Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Writing a Synopsis...

My first "publishable" novel, I'd set out to write to be just that... a "publishable" novel. Described by editors (who've since rejected it), it was a bit of a mash-up of genre, part historical fiction, part fantasy myth, and part hard science fiction. It took me a good three years to write and many revisions to arrive at a finished product worthy of querying. So off I went...

I'll get into the details of the process I went through to acquire an agent in a later post, but for this post I wanted to concentrate on synopsis writing. As every writer knows, writing a synopsis for your opus is an unfulfilling pain in the ass. Everybody hates it. It's an exercise where you have to extract your novel's plot in a succinct narrative in almost outline fashion. None of your well-thought-out prose is included,none of the nuance or theme is incorporated, its just pure plotting... a watering down of your novel to pure extract. *yawn*

But for agents and editors, it is sadly essential, whether they read the thing or not, and I'll tell you why. Reading your manuscript is a long time-involved process. To make a "yay" or "nay" decision on your MS, to be able to essential 'skim' the remainder of your novel by reading the synopsis, is an important time saver in the world of publishing. So, when writing a synposis, care must be taken to insure all the plot elements are incorporated to construct the plotting. You have to 'finish the novel' for folks who may've only read the first two chapters.

Synopsis are typical written in third person present tense. Minor details not pertaining to the central plot are left out.. basically these are the cliff notes for your novel. Spoilers are also included, it isn't meant to be a dust jacket cover. It's an outline. So here, in gory detail, is my synopsis for my novel THE TORSTIEN DISPATCH.

In the year 1917, Lt. ROWAN GUTHRIE, a British war hero, is killed on deployment in the Italian Alps. His body is exhumed a thousand years later by the Æsiri, a neo-Polynesian race with a curious devotion to Norse paganism and necromancy. The dogma of their ancient holy book, The Edda has come to pass. The Earth is locked in a struggle against the forces of a new ice age called Fimbulwinter, while the epic battle of Ragnarok looms.

Rowan awakens into the bizarre and alien world of the Æsiri through a reanimation process alled ‘Skikk', a technique implemented by the city-state of Midgard’s Skjærsild institute. As he grows used to his new form, he begins to explore the Æsiri’s bifurcated conurbation and its desperate plight. It is a metropolis under siege by the illusive Vanir, denizens of Ytter Midgard, the dystopian counterpart to Ny Midgard's shining towers. In order to acquaint himself with the Æsiri’s struggle, SIGURD ASPERHEIM, a brooding and weirdly ill Ny Æsiri lieutenant, escorts Rowan into the bedlam of Ytter Midgard. In the ensuing street battle Rowan quietly recovers an encrypted data crystal from a dead Vanir, marked with the name 'Torstein Amundsen'.
Rowan is recruited by the Skjærsild leadership to lead a fallen legion of mythic Einherjar to battle the elusive Vanir on the rusted wastes of Asgard, formerly known as Mars. Before deployment, Rowan leaves for the Æsiri island archipelago of Heimdall to continue his combat training and physiological conditioning. His haunted custodian RAGNA, a Ny Æsiri girl with a troubled and mysterious past, accompanies him.
 On the tropical island of Forst Fodt, Rowan undergoes additional fine-tuning of his undead cadaver supervised by Dr. VIDAR AMUNDSEN. Rowan learns from Vidar, the grand nephew of the long deceased Torstein Amundsen, that his great uncle was a dissident of Midgard's current totalitarian regime, the Tyrians. He also learns of Torstein's scientific legacy, studying the climatological affects of Fimbulwinter's wintry onslaught.
As Rowan trains to become an Einherjar, he grows increasingly attached and attracted to Ragna, glomming to the hope that after Ragnarok he can return to Earth, exploit Vidar’s new ‘hyper-Skikk’ process, and become a living feeling man once again. In Forst Fodt's jungles, Rowan encounters a bizarre simulacrum Vidar calls ENGEL, a robotic avatar programmed to mimic Ragna's mannerisms, communicating in a strange musical cant only he can understand. Deployed as his personal bodyguard and minder, Engel is to accompany Rowan to Asgard where Ragna cannot. Before Rowan departs Forst Fodt, he gives Vidar the 'Torstein' data archive for reasons he can't quite explain.
Rowan says goodbye to a melancholy Ragna and travels to the desolate island of Bifrost, a proving ground where the Einherjar 3rd Wave legions are trained before crossing to Asgard. Shocked and stupefied, he meets a resurrected but barely phased Sigurd, with whom he shares a joint command. Rowan’s and Sigurd’s armies battle each other in simulated scenarios meant to mimic Asgard's battlefields. Overcome by arrogance and a disturbing nonchalant approach to military training rigor, it is soon obvious Sigurd has little interest in honing his tactics. Rowan's suspicions are provoked.
After an audacious assassination bid by a Vanir saboteur, Rowan attempts to collect as much tactical intelligence on the cagey Vanir as possible. He learns of the curious 'Lahg 17' event, a close encounter with the Vanir after an infiltration and brief seizure of a high-gain communication hub. Due to the relentless jamming of the Vanir’s radio signals on Asgard by the 2nd Wave, Rowan suspects the raid was to transmit the 'Torstein Dispatch' to Earth. From grainy footage he notices the Vanir are Caucasian like himself and not of Æsiri pedigree.
Rowan's Einherjar Valkyries crash-land in enemy territory upon decent to Asgard, a disaster that Sigurd has frustratingly little will to investigate. Arriving at the Spartan redoubt of Valhalla, Rowan discovers its thermal derricks are nearly depleted, adding to a pre-existing energy premium that has reduced Asgard to intractable trench warfare.
Rowan decides Sigurd's brazen disregard for tactics and logistics is part of grander conspiracy and challenges him to a 'falskniv' duel in protest, as is Einherjar tradition. After Rowan loses the contest, he decides it is finally time to subvert Sigurd's command. During the 3rd Wave’s initial offensive, Rowan undermines the rear rank’s energy reserves and rushes the battlefield with Sigurd impotent to stop him. Disastrously underestimating the Vanir's ominous firepower, Rowan's Einherjar are quickly dismembered and annihilated, the remnants succumbing to a sinister battle fatigue known as 'draugarism'.
 Once assigned to protect Rowan on Asgard, Engel betrays and strands him behind enemy lines in a coma state. He awakens in the custody of the Vanir and quickly discovers that contrary to the myth of an apocalyptic final battle, Ragnarok is in fact a colonial rebellion waged by a people called the Islanders. Rowan meets KRISTJANA, an officer in the Island Colony Defense who briefs him on the history of their struggle…
…Energy rich on Asgard's Povinis Mons escarpment, the Islanders established the colony over two hundred years prior. One of their chief advocates in Ny Midgard politics was Torstein Amundsen, a frequent visiting scientist and emissary to the colony. Once the despotic Tyrians overthrew the old Midgard republic, the Islanders initiated a war of succession to free themselves from Tyrian control. A group of Ny Æsiri loyalist, the legendary ‘1st Wave’, attempted to quell the Islander rebellion but were routed and driven back to 'Valhalla' to suffocate…
 After learning of the insurgency, the Islanders are eager to aid the downtrodden inhabitants of Ytter Midgard (the native Mindre Æsiri) in the hopes that it will provoke the fall of the Tyrian regime. Rowan comes to realize the Vanir don’t actually exist; the notion of the much-maligned Æsiri adversary is nothing but propaganda perpetuated by the Tyrians to rally the Ny Æsiri people.
The Torstein Dispatch’s intended recipients are the Mindre Æsiri guerilla leadership and their Ny Æsiri sympathizers. Included in the dispatch’s data package is a collection of contraband technical and tactical information designed to help the partisans defeat their oppressors. The data also includes Torstein Amundsen's climatological science, a manifesto meant to function as a political weapon against the Tyrians.
Kristjana explains that the crux of Torstein’s theory dismisses the notion of a planet-wide 'ice death', instead advocating the idea that the current ice age is nearing its end; Fimbulwinter is nothing more than misinformation used by the Tyrians to continue their state of emergency. Rowan tells Kristjana he has unwittingly delivered the Islander's 'Torstein Dispatch' to Vidar. Kristjana is elated the information has made it into the hands of a sympathetic kinsman, but Rowan has his doubts.
During transit from the forward bunker to the Islander arcologies, Rowan and Kristjana are ambushed and taken prisoner by Engel. She drags them back to the Valhalla prison cordons where Sigurd reveals his true plan for glory and victory. As Skjærsild’s guinea pig, Sigurd injected himself with an experimental synthetic disease (a byproduct of Vidar's hyper-Skikk experiments) to test its deadly effectiveness. Once contagious, Sigurd administered the 'sykmaskin' to Rowan and his legionnaires, implementing a covert plan to insure their capture by the ‘Vanir’. With the scheme a success and the plague released on the Islanders, Rowan realizes he's been Sigurd's unwitting pawn, completely manipulated by lies and unrequited desires.
Attempting to force Rowan to spill the secrets of the Torstein Dispatch, Sigurd tempts him with the sykmaskin antidote as Kristjana slowly dies from the disease. Managing to escape, Rowan tries to administer the remedy to Kristjana but she refuses, instead telling Rowan to make for the Islander front lines in hopes their scientists can recreate the cure. Kristjana asks Rowan to end her suffering, which he does, guilt-ridden and ashamed.
En route back to Islander territory, Rowan is intercepted by Engel but manages to defeat the automaton Savatuese using primitive means. In her death throws, she detonates a grenade, smashing the antidote vial. Energy death consumes Rowan, the fate of Mindre Æsiri and Islander rebellion now in the hands of Vidar Amundsen.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Writing Comics...

I attempted to write a comic about a year and half ago or so. My old roommate from college is a production designer in Hollywood and had always wanted to do a comic. He's an amazing artist, so I figured if he was offering to do the art, I could oblige with a script. I asked him about story topics and he said "something with clones"... a bit done sci-fi wise but doable.

For starters, I don't read comics, I've never read comics, save the odd one-off Frank Miller (e.g. Sin City, Ronin, etc...) It's not that I don't respect the genre, I do, but the mix of visual and prose I find distracting. When reading a novel, my imagination builds the images in my head, to have the artwork accompany it, I can't quite get into the 'feel' of what I'm reading. I attribute this to not understanding comics fully... I haven't invested the time. It's visual story telling that like writing, seems easy at first, but is of course a very difficult artform to get right. So when asked to write a comic book, I started from a place of complete ignorance. The first step in anything is to admit your limitations

The first thing I did was go down to the local comic shop and explained to the very generous/helpful proprietor what I was trying to do. She loaded me up with a stack of comics with 'extras', kind of like DVD extras, but with the comic script companion in the back. I grabbed a few Alan Moore comics and one by Grant Morrison, both are incredibly famous writers in comic circles, little was I aware. Alan Moore's responsible for the the seminal Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and From Hell, while Grant Morrison wrote Arkham Asylum, a Batman comic that redefined the franchise completely. Both were written in completely different fashion.

Alan Moore's obsessive with his comic writing. He writes every single pane individually, every detail painstakingly, if not obsessively, described. He is a true visual story teller and a master at the art form. His only drawback is his inability to draw, but this is part of his strength. He's able to attract top name comic artists and each one of his comics looks and feels different because of it.

As an example, here's a just a single intro panel from Alan Moore's script for the much lauded "Killing Joke" Batman comic....
No Dialogue.

I admitted very early on, that I would not be able to accomplish this... not by a stretch. Alan Moore paints a very detailed picture. I'm not an auteur of the genre, and there's no way to mimic such talent, unless I decide to "go all the way" i.e. devote my writing future to comic book writing success.

Grant Morrison, on the other hand, wrote comics similar to movie scripts, highlighting setting, a bit of blocking, and dialogue. While thumb-nailing the action as a suggestive guide for the artist, he leaves the paneling to the artist themselves. So, needless to say, I went with the Grant approach. Since film production requires storyboarding on which to frame shots, I left this up to my film school buddy to work out.

Grant Morrison's script leaves a lot for interpretation, which exercises artistic style
So, I embarked on a script (which I'm planning on posting in parts... maybe as the follow-up post to this one). The problem with comic books is that its a shit load of work. Not for the writer, but for the illustrator. I gauged my comic would require about 24 to 25 pages, with each page being about 4 to 5 panes. That's 100 panels of artwork!!! That is a ton!!! I told my buddy this and he agreed. Although, he was determined to attempt it.

As of today, he's fleshed out a few 'master shots' which I haven't seen yet, trying for the look and feel of the comic. It's a tall order and for a reasonably busy person, I can only encourage my buddy to continue on. But despite the final product (if there is to be one) the process of flexing my story telling was an opportunity that proved exciting.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The End (of the Space Shuttle Program) is the Beginning...

The Space Shuttle's robotic successor, the X-37
I've spent a lot of energy lamenting the end of NASA's manned shuttle program. For a sci-fi writer who dreams of extra-terrestrial worlds, accessible, cheap, and ubiquitous, to have your sense of wonder stolen by U.S. policy decisions is a bit of a kill joy. Sadly, the United States will have no capability to put a man into space once Atlantis is stuffed in a museum somewhere. NASA plans for a future craft are woefully underfunded and its expected we won't see a U.S. manned spacecraft launch in the next decade. There's the "barnstorming" private spacefarers like Scaled Composites, but these are sub-orbital tourist ventures that are incapable of achieving orbit. To make orbit, a full rocket launch is required. Space, besides satellite launching and maintenance, is unprofitable. Its resources are still too challenging access.
The Mars Rover: exploring the Martian surface so you don't have to.

I doubt the United States' feats in manned space exploration will be trumped. There's talk of the Chinese landing on the Moon in the next 10 years, but I sincerely doubt it. Regardless, old tricks. Neil Armstrong landed at Tranquility Base 40 years ago and I'm not sure how much they could push the exploration envelope. To build a sustainable Moon base is an exotic challenge, and I think the Chinese space program is nowhere near innovative enough. I could be proven wrong. But I doubt it.

My take is this.... human beings and their relationship to outer space is founded in old paradigms. The salient inroad to outer space is based in the obsolete. Why say this? Believe me, there'd be no bigger thrill to see a balls out race to put a man on Mars, but it's not happening, it's too dangerous, too expensive, all that. We're looking at the future of spaceflight and space exploration through the distorted glass darkly of the now.

Darpa's Big Dog robot, creepy but cool

The advancement of robotics in the past 20 years has been staggering. Those with the 'Right Stuff' are not human beings of flesh and blood anymore, but CPU's engineered to the proper environmental requirements. As we speak, there's a rush to eliminate fighter pilots from the cockpit entirely, and robots are insinuating themselves onto the battlefield in odd and peculiar forms unthinkable only a decade ago. Soon, they'll be driving our cars for us and who knows what else... One point that seems to be lost in this robotic/drone rush is that these type of machines are the hardened veterans of space exploration, their technology honed by the extremes of our solar system. To land and deploy a Mars rover from Earth is a monumental feat, no doubt as challenging as landing a man on the Moon in the day. Now, that very technology has fallen back to Earth, an invasion, if you will.

Singularity: Machines getting on with it without us

There's a sub-genre in sci-fi having risen to prominence as of late called "The Technological Singularity". It's the notion that we will soon develop machines with quasi sentience that will fundamentally change history in an unknowable ways. The idea originates with "Moore's Law" for integrated circuits, that artificial intelligence will continue at a rate where soon (maybe within our century) silicon brains will overtake their biological predecessors. Whether or not its plausible remains, but again, many of our current technological advances we now take for granted. The future has always been unpredictable. To have the audacity to believe that humanity's outbound quest into the stars is "over" with the death of a 30+ year old space truck seems bizarre.

Looking at the upcoming unmanned missions, there's some crazy stuff in progress. NASA's New Horizons probe is bound to intercept Pluto in 2015.... yes Pluto!!! While demoted planet-wise, it's a realm human beings have never laid eyed upon... undiscovered country. And soon we will know it. Personally I find this much more of a thrill than yet another launch of the shuttle a few hundred kilometers above the Earth, loaded with silly schoolkid experiments. Don't get me wrong, the ISS is the equivalent of the Giza Pyramids today. The engineering to allow human beings to live and work in the void is astounding. But I believe, by continuing to fund the exorbitant (relatively of course, its pennies on the dollar when compared to our military budget) we could be investing into robotics.

Trying to be positive here... I could watch montage hours of NASA's archives, lunar rovers, the power of the Saturn IV, EVAs in and around the shuttle and ISS, but that's nostalgia, and nostalgia is retrograde. Whether a technological singularity will bring the next Skynet, or something more benign (lets hope) remains. The death of human spaceflight is a tragedy no doubt, I would have dearly liked to see it continue, but its not happening. We need a reason to leave Earth again, and I believe our automated Louis and Clarkes will one day give us that reason...

Thursday, June 30, 2011

CHRONOPHAGE and the art of writing a female protagonist

The Corpus Clock (aka Chronophage) in Cambridge, England

CHRONOPHAGE is the name of my new novel, to be completed at what I'm guessing is 85K - 90K words. Inshallah, the first draft will be done in a couple of weeks... Inshallah. This being the fourth novel I've written, it has by far been the most challenging, a complicated plotline coupled with a female protagonist has thrown me out of my element, but as I stitch up the plot threads, things are coming together (I believe).  I'd like to think this would be "character-driven hard sci-fi" which is a bit of an oxymoron, but I've worked hard to try to flesh out a believable main character, one that defies (and not defines, hopefully) the way females are typically portrayed in much of sci-fi/fantasy genre trope...

I see this a lot: men (and some women) love to see female characters act like men, they love to see slick leather-clad assassin types donned in mirror shades, their ability to kill only matched by their sexual prowess, promiscuous, unapologetic, and relenting. Give the masses what they want, you say? Many do, luckily, so I don't have to. Somehow this masquerades as a backdoor embrace of female empowerment, that comic book equality is bridged by merely xeroxing women into traditional male fiction archetypes (while adding a healthy dose of Frank Frazetta embellishment). Done to affect in the past (Molly Millions of William Gibson's NEUROMANCER captures this beautifully), I find it a bit too well tread, watered down, and boring. Their are many great exceptions to this rule, but to appease the coveted 15 y.o. to 35 y.o. male demographic, a lot of times you're stuck. 

Something borrowed: Molly Millions' much nicer successor, Trinity of The Matrix
When it comes to writing, I have issues with plausibility. I do write science-fiction, which by it's very definition extrapolates on plausibility, but when it comes to characters, if they're not truly believable, I have an immediate problem. So when attempting Zara (the female protagonist of CHRONOPHAGE) I tried hard to make her decision processes less 'man-like' and more ... what's the word... subtle? She is lost but not desperate, sexual but not seductive, driven but not cocky, emotional but not weak, decisive but not rash... she is a balance despite her monomaniac personality. So, now as I finish the last chapter (or two), I perform a thought experiment, where I substitute Zara for 'Zach' say and see if it mattered story-wise. My opinion is that it most definitely wouldn't work... luckily.

CHRONOPHAGE isn't proof tested by any stretch. I'm hoping my agent decides to submit it. It's going to take a lot of edition (more so than my past novel, I believe) to get it ready and it suffers from consistency issues

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Two rules for keeping friends...

I have two simple rules for keeping and maintaining solid friendships...

RULE #1: Don't ask friends to move, only accept their help if they offer, but leave them with a workable guilt-free excuse that day if they decide to back out at the last minute.

RULE #2: Don't ask friends for feedback on your novel. Only offer your novel up if a friend expresses interest, but once you hand it off to them, do not (try not) to ask them about it later.

An awesome midget painting next to the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, way more interesting in my opinion

A novel is a time commitment. It's art in long form. Easy enough to head out to an art gallery and take in all the countless hours of sweat and tears that went into that art in a small span of time. Rose and I toured the Louvre in a break-neck 3 hours one night. I doubt we got as much out of it as those tourists camped out on nearby benches admiring each work for an half-hour or more. I'm not a visual artist after all, and I only have a cursory knowledge of art history. But still, opinions were formed, emotions evoked, curiosity piqued, etc... Basically its one thing to ask some one to "take a look at my painting!". There's really no chore in doing so. But when it comes to writing? A completely different story.

Dustin Hoffman, more awesome than your actor-friend

It's challenging to think of art with regard to time. But we're busy human beings and our time is tied up in the basics of survival (unfortunately): jobs, household duties, socializing, food procurement, etc... To make room for art (and especially unproven art) is a challenge. Believe me, you're much more likely to want to go check out Dustin Hoffman play Willy Lowman in the Broadway version of "Death of a Salesman" then you are to want to go check your friend's one-man play down at the corner repertorie theater. Sure, your friend's in it, you like your friend, and they worked really really hard on their act, but seriously... Dustin Hoffman's way more awesome than your friend will ever be acting-wise. But hey, your friend's play is only an hour or so, what's an hour out of your life?

An aside: Art, I believe, can be broken down into its time commitment as follows...
paintings/sculptures/photography < poetry/songs < ballet/plays/film < opera/symphony < long-form writing

Again, a different story when it comes to novels. To slog through a friends overwritten plot-holed 150K work opus is misery. And providing feedback? Even more miserable. "Yeah, your baby's ugly. Not sure why, it just is..." Most unpublished writers aren't that good, because they're unpublished. You'd much rather speed through a Clancy Rainbow Six novel than you would your friends nonsensical Star Wars pastiche.  As a writer, I think its important to admit that to yourself.

When you're offering your novel to friends, your burdening them in a way. They may actually be really interested in what you wrote, perhaps as a means to gain insight into your inner workings, a voyeuristic journey perhaps. But once they run up against some of your writing weaknesses, they lose steam. It's human nature. I've given my novel to countless friends, but only a few brave souls have ever told me months later, they read the entire thing. And to ask for honest criticism? Don't count on it. They don't want to hurt your feelings. But if they do offer up a few nuggets of advice, whatever you do, don't hold it against them. You borrowed eight+ hours of their life, to get angry at them because they "had some issues" with your book is selfish.

As a struggling writer, getting honest thoughtful and meaningful criticism is a terrible challenge. Take what you can get, I say. When you ask a friend "tell me what you really think", don't just say it, mean it. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Settings: Vancouver, Canada

Douglas Coupland, who named a book after Billy Idol's former punk band "Generation X" and became a spokesman for my generation, wrote an interesting coffee table book called "The City of Glass". It's a series of photo-essays that sheds a bit of light on Coupland's hometown. One point that he makes is that Vancouver is a 21st Century City, the oldest of the new cities, a paradigm unto itself.

Vancouver's canyons of glass
I've been travelling to Vancouver for visits my whole life and I've seen it change over the decades. Although, I've probably seen more of Vancouver on my television set as it is a stand in for "everywhere", it's played Caprica in Battlestar Galactica, and been the dreary backdrop for every the X-files episode up to Season 6 or 7 (don't remember when production switched to LA), and it's also been the non-setting for a ton of films over the years due to its thriving film industry. It represents everywhere and nowhere at the same time, which I think is a bit of a bummer, because Vancouver rarely plays its deserving self in the on-screen fictional universe.

Vancouver prior to the Cylon Invasion
The Vancouver I know, is something akin to a "New London", a hyper-accelerated cosmopolis where English as a language shares street-time equally with Hindi, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic, and French. With this mixed and jumbled tech savvy culture, beholden to quick-fashion and alien pop-culture quirks, it brings to mind a pre-cyberpunk chic. And walking its streets, it's easy to understand why the godfather of cyberpunk himself, William Gibson, calls the city home.

the seminal classic
Physically, Vancouver is anything but a near future dystopia however. It's probably one of the more beautiful cities of the New World, a clash of forested mountains, water, and glass towers (called 'see-throughs' by the natives). And because of its geography and location, it is unlike any other North American city. There are no belts of freeway traffic circling the city, there's no copse of corporate skyskrapers at its center (despite its impressive skyline), and with its Asian influences, resembles more Hong Kong than it does Seattle. Despite it being a very new city, it lacks the cheap pre-fab disposable look of some American cities (I won't name names, but those cities know who they are). There's been a great deal of thought to its 'newness', a style that's uniquely its own.

the last remnant of old futuristic Vancouver, Expo '86 today 

Vancouver's contribution to history and culture has yet to be written, a Roman-era London, an outpost on a new frontier, the literal answer to what happens when West meets East. And for somebody that writes science fiction, I find it a fascinating/inspiring place to visit for its possibilities more so than its history.

So if you get the chance to visit, I highly recommend the Japadogs.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Reading the Transhumanist Way!

The Arakawa house, not really that comfortable
Transhumanism is a poorly thought out philosophy that states that human beings, by altering their reality, can 'force' evolutionary change. It defies biology and is a bit of an offshoot from the crackpot 'immortality' movement. Immortality, of course, is scientifically ridiculous. The reason we dominate the world  as a species is because humans mutate and pass on the awesome genes, rewarding the Don Drapers and Ghenghis Khans of the world, while punishing and killing off the lame genes, like whatever gene predisposes you to play World of Warcraft and eat Doritos 12 hours a day. People have tried to work transhumanist ideas into architecture (e.g. the Arakawa house, depicted above) and art, but what I think they're really gunning for is the idea that in order to advance intellectually/genetically/etc..., one must embrace a challenging environment and one must try not to get too comfortable, a pretty obvious notion.

An experiment in transhumanist writing, or a literary practical joke, not sure which.
So, as a sluggish reader, I try to diversify my reading in such a way as to 'not get comfortable.' This, by itself can slow the reading down: new styles to get used to, a different cultural perspective, different eras, etc...A pretentious notion probably, but I'm by no means sitting around reading War and Peace, Gravity's Rainbow, or Ulysses. It's less painful than that.

I try to 'not get comfortable' by reading a different author every book and abstaining from reading series as much as I'm tempted. Although, I'm sometimes not able to stick to my guns (Gene Wolfe got me for five novels). With the shear volume of books and authors, this is a straightforward task. There's a ton of award winning Sci-Fi/Fantasy authors out there and at the rate I read, I will never exhaust my reading list. Basically, if one starts with Gollancz's SF Masterworks series, a reader could plow through 60+ amazing Sci-Fi novels and rarely encounter the same writer twice. And luckily, unlike TV or film, the quality you encounter content-wise is greater per product than any other media form (in my humble opinion).

Start Here
So, should reading be for pleasure or should it be work? It depends on your goals. I read sci-fi because I love the genre, and I'm also researching styles. Part pleasure. Part work. Occasionally, I stumble across books that I realize are important and influential, but that I simply don't care for (like listening to the band REM, I appreciate them, but don't enjoy their music). Most of the time, this isn't the case however. Some books are written with simple language but are outstandingly executed (George R Stewart's "The Earth Abides" comes to mind) and others are outstandingly written but poorly executed (Ian McDonald's "River of Gods", it's quite the mess'). Different books I enjoy for completely different reasons.

I wish I was a quicker reader but I'm not. (Rose tells me my lips sometimes move as I read . They don't, but whatever), This is my system and it seems to work for the most part, exposing me to as much different stuff as efficiently as possible.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Something borrowed... The World of Pandora

Not Pandora
As a kid, I used to stare at my father's album covers for hours. And back in the 70's/early 80's the era of progressive rock and arena rock was a watershed moment for album cover art. The albums were vinyl then and big! Not shrunken down to CD size. Now, most album covers have been reduced to thumbnails on iTunes, so what really is the point?. In fact, in the age of digital media, there are albums I'm fond of that I've never seen covers for. But those old LP covers, by no means 'high art', were wild and crazy and inspiring as a kid: spaceships, psychedelic planetscapes, and other assorted 'far out' stoner playgrounds of the mind. Master of this style of album art was a rock artist named Roger Dean whose YES and Asia album covers I fell in love with as a kid,

Roger Dean YES album art 
Now, when I watched Avatar like everyone else, there with my IMAX 3D goggles strapped to my head, I was truly blown away by the visuals. But after watching a few James Cameron's "king of the world" interviews, I realized he and his visual team were the undisputed "kings of Pandora". Unfortunately in all those exhausting DVD extra interviews (and maybe I missed it somewhere) there was no obligatory list of "influences" that brought Cameron to create Pandora.

I can get into the whole movie itself, and its whole "Dances with Wolves (in Space)" storyline, but I won't. There's been enough written about that. My beef with Avatar is the lack of credit Cameron bestowed upon the long history of visionary science fiction/fantasy pioneers that came before him. Personally, I enjoy  interviews where writers site their influences. It makes me want to climb up into the attic and dust off the H.P. Lovecrafts and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Because as I see it, nothing creative is truly original, it's always inspired, a gestalt of everything that's come before. I love knowing how somebody arrived at a certain creative point. A lot of times you'll be surprised that THAT came from THAT.

The Avatar Exhibit at Seattle's EMP
You won't find any bigger fan of Cameron. I loved the first two Terminator movies and Aliens is a classic, but to not acknowledge where this all came from leaves me, as a fan, frustrated. So when the EMP/SCI-FI museum opened it's "World of Pandora" exhibit I felt less than inspired to check it out, even though I'm a huge sci-fi fan and the museum's only five minutes away. If Cameron had just said, "oh man, I love those Roger Dean album covers, I was totally inspired." I'd have given him more credit.  Maybe he was worried he'd have to share some of the 2 Billion+ dollars he made off the flick. I enjoy when artists/directors/writers give little windows into the creative process. But having critics answer for you with nonsense about "pure genius" I find much more dull.

Avatar 2?
So, sadly, when I think of Avatar, I don't think about its groundbreaking visual effects (which really are truly astounding), I think of a bunch of Thundercats wandering a Roger Dean album cover acting out Pocahantas. Sometimes knowing where art came from is almost as important as the art itself. Otherwise it just seems borrowed pastiche...

The Navi (the way I see them)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Empty Chamber: Part 3 ... apathy, abandonment, time to move on

Damien fights off one of Grim's undead minions
I finished The EMPTY CHAMBER when I got back to Seattle and started working at Boeing. At the time, I'd made a stab at 'cleaning it up' but editing really wasn't my thing at the time. I wasn't really good at it, my sense of flow was off, comma usage was all over the place, and short/brief sentence structure was painful. As many beginning writers do, I was bogged down in colloquialisms, a rampant disdain for grammar in the thinly veiled guise of 'style', and way too many words with the pretension that nothing shall be cut!  Nothing, absolutely nothing could possibly be cut. Every sentence, every chapter seethes with too much wit and humor to possibly ax, right? Not satisfied with the end product, I wrote an epilogue to The EMPTY CHAMBER, piling on the word count even more until the beast soared to  125K.

Damien on the road and armed
In the end, it was a jumbled mess with far too many pop-culture references, vampires, werewolves, gorillas, demons, and wise cracking punks to clean up in to a consistent tale. That, and I think it failed message-wise and probably theme-wise. People I gave it to actually seemed to like it for the most part (at least they read the whole thing) but after a few failed queries to agents, I had to be honest with myself. This novel was flat-out unpublishable as it stood. I suppose, if I had passion for it, I could have hammered on it, slimmed it down, let the a critique group and their long knives strip it to the bone, but I didn't want to do that. I was restless.
Our hero encounters the obligatory werewolves
The EMPTY CHAMBER was an experiment. Like an empty basketball court at night, it was a place to practice up, get my chops down, experiment with a novel length fiction form, gauge how much stuff you actually have to think up plot/character/setting-wise to fill up a book's worth of words. And I think this is the hardest part for a writer, to abandon that first novel when its time is nigh.
Damien takes the plunges into the underworld
When this moment actually occurs varies. And if you truly believe your first novel is thee ONE, who am I to tell you to abandon it. By all means, if you have the passion to re-write, re-edit, shop it, mop it, overhaul it, then push on., go forth. My threshold was far less. Not that I didn't love The EMPTY CHAMBER, I most certainly did, in fact so much so, I actually illustrated each chapter (some of the art included in this post), but I really needed to move on as a writer.
Damien, sporting his 90's era tattoo, consults his soul agent on afterlife options
Some things did come out of it that I'm still quite proud of. The epilogue add-on, more or less a short story, provided a means to explore new terrain (I might actually post that to the blog at some point). My writing had improved quite a bit over the seven years.
Damien in a moment of repose with afterlife friends
And one idea I still rather enjoyed was the concept of a 'universal afterlife', a purgatory clearing house for souls where all of mankind's religions barter for the righteous (and the damned). The EMPTY CHAMBER's protagonist, Damien Faust (how's that for a name?), as apart of his redemption must head into purgatory and retrieve his soul from Grim with the help of his soul agent. An obvious theme going back to pretty much every modern myth and religion since time began, I'd managed to put my own bureaucratic existential spin on it, not new, just different. I liked the idea, so much so, I recently incorporated elements of it into a comic script for my college roommate (comic writing, a post for another time).

The EMPTY CHAMBER still sits on my hardrive, I pop it open from time-to-time with the good intention of one day rewriting it. But I doubt I will. Like nostalgia, it's fun to visit the past from time to time, but you can never really go home again.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Settings: The Moon

From Harrison Schmidt's Incredible Vacation Slideshow

Back in graduate school, I had the opportunity to see Harrison Schmidt talk about his trip to the Moon. As the last man on The Moon and the Apollo program's only astronaut scientist, he was fortunate enough to have spent more time on the surface than the most (Buzz and Neil only spent a few hours at The Sea of Tranquility), and as a result, his vacation slideshow was more entertaining than your vacation slideshow. One thing that strikes you about seeing an Apollo astronaut in the flesh is the undeniable fact that that human being, the one standing before you, has set foot on another world, another planet. From then on, that tangible world, easily seen with the naked eye, mountains, seas, craters and all, becomes a different muse. And the fact that human beings have walked, driven, slept, ate, and urinated planet-side, for me, only adds to the wonder.

The Moon in more exciting times
Lately, The Moon has taken a back seat to more exotic Sci-Fi locales (Mars has been the 'in' destination of choice for the past 25 years). There's a 'been there, done that' feel about the place, which I think is unfortunate. Besides Heinlein's seminal "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and Arthur C. Clarke's short story catalog (including The Sentinel, which would become 2001 A Space Odyssey), The Moon provides little more than a simple set piece for most current Sci-Fi (there are, of course, exceptions) and for those wishing for something more akin to Cameron's Pandora, it can fall a little flat.

The Moon, even a little boring for a recycled Sam Rockwell clone.
But I like to write plausible science fiction, and for myself, the Moon is plausible by the mere fact that we've already been there. If human beings are to build a future there, that gray dusty world will function more as a job site, and as a veteran of many remote, at times desolate, Earth-side job sites, I find The Moon churning with fiction opportunity, but not in the Buck Rogers space opera kind of way, more of an existential kind of way. So much so, my current novel is set there.

The Moon, as I would see it.
Watching 2001, there's a scene where Dr Floyd is on The Moon in a meeting to discuss the Monolith discovery. While a segue to other events, that windowless, somewhat stark, meeting room hinted at an everyday future where human beings work and make a living on the Moon. Basically, if I were to one day go to the Moon, or some one like me, it would be a business trip where I would spend my day couped up in a yawn-worthy meeting to review engineering data for some lunar-based satellite tracking hardware. I wouldn't be there to liberate a race of 9ft tall blue Thundercats from the military industrial complex, I'd be there complaining about the food, the shuttle delays, and the time-zone changes (28 day days are a killer). But taking the future for granted is what science fiction doe best, to marvel at the mundane.

If we are to become a true space-faring people, not just dabblers and one-offer, we will have to conquer the Moon. It's a journey will we have to take, and as a science fiction writer, that truth is undeniable. But how will we do this? What new technology will make this achievable? As it sits now, we neither have the inclination nor the financial incentive to exploit the lunar landscape. But that could easily change just as the human condition changes. Just as European empires could conceive of little reason other than gold to venture to the New World, right now human beings find little other reason to travel to the Moon than to say we've been. But I believe that's myopic and narrow sighted, just as I find defunding general scientific research narrow sighted. Ever onward, you never know what you're going to find.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Finding One's "Voice"

In much of writing and writing criticism there's this elusive nebulous thing called "voice". Reading the many writer/agent/editor blogs, there's a lot of reference to "voice" but little definition. There's also a much parroted opinion that nothing else matters besides "strong characters", toss plot, toss narrative, toss ideas, themes, concepts, etc... unless you don't have strong character readers can relate to, enhanced by your own personal voice , you're going to get rejected and everyone's going to hate your stuff. Beginning writers, go off into the wilderness and find your voice!!!

This may be true for the Literary Fiction adherents, but for genre, this notion differs quite a bit.

I like to think things are more complicated than that sort of rote advice. For starters it depends on what you're writing, and who you're writing for.... One easy place to start with the concept of "voice" is to replace the noun with "style." One reason "voice" gets substituted instead of style is that, in my humble opinion, there's a lot of first-person narrative novels in certain genres that get a lot more publicity than others. And when you're getting a chapter of witty sassy saucy Bridget Jones in Bridget Jones' Diary, the "voice" of the writer is obvious. But when you write in multiple viewpoint third person, the "voice" comes down to "style" and is much more difficult to characterize.

Having written one novel in first person, and two and three-quarters novels in third person, I would say establishing voice in the former is a lot easier than in the latter. So how would I describe my voice/style? That's a challenging question, and why I believe its more of an organic process that evolves out of influence and what you find works and what doesn't writing-wise. The marching order "go forth and find your voice!" is in my opinion unhelpful writing advice, despite certain agents/editors craven adherence to demanding authors with a "unique voice". It's a bit of Macguffin.

I write science fiction and while very conscious of character, I will admit "strong characters" is my weakness, but again, my favorite books and novels -my influences- have characters that are more established by circumstance than background. Case in William Gibson's Neuromancer, while loosely defined, is unapologetically two-dimensional. But Gibson's voice was his style, and as the seminal work of cyberpunk, he established a pithy street sensibility spiked with its own lingo and futuristic edge that worked outside its main character. Philip K Dick, one of my favorite authors, has novels filled with interchangeable characters that in themselves are not very memorable, but as representatives of the human condition, fit the everyman role that makes the novels work as a whole. You are Joe Chip in Ubik, you are Decker in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, what they look like, their nuanced mannerisms, their "fatal flaw"... less important as the idea as a whole, per se... I'm not making excuses, but my intention isn't to write the next Holden Caufield (which much to JD Salinger's credit, wasn't his intention either, ergo no "Catcher in The Rye 2: I Hate College Phonies Too."), it's to perfect and make more interesting the concepts and ideas I find interesting.

My voice is my style, and my style emulates more of the sensibilities of my influences than a first-person tone, although depending, that may evolve with the next project.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Empty Chamber: Part 2

Suffering under the yoke of thesis writing, my third year into graduate school, this post should really be called "The Winter of My Discontent: Part 2", but I digress...

Having passed my Phd qualifier my second year into graduate school, but broken of spirit, poverty worn, I decided to opt out, get my Masters degree and move on. So my third year in Wyoming was a strange one. My girlfriend at the time had broken up withe me the summer before and moved out of state, which if you've ever broken-up with someone while in Wyoming, it is a guaranteed dry spell of a year or more. (This statistics based on demographics and geography alone: 400K people, 100K sq. miles, it's almost Boyle's Gas Law at that point). So with another sub-zero, alcohol fueled, high altitude winter ahead, there was quite a bit of time to kill. Firing up Word 95 on the venerable 386, I sat down to write.

The Buckhorn Bar "The Buck" Laramie, WY
I still had the 3.5" floppy from my home-stint prior to Wyoming, with what would become the first chapter of THE EMPTY CHAMBER. So, I decided to add to it. It was an entertaining concept (see THE EMPTY CHAMBER: Part 1), something I could work with, lighthearted and fun and a welcome departure from the excruciating task of mashing together a Masters Thesis. BTW, if you want to read that gem, mosey over to the Wilson Science Library at the University of Wyoming in Laramie and look up "Microwave Remote Sensing of Roadway Conditions using Cascade Correlation Neural Network Architectures", it's a page turner.

This was 1998/99, a few years before the "paranormal" publishing craze that's now transmogrified into the whole Twilight phenoma/monstrosity/what-have-you. A decade earlier, the seeds were sown for the boom. It was only a matter of time. By indulging its tropes, I was not reinventing the wheel, not by a long shot. The angsty, but too whimpy for punk, goth sub-culture of the 1980's had carried over into the 90's like a hangover, thanks to Ann Rice, Vampire The Masquerade, customized fangs, and Bauhaus reunion tours.

Coupled with an almost religious sense of nostalgia, the wayward Fluevog/trench coat/eyeliner crowd  kept the candelabra fires alight. Goth pop-culture was on the verge of going mainstream. Merely an observer, not an emulator, I realized it would provide a nice fantastical twist to the college 'rock and roll' adventure I was attempting to write, like Hunter S. Thompson meets Bram Stoker. So I wrote, no outline, no sense of direction, the plot developing en route. It was, in no uncertain terms, a mess of a manuscript.

Writing away in my basement apartment, a raging high-plains blizzard outside, I was having a good time. Back then, before rejection and failure reared its ugly head, fiction writing was exploratory, something new, a much needed outlet. Conjuring every quirky 'what-if' I'd ever indulged, I tossed it in to the mix then threw it against the wall to see if anything might stick. I hadn't read one book on writing, nothing on style, this was pre-blog era, so no online advice to help me gauge the industry's status quo. And I think at the time it was for the best. Inundating myself with reality was not appropriate. I didn't really take it that seriously. Just to be able to say to folks, "yeah, I wrote a novel", would have sufficed. The whole cold-hard-brutal facade of the publishing world and its stark set of knife-edge statistics wasn't even a concern. I had bigger fish to fry, I had to get the hell out of Wyoming. 

So after I turned in my thesis, successfully defended, and packed up the U-Haul. THE EMPTY CHAMBER remained unfinished, to be completed later. Stay tuned for the Part 3...

NOTE: I do intend to put up a synopsis of THE EMPTY CHAMBER complete with illustrations at some  point. I think putting up the full MS for folks would be cruel and unusual punishment, that and the editing required to make it anything but a full blown embarrassment would be too exhausting. But never say never, I guess.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Settings: Red Desert Wyoming

America's Empty Quarter
Setting for stories... this differs wildly from author to author. Some camp out in their hometowns, endlessly mining off-beat nooks and quirky crannies for specific scenes. Familiarity breeds authenticity among specific writers (e.g. Stephen King's Maine, H.P. Lovecraft's New England, etc...) other writers create settings where most of their stories are based, rarely deviating (Robert E Howard's The Hyborean Age, Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom) while most writers use a gestalt of places real, imagined, or inspired by to create a specific setting for their stories.

Writers of science fiction are given a gift to extrapolate settings to their liking, stretch them into the future, break them off into a parallel universes, or inject them with whatever needed weirdness is required to create an affect. All creations are derived from personal influences, and throughout my 38 years, I've kept a catalog of places filed away for later use. These places, actually visited or virtually visited, proved evocative enough to leave their mark. Some I've already used for stories, others I intend to use in the future, some I may never use. So for the blog, I'll try to highlight a few places that have "stuck" for whatever reason...

Somewhere on I-80, East of Rock Springs, WY
The first place is what I call America's "Empty Quarter", the least populated stretch of territory in the least populated state in the contiguous United States. It's called Wyoming's Red Desert or The Great Divide Basin, and I first drove through it on my way to Laramie, Wyoming for graduate school. If you've done the cross-country drive, say from Seattle or San Francisco to the East Coast, you've probably passed through it via I-80. Living in Wyoming for three years I had the opportunity to criss-cross the expanse many times with that Wyoming tag line stuck in my head "Like No Place On Earth". And Wyoming, and especially the Red Desert, is so much so, it doubled as Planet Klendathu in Verhoeven's classic Starship Troopers (inspired by Heinlien's novel of the same name.) One can't help but expect to see Mad Max's V8 Ford Falcon zooming up in your rear view mirror while driving its empty highways, or see a radioactive zombie horde stumbling over the hardpan starved for human flesh.

Hell's Half Acre, Wyoming (aka Planet Klendathu)
I've always found vast empty places intriguing. They're blank canvases for the imagination and by their very nature typify one of Science Fiction's major tropes, to explore, colonize, and conquer the universe's vast emptiness. Gazing out over the rolling nothingness and tortured landscapes of the Red Desert, one doesn't see Earth, filled with its cities, people, plant-life, water, etc... one sees Arakis, Mars, Tattoine. I think wasteland creates fear in the human psyche. They're meant to be avoided, or crossed (the Mormon handcart pioneers were nearly wiped out crossing the Red Desert's vast expanse) and in this modern 20th/21st Century it also serves as a warning of things to come, especially in this age of global climate change, global nuclear war, and resource depletion.

To conquer a place in one's mind, is to conquer a place. I think it's the terrestrial version of stargazing. Just as we look up into the stars to marvel at our insignificance, we venture into wastelands to indulge our meekness. It's no wonder the world's prophets sought enlightenment from the desert, even an atheist like myself sees the spiritual attraction.

Anyway, I can't recommend a family vacation to the Red Desert, really. But if you're passing through, stop for ice cream at Farson, WY's infamous ice cream stand or buy a pair of "authentic" native american moccasins from Evanstaon WY's Little America, and take in the nothingness.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Furious 350...

Less background, more stuff about writing, specifically my personal writing habits...

Every book/blog on writing mentions something about "how much","when", and "how often", and the oft-loathed recommendation that one must write every damned day, day in, day out, forever, on and on, rain or shine, hell or high water 'til your fingers are nothing but hardened callouses... write even if its drivel, poorly thought out, self-indulgent nonsense poured into a moleskin writing notebook. Just write you fools, write anything, write, write, write!!! It doesn't matter what you're writing about!


Like everything, there's a happy medium, a workable pragmatism. To just write for the sake of writing, while a noble notion, isn't necessarily good advice in my opinion. I suppose if your goal is to keep a personal journal, or a personal blog (like this one!) yes, by all means, write whatever's on your mind. But if your goal is to one day become a published fiction writer, then my take is that putting words to paper should require a bit of pre-planning and thought.

I am an outliner, and while many view the outline as a painful shackle unnecessarily burdening the writer, I can't live without one. "I just let the characters take me wherever they want to go!" is an oft repeated retort among the anti-outlining crowd. And that may be fine, if that's what you're going for.... but this stream of conscious fiction writing, for me, is more painful than 'following the script'. I started out writing this way, but what ended up happening was a plot-holed mess that meandered needlessly, driving up word count unnecessarily, and creating a Sisyphean revision task I had no stomach for . So, I work from an outline for novel writing. It's painful at the git-go, yes, it's not fun, but it allows me to power through my "Furious 350"....

Most of my writing is done in my head, during the drive to/from work, spacing out in the shower, what some people call 'daydreaming.' Working within the context of a pre-outlined chapter, I know typically what constitutes 350 words worth of a scene. It's a manageable word count (BTW, "It's" in this sentence is word 350 of this post) and easily doable sitting down for an hour to an hour and a half each evening. I know what I need to accomplish so then it's a matter of just "gettin' the words out.". Of course that's the idea, some days are easier then others, others are downright tedious and excruciating.

I myself write everyday. Not because it's good for me, like drinking thirty glasses of water a day, but because really 350 words isn't that much to be honest. Professional writers typically crank out 1000 to 2000 words a day, but that's their day job. That sort of throughput nets them a novel in three months or so. Typical novels are around 80K to 120K, lower usually if it's the writer's debut novel. (First time novels above 130K words are very rare.) By my math, if I write 350 words a day, every day, I'm clocking in at 10K words a month, which will get me up to a novel length manuscript in 8 to 10 months....

Sounds too soulless? too mechanical? Perhaps. It's discipline. It's exercise. It's like going to the gym everyday. (BTW, I can't do the gym... I've tried, man, have I tried...). But when it comes to writing, I don't believe in the 'muse' or the need for daily inspiration/affirmation. It's simpler than that. I write my 350 when I've had a crappy day at work, I write my 350 when I'm 30K ft above Iowa, when it's Christmas, when I'm not feeling well, etc...

So despite my mocking of the "write everyday" Nazis, I do write everyday. Why? I wouldn't get anything done otherwise. A creature of guilt, to squander the opportunity after having landed an agent seems somewhat unforgivable. I doubt if I'd be trying to write a novel a year otherwise. The more novels on submission to editors, that many less novels I have to write to get published.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Empty Chamber: Part 1

This post should be called "The Winter of My Discontent: Part 1", but I digress...

After college, circa A.D. 1995, I went up to Alaska to work in a fish freezer near Glacier Bay. As opposed to hand-wringing about finding a career while idling away my first post-baccalaureate summer in Snohomish, unemployed and living with the folks, I decided to go Jack London and head up to the Last Frontier in the hopes of paying off student loans in one felll swoop, whatever 'fell swoop'  means (wikipedia it and leave me a post if you want.)... It was a noble thought.

Instead, I came home, paycheck in hand, and bought a bunch of ski gear, lazed about, hung out with old college friends, and had the odd job interview, all the while apathetically applying to graduate school. I'm pretty sure not one red cent actually went to Sallie Mae. Lots of time to kill, lots and lots of time to kill... So one day, I kick-started the parent's Tandy (I'm pretty sure it was a Tandy....) and after about thirty to forty minutes of hard drive lurching, I managed to get its word processor booted. Now, what to type? Start with what you know, they say. College, ah yes... let's write about college! Very original.

Not sure about everyone else, but my college experience was enjoyable, a significant upgrade from whatever high school was supposed to be, but it was still just series of quirky anecdotes and unrequited crushes lacking any central theme. I didn't meet my soul mate in college. I didn't triumph over adversity. There was no drunken /drug-addled late night odysseys worthy of Animal House infamy. A bit 'meh' overall and not very epic. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed college, that twilight zone where invincible youth and dreaming big teeter on the threshold of adulthood, but to milk it for a novel? Might as well give it a shot, I thought. So armed with a bit of nostalgia and longing for the salad days of yore, I wrote.

My first outing at a novel consisted of a twenty page episode hi-lighting a most exceptional meandering day of an enhanced college slacker. My intention wasn't to actually write a novel at the time, it was just to write. Inspired by comic books, a pseudo-angst gothic catharsis, self-aware coffee house conversations, and unrequited yearning for a true 'rock and roll adventure' as my late college friend Ben always referred to it, I embarked on what would become THE EMPTY CHAMBER. Written in amateurish first person (I intend to write a whole post on first person versus third person, and my writing philosophy there of...) it was an interesting experiment. As quickly as inspiration arrived, it left, and the embryonic novel remained a 20K artifact on a floppy drive for another two years.

Stay tuned for The Empty Chamber: Part 2...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Confessions of a Crap Artist...

Back in High School I wasn't much of a writer. I had no innate talent. After a few months, I could figure out what teachers liked to read in essays, enough to get B+/A- grades. But it was a struggle. I remember classmates acing essays they'd written late night the day before, while I struggled to surface in B range laboring days in advance. I'd dabbled in short story writing, but the number of short stories written in high school were only a handful. I also wasn't much of a reader either. This trend continued into college. I'd managed to pass my AP English exam with a marginal 3 (out of 5), which allowed me to skip English 101 and move on to honors level literature classes, focusing on the Greek and Latin classics, Homer, Dante, etc... Now in the major leagues, my essay grades at that point dipped into C+ range but by some magic, I managed to struggle through these classes with B- grades. Again, my fellow classmates managed to pull A+ 'exclamation point' grades from quickly rendered essays written in coffee shops prior to class, the miserable bastards.

So, clearly not talented, why bother?

Time to digress into the depraved geek world of role playing games, specifically TSR's venerable Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (1st edition, the old 1979 rule books, the new editions are for posers), Top Secret by TSR, and later on R Talsorian's Cyberpunk 2020. While I enjoyed building and playing characters, the most rewarding part was playing the referee (aka Dungeon Masters in D&D). The crossover between novel writing and constructing adventures for your friends is surprisingly similar. Instead of entertaining one reader for 8 to 10 hours, the referee has to entertain a group of friends for 4 to 5 hours (depending on the volume of Mountain Dew consumed). And one's friends tend to be as harsh of critics as anonymous strangers, maybe even more brutal in their honesty. I enjoyed RPG's unapologetically despite their stigma and when the pool of willing friends dried up, left to my own devices, the need to continue to tell stories remained. So at that point, my writing picked up as my RPG outlets whithered. 

A once wise physics professor I had in graduate school by the name Glenn Rebka (of the famed Pound-Rebka experiment... look it up, it proved gravitational red-shifting, totally badass) told me solving physics problems is a matter of longevity. Which, like any personal endeavor, rings true. When it comes to art, I've always admired the talent-deficient die hard, either too stubborn or oblivious to realize his short comings, but willing to work to get their stuff in front of people good-bad-indifferent. Their stories are much more inspiring than the talent-rich do nothings. The world's filled those cats... I'm guessing of course, as I'm assuming those classmates writing last minute A+ essays probably aren't writing last minute novels destined for the Booker Prize. So if they are literary geniuses, no one will ever know.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Why read this blog?

I intend to post/regurgitate my writing history starting at the beginning... but until then, some credentials...

I am an agented author, represented by a very hardworking group of folks in the big NYC. So I managed to navigate the rocky shoals of the agent-query process with a reasonable amount of success. They represent Hugo/Nebula nominees, which is a good thing, because I write Science Fiction and you need an agent who lives/breathes your chosen genre. 

One hard lesson? Having an agent is by no means the 'golden ticket'...

I have two novels on submission to the big imprints who publish Science Fiction/Fantasy exclusively, and as a result, I have a few kilobytes worth of personalized rejections from the best editors in the field. And why that doesn't seem like much of an achievement, to have gotten my meandering prose across the desk of a big name editor and to have wasted their time for an hour or two, its actually been extremely helpful. Most have given me the boilerplate "not for me", "didn't connect with the characters", but a few have given me very thoughtful comments/rejections. A few, I hope to share...

Also, I love Science Fiction/Fantasy. I read it almost exclusively, and have a pretty good head about what's worth reading and what's not. I tend to switch authors every book, which helps to expose me to different styles and sub-genres. I also try to skip decades. There's absolutely terrific stuff written all throughout Sci-Fi's century-plus history. I'm not a 'quick' reader, so my need for variety may be a result of my low throughput book-wise. I know a few folks who can read a novel every two days... I'm a little slower, a novel every two weeks typically. I wish I could read faster, but alas...

More reasons to come....