10/11/17

Writer’s Life: Plotting it vs Winging It

I’ve talked before about Plotters versus Pantsers, and where I fall within the spectrum.  To summarize, Plotters want everything planned in advance.  They craft outlines which capture the high-level structure of their story.  Within the nodes of the outline, they outline further, laying out the chapters.  Within the chapters, they outline the scenes.  They go deeper and deeper with their outlines, until it’s a small step to just writing the story.  They string up their structure with prose, sewing flesh onto the skeleton of their ideas.  Famous Plotters include Brandon Sanderson and Jennifer Brozek.

Then there are the Pantsers, though they may prefer to be called Discovery Writers.  They aren’t bound by the constraints of an outline.  They start with a vision.  Then they sit down and write.  They are the first readers of their stories, the words appearing beneath their cursor with the movement of their eyes.  They need the surprise.  They often have an idea where things are going, but they’re more prone to let the characters take over.  Famous discovery writers include Stephen King and Dean Wesley Smith.

It’s interesting listening to writers that are at the extremes of the spectrum, because they seem to have such disdain for the opposite approach.  I remember listening to Dean Wesley Smith on a panel at my first WorldCon (Reno, 2011).  He described how he refuses to outline because when he does, he spoils the story for himself, and he no longer has any desire to see it through to the end.  Years later, I listened to Jennifer Brozek at a different convention.  I think it was a Con-Volution, but it might have been somewhere else.  She talked about the outlining process, and how when a Discovery Writer finishes their first draft, THAT’s their outline.  Both had compelling arguments that resonated with me.

And of course, in Stephen King’s book On Writing, he talks about plot like it’s a clumsy tool.  He talks about the story like it’s a fossil buried in the ground.  The Discovery Writer works at the excavation, carefully revealing the finer details.  The Plotter, on the other hand, goes into the same excavation site with a bulldozer.

As someone that is still trying to perfect his writing methods, I think about these perspectives on writing all the time.

It’s clear to me that each writer is different, and that the methods of one may not be appropriate as the techniques of another.

For myself, I’m starting to think that I need different techniques for different stories.  For example, when I started The Repossessed Ghost, I already had a character with a strong voice in my mind.  I’d dabbled with him in a few short stories years before.  I’d played him in a roleplaying game.  I liked Mel, and I thought he deserved to be in his own story.  But I wasn’t entirely sure what that story would be.

I started with a scenario.  He’s a repo-man, and he finds a ghost in a car.  What happens next?  I thought that he’d become a suspect in her murder.  So I went that direction.  One thing led to another, and the ideas started to fall into place very organically.  I wasn’t sure how the story would end, and I didn’t really know what the main conflict would be.  Somewhere in the middle of the first draft, I started to think the book was a strange love story.  I even tried to end it as a love story.  That turned out to be a bad idea.

The first draft of that story involved a lot of Discovery Writing.  I wound up editing it for about 3 years, and maybe it’s still not really done.  I certainly don’t want to work on it anymore, right now.

That approach worked for that story, but it isn’t going to work for Synthetic Dreams.  That story is too complicated.  I’m coming into this story with strong ideas about the world and the themes I want to explore.  I didn’t know who the characters were until I was about to start writing.  I really like the main characters now, and I want to see what happens to them.  But they weren’t the ones that drove this story into existence.  This story isn’t going to go anywhere unless I chart a course.  So for Synthetic Dreams, I’m doing a lot of outlining.

In November, I’m starting an entirely different story.  Like The Repossessed Ghost, I have a strong sense of the main character.  But like Synthetic Dreams, the story is big.  There are mysteries involved, and I have to know in advance what crimes my main character will be solving.  I need to know the bigger picture so that I can make the smaller pieces fit together into a coherent whole.  In preparation for NaNoWriMo, and to make sure that this new story makes sense, I’ve done some outlining.

There is no magical one-size-fits-all solution.  If there was, we’d all be doing it.  Instead, we fumble around, experimenting until we find something that works for us.  And sometimes what works once doesn’t work the next time.

I think I like it like that.  When I talked about playing music, I mentioned how I like to go into situations that scare me a little bit.  Well, every story is a little bit scary.

10/10/17

RC Swing!

I just got home from practice, and I’m unwinding with some bourbon and Pringles.  Those two things don’t really go that well together, but I wanted salt, and I wanted a drink.  So here we are.

Last night, I wrote about the concert band.  I talked a little about my history, and how I feel about it now.  Tonight, I’ll do the same with the swing band.  Though I’ve had enough to drink that I probably won’t be quite as eloquent.

I’ve been asked a couple of times what “RC” stands for in RC Swing.  Honestly?  It doesn’t stand for anything.  I think the strategy was to imply that it stands for Rancho Cordova, but it’s never been decided.  It could be “Royal Crown” or “Remote Control.” Maybe “Really Clever.”

I think it was October, 2014 when I was invited to sit in with RC Swing.  I was hesitant to commit, because November was coming, and I wanted to have another successful NaNoWriMo.  I said I could come for a little while, and now it’s 2017, and I’m still playing with the band.

The music we play in RC Swing is more fun than the music we play in the concert band.  There’s no denying that.  I always enjoyed Jazz Band more than Concert Band in school, and it’s still true today.  There’s more freedom of expression in the swing band.

When I first started with RC Swing, I didn’t have any real expectations.  I thought it was temporary, and I figured I was just another player in the band.  I was playing first alto, but that didn’t mean anything to me.  I enjoyed the music, and I was willing to do whatever needed doing.

I discovered that lead alto in a swing band usually has more responsibilities than I was used to.  I didn’t mind.  There were things for me to get used to, and I was being challenged in ways I hadn’t been challenged before, but that’s the kind of environment where I excel.  It’s like something I alluded to last night.  I like the pressure.  I like being just a little bit scared, and forced out of my comfort zone.  At least when it comes to performing.

For a period of time, I became more and more involved with RC Swing.  I did announcing.  I helped with a few set lists.  I was invited to leadership meetings.  I felt like I was one of the leaders.  I don’t know how much of that was me insinuating myself.  But I was definitely more involved.

Things have changed over time.  Perhaps I butted heads with the manager of the band one too many times.  These days, my role is much, much less.  That, in turn, has had an impact on my feelings about the band.

I still love the music.  I still do my best in performances.  But I don’t feel as connected as I used to.  When I first started, I really looked forward to the Tuesday practices.  Most of the time these days, I go into them with apprehension, and I often feel downright terrible at the end of the night.

We’ve got a gig this Saturday, then nothing scheduled for a long while.  I’ve told the band manager that I’m taking November off so that I can make sure I have a successful NaNoWriMo.  If we don’t have anything else going on this month, I might just start my break after this Saturday’s gig.  I obviously need a break from the band, at least for a little while.  Sometimes you need distance to appreciate what you have, and I’m hoping that after a good long break from RC Swing, I’ll miss it and want to come back.  Right now, I’m really looking forward to the taking the time off and focusing on writing.

This is starting to sound kind of negative, and I don’t mean it to.  There are some very talented musicians in the group.  I just need a break.

If you’re in the area this Saturday, you should come to: 6414 Brace Rd, Loomis, CA.  We start playing at 7PM, and there’s a small fee at the door.  But it’s going to be a great concert.

10/9/17

The Rancho Cordova River City Concert Band

I play alto sax with The Rancho Cordova River City Concert Band.  I’ve been playing with the band for several years.  We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit charity, dedicated to providing music to the local community as well as promoting the arts.  I’m the current president.  Those are the basic facts, but I want to talk about some of the history, and how I feel about the band.

For starters, I wasn’t the first Buhl to join the band.  My daughter joined about a year before I did.  Melissa dropped her off every Monday night for a while.  When Melissa got tired of that, she made me start dropping Bryanna off.  I dropped her off exactly once, then started bringing my sax and playing with the band.

Those first couple of years, I had mixed feelings about the band.  I didn’t feel like I was being used to my fullest potential.  I felt frustrated and disconnected.  I didn’t really know anyone other than Bryanna.  I didn’t feel fully engaged.  After Bryanna quit, I nearly quit, too.

Then in 2014, we hosted a convention in Rancho Cordova, and for the first time, I felt like a part of the band.  I felt like I mattered.  I volunteered my time, helped with stage crew, and when my competence was appreciated, I felt like I belonged.

That convention was an interesting experience.  I got to spend some time with my old High School teacher, Larry Hudson.  The band had worked really hard on the set list, and we played better than we’ve ever played.  I played with the convention band.  It was an amazing week.

But that convention came with a cost.

The president of the band at that time, Gary, had a gambling problem.  Worse, he was in positions of authority and responsibility, not only in the River City Concert Band, but also the Sacramento Valley Symphonic Band Association (SVSBA).  He was president and acting treasurer of both organizations.  And he’d been cooking the books and stealing money from both organizations for awhile.

He’d talked of big game, about how we had sponsors and donations.  About how the fundraising we’d done had been enough to pay for the convention.  But shortly after the convention, Gary got sick, and the people that the band owed money started calling people other than Gary.

That’s when we found out how screwed we were.  Almost $20,000 debt.  And we had nothing.

The SVSBA had been hurt bad, too, and maybe I’ll talk about that organization in another post.  A lot of people were hurt by Gary’s actions.

Before all that had gone down, I’d looked up to Gary.  I wanted his approval.  He had a grandfatherly way about him, and he seemed generous and kind.  He commanded respect.  He had clout.  And then we all found out the hard way that for as much as we loved him, he had stolen from us to feed his own addiction.

Several of us regrouped.  We worked out a deal with the city of Rancho Cordova.  Part of that deal was formally changing our name to Rancho Cordova Rivery City Concert Band.  There were other parts of that deal which didn’t sit that well with me.  It was my first brush with local politics.  We made compromises, did all of the proper paperwork, and now we’re a 501(c)(3) and our organization is much stronger.  We’re close to paying off our debt.  We may have been knocked for a loop by the actions of someone we trusted, but we got back up and kept playing music.

How do I feel about the band now?

I believe in the organization.  The board is full of people that volunteer and follow through.  We’re a good team.  The band is full of good musicians, and most everyone steps up and does what needs to be done.

I don’t think we are playing as well as when we played for the convention.  For the convention, we had a goal in mind, and we had a lot of really good pressure to force us to excel.  We haven’t had that kind of pressure for a long time.  We don’t have anything pushing us to reach beyond our comfort zone.  I would like us to take on something that scares us a little, because I think that’s the fire that forges us and shapes us into something beautiful.

We’ve purchased some new percussion, but we don’t have a way to practice with it very easily.  We don’t have very many percussionists right now, either.  Logistics for moving equipment is still a concern.

One of my long term goals for the band is to find a permanent practice location.  Some place that we can call our own, and where we can keep and use our equipment.

The challenge there is that for us to achieve that goal, I have to overcome one of my weaknesses: reaching out to people and asking them for stuff.  That is not easy for me to do.  I stress out about it.  A lot of times, I can push these types of tasks off to other board members.  But this particular one has been challenging.  We’ll get there.  It’s just taking longer than I like, and it’s my fault.

Those are my thoughts about the band, for better or worse.  Like any family, it has its share of problems.  But it is a good band, and I’m glad I’m still a part of it.

10/8/17

Writer’s Life: Pride and Fear

It is Sunday, and according to my schedule, I should be writing about politics.  But today was also the last day of Con-Volution 2017, and I’ve had some experiences today which make me want to talk about writing.

I’ve written about fear before.  It may be the best article on writing I’ve ever written.  I’m convinced that fear is the main enemy of the writer.  It’s also the enemy of a free society, but I’m not talking about politics today.  We’re sticking to the writing life and leaving politics for another day.

I’ve also written about pride.  Pride is a two-edged sword.  A little bit can help the writer get through some tough situations, but too much keeps them from seeing their mistakes.  Too much pride in the writer prevents them from reaching their potential.

This weekend, I’ve gone through some experiences where I’ve experienced both fear and pride, sometimes one right on top of the other.

Every convention starts with fear.  I’m always a little bit afraid that I’m going to make a fool of myself.  That I won’t fit in, or that I’ll say something stupid, or that the community will realize that I don’t belong and show me the door.  This isn’t a major fear anymore, but it is still present, like some persistent static when trying to listen to a song on the radio.

Once I start going to panels and I start talking with people and blending in, that fear mostly goes away.  It resurfaces when it’s time to go to the after parties.  The fear is manageable.  It’s the kind of fear that most introverts feel when presented with a large crowded room.

During Con-Volution 2017, I had moments where fear got to take a backseat to pride.  I participated in workshops, and there were moments when I reached for words and found them.  At one point, I wrote about a battle field and set up a powerful scene on the spot.  I only wrote a few sentences, but for a few moments, I felt like the greatest writer to ever put pen to paper.

My ego is not powerful enough to support such pride, so I quickly stepped back down to reality.  But I did still feel proud of myself, and from that experience and a few others during the convention, I felt justified in pursuing my writing hobby.  I thought for a few minutes that maybe my dream of becoming a full time writer could become a reality.  I just needed to keep going.

Today, I received some fuel to rekindle the fear and lower my expectations.  I’d sent The Repossessed Ghost to a friend, and we talked about it today.  He didn’t like it that much, and while that made me a little bit sad, it didn’t crush me.  What did crush me was the fact that part of the reason he didn’t like it was because a couple of important chapters were out of order in the print.  This error pulled him out of the story and prevented him from reading it as it was intended to be read.

I’m not that worried about my friend not liking my book.  It hurts, but it’s not the end of the world.  From the things we talked about, it wouldn’t take much for me to make him happy.  He wanted more descriptions of the main character, which is something I don’t want to do for a few reasons.  I’ll think about it, and if I work on it again, I’ll keep his advice in mind.

Obviously, my friend not liking my book stoked the fiery fears of failure.  But the real terror is discovering that the copy I’d sent to an important editor ALSO had the chapters mixed up.

You can’t just swap chapters 10 and 21 in the book.  It doesn’t work.  And it looks amateur.  It’s a stupid mistake.  One that I’ve never made before.  I’m not even sure HOW I made the mistake.  All I did was hit compile in Scrivener.  I checked the first dozen pages or so, and everything looked fine.  Just as it always had.

But the mistake is there, and I sent it to someone that has the potential of promoting my book in the direction I want it to go.  When I sent it to this editor, it was like buying a lottery ticket.  As long as he had it and I hadn’t heard from him, I’ve been able to feel like I’ve been moving towards the fulfillment of my dream.  But now it looks like that lottery ticket was misprinted, and can’t possibly be a winner.

Normal fear sucks.  Justified fear is even worse.

There’s been some ups and downs this weekend.  I’ve had moments where I felt confirmed as a writer.  I’ve had moments that have brought me down to reality, like concrete shoes on a man tossed out to sea.  Moments where I’ve found it very difficult to breathe.

It will be okay, though.  I just have to persevere.  Whether it’s pride swelling me up, or fear tearing me down, I just have to push on and keep going.

I will get through this, one way or another.

10/7/17

Con-Volution 2017 – Day 2

Last night, right after I posted about Day 1, I started sneezing, my nose started running, and I felt weak.  Even though the night was still young, I felt like going to the parties would be a bad idea.  Melissa and I stayed in and tucked in early.

Because we went to bed early, we woke up a little bit early.  Looking at the schedule, the earliest thing I wanted to attend wasn’t until 2PM, so we set off to walk around, play some Pokemon, and get breakfast.  We ran into Michael and David right outside and joined them in walking over to Peet’s Coffee.

After breakfast, we headed back to the hotel, found a table out on the patio, and I did some writing while Melissa read her book.  It was time well spent.

That pretty much sums up what the whole day was like.  Melissa and I floated around the convention, our meanderings interrupted by interesting conversation and occasional panels or workshops.

The first panel we attended was about Quantum Computing, presented by Kevin Roche.  Kevin did a great job presenting the material.  He kept it entertaining.  He made sure to avoid dry math, and he used some good analogies and anecdotes to keep it interesting throughout.  I must confess that I knew much the subject material before doing in since I already had an interest in quantum computing.  Hunched down so that people sitting behind me could see, I started to get a little drowsy.  But Kevin did such a good job that I did not fall asleep and embarrass myself.

The next panel was a workshop about jump starting the creative spark, and then applying different techniques to keep the working.  Mark Gelineua and Marjorie Hazeltine were the presenters, and they gave me some techniques I hadn’t thought of or used before.  I had fun with the writing exercises, and I took some good notes.

The last panel was another workshop, again lead by Michael.  This one was about four steps for immersing readers.  This was also a fun exercise.  I especially enjoyed Melissa’s participation, because she overcame her fears about other people reading her work.  She demonstrated that she can engage in creative writing and hold her own.

After the panel, I stayed behind and talked with a couple of the people that participated in the workshop.  This is what these conventions are really about.  Meeting new people with this special common interest, and sharing our enjoyment and enthusiasm for the subject.

There isn’t too much more I can say about the convention today.  In terms of quantity, I don’t believe the program is as strong as it has been previous years.  On the other hand, the programming I’ve participated in has been more engaging, and I really like the focus on participation.

If this is a new starting place, then I would love to see how the convention grows from here.  I like the venue.  I like what programming there is.  I just wish there was a little bit more of it.

Tomorrow, Melissa and I will have to leave a little bit early.  I have too much real life to get back to and contend with before Monday.  We’ll get breakfast with a friend, attend a panel at 10AM, then probably head out.  If I don’t write about Con-Volution tomorrow, I will say now that I’m glad Melissa and I came this year.

10/6/17

Con-Volution 2017 – Day 1

I was going to write about current events on Fridays, but since I’m basically on vacation at a convention, I’m going to take a break from the news.  Let’s talk about Con-Volution 2017!

Melissa and I arrived pretty early, which was lucky.  Apparently, we managed to skip a bunch of traffic.  We showed up at the hotel a little after noon, checked in, put our bags away, and wandered around the hotel, learning the convention’s geography.

The interesting thing about Con-Volution this year is that it’s in a new location.  This year it’s in San Ramon, at the same Marriott that I used to travel to for Dundracon.  Wandering the halls brought back a lot of memories.  It’s a really great venue for a small convention.

From what we can see this first day, Con-Volution 2017 is smaller than it has been in previous years.  Though the opening ceremony isn’t the greatest gauge for the size of a con, I noticed that there were about as many guests of honor as there were people in the audience.

Registration was okay.  I would have preferred that they started at 1PM instead of 2PM, since the 2PM start time only gave them an hour before opening ceremony.  But the line was short and moved fast enough for us.  Melissa and I were pre-registered, so we got our badges very quickly.

All of the programming is online.  I went through and picked out everything that interested me.  The selection seems thinner this year than previous years.  Again, this gives me the impression that Con-Volution is smaller this year than previous years.

An interesting change this year with the programming is that everything is workshops and round table discussions.  The entire focus of the con is to be more engaging.  Their mission is to teach and to inspire the community to do more with their creative talents.  I think it’s a noble goal, and honestly, it’s a welcome change from the standard panels.

After opening ceremony, Melissa and I went to a workshop lead by Michael.  The workshop was all about helping writers find their voice.  Michael gave us seeds for a story, then had us write in five minute bursts.  Each time we wrote, the scenario was changed slightly, and we had to use different viewpoint and tense.  The exercise forced us to really examine the voices we were using for our stories.  It’s very effective.

I want to take a moment to talk about Michael.  I’m proud of him.  When he runs a workshop, I can see the kind of teacher he could be once he gets his MFA.  He’s truly in his element when he’s in front of people teaching.  He does such a great job, and I’m glad I was able to participate.

After the writing workshop, Melissa and I went to a round table discussion on rebellions.  I wasn’t sure what to expect from it.  I hadn’t read the notes on it that closely.  It was an interesting discussion that started primarily with rebellion in science fiction, but quickly moved on to touch on historical revolutions, revolts, and some current events.  The discussion actually deviated into other, non-rebellion topics (such as the latest Wonder Woman movie), but it all seemed very organic, and I think everyone had a pretty good time.

After that, Melissa and I wandered off to get dinner.  It wasn’t awesome, but it wasn’t bad, either.

Back at the convention, we attended the meet the guests event.  I did my best, but I’ve never felt particularly comfortable walking up to strangers and talking at them.  I met a few of the guests, engaged them in conversation, and managed not to embarrass myself.  And that was fine.

When that event ended, Michael’s latest incarnation of his Bard for Life show took place in the same room.  Again, he did a great job.  I heard some material I hadn’t heard before as well as some I nearly have memorized at this point.  The crowd was very receptive.  After the show, two of the guests of honor tried to buy him a drink, but he wisely had David take the drink for him.  This weekend, David is Michael’s Designated Drinker.

And now I’m back in my room, scrambling to get my thoughts transposed out of my head.

I think Melissa and I are going to have a good time this weekend.  It doesn’t matter if the convention is small if everyone involved is having fun.  And, honestly, I’m meeting some interesting people.

10/5/17

The State of Science Fiction

Justine Diamond, this post is for you.

 

I’m going to be honest.  When Justine suggested this as a topic, I really had no idea what I was going to talk about.  I write science fiction and fantasy, and I read a lot of science fiction, but I don’t feel particularly qualified to talk about the genre in any meaningful way.

That’s a strange sentiment, isn’t it?

I’ve been reading science fiction for more than thirty years.  I’ve been writing off and on for nearly thirty years, and most of what I write is science fiction.  I’ve been attending science fiction conventions for the last seven years.  I spent many, many years writing Star Wars fan fiction with friends on a Star Wars MUSH.  And in spite of all of that, I feel like an unworthy authority on the subject.

With that in mind, take all of the following with a grain of salt.  These are just my opinions, and some of them are very loosely held.

 

Let’s begin with books.

I grew up with Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov.  I read a couple of other authors during my formative years, but I primarily spent my reading time enjoying the works of those two men.  I particularly liked Lazarus Long, and I just sort of ignored all the squicky stuff.

The last three books I’ve read are Mother Go by James Patrick Kelly, Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan, and The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons.  I tried to read The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, but I just couldn’t get into it.

In terms of quality, I think science fiction is just about as good as it’s ever been.  There is more of it than at any time I can remember.  There are plenty of stinkers, but there have always been campy, silly, or just plan bad science fiction books.  Heck, even my hero Heinlein wrote stories of questionable quality.

But I think there is greater inclusiveness with science fiction now.  Not only is the geeky material more readily accepted by the main stream, more diverse voices are getting heard.

I don’t want to get too much into the politics or the puppies, but I think the more people you have writing science fiction, the better.  One of my friends has been going on a crusade on twitter and social media, talking about how male authors have a harder time getting published now.  I disagree with him, and even if he’s right, I think the scales will eventually balance, anyway.  As a male writing science fiction, if it is harder for me to publish than it used to be, then I’ll just have to become a better writer.  I am up to the challenge.

In terms of content and subject matter, I think we’re in a better place than we were when I first got into science fiction.  For example, I really love the multi-dimensional subject matter in Jason Hough’s Zero World and in Peter Cline’s 14 and The Fold.  I think the solidly grounded work of Andy Weir’s The Martian is some of the best science fiction ever written.  There is some really great stuff being written these days.

 

Moving on to movies and other media, we have the special effects to really make science fiction look good.  Unfortunately, I think that’s where things can go a little bit sideways.  Some movie makers seem to get so caught up in making their movies look good, they forget to make their movies actually good.

For example, I’m lead to believe that Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets looked amazing, but didn’t deliver much of a story.  I didn’t go and see it, so I’m going off of word of mouth, reviews, and the poor showing at the box office.  I also heard Life was underwhelming.

It’s not all bad, though.  The Martian was almost as amazing on the screen as it was in the book.  The last Mad Max movie was exceptional.  I’ve enjoyed the latest Star Wars movies, and I’m looking forward to The Last Jedi in a couple of months.

Star Trek, on the other hand, seems to be going through a bit of an identity crisis.  The rebooted movies focused more on action and adventure and left a lot of original fans feeling like they’d been cheated out of compelling science fiction.  I haven’t Star Trek: Discovery yet, and I understand that it’s very dark, and very action oriented as well.  I’m hearing mixed things about it.

 

In general, I think science fiction is as good as it’s ever been.  Compared with fantasy, I think fantasy has been fairly dominant for a while, but I think science fiction is resurging.  I think there’s more demand for good science fiction than there was five years ago.

10/4/17

My Current Works in Progress

I have never sold a story, but I have a lot of material I’m working on, preparing them for sale.  Tonight, I’m going to take a break from politics and real life and talk about all of the fiction I’ve been writing.

Most of my works in progress aren’t actually getting worked on.  They’re all in different states of completion, with some really close to completion, and others barely into the first draft.  A lot of these stories don’t have proper names.  I’m going to give their working names, their status, and a brief description.  If you like any of these stories, let me know and I may move it up in my priorities.  I’m listing them in the order in which I started them, and not in order of priority.

 

The Arthur Kane Stories 

Status: It’s complicated.

Description: The Arthur Kane Stories are three sci-fi/mystery short stories woven together to form a novel, set on the moon and following a private investigator named Arthur Kane.  I came up with the character and wrote a few short stories with him when I was 14.  After my Dad died, I wrote The Arthur Kane Stories as way of dealing with my Dad’s death, though I didn’t know it at the time.  I started this novel when I was 16 and finished it when I was 18.

When I talk to people about The Repossessd Ghost, they often ask me if it is my first novel.  The quesiton always makes me think of The Arthur Kane Stories.  It’s really is my novel, even if it it is pretty terrible.

A few people have read it over the years, and they say it’s not that bad.  Recently, I’ve been retyping it, transposing it from my Apple IIgs to PC before the old hardware and discs fail.  Retyping it has confirmed to me the low quality of the work.  However, I did have some good ideas.

 

Tales of the Day Knights 

Status: Unfinished First Draft

Description: In this fantasy story, the Day Knights are defenders of good and order, paladins of the sun and righteous protectors of the free people.  They fight the demons of night and the agents of chaos.  But what happens when one of these agents of chaos is turned, no longer skulking in the shadows, but taking up arms to fight for the sun?

I started this story while I was still working for my previous company.  That was a time where I desperately wanted to write and be creative, but I worked late hours for not much money, and I just didn’t have the heart or energy to put into this story.  There are some good ideas, and some good prose.  I like establishing the black and white moral code, then messing everything up with shades of gray.  I like the story of redemption and the questions of forgiveness that this story wants to ask.  I’m not sure when I’m going to get back to it.

 

The Clean Slate 

Status: Unfinished First Draft

Description: The Bourne Identity meets Game of Thrones in this fantasy story where a group of heroes are reanimated from stone.  They have no idea how they got there or who they are, and the kindly monk that greets them on reanimation sends them on a quest to save the world.  Along the way, they discover that they may not have been heroes in their previous life, and much of what they’ve been sent to contend with is the results of their dark deeds.

This was my first NaNoWriMo attempt.  I didn’t get to 50,000 words, but I got to a little over 30,000.  Before finishing the first draft, I sent the first chapter to my friend Tim, and he gave me his honest opinion.  The prose fell flat, and it was not my best work.

The story isn’t bad.  I just started it poorly.  I think it will be amazing when I go back and do it right.  Again, I’m dealing with issues of redemption and forgiveness.  If a person has no memory of doing some terrible deed, and no memory of even being an evil person, how close are they to redemption?  How much do you hold them responsible?  I also deal with some ideas concerning free will, disarmament of society, and whether or not the ends justify the means.  I will get back to this some day, though there are other stories ahead of it in priority.

 

Unclaimed Goods 

Status: Finished Second Draft

Description: A baggage attendant starts his first day on the job, and the older, gruff attendant he’s replacing is understandably upset with him.  The baggage that they’re dealing with are human bodies kept in stasis while the passengers spend their travel time in virtual reality.  What happens when one of the bodies is unclaimed at destination?

I wrote this short story with every intention of trying to sell it to Asimov’s.  I wrote it after I met Sheila Williams, and she said at the time that this was the sort of story that she was looking for.  After sending it through a writer’s workshop and my writer’s group, I tried sending it to Writers of the Future, and it was rejected.  I became discouraged, and I haven’t done anything with it since.

There are things that I can do to improve the story.  There are some good ideas here.  I just need to take some time to elevate them.  I might revisit this story in December.  Maybe I’ll actually send it to a magazine.  If I can find the guts.

 

The Repossessed Ghost 

Status: Finished Third Draft

Description: A young repo-man from New Orleans discovers he’s psychic when he finds a ghost in the back of a car he’s recently repossessed.  After he becomes a suspect in her murder, he flees with the ghost (Kate) to Sacramento and becomes entangled with a larger supernatural community.  Eventually he must solve Kate’s murder in order to stop another from sharing her fate.

This started as a NaNoWriMo project, and it is the first and only time I’ve succeeded in getting the 50,000 words in 30 days.  Over the next couple of years, I revisited it, edited it, shared it with my writer’s group, shared it with an editor friend, and toiled over it on my own taking all of the advice into consideration.  After the third set of revisions, I’ve finally started sending it out to find it a home.

I like this story, but I’m tired of working on it.  I have hopes that this will be my first traditionally published work.  If that doesn’t work out, I’ll put it up on Amazon.  It’s a good book.  We’ll see if it has legs.

 

Avatars 

Status: Finished Second Draft

Description: A gamer in an elaborate virtual reality is killed in the game, and deals with a close friend that is known to the gamer only in the virtual world.

I like this short story, though it could use a little bit more work.  Only a couple of people have read it, and if I describe it more than I have, it will give away some of the things that I think make the story cool.  It deals with identity, both real and online.  It also deals with online relationships and the barriers of fear we put that can keep us from really connecting.

 

Simon, of The Rock 

Status: Unfinished First Draft

Description: In this fantasy novel, the boy named Sim yearns to become the man named Simon.  But first, he must pass the right of passage which all people of The Rock tribe must endure.

I came up with the Simon character while playing on Star Wars MUSH.  I like this character.  I want to see this character breathe again in a story all his own.

I’ve got pages and pages of notes for the world building.  I envisioned this book being the first of a trilogy.  I’d thought about this series for years, and finally tried putting the words down for NaNoWriMo a couple of years ago.  The story has a long, long way to go before it’s completed.

 

The Adventurer’s Door 

Status: Unfinished First Draft

Description: A teenage boy travels to his grandfather’s house with his mother after his mother gets a divorce.  His grandfather gives him one rule: don’t open this door.  Curiosity overcomes him, and he finds a way, which leads him to a perilous adventure on a pirate ship.

I’d started this story with the intention of sending it to Jennifer Brozak.  I made it a ways into the short story, but then got swept up in work and wound up missing the deadline.  I like what I’ve written enough that I’ll eventually finish it, though it’s low on my list of priorities.

 

Hero 

Status: Unfinished First Draft

Description: A young woman, one of the War Dancers, gets in over her head after the walls fall and the champion of her people is mortally wounded.

This was another failed NaNoWriMo project.  I started it last year and barely made it into the second week of November before I gave up.  Work just got too busy, my music schedule was too busy, and I was too tired to give this story the energy it deserved.

The inspiration for this story is this song:

Every time I listen to the song, I get this powerful vision in my head.  I will eventually write this story.  It’s about an unlikely hero.  It’s about finding hope when all hope is gone.  It’s about finding strength in unlikely places, and overcoming adversity that looks insurmountable.

 

Synthetic Dreams 

Status: Unfinished First Draft

Description: Set 150 years after The Singularity, humanity is gone and those that are left are A.I.’s in synthetic bodies.  The story follows two homicide detectives as they follow a trail of strange discorporations.

I just started this story a few weeks ago.  I really, really love it.  This will probably be the most emotional story I’ve written as it deals with the human condition through non-human characters.  It contends with religion, gender biases, what it means to be alive, and morality.  I like the main characters.  I like the setting.  This one is going to go far.

I’m not going to finish it before November, so it’s going to get at least a month long pause.  Maybe I’ll finish the first draft in early 2018.

 

And that leads me to NaNoWriMo 2017.

This year, I’m cheating a little bit.  You’re supposed to work on a new novel.  I am writing a new novel, but it’s based on The Arthur Kane stories.  I’m keeping the main character, his partner, and his antagonist.  I’m changing the world a bit.  I’m making it first person.  I’m going to focus on bringing out the noir elements of the story.  I’m also adding some sci-fi ideas I’ve had over the years, like gladiator robot dog fights.

It really is a new novel.  Besides, I have to be well past some sort of statue of limitations.  This story is going to be different enough that the original can’t even be considered a first draft.

 

So that’s it.  Those are my works in progress.  There are other stories that I’ve worked on that I haven’t mentioned here.  But these are the stories that I want to finish.

If I ever manage to make the transition to becoming a full time writer, I have plenty of work to do.  I don’t have a shortage of ideas.  Just a shortage of time.

10/3/17

Pushing through the Bad News and Enduring Social Media

I was going to write about RC Swing tonight, but there’s something else that’s been on my mind all day, so I’ll postpone that just like I postponed yesterday’s topic.  Today, I want to talk about how I deal with social networking and the media.

Starting just after the election, I got off of social media completely for several months.  I wasn’t sure I was even going to go back to Facebook.  I hated to give it up completely, though, because there are some people I’ve reconnected with on Facebook that I don’t interact with in any other way.  Giving up Facebook was giving up on those people, and I care about them.

I gave up social media because I couldn’t stand the constant conflict.  I kept getting upset by what I saw there, and I didn’t really know how to deal with it.  So I walked away and took a break.

I kept reading the news, however.  And I continued to get upset.

Now I’m back on Facebook, reading the news, and I’m even spending time on Twitter.  I’ve fully immersed myself in all the topical, temporary flotsam that I can handle.  I’m gorging myself on current events and political opinions.

How does it make me feel?

It doesn’t make me happy.  For the most part, I’ve built up something of a tolerance, but I’m not exactly enjoying what I’m reading.  The news stories aren’t always reliable, and it’s a little bit exhausting going off to multiple sources and double-checking reality.  Social media is punctuated with frivolity and snark intertwined.  Everything is formatted either as a lure or a weapon, to draw someone in or illicit some emotional reaction.  There’s constant noise, constant banality, constant terror.  It drains my attention and my energy.

At the same time, there are moments of light that make it worth it.  There’s humor and humanity.  There are people being truly supportive of one another, sharing in their victories, and helping others through their hard times.  There are momentary flashes of the best of what humanity has to offer, like islands of comfort beset on all sides by a sea of anger and vitriol.

Also, I can’t look away.  It’s like being a passenger in a car.  Some people are comfortable as passengers.  I’m not.  I have to see where I’m going and what’s going on, even if I’m powerless to make a difference.  If we’re going to crash, I want to know about it before it happens.

The last couple of days have been really difficult.  First there was the mass shooting in Las Vegas.  Then Tom Petty died.

There’s been bad news in constant supply for weeks and weeks, mostly coming through political channels.  When the news is bad enough, like it has been the last couple of days, I find it hard to stay focused and do what needs doing.  It impacts my work, my music, and my writing.

But I keep going.  The last couple of days have been harder than other days, but I keep going.  I summon my willpower.  I buckle down.  Sometimes I blast some music.  I do what must be done.  I write the program.  I play the music.  I write the words.  I keep going.

Several times, I’ve seen the sentiment that it’s not talent that makes a writer successful, but stubbornness.  The will to keep going, to push through rejection and just be persistent enough to write the next story and submit again.  I believe it, and I also believe that writers aren’t the only ones to succeed through such strength.

I want to offer advice on how to find the strength to keep going when the going is tough, but I don’t have any.  It’s different for different people, and it’s different for different situations.  Sometimes, you have to just close yourself off from everything and focus on the individual tasks, like putting one foot in front of the other.  Sometimes, you have to take a step back and look at the big picture, like looking up to the horizon, or checking a map.  Either way, to reach your destination, you have to keep moving.

To bring this back to the original topic, I see a lot of people that refuse to read the news or stay informed, and I understand why.  Ignorance truly can be bliss, and I have a couple of coworkers that are happier believing that things are as they’ve always been, and nothing ever really changes.  If nothing every really changes, what’s the point of reading the news or staying up-to-date with social media?

I believe things do change, though.  The climate is changing.  The political landscape has changed.  Technology advances.  The world is smaller and more accessible than it has ever been in history.

So, I’ll continue to watch and hope for the best.  The time for me closing my eyes and burying my head in the sand is past.

10/2/17

A Word on Guns and the Las Vegas Shooting

I was going to write about my band tonight.  I’d been really looking forward to it.  Instead, I’m going to take a moment to form and share my thoughts on the recent tragedy.

I’ve written about guns before.  In the past, I’ve made it clear that I wasn’t super excited about extra gun regulations.  For as much as I lean liberal, I’ve always been a little bit pro-gun.  I’ve never thought that they should be handed out easily.  I’ve always thought that people should be screened, and that we should have and enforce some common sense gun rules.

Events like the Las Vegas shooting disrupt my world view.  When it comes down to it, I just want people to be responsible.  I want to treat people like adults, and I want to trust people.

And let’s face it.  Way in the back of my heart, I always felt that if something really terrible happened, I’d rather we all be armed and have reliable access to weapons, in case the citizens had to fight for their country.

But my world view is shaken.  Maybe we can’t trust people to be responsible with weapons.  I know plenty of individuals that are trustworthy, but people?  Statistically, if you have a lot of guns and a lot of people, you’re chances of a bad gun landing in the hands of a bad person approach certainty.

America has more guns than any other nation, and we have more gun deaths.  There are some staggering statistics about how Americans are number one at literally killing themselves.  The mass shootings are too common.  Our forefathers did not want us killing ourselves like this.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know how I feel about Trump.  He’s a lying, racist, incompetent conman playing at fascism and endangering American lives.  I haven’t succumbed to “fake news” or liberal spin.  I’ve listened to his words.  I’ve watched his actions.  The one that convinced me that he is unfit to be President is Donald Trump himself.

I bring him up for now for two reasons.

  1. He isn’t going to do anything useful after this latest shooting.  He’s not going to offer genuine comfort.  He has no empathy or true sympathy for the victims.  If anyone is hoping that our President will lead us through this crisis, prepare to be disappointed.  That is not part of his skill set.  What he will likely do is defend the gun lobby and contribute tone deaf words in favor of Americans having guns.  We’ve heard the tune before, and I don’t think we should dance to it again.
  2. An argument could be made that he is exactly the sort of thing our forefathers feared, and perhaps wanted us armed to deal with.  Consider this quote:

    “A prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a people who mean to be free.” – Thomas Jefferson

Allow me to bring the thought to its conclusion.

Our forefathers may have envisioned and feared a despot rising up on the shoulders of a populist movement.  They may have wanted us armed to deal with such a despot, and some of the arguments for the 2nd Amendment are in line with this sort of thinking.  That if the American people should have their freedoms threatened by a power, that people should rise up in force and take back their country.

But that’s not how we’re going to pave the way to a better future.  The use of such force is not an effective way to achieving a better world.  It is a way to destroy a world and endanger the people and values that we cherish.

The answer lies in non-violent solutions.  It lies in building communities.  Spreading awareness.  Peacefully demonstrating.  Volunteering.  Voting.  Taking responsibility for our lives and helping those that we can.

We need to promote leaders based on their ability, rather than their popularity.  We need to quit electing actors and television personalities, and instead find and support people that talk and act in good conscience.

We need to grow up.

That might mean putting away our toys.  And by toys, I mean guns.

We are not alone in the world.  Whatever exceptionalism we may have demonstrated in the past, we are not currently embodying.  We live in constant fear, and we justify that fears by making it easy for people to get guns.

Maybe we need to disarm the whole society.  Both the people and the police.  I don’t know how we’ll do it, but I know that if it’s to work, someone prominent on The Right is going to have to lead the charge.  Maybe invoke Reagan’s name and remind people of the Brady Handgun Bill and why we adopted it.

We should all be looking at what happened in Las Vegas.  We should think about where we stand on gun violence, gun ownership, and examine why we feel the way we do about guns.

If you can look at the headlines, read about the tragic loss of life, and still think America’s current stance on guns is okay, I’d love to hear how.  Because I can’t.  Not anymore.