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Something On My Mind

There is something on my mind, and I have no idea what it is.

This is something that happens to me all the time, which I never understand and which I’m sometimes not aware of: I get hung up on something, without a discernible reason.

This latest instance: two days ago, I remembered I had the BRAVE blu-ray and hadn’t watched the special features on it. I don’t always watch special features, except when it comes to animation and then I watch everything I can glean out of the discs. So I watched the special features over the course of the day. Then, yesterday, I watched BRAVE.

Today, I finished the few special features I found on another disc. The kids want to watch a movie this afternoon, and the ONLY THING I want to watch is BRAVE. Again. Also, my radio stations around the house have gone Celtic and Irish and Scottish. For a bit it was some fiddle. For most of the morning, it’s been the beautiful and elegant music of Cecile Corbel.

I don’t want to watch anything else, but I’m not sure the kids want to see this again, so I’ve proposed we watch…THE SECRET OF THE KELLS, a gorgeous film not entirely related to BRAVE, but not so far removed. 

So. Why?

I dunno. 

This happens all the time. I’ll get completely hung up on an author, or a place, or a piece of art. It can be maddening when I get stuck on a single album or song and it just stays on for ages and ages.

Sometimes, something comes out of it. I’ve had things I’ve been stuck on which have resulted in stories. That doesn’t always happen, though. I can get completely buried in something and nothing ever appears from it.

Eventually, too, the hang-up goes away and suddenly I can’t be bothered to touch the thing, not at gunpoint, for awhile. 

It’s some subconscious part of my brain working something out, and rather than analyze it too thoroughly (I don’t know how to analyze the deeper parts of my brain anyway) I just go with it and trust that maybe it’s doing something useful SOMEwhere.

(At the same time this hang-up started, a short story of mine that’s gone through three busted drafts burbled back to the surface, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I wonder if it’s related, or gonna fix? I guess we’ll find out.)

 

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

 
Quote

To my mind, Deep Space Nine possesses the ideal balance for most ongoing serialized TV shows: Too little serialization and DS9 would lose its narrative advantages, and too much means risking a lot of “let’s stall for time” style entries that plague stuff like The Walking Dead. For my money, the only effective heavily serialized show on the air right now is Breaking Bad, which has the benefit of Vince Gilligan and his writing staff, and more importantly, a narrative that specifically lends itself to heavy serialization. Content should dictate structure, not the other way around, and too many shows these days see that serialization is the new thing and latch onto it as though the style in and of itself is justification enough. All of which is to say, the balance DS9 has achieved works pretty damn great.

(via an episode review at the AV Club, this summarizes PERFECTLY my problems with some modern TV shows, like the Walking Dead they mention.)

To my mind, Dee…

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Spinning Plates

You’d think the biggest writing problem I’d have as a stay-at-home dad and full time writer is “THE KIDS” and you’d add “OH MY GOD THE KIDS HOW DO YOU STAY SANE WITH ALL THIS NOISE OH MY GOD”

To which I would smile a little and then look up the word “sane” which sounds delicious.

Anyway.

The biggest problem I have is actually that I write three different things more or less all the time. I regularly write articles, primarily for BookRiot, an activity which I have taken unabated pleasure in since I began. I adore writing articles on a range of subjects (well, books.)

I also write short stories pretty much constantly, either for magazines and anthologies or for little collections I’m putting together myself, for fun. I always have a short story on the go. Sometimes two.

And I write novels. These begin with less frequency but go on for a long time as a project. The biggest problem here is that I am not a natural novel-writer. I’m like a walker who is in shape, but is now trying to adjust muscles and breathing to the act of distance running. I love it, but it’s hard.

And the hardest bit of all is balancing all three.

Not the writing itself, but the mental space is my problem. Case in point is that  spent a week or so struggling to get the novel stitched up and off the ground and moving. Bu then I came back to write some articles and realized I had NO IDEAS. i had NOTHING to talk about. Had it finally happened, like I was always worried it would? Had I just abruptly run out of things to talk about?

I doubt it. No, what I think happened is that my mental gears switched to NOVEL, and because I was so focused there, the ARTICLES plate slowed and slowed and stopped spinning (and fell off, this time). I didn’t think of article ideas because I wasn’t perpetually applying motion to the ARTICLES plate. Does that make sense?

So I lamented my problem on twitter, like I do, and discovered EVERYONE ELSE has this problem too.

SO THAT’S HELPFUL.

So what’s the solution? I don’t really know, but I have ideas.

– Structure: building a structured working schedule for the different forms might be the key. Supposing I KNOW that Monday through Wednesday is NOVEL, Thursday through Saturday is ARTICLES? Or some schedule like that? 

– Notes: I have a hunch that carrying a little notebook with me all the time and writing down novel notes, article notes, story notes, bits of dialog, observations, pieces of articles, might be helpful in maintaining a fluidity in the working process, so it isn’t like I have to stop spinning each plate when the others are going. If I’m writing a novel but making not only novel notes but article notes, might that not keep the matter fresh in my mind, so that when I sit to article (can I use that as a verb?) they’re fresher? Some past days, I wrote two or three articles a day. That’s lovely, but unsustainable (and not always fun, to be honest). 

Other solutions? None yet. I’m really pondering this. It has to be a solvable problem, but I haven’t solved it yet. Probably I won’t ever fully solve it. I’ll get the plates going but then I’ll sneeze or something (whatever the hell that means in this metaphor) and they’ll come crashing to the floor. Here’s hoping not, though. Sheesh, I am optimistic at night, aren’t I?

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Google Glass

Lately, I’ve been following the development of Google Glass with a low-level sort of persistent interest. My technology antenna is tuned pretty specifically to stuff that looks like it comes out of the science fiction I consumed in my youth. People always joke “where’s my jet pack?” but I don’t want one of those. I want to live in Star Trek utterly, okay?

Google Glass – the little piece of eyewear that extends in front of your eye and shows you your smartphone display, sort of — is proper science fiction. I don’t think it’ll show up and take over, and actually I think it’s not going to last thanks to the forces of history more than anything else. I think it’s extremely interesting, though.

First, for people concerned that they’re going to become super invasive, that soon you’ll step outside and everyone will turn and tag you like hipster-dressed Borg…chill. This is the same set of fears when Bluetooth headsets appeared. Mostly what happens is, these things self-regulate over time, due to social pressures. It turns out the person having a bluetooth headset left in all the time, shouting as they walk through the mall…is actually just an asshole. they found a market, a niche, and didn’t pervade like they were supposed to.

I can see some people using Google Glass. I can also see an extremely interesting benefit of them, in that if you synced it with a video game, it could be overlaying interesting information on top of the game. That could be really cool.

What’s most interesting, though, is that Google Glass marks a big public step in interactive technology, which is away from the telephone shape. Smartphones have gotten sharper and cooler and more powerful than ever before. They weigh nothing, they take amazing pictures, and so on…but they all look about the same. They are constrained loosely by size and shape and form. Various pieces of slightly rectangular glass.

I think this is the big change we’re about to face next is not processor power or operating system changes, but is the form itself changing…and becoming less uniform. YOU might opt for the phone-shape smartthing, but your buddy opted for the watch-based on which can holographically project a display onto the tabletop (or something).

I’m being vague because I don’t know what’s coming quite next, although I have lots of non-concrete thoughts on the topic. What I predict, though, is that the Google Glass will wind up being the weird middle-child stepping stone that somehow vanishes.

There were compact discs. Then, there were these really interesting mini-discs that Sony put out for awhile that were small, light, easily rewriteable, and pretty cool (I forgot what they’re called, because if you start keeping track of dead technology names, you will begin to forget the names of your kids). Unfortunately, they came out about ten minutes before MP3 Players themselves took off in a big way, and nobody ever noticed the existence of this weird player that had happened in between.

Likewise here. The Google Glass may wind up being a very cool gadget, but one that won’t hang around. I predict it’ll get stepped over. It may be a shame, and lamentable. I can see fun uses for Google Glass. (climbing a mountain, or deep sea diving, for example. How useful to have the camera and some data right there, without having to fumble around) (in Minnesota, I would’ve loved to have been able to text my wife and talk to her when out walking, middle of a death-winter when it is painful and actually dangerous to take your gloved hands out of your pockets.)

So yeah. I think we’re nearly at the end of the smartphone phase, and we’re heading into something else which’ll seem brilliant and obvious once we know what it is. I don’t think it’s Google glass, though.

(Dear Google. Please send me a Google Glass headset so I can play with it and have opinions better)

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

A brilliant quote

“There’s no recession in painting, no deficit of jokes. Don’t be told to “get real” by a world trillions in debt”

AE’s @jonathanwakeham

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

All About THE HOBBIT

So the other night, my wife and I trundled the kids off to a relative’s house, and we took ourselves off to a movie theater and saw THE HOBBIT. I wasn’t exactly bouncing up and down in my seat waiting to see it, because although I enjoyed the three Lord of the Rings films a great deal, everything Peter Jackson did after them was a disaster. King Kong was endless and tedious. The Lovely Bones remains one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. The best thing I saw with his name attached to it was TINTIN, which was Peter Jackson and Stephen Spielberg both riffing on early Spielberg (to fantastic effect). 

I was furthermore nervous because frankly, the Hobbit’s not that huge a book, with a pretty simple story. I wasn’t keen on the idea of turning it into three movies, each of them a zillion hours long. And then I was even more nervous than that because roughly half the people on twitter were complaining that it was terrible.

So what did I think of it? 

I liked it.

I had mixed feelings about it. Typically when we use that phrase, we mean it in a negative way, I think…but for me, the positives outweighed the negatives. I didn’t leave regretting the money or time spent, and I left not blown away, but planning to go see the future films.

THE HOBBIT lacked any of the narrative push that the Lord of the Rings movies had built-in. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo gets the ring, the Ring Wraiths appear, and pretty much instantly we are running for our lives, the intensity and the plot have kicked off.

There’s none of that in The Hobbit. What narrative push appears takes most of the running time to surface, as the momentum of the film itself passing — not the situation — eventually causes some.

So: The Lord of the Rings was driven, and The Hobbit was indulgent.

I don’t find that to be a bad thing, though, although I thought I would. For one thing, there’s a reason the Lord of the Rings stories have endured for so very long now, and that’s because the world of Middle-Earth is intoxicating to spend time in. The Hobbit lacking any driven plot means that we DO spend time there, and I enjoyed that. The Dwarven dinner at Bag-End went on and on and on, and I never minded.

There were definite problems with the film, though:

1) The Emptiness. I’m beginning to think of this as “fourth film syndrome”, because the last time I noticed it was in the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. The first time I noticed it was in a Babylon 5 direct-to-dvd set of mini-films, in which there is clearly no budget, and therefore virtually no actors. The Hobbit had this. Compare the Hobbit to, say, The Two Towers, and it feels empty. I grant you it’s a smaller story, but there were a lot of major actors on bluescreens-and-sets and not a lot of anyone else around them.

2) The Callbacks. The problem with the Hobbit was that they felt the need to hit all the same points as the Lord of the Rings movies, as often as they could…and also to stuff in as many recurring parts as they could. Sometimes that was okay (I will never object to someone putting Christopher Lee in a film). Sometimes it was awkward. Ian Holm as Bilbo and Elijah Wood as Frodo turning up at the beginning was unnecessary…but also awkward. They were both older. THat meant that Ian Holm looked OLD compared to “The Fellowship…” and Elijah Wood had grown-out a little, added some muscle and bulk. They looked odd.

3) CGI. One of the joys of the Lord of the Rings was that the Orcs, the Goblins, the Uruk’Hai, they were all (or some) people in brilliant makeup and outfits. Here, the White Orc, and everyone else was CGI. I don’t enjoy that nearly so much. THey don’t feel like real threats half the time.  The other problem was, they had clearly done it with the same technology they used for Gollum, and if you watch the White Orc, he has the same facial expressions.

4) RADAGAST. He should have been consigned to the same editing room floor as Tom Bombadil. ALSO HE HAD BIRD SHIT ON HIS FACE IT WAS RIGHT THERE ALL THE TIME WHY DID NO ONE TALK ABOUT THE BIRD SHIT DRIPPED DOWN HIS FACE

So what did I like? Well, the whole film, really. I don’t want to give the impression I didn’t.

– the opening scene with the ancient history of the Dwarves losing the kingdom to the dragon looked REALLY “World of Warcraft” to me. But then, the Goblin mines looked really “Skyrim” so possibly I need to get out more.

(the Goblin King reminded me of nothing so much as Boss Nass from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace)

(while we’re on the topic, how come ALL the Orcs, Goblins, trolls, all chatter away here and then say nothing much in the LotR films?)

I thought you could tell how they were reaching to find a “big epic” narrative plot for the films based on how many villains they kept throwing into the mix. WE’ve got the Pale Orc, the Goblin King, the Necromancer, the Spiders in Mirkwood (eventually I assume) the Dragon, Sauron is mentioned…

– Gollum was fantastic. They have got him nailed. The scene between him and Bilbo was brilliant. Martin Freeman was really really good.

– The Soundtrack was glorious, as I hoped. I particularly liked the Dwarven song they sang in Bilbo’s house, which then became the refrain for the orchestration throughout the movie.

– “Hey Gandalf thanks for finding us this Hobbit thief that’s really– WAIT WHAT THE HELL. YOU CAN SUMMON GIANT EAGLES. WHY DIDN’T YOU FIND US ONE OF THEM INSTEAD!?” 

(More Giant Eagles, thus raising the old question from the Lord of the Rings of “why the hell did they have to walk there?)

A plot glitch I’ve been thinking about:

in THE FELLOWSHIP, Bilbo passes the ring to Frodo. He then goes off to stay with the Elves. A short time later, when Frodo and Gang show up, Bilbo has aged a great deal, because the Ring is no longer prolonging his life.

So when Gollum lost the ring, why did he remain unchanged for SIXTY YEARS without it before encountering Frodo? Why didn’t he more or less drop dead in a heap?

So all and all, I enjoyed it. Mixed feelings, but not in a bad way, as I said. I’ll go see the next two. They spent so long getting things going in this first film, I hope the next two will be more exciting, or at least more focused. I don’t mind if they aren’t, though.

And those be my thoughts.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Cheapening Your Writing

My writing has had a big problem the past couple of years, entirely of my own making. It’s nearly sunk me as a writer. I’ve slowed way down in my writing.

Now why is that a problem? Well, there’s the big obvious reason, which is that I’m a full-time stay-at-home dad and writer, and if I’m not writing, then I’m not doing much am I?

There’s another problem, though, the big one, and that’s what I want to talk about for a second. It is what I perceive as the real vital quality of the writing advice that you should write every day.

The problem with not writing every day, as I have been failing to do, is that it eliminates your ability to play and to have effortless fun with your writing, once in awhile. It makes your writing sessions expensive, to use the metaphor I’m gonna run with in this post.

What happens is that you only get to write once a week, say. So when you sit down to write, there’s a lot of pressure on that one writing session. You HAVE TO GET STUFF DONE. There is a LOT OF WORK and you cannot fuck around.

What this did to me was couple up with my tendency not to write multiple drafts of my work (everything I’ve published is maybe draft 1.5, with rare exceptions) (this is not because I’m so gifted I don’t need drafts, it’s just how I work. I wind up doing a lot of the work in my head first, before I even write the story. I dunno. It works for me.)

Anyway, those two aspects coupled in my head like a bog I had sunk up to my waist in. Suddenly, every time I sat down to write, I had to get all the words exactly right, because there was no time for messing around. AND I had to get certain pieces of work done. The writing becomes expensive. You can’t play.

Here’s an example.

Despite my talk about mostly getting it right the first time with my stories, I have one story that I’m seriously on draft 12 of. I don’t know what the hell it is about the story, but I can’t get it working.

Now the problem is, I was working on this story every writing session I had earlier this year…but combining the busyness of kids, my own lack of energy, the chaotic life of someone moving, and general discouragement (and depression. Let’s be honest for a split-second here and then move on rapidly) I was only writing maybe once a week or so. I spent the rest of the time very grumpy and unhappy at my own lack of writing.

When I sat down to work, it was on that one story. I had a pretty good idea that the draft I was working on wasn’t working, but I wasn’t positive yet.

Now the problem is, I was writing so infrequently, I didn’t want to explore a draft that was maybe busted, you see what I mean? As a result, I just stopped working on the story. I had to figure it out in my head first. I had to get it absolutely right before I began writing it. When you’re writing so infrequently, you can’t afford to blow two writing sessions or what-have-you exploring a story idea that may not work, that may not go anywhere. Those two sessions are half your writing time for that whole month!

This is why it’s important to write every day. Supposing I sunk three days of work into that story, then decided it doesn’t work. Well hell, that’s three days out of one week, there’s four more days JUST in that week. It’s not such a big deal.

Writing every day cheapens the writing, and that’s important. It’s the difference between carrying a snowball up a hill each day, or waiting for it to turn into a gigantic glacier you can’t budge. It brings back the joy and ease to the work, takes away some of the intimidation. It means you can write something for fun and put it on the internet, for example, because so what? It’s a tiny piece of writing time out of the vast acres of writing time you have.

(Also, when your work is that huge and expensive each time you sit down, it becomes impossible — at least for me — to work on something long like a novel. The mere idea is exhausting. What if you work on it for three years of miserable once-a-week high-pressure writing sessions and then it doesn’t work? How depressing. That’ll kill the desire to write right there. Just thinking about novel writing, or watching my friends produce a ton of work, was depressing to me.)

This is what I’m working on (and why I’ve suddenly begun blogging more frequently). I’m finding little tricks to write a lot more, thus cheapening it all and making it easier to work. Blogging more is one trick. Writing articles for BookRiot has been a godsend (at least for me. The powers that be at BookRiot probably look at each other ruefully over drinks and go “he was your idea. Seriously, this is a disaster…) (I’m kidding, I hope).

Once upon a time, I switched to handwriting all my work because it not only let me focus on the words themselves (a godsend) but also didn’t feel as much like WORK as sitting at a computer did. These days, I’m moving back to the computer entirely, producing work as fast as I can in an effort to slop it off without sucking. Producing cheap work very fast.

Cheap, but still good. You know, like those weird off-brand chips that are inexplicably delicious.

(seriously. Off-brand Nacho Cheese chips are the best.)

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Brilliant Writing Deadweight

ImageRecently, a friend of mine wrote about being jammed up working on her book. It’s a common enough complaint among writers on the internet (that’s mainly what we’re all here to do, after all. Complain about being stuck on things). However, her post came along right as I was thinking about my own book and how little progress I was making on it. Let me quote the part of her blog that was particularly apt:

When I finished the dissertation, my committee was very positive about it being publication-ready.

But I’m an idiot.

I decided I needed to write a sweeping approach to my entire field.  The dissertation was too small.  Too minor.  It needed to be more! Bigger! Important!  IMPORTANT!!

Now, her work is nonfiction and mine is a novel, but I think the problem applies more or less the same.

With my novel — which is called FUGUE for now, up until it suddenly isn’t — I had a pretty good premise and some fun characters I wanted to explore. Then, on top of that, I introduced some complicated ambiguities that leave it up to the reader to decode precisely what happened (or what they think happened, which is really all a book needs to do. There don’t have to be concrete answers). But wait, I also thought up a fun way to tell the book, a complex and dense sort of first-person narrative which I really liked. It hadn’t been done before, not quite like this. I had a gigantic pile of really new and original and edgy ideas!

Oh, and a measly six pages of work produced over nearly a goddamn year of fiddling, off and on. 

So why is that? Well, a lot of it is that the ideas may have been good, they may have had legs, but I had so tangled them up with my grand and gigantic ideas, I had essentially trapped them in a straight jacket. Rather like wanting your infant to go out and play in the snow, but encasing them in a snowsuit so huge and bulky, they can’t move. 

I’ve begun stripping elements out. I’ve begun taking out all the pieces of the book, examining them, and putting them back in, trying to turn a disaster into a humming engine. Will it be less clever than it might have been, than the idealized vision that was in my head? Possibly.

But here’s the hard truth of it: you can have the most genius, earth-shaking, paradigm-altering idea ever, and unless you can write it and finish it, then it is worth less than the most hackneyed piece of crap out there. A finished work is always superior to an unfinished one.

So if I had a genius and totally original-in-every-aspect book, and it’s so entangled that it never gets done, I have got to cut ropes and pull out weights until the thing can move.

Bloatware is a term used in software and video game design to talk about those features that keep appearing and being added to the product, requiring more and more work. No one ever talks about how those features suck and everyone hates them. They could be brilliant. It’s just that they add more work and delay the whole thing, and sooner or later they have to be excised. (When a video game dies, sometimes it’s because no one was controlling the bloat. All it did was expand, then sink under its own bulk).

Put it succinctly: a brilliant feature that immobilizes your book may be brilliant, but is still a waste of your time and it has to go.

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Deep Space 9

The past few months, I have been gradually revisiting Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for the first time since my teenage years, when it was in first-run. It’s very interesting to go back to something like that, which made a huge impression on me and which I never saw again.

For one thing, it’s a smaller show than I remember. There were space battles that I recall taking whole series of episodes, whole seasons it seems, and they’re actually smaller pieces over the course of one or two episodes. And mostly, the gigantic epic space battles I recall are entirely in my head. They are implied, but never shown on the screen.

I think that’s funny, and says something about my busybusy teenage brain, filling in stories with only the tiniest suggestion. It was a more hyperactive brain back then. These days, it’s muddier and a lot more work to get geared up, but never mind.

The interesting thing is that despite being a smaller show, I’ve found DS9 to be significantly smarter than I remember. Sharper and angrier and more fierce. This is because I’m an adult now and equipped to notice when they’re going on about something. It’s a big science fiction space show with a war in the background, sure, but it also has one of the best and more interesting families on TV (Benjamin Sisko, his son Jake, his father Joseph, and his girlfriend Kasidy). It ranges on issues from sexual politics to issues of race, war, violence, patriotism (or not), fear…and also friendship, family, religion, and other topics besides. Best of all, it always plays fair to all its characters, whether they’re on the main cast or not. This isn’t something that previous Star Treks managed that well. (one day, I shall get up me courage and write about why I dislike The Original Series so thoroughly and then the internet shall hate me).

So that’s what I’ve been watching. It’s nice to have the art of one’s youth hold up when one comes back to it in adulthood. It doesn’t always happen. Babylon 5, for example, has fallen by the wayside, despite having the same gigantic impact on me at the same time as DS9.

Right. Off to chip away at the massive writing pile on my desk.

(Addendum: I forgot the interesting detail I had in mind when I sat down to start writing this post which was: we moved between season 6 and 7, intentionally timing our move between TV shows. When we arrived, we discovered that the new area didn’t get the station Deep Space 9 was on. I never saw Season 7. I started it yesterday, which means I’m now watching brand new Star Trek. And typing this sentence, I just realized I had the same thing happen with Voyager. What’s up with me and unwatched Star Trek? Huh…)

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

“I come into this world friendless and poor —and I find a body of laws hostile to the friendless and poor! To these laws hostile to me, then, I acknowledge hostility in my turn. Between us are the conditions of war.

—’Paul Clifford’ Bulwer-Lytton

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2013 in Uncategorized