I almost decided not to participate in the National Novel Writing Month this year. I missed over a week of writing time due to the elections (I was very busy for the first few weeks of November taking care of campaign-related issues). At the last minute, I decided that I would give it a try.

I chose to write a fantasy story that I came up with by accident. I can’t remember the exact details, but I was playing some kind of game with a group of my friends, and due to my sloppy handwriting, they read the title of a fantasy novel I might write wrongly. Thus, Ser Darkthor’s Court was born; a novel about a Knight Errant who travels the realm and solves crimes. It was envisioned as sort of a Sword and Sorcery version of Sherlock Holmes.

Here’s the synopsis that I put up on NaNoWriMo when I started to write it:

Jesper is a class of Knight Errant called a Red Moon. They are tasked with policing the realm of Ser Darkthor, First of His Name, Honorable and Wise Leader of (Insert Name of Place Here). Jesper’s travels take him to a small village which appears peaceful on the surface, but hides a dark secret that could change the balance of power or something like that. Jesper begins an investigation in a Sherlock Holmes-meets-medieval fantasy novel, and uncovers a conspiracy that does something. I’ll flesh it out. It’ll be great. I promise.

The story, obviously, is much more developed now. Th good news is that I plugged away for the three weeks that I participated and I managed to win! Yay! It’s the third time in a row that I’ve won, and it always feels like I’ve climbed a mountain or explored a new planet.

I’m going to finish this story, clean it up, and probably serialize it on my fiction blog, Fictional Heuristics. Look out for that when it happens, because I happen to think it is an interesting story. It’s not the best fantasy, and I might have borrowed a teensy too much from Scott Lynch and George R.R. Martin, but I had a lot of fun writing it and I definitely think it is worth sharing.

I’ve actually thought about starting a patreon or something similar to that in case people wanted to chip in a few bucks if they like my fiction. I don’t have a lot of time to write, but if I can make some money doing it I’d carve out a niche for it. I think that’s something to think about for the future, if I can ever manage to get around to doing half the things that I say that I want to do.

Anyway, I hope that my fellow writers found success with NaNoWriMo last year, and I hope they continue to find success in the coming years.

The Challenges of Writing Part 2; or, Why Did I Ever Decide to Do This? (The Reckoning)

March 5, 2014 Leave a comment
This sea of red is a familiar sight on my rough drafts

This sea of red is a familiar sight on my rough drafts.

Okay, hyperbolic titles aside (for now), the last few weeks have seen me mired in pages of rough draft material in need of either a red pen or an X-ACTO knife (for when something has really got to go). The above picture is illustrative of the plight of the poor author. The story, which I had originally written a few years ago as a “writing exercise” in a creative writing class, is called “Fiction.” Before I took my red pen to it, the story focused on a technique called “framing,” which defines as “the usage of the identical distinct action, scene, event, setting or any element of significance at both the beginning and end of a creative, musical or literary work.”

In the case of “Fiction,” the framing technique makes use of an unfinished short story to drive the main narrative in the real story forward. I borrowed the idea from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in which Captain Walton creates a narrative frame through the use of his letters, which itself is called epistolary form. Seeking to add my own unique twist to the framing technique was only obvious, and I feel as if I pulled it off convincingly enough.

The red ink you see in the picture comes from the lack of good characters and a sensible plot within the narrative. And that was the main problem with “Fiction.” It didn’t have believable or interesting characters. I’ll be uploading the finished version of this series of rough drafts (I completed three, each with less red ink than the one before) to my fiction blog “Fictional Heuristics” soon.

I have a love/hate relationship with the editing process. I love writing, from putting the words on the page to making a polished final product. I hate that I have a compulsion to seek perfection in a work. There’s always one more thing that can be tweaked. One more sentence that can be improved. I’ve worked over the years to let it go, and I’m getting better at declaring a story finished. Still, the novel-writing process has stirred new concerns in my editor’s soul.

I was recently making notes for a review I’ll write eventually about Jacqueline E. Smith’s debut novel “Cemetery Tours.” I was jotting notes about writing and narrative style when I realized that one of the constructive criticisms I had made applied to a recent draft of the prologue of my novel.

This isn’t that unusual. Editing your own material is hard work, and I don’t often spot my own mistakes in style. One of the traps that writers fall into is becoming complacent with their word use. Things like beginning multiple sentences in a row with the same word, or using so-called telling words instead of properly describing a scene. In the case of my novel, I was using the word “she” too many times, and didn’t even realize how often I had used the generic word “smiled” at various points in the eight page, 2,500-word prologue.

There are a few ways to catch things like this in your writing. To avoid the repetition of words, keep a list of commonly used words like “some,” “said,” or different kinds of pronouns at the start of sentences, and within sentences. It’s a lot of work, but it really does help reveal how often you use certain words.

Describing a scene properly usually involves avoiding to be verbs like “is,” “was,” and “are” in any tense. For instance, a sentence like “He was concerned about his friend” has the effect of dragging the reader out of a narrative because you’re just passing on information. Keep the reader grounded in the narrative by changing that sentence to something like, “He pursed his lips and swallowed hard as his friend recounted…” By showing the emotion, and not just telling the reader “he was concerned,” you keep them grounded in the novel and allow them to empathize with the character.

Of course, describing the emotion and trying to avoid labeling it is hard work, especially because we often just associate facial cues with the emotion without describing what’s happening to the face. When someone is “angry” you have a pretty good idea about what they look like. If you write about how “his face, red and contorted, threatened violence” you might need more context for the reader to understand the emotion you’re trying to convey.

You’re looking mighty angry there, Spock. Guess Vulcans have the same facial cues as humans.

Another issue that comes up fairly often is the lack of grounding in the setting. You’re creating a world, full of exciting characters and challenging problems and…you forget to keep the reader in that world by neglecting to describe it or forgetting to use the setting after you’ve set it. There’s a world of difference between “She looked him in the eye, tears streaming down her face” as the whole sentence, and grounding the characters in their setting: “Her gaze met his, and he was unable to hear her whimper over the noise of the cappuccino machine and a customer dropping loose change.”

So maybe that’s not the best example, but it illustrates the point well. Your characters live in a world. Use it.

So what’s the point of doing all of that extra work? It’s arduous, thankless, and more than once it’s driven me to consider taking up the noble art of smashing things with hammers.

I believe that the ability to look back and see your evolution as a writer is paramount in the ongoing struggle to constantly improve your writing. Keep the rough drafts with all of the red ink, and keep the lists of words and the notes you’ve made about your mistakes and stylistic shortcomings.

This handsome volume contains rough drafts that have been rewritten. It's useful to go back and look at them if I'm curious to see the pattern of a story's development or old writing mistakes.

This handsome volume contains rough drafts that have been rewritten. It’s useful to go back and look at them if I’m curious to see the pattern of a story’s development or old writing mistakes.

When I'm currently working on a draft, I keep them together with paperclips. They'll eventually go into the binder when I've retyped the draft. I flipped the top one over because it's top secret.

When I’m currently working on a draft, I keep them together with paperclips. They’ll eventually go into the binder when I’ve retyped the draft. I flipped the top one over because it’s top secret.

Don’t let a passion for writing and telling stories decay into lazy sentences. Make your characters vibrant with adjectives, make their emotions empathetical by describing them instead of labeling them, and bring your world to life by constantly grounding the reader in it. Holding your own feet to the fire is a constant challenge, and sometimes writing something just the right way can distract from ultimately telling the story, but a reader will appreciate the extra work.

And in the end, you’ll see your skills improve.

Fictional Heuristics

March 3, 2014 2 comments

So what’s all this business about “Fictional Heuristics” and why should I care?

Well, gentle reader, I’ve decided to start a new blog that is separate from this one to post my fictional work. I thought about just posting it all here, but after consulting a few people I decided it would be wiser to create a different blog. I’ve been tossing around the idea of writing a semi-regular fictional series just for the internet and I already have a rough plan about what that would be. I think with a new blog that would be easier to realize.

Of course, this just adds another layer of work on top of all of the other projects I’m doing. A little crazy and reckless, yes, but in the end I just want to dedicate as much time as I can to this work because I love doing it.

I hope that you take the time to check it out because the primary motivation behind this enterprise is to improve my writing ability. And, of course, the only way to do that is to stick your neck out and hope that you can find people willing to critique your writing and give constructive criticisms.

I’d really like to become part of a larger writing community as well, because I like to help people improve their writing and I’m a fairly decent editor (having a degree in English and all). So lets see how this whacky experiment works out on Fictional Heuristics and whether or not I’ll actually manage to make my posts here more regular.

Categories: Geek, Writing Tags: , , ,

Writing Questionnaire and Other Things

February 28, 2014 3 comments

I snagged a questionnaire about writing from and thought I’d fill it out myself. It was actually really fun, and I got to take pictures and share them here. Well, here it goes!

1. Typed or Handwritten?

I have piles of notebooks and binders filled with handwritten manuscripts and story ideas.  In fact, I used to do a lot of my writing during class in high school and even when I was in college, and I never carried my laptop around with me to class. I never broke the habit of writing in notebooks and I still do it.

I also have a Remington Rand Noiseless Model 7 typewriter that I’ve traced back to the 1930s, but that was just an amateur investigation. I love this typewriter; it makes me want to type noir hard-boiled detective fiction with it as I sip on brandy and slowly work my way through a cigar. I have a number of short stories I’m working on that were typed from that typewriter.

Once I’ve gone over those typewritten drafts with a red pen, I usually type them up on my laptop. I’ve got a hard drive full of stories that I’m constantly backing up so I don’t lose any of the stories. Sometimes, if I feel a story is finished, I’ll print it off and put it in a special binder I keep for finished stories.

Remington Rand Noiseless Model Awesome

Remington Rand Noiseless Model Awesome

2. Cursive or Printed?

It’s really a mix of the two. When I write by hand, I’m usually writing in frenzied chicken scratches that looks like a mix between cursive and printed. I’ve been told it is impossible to read, and I’ve even lost points on handwritten essay questions on exams in classic civilization and English classes, but I can always make it out.

3. Show us your favourite pen.

I don’t really have a “favourite” pen so much as I do a collection of writing and drawing utensils that I use when needed. I usually just pick up standard Bic ballpoint pens when I buy them, so nothing too special. Here’s a few of the utensils I use most often.


4. Where do you like to write?

Anywhere, really, as long as there’s a steady surface.  Most of the time I write in an office with a great desk. It has a great view of the back yard that’s really nice to look out on a warm, rainy summer day (especially with a nice breeze). The desk has a desktop computer that I can use to listen to science podcasts (like the Star Talk Radio Show with Neil deGrasse Tyson)  or other things while I’m working. The room also has a really comfy couch for when I feel like I need to lie down and decompress, or read to take my mind off the stresses of writing.

It's a pretty great setup. Notice David Tennant staring down at me, telling me that I should be writing.

It’s a pretty great setup. Notice David Tennant staring down at me, telling me that I should be writing.

Just a mess of science books and notebooks.

Just a mess of science books and notebooks.

5. Who are your five favorite authors in terms of authorial style?

Hm. This is a tough question, honestly. The first, and obvious, one would be Douglas Adams. I absolutely love “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series. After that I’d say Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Scott Lynch, and this last one will be a bit out of place compared to the others, Alexandre Dumas.

6. What are you your three favourite books on writing?

This is an excellent question. I still hold fast to “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk and E.B. White, even though I have a few problems with it. There’s another I have buried in a pile of books I can’t find right now that is really, really great for writing fiction. It gives pointers on how to plot, and the best strategies for starting a story. I also like a book called “Western Wind” because it systematically explains different kinds of poetry with several great examples. I’d also like to mention a book called “Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: I & Eye” because it’s an invaluable resource for CNF writing.

7. Have you ever competed in NaNoWriMo?

Twice, actually. The first was in 2012, and the last time was last year. I’m still working on both of the novels (life got in the way) but I’m very hopeful one will be finished in the next couple of months.

8. Have you ever won NaNoWriMo?

Both times I competed I won. You can find a link to my profile in my links. It was really hard work, and it’s really hard to catch up when you fall behind. November is a busy month for me because I have three birthdays on the same day, as well as my own six days later.

9. Have you ever had anything published?

Not yet. But I don’t usually write with the goal of being published. Perhaps I’ll try to see if enough people like my novel and go from there.

10. What projects are you working on now?

I have a lot of different projects, one which I’ll talk about in another post. The novel I’m working on is “The Rebel Thief,” plus I have a number of short stories and essays that I’m trying to write. I like to keep busy.

11. What is your soundtrack to writing?

Man, this question. I have a lot of different music that I love to listen to. A lot of it is classical music. Beethoven is a favorite. But I also like to listen to songs like “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel, “Surrender” by Cheap Trick, “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix, and “Kara Remembers” from the Battlestar Galactica Season 4 OST.

12. Do you have a writing pump-up song?

Yes. But don’t laugh.



It’s the original vinyl soundtrack. Amazing sound.

Well, now that the questionnaire is wrapped up, I’ll get to the other things. I had an extended absence from posting on this blog for various reasons, but I do have a lot of ideas about things to write. I’ve been collecting posts from my Facebook feed that I put into a file called “Amusing Internet Bullshit” that I might write a bit about. Some of the things people believe without checking the facts are pretty amazing. Zero-point energy, myths about HIV, all kinds of things.

Anastasia Klimchynskaya has started a great new blog called “Monitoring the Media” where she writes about the media and how it plays into her passion for literature and science fiction. She has a lot of great ideas that she’ll be developing and posting as time goes on, apart from the things she’s already posted. The writing has a bias to Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek, but that’s not really a bad thing. Anastasia has a lot of interesting things to say about both fictional works.

The Notebook as Mirror

December 13, 2013 1 comment

About six years ago, when I was a sophomore at the University of Michigan with pie in the sky ideas about the things I might be able to do with a degree in English, I trudged along State street in Ann Arbor with a mission. My head was full of all of these stereotypical ideas about what a writer must possess to be a real writer. I had a laptop computer that I could cart around to coffee houses to write as I sipped at a piping hot cup of Earl Grey, making sure that people could really hear the clacking of my keyboard. What I lacked was a notebook.

Sure, I had normal spiral bound notebooks full of the kinds of random, self-absorbed musings that are so popular with the young. I even color-coded the things I wrote based on topic because I was convinced it lent my scribblings a mantle of legitimacy. But I didn’t have a Moleskine notebook, which seemed to be part of the costume of the Writer™ that I wanted to wear.

So that morning I set out for the Borders on the corner of Maynard and Liberty. The freshly-fallen snow crunched beneath my boots as I weaved through the sidewalks, crowded with people and chairs, even in the dead of winter. Borders itself was a large store, a rectangular prism set beside the road and across the street from a vintage theater.

The notebook was sitting on a rack, one of many different varieties. Hard covers and soft overs and mini-notebooks led to confusion and feelings of authorial inadequacy. I was failing a vital test, it seemed, if I couldn’t even figure out which kind of notebook I needed. Should I get lined pages? Blank pages? The selections were endless.

In the end I grabbed a softcover notebook that had lined pages and stuck with it, hoping that was the end of my tribulation. So I packed my laptop and my new notebook and hit the city, on the lookout for interesting things that might spark my imagination so I could start scribbling in this magic notebook.

Such a simple thing, isn't it?

Such a simple thing, isn’t it?

When I realized that walking around in the bitter cold with a notebook wasn’t really the smartest idea, I walked into a coffee shop and picked out a seat close to the big window near the sidewalk. I could people watch and have my computer out to write, and my notebook could be proudly displayed as an accoutrement of my craft. According to my very wrong view of writing I was doing everything that it seemed a writer needed to do.

As the hours passed and I looked at more pictures of cats on icanhazcheezburger than I care to admit, I realized that the notebook was looming over me. I put it away in my backpack to break the storm cloud that started to form over it and get back to the important business of cats obsessed with ground beef.

Days passed, and the notebook stayed in my backpack. I was sure that the ideas would start coming. That the intimidation would break and I would finally think of something to put into it and, man, would it be the genesis of a brilliant writing career. I could point to this notebook as the manuscript for a hundred different ideas, and when they needed personal notes of mine to aid an exegesis of my work, this is the notebook that they would use.

Okay, maybe I wasn’t that conceited, but it isn’t entirely far removed from the truth. Perhaps that self-absorption was important for the inevitable realization that my writing suffered from several defects, as it still does. But the notebook was eventually removed from my backpack and stuffed into my desk, to be forgotten until almost two years later, on a date.

I had ordered tickets to an AC/DC concert at the Palace of Auburn Hills and was looking forward to this outing as my first real date with a woman I had met at U of Michigan, Aida. She was a sassy and intelligent spitfire who hailed from Bosnia-Herzegovina. A survivor of the Siege of Sarajevo, she had many fascinating stories to tell and she saw fit to share many of them with me.

Call me a hopeless romantic.

Call me a hopeless romantic.

The day before I was to take her to this concert I had been going through a pile of old things that I had packed during a move and came across that empty notebook. I picked it up with reverence, sliding the band and flipping through the empty pages. Maybe enough time had passed; maybe I could finally think of something to add to it.

So I took it with me to Auburn Hills. There were many experiences that would have merited entry into the notebook. The couple behind us lit a joint and started to “puff-puff pass” to the people around them. The excitement of the crowd was electrifying. It was the first time I had ever been to such a venue and I just wasn’t used to the noise. When AC/DC finally came onto the stage, and the rest of the crowd stood to jam with Angus and the band, Aida and I remained seated, just listening to the music and enjoying our time together.

I remember looking into her brown eyes and being enraptured by her smile. She was wearing a purple/blue blouse and a bracelet  with rather large, smooth stones. She had a small glittery clip in her hair that left a few marks on the side of my head as the night wore on.

I had finally thought of something to put into my notebook; something that, even at the time, I felt was too cute by half. I was in a playful mood, and I hoped that she was as well.

It is really cheesy.

It is really cheesy.

Well, she was. And as the band played on, and the energy started to affect even us as we sat there more in tune to each other than the boisterous sea of people, she brought her hand to my cheek, turned my head, and kissed me. She smiled, and then stood up, grabbed my hand, and made me dance with the people around us to Hell’s Bells.

Unfortunately the relationship didn’t last long after that, but it broke the spell I had placed on the notebook. After the concert and a long drive home, I opened the notebook and started to write on the last page a short missive on how the first and last pages of the notebook like this were scary, and why I have to fill them up first. I thought that if I had filled the last page first I could write throughout the notebook freely. Where before I had imbued the notebook with a mystical sense of destiny, I now treated it as a repository of random scribblings, marking events such as a first kiss or an observation of human behavior.

I think it was at about this time that I started to carry the notebook around with me everywhere again. Most of the pages are still empty, but the ones that I have written on have no overarching purpose. Indeed, a few pages are dedicated to a list of science fiction books that I want to buy that I picked up from the first volume of the science fiction journal Extrapolation.

Some of these books are hard to find.

Some of these books are hard to find.

The notebook is battered and, at places, torn. These defining characteristics are what make having it so attractive, however. I don’t place so much importance on the self-important vision of a the Writer™ anymore, but it’s something that’s hard to completely get over. It’s just an old dream. Foolish, yes, but still bearing the whimsical and unrealistic hopes of my youth. I’m more likely to write a bad joke about biologist porn (“prepare to accept this most generous donation of haploid cells”) than I am anything truly noteworthy of the human condition, but every now and then I do catch something worth writing about. Perhaps a semi-biographical short story about my grandfather based on the wild stories he tells of his youth, or a meandering piece exploring the story behind an older man walking around with a five year-old newspaper tucked under his arm.

The point of all of this is that I realized that the notebook I carried had only to be a reflection of myself, and not a canvas on which to paint high-minded and slightly pompous pictures of the human condition. Once I filled in the first page with the cheesy shot at romance, and the last page with a note on how last pages aren’t the end of a story, it was so much easier to jot the thoughts that flew through my mind.

I think that this, of all things, was my first real step in my development as a writer. My stories are supposed to be representative of me, and who am I? I’m certainly no Melville or Milton. I don’t have the depth of DeLillo nor do I have the foresight of Asimov. I am a little boy from nowhere, who trudged along in the snow one morning to buy a notebook because he thought he had to do it to be a writer. I am part fool, and I am part dreamer.

And maybe one day I’ll be able to write a book that reflects this. A book that I can call my own. A book that, with any luck, a few people will read.

NaNoWriMo 2013

November 29, 2013 Leave a comment

I’ve finally crossed the finish line for National Novel Writing Month and it feels good.  Well, emotionally I feel excellent, but my body is protesting. My knees hurt and my legs ache and I think my eyes are bleeding (not really, artistic license).

The novel I’ve been working on, which I titled “The Rebel Thief” in a fit of dramatic flair, isn’t complete yet. I think I have about 50,000 more words to go before it’s finished and I’ve already planned out two more books to really take advantage of all of the energies I’ve put into worldbuilding (which have been considering since I’ve made five distinct political systems and civilizations that span the known galaxy).

I looked back at the original synopsis I wrote for the story when I began writing, and it still amazes me what the story has grown into. Here it is:

In a galaxy teeming with guilds of professional hit men, thieves, and mercenaries, Clark stands alone. Known as The Rebel Thief, he scratches out a living stealing identities, running cons, and simple fast-finger work. Clark has been running from a dark past while dodging authorities from the ever-warring Five Great Civilizations.

His past eventually catches up with him in the form of Alex Lumens, his former subordinate and lover. When she barges into his life carrying a shocking secret, Clark realizes that his activities have drawn the ire of one of the biggest guilds of thieves, Temorous Guild.

To save his own skin and, perhaps, Alex, Clark has to get to the bottom of a conspiracy that could alter the balance of power in the galaxy.

The story only resembles this in basic plot facts: the guilds are there, as well as Alex and her back story. I completely eliminated the last bit about a conspiracy and expanded it into something that’s less like a conspiracy theory but just as mysterious. Temorous Guild is now Temerous Guild because of a typo, but I’m okay with that.

Suffice it to say, however, that this synopsis no longer fits what the story has become and I’m very proud of that. There’s something majestic when you can feel creative energy flowing through you, feeding on the original spark of creation and growing into something much more meaningful than you could have imagined. I just love it when a character starts as a mere sketch on paper and becomes a living being with a psychology that responds naturally to any situation. It got to the point where I could write Clark’s dialogue without thinking.

This is really what I love about writing, apart from the process. The story is alive, in a sense, and the writer is the conduit for that.

Anyway, I’ve got some other things to write for this blog and I’m sure you’ve had enough of my tired philosophical waxing (and waning). I’ll try to participate next year, and who knows? Maybe I’ll write something that isn’t science fiction.


Flash Fiction: Ticking

December 6, 2012 Leave a comment

This is an older piece that I wrote, but I was looking through a list of things that I wanted to publish on my blog and this was at the top of the list. Now that I’ve got a bit of free time I think I can finally post it.

It’s a flash fiction story called Ticking that I wrote about five years ago. It’s only 91 words long, but I really like it. I hope that you do as well.

The clock was ticking slowly, reminding us each of our own mortality. But we didn’t care because the game was on.

A couple of other guys came over and asked if we wanted to go to the bar. We thought it was a great idea, so we decided to leave. The clock didn’t care.

As we got up, we knocked over the clock, which stopped ticking. It didn’t matter. It was already broken; hence the slow ticking.

On our way out, we didn’t notice the clock was dead.

But we would.

I have a few more flash fiction pieces that I’ve written, but I’m not really satisfied with them. I will probably work on them and then post them later.

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